Guest interview by Kevin Charles
So, you’ve had a big start to the year: You were named one of PDN’s 30 emerging photographers for 2011—how far do you feel like you’ve come since moving to New York?
Well I’ve been in NY for exactly 2 years now and I think I’ve come a long way as a photographer and as a person during this time. Making a move that big on your own surely makes you grow in leaps and bounds both personally and professionally. Yes, I’m really happy with how this year has started out! I was very humbled to be part of this year’s PDN 30. For me it confirms that the hard work and ass-busting I’ve been doing these past few years has been showing and starting to pay off. I feel confident in my work today—moving to NY pushed me to be a really great photographic problem solver. Although while I’m happy with the stage I’m at with my work, I feel like I’ve only just hit the tip of the iceberg with what I have in me to give photographically. I feel like I’m just really starting to grasp onto something solid—maybe even just with these past 6 months I’ve felt this. So in a way, I don’t see my work as a finished product of my voice, but rather a work in progress on a photographic journey that will hopefully continue throughout my life.
I have noticed a bit of a shift in your photos lately, something that I could really only describe as akin to a sail catching a strong wind from a new direction. It’s an incredible challenge as you’ve said, working in the business of photography. We often have to make many compromises—like shooting digital over film to deliver more images in less time. But whenever you get the opportunity to make a choice, you choose film. Why is the medium still important to you?
Maybe it has something to do with the way I learnt photography—printing in darkrooms, developing my own film in tanks, etc. I love the tactility of it, I love seeing grain when an image is enlarged. Maybe it’s just the purist in me! I also like how it slows the process down considerably. You can’t just go completely snap happy when you’re shooting on film (medium format film especially). It makes the photographic process more considered, which I think can be a good thing.
Do you find when you have that opportunity to shoot film with a client, it’s because they already recognize the value of film or rather that you’re able to sell them on the difference?
To be honest I think it’s a mixture of both and depends on the client. Some clients want film and ask for it specifically. But I never try to push film on a client when it just won’t work for a job, logistically.
One of the best things about being a photographer is building unique relationships with people. Many of your strongest photos are of your friend Kyla. How did the two of you start working together?
Kyla and I met randomly when I first moved to New York. While we’re both from Vancouver, I never met her there, I’d never even heard of her as a model! I’d been in NY for about a month, and she was in NY visiting and doing some modeling. I’d been recommended to her by a friend and she got in touch to shoot some photos. She came over to my apartment with her friend Ashley (who was a make-up artist) and we just played around taking photos in my room and up on my roof—it was a lovely June day. I was really inspired by Kyla, not only as a model but as a person and it went from there.
It sounds like the best photos happen when you’re just having fun!
Definitely! They always do, hands down. Photography is supposed to be fun and when everyone is relaxed is when the magic can happen.
That actually brings me to a related question: I think I’ve always had a greater fascination with the photos that you post on your blog under the series ‘Lately’—something personal that you put together with your point and shoot camera. Is there something liberating about using your little Yashica after working with that giant Hasselblad?
Yes! I love making my little ‘Lately’ posts. I’m not sure why—they seem so much more free to me. And they are very honest. Of course I can’t carry my Hasselblad around with me 24/7, but I love having a little snapshot camera with me always, to capture those fleeting moments I stumble upon as my days, weeks and months unfold.
I tried to carry around my Hasselblad everywhere when I first started out until I started to have neck pains! Thankfully I found a Contax T2 just in time. But some people tend to write off point and shoots or the photographers that use them. Have you ever thought about making a best of ‘Lately’ in a photo book?
I don’t think photographers who make work with point and shoots should be written off. They’re just another tool to use in picture making and isn’t that what matters?
That’s why I think you should make a book: prove those in doubt wrong!
I’ve never really thought of making a book of ‘Lately’ photos. But that’s a nice idea. For me these photos are merely personal snapshots. I don’t think they’re particularly all that great—just more of a record/diary for me. The posts do get buried deep into the blog though—it might be nice to dig up a few of my favourites and compile them into something solid.
It goes back to the power of narrative; people don’t just love photographs. They fall in love with the story behind the photographs. A lot of people like you may not always see how they become a story themselves through their snapshots.
This is true.
Something to think about! The other thing I’ve noticed among your strengths is your ability to go on location—to find a place in the world and discover what’s happening in the moment. What goes on in your head when you arrive at a new location for a shoot? Do you find it gets easier with time or is it something that continues to challenge you?
Shooting on location is always a challenge, as no two locations are the same. I think with experience you develop a good eye for sussing out what you want to get out of a given location but it always takes some considered thought. If I know I’m going to be shooting on location I try to do a day of scouting before the shoot. This helps me in that I can take my time to traipse around and ponder different settings, so that when the team gets there I have a game plan. But at other times, when scouting isn’t a possibility, it’s just about going with your gut and being able to recognize something that will work. And as I said, this skill does get easier with time and as you grow more confident in your personal style.
You’re absolutely right, over time you start to find a balance with your rational mind and your gut instinct. You really do need both. Teamwork—that’s one of the other things I think becomes a big part of the strategy in planning a shoot. What makes for a great team?
A great team is really important I think. I’m so sensitive to people’s vibes, that if someone working that day is being a downer it really affects everything! It’s really nice to find people that you can be yourself with and who have a similar vision and goal to work towards. Another important part of making a good team is the ability to be completely honest with each other—and then working things out together to make it right. In my fashion work I feel really lucky to have found an amazing teammate in stylist Leila Bani. She has styled much of my fashion photographs, and more than her being a talented stylist, she is also an amazing human and we get along amazingly. We bounce ideas around, agree, disagree, problem solve, etc. And it’s a pleasure the entire time. Being able to motivate and support each other is imperative.
It’s cool that you mention Leila because on the shoots you’ve done with her, the photos have a certain playfulness and attitude that are clearly influenced by her style.
Yes, she’s great. She always brings a ton of amazingness to our shoots! And she understands my style as well and knows exactly how to fit her styling to it.
Much of your work now revolves around fashion but you yourself have told me you’re not that big on the fashion world. I can’t ever imagine you having a hundred pair of shoes or lining up outside H&M for a fall release. What have you liked about working in fashion these days? What other kinds of photography are you interested in exploring?
What I initially fell in love with about photography was photographing people and making portraits. Fashion work slowly crept its way into my images, and I really enjoyed it as, of course, the photos entailed making pictures of people. They just happened to be wearing a pair of fancy pants. For this reason I try to approach my fashion work like a portrait session. But at the same time, while I’m not a fashionista, I still really enjoy going through the racks of clothes and seeing how some fabrics look in the light, how they can enhance the look of the subject, etc. I’ve been shooting a lot of fashion lately, which I love, but at the moment I’m trying to direct my focus back towards more portraiture and getting back in touch with what first made me adore the medium and process of picture making.
Well given your most recent series with Kyla, I have no doubt that you’ve always been on the right path with portraiture! Jody, thank you so much for your time this morning, it’s been lovely as always.
Thank you so much Kevin! I’m flattered to have been interviewed by you! Much love.