Architecture viewed with an artist’s eye

October 15, 2007
BRANDON — When Anthony Albarello was in junior high school in Harlem, he took a picture of a single typewriter key for his first photography assignment. It was an awful photo, he said. But for some reason, he couldn’t stop tinkering with it.
“I thought, I can make that better,” he said. “I can make that stupid typewriter key a work of art.”
The answer, he soon found, was in the lighting: With the right light, he could make anything beautiful.  
Albarello is 62 now, living in Brandon and a seasoned photographer, having spent the last 40 years shooting high-end fashion, commercial and finally, his passion, architecture photography around the world. Through it all, his keen sense of light — and his patience to wait for it — has almost singularly defined his work.
A selection of Albarello’s architecture and interior photographs is on display through Oct. 22 at the Watershed Tavern in Brandon. The photos, chosen primarily from his work in New York City, create an architectural landscape with the lines and details “that make a room a piece of art,” he said.
One photo captures the nighttime façade of the exclusive St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, its ornate balconies glowing white while soft pink light streams out through oval windows. Inside the same building, Albarello zeroes in on a 24-carat-gold, gilded chandelier, a cupid playing amid the lights. Parts of the surrounding walls are steeped in shadow, transforming the lighting fixture into a dramatic scene.
Albarello doesn’t just record a room or a building, he said, he uses its details to create something new. Oftentimes, that newness lies in the shapes and lines interacting above eye level.
“People just don’t look up a lot,” he said. “There’s a lot to see up there.”
Albarello took a few detours before discovering just where to look for his art.
At 18 he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. It was 1966 — “when things were hot and heavy over there,” he said — and he was a paratrooper, jumping from helicopters and planes.
“It was a trying time in my life,” he said.
In 1967 he was wounded and awarded a purple heart, so he came home to New York City and started a couple businesses: a home improvement business, then a trucking company. The trucking seemed to be taking off — he was hauling loads to and from Kennedy Airport, making a decent income.
“But I just kept looking at photography magazines,” he said.
So one day he just gave up the business, bought a Volkswagen camper, strapped his enormous stereo to the roof and headed west. When he made it to California three months later, he immediately enrolled at Brooks Institute for Photography.
After graduating, he dove right into the industry, working as an assistant to professional photographers at first, then gradually working his way up.
“I was doing high-end stuff — fashion, commercials, I had a studio on 5th Avenue — but it just didn’t work for me,” he said. “I had to suck up to all the art directors who wanted favors. You had to buy your way in and buy your way to stay.”
He had been playing around with architecture photography as a favor to a friend, a location scout for movies and photo shoots, so when Albarello left the commercial world, he knew where to go to do what he loved.
The transition wasn’t completely seamless. On his first architectural shoot, inside a penthouse overlooking downtown Manhattan, he set up one of his lights a little too close to an expensive couch and burned right through the upholstery.
“So I kind of pushed pillows over it and left right away,” he said, laughing. “There was nobody there. What was I going to do, leave a note?”
It’s been about 25 years since then. Albarello’s architecture photography has been published in dozens of magazines and a few books and he has been able to see the world, traveling on assignment.
“I’ve been well-seasoned and well-traveled, and now I’m in Brandon, which I just love,” he said.
Albarello’s wife, Carrie, grew up in Brandon, and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she suggested they move back to her hometown. She didn’t want to stay in the city and Albarello was ready for change as well.
So now he takes photographs for Naylor and Breen Builders.
“They’re just incredible when it comes to building detail,” he said. “And they have this great office up on Route 7 where everybody walks around with no shoes and there are dogs running around.”
It was a bit of a culture shock, coming from the art world in Manhattan, he said. But it was a welcome shock. “They’re truly one of the best builders I’ve worked for,” he said.
Albarello still spends hours setting up his own lighting to capture just the lines and shadows he wants. But to catch the sky, all he can do is wait.
“You wait for a certain time of day,” he said. “You wait for the sky. Patience. You just sit there and wait until it turns the color you want.”
For a photograph of the gilded revolving doors in the St. Regis lobby, he waited for the rich blue that deepens just before turning black when the sun goes down. The result is a swath of sky bursting through above the domed doors, bouncing the eye back and forth between gold and blue.
“I can’t believe how many hours I’ve sat in my life, just waiting for the sun to go that far,” he said, measuring no more than an inch with his fingers. “Listen to the radio, do crossword puzzles, keep going out and looking. I could sit for six or eight hours and wait for the sun to move.”

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