In New York City, every nook and cranny seems to double as a gallery. With exterior walls and construction fences serving as billboards for brands and canvases for street artists, the urban environment is in a constant cycle of beautification and decay.
It is these moments that captivate Barton Lewis, a photographer deeply committed to documenting the serendipity that ultimately transforms into an arresting image all its own. We recently asked him about his artistic journey, intellectual passions, and how to tell if an image “works”. Read on to learn more about this thought provoking artist and his explorations of the city.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kate Kelly: First, let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
BL: I’m a photographer who documents found or accidental art in New York City, like surfaces that have been transformed by street artists and organic decay. I’m fascinated at how they succeed as artworks produced outside an artist’s studio by a single, intentional hand. The random participation and natural forces that form them make them a distinctive form of urban art. I moved to New York to study music but turned back to my first love, filmmaking, after college. I made short, experimental films about natural light and the urban landscape, and this led to my current practice making large format photographs. I live in Brooklyn with my other, sister, niece, nephew, two cats, and a dog. When I’m not shooting, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, running, meditating, cooking, and learning French.
KK: Were there any experiences, either in childhood or later in life, that let you know you wanted to be an artist? How has your lived experience influenced your work?
BL: I grew up in a household of artists and teachers. My parents gave me a Super 8mm movie camera when I was around 8 years old, and I made films with schoolmates during elementary and junior high school. When I moved to New York, I became fascinated by the persistence of layers and history, manifested visually, in an ever-changing city. My daily travels, in the subway or on the street, provide an ongoing, endless source of material.
KK: I’m curious about how you hope to connect with your audience. How do you aim to teach or touch them? What do you want them to take away from your art?
BL: I seek to convey the delight and wonder I find in the visual fabric of city life, its features, textures and forms, and an appreciation for the hidden, mysterious ways in which these surfaces are made.
In a bigger sense, what I do, hopefully, is suggest new ways of looking at the world, with heightened sensitivity and attention, more closely at things we may take for granted.
KK: When generating concepts for your work, are there ideas that don’t make the cut? How do you land on your final imagery, and why?
BL: I’ve trained my eye to see the potential in subjects whose appeal are enhanced by being treated as delimited artworks, lifted out of their surroundings. That said, there are subjects that are harder to gauge, where I don’t know if it’s a “keeper” until much of the work on it is done. The criteria for what stays and what goes is intuitive and ineffable, to some degree, but boils down to the qualities we traditionally look for in “successful” artworks – balance, composition, form, color scheme, etc.
KK: How has Artrepreneur helped your business? Do you have any tips on how to best utilize our platform?
Artrepreneur has been the single most important online platform I have joined since starting my photography career. Within the past 15 months, they’ve selected my work to be in 2 major exhibits, including most recently at Google’s newly opened New York headquarters, and included me in the first publication of Orange Book, their beautifully designed compilation of Artrepreneur artists. Perhaps because Artrepreneur is run by artists, I’ve felt a level of attentiveness and engagement with my work that I’ve just not found elsewhere.
BL: I’d love to travel to other big cities to document their versions of found and accidental art. And I’d like to return to motion work. I have a fantasy of making a film based on NYCDrive, a cable TV channel that offers strangely hypnotic static and aerial views of New York City highways, bridges, parkways and rivers in a live, continuous feed.
To view more of Barton’s work please visit his Artrepreneur profile.