Photo courtesy of Randy Strothman

By Alexandria Stryker

In contrast to its historic reputation as the “Smoky City,” the Pittsburgh of today is filled with more beauty, color and wonder than ever — a view documented in a new photo book of the Northside and North Shore.

Randy Strothman, a semi-retired marketing consultant, showcases his passion for photography and love of the city in his work “Colors of Pittsburgh: North Shore and Lower North Side,” telling a visual narrative of the area’s unique charms.

The book features almost 200 photos, all of which are drawn from Strothman’s personal collection of thousands of photos of the Northside, which has been his home since 1997.

His pictures were well-received by friends and family, and after going into semi-retirement, Strothman felt he needed a “learning exercise” and “challenge.” His career in communications, especially film, television and video production, also gave him skills that naturally lent themselves to his photography hobby and visual storytelling ability. Thus, a project was born.

According to Strothman’s marketing blog, “Colors of Pittsburgh” centers on the various Northside features, including the North Shore, Allegheny Commons and other Northside neighborhoods. Additionally, there are entire sections devoted to historic buildings, architecture and homes. The book also includes segments featuring famous attractions like Randyland, the National Aviary, and Bicycle Heaven. The photos are occasionally accompanied by a few short sentences that provide context, but the pictures are the primary focal point.

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A scene from Lake Elizabeth that is included in the “Colors of Pittsburgh: North Shore and Lower North Side.” Photo courtesy of Randy Strothman.

Strothman focuses on three themes in his book that provide context for his pictures. The first is the goal to combat Pittsburgh’s outdated reputation of the “Smoky City” with vibrant images filled with brilliant colors that pop on the page. The second theme, “Walking in the Footprints of History,” focuses on historic architecture and creative reuse of spaces in the neighborhood. The most notable example of this theme focuses on the 2008 renovation of a former blacksmith’s shop in Deutschtown into an architect’s workshop. To pay homage to the structure’s history, current neighborhood residents posed to recreate an 1880s photo of the old building, even including a horse to match the original picture. Finally, Strothman focused on portraying the area in a specific way.

“I wanted to show the vibrancy, joy, beauty and rich tapestry of the Northside in particular,” he said. It was important to show the neighborhood in a “very positive and friendly way.”

The first edition of “Colors of Pittsburgh” was released in May 2016, but the book has undergone changes according to feedback from various sources.

“I loved watching people go through the book and seeing how each person responded differently,” Strothman said. According to him, the different versions were a “learning experience” to see “how the book works when you turn the pages.”

Currently, Strothman has given away more copies of the books than he has sold. Profit, he claims, is not the primary goal.

“It’s more about putting it in people’s’ hands and making them smile,” he said. “It serves more as a goodwill public relations effort for the Northside.”

This aim is in line with his history as a community and public service volunteer. The book is flexible in its uses, but it especially lends well to gift giving. Strothman told a story about a business owner on East Ohio Street who was trying to merge with a company north of the city. The company owners were debating coming to the Northside, but when given a copy of the book, the neighborhood’s visual story won them over.

Strothman has published another book in the “Colors of Pittsburgh” series focusing on Downtown and the Strip District, but he doesn’t know which neighborhood he might focus on next.

“Each neighborhood in the city has its own personality and flavor,” he said. As for his next book, Strothman is interested in examining the relationship between “images of man’s creations and nature’s creations.”

In “Colors of Pittsburgh,” Strothman’s narrative uses images rather than words to illustrate his outlook on the Northside, but his visual story serves the same purpose as any words: telling one neighbor’s ideas about what makes this neighborhood so unique.

You can preview the entire book and buy a copy by clicking here.

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