Architect by day, Adventurer by night

 

Chris Hytha
Chris Hytha

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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On our way down, we noticed this disabled phone. How could I not take a photo of Chris pretending to make a phone call? #YouUsedToCallMeOnMyCellPhone

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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).

Not gonna lie, but I almost had a mini heart attack when I was taking this photo..

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!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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If you liked the photo interview and want to keep up with Chris, follow him on his instagram! Otherwise, till next time! Sayounara!

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A Dreamer Studying Sociology

Photo by Irina Belashov

“What beautiful eyes she has”, was the first thought I had when I met Britney H. I think that I had wanted to do a creative photo interview with Britney since the moment I met her. Every time we ran into each other during various Philly events, we would discuss how we need to find time to create something interesting and fun. Britney suggested us potentially using a piece of fabric to create movement in this collaboration. The location chosen was Washington Avenue Pier. I am strongest in my work when photographing outdoors but this particular session was a little bit more challenging for me. Since we could only do this session in the morning, I had to deal with harsh sunlight that every photographer genuinely dreads. Regardless, it was a great experience and I enjoyed Britney’s down to earth character. It was a pleasure trying to convey her personality and character through my photography.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

So, my real name is Brittney and my instagram handle is Olive, because I didn’t want to be found by my coworkers when I started my instagram.

Which do you go by now? Because I have you as Olive on my phone (laugh).

Both? I respond to both of them actually. People with whom I have relationships outside of my photo work usually call me Brittney. You can call me either one. I’ve lived in the city (Philadelphia) now for ten years but am from a little, suburban town called Perkasie. Currently, I live between Northern Liberties and Old City on Penn’s Landing. I work full time in HR at Kimpton Hotels and am also a part time student at UPenn, going for a degree in sociology. I am a really big fan of books, literature and words in general. I read a lot and if I am not reading a book for school then I am reading a book for pleasure. In fact, I usually have 2 or 3 books going at one time. I really want to write a book. I keep on creating timelines so I can sit down and work on it but every time I sit down and try to write, nothing ever comes out. So like I want to write the book, as a personal project but it’s just taking a very long time.  

Photo by Irina Belashov

Can you tell me the genre you want to write about?

It is based on a real life experience. It’s about how life moves for someone who is incarcerate versus someone who is not incarcerated. About how much life changes outside of that whereas nothing changes inside of it. Just to show the drastic difference of how time goes on when someone just sits there, dormant, waiting to be free again.

What do you like so much about sociology that made you decide to study it?

Coming from a really small town, I never really understood people’s differences. I mean the town I grew up in was probably 98% white, about 10,000 people. To me, it was a really sheltered life when compared to the city, where I realized how fascinating it is how we are all so different. All of us have such different views, backgrounds and perceptions of life. Yet somehow, we are all functioning together as one and just trying to live in harmony as much as we can. I just love studying how this happens, how people can come together despite their differences and work for the greater good. For sociology, I want to learn as much as I can about people in order to help them move forward, overcome challenges and become better people. I can’t do this until I fully understand how race, class, ethnicity and background affect people. So I am kinda looking into the future by starting from the beginning.

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Photo by Irina Belashov

What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?

I actually think that one of my greatest achievements is going back to school. I mean, I had gone back before and had fallen into that trap of where I thought “this is it, this is the life I’ve chosen”. I am really proud that I made the decision to put in the effort and go back, all while balancing work and school and pushing it to one degree further by going to UPENN. I feel that when I decide to do something, I either go all the way or don’t do it at all. The fact that I am still here and doing it to my best ability, is one of my greatest accomplishments. I think making a change in order to make that conscious efforts to better yourself is important and I see that as an achievement.

 

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Can you share some of your future goals with me?

One of my goals is to see a new country or part of our country (USA) every year. So just to see a new place every year is really important to me and I think it makes me a better person. For a work goal, I want to be in a position where someone reports to me. I want to be at a point in my career where people come to me for advice, guidance and direction versus me always being the one asking people for it. I enjoy the process of teaching and feel like I would enjoy the opportunity to teach someone what I’ve learned through my experiences. As for a school goal- one semester at a time! I want to make the experience mine. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other people. I remember my first class at UPENN, within 5 minutes everyone whipped out their Macbook Airs while I had a 50 cent notebook and a pen I stole from the last company I worked for. I remember feeling so bad about myself and thinking “how dumb did I think I could come to UPENN and get away with a notebook”. Although I did end up buying a computer, figuring out how to not compare myself to others and wishing I was like them is something I also consider both a goal and accomplishment.

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What inspires you?

Color and texture inspire me. Although I am not outwardly colorful or wear anything textured, I am very inspired by them. I try to bring it into my space and often find myself being attracted to and moving towards it. Cinematography and just the whole movie/film world also inspire me. What I like to tell people “I am not ever really living on earth, in my mind, I’m in some sort of movie, in another world or in a dream.” Rarely is my mind where I actually am. I feel like I picture movies, I think in movies and I imagine movies into my own world. This inspires me to create “movie moments”, like when you are riding your bike and you raise your arms up into the air. I see a scene like this in a movie and I think to myself “Let me put this into my life. Let me do this and feel the magic”. Silly stuff like that inspires me. Sounds cheesy (laugh).

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What are your hobbies?

I love to bake and cook. As a lactose intolerant pescatarien with a honey and potato allergy, I had to learn how to make food that’s good for me, is wholesome and will sustain and give me protein etc. I have been a vegetarian pescatarian for 14 years, practically half of my life. I cut out dairy almost 10 years ago and my food allergies were a much recent discovery. All of this really forced me to learn to be creative when baking and cooking. I show my love through baked goods and I love to cook because I know it will make me feel good and get me through the day. I like to go to the grocery store and plan out my meals and recipes. Sundays I spend cooking, it’s become a good routine for me!

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Can you tell me of any causes, issues or ideas you are passionate about?

In terms of cause, animal rights are very important to me. I grew up on a farm where we had goats, pigs and sheep.  I would often look into these animals eyes amd I feel like this gesture made me a changed person. Not enough people take the time to make that connection. People are quick to talk about cats and dogs having specific personalities but they don’t consider that cows, pigs and sheep also have personalities and feelings. Something I’ve always felt strongly about is that is people were more exposed to farm or other animals, they would start to think differently.

In terms of causes, bullying. I was bullied when I was in school. It started from casual bullying when I was in elementary, I was taller than all the rest of the girls. I had big boobs and big feet which resulted in me constantly getting picked on. In middle school, when I really started to figure out my own style, people were really mean. They threatened to pull my pants down in the hallway, because they didn’t like my baggy pants. In high school, people would put gum in my hair, someone would spit spitballs at me etc. Bullying, for me, is a personal subject. We need to have more conversation about it. We need to better educate our children about it. We need to better educate our educators so they know what to look for, how to stop it and how to intervene. I think there needs to be more awareness because bullying really hurts people emotionally. So yes, I am passionate about anti-bullying and bullying awareness.

For the idea portion of this question I would like to say compassion. I’m a very much “Live and let live” kind of person. Except for me, it’s about having general compassion towards people, understanding others, having empathy towards them and just not being so quick to judge. I just feel like that is the direction humankind will choose to go in the future. This kind of goes back to the animal rights I mentioned, just having compassion for other living things and not being so self-centered.

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Is there any advice or personal life lessons you would like to share?

One of my favorite quotes from one my favorite authors, Christopher Gutierrez,“Everyday, I strive to be a little less sh*tty than I was before”. Chris is from the band Fall Out Boy, and is known as the Chris from the line “Hey Chris” in their song Grenade Jumper, (Hey Chris, you were our only friend, And I know this is belated, we love you back). Chris went through some serious sh*t in his life and he wrote about these experiences. I’ve met him a few times, he is an amazing person. This quote to me is so simple and yet so honest. I want to be a little less sh*tty than I was before. You don’t have to make a leap but a little step to be a better person, better friend, better partner, better child, better parent, better sibling, better student or a better worker. You can always make that one little, tiny step to be a little less sh*tty. I think this has really stuck with me and this is what I would encourage other to enact in their lives.

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If you liked the interview and want to keep up with Britney, follow her on her instagram! Otherwise, till next time! Dosvedaniya!