by Maya Drozdz
photos by Brian Zehowski
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m originally from Central Minnesota. I moved to the Cincinnati area in 2017 and live in Wyoming, OH.
What initially drew you to photograph architecture?
I’ve been fascinated by architecture from a young age. As a child, I could never pay attention to Catholic sermons because I was too busy scanning all the details of the art and architecture. When I traveled, I would be the one straggling behind the group, pointing my camera up at the buildings. This natural passion for me led to the decision to make it my career.
For the last decade, I have worked as a real estate photographer and image processor. My partner and I moved to Cincinnati for his work. When we moved, I didn’t really know anything about Cincinnati other than its name. I decided then to become a tourist of sorts, as a way to get to know the city, and explore the neighborhoods with my camera in hand.
At the start of my journey, I had an awakening. I was wandering through a wonderland of beautiful architecture. The landscape of historic, modern, dilapidated and rehabilitated buildings created such visually captivating scenes for me. It ignited my artistic creativity. I had to photograph what I was seeing and share that architectural joy I was feeling. It’s been a rewarding opportunity to wander and capture the cityscape through my lens.
Do you have a favorite local building or neighborhood to photograph?
Over-the-Rhine is my happy place in Cincinnati with its kaleidoscope of styles and colors. Over the last few years, I’ve photographed the changing landscape with new construction and building restorations. I return to OTR constantly not only to photograph but to simply stroll, shop and eat. One thing I love to do is head to Findlay Market early on a weekday. The area starts out so quiet, and I feel like I have the place all to myself. But it’s fun to watch and listen to the market slowly transition from sleepy to bustling.
Any favorites outside of Cincinnati, and why?
Madison is my favorite place to visit in Indiana. The whole downtown is a perfectly preserved time capsule of late 19th and early 20th century architecture, from large Italianate store fronts to Victorian shotgun houses. I made four daytrips to the town, attempting to capture it all!
Maysville, Kentucky is another beautifully preserved town that is a delight to photograph. The grand Italianate buildings along 2nd Street completely surprised me, and my eyes ate them up!
Springfield, Ohio is maybe the city that has left the most profound impression on me. The old buildings and homes speak of an opulence the community once had. However, the deterioration of several structures, along with large plots of empty land, leave me longing to know what it all looked like back in its heyday. I’ve met a number of the residents who have pride for the city’s architectural heritage. Many are in the process of restoring the old homes and that warms my heart.
Who are your photographic influences?
Peter J. Sieger is an architectural photographer from Minneapolis. I discovered his work while I was living there and figuring out my own photographic style. I’m greatly influenced by his technical precision and his ability to make spaces so inviting that I want to see them in person. His images are the archetype of what I want mine to be.
As to my other influences, I gather insight from old architectural photographs and postcards. Additionally, technical drawings have influenced the straight façade aspect of my work. Since childhood, I’ve studied art and created a sort of “mental mood-board” that shapes my ideas about composition. I bring elements from the Renaissance, Ukiyo-E, and Cubism into my work. This artistic background has been instrumental in the development of my photographic style.
What advice would you give to an aspiring architectural photographer?
Be mindful of a building in its surroundings and intentionally compose your image before clicking the shutter. Utilize the seven principles of design. Unless it’s an obvious aesthetic choice, fix your horizontal and vertical lines, either in camera or in retouching. These things will instantly set you apart from an amateur taking a snapshot. Also, experiment with photo editing software to refine your images and create your style. Lastly, just keep practicing. The more you practice, the better your focus and technique will become. Get out, experiment and have fun!
What’s your hope and next step for your photography?
There seems to be a misconception that notable architecture is something found in famous cities around the world. In reality, places like Ohio and the middle of America have absolutely stunning buildings. They should be recognized as important contributions to our architectural legacy. I want my photographs to celebrate the places that people pass by without really noticing. I hope my photos inspire people to pause for a moment and appreciate the architecture surrounding them. I also hope they see these places have a cultural worth in maintenance and preservation.
I’ve been posting my photos on Instagram for the past year, but I have so many more to share. My website showcases the places I’ve visited in more depth. Beyond sharing my journey online, I want to make prints and books. I’m always on the lookout for new towns and historic buildings. I see so many fascinating places online that I want to experience in person. I’m kind of on this quixotic quest to photograph as much Architectural Americana as I can.
Elements of your work, such as your use of color and composition, are reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s films. What do you make of that comparison?
Oh my, haha! I’m honored, but this is truly an “Accidentally Wes Anderson” comparison. I do think his films are visual masterpieces, and I would love to become friends with Tilda Swinton.