Photographers are used to being behind the camera, but the…
Lead designer Kim Burgas has been living and breathing Beam for quite some time now. We thought it was only fitting that the person behind much of the Beam user interface pause for a few to show us how and why she uses the platform she helped bring to life.
Tell us a little about what you do here at PhotoShelter.
I am the Lead Product Designer. I design the Beam template experiences and product UI. Previously, I worked at a number of technology startups in New York, as well as a digital design firm. I’ve been at PhotoShelter for two years now, and what I love most about working here is the opportunity to work with a community of passionate creatives. Luckily my job requires that I communicate regularly with photographers to understand their needs and build solutions together. I find those interactions — an exchange of passion for what we do as individuals and what we can accomplish together — so rich and enjoyable. As a creative myself, I am lucky to be working with a community of visual culture producers who have the ability to inspire, critique and inform.
What part does photography play in your life as a creative?
I consider myself an artist who works in various mediums, photography being one of them (depending on the statement or message I am trying to deliver). I studied drawing and painting in school and danced for many years; photography is a newer medium for me. My curiosity in photography was piqued first when my mom and I went through some of my father’s belongings after his death. I found his 35mm Konica camera, which I insisted on keeping. I later took my father’s camera with me on my travels to Indonesia, Yemen and Japan and shot a lot of the post-industrial Rust Belt demise around me during college (in Cincinnati, Detroit, Gary, IN) with his camera. When I moved to New York, I jury-rigged a “camera mount” on the headtube of my bicycle to capture the city life as I rode. There was something very special about capturing the world through the lens into which he once looked.
I recently took at trip to my father’s hometown — a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania my family settled in when they first arrived to the US — and captured the town, a place I had not been to since I was 9 years old. I particularly fell in love with the texture of a pile of railroad ties staked just outside of town. I love that photography brings a texture to our everyday by connecting to a world outside our daily lives.
As Lead Product Designer you’ve obviously played a huge part in the visual creation of Beam. Can you talk a little about that?
Well, I’ve basically helped to design every single one of our Beam templates. Each one came about from a different place and a different need. For instance, Sonnet, our latest template, emerged out of a series of conversations with storytellers we engaged with early on in the design process. By working directly with photographers, we were able to understand more about the needs of storytellers. I think we ended up creating a unique experience in the end.
Speaking of Sonnet… I see you are using it yourself! How are you making it work for your own portfolio?
It’s interesting, actually, because I’m not really using the template in the way I had originally designed it to be used — for long-form storytelling. But that is in part what I like about the template: it is flexible enough to allow for people to find their own solutions. I recently came across a PhotoShelter member who is using Sonnet and noticed that he intentionally left the splash page blank — and it looks great! While I am using the template in a fairly “traditional” fashion, I am using the About page to show a photo of me. Most people use a photograph that they feel might be representative of who they are. I would like to see more people using this space to show their personality through a photograph of themselves.
Can you tell us what you are working on these days (at PhotoShelter or otherwise)?
In the PhotoShelter world I’m continuing to work on Beam template improvements all the time. With my photography, I’m looking to do more ethnographic work, including documentation of New York City pedicab drivers and blind tandem bicycle riders (and their sighted guides). I’m also looking to document Yemeni bodega owners’ stories with the hopes of eventually returning to Yemen to document the stories of their families back home.