2019: Finding Photographic Success In A Reflective & Disruptive Year

December 31st is upon us again… another year almost in the books.  How crazy is that?  2019 was a bit of a dichotomy for me:  I travelled, I taught workshops internationally, I was blessed with numerous opportunities to write / present / guest on podcasts, I had the privilege of photographing beautiful weddings and I worked with my friends at Fujifilm on multiple projects (the Create Forever project and the X-Pro3 launch).  The latter part of 2019, however, will also be remembered  as a time when I lost several former peers in the emergency services, when I lost my father, and, I think, when I lost my way for a little bit.

Life, right?

As I reflect back on the photographs I made in 2019, however, I am satisfied to see a consistency in my work.  I have invested many years of blood and sweat into my photography and feel like I can reliably make the images that I see in my mind when I am out shooting.  Are they the greatest images?  No, of course not.  But, I think there is a strength that comes from knowing that you can translate what you see in your mind to the creation of an image regardless of what is happening in your life at the time.   This consistency allows you to push the boundaries more, to experiment more, and, ultimately, to grow more.

So, let’s look at some of my favourite images from 2019 and celebrate this awesome art form that we all love so much.

Silhouettes continue to be a big part of my street photography, and these two photos are  examples of how I try to use them as compositional elements in my work:

Photos like these are visual experimentations, but I also try to include a storytelling element in many of my street photographs (as illustrated in the next set of photos).  The images below, featuring the silhouettes of young lovers holding handing hands in Hawaii, of a father walking his child to school in Paris, and of ominous watchers looking down from above all provide opportunities for the viewer to find a story in the photograph.  What that story is will differ for each viewer, of course.  My goal is just to set the stage… people can interpret the image however they chose.

It seems that my eye for composition naturally shifts over time, changing what I am attracted to when composing images.  This year I found myself working with lines and angles a lot, using these compositional elements to add another layer of complexity to my photographs:

Street images can be made everywhere of course, and I am always shooting.  Sometimes I frame the image around beautiful light and shadows, while other times my eye is caught by a subject who has that magical ”X” factor that catches our  interest as photographers.  Here are a few favourites from 2019:

If anything “negative” really stood out to me this year (photographically speaking) it was the realization of how few street portraits I made.

I love interacting with strangers… meeting new people is one of my favourite things about travel and street photography.  It was surprising then to find that I made less than 20 street portraits in 2019; all of which were made in the first half of the year.  There is definitely a correlation between our emotions and the art that we create, so I wonder if my tumultuous fall had anything to do with not wanting to interact with new people? 

There were, of course, also many opportunities to drop a tripod and make a cityscape or two.  I always enjoy these shoots because they represent a slower, more cerebral approach to photography.  I love the time between setting everything up and finally making your keeper images, when you can be lost in your thoughts as you wait for the light to reach that perfect place for your image.  It is a very zen like experience for me.

Here are a few from 2019 that I enjoyed making:

And, finally, I found that I still took time to experiment on occasion… taking the opportunity to try and create something a little bit different than I normally shoot:

A few final thoughts to end the year…

There is clearly a cycle to life.  Some years are formative, some are maintenance, and some are transitional.  This year was definitely the latter for me personally, but it was also a year that gave me  so much to be grateful for.

This blog initially started, years ago, as a simple place for me to share my work.  Over time it morphed into a site that featured countless Fujifilm gear reviews, and has morphed again into a place where I share my work and thoughts with you as openly and honestly as I can.

Along the way I have met new friends, built relationships with wonderful clients and students, supported people who were struggling, had the opportunity to teach all over the world and have had the joy of working on incredible projects with Fujifilm (one of the best companies in the world in my opinion).  It is the absolute truth that my success is owed as much to all of you as it is to my own efforts.

Thank you.

I am excited to see where photography takes me in 2020.  I can’t wait to share new work with all of you and to see so many of you face to face in workshops, at conferences, or during presentations.  I hope you are all fired up for a new year and for the opportunities that it brings… after a challenging 2019 I know that I am.

Happy New Year everybody, I wish you all the best for 2020!

Cheers,

Ian

40 Days | Catharsis

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

– Ferris Beuller

I haven’t posted online in 40 days, by far the longest stretch I have ever gone without writing.  It would be an understatement to say that the last few months have been a little surreal, with life’s rollercoaster of highs and lows moving at a breakneck pace.  All of this necessitated taking a break from my creative work and from this community of people that I love so much.

But here we are now, just 5 days away from Christmas, with so much to catch up on:  Meaningful stories from a small documentary project that I worked on with Fujifilm, my thoughts (and a new article) about working with a pre-production copy of the Fujifilm X-Pro3, a new interview that was recently published on The Phoblographer website and, sadly, a few thoughts on the recent passing of my father.

Let’s get started, shall we?

 

CREATE FOREVER – HOW A PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT SAVED LIVES:

In early October Fujifilm and Muse Storytelling launched Create Forever, a new series that focused on the reasons behind why we create art.  It wasn’t a series about shutter speeds or apertures.  There was to be no discussion about lens choices or off camera lighting.  No, this was to be something different… Create Forever is a celebration of the humanity behind what we all do.

My journey with PTSD, and how photography helped save me, was one of the mini documentaries that was released as the project rolled out (when it first launched I wrote about it HERE).  This video was actually a bit of a capstone for me, coming on the heels of more than a year of talking about my journey in interviews, on podcasts, and on stages all over Vancouver.  

Immediately after the video came out people reached out to thank me for telling my story, to tell me about their own journey, and occasionally to ask for help.  I am talking about hundreds of emails and messages within days of the release.  Every one of these conversations has meant so much to me, but this one was particularly special (I share it here with the author’s permission):

“I worked in law enforcement, but had to take an early medical retirement due to chronic anxiety.  I lost my wife to divorce and my closest friend to illness.  For the last year I have thought about ending it all, but today I went out and took photos instead.  Thank you.”

I stared at the screen for a long time after I received that.  It is one thing to save lives and care for people as a paramedic, or to tell your story on the hopes of inspiring others, but what do you say when you receive something like that?

I am so proud to have been a small part of this project, and to work with my friends at Fujifilm and Muse Storytelling.  This campaign has touched lives.  If you haven’t seen my video yet, or the street photography tips video that accompanies it, you can see them here:

Create Forever with Ian MacDonald
Create Forever Tutorial – Street Photography

 

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW FUJIFILM X-PRO3:

In September I spent a few weeks with a pre-production copy of the new Fujifilm X-Pro3.  This was the fourth or fifth time Fujifilm has asked me to work with them on a product launch, and it is always an exciting process.  

My chaotic fall meant that I didn’t post anything when the X-Pro3 initially launched.  A lot has already been written about this wonderful new camera since then, so I will just echo the thoughts of my friends that also tested it:  The camera is amazing, featuring cutting edge technology in an elegantly simple design. 

Here is an article on the Fujifilm website where I talk about my initial thoughts on the camera:

The Best of Both Worlds – The New Fujifilm X-Pro3

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PHOBLOGRAPHER WEBSITE:

In November I had the pleasure of speaking with the fine folks over at The Phoblographer website, who wrote a series about the Create Forever project. You can read the interview I did with them here:

Photography helped Ian MacDonald overcome the darkness of PTSD

 

SAYING GOODBYE:

On November 21st we lost my father to a massive heart attack.  Dad was an amazing man:  the head of our family and a leader in our community.  His loss will be felt for a long time to come, but his legacy will last much, much longer. 

Twenty years as a paramedic taught me that life is uncertain at the best of times.  It taught me that we need to live the best life that we can now, because we don’t know how many tomorrows we have left.  Dad was starting his 80th year when he passed, but he somehow managed to pack hundreds of years of accomplishments into his time here on Earth.  His was a life to be celebrated.

He taught me how to be a man / father / husband.  He supported my love of creating art, and served as a moral compass when I needed it.  I have a lot to unpack before I can write about him properly, but one day I hope to tell you all about the man that he was.

 

LOOKING FORWARD:

It feels good to write again.  I feel rusty, but it feels good.  It feels cathartic.  Next week I will publish my year in review as always, but for now I just want to say thank you to everybody that I interact with through this site and on social media.  Your kind words of support have meant the world to me over the last month or two.

I started this post with one of my favourite quotes from Ferris Beuller:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Last month life dictated that I stop for a little while.  Now, I encourage all of you to do the same over the next couple of weeks.  Spend time with your family, friends and loved ones.  Celebrate life, do what you love, and remember those who are no longer with us.

I wish you all the very best over the holiday season.

Cheers,

Ian

The Injury Chronicles – Part Two: Assembling The Watchers

We have all felt fear – that sense that something is wrong even when we can’t put our finger on it.  Perhaps it is a gut feeling that tells us not to walk down a certain street one evening, despite it being on our usual route home.  Maybe you have felt unsettled in a lonely parking lot, your eyes constantly scanning while you hurriedly unlock the car door.  I know that I felt unsettled many times as a paramedic, such as when we would approach pitch black houses at 3am or when we were surrounded by a crowd that was turning angry on a scene.  Fear is an intrinsic thing, primal in nature, and because of that it is used by many creatives in their work (I’m looking at you Stephen King).  

When I am out shooting I will occasionally use an emotion as a source of inspiration for my photography (happiness, surprise, fear, etc).  Over the last year I have had the idea of “The Watchers” in the back of my mind… a feeling that maybe there is something dark and foreboding following us that might be a threat.  As an exercise in creativity I have been working with composition, darkness and silhouettes to try to create this feeling in some of my photographs.

This is the first time I have put some of these images together in a series.  I am definitely still exploring this idea of shooting to a specific emotion, but I thought I would share these first steps with all of you.

Cheers,

Ian

Note:  The Injury Chronicles is a series of photo essays, with minimal text, that I am posting while I rehabilitate a hand injury.