ByDesign+ Eric Petschek
ByD+ met with photographer Eric Petschek, also known as CityBoy (@cb) to his followers on social media. Eric’s interior and architectural photography is distinguished by his coupling of rigor with calm. His ability to ascertain and highlight design details is aided by his training in interior architecture and is a hallmark of his work. He imbues these moments with an emotional layer using a studied eye for light and composition. The end result blurs the line between editorial and architectural photography, communicating the author’s intent as well as the phenomenological experience of occupying the space. His imagery is soft yet precise, encapsulating concept and execution.
Eric’s dedication to promoting superlative designs has garnered him a formidable and dedicated following on social media. His audience has come to expect in-depth and informative coverage of the latest, most considered spaces around the world.
ByD+ NYC X DESIGN festival just celebrated its 10th anniversary. How many iterations of ‘NYC x DESIGN festival’ have you seen?
Eric: Almost every one since I moved here—I love the smaller satellites and pop ups associated with design fairs. Milan Design Week has the main fair ‘Salone del Mobile’ but also the parallel ‘fuorisalone’ events in town, which I will also be attending in a few weeks’ time.
ByD+ These events spread and generate points of interest throughout the city, it’s not just the more recognizable events like the International Contemporary Furniture Fair that everyone is familiar with. So, if you gravitate to the smaller spin offs, what is it that you are chasing, what are you looking for?
Eric: That’s a good question. I suppose I do have an aesthetic of sorts. Undeniably, there are objects and spaces that I gravitate toward, although I can appreciate a breadth of aesthetic languages.
I think I'm most drawn toward a modernist sensibility, and this is probably largely instilled in me from school. For me this means the distillation of an experience, object or space to its essential qualities. People attribute me with minimalism, and I don’t particularly enjoy that association- for me beauty is about thoughtfulness, consideration and economy of materials, moves, even color.
ByD+ Can you describe your style?
Eric: People have told me I have a style, and I suppose I do. I can't describe it one word. I guess with my imagery I aim for a calmness that allows the eye to travel around the image as opposed to having a single focal point.
The other thing I would say about my photography is that I try to— and in fact someone told me this recently—I try to elicit the feeling of being in the space, not always a small feat with a still image. Often the image will need some coaxing in post-production. I try to find the middle ground between being romantic and being descriptive.
ByD+ There’s this photo of a farmhouse in Belgium and I felt like I was being sucked down into the iPhone screen and was walking down the hallway, I felt like I could smell baking bread!... I hope that’s a good review…
Eric: That is a good review for sure! It’s sometimes surprisingly difficult to capture the mood of a space. A lot of it is done in post-production. It's tweaking the image to be a little bit sunnier or a little bit more melancholy. Each space does have its own character.
ByD+ How much of your job is at a desk, post-production?
Eric: It’s a very large part of my workflow, but I don’t spend too much time in front of a computer. With back-to-back shoots and clients needing images yesterday…for these reasons I outsource my retouching. I work exclusively with a retoucher in Germany, Alec Bastian. We’ve been working together for years; he has worked on nearly all of my commissions. We have a great rapport; he really understands what I’m trying to achieve with my photos. Even though I’ll send him notes and we’ll go through various rounds of retouching on every job, this is still less time consuming than if I were to do the post myself.
ByD+ How does your Instagram content differ from the commissioned work you do?
Eric: All my Instagram content is iPhone only. I might be the only professional photographer I know that’s still posting iPhone photographs to my grid! I find the phone is by far the best tool for me to get what I’m observing, up online in an expeditious manner, although ironically, I’m kind of notorious for ‘latergramming!’ I treat Instagram as its own beast, it’s not a portfolio for me necessarily, well not a photography portfolio, it’s more a portfolio of things I’ve seen and liked. The content I post is primarily not for myself, I like to share the things I enjoy with a larger audience.
ByD+ You employ the use of stories on Instagram so much better than most. (Check out Eric’s saved Instagram story series’)
Eric: My elaborate tours get such a positive response that I actually feel a lot of pressure to post more of them now. Because the feedback is so strong, I’m sometimes unsure if it’s worth sharing the smaller things like a meal I had or even just a beautiful moment. Regularly posting these tours is not sustainable though because I don’t monetize them and they take ages to compose. I really have to have the time and be in the right mindset…
ByD+ It’s a good faith gesture for now that we so appreciate! You mentioned some of your style being established at Pratt during your Masters in Interiors. How did that path lead you to photography?
Eric: Getting into photography was a very organic process. I was just documenting where I went at first, on Instagram primarily. There was a lot of interest in my taste and what I discovered and then more and more my eye for these places as well, what I noticed about them because of my training. That eventually evolved slowly into commissions, it was gradual, there was a period where I was practicing interiors, my own projects and then doing photography for other people. The interior work declined, and the photography picked up and now I am where I am, which is exclusively photography.
A lot of what I sought by going into interior design, namely access to spaces I find inspiring or moving and the people who designed them, was more available as a photographer. I love ‘geeking’ out with designers about their work.
ByD+ What is good design to you?
Eric: I think good design is really thoughtful design. It takes on many different forms. Having been a designer myself, projects can be a labor of love and the product of hundreds of hours, if not thousands of hours of thought and intense scrutiny, labor and iteration. So, when a space is built after being thought about deeply by individuals—as a designer I can sense when this is the case— I often get really excited about the end result and sharing that product with a larger audience.
ByD+ So why is good design important for greater society?
Eric: One of my friends jokes that I'm a ‘born again design crusader’! Indeed, my enthusiasm can sometimes be a little embarrassing. I grew up in a town of 150,000, in Fort Collins, Colorado, where design was never part of the conversation. It was never presented to me as a career. I didn't know any architects; I had never been to an architect's office. I didn't know graphic designers. I didn’t know any photographers when I was young either! Where I grew up none of these vocations were ever presented as options. I had to study abroad and do some real soul searching to realize I’m very interested in beautiful, designed experiences. Having grown up without being aware of design at all, I think it's really important that people understand how much of our world is designed. Literally everything in our built environment was, to some extent, designed by someone. If you look around every sign, every door, every hub cap they were all designed by someone. Someone put some thought into everything that’s fabricated. When you have this realization, I liken it to Neo’s self-awakening in ‘The Matrix’, you realize everything is designed! Literally everything, save nature! You're like, ‘Wow, we built all of this, and someone was responsible for all of this’! When you go to design school and you learn to manipulate ‘The Matrix’, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, if I wanted to design that sign like I could literally do that in illustrator now, I know the tools to do that’, right?! Before, you never did. That's groundbreaking! Well, for me, that was groundbreaking! If I don’t like the counter in a letter, I could change it, I could literally change the slab serif if I wanted.
ByD+ So, you have seen how a font style can change an emotional response in a viewer?
Eric: Oh, yes! Look at people’s responses to logo redesigns: people go crazy! They do elicit different feels and the same is especially true with space. My favorite example is- you walk into a store, you immediately have a sense for whether or not the garments hanging on the rack are $400 or $40, immediately! You don't even have to look at the price.
ByD+ Do you think you have an eye for that, more than more than the average person?
Eric: No, I think there are a bunch of signals that humans process, we're just trying to make sense of the world around us, and we understand what signifies luxury. It's all these signals that I'm processing— it's the lighting design, the detailing, the materiality, the merchandising it's the logo and so on- all of these are sending us signals. I think it's fascinating to unpack what you're responding to, like really picking apart.
ByD+ Who are your design heroes?
Eric: There are designers whose work I really appreciate but I’m not sure that makes them a design hero. I could make a case for Bruce Mau. Bruce was formative early on for his thoughts on how design can improve our well-being. I read “Glimmer” back when I was in grad school, and it left an indelible impression on how designers are responsible for uplifting and shaping our lives. For aesthetic reasons I really admire designers that have a really strong point of view that's unique. There are a couple authors that come to mind. Locally, Apparatus Studio is executing a unique vision. What’s really remarkable to me is to one, have the vision and then two, be able to translate it into the built world and products on a regular basis. In Europe I can think of a lot more examples where this happens. From Pierre Yovanovitch, who does, everything from interiors to furniture to art curation. All of it is a language which is so instantaneously recognizable, in a good way—it’s really strong. There’s Vincenzo de Cotiis, in Milan, he has a very powerful vision as well.
ByD+ At ‘ByDesign TV’ we think it’s very important to democratize access to good design by showing it on free to air television and for free through our website. Do you agree that good design should be accessible?
Eric: What ‘ByDesign’ does is hugely important, if I had access to that kind of information when I was younger, I probably would have started studying design a lot sooner. As with so many things; exposure to different modes of thought, walks of life, and even professions, is fundamental to showing people what’s out there, what’s possible. Design is no different.
ByD+ Thanks Eric for your time.
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