Whenever I see Chris Hytha’s photography, I can’t help but feel his love for Philly. When describing my city to others, I have this dramatic dream version of Philadelphia in my mind. Chris has an uncanny ability of capturing this dreamscape through his work. Chris is an explorer who climbs various locations (usually abandoned) in order to capture the city in it’s full glory. Ironically, his current living situation is like those he likes to explore.
I met Chris through a Philly Mag influencer event where I was able to ask him to invite me on an adventure (so I can take photos and interview him). Chris did not disappoint and invited me on an adventure to see the sunrise from an abandoned building. The day started with me waking up at 5 am and driving to center city area. After I met up with Chris, we climbed over a fence and trekked toward a building where we had to climb a 10 floor ladder. My hands still burn remembering that climb. Once we reached the top, we were welcomed by a birds eye view of the Philadelphia Skyline. I had a lot of fun on this photo-interview and I would love to do something like this again.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Chris Hytha. I’m from a small town outside of Philly. It’s like 30-45 minutes down 76, called Phoenixville. I went to Phoenixville High School and then I moved to the city to go to Drexel University. I am currently on my third year of architecture school.
How did you get into photography and what do you like most about it?
Like I have written in my instagram bio, I am a Philly enthusiast. I’m not really into photography, I am into the city itself. The only reason I started to take pictures is because I love the city. I would literally get excited whenever I would see the skyline (even when I was younger). The city has an energy to it and pictures have a way of showing that. Like you were saying (how my pictures are your dream version of Philadelphia) that’s just how I always see it. I want to show that through my photos and I am glad you see that in my work.
Why rooftops? What is it about them that makes you take the time and effort to get to these locations in order to take a photo?
It’s just a different perspective, I mean, everyone says that (laugh). Before I got into photography, I really liked to climb things (like water towers or anything with a ladder). This was well before I cared taking pictures of these places. Eventually I realized that I could climb things in the city.
About two years ago, before I got into photography, a buddy of mine and I climbed a high rise in center Philly. I don’t know why we did it, maybe just because we wanted to climb? (laugh). I didn’t even have a camera on me! When I was up there, I thought to myself, “This is incredible, how do I capture this?” After that, I borrowed one of my brother’s camera, which was eight years old. I had no clue how to use it, I didn’t know what I was doing. Eventually I bought my own camera.
Can you share a favorite moment while on one of these adventures?
It’s hard to say. I think one of the best ones was another high rise building I did in Philly. It was Cinco de Mayo and I was still getting into photography. It’s interesting, in the beginning, I was terrible at photography but I was ballsy and bold, I would try anything. Walk into buildings and get into cool spots, although I was terrible with my camera. So this story, is from back when I was bad at photography but good at getting into places.
I saw a place that an instagrammer posted and I went on Google Maps, looked for it and tried to line up the perspectives. After figuring out which building it was, I hit up my friend and was like “I know it’s possible, let’s just do it.” It was 10 at night, we found the building, walked around it, found a way to get in and we walked up 45 flights of stairs. We couldn’t find a roof door and had to figure out this maze of a building until finally we got to the door, which was propped open. There was the whole city. It was incredible! It’s really special when you live your whole life on street level and you’re always looking up to the tops of the buildings. Then when you’re at eye level with the tops, it feels like you’re standing at level with all of the skyscrapers.
Where do you work and are there any projects you are currently working on?
I work at Ewing Cole, a large architecture firm of about 400 people. I just started there a couple of weeks ago. I am doing whatever they need done, such as construction documents, grading, modeling etc.
As for projects, since I have started working, my time has become limited. I am taking classes at night. Pretty much, I work and go home. Actually, I don’t have a home right now, I live on a construction site. Afterwards I buy food, bring it to class, have class, then it’s 10 at night and I bike back to my construction site and sleep in the cold.
What do you mean when you say you live on a construction site? Can you explain?
It’s a very unfortunate situation (laugh). My dad does real estate, he buys houses and renovates them. He bought a house in Philly and I did the floor plans and design. We started renovating but ran into some delays with the city because there are a bunch of permits we need to get.
I had promised some friends that we could all live together in this great house that I designed, and now we are all homeless. It was a bad situation. Now, I am living in a house, but there is no drywall and there is no flooring, it’s just concrete. Bare, gets a little cold (laugh). It’s funny, I moved into the city, started classes. I started a new job, where for the first time in my life I had to wear professional, business clothes. Meanwhile, I’m living in a construction site and trying to keep the dust off my stuff. Yeah, it’s a tough time (laugh). This is why I don’t have any projects going on at the moment. Although I guess the house is a project! That’s a good thing to bring up (laugh). It’s kinda fun, with my friends, to play house and pick out flooring, kitchens, build a roof deck, watch some HGTV and do some home renovation.
What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?
There are two big things that I consider to be my accomplishments. I biked to Florida, which was really awesome and took two weeks on the road. We slept in tents on the side of the road. It was really great! My friend and I were playing ping pong together one day and asked ourselves “What if we just biked to Florida? We just need to keep pedaling, right? It’s not THAT hard.”
I also participated in an Ironman triathlon, which is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and then a 26.2 mile run back to back. I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments because I am not into running, biking or swimming. The only reason I did it was to see if it was possible. The reason I decided to do the Ironman was because I was trying to one-up the bike ride (although I am not sure if it did). It was this crazy decision, where I realized that I was at that point of my life where I would be able to do it based on time and how physically fit I am. I knew that if I didn’t do it then it wouldn’t happen. So why not do it? Marathon running was abstract to me until I tried it out and realized just how difficult it was.
I’m really proud of these accomplishments because they are these impossible looking tasks, but when you break them down into small increments of training and researching, they become possible. Because I was able to accomplish both of these goals, I feel like if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything. Sounds cliche. (laugh).
Can you share some of your future goals with me?
I would like to start my own architecture firm at some point. I don’t really like being locked in a 9-5 job and would want to be able to do my own thing.
I guess a more unrealistic goal would be if I was able to somehow get paid to travel and take photos. I don’t know how one does this and it’s not something I am currently, actively pursuing. I am not ‘trying’ to become a professional photographer, but I am excited to see where my photography takes me. If it takes me towards being able to reach this goal, that would be great!
What inspires you?
This is going to sound repetitive, but architecture and the city inspire me. The stories behind anything that architects come up with is fascinating. The fact that they create someone’s life in their daily routine. I once heard in a video that if you look at all the lights in the city, you can think of each light as a person in their cubicle or driving home to their condo building – architecture has a real power of forming the world we live. People spend so much time in buildings and I think it’s a big responsibility to design a place where someone is living.
As far as photography goes, all of these buildings I photograph are massive concrete and glass structures, all bigger than I am. It really humbles me. I don’t really know what it is about cities that inspires me. I think it’s the combination of the aura, vibe and energy of the city. Not people as individuals, but the people as a collective. It’s weird because it’s not a community, it’s not like you know these people and you wake up every morning and say hi to all your neighbors. Yet all of these people, together, are working towards something simultaneously. I love looking at people walking to work in the morning and just thinking about how much we can get done if we all put our minds to it. Everyone in their suit and tie, going up their buildings and getting work done. It gives me pride for our country, in a sense. It’s exciting (laugh).
I get inspired by music a lot. I used to make videos (I would make more now if I had the time). I love listening to music and visualizing what it is the artist is trying to show me through their song. Sometimes I get a particular mood from a song. I listen to a lot of electronic music such as ODESZA, mainly instrumental and not many vocals (not dubstep). Music like this is very repetitive and puts you in a mindset. There is a vibe to it. Sometimes I think about this vibe when I am considering what kind of picture or environment will be able to capture it.
Can you tell me about some of your hobbies?
I skateboard and play piano. Regarding skateboarding, I have never been ‘skater kid’, although I have always been good at skateboarding. In middle school, I had my ‘skate posse’ and it was great. Eventually, my friends took the ‘skater’ route and started drinking, doing graffiti and doing drugs, the typical ‘skater boy’ things. I never got into this scene when I was young, instead I focused on my skating. In fact, I was hyper focused on it in order to perfect it. Nowadays, I still skateboard but more as a meditative thing. I am not getting any better but am mainly doing it to relax and relieve stress.
Piano is the same way. All of my hobbies are actually a way to do something and forget about any issue. I think that is the point of a hobby. I don’t know how to read music, don’t know many songs but I really wanted to improvise and just jam. I know one scale and I just play funk or jazz improv piano. I’ll just sit down for an hour and play the same thing over and over. Its hypnotic and meditative. I hate performing because I don’t have an opening or a closing to a song. I just have the jam! I wouldn’t be able to play with a band (laugh). The reason I started playing piano was because I used to play the saxophone. I took lessons and did it the normal way but it lost it’s magic as things do when you make it a task. With piano, I wanted to play whatever I wanted to play. I am not going to practice playing scales, I am going to play whatever I want to play and I will become better at playing whatever it is I want to play. I would recommend this to anyone actually (laugh).
Can you tell me of some causes, issues or ideas that you are passionate about?
I am really fascinated with virtual and augmented reality. In the past, architecture has been this challenge to communicate with clients. Architects develop the skills such as visualizing things in 3 dimensions, drawing floor plans and sections, and sketching them in order to show what is in our mind so the client understands. Through virtual reality, I can imagine building a 3-D model and having a client walk through a new building. We have been trying to do that through drawing but it has been close to impossible. It would be a great way to show a finished product before it’s built. It would also be a way of learning. In architecture school, we have crits, where we design something and a professor comes and asks us about our decisions, why we did this and why we did that. It’s a challenge to learn how spaces affect you since anything drawn on paper is scaled down. Can you imagine being in that space and knowing what it feels like? Does it need to be more open? Does it feel light or maybe it’s too dark? On paper, you can only assume these things. Being able to go into and experiencing that space could open up a lot of possibilities and make it way easier to learn.
I think the reason I am not super fired up or driven for a cause is because I had a good childhood and upbringing, which I am super thankful about. I try to credit my accomplishments as a result of how and where I was raised. Because of this, I sometimes catch myself feeling that I am not an artist. I think there are artists out there who are really expressive because of their issues and qualms. A lot of people have tough things that they go through growing up, and I never had that. I constantly remind myself to be thankful for this because it is relatively rare nowadays.
In the future, are you planning to stay in Philadelphia or are you considering moving to other locations to pursue architecture?
I grew up around here and never moved in my life. I always imagine myself here and can see myself as someone based in Philly. I went to San Francisco recently, and it kind of opened my eyes of what I could be missing out on. There are so many cities in the world, so many places to live. I realized that I can’t backup my love for Philadelphia with any other experiences. I am an easy-to-please person that sees the best in any situation. I can be happy wherever I land. Because of this, I am conscious of not getting too comfortable of where I currently am. Hopefully, I will move to another city and experience it. This way, when I come back to Philadelphia, I will have something to compare it to. I will be able to contextualize it and say “This is what I like about Philadelphia, this is what I don’t like”. San Francisco was incredible, I could definitely see myself living there. I think San Francisco is such an easy place to be a photographer, everything looks beautiful. Either way, I need to experience more before I totally decide where I want to settle.
Is there any advice or personal life lessons you could share with me?
I think that it’s important for a person to find what it is that excites them. When you find something that you are really passionate about, you will be able to tell. A lot of people have found their “thing” but some people haven’t. If you don’t know what it is that makes you giddy and excited, makes you want to spend hours researching different things, then I would tell you to not be afraid to try different things. Something will click. Whenever I notice I put so many hours into something, that is when I realize that this is what I am passionate about. I am a risk taker and I am a fan of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and getting out of your comfort zone.
Another piece of advice would be to not being afraid to ask for what you want. The worst anyone could say is ‘no’! I love sending emails out with ridiculous proposals. Most of the time they end with a “No, you’re crazy” or they don’t get back to me, but what’s the harm in trying? I constantly email building managers to get on their rooftops. I even emailed a helicopter company and asked for a free ride in exchange for pictures. The answer was no, but I am still working on that (laugh). I am really passionate about this and it bugs me when people don’t ask or don’t take the initiative to get what they want.
If you liked the photo interview and want to keep up with Chris, follow him on his instagram! Otherwise, till next time! Sayounara!