Photo by Adam Elkins

Uncovering Columbus

Picture the city in your mind. What do you see?

LeVeque Tower? The Scioto? The colossal stone arch in McFerson Commons, or the iron arches above High Street? Ohio Stadium? Franklin Park Conservatory? These are among the most recognizable landmarks in Columbus; together they help crystallize our visual identity.

But the city is more than just these, so much more than any one thing. This magazine is meant to represent Columbus—its people, its stories—in words and images. But we get trapped by the limitations of our own perspective, too, the types of narratives and visuals to which we’ve grown accustomed. We wanted to challenge our concept of the city and create a different picture.

So we tried an experiment. We reached out to four photographers whose work has inspired us and asked them to go explore, to find images that could represent the city in a new and surprising way. We set few limitations; we only encouraged them to discover people, architecture, scenes, and natural beauty that represented the city to them. We also prodded them to attempt something—anything—they’d wanted to try but hadn’t had the chance to yet. We wanted them to change their own perspective, too.

And they challenged us right back. They delivered work that was beautiful, but at times didn’t look at all like what we expected. Why did they send us this shot? This doesn’t look like Columbus.  Is this what we were looking for? One of the photographers even called us partway through the project to say she wasn’t sure if she had a vision for what she could do, only for the conversation to reveal that she’d already done something perfect without realizing it.

After compiling the set of three dozen photos you’ll see in this package, we realized it’s exactly what we originally wanted. It’s the juxtaposition of the familiar with something alien. Different inspirations, different perspectives colliding, at times widening the lens and at others sharpening the focus, but always giving us a fresh look at a city we know well, and not at all.

By Maria Levitov |

In part, Maria Levitov was the inspiration for this month’s Uncovering Columbus; she’s our wild documentarian, a capturer of individual personalities in a wrinkle in time. Her photos are beautifully composed and her subjects serve as in-camera characters, begging for back story.

You don’t need to know why that person is wearing a crazy clown mask, or why that pug is peeking out of a handbag, but the photos invite your imagination to run wild.

Perhaps it’s a skill the musician carried over from her songwriting approach, the ability to convey simple, human stories clearly and poignantly.

That talent was also on display in her Stranger Project, a Humans of New York-style undertaking she completed across multiple states in 2015.

By Andy Spear |

Andy Spear moved back to Columbus in July.

Two months later he revisited his hometown in Geauga County.

For the country-born boy who’s spent the last three years living in Brooklyn while completing assignments all over the country,  the trip home provided a momentous inspiration for how to uncover a part of the city he’s living in again.

His time spent at the Columbus Motor Speedway and the photos he gathered there reflect his past and present, the bridge between the images of his young adulthood and many of the rustic, unsung subjects he’s captured on assignment for publications including Mother Jones, Esquire, Italian  Vanity Fair, and The New York Times.

On the surface, these photos are about racing, but I’m going to talk about county fairs for a little bit first. I visited The Great Geauga County Fair a couple weeks ago. It was the first time I’d been to the fair in three years, and the last time I was there before that was another four years earlier. When I was growing up, though, I was there—all day, all five days—without ever missing a year. I was in 4-H and raised hogs from ages 10-18, and it was the most important thing to me. I had forgotten that feeling. It’s of little or no importance to anyone outside of that world: who won Grand Champion this year, or last year, or that hog four years ago that took first in its class but had trouble walking, or was too lean or too fat and how bad that judge was, or if you won, or how good that judge was. But here I was, again, having these conversations and I fell right back into it. I love it. I have a different perspective now, though.

I just wrapped up a few years in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where most of my friends grew up in cities or suburbs and ended up in New York. I didn’t know a single person there that grew up in the country, and not that it often (or ever) came up in conversation, but I get the sense that, to a lot of people, going to the fair was corn dogs and Ferris wheels—not five days standing around the barn with people who’ve spent the last year working as hard as you to raise an animal and hoping to win.”

The day after the fair was my first day photographing at the Columbus Motor Speedway, those thoughts about small things being so so so important when it’s your world still lingering… I got the same feeling at the track:

The teenage girl who knows all of the drivers by number.

The guy who sits in the same place and probably hasn’t missed a race in 30 years—or maybe remembers the date of the one he did miss.

Whole families wearing shirts with their son’s race car printed on them.

The Queen of the 2014 Obetz Zucchini Festival making one last appearance before having to hand the title down for the next year.

I’m really drawn to the sense of community in the country—whether it’s 4-H, or the local race track, or high school football—and the ability to photograph that, or put down the camera and be a part of it, is something I took for granted before moving to Brooklyn.

I want to continue developing a visual voice that makes you feel nostalgic for something you’ve never experienced.”

By Adam Elkins |

640 by 640.

Adam Elkins has captured Columbus and beyond in a wide spectrum, all within that tiny range of pixels.

The former graffiti artist turned his early adoption of the wildly popular Instagram app into his own burgeoning portfolio, crafting his @bigmanjapan handle (a nod to his graffiti tag) into one of the most followed accounts in the region. And in an ironic twist of modern photojournalism, his mobile photos gained the attention of traditional venues like publications and gallery spaces, earning attention from The New York Times and the Columbus Museum of Art.

Now, with the increased capabilities of his iPhone 6, and his utilization of DSLR and film cameras, Elkins has expanded his repertoire, which made him an ideal candidate for Uncovering Columbus. While he has built his 40,000-plus followers by focusing on the more dilapidated and forgotten areas in the city, for this project, he focused on downtown buildings and architecture, giving them a new perspective from street level, as opposed to your typical skyline representation. The result is a twist on his popular #portaitsinpuddles shots, which frequently gain praise for reflections of landmarks like the LeVeque Tower, Nationwide, and the Huntington Building.

This month, rather than pointing his lens at the ground, Elkins looked skyward.

“I wanted to showcase Columbus in a way that photographers in big cities like Chicago and NYC show off the buildings in their city,” he said. “Working and living downtown previously made me take for granted just how picturesque downtown can be.”

The result is a fine gallery of multi-format photos of Columbus architecture, meticulously framed against the natural world of sun and overcast skies.

“It was easy to find the time to go downtown but being at the right place at the right time definitely proved difficult,” he said. “I kept hoping for overcast skies so the few days that we did have cloudier skies I shot like crazy.

Such attention to detail and commitment to scene took a toll on Elkins’ body, the aftermath of a month shooting many “neck-breaker” shots.

“Sometimes I would spend so long looking up and making sure I lined everything up just right that when I finally finished and looked straight forward I would get dizzy,” he said.

Elkins also wanted to find a way to mix in film and digital in this project with his recently acquired Land Camera, the instant models with self-developing film.

“I have been doing this for a long time with normal 600 film, but it was a little more challenging and time consuming doing it with Fuji 100fpc film. I would have to perfect the shot with my Polaroid camera and wait for it to develop and hope it turned out right,” he said. “Then I would have to try and perfectly line it up with the building so that the lines came together. Another challenge with Polaroids and taking pictures of them is that they can be extremely reflective so finding the right angle while not compromising the connecting lines can take quite a while.”

Elkins said he spent so long lining up the shot for the skywalk that connects the Convention Center to the Hilton that when he finally got everything right and a stranger walked into the frame he “just went with it.” Perhaps most creative in the set is Elkins’ shot of the Rhodes Tower, which through careful editing can be given an extra layer of visual appeal. “I had noticed a couple years ago that photos of the Rhodes Tower at a certain perspective have a scroll effect—meaning when you scroll on your computer or phone, the lines in the architecture of the building move.”

Always with an eye for the digital…

By Suzanne Gipson |

When broached with her Uncovering Columbus assignment, Suzanne Gipson was enthusiastic, if a little apprehensive. A stay-at-home mom who primarily captures children and families (most notably her own), this represented either a fun chance to get outside of her comfort zone… or a challenge she may retroactively regret agreeing to.

She called our editor in a slight panic one night, only for both to realize after a few minutes that she had something to contribute that was a perfect mix of the project’s goals and her own skill set.

I did shoot this urban farm and interviewed a little girl about her chickens, she said. Will that work?

Yes, yes, it will.

At Harmonious Homestead, the urban farm owned and operated by Rachel Tayse Baillieul and her husband Alex, the country-in-the-city setting showcased Gipson’s ability to shoot natural photos of her subjects while highlighting everyday narratives from their experience—especially the Baillieul’s 8-year-old Lil, who almost immediately became the belle of the barnyard. Shooter and subject soon blended into two new friends, strolling the homestead—harvesting tomatoes for sauce and learning the names and personalities of the resident chickens SK and Marian. SK, Lil said, “does a good job of being a rooster” by breaking up fights in the coop, but isn’t her favorite animal on the premises. That would be their cat, Moonshine. By the end of their day, Lil even discovered a brand-new creature.

“I love asking questions and hope they forget the camera is even there, making it easier for me to capture honest interactions,” Gipson said. “While photographing one scene, usually another scene unfolds organically. While collecting tomatoes, Lil found a praying mantis, which was pretty exciting for her.”

For Gipson, who characterizes herself as “a natural light photographer drawn to photographing people in a photojournalistic style,” the day produced what she always hopes to accomplish during a shoot, in a setting totally new to her.

“I am drawn to light and capturing interactions in a creative way; I love to capture what they do on a daily basis and show them that their ordinary is beautiful,” she said. “I was pretty much along for the ride.”