TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BRIAN VANDENBRINK
Over Brian Vanden Brink’s 42-year career, his polished architectural photos have graced 155 magazine covers and filled six books. But these days, the shots he’s most jazzed about are the ones on his iPhone 11 Pro Max. During a 2018 Portland visit, the Camdenite (and Down East contributing photographer) snapped phone pics of Munjoy Hill’s Portland Observatory and the grain silos at Allagash Brewing Company and, “for the heck of it,” ran them through an app that imparts the hazy, blistered qualities of 1800s-era Daguerreotypes and tintypes. “I loved the imperfection; they’re anything but mass-produced, which makes them feel like little works of art,” Vanden Brink says. Then, working with his colleague, Andrew Todd, he used photo-editing software to layer on more filters and effects, applying the techniques to other images from his archives. In the process, he says, “I found a way to bring the joy back into photography.”
It’s a thrill familiar to anyone who’s surfed a deep menu of Snapchat filters, but Vanden Brink is a bit old-school. He is brand-new to Instagram. And, until recently, his most joyful workdays were spent with a focusing cloth draped over his head, one eye glued to the viewfinder on a tripod-mounted 4-by-5-inch view camera. “With film, you did all the corrections at the camera; there was no going back later and fixing,” he says. “It was complicated, heavy, burdensome work, but I liked it.”
When photography went digital, Vanden Brink adapted, but he says the process felt “idiotically simple” by comparison. Scuffing up phone shots combines the convenience of modern tech, which he appreciates, with the artistry he sees as inherent in early shooting.
“I’m taking an eye that has learned this discipline over decades and creating pictures that are not what you expect, that convey a sense of mystery,” he says. “And I’m shooting on an iPhone for Pete’s sake!”