Going #NoFilter with UH Close Up

A conversation with Hines College architecture student Felipe Harker, creator and photographer behind UH Close Up

by Nicholas Nguyen • May 31, 2024

A hobby in photography led recent University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design graduate Felipe Harker (B.Arch. ’24) to find a way to document memories on campus and create a community online.

It all started with finding his mom’s old film camera in middle school and getting his first roll of 35mm film developed at Walgreens. Harker photographed the Houston Marathon in January 2014, and he began to develop an interest in documentary photography, photojournalism, and street photography, focusing on capturing everyday moments and events.

Getting Close Up to Campus

When it came time for college, Harker’s passions included architecture and design, and his camera was upgraded from film to digital. His first year at UH in 2019 included taking snapshots of the people around him, including classmates in his foundation studio.

“Looking back at these photos, especially after COVID separated us so suddenly only a few months into my second semester, I’m grateful to have been able to memorialize our late nights in studio, going out to eat, or just hanging out at our dorms,” Harker explained.

above: Harker's photos capture campus buildings and life, from sporting events to students activities to quieter moments

Once campus opened again in 2021, Harker returned that summer to prepare for in-person classes. Before the fall term began, he used his free time to walk around and explore campus at sunset to avoid Houston’s sweltering heat. After weeks of collecting photos of buildings around UH, he did not know what to do with all his work. His hobby evolved into UH Close Up (UHCU).

“A friend suggested making a website or an Instagram profile, and we brainstormed a few names,” Harker said. “From there, we worked on a style guide, logo, post schedule, and written guidelines for captions, stories, etc. We took it seriously, which made it all the more fun. From the start, the inspiration for UHCU came from design students needing a creative outlet (surprise, surprise) and finding a way to do that.”

The account quickly gained admirers. Harker credits the campus community for inspiring him. He realized that students sometimes get too into their work worlds at school and need to recognize the environment around them. Plus, he thought about students that commute to school who never really got to see sunset at the Cullen Fountains or a foggy morning on a walk to Moody Towers for breakfast. By sharing his campus experience through UHCU, he wanted to bring people closer to the campus community.

Bridging Architecture and Photography

The intersection of architecture and photography shares fundamental principles. Harker’s design education helped him better understand composition, lighting, colors, and tonality. Through architecture and photography, he can set up a scene to tell a story, frequently asking himself: How do our drawings convey the story we want to tell? What am I trying to convey with this photograph?  Just as he contemplates tools and materials for his studio projects, Harker also carefully considers everything that goes into crafting an image.

Sky, Building, Window, Cloud, Wood, House, Siding
Water, Sky, Plant, Fountain, Tree, Building, Window

above:.the architecture building at night is one of his favorite times to photograph the building; to harker, the e. cullen building is iconic

"The final outcome is all about picking the right ingredients to convey the message you want, both in architecture and photography,” Harker explained. “Even the craft or medium I choose has been informed by architecture.”

Not only has architecture given Harker insight into strengthening his photography skills, it has also pushed him to use the medium to unwind from the rigors of studio and work stress. While staying consistent with UHCU has been a challenge at times, Harker finds going on walks to take photos, like the ones prompting him to create the account in the first place, an excellent way to gain insight and inspiration.

Putting the Future in Focus

Reflecting on the pictures he has taken over the years and remembering the people and stories behind them makes Harker emotional. Running the UHCU account has been a significant part of his college life — he even landed his first job through the account!

“I loved my time at UH and the Hines College most of all, which makes the thought of it coming to an end bittersweet, to say the least,” Harker professed.

While he is unsure of what the future of the account will look like in the long term, for now, he’s happy to let it remain as an archive of a “beautiful, formative place and time” in his life. Post-graduation, he’s staying in Houston and working at a firm to get real-world experience in architecture. In the next few years, he sees himself putting creativity first, perhaps by pursuing graduate studies.

TIP #1: Consider the Light

According to Harker, lighting will dramatically alter your subject's expression and, subsequently, the story you are trying to tell.

TIP #2: Move Around and Get to Know Your Subject

Clicking the shutter is actually a very small part of the creative process. Harker advises studying the subject from various angles to find the ideal composition. “Unlike people, buildings do not move,” he explained. In addition to finding the right point of view, he believes people should return to the same spots during different times of the day and in different seasons to compare results.

TIP #3: Capture Everything

Too much is never enough when it comes to experimenting and finding your personal style. Harker said, “Carry your camera everywhere and burn through a lot of film or fill up your SD card. Find your style, change it, develop it, and mold it.” Try different focuses or exposures to see how they impact your image.

TOP SPOT: Cullen Fountains

“Perfect to people watch and for nice photos, especially when the weather is good.”

TOP SPOT: Basketball Games at the Fertitta Center

“Follow this up with some candids of cheerful supporters at the Den after the game. Don’t forget a wide lens.”

TOP SPOT: Architecture Building

“[Go] in the early morning or late, late night. Nothing beats the perpetually lit face of our gorgeous building. Look up at it from the pink benches when you need a break. The round light fixtures greeting us outside make me smile every time. Whether it’s your first time or your thousandth, take a few seconds to look up when you get inside — it will brighten your day.”

See more UH Close Up photos on Instagram, @uhcloseup.

Shoot Your Shot

Harker shares some of his top tips to capture special moments, plus where he got inspired on campus.

Vision care, Forehead, Nose, Hair, Glasses, Smile, Lip, Eyewear, Jaw, Happy
Baseball cap

Get the Scoop

This story was first published in the spring 2024 issue of DIMENSION Magazine. Read the magazine.


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