By Alicia James
Most Corvallisites know Ben Leshchinsky as Professor Leshchinsky, a recent faculty hire in the department of Forest Engineering, Resources & Management at Oregon State University. To others, he is a self-taught photographer whose landscapes and cityscapes have been featured in a variety of media outlets such as National Geographic, Getty Images, Yahoo!, and CNN.
Leshchinsky is academically trained in civil engineering with degrees from the University of Delaware and Columbia University. He first approached photography as an interested viewer, perusing Flickr and Reddit for entertainment during infrequent bouts of downtime during his studies. He snapped his first shot on a whim while on vacation with his parents in 2007. “They had a DSLR…and I asked to play around with it,” said Leshchinsky. “From that point on, I never really put down a camera.”
While in graduate school, Leshchinsky decided to up his creative game from occasional hobbyist to devoted enthusiast since a good day of shooting relieved stress. He scoured the Internet for technique tutorials and finally purchased his own DSLR. Although he considers himself well down the path of gear geekery, tech collecting is a means to an end. “A lot of people focus on the gear instead of the joy of taking photos, composing the photos,” said Leshchinsky.
Leshchinsky draws creative inspiration from the richness of his life. He admires Ansel Adams as “the grandfather of modern landscape photography,” but the artist’s work is only an indirect influence. Instead, Leshchinsky shares an intense passion for travel with his wife. “Our first trip together was to Oregon and we’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid ever since,” he said. His research on forestry engineering also informs his photography insofar as he is frequently off the beaten path to investigate the mechanics of erosion and landslides. When not tromping through the great outdoors for work, he still prefers to be outside. “[I feel] at peace, as cliché as that sounds. It makes me feel small in a good way. Only nature can make me feel like that,” said Leshchinsky.
Despite his documentary inclination, the images Leshchinsky produces are far from prosaic. Instead, he captures evanescent juxtapositions of light and dark through long exposure shots to evoke a sense of what he calls “mystery and history.” Images of Easter Island moai statues framed by starry skies, bird’s eye views of glittering New York City blocks, and foggy Oregon winter mountain vistas are all prime examples of this theme. Humans are rarely present in Leshchinsky’s work. In the few instances when our fair species is referenced on a smaller, intimate scale, it is through relics and shadow. Old buildings and empty alleyways whisper tales of busier times. A lone figure sits on a dock under the aurora borealis.
Leshchinsky’s keen eye for the sublime and awesome in nature has paid off in many respects. In addition to a great deal of website traffic and numerous awards, one of which is National Geographic’s 2012 Editor’s Pick, he has a small-scale exhibit under his belt and makes enough from stock photo royalties to feed his creative habit. Regardless, he does not feel the drive to be a professional, full-time photographer, even if he had duodecillion dollars. “I now have a job that I enjoy, especially the teaching aspects,” said Leshchinsky. If anything, his work at OSU and his photography contribute to an overall lust for life. “I wish I could have more of it all, but I can’t be too greedy,” said Leshchinsky.
Leshchinsky’s biggest accomplishment to date skews interpersonal. The awards and sales “are nice, but the personal satisfaction… of capturing the moment” propels him forward. Sharing drives his photographic ambition as well. None of the photos on his website are watermarked. In fact, anyone can download wallpaper-sized versions. “Making money isn’t as important to me. It’s more just when people gain that same satisfaction from it,” said Leshchinsky.
Leshchinsky’s photographs can be viewed and purchased at www.benaleshphoto.com. Newly exposed shutterbugs, skilled enthusiasts who want to brush up on their technique, and anyone who wants to know how to shoot the moon at scale are encouraged to contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org for lessons.