Urban exploring first lured John D’Angelo to Detroit as a teen. He and his friends enjoyed the adventures they had deep inside the city’s architectural ruins—spaces that once flourished with life, then abandoned and forgotten. As these excursions became more frequent, D’Angelo started bringing his camera along to document their discoveries.
“What began as a passion unfolded into a career,” said D’Angelo, a freelance architectural photographer who lives and works in Detroit. “As soon as I could drive, I would come down to the city to explore its old architecture. At the time, I had dabbled a little in photography (my father’s antique looking camera always intrigued me!), so I started taking pictures of the historic buildings.
“One day, I heard a family friend talking about how he had gone to film school in Los Angeles. As I listened to him, I realized that what I was doing had potential. I enrolled in the pre-college program at CCS, then was admitted into the photography program after graduating from high school.
“I took a course from Bill Valicenti who offered us valuable advice about the business side of photography. He said, ‘Always keep your ear to the ground’ and ‘always know your worth.’ I found my first client by keeping up with the news—being aware of projects in the city, then connecting with the people involved. I’ve been able to make a living as a photographer by setting a realistic price for my work and not underselling myself.”
About two years ago, D’Angelo was hired to photograph the recently restored David Whitney Building, a 19-story skyscraper built in 1915 in the heart of Detroit. He had explored the inside of the building when it was abandoned, so being able to document its revitalization was especially meaningful to him.
“I’d had my eye on the Whitney Building for quite some time,” said D’Angelo. “Witnessing how its transformation breathed new life and purpose into the space helped me realize what I relish most about my career—the snowball effect of creativity. Discovering other people’s designs, then showing them to others in a way that inspires them. And, I get to see spaces that I wouldn’t have otherwise (legally) been able to see.”
D’Angelo appreciates the balance he finds in his day-to-day work. As a freelance photographer, he works alone (or occasionally with an assistant) connecting with clients (architects, builders, contractors and interior designers), marketing and processing his work. On shoots, it’s not uncommon for D’Angelo to work with a team of designers and stylists helping him capture the message his client wants to convey. He also enjoys using his technical expertise, knowledge of equipment and Photoshop skills to the buildings’ stories in creative, new ways.
“Never doubt you can make a career about something you love,” said D’Angelo.
“I was fortunate to find a school that offered a nurturing environment for a creative mindset. Being surrounded by faculty and other students with similar goals had a tremendous impact on my career. I quickly learned that it would pay off as much as you put into it.”
While the architecture of Detroit’s historic buildings holds a special place in D’Angelo’s heart, the photographer hopes to one day be able to tell the stories of intriguing spaces in other cities as well. He landed his first international client this year, Kit and Ace, a Canadian-based clothing retailer that recently opened a store in Detroit. To view more of D’Angelo’s work, check out Johndangelophoto.com.
- Architectural Photographer