Ryan Gamma used to spend much of his workday treading water, and, as often as not, in over his head.
Now he spends it backed up in a corner, trying to keep everything straight.
Gamma, 36, of Sarasota, is a professional photographer. He started his career as a surf photog, dodging boards while getting breathtaking shots of “the athletes” in the shadows of breaking waves known as tubes. But he gave up the “young man’s game” in favor of shooting houses and other structures for real estate agents and architects.
Not many tubes — just lots of squares. Besides lighting and composition, he is concerned with making sure the clean lines of modernist architecture are as straight as possible in the frame.
One of his favorite shots is to stand in the corner of a room and shoot toward the other corner to capture as much of the space as possible.
“In real estate, you create lifestyle images that are enticing to the buyer, but at the same time, you are really there to document space,” Gamma said. “They want to see the rooms they are buying. It is not so much about interior design or shooting vignettes of the furnishings.
“Shooting the corners is a good way to show a potential buyer what they have. With a rectangular space, if you stand in the corners, you can show the space quickly.”
But when shooting architectural photos for such architects as Guy Peterson and Todd Sweet and Jerry Sparkman, space, light and form take priority.
“I look for symmetry,” he said.
Gamma is good at it. On July 23, he received 2016 “Photographer of the Year” honors at the convention of the American Institute of Architects’ Florida/Caribbean chapter in Palm Beach.
“The way he sees things is different,” said Peterson, the AIA Florida 2016 Gold Medal winner, who nominated Gamma for the photography award. “I have a strategy about hiring photographers. A lot of people would say to them, ‘I want you to take this picture and this picture and that picture.’ I may have one image I might want to have, but I don’t want to prejudice the photographer. I like them to go out and interpret the project with their cameras and their art.
“He always surprises me by seeing things that even I haven’t seen in my work,” Peterson said of Gamma. “That, I find, to be a real attribute of his. The clarity of his photography and the depth of field are remarkable. I am so glad he has received this award. I am very proud of him.
“And it is not just his architecture photos. His other work is quite spectacular,” including the surfing photos, which he began shooting after graduating in 2000 from Daytona Beach Community College’s (now Daytona State College) photography program.
Hand in hand
Photography and architecture go hand in hand. In fact, architects are dependent upon photographers; in most architecture design awards programs, the jury makes its decisions based upon photos.
Photographs are “the most important part of disseminating one’s work beyond the client,” said University of Florida architecture professor Martin Gold. “It is what makes the work more of a community experience, nationally and internationally.”
Without architectural photography, the Sarasota School of architecture might be just a footnote. But photographer Ezra Stoller’s large-format, black-and-white photographs of the 1940s and ‘50s designs of Paul Rudolph, and others, are considered classics of the art and brought international fame to the city. They served as the core imagery for John Howey’s 1995 book, “The Sarasota School of Architecture.”
Gamma feels the legacy.
“For me, I am quite partial to modern” architecture, he said. “I like the historically significant stuff, as well, and in Sarasota, we are fortunate to have quite a bit of that stuff still around.”
That would include boomtime buildings from the 1920s. But he prefers to shoot contemporary buildings with a modern design language.
“It speaks to me,” he said.
Gamma is a Sarasota native who lived several years in Atlanta before returning to Sarasota in 1998. Then he enrolled in college and got his break in surf photography, where an equipment company might pay $5,000 for full rights to a single image.
A photo session could be three hours. He wore short fins on his feet and held his camera in one hand, using his other arm as “an outrigger” as the wave broke over him. He would be as close as 1 foot from the surfer when he fired the trigger on his pistol-grip waterproof camera housing at the precise moment.
A clear shot required frequent cleaning of the housing’s lens. This was achieved by spitting on and licking the lens to coat it with saliva, and then dunking it in the sea. Spit, lick, dunk, shoot. Repeat as needed. Edit photos, collect check.
Back to Sarasota
He became photo editor of Eastern Surf magazine, but moved back to Sarasota in 2009.
“I felt burned out on the surfing thing. That is a young man’s game,” Gamma said.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then I was lucky enough to run into the ladies at Michael Saunders & Co. I had an interest in architecture, and it snowballed. I had no idea it was going to take me where it has taken me.”
Aside from the Saunders marketing department, Gamma met Saunders agent Drew Russell through mutual friends who were part of the tight-knit Gulf Coast surfing community.
“I was itching to give it a go,” Gamma said of the real estate photography. “I shot a couple (of listings) for Drew, and then Beth Ward in the marketing department gave me a lot of work,” along with agent Deborah Beacham, who specializes in luxury properties on Casey Key and other barrier islands.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Gamma said. “If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be here. They gave me lots of practice shooting real estate.”
“It is refreshing to come across young talent in someone I find to be enthusiastic about his work, extremely focused on getting just the right shot, never in a rush,” Beacham said.
Listings are different
Real estate listings are different from architecture assignments. Most of the listings are not new, and they often are amply furnished with the owners’ possessions. Some listings are more photogenic than others.
“In real estate, you are photographing stuff that is going to make the house marketable to an audience of people who are going to purchase the home,” Gamma said. “So there are things you might photograph that are not architecturally significant to the building, but are a great tool to market the property.
“Some things might be dated, or the land itself is the important part” of the listing. “With architecture, it is the design, the shapes,” said Gamma, who said the first architect to hire him was Xavier Garcia of Las Casitas.
And, the buildings are brand new, with no flaws or clutter.
“These are portfolio projects, and the building is the architect’s baby. This is his proud moment, right now, and for me, they are really exciting. I get a glimpse into a project that hasn’t been brought to light yet.”
Shooting buildings designed by Guy Peterson, Gamma said, is the fulfillment of a dream.
“When I first started shooting real estate, I hoped one day to be able to shoot photos for Guy Peterson,” he said.
“I thought, ‘How thrilling it would be to shoot some of these projects.’ When that finally happened, I was over the moon. And for it to go to this level, to be nominated by his firm, it is hard to put in words how satisfying it feels.
“It feels like I did something right.”