AN AWARD WINNING PHOTOGRAPHER OFFERS HER UNIQUE ANGLE ON CUTTING EDGE ARCHITECTURE, CELEBRITIES, ATHLETES, AND OTHER SUBJECTS
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI PHOTOS BY KAREN FUCHS PHOTOGRAPHY & PANEPINTO GALLERIES
Peruse Architectural Digest or Elle Decor in Italy, Spain, Germany, or Indonesia, and chances are the pages will feature stunning photos bearing this credit line: Karen Fuchs Photography. Fuchs’s work has also graced covers and interior spreads in magazines in Singapore, Brazil, Hong Kong, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Good thing Fuchs, who’s headquartered in Jersey City and New York City, likes to travel.
Known equally for her portraits of the likes of Lenox Lewis, Andrea Bocelli, and Quest love and her black and white photography, Fuchs has become a key part of the Jersey City arts scene. Her photos also grace The New Formal, a book she collaborated on with New York interior designers Jim Aman and John Meeks (she fondly refers to them as “J and J”). The book showcases the furniture, décor, and art collections including works by the likes of Picasso, Rothko, and Warhol, as well as contemporary masters at the rarified residences of Aman and Meeks’s clients.
“We worked for 18 months on that project, shooting homes of art collectors in Greenwich, the Hamptons, Manhattan, and Palm Beach,” she recalled. “It was a labor of love, and a treat to see the art without velvet ropes. I’ve been privileged to work with some extraordinary talents as an architectural photographer. I get to see and spend time in extraordinary places.”
Born in Germany to German parents, Fuchs’s father was an engineer who worked in Bangladesh, where she spent the first six years of her life. At 18, she moved to London on her own, and began studying art. After she submitted her photographic research for a fine arts project, her teacher suggested she change disciplines.
“I always loved photography, but I was afraid of the mechanics of it,” Fuchs said. She decided to create a photographic portfolio, and was accepted to The Arts University College at Bournemouth, in Poole, England. Following graduation, she began assisting at a well-known studio, where she met fashion photographer Andrew McPherson. At the time, few women were being hired to do that kind of photography, but McPherson took Fuchs on. She traveled with him, she said, for “two very glamorous but hardworking years. That opened a lot of doors when I went freelance.” Initially, she worked primarily as a portrait photographer.
“It was, and is, great to work with those as enthusiastic about their work as I am about mine,” she said.
Her first professional assignment was for the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times Magazine. She returned to Bournemouth, where she did post graduate work in media production before striking out on her own at 26. She has maintained strong ties with the university, where she still delivers student lectures and does portfolio reviews. In 2014, Bournemouth awarded her an honorary masters of art.
Fuchs moved to Manhattan in 1998, staying for eight years before relocating to Jersey City, which at the time was actively working to attract artists to its developing arts district. The live work building she resides in at 150 Bay Street has become a focal point for the city’s vibrant, acclaimed cultural scene. In May, Fuchs will be part of the Art150 show there, featuring illustrators, sculptors, painters, and photographers. The building is also on the annual Jersey City Art & Studio Tour, which is held in October and sponsored by the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs. All in all, Fuchs has lived in four countries on three continents.
One day, an architect friend asked Fuchs if she would be interested in shooting a special project. Long enamored of architecture and design, she quickly said yes.
“They urgently needed photos because Architectural Digest was interested,” she recalled. “Thankfully, they loved the pictures, which were published in Architectural Digest Italia.
Then one thing led to another.” An agent in Switzerland saw the spread and contacted Fuchs about more projects. Soon her photos were being marketed to international glossies. “I’m very lucky to work with architects, because they give me a creative spark, an education, and a learning curve.”
One particularly memorable location, she said, was the so-called Penthouse in the Sky, in Manchester, England.
“I have seen incredible luxury homes, but nothing came close to the vision of architect Ian Simpson, who built his dream home in the sky,” Fuchs said. “While building a tower for a client, with unobstructed 360-degree views, he realized he wanted the top three levels for himself and made that dream a reality. The most outstanding feature is an olive grove with 30 mature trees on the 40th floor.”
Another memorable architectural shoot was of the House on the Dunes, in the Bahamas, designed by Chad Oppenheim and featured in his book Spirit of Place (Tra Publishing, 2018).
“After two days shooting while the family was there, I was invited to stay on by myself to experience the place,” Fuchs said. “Such properties have a vision unlike any other. This was a true understanding of a house, its immediate environment, and the elements. Spending time there had a sense of spirituality to it.”
Her portrait subjects are straight out of Who’s Who. She begins each project by doing copious research.
“My most challenging assignment was to shoot Norman Mailer for a U.K. publication,” she said. “His assistant was a pit bull who only gave me five minutes to do a cover and inside spread, with no setup time at Mailer’s home in Brooklyn Heights.” Mailer himself was more agreeable, allowing her to continue shooting during the interview.
She called her shoot of the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, in Cambridge, England, “an incredible experience and one of the assignments of my lifetime. Hawking required up to 10 minutes to respond to a question using the advanced technology attached to his wheelchair a fascinating process,” said Fuchs. “The journalist I went with was impatient, so I tried to compensate. Hawking smiled at me, which is very hard for him. That really touched me. You must connect with the human aspect of each subject.” Between those encounters and her architectural photography, Fuchs has earned a reputation for diplomacy, connecting with and guiding each subject.
One example: When shooting architecture, she initially takes photos with her phone so that any items moved for a shoot are put back in their proper place. That practice opened doors to other clients. One told her, “We hardly noticed you in the place, and there was no trace of you afterward.”
“Working with architecture is almost meditative,” said Fuchs, who walks a location before she shoots it, gauging the effects of the sun at different times of day. She eschews artificial lighting in favor of natural light, explaining, “Architects and designers already worked on proper lighting. I don’t want to alter the essence of their design process. Architecture and photography are similarly about light, space, and composition.”
Fuchs, who is keenly attuned to design trends, said bringing the outside in, especially natural daylight, is a prevalent architectural goal today. And she’s constantly amazed by smart technology. During a photo shoot in Miami, she was surprised when the homeowner, who was waiting next door, was able to control the lighting and all aspects of his residence with his iPhone.
Fuchs’ career was threatened last year when the avid road cyclist crashed and suffered a number of injuries, including to her brain. After a “very difficult” nine-month rehabilitation, she found new focus in a “rising phoenix moment.” Today she’s working on a special project that could take two years.
Now, she said, “I always make time to shoot something for myself, which has made me a better commercial photographer.” Professionalism is another hallmark of her work. “It’s important to familiarize yourself with the style of each magazine you work for. You represent the magazine and have to look the part. Showing up in torn jeans is a no-no.”
She can be more casual when shooting athletes, a favorite subject. Besides shooting Olympic track star Usain Bolt, she’s shot for Puma, Red bull, Bacardi, Virgin, Island, and VP Records as well as for Sports Illustrated and GQ magazines.
In addition to her solo exhibitions, Fuchs has participated in group exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. She was named Elle’s U.K. 1992 New Talent of the Year, and has a slew of awards and nominations for her black-and-white photography.
Karen Fuchs 917.834.3434 / karenfuchs.com /