ruh roh

Columbia graffiti

For Lenny Pridatko, Columbia’s campus is a photographer’s dream. Students lying on picturesque lawns, surrounded by architecture, welcome the lensman to capture both the aesthetically pleasing and the historically significant. Where does Columbia fit into this dream, if not as a continually changing haven of ambitious souls and established minds refining their oasis?

You can see the SIPA student’s admiration for Alma Mater’s walls through the pictures on his website of Columbia. Taken during all hours, the pictures intimately freeze in time everything from Butler to the tunnels. Amidst the commotion of commencement, his photos depict the fear and excitement in every face, while still holistically representing the class as a sea of blue. His shots of graffiti on dilapidated restricted access sessions uncovers the rotting basements of the university. His vivid wide shot of Butler makes one want to, well, uh, study.

All it took to draw this native New Yorker to photography was an introductory course in 1998. In a similar course a few years later, an allergic reaction to photo processing chemicals which caused his skin to peel off put his passion on hold. The rise of digital photography let him start taking pictures again. 9/11 aroused his interest in international relations, and eight years later, at SIPA, he hoped to merge his academic and artistic interests. His extensive portfolio and desire to work as a full-time photographer suggest that the latter has overtaken the former.

Lenny sees university photography as an unexplored market. In June 2009, he began taking pictures around campus for fun. It wasn’t until a year later when a visit to the university bookstore led him to discover that a picture book of Columbia doesn’t exist. Fast forward to August 2011, 100,000 campus snapshots later, when the content of the book is ready. His picture book will contain 125 pictures from his vast collection; under each will be text written by a hired writer. “Most NYC picture books are too broad” for the aspiring photographer, and a campus allows “many things such as buildings, sculptures, and history” to be unified in a picture book.

His personal photography service, ShotInNY, further actualizes his passions into a career. He used to photograph his friends for fun. This evolved into him photographing parties. Eventually, he was asked by a couple to take pictures for their engagement. Soon enough, another couple requested the same thing, and after a little research, Lenny realized that on-location photography services in NYC are sparse. Most companies require a studio visit, while Lenny will meet you in any of the five boroughs.

Unfortunately, he has no stories of police chases through the tunnels or quick fire escape descents from Public Safety. His university I.D. gave him access to most places, and he goes as far as to say that he “couldn’t of made the book without it”. Fun fact: you may only use a tripod to photograph campus if you are a student. Some tight spots required a bit of adventuring, while the more restricted ones required the help of a friend or the patience to wait for a door to be unlocked. Once, he had to climb through a bathroom window only about a foot wide to access a ledge.

Lenny is a true self starter. He uses his own camera, edits the pictures himself, has created all of his website, and does all his marketing. All this caught the attention of Forbes, who published his beautiful overhead of the Maison Français. It won’t come as a surprise if, after graduation, we receive donation request postcards bearing Lenny’s photographs of Columbia.

Look out for Lenny’s picture book of Columbia, scheduled for an early April release.