Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Evanston couple turns passion for university photography into full business

John Brzezinski took this photograph of University Hall, his favorite building on NUs campus. Brzezinski and his wife Carol, Evanston residents, sell their photos of iconic university buildings from across the country.
Source: University Icons
John Brzezinski took this photograph of University Hall, his favorite building on NU’s campus. Brzezinski and his wife Carol, Evanston residents, sell their photos of iconic university buildings from across the country.

Evanston residents John and Carolyn Brzezinski have turned their hobby of photographing American colleges into a full-fledged business.

Their business University Icons, which offers custom-order prints of American collegiate architecture, began selling products online in March. The website has photos taken from more than 175 colleges and aims to add 75 more by the end of the year.

John Brzezinski, 62, and his wife Carolyn, 56, began visiting and photographing colleges in the summer of 2010. John retired as Northwestern’s senior project manager Friday, having taken more than 4,000 photos of the school during his 28 years on campus. The idea for University Icons had its start at NU, the couple said.

“This is art, but it’s also part of your alma mater,” Carolyn Brzezinski said. “It’s kind of a nice way to recognize and relate to something that’s very personal, and yet it’s fine art. It’s a nice connection people can have.”

When John Brzezinski was searching for an appropriate gift to give a retiring colleague several years ago, he realized one of his photographs would be a great memento of his colleague’s time at the school, rather than a typical gift shop item found in campus bookstores.

“This is just another choice,” he said. “Possibly a little more elegant.”

Soon after, in the summer of 2010, the two began traveling to other area universities, such as Loyola University Chicago and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The couple talked about forming a business from the hobby and, a year later, realized the photographs could cover the entire nation. John takes the photographs, and Carolyn plans out the trips and researches the icons.

The Brzezinskis’ day jobs impeded full-time efforts for their business idea, so on weekends and vacations the pair embarked on road trips to photograph select colleges.

“It’s a heritage that we have in our country,” Carolyn Brzezinski said. “Some of these campuses, they’re like little museums of both modern and beautiful classical architecture.”

The Brzezinskis visit many of the universities they photograph  based on spur-of-the moment decisions — when they see exit signs from the freeway, Carolyn Brzezinski said. More often than not, they said the campuses exceed their expectations, as was the case with the California Institute of Technology.

“We could not leave,” she said. “Every corner we turned, we had to take another photo.”

John Brzezinski said he sometimes waits more than half an hour to obtain a perfect shot without people or cars in view. Carolyn Brzezinski’s tasks usually consist of temporarily hauling trashcans and signs out of sight to create a more picturesque scene. Often, the couple will arrive at a university only to discover the school’s icon is blocked by construction. In such cases, a close-up of some architectural detail is used instead.

“The main thing for us is really to help spread the good word of architecture on these college campuses,” Carolyn Brzezinski said.

The Brzezinskis started marketing their business in January and have seen it take off, with most publicity coming from social media outlets such as Facebook and Pinterest, they said.

Down the road, the Brzezinskis said they intend to license digital rights of their photographs to newspapers and developers. For now, though, their main focus is creating a platform for timeless and personal fine art that catalogs a history of American architecture. They foresee their photographs purchased for alumni, campus speakers and donors.

“This could go on for years,” John Brzezinski said. “And I imagine it will.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Evanston couple turns passion for university photography into full business