Tell me a little bit about your relationship with photography
My relationship with photography started about twelve years ago or so, when I was in the army. It started as something very mechanical that triggered something else completely, and turned into a passion that developed over the years. I make a living off of photography, and I have been shooting professionally for about seven or eight years full time. I work with a variety of subjects, but the reason why I was attracted to photography initially was the documentary aspect of it, and the idea of the photograph as a historical record. Not so much as a way to express myself, but more as a tool and an excuse for observation. I always joke saying that I’m a people-watcher who turned that into a profession. Most of my work is documentary-based in one way or the other, and I have a camera on me at any given time.
Sounds like a very complex relationship, do you draw a line between the photography that you make a living from and other personal projects?
I don’t draw a line because photography for me is an impulse, in that I shoot very impulsively. Some of my work can be more polished depending on what the assignment’s requirements are, but, for example, my street photography is very impulsive and can have a very snapshot aesthetic, although it is also organized and balanced. Even when I photograph weddings, I am not interested in doing it in a specific style in order to support my business or book more work; I try to stay truthful to what I like to do, hoping that people end up liking it as well. It’s been going well so far.
How do you come up with or settle for a specific project, such as your thesis, when photography is so ubiquitous/ever-present in your life?
It’s tough. It’s not tough because I don’t have ideas, but because I am in a stage in my life where it is not very easy to make work. I am a new parent: I have a three year old and a nine month old at home. There’s a lot of responsibility and time that I need to dedicate to my family, which is my number one priority, and then there’s also my business I focus on so I can generate income. After those two priorities, there’s not a lot of time left in a day. Even when I have the spark of an idea, it is very difficult to see how that can come to life practically, at least for now. Because I know that I am very limited, I get less creative with my thinking. I think every new parent would say that you kind of get lost in those years, you lose the luxury of being who you were before becoming a parent and focus on this one really important thing. I’m sure that as the kids get older, I will regain more time to produce more work.
Have you had an interest in documenting your family?
I do have an interest, and I think it’s very natural to look at your kids and want to photograph them. But having photography as my passion, hobby and profession, a lot of the time I don’t want to do it when I’m with my kids. Spending time with them is more valuable to me than spending that same time behind the camera. I much rather be present; I mean, I’ll pick up the camera sometimes and snap a few photos, but I’ll always go back to being present and part of what is happening in the moment.
In terms of your thesis project, what have you been working on?
I’ve had to change the direction of my project twice since September. The first time I was working with a subject who decided to stop participating, and since the project was focused on that individual, it went down the drain, at least for now. The second one was cancelled for practical reasons, I wasn’t able to get permissions to photograph a specific landscape that I wanted to work on. The third project kind of stemmed from a conversation that I had with a model I have worked with before: they’re non-binary, and I decided to focus on that theme for different reasons. Mainly because it is interesting to me, and I don’t know enough about it. Over the years, photography has been a tool that has allowed me to meet people, connect with them, educate myself, and become more open-minded in everything I do and the way I look at the world. I decided to focus on the subject of non-binary gender for my thesis project and I started reaching out to the community, working with people, having conversations, listening to their stories, and documenting them in their environments.
What are things that you keep in mind when approaching a community that perhaps you don’t consider yourself a part of?
Any community, whether I consider myself to be a part of it or not, I approach it very carefully. Non-binary gender is not new, but is relatively newly exposed in our society, so the community itself can sometimes be sensitive about this exposure, and often worry about their safety. Luckily, I am a people’s person, and like to think that my energy allows people to feel comfortable. I make connections, and I make the work about those connections. My work can be very process based, and in some of my previous projects, the process was at times 95% of the work and the photos acted as place cards to talk about the process. Most importantly: getting to know people, being respectful, showing genuine interest, and also being very transparent about my intentions, my views, where the work is going, why, and what I hope to get out of it.
Considering that viewers will read the work based on what is being showed and how, what’s your vision for the final presentation? How do you see this project evolving this semester?
Conceptually, I’m hoping to bring a lot of intimacy into the photographs, and a lot of pride, making sure that the subjects are represented in a way that they can feel happy and comfortable, and that can empower them. I’m going to be documenting everything, and because I like to work very intuitively, I approach my shoots with a general idea or what I want to experiment with, but I also leave space for flexibility. I envision this body of work to feel very organic in the end, rather than just presenting a collection of portraits brought together with an artist statement. This is something that I’m trying to avoid. Not proven to be very easy, if I’m honest.
Have you had a chance to reach out to the community and arrange some shoots yet?
I have. So far, I have met a person who owns a hair salon, someone who works there as well, an OCAD student who is an artist and a writer, and a freelance model. They’re all very different. I’m working with different personalities and trying to show the individuality in my subjects. This is a priority because I can bring a different perspective to people who are outsiders, or not informed enough about the subject, or even opposed to it for whatever reason: I emphasize that these are people, they do their thing like everybody else, they live, and they love. The individuality aspect of the images is extremely important to me, and I achieve that through conversations, I don’t just show up and shoot. I meet them for coffee and we talk, I make sure everybody feels comfortable; I learn about them and their stories, and the process is a collaboration. What you get from your subjects, what you learn about them, will trigger different ideas, and I use that to make sure it the process does not end up being just me projecting all my views and perspectives on my subjects, and as a result on the finalized series.
In the process of working on your thesis, what have been obstacles and what has helped in overcoming them?
The problem that I often have is aiming very high. I don’t want to make work that is just going to end up lost in my hard drive. When it comes to the practicality of things, there is often that disconnect between what I want to do and if it is possible or not. I have been dealing with getting approval and also facing a lot of rejection from people who I wanted to work with. I try very hard to accomplish things and if I can’t, I change directions. Also, time management is so hard: last night I was up with the baby twice, work up at 6, commuted from Oakville…
Luckily, my wife is an extremely supportive partner in many different ways. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be able to juggle between school, work, and being a dad and a husband. I keep a very tight calendar, which I also use as a to-do list, but it is mainly my wife. She is a project manager and an event planner, so she gives me all the tools, she understands, is forgiving, and is also a great mom.
Is there anything that you would’ve liked to know before starting your thesis year?
I don’t necessarily feel anything about thesis itself, because I don’t think the time constrain it comes with necessarily helps me. I work well under pressure, but I don’t think I can do my very best in eight months while being overloaded by all these other things too. I’m not phased by it because I am in a different stage in my life, I’m 34 now and I’ve been through a lot in my life – I’ve been a medic, served in the army, I have seen a lot of stuff. But I do feel for younger students thesis can be a huge deal. I mean, I think it is very important, but I do think the expectation doesn’t go hand in hand with the time that we actually have to work on the project. In the end, if you like to do work and photography is a tool of expression for you, you should be working at that level all the time after you know how to do it, and thesis hopefully teaches you that.
What are some professors that have made a positive impact during your time at OCAD?
Over the years, Meera Margaret Singh has always been one of my favourite professors, she is kind of a walking photography encyclopedia. She’s very knowledgeable, and I like her energy. April Hickox is also one of my favourite teachers, she treats her students more like they’re people than they’re students. April can be a mom figure for a lot of people, and which I think is a beautiful thing. If you can find the right balance when working with her, she’s incredible. She’s also very knowledgeable and extremely experienced.