Czech film student wins massive following with New York photo art

Photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková

Yellow cabs flying in the sky above New York, the Statue of Liberty holding an ice cream cone or a man hanging from a skyscraper, about to be blown away by the wind: these are just some of the “illustrated photos” of New York created by Eliška Podzimková, a young artist from the Czech Republic. To date, her Instagram account, AnimateNY, where she publishes her pictures, has attracted some 25,000 followers.

Eliška Podzimková,  photo: Archive of Eliška Podzimková
A graduate of the film school in Písek in south Bohemia, Eliška Podzimková, who is now 21, first came to New York in 2012 to attend a summer workshop at the New York Film Academy. She fell in love with the Big Apple and, upon her return to the Czech Republic, she started editing pictures of the city in Photoshop, literally bringing them alive by adding playful illustrations.

I spoke to Eliška Podzimková on the phone to New York and started by asking her what was her impression of the city when she arrived there for the first time:

“I have fallen in love with the city because I basically didn’t have much time to do the usual tourist stuff. So I basically just jumped into the New York life and it was probably the best experience of the city itself.”

New York,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
What exactly did you like about it?

“I like the different cultures here. I love to observe people in the subway. I like to experience the different cuisines and food. It was like a movie, I guess. Now it’s a bit different, because I live and work here. So I don’t have enough time to enjoy the city.”

How did you get the idea to illustrate the photos of NY? Was it during your stay?

Photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
“It was actually when I got back to Prague after the visit. I really missed the city so I started looking at pictures from New York on the internet and I ended up on Instagram.

“There are so many people there, who take pictures of the city, and many of them are talented photographers. So I asked them if I could illustrate their photos and they were usually really excited about it.”

“For me, it’s like adding something from myself to the place where the picture was taken, my own touch.”

Do you also get approached by people who would like to have their pictures illustrated?

Photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
“Yes, definitely, it happens a lot. But it’s different, because I don’t have a good idea for every picture I see, so I really have to choose the pictures myself.”

Where do you get the inspiration for your pictures?

“I usually get it from the place itself because I have been to most of the places where the pictures are from. And also, most of the time it’s a trending topic, something that’s happening at the time.

“For example a couple of weeks ago I drew King Kong hugging the Empire State Building in a snow storm because there was an actual snow storm.”

Listen to your City,  photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
“And inspiration? I am not sure. I guess my thinking is kind of wild and childish, so I like to express it in my own way.”

What picture is your personal favourite?

“My most favourite is the one picturing a guy with an ear on a thread. It’s called Listen to your City. It’s black and white and it’s really minimalistic. It’s really one of my favourite s– I have it everywhere: on my iPhone case, on my wallet, on my business cards. It’s like my trademark.”

Why did you decide to publish the pictures on an Instagram account?

“It actually wasn’t my idea. One of the first pictures that I tried was from my home town, and I just randomly tried to draw on it and post it on my Instagram account. A guy who saw it on the Instagram asked me to edit one of his photos and he basically started the whole thing.

Photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
“We did three or four pictures together and then other people started to like it and asked me to edit their photos and it spread everywhere.”

It spread enormously and nowadays you have a huge number of followers. Were you surprised by the reaction? Why do you think it has become so popular?

“Of course I am surprised. It basically changed my life. Because I got a job thanks to Instagram and I am getting involved in so many cool projects now so it is really surprising to me.

“But why is that? I don’t know if I am the right person to answer this question but I think it’s because this technique is unusual and rare, in a way. It is sort of new and fresh to put the real world with the illustration and animation together.”

Pulp Fiction in the City,  photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
About a year ago, the Metro daily published your picture Pulp Fiction in the City on its front page, along with an interview. Was that the moment when you got noticed?

“Yes, basically this interview started the whole thing and that’s also the article my current boss saw and decided to offer me a job.”

What kind of work is it? What do you do there?

“I am not working there yet because of the visa situation so I am in the middle of the visa process, but I will be working at the New York Film Academy, where I went for the summer workshop.

“I will do social media content and other animations and illustrations, working in the marketing department.”

Photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
You said that the pictures helped you to feel less estranged in the Big Apple. Do you now feel more at home in NY?

“I do feel more at home. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to work on new pictures, but I am trying to come up with new projects and try something new.

“It was definitely a way for me to get into the city because I feel like I will always feel like a stranger in the city even if there are so many different people living in the city.”

Do you still enjoy it as much as in the beginning or are you starting to feel the urge to move on and try something new?

Photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
“I definitely feel that way, trying something new, I still enjoy editing the pictures but not as often as before.”

Have you tried to apply the same method to pictures of Prague or other cities?

“That's an interesting question and yes, because I finally realised that I miss Prague now that I am not there. So I am trying to use pictures from my friends from Prague a try different cities as well.”

Do you feel you have to know the city in order to be able to illustrate it?

“Exactly. And probably not only as a tourist, because it's not enough for me to experience it just on the surface.”

Lucie Cingrošová,  photo: Archive of Lucie Cingrošová
What are some of the future projects that you have in the pipeline?

“My goal is trying to put the images from the computer file to an actual thing. So I am producing T-shirts with the designs or other products or actual canvasses and prints.

“One of the really exciting projects is Můj nový život, which is based in Motol hospital in Prague and it focuses on kids who suffer from cancer. I’ll be working on it with Lucie Cingrošová, a doctor who has launched the project.

“I will use the strong images of the kids, but I will try to make them more happy, try to explain that the kids are sick, but they are still alive and trying to get better.

Photo: Instagram account of Eliška Podzimková
“It's very exciting for me because I actually went through something similar when I was fifteen, so I really want to get involved and try to help with my staff, at least a little bit.”

You have been doing animation since very early age. What do you find so fascinating about it?

“I guess the fact that I am able to imagine, to create a fantasy and put it in the real world and share it with people.

“It's like a magic process when I am thinking of something crazy in my head and then put the vision into an actual animation or a short film.”