Veteran New York City event, editorial, and portrait photographer Bob Krasner has done brilliant work for decades, finding a way to make ends meet in the cutthroat field of professional photography. While paying bills with inspired “traditional” work, he has also earned a passionate following through daily abstract photo posts on Instagram. These abstract photos are the subject of a new book, The Archive No. 7, available in a limited-edition run through Quiet Lunch’s The Collector’s Corner.
Abstract Photography Has Always Mattered to Bob Krasner, Even if Other Work Pays the Bills
“I had always done abstract stuff here and there, going back to when I first started in high school and in college,” Krasner tells PetaPixel over the phone. “There’s stuff that I look at that I really enjoyed doing. That is the beginning of what I’m doing now.”
“I used to shoot huge weddings and bat mitzvah, that sort of thing. I’m not doing that anymore, not the big ones, but I still shoot at the corporate stuff. I’ve got to make money,” Krasner says. “But even when I was doing all that, I always made time to go out and specifically shoot for myself.”
Then Krasner started posting some of this personal work on Instagram and, invigorated by people’s positive reaction and interest, dove into it headfirst and began creating new work daily.
“I carry my camera with me literally everywhere I go,” Krasner explains. Whether on his way to or back from an event he’s shooting, he makes time for personal work.
At first, Krasner’s abstract work lived alongside his professional work online. He realized that this way of sharing his photos felt incongruous and odd, so he split his work across two Instagram accounts, one for abstracts, and a second one for portrait and event work. While PetaPixel initially reached out to Krasner because of his abstract work, there’s no question that there’s some aesthetic overlap between both of Krasner’s accounts, even if the subject matter is significantly different.
The Ways Instagram Changed Krasner’s Photography
Getting heavily involved in Instagram changed how Krasner shoots, too. Besides wanting to create more new work to be able to make daily posts, he also didn’t like how his feed looked with just portrait orientation images. He says he has long preferred vertical photos, but now he intentionally mixes things up to create a compelling visual language for his portfolio.
“I’ve gotten lots of great stuff with the horizontal shots and I think it gives [my Instagram profile] a lot of variety. It forces me to think differently about my shots.”
“It doesn’t matter what I’m shooting, I try to approach it with an eye based on the composition,” Krasner explains. “When I was shooting wedding portraits, I tried to find locations that kind of framed subjects, and I placed them in the frame.”
Krasner recalls that The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson was a significant influence for him as a young photographer.
“My dad had a copy, which I still have. It’s all beat up, the spine is missing. But I was always amazed by not only the way that he captured that moment with everything perfectly in the frame, but they were also beautifully composed. His stuff is just so perfectly composed, and I always tried to emulate that in my work, no matter what I was shooting.”
Krasner cites Arnold Newman as another one of his photographic heroes. He calls Newman “one of the most brilliant portrait artists ever.”
“I think about him all the time, at least subconsciously, when I shoot. I’m always trying to compose things, especially with artists and musicians in a way that relates to what it is that they do,” Krasner says.
Another of Krasner’s inspirations is his friend, Richard Sandler, a famous street photographer.
“He is an absolutely brilliant street photographer,” Krasner says. He recommends Sandler’s book, Eyes of the City, to any photography enthusiasts.
Luck, Preparation, and Experience All Matter in Photography
There’s a lot of thoughtfulness to all of Krasner’s photography, no matter what he’s shooting. There’s also some serendipity.
While it’s typical for a landscape photographer to scout locations and plan every minute detail, Krasner creatively adapts to moments as they come in the concrete jungle of New York City.
It is not so much randomness, although he says he sometimes walks around with no particular place in mind and makes last-minute decisions about what streets to go down, but more like artistic flexibility.
All photographers know that you cannot force a good shot. You need compelling subjects, good light, and a careful eye. Sure, luck nearly always plays a role, but Krasner’s decades of experience enable him to succeed.
New York is a busy place, yet Krasner finds a way to capture moments, small and large alike, that are peaceful and serene. They are simultaneously so not New York City and yet, at times, instantly and obviously from the city.
Importantly, Krasner knows what he likes and where to look, and critically, he has the skills to see the possibilities that pass millions of people by every single day.
An All-in-One Zoom Lens is a Powerful Tool
To always be ready, he shoots with an all-in-one zoom lens, an unusual choice for a professional photographer.
“I carry one lens and I love it,” Krasner says. “It’s a Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6. Between that and my camera, a Nikon D850, which I also love, my kit is heavy enough for me to carry around. I can’t walk with anything else in my bag. That’s the combo and it’s amazing.”
He also swears by DxO software, which Krasner says is fantastic and helps correct the 28-300mm zoom’s optical shortcomings, including a bit of distortion and vignette.
PetaPixel quizzed Krasner on perspective corrections, as it can be challenging to get straight lines when looking up at tall buildings. Krasner says he sometimes does minor perspective corrections but prefers to edit with a light touch. Much of his editing is limited to basic exposure, contrast, and color adjustments, alongside a bit of healing if something is distracting in the frame.
“I want my photos to stay true to what it is that I saw,” Krasner says.
Although the pandemic adjusted his schedule, Krasner admits he’s a bit of a night owl, so he isn’t up and about early in the mornings. His favorite times to walk around and capture abstract cityscapes are in the afternoon and dusk. However, he adds that he has gotten good images at any time of day.
Times Square Like You’ve Never Seen it Before
His heavy use of blue skies is apparent throughout much of Krasner’s abstract portfolio. Plenty of shots are mixed in with cloudy or dreary skies, but a lot of his color work features vibrant blue skies.
Notably, in his Times Square series, which stands out from much of Krasner’s work by being one of the few examples of him continuously visiting a single location, there is more variety in time of day and weather.
There’s a lot that’s different about the Times Square photos, in fact, not just relative to Krasner’s overall body of work but also to what other photographers do. New York City is a heavily visited and frequently photographed area, especially in busy tourist locations like Times Square.
However, Krasner’s images are exceptionally different from the norm.
“I really think that I’ve managed to capture Times Square in a way that nobody else has,” the photographer says. “I’ve done research to see what’s out there, and I don’t think that anybody else has looked at Times Square in this kind of minimal, abstract way.”
Krasner created unique work of a highly well-known location by photographing billboards when they’re in between ads, when they often feature solid colors, and not focusing on the thousands of people milling about at any given time.
“I find Times Square fascinating,” he says. “I’m one of the few New Yorkers who will tell you that I love Times Square. I just think the people coming through there, and everything, the whole vibe of it, it is really pretty amazing.”
His work has also inspired fellow photographers to look at New York City in a fresh way. Krasner says he’s had people tell him they noticed things after seeing his photos that they had never seen before, even in a place where they may have lived for decades.
Having been to New York City many times for work, I didn’t realize how brilliantly colorful the city is. Krasner, despite saying he doesn’t personally care much for yellow, manages to find it frequently and put it to brilliant use in his images.
“I shoot a lot of yellow,” Krasner says, admitting that he recently was thinking about that specific color. “I could probably do a book just on my yellow pictures. Yellow is so strong and vibrant, and it plays off against the shadows or the blue sky, or both.”
“If I do a book like that, it’s going to be called Yellow Is Not My Favorite Color, because it really isn’t. Red is probably my favorite color.”
“But then again, I love any color that looks beautiful in the picture.”
More From Bob Krasner
Concerning books, it doesn’t need to be hypothetical because Krasner has a brand-new book that is just about to start printing. The photography book, The Archive No. 7, is limited to 100 copies and is available to order for $100. Perhaps coincidental — but probably not — the book’s beautiful cover features a yellow billboard in Times Square. Each copy of the book includes a special signed print made by Krasner himself. The book’s publisher and editor is Akeem Duncan. Famed New York City street and punk culture photographer Godlis wrote the book’s intro.
Image credits: All images © Bob Krasner, unless otherwise noted