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Lawyers Journal, Allegheny County Bar Association, Jan. 22, 2016: Eric Falk and his photography

Behind the camera lens, Falk draws inspiration from his surroundings

by Tracy Carbasho

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Eric Falk sees the world from a different perspective than most attorneys.

When he's not practicing law as a partner at Rawle & Henderson, he spends a lot of time observing the world through a camera lens. And in doing so, he finds inspiration in architecture, nature, food, the faces of city dwellers -- whatever's around him.

"I get a lot of satisfaction in being able to communicate through photographs how I see the world and trying to get others to see it that way. One of my favorite compliments came from a fellow attorney who has viewed some of my photos and remarket that I can shoot something she has seen a hundred times and make her see it in a different way," Falk said.  "I enjoy seeing things differently and sharing that perspective."

With his Nikon in hand along Smithfield Street, Eric Falk pauses on a December morning to be photographed in his element. As a street-photography enthusiast, Falk prefers to be on the other side of the camera, capturing the world around him. [photo: Mark Higgs]

During a deposition break about a year ago, Falk showed some of his Paris photographs to Kelly Smith, a shareholder at Dickie, McCame & Chilcote.  She has been a fan of his work ever since.

“He sees things I don’t see. By way of example, I spend a lot of time in the City-County Building, a building that I think most would agree is a bit tired and unattractive,” Smith said.   “Eric took a series of photographs of the building that made me look at it in a totally different fashion. There are interesting and even pretty aspects to the building, if you look for them.”

Incidentally, those photos were taken at Smith’s request as a gift for someone. Her favorite photographs are the ones Falk has taken of PPG Place, where her office is located.

Falk is most interested in architectural, urban, landscape and “street” photography. However, sometimes he just shoots what he sees – hence, the “food” and “flowers” galleries on his website.

"My Name is Man" by Eric Falk. Falk's work has been exhibited in the lobby of the U.S. Courthouse in Pittsburgh, the Image Box Gallery and The Rivers Club. He is open to displaying his work at other locations and can be reached at efalk@rawle.com. His online gallery is at 500px.com/ericfalk1959.

Among his favorite shots are those included in his “Smithfield Street Stories” collection. Falk was inspired to tackle the project by Robert Frank’s book “The Americans,” which captured the tension of the 1950s, and by the work of Vivian Maier. Upon her death in 2009, it was discovered that Maier had been a street photographer who had shot more than 150,000 photographs.

U.S. District Court Judge Nora Barry Fischer met Falk whey they both worked at Meyer Darragh. She has kept in touch with Falk, and some of the Smithfield images really moved her.

“He continually surprises me with the shots he gets. He recently sent me a few black-and-white shots from Market Street,” she said. “The photos represent stark studies of men without means in the midst of an urban oasis.”

Several of the Smithfield images feature homeless people. As an attorney who works in the Oliver Building, Falk sees affluent people sharing the same public spaces with the homeless and is drawn to the disparity.

“I am very aware of the seeming incongruity of a white-collar person such as myself taking these photos,” Falk said. “In fact, what started me on this project, in addition to my admiration for the work of Frank and Maier, is that very incongruity – the contrast – between the ivory tower office buildings, the white-collar workers and those who ‘inhabit,’ for lack of a better term, the Smithfield Street Corridor.”

As Falk took more and more shots from the Smithfield project, he expanded the geographic area to include all of downtown, not just the corridor.  For one photo, he also altered how he presents the images to viewers. Typically, Falk takes a just-the-facts approach with titles and captions so as not to influence a viewer’s emotional response.  However, he felt compelled to editorialize with the title of a photo of a man sorting through items in his sleeping area along Strawberry Way. Falk said he wrestled with whether he should share his “We Need to Help the Homeless” photo, but encouragement from friends persuaded him to share it.

“I don’t know why, but I have a very strong sense of ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’ whenever I see the homeless,” Falk said.

“I feel very much that for most of us, these people flicker across our eyes, but they don’t linker, they don’t register.  We don’t acknowledge their existence. In doing so, we deny these people the very humanity that unites all of us, homeless and white collar, rich, poor and middle class. Our common link is that we all inhabit this area, even if only during the ‘work hours,’ we all breathe the same air. We all have hunger, we all desire warmth and comfort. We are all mortal.”

Falk began focusing on photography in 2012 as he and his wife, Barb, were near the point of becoming empty nesters. He realized he needed a hobby for himself and to avoid annoying his wife, who is also an attorney. Two of his colleagues – Randy Struk of the Pittsburgh office of Clark Hill and Derek Smith of the Chicago office of Steptoe and Johnson – are avid photographers who fostered his interest. Now, Falk no longer considers it just a hobby, but an avocation.

Falk received his law degree in 1984 from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1988, he has concentrated his practice on toxic tort litigation, defending bot Fortune 500 companies and regional business against allegations of various diseases due to exposure to asbestos and other chemicals and solvents.

“Law has its rewards and frustrations. You can work very hard on something, put out a high-quality work product and sometimes a judge or a jury will disagree with you,” Falk said.  “That’s the nature of the profession. In that sense, I find photography is pretty much all reward and little frustration unless the sunlight doesn’t cooperate or someone parks a huge truck in front of the object I scoped out previously for an interesting shot.”

© Allegheny County Bar Association 2016

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