Q&A with Matthew Dickey, on of the featured photographers in “The Vernacular & The Spectacular”, on view now at oldnorth.wixsite.com/gallery.
Q: Why did you become a photographer? What most appeals to you about the medium?
A: I still refer to myself more as a painter than a photographer. However, photography is an important process in my research for paintings. I have been exploring cities on my bicycle, photographing architecture since I was an undergraduate doing a painting series on urban sprawl. I love digital photography for it’s immediacy and ability to record a place, a memory, or a moment in time.
Q: What was the most significant visual moment in your life?
A: I’d have to say one was an architectural experience walking into the Albi Cathedral in France. The cathedral took 200 years to build and was started in 1282. The entire interior is covered by tiled floor to vaulted ceiling in frescos.
Another moment that stands out to me is traveling in northern Iceland with mountains and ice cascading into a fjord as the northern lights dazzled and danced across the night sky. I had proposed to my wife earlier in the day.
A similar moment was hiking to the top of Machu Picchu in a cloud forest. The sun started to warm and the clouds dispersed, allowing glimpses of the ruins and the sacred landscape. This was in 2010, before the widespread use of social media. I returned to Machu Picchu in 2019 and the experience was just as magical, but different.
Finally, I was touring the Peabody Essex Museum during their T.C. Cannon exhibit and was absolutely enamored by his paintings. The color, the subjects, and stories stick with me. He is one of my favorite artists.
Q: What’s your favorite thing, other than architecture, to photograph?
A: Architecture is definitely my number one. After that I love landscapes. The world is an incredibly varied and beautiful place.
Q: What image(s) are you most proud of?
A: In this show, I really love the street shot “Glass towers lurking in the distance.” Ever? That’s a tough one. Probably a photo I haven’t taken yet. I’m always thinking of the next place I want to go and see.
Q: What is it about Boston’s buildings and architecture that make them so interesting to photograph?
A: Boston is unique in the States. The most successful moments of the city are when the historic architecture is in conversation with the new. You don’t tour the city to see outstanding new skyscrapers. You tour the city to get lost in the tangle of historic streets and pedestrian-scaled architecture.
Q: What makes a compelling architectural shot?
A: Good architecture helps, so avoid the Seaport. Think about composition and the rule of thirds. A great architecture shot is no different. Angles, leading lines, repetition, light, and shadow all play a part.
Q: What is your favorite building in Boston?
A: I’ll just go with a list…I love the Class of 1959 Chapel at Harvard by Moshi Safdie (It’s in Boston!), JFK Library, Unity Court is one of my favorite corners of the city; I like the collection of buildings in Boston’s historic districts. They are what make Boston, Boston.