|ABOUT ME AND BIBLIOGRAPHY|
|Since it's very first issue in 1990 I have shot every cover for American Bungalow Magazine. That is 87 issues and still going strong. Over the last few decades I have also shot covers for Angeles Magazine, SF Magazine, The Magazine Antiques, Phoenix Home and Garden, Mountain Liiving Magazine, as well as for books such as The Wright Style, Arts and Crafts Design in America, and a few others that I cannot remember right now.|
My latest book, The Gamble House: Building Paradise in California, has set a new standard for available light interior photography.
I have been the principal architectural and promotional photographer for the J. Paul Getty Trust’s Villa and Center, the Gamble House, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Charles Lang Freer House, and the Skirball Cultural Center.
I am the first foreign artist to have a traveling exhibit of his photographs in The People’s Republic of China. I attended the legendary Photography and Cinema School at Ohio State University, and have a Master of Fine Arts Degree from California Institute of the Arts.
My books include:
THE GAMBLE HOUSE: BUILDING PARADISE IN CALIFONIA. Published in 2015 by The Gamble House/USC School of Architecture and CityFiles Press.
THE MONROE BUILDING: A CHICAGO MASTERPIECE REDISCOVERED. Published in 2014 by CityFiles Press.
ARTS & CRAFTS FURNITURE FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE TWO RED ROSES FOUNDATION. Published in 2014 by the Two Red Roses Foundation.
GREENE & GREENE: DEVELOPING A CALIFORNIA ARCHITECTURE. Published in 2011 by Gibbs Smith.
EDGAR MILLER AND THE HAND MADE HOME: CHICAGO'S FORGOTTEN RENAISSANCE MAN. Published in 2009 by City Files Press.
AT HOME IN THE HEARTLAND: MIDWESTERN DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE. Published in 2007 by Gibbs Smith.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF ENTERTAINMENT: LA IN THE TWENTIES. Published in 2006 by Gibbs Smith.
CRAFTSMAN STYLE. PublIshed in 2004 by Abrams.
BUNGALOW NATION. PublIshed in 2003 by Abrams.
MARY COLTER: ARCHITECT OF THE SOUTHWEST. Published in 2002 by Princeton Architectural Press.
STICKLEY STYLE: ARTS AND CRAFTS HOMES IN THE CRAFTSMAN TRADITION. PublIshed in 1999 by Simon and Schuster.
GREENE AND GREENE: MASTERWORKS. Published in 1998 by Chronicle.
THE LOS ANGELES BILTMORE: THE HOST OF THE COAST. Published in 1998 by Archetype Press/Regal Biltmore Hotel.
HIDDEN LA. Published in 1998 by Gibbs Smith.
MEXICAN COUNTRY STYLE. Published in 1997 by Gibbs Smith.
WEIRD ROOMS. Published in 1996 by Pomegranate Artbooks.
AMERICAN BUNGALOW STYLE. Published in 1996 by Simon and Schuster.
My work has been featured in Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy (Abrams 2013), The Wright Style (1992), Of Houses & Time (1992), Mexican Country Style (1997), A Child’s Garden (1998), The Arts & Crafts Guidebook (Archetype Press 1998) and numerous calendars, posters and postcards
Alexander Vertikoff: Life Outside the Frame
By Tom Moore 2015
Think about this: Every issue of American Bungalow magazine published since its inception in 1990 has featured a cover image by Alexander Vertikoff. That astonishing statistic is a singular achievement, unparalleled in the annals of publishing. Exceeding 84 issues (American Bungalow is a quarterly), this represents nearly two and a half decades of photographic excellence and the power of consistency. It is a consummate tribute to Alex’s artistry and technical skills. His vibrant architectural and landscape photos have earned worldwide attention and numerous high-profile clients. The list rolls by like movie credits: UCLA, The Getty, Disney, LACMA, the Skirball Center, Pebble Beach, the Huntington, the Driehaus Museum, and several international concerns. To this, add more than 37 magazines including Architectural Digest and Sunset. He was the first foreign artist to have a traveling exhibit of his photographs in The People’s Republic of China. Even when couching praise in specific terms, it's hard to convey the scope of his achievements. As this abbreviated version of his professional resume suggests, his success in the crowded profession of photography stems from having produced some of the most imposing and influential architectural photographs of his generation. His engaging photographic essays grace scores of books, usually in collaboration with an author (e.g., Bruce Smith, Victoria Kastner, Robert Winter, David Cathers, Diane Maddex). From the delicate hues and lush tones in Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy (Kastner) to the roaring statements and riot of color in Edgar Miller and the Hand-Made Home: Chicago's Forgotten Renaissance Man (Cahan and Williams), it’s apparent that Alex sees the world through a different set of glasses than I do. Photographic seeing; this is half the key. The other half is the meticulous detailing of those images.
Alex’s name has become synonymous with the online presence of The Gamble House. Anyone visiting the website in the past few years has surrendered to the charm of his photos. If you’re unaware, he is the primary photographer for the upcoming book on the Gamble House and family. Upon hearing that announcement by Ted Bosley a few years ago at an all docent meeting, I contacted Bobbi Mapstone (then Public Relations Manager) and proposed writing an article for the Greene Sheet about the man behind the lens, whose work I admired since being introduced to Greene & Greene. Bobbi advanced my request to Alex, which he granted.
We first met in September 2010 at the Gamble House. That morning intense daylight streamed through the iconic front door glass illuminating the entry hall. As he walked about, Alex surveyed each potential angle with a wizened eye to determine the precise view to best capture the character of the space. He scrutinized further each perspective, gazing through a tiny monocular viewer. Upon completing this process, he set the camera into position for final framing adjustments. Conversation came easily from the outset as Alex set to snapping exposures. We spoke casually about many topics, from his first career as a music recording engineer to the experience of having a son in college. He is very accessible, and when something humorous was said, he punctuated the room with his deep, resonating laugh. I find him unassuming - neither attracting nor demanding of attention; not showy or flashy, but quiet and polite; modest. Alex seems to harbor a profound allergy to notoriety limiting his online presence to Vertikoff.com. In a recent email he wrote, “It really should be the images that do the talking.”
Alex’s initial education in photography and cinema was received at Ohio State University. Later, moving west, he followed up at the California Institute of the Arts with a Bachelor and then a Master of Fine Arts, Photography. Through this period, Alex sustained himself as a freelance recording engineer with the likes of The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson and many others. He continued part-time through 2008.
His initial goal in photography was to make a tidy living selling fine art landscape prints. This came naturally, living in the vast desert arenas of New Mexico in Tijeras, outside of Albuquerque.
It’s not the Camera – It’s the Photographer
French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 created the first surviving photograph, a view through his window. Later, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839 introduced the daguerreotype, the first practical way to preserve a frozen moment for posterity. Photographers of this era in addition to being artists were also wedded to the technical role of darkroom alchemist. Known as ultimate tinkerers, they threw everything into the developing solutions to enhance the captured scene. For over 130 years, this technology was enhanced and persisted until 1974 when the first digital image emerged. (Ironically, it was an invention in the Eastman Kodak Labs, a development that would eventually undermine their fundamental business model.)
In comparison to film, digital photography is convenient. It’s instant, economical (no film, paper or chemicals to purchase), safe (chemicals again) and unacceptable results are simply deleted. Outweighing even this convenience is the enormous creative control available with digital. Today’s broad spectrum of tools makes photo editing possible by all. The software ranges in capability and complexity from Photoshop for professionals and advanced amateurs, to simpler consumer tools such as BeFunky, for those with less digital literacy. In this latter group, adjustment to the basic elements of a digital photograph like exposure, color, contrast, etc., may be accomplished via a single button click on your screen. Photoshop, on the other hand, has every imaginable editing and creative tool to manipulate your image – with the possible exception of a flux capacitor.
When the entry hall photos had been captured, we moved upstairs. Alex scrutinized the boys’ bedroom, evaluating potential positions for a shot. To start, he set up outside the bedroom, adjacent to one of the twin curio cabinets in the hall. He walked back and forth a few times, adjusting the door leading to the boys’ sleeping porch at an angle carefully chosen to enhance the photographic interest in the scene. After studying the view, he turned and opened the carrying case in which he sequesters his array of photographic gear. From it, he selected a lens and an odd bracket, both of which appeared too large for his Nikon. Surely, I thought, he would next extract a large format camera body to accommodate the outsized lens. Instead, the bracket allows attaching the lens to his regular camera body and, by sliding the body up, down, left and right behind the lens, he records six exposures that are then electronically stitched together in Photoshop. The resultant image is roughly six times larger than possible with any regular lens and provides greater resolution to render sharper images.
After recording a few shots, Alex offered a key insight: “I’m just capturing data. The magic happens in the computer.” To give each photo its luster, Alex turns to his trusted Mac to embark on an odyssey into the epicenter of a digital image. Alex approaches the editing process with an explorer’s enthusiasm, a virtuoso’s understanding, and the steady hand of a safecracker. Photography is as personal as a woman’s relationship with makeup, or an actor’s inflection in delivering a line, and every pixel matters to the finished image. What is left out of the frame is of equal importance to that which is included. Employing a number of Photoshop features, he seemingly twists the laws of physics to transform bits of digital data – captured instantaneously by the camera – into timeless, compelling images. Some coalesce handily as vibrant tapestries via his skillful application of practical magic, while others arrive only with all the deliberation and tricks given the Federal budget. Ultimately, even these conform to his aesthetic sensibilities via whip and chair.
The Hulbert Connection
Between 1915 and 1917, in a commission from Charles Greene, Leroy Hulbert produced approximately 150 photos of the Greene’s work including a photo the Gamble House north face taken from atop the garage. Alex always liked that view, but the camellias planted by Cecil Gamble in the 1950s obscured the beauty of the terrace. Alex was as eager as anyone to see the camellias transplanted in 2011 to the median between Westmoreland Place and Orange Grove Boulevard, thus restoring the scene to its original form. His resultant image will likely be included in the new book, but included here is a snapshot of him fulfilling that long-time desire.
“A photograph is not an opinion. Or is it?” - Susan Sontag, On Photography
Ms. Sontag asserts that photos are but notional accounts of reality. A photograph is not an objective equivalent of a scene. The answer to why this is so is lies in basic physics.
The digital camera’s electronic sensor and the human eye have substantially different responses to light. Simply, the human eye can discern a greater range of brightness values (dark to bright) than a digital sensor can record. The eye’s image is richer.
Reality is 3D while most images are 2D. Janann Strand in her book, A Greene & Greene Guide, expressed it thus, “Architecture is a three-dimensional art. When it is confined to two dimensions (as in a book), the vital third is missing.”
A photographer’s general goal should not be to take a perfect picture – as there is no such thing – but to capture the light in a way that tells a story or invokes a feeling in the viewer, all in a single frame. Each photo is a collection of the photographer’s choices and can be classified only as a personal opinion. In Alex’s case, his success supports the notion that his personal opinion is consistent with public opinion. Indeed, his images have become a cornerstone of our visual culture, burned onto our collective retina as the definitive architectural images.
“There are no rules for good photographs,
there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams
It's hard to think of another photographer whose every new offering so rewards the attentive viewer. With each book release, Alex's stature as one of the greatest camera artists working today only increases. If you haven't had the chance to get to know the Alex’s exceptional photographic art, the new book release offers an ideal place to start. Indulge. Those images will contribute to and enhance his oeuvre built over two decades.
To accomplish what he has requires grit. He is the quintessential itinerant photographer logging approximately 60,000 travel miles per year, nearly all of which he drives.
His photos more than speak for themselves, they enhance a house’s ability to speak for itself. But attempting to choose a favorite Vertikoff image is like trying to choose dessert at a Parisian patisserie. It’s a pleasant task, but impossible.
Professionally, Alex has nothing to prove; any remaining frontiers are largely self-imposed artistic challenges. If he is driven by its own orthodoxies, we will be graced by stunning images far into the future.
How many images in your professional library?
-Wow, probably around 100,000 images on film, and about the same as digital files.
Do you anticipate retiring Photoshop CS3? Soon?
-I’m afraid I already have. I’m using CS6 but am hanging on for dear life before they force me to use the new “Cloud” version that requires a subscription and a good broadband connection.
Are there sites or people you yearn to photograph?
-Everything and everyone, especially if it is a paying gig. I’m working on starting a non-profit that will give me some chances to shoot subjects that are perhaps not commercially viable for a printed book, but would work well as an ebook or a virtual archive. Be aware, my non-profit might be on the hunt for tax deductible donations once I can get the absurd amount of federal paperwork done.
Which photographers inspired you and your work, and why they inspired you?
-That’s tough. I enjoy Josef Sudek though cannot explain why. I learned a lot about lighting from some of the old studio photographers. A lesson I learned from “perfect moment” street shooters was that you need to believe in and be ready to take full advantage and credit for serendipity.
The person who taught me a lot about being a professional in a creative business is Chris Kimsey, who hired me to record the Rolling Stones with him years ago. He has a wonderful low key professionalism that has been my model.
Will your main focus in photography remain architecture?
-Peter Hurley (portrait photographer) in his video “Behind the Glass,” states that by the end of 2014 there will have been 880 billion images captured, including selfies. His point is that there are more photos taken of people now than anything else. Easiest way to get onto Charlie Rose as a photographer is to make and yet another book of portraits of famous people. We cannot help but be very interested in ourselves. The human race is very narcissistic. Robert Flaherty, a godfather of the documentary with such hits as the 1922 Nanook of the North, had it right when he said that the way to make a good image is to show something to people that they have not seen before. With me, it’s more like showing something in a way that they have not seen before I guess.
Your LinkedIn profile lists “Therapeutic Listening” as a skill. How do you employ this expertise?
-I thought you knew. Just kidding. I like people so it comes naturally. Sometimes you spend a lot of time alone with a client photographing work that is very personal to them. Chatting seems to be a great way of getting a feel for their likes and dislikes about a project and the conversations always seem to get beyond that. It’s good to build trust and friendship I think with your clients, especially in a creative business. I always felt that the expression, it’s nothing personal, just business, was very damaging and flat out stupid. Business should be personal, you should be all in, the product of your business should be something that you are proud of. Working on that model is a great way of approaching a project with a client and the best way of getting there I think is with therapeutic listening.