The Interview Series: Ten Questions With Official Fujifilm X Photographer Spencer Wynn

It is safe to say that photography changed my life.  It gives me purpose, it feeds my family, it brings me joy.  I have been lucky to meet many wonderful people through this journey that I wouldn’t otherwise know:  new friends, new students, new peers… I am truly blessed to be surrounded by so many talented people.

Spencer Wynn and I met through our shared role as Official Fuji X Photographers for Fujifilm Canada.  We initially spent a few hours together on a photo walk here in Vancouver, where he was creating images for his Canada 150 project.   It is easy to like Spencer:  he is talented but modest, confident but gentle.  Spencer spent decades working as a visual journalist and this is reflected in his work, which is diverse and beautiful.  Plus, he cooks an amazing steak.  Seriously.

As Spencer and I spent more time together we realized that we both share a love for education.  This lead to the recent creation of a travel photography workshop series we are calling “The Story of a City”, which is launching this summer in Toronto.  I am excited to be teaching with Spencer and I know I will learn a few new things from him too.

So, settle in and learn more about my friend Spencer Wynn.  Be sure to follow the links to his portfolio once you are done… you won’t be disappointed.

Thank you for being a part of this interview series.  Could you start by telling readers a little bit about yourself and your photography?

I attended the Ontario College of Art – before it was known as OCAD!  There, I specialized in editorial design and documentary photography.  Both those disciplines come together in my love of visual storytelling.  My career since then has been with Toronto Life magazine, various studios and the Toronto Star working with other visual journalists.

After leaving the Star as Deputy Art Director in 2014, I have been free to explore photography even deeper on my own terms.  As a Fujifilm user and brand ambassador, I have taken my cameras into the First Nations community of Attawapiskat to document the housing crisis, into the high Arctic, on ice flows, in caves in China, into Inner Mongolia, Tibet, India, Greenland, Turkey, Czech Republic and other visually exciting locations.  Story telling and locations go well together and combine to create a picture of a place.

You have had a lengthy career as a photojournalist, working for various publications as well as being a freelancer.  What is it that drew you to photojournalism as one of the main genres that you work in?

I have always been interested in the lives of people and cultures.  We are all connected at some level – we can harmonize our lives by learning more about each other.  Combining compelling images, narratives and emotions visually is a powerful way to draw people together as a more local global community.  In these challenging days of division, it is more important than ever to see and read about others and how their lives are as meaningful as our own.

I think it is fair to say that many photographers work to create one single, compelling image at a time.  Photojournalism is often different though as you are required to tell the story of your subject through a series of images.  Can you talk a little bit about the storytelling aspect of making images?

I also teach photography at Humber College and one of the first assignments my students have is to write a story proposal and follow that with a five-image documentary.  A story of a place, an event or a person can be a challenge to photograph well.  It is even more challenging to do this in five images.  When I look at a story, I want to experience it – that may mean living in a slum in India or yurts in Inner Mongolia.  But regardless of where I am, all stories break down into five elements:

  1. An establishing wide shot;
  2. A medium shot;
  3. A portrait/close-up shot;
  4. An action shot;
  5. A detail shot.

If these images are photographed well and at appropriate times of the day and night, then the viewer will comprehend the essence of the narrative without requiring a written statement to get the concept across.

Telling stories can be incredibly rewarding.  Are there any specific projects that you are especially proud of working on?

Two stories come to mind :

  1. The housing crisis in the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario was one where I travelled to twice over a year to document and live in the community.  Establishing trust and a rapport with the residents was important to getting access and stories of the conditions in the troubled community.  One of the periods I was there went over Christmas which added another layer to the story.
  2. The other story was to cover the world’s worst industrial disaster that few remember.  It is the Bhopal Gas Disaster in Bhopal, India.  My writer and I spent two years working on this project – telling the story of trans-national corporate negligence and death.  We were in India where we lived with and experienced the horrors of the lives left behind after tens of thousands died.  “The dead are the lucky ones”, we were told.  Being able to tell their story visually and in virtual reality was both demanding and emotional.  This sort of story leaves a mark one one’s soul.  It is a story to be told forward to educate a new generation so this never happens again.

Of all the experiences I have had, those two embedded experiences are ones that were pure story telling, both written and visual.  They are also stories which I was proud to pitch and to see through to the end.

As a working visual journalist, especially when you were doing it full time, what gear did you use?  Is there certain gear that is a “must carry” for photojournalists?

Before making the huge shift from Canon DSLRs to the Fujufilm X-System, I had to contend with a lot of weight and volume.  Air travel is always a nuisance but with the smaller form factor of the mirrorless system, my gear shrank in size & weight by half!  With smaller cameras & lenses and less obvious gear, I can go about my shooting and look more like a tourist and be left alone – which is perfect, especially in a country where I am an obvious foreigner.  As for the gear I find essential:  A couple of camera bodies, a few lenses, a good audio recorder with external mic, a note book, lots of batteries and a computer.  All of this fits neatly into a small shoulder bag – one that can easily fit in an overhead compartment or under the seat in front of me in an airplane.

You shoot many other genres… I believe I have seen landscapes from you as well as cityscapes, wedding work, portraiture, astro photography, etc.  Is there a common thread to the way you approach these diverse genres, or do you approach each genre differently?

Haha, yes, I am cursed with a wide range of curiosities!  I do love wilderness and remote landscapes from the Arctic to deserts.  I am, as I mentioned interested in people, so portraiture is an art form I love as one can tell a story of someone by having all the right elements in the portrait.  As well, weddings – these I approach as a news feature, creating a visual narrative of a wedding day rather than the trends of Pinterest-like events that are so common these days.  All the genres of photography that I enjoy can also tell stories if approached thoughtfully and from a story telling point of view.

Let’s talk more about gear: I know you through our shared work as Official Fuji X Photographers for Fujifilm Canada.  When did you first discover mirrorless and what drew you to it?

My second trip to India, and the first of the trips to tell the Bhopal story was when it was 114 degrees fahrenheit.  I was wilting in the heat and at about the same time the DSLRs just stopped working as they too were over heated.  Before that trip, I had picked up my first Fujifilm camera, the X10.  I chucked it in my bag and sort of forgot about it – that was until the DSLRs stopped working.  I pulled out the X10 and continued to shoot raw images with it.  It was only at home that I discovered the beauty of those images.  I then purchased the X100S and fell in love!  That was the beginning of the end of my DSLR days and the exciting times ahead for the mirrorless system.  I can honestly say that I have never once looked back.  I am just glad I sold off all the DSLR gear before the market is flooded with the stuff!

What is it about the Fujifilm system specifically that you love?  I am asking in terms of usability, handling, image quality, etc but also in regard to specific pieces of gear.

For me, the Fujifilm system is elegant.  It is beautifully designed, fits my hands well and the ergonomics are perfect for me.  The Q menu is brilliant as I never have to go hunting in the deeper voluminous menu.  This means that I can alter settings on the fly without wasting time on a busy day such as a wedding.  A game-changer is the incredibly bright and accurate electronic view finder.  When you are shooting on the run, you do not have time to stop, look at the images and make adjustments, it is all in the eyepiece and ergonomically, you never have to take the camera away from your eye while your muscle memory makes fine adjustments.

Though I have two brilliant X-Pro2 cameras, I must say that the X100 series is and always has been a favourite.  I am well known to say that I would run into my burning condo just for that camera.  Sure it has no zoom, it has no interchangeable lenses – but for me, those limitations challenge me to be a better and more creative photographer.  It is THE storytelling camera.

Mirrorless technology has advanced rapidly in the last few years and sales figures show us that the growth of mirrorless has been huge compared to DSLR sales.  Is there a specific area that you think mirrorless still needs to mature in, or do you think it has “arrived”?

I am never satisfied with anything, I am always trying to push my skills.  I like knowing that Fujifilm is also doing this for me in terms of their hardware and firmware updates and upgrades.  I appreciate that they listen to end-users like me and are always improving with us.  I am less concerned with the whole full-frame craze – I once had a five-foot print made from my X-Pro2 and it was tack sharp.  I have used these cameras in the rain, in searing heat and in -43 degree weather with no issues.  The only area I would like to see improved is extreme low light focusing. I have workarounds for these rare situations, but would love to see an improvement in that area.  I am not a big video guy any longer, but see video as an important art of storytelling – so seeing that Fuji is improving that end of things is comforting to know.  Its not there yet, but its coming.

You and I are collaborating on a few different photography education projects and I know that you also teach photography in a variety of venues.  What is it about education and working with other photographers that you love so much?

I have been blessed with a thirsty curiosity and my teachers in school tapped into that by challenging me, never accepting anything but perfection.  My biggest influence was my teacher, Ken Bell, who among other things was a WWII war photographer who landed and survived the Normandy landings, documenting one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war before going into teaching at the Ontario College of Art.  Ken is never far from my mind when I teach my own students – trying to give back all the experiences, reveal all my mistakes and excite my students with the thrill of seeing an idea burst into reality though compelling and beautiful images.  I see the look of amazement on my students faces and smile, remembering the same feelings I had.  It is through sharing freely that we all become better.

Thank you so much for participating in this interview. Where can people find out more about you?

I have two websites:

www.spencerwynn.com

www.wynnphoto.ca 

I am also on Twitter and Instagram as  @spencerwynn and on Facebook @aspencerwynn

WORKSHOP NOTE:

If you would like to learn more about the travel photography workshop that Spencer and I are teaching in August, please click the following link:

The Story of a City – Toronto Edition

Until next time,

Ian

The Interview Series: Ten Questions with Wedding Photographer Eric Brushett

Readers of this site will know how much I value the concepts of community, collaboration, sharing and educating.  I love the art of photography for sure, but the creative process and the people in the industry mean just as much to me as the photos do.  It is only logical then that I recognize these traits when I see them in others.

I first found the work of Fuji shooter and professional wedding photographer Eric Brushett on YouTube, where Eric has a channel that is focused on using the Fuji X Series for wedding photography.  His videos are varied, and include:  detailed gear conversations, discussions about the photography industry, videos of Eric shooting engagement sessions and weddings, recommendations on editing and post processing a wedding, day in the life videos, etc.  One of the common themes throughout these videos is Eric’s obvious desire to share the knowledge he has gained with others.  He is enthusiastic, passionate about the subject matter, and clearly has a desire to support the Fuji community.  That’s pretty awesome.

So, with no further delay, let’s talk cameras and weddings with wedding photographer Eric Brushett…

Thank you for being part of this interview series.  Could you please start by telling readers a little bit about yourself and your photography?

Thanks for letting me be a part of the interview series.  I’m a huge Ian MacDonald fan, so this interview is a real joy for me and an honor.

I work mostly with my wife and together we run my studio, and a second wedding studio where we have multiple photographers working for us under a different brand.  Outside of work, we have two kids (a three year old and a one year old), so needless to say our lives are a bit crazy.

My website tagline is ‘Organic Storytelling’ and I really try and meet that definition with my wedding work.  I pose very little, and often refer to myself as being ‘along for the ride’ on a wedding day.

What is it about wedding photography that attracted you in the first place, and what keeps you doing it years later?

In the beginning, the idea of someone paying me to take pictures was pretty absurd.  I remember thinking ‘How could I possibly pass this up?’

Now, nearly a decade later, I’ve really narrowed my focus and established my own style of work.  It took me a while, but I am at the point now where I really only photograph what I want to and how I want to.  My clients know what they’re getting, and it’s refreshing to know that they trust me as a storyteller.

The burnout rate in our line of work is high.  You’ll see people come and go in two or three year cycles.  If you keep things fresh and focus on creating work that you love you’re much more likely to stick around.

You use the Fuji X System for your wedding work.  What it is in your camera bag for an average wedding?

I very proudly and very happily shoot with Fuji equipment for my weddings.  I’ve actually done a couple of YouTube “What’s In My Bag?” videos about my Fuji kit, but here are the essentials:

  • (2) Fuji XT2 Bodies
  • (2) Fuji XT1 Bodies (backups)
  • Fuji 56 f1.2
  • Fuji 23 f1.4

I basically own every prime lens in the XF lineup at this point including both 23 lenses, both 35s, and the 16.  But, for my weddings, I shoot 99% of the day on my 23 and 56.  My longest lens is the 56.

Can you tell us a little bit about your camera settings and your approach to shooting weddings with the Fuji X System?  Focusing techniques, lighting, asset and battery management, etc.

The XT2 has dual card slots, which is an absolute must for a wedding photographer.  I shoot RAWs to slot 1 and JPEGs to slot 2.  When I cull and edit I dip into the JPEGs first and typically deliver 80% of my photos straight out of camera.  I use the RAW files for trickier lighting situations, or really low light venues.  I’m not afraid to push the ISO on my camera to 10,000 or more.

I manually focus the entire wedding day, including when I have to track my subjects (recessional, first dance, etc).  Why?  Habit I suppose.  I grew up shooting on rangefinders, and some of my non-Fuji lenses (my Leica 50 f1.4 for example) are manual focus anyway.  I stand by my proclamation that I can focus faster manually with my XT2, since the focus peaking highlights are so accurate and easy to use.

Outside of that, I travel with very minimal lighting, and lots and lots of batteries.  The EVF on the XT2 is stunningly good, but it asks a lot of your batteries.  Just pick up a bunch, and keep one in your pocket as a backup.

I usually put one strobe up on a stand off-camera, and fire it with a pocketwizard.  There are some really affordable lighting systems rolling out for mirrorless cameras by a lot of third-party companies, so the creative possibilities are pretty endless at this point.

People in forums like to make mountains out of mole-hills when it comes to lighting, but there’s nothing wrong with sticking a strobe on your hotshoe and firing away.  It’s all about getting the images your clients expect.

You are an established, busy, working photographer… which usually means that you have drawers full of gear that you have accumulated over the years.  What gear would you recommend, however, to an emerging wedding photographer who is starting from scratch and wants to shoot weddings professionally?

It’s a tough question, because weddings can be so unpredictable.  From a gear standpoint – you have to have at least two bodies, and those bodies have to have dual card slots.  If you’re missing either one of those things, you are taking a major risk, and you’re doing so at the peril of your own clients.

More importantly, if you really want to do this professionally, try and find an established pro in your area and study under him/her.  That’s how I started.  Ten years ago a wedding photographer friend of mine took a chance and hired me as an assistant.  I shot 50 weddings with him before I ventured out on my own.

But, if I had to pick something I could never live without? Hands down, my 23 f1.4mm lens.   I could shoot an entire wedding with just that lens.

Wedding photography is incredibly challenging, arguably one of the most difficult genres of photography to shoot.  You work long days, in fast paced environments, often under difficult lighting conditions, and you have to be “on” throughout the day to ensure that you capture those split second moments.  How has working with mirrorless cameras, specifically the Fuji X System, affected this for you?

Sometimes I feel like Fuji designed the X system bodies and lenses specifically for me.  Everything about this system fits perfectly into how I approach my weddings.

First, the EVF is a dream.  I can never, ever go back to shooting on my rangefinders or a DSLR.  The ability to preview my white balance and exposure in real time in the eyepiece is something I could never again live without.  Weddings can be very fast paced, but the EVF takes the trial and error out of shooting and lets me really focus on getting the photos I need.

The lens lineup is amazing, especially as a prime shooter.  There isn’t a single prime lens in the XF family that I would hesitate to shoot with in any professional setting.

I know your readers and fans have heard this before, but you cannot overlook the size and (more importantly) the weight of the system.  In a given season I shoot 50-60 weddings, and come October, when I’m plowing through 2 or 3 a weekend, there’s no value I can put on having gear that is 1/3rd the weight of my old DSLR system.  I’m not as young as I used to be, but the system makes it much easier to physically handle my workload.

What does your editing and post production process look like?

I actually recently did a video about my editing process, and it’s remarkably simple.  I deliver mostly from the straight JPEGs, so I essentially cull my 1500 images down to about 600, do some minor cropping and rotating, and off they go to the client.

As photographers, we make a lot out of the editing process.  I’ve gone to meetups where I hear other wedding pros saying they spend 40+ hours in lightroom working with their files.  That is a lot of time, and you’re making the same amount of money whether it takes you 40 hours to edit or 4.

My advice is to keep it simple.  Get it right in-camera so you don’t have to make it right in post.

Custom white balance whenever possible, be thoughtful and mindful of your compositions, and enjoy the benefits later on.  Typically, I can cull and edit a wedding in 7 hours.

When I work with my clients I find they are often surprised by the amount of work that goes into shooting a wedding.  How much time do you think you invest in total, including things like the initial contact with the client, the engagement session, the wedding, post production and editing, delivery, etc.

In a previous life I worked a corporate finance job, so numbers became very important to me.  I track everything in my business, so I can give you pretty exact numbers that might be interesting.

  • Average wedding day:  9 hours
  • Average editing time:  7.35 hours
  • Average # of emails (inquiry to delivery):  53 (this includes the initial contact, all the way through the planning process, teasers, delivery and followup).

In the busiest 6 months of the year I’ll shoot weddings Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and have them edited out and delivered by the following Friday.  I usually come home from the wedding and cull the images that night while they upload into the cloud.  That way, come Monday, I open up Lightroom, import the ‘keepers’ and off I go with the editing.

This past September I did a video called the ‘Week in the Life of a Photographer’ and I think it really shows how crazy our crazy can be.

I love photographing weddings, but I think it is fair to say that as artists we often look for variety in our art and with our creative process.  What do you like to shoot besides weddings?

My kids!  My wife and I keep an XT2 on our counter with a 35 f1.4 at all times.  We have a gallery of images that just crossed the 3,000 mark.  Our kids might be the most well-documented children of all time.

I don’t shoot much else.  I love street photography and follow a lot of incredible artists shooting street on my Instagram page.  I don’t look at a ton of other wedding photographers, but there are a few (Look Fotografia, Jeff Ascough).

Then there is the 2 week period every year where I convince myself I’m going to shoot landscapes on large format film, but then I come back down to reality and remember I know nothing about film, or landscapes.  I very much appreciate that kind of work though.

You have a fabulous YouTube channel, where you talk in depth about many of the things we have discussed here today. What prompted you to launch this channel, and what is your ongoing goal with it?

Originally I was writing for a pretty well-known photography blog, and when I pitched the idea of doing videos they passed.  So I decided then I would just do my own channel.

I felt like I could really be helpful to someone who wanted to shoot weddings (or anything really) on the Fuji X system, but didn’t feel like there were enough resources out there.

My channel is very non-technical.  It’s a lot of real-world reviews, and footage of me shooting at weddings.  You’ll see some cameos of my wife and my kids along the way.  I try and make it as honest as possible.  The work I do is fun, but it’s also challenging. I like to try and show how my Fuji gear compliments that.

Some of my viewers are convinced Fuji pays me or sponsors me to make my videos. Why else would someone dedicate so much time to a brand?  But truly, they don’t.  I’m just a fanboy and I’m very proud to shoot the gear I do.

At the moment my channel has been a bit quiet, but I’m working on another day-of-wedding video now.  Those are a blast for me because I get to show people the process and the end product.  A lot of my clients appreciate the channel too.

Thank you for being a part of this interview series.  Where can people go to find out more about your work?

Website:  www.photographyEB.com

YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCG28U0pUpN0t3swcn-XPAQ

Instagram:   @ericbrushettphotography

The Interview Series: Ten Questions with Official Fuji X Photographer Patrick Laroque

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When I started The Interview Series it was my goal to feature artists and industry leaders who inspire me.  Very early in my switch to shooting exclusively with the Fuji X Series I became aware of the work of a fellow Canadian artist named Patrick Laroque, an early adopter of the X series and one of Canada’s official Fuji X Photographers.  Here is how Patrick describes himself on his website:

“I am a photographer living on the outskirts of Montreal, Canada. I’m a writer and speaker, a father of three. I’ll travel anywhere for an assignment—I’ve gotten lost in Venice, lived in a seminary in Spokane, and stumbled through the streets of Tokyo under pouring rain. I also have a very strong passion for visual stories and narratives.

Now, you may think storytelling isn’t relevant to your project, or your brand or product. But there’s a good chance it is—because that’s how most of us connect to the world we live in. It’s how we form ties and relationships, how the human equation comes into play; today, with social media, more so than ever before.

So this is what I’d love to do for you: illustrate your stories, make your projects shine.

I’m a member of KAGE, an international photography collective and I’m available for editorial, commercial or personal commissions. Recent clients include CFIA, Lexus Canada, Fujifilm, the Mark Edwards Group, Philip Hazan Architecture & Design, Sacré Tympan, Photo Life magazine and Reliable Corporation.”

I appreciate Patrick’s work not just because of the quality of his photography, but also because of the open and honest way he shares his work on his website and blog.  Stories about his family are interspersed with his professional work, his gear reviews, and the occasional thought about life in general.  Patrick is not afraid to show vulnerability, which to me is a sign of maturity in an artist.  The truth is that living life as an artist is always worthwhile, but not always easy, and Patrick takes you along with him on his journey.  That is an awesome thing.

With that said, let’s get started on our chat with photographer, musician, and writer Patrick Laroque…

(Note:  All images in this interview are copyright Patrick Laroque)

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Thank you for being a part of this interview series. Can you start by talking a little about your personal journey through photography, and your evolution to working today as a professional photographer?

It’s my absolute pleasure Ian. Thanks for inviting me.

The road that lead me to photography had a lot of twists and turns. My dad was a shutterbug. It was never serious, but he always had his Yashica Electro 35, always had film loaded. I recently had to go through most of his pictures and realized it must’ve been an important outlet for him, away from the business world that was his bread and butter. He had a good eye, too. I think seeing him all those years must’ve seeped through somehow and I credit him for planting the seed. He gave us a Kodak Instamatic when we were quite young…my first personal contact with the medium.

I played around with photography, took some courses in college…but music was always my one great love from a very young age, and that’s what I did for years. Eventually—through an odd series of events—this lead me to tv and multimedia production…which lead me to computers and…digital photography. Full circle. Except that, unlike film, digital gave me control over the entire process, the luxury to experiment. Photography became an art form as direct and tangible as music: I could create something out of nothing, on my own, without limits. I could wander off for an hour and come back with images ready to be processed. No waiting. This was a huge revolution for me.

The decision to do it professionally however…that was a bit impulsive. I was tired of wearing 10000 different hats all the time and wanted to concentrate on a single thing. I had sold a couple of images on the side, made a little bit of money and had become, at that point, completely obsessed with photography. I remember sitting in front of Aperture, thinking “I want to do this all day long”. So I sold my shares of the production company and went all in. That was about nine years ago and it’s been quite a ride. Still is, really.

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How would you describe yourself as an artist?  I refrain from saying “as a photographer” as you are also an accomplished author and musician.

Well, thanks. Artist is such a loaded word though isn’t it? I don’t know how to describe myself. I think it’s easier to let others do that for us—over-analyzing our own work can lead to tunnel vision. All I can say is that I need to do it—I don’t really know how to exist otherwise. And it’s basically a personal exploration, a way to understand what’s around me. I’m not a conceptual artist, I don’t invent and have no talent for it. Visually, I’m really just an interpreter.

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The work on your website is diverse: Professional client work exists alongside personal work featuring your family, your street photography, and your gear reviews. Despite this diversity, your images all have a consistent and signature look to them. Was there ever a gap between your personal and professional work, or have you always had this consistent style?

It’s interesting that you use the term gap…I remember my friend Bert Stephani talking about this very notion during his talk at Photokina in 2014, how hard it can be to reconcile both sides—personal and professional. Because it’s absolutely normal to try and please clients with what we believe is the required and understood approach. We want to make a living. So we try and guess what a client wants and we’ll bend over backwards to emulate the established style of the moment. And chances are…most clients will be perfectly happy. But over time, that gap can become a chasm we lose ourselves in. If we’re consistently creating professional work that has no ties to who we are as photographers, eventually the work runs the risk of becoming just another tedious task in our lives. And when it does, our photography as a whole may suffer. Creative fatigue sets in and we stop shooting anything that isn’t a paid job.

To answer your question: yes, there was a gap in my work at some point, earlier in my career. In fact I remember the moment—and the job—that made me realize I needed to change my approach. I’d shot a family portrait session and although they were happy with the results…I hated the images. Nothing wrong with them, I just knew I had punched the clock and gone through the motions. I think I hated myself for it and projected that feeling of inadequacy on the pictures. They were a symbol of everything I didn’t want to be. And that’s the moment…that’s when I decided to stop trying to fit into some kind of mold. I completely changed my website, started posting the work I actually loved and removed everything that represented the other side of that gap. But here’s the thing: the phone stopped ringing. Which is not a great feeling when you need to pay the mortgage and feed the kids. But when it did start to ring again, everything had changed. The calls were no longer anonymous, trying to find the cheapest possible guy for a job…they were from potential clients who were interested in the type of work I was promoting. The gap had closed.

As for a signature look…I think I’m attracted to certain specific moods, and this ends up creating a visual thread. Keeping a somewhat steady processing workflow probably helps as well.

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There is a theme of storytelling throughout your work, one where your photos are often best viewed as a series of images. This is in direct contrast to many photographer’s attempts to create that one perfect image. What is it that draws you to the photo essay?

An image on its own can be beautiful, distressing, inspiring…it can summarize and it can symbolize. But we don’t experience life that way. We’re never standing still in the middle of a street or a field or a room, looking straight ahead at a single point in space, taking everything in at once—we understand our world through constant glances: up, down, sideways…we create our own summaries from that multitude of scattered pieces. So I gravitate to photo series because it feels natural to me, because it allows for expanded narratives and gray areas you can’t access within a single frame. It’s very personal, but I just don’t believe in that one ultimate image to rule them all. It also makes ordinary, mundane subjects possible—an important part of our world we don’t usually bother to document.

It feels like a much wider canvas.

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Zack Arias once said “Photography calls many, but chooses few”. Your work, both your writing and your photography, are infused with an obvious love and passion for the arts. What inspires you to create?

Our parents gave us… awareness. Our mom had a passion for theater and poetry, our dad a deep reverence for nature as well as the arts in general. So we grew up in that environment. But I had a conversation with a friend not so long ago, about why we choose to express ourselves, how certain images make us feel…how there’s a sort of chemical rush…endorphins maybe? I don’t know. This rush though…it’s the trigger that pushes me to either write or pick up my camera or guitar. It’s hard to describe. It’s like a hunger, to both consume and/or create. That, and an appreciation for time…perhaps a fear of it at some level—I just want to record it all while I can. There’s a sense of urgency that’s always been there for some reason.

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I think it is a reality that as artists we all struggle at times. On the Kage Collective website you recently published an essay about a trip you took across Canada six years ago (entitled “One Solitude”). This essay really hit home for me on a personal level. Can you talk a little about your need to take this trip, and how it served you both as a person and as an artist?

Oh man I was lost. When I decided to leave TV production for photography, I thought I’d be ok with a purely commercial approach. This was a business move and I’d simply be using the camera as a money-making tool. I’d be rational and right-brained. I didn’t realize passion would quickly take a hit and I’d be left feeling totally empty. Eventually I reached a point of absolute numbness where nothing made sense anymore. But I’m really lucky to have a wife who’s grounded beyond anything I’ll ever achieve. So we talked about it and she basically said “Go. Take the car and find those missing pieces”. We told the kids and Cynthia bought a big map of Canada that we tacked on the living room wall so they could follow along as I drove west. We made it exciting. But regardless, the morning I left felt like a betrayal on my part. And I remember sitting in some crappy motel in Dryden a few days later, way up in Northern Ontario, thinking what the fuck am I doing? I missed my family terribly and yet here I was…driving further and further away from them into the unknown.

But in the end it was my own forty-days in the desert. There’s a French expression that’s fitting: passage à vide. A passage through emptiness. Alone with my thoughts, moving through scenery that could be awe-inspiring one minute or a pit of despair the next, never knowing what lied ahead and making it up as I went along. I could sing out loud, stop anywhere, eat anything. When I reached the Pacific, the very edge of our country with no road left to drive on…it really felt like a personal victory. A shedding of old skin.

I’m not someone who will ever be at peace. I know this. But what I brought back from that trip is an understanding of who I needed to be. I wasn’t home yet but it’s a big part of the process that lead me to where I am, for better or worse.

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You currently offer workshops, focusing primarily on one to one education. What draws you to this more intimate type of education, one that is more of a mentorship relationship with your student?

You know, I’ve never held group workshops. It’s not out of shyness because I’m perfectly comfortable with audiences, and I’m not excluding the possibility down the road. But I love the intimacy and the close relationship, the ties that are built through a one on one connection. You’re right that it is more like a mentorship…in such a context, a workshop can hardly be anything BUT personal. So it usually becomes a two-way conversation rather than a purely didactic lesson; it’s much more open and organic. You’re building bridges that won’t just disappear after those few days spent together. I find it very rewarding. I call these Shadow Workshops…which was originally a nod to KAGE but is actually kind of fitting. It’s very much about revealing what’s usually hidden.

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You have a long standing and well documented relationship with Fujifilm. How did this relationship begin, and what is it about the Fujifilm X Series that inspires you?

I bought the X100—I think—the week it came out in Canada. And I fell head over heels for it, especially after a trip to France that I chronicled on my blog at the time. We’re talking 2011 here. This was the gateway drug. When the X-Pro1 came out I eventually went all in, leaving my Nikon kit behind. I wrote about the transition and this switch became the genesis for the whole storytelling approach that has evolved over time. At some point I got an email from Billy Luong at FUJIFILM Canada…I guess they’d noticed the work I was doing. We had a phone meeting where they briefed me about the X-Photographer program (this was early days) and we took it from there.

Yes, it’s a fantastic relationship that’s presented me with opportunities and friendships I never would’ve expected . But the fact is I’d be shooting with these cameras regardless. And I know some people may be thinking yeah, yeah…sure, easy for you to say, but it’s true. Ultimately all I care about is the connection with the gear and the results I’m getting. It’s the photography. It just so happens that I gel with the X System, the whole concept and philosophy is like an extension of myself. That said, I don’t jump on everything FUJIFILM releases: I didn’t like the X-M1, I’m not interested in recent zoom lenses even though the reviews have been stellar. Some of my friends at KAGE and other photographers I know and respect are loving the X70…but its lack of viewfinder makes it a non-starter for me. So it’s really about what fits. The X-Pro2 fits. The X-T1 fits. The X100T fits. There was a very nicely written article recently about the importance of how a camera makes us feel…that’s the bottom line: whatever you’re shooting with has to inspire you. Forget specs. It needs to pull at your guts and push you to express yourself. So that’s what matters to me.

If FUJIFILM ended the X-Photographer program I’d miss those opportunities and—let’s be honest—the exposure it creates for my work. But I’d still be an X shooter.

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What advice would you provide new and aspiring photographers, be it technical or creative? What do you wish you had known when you were new?

Well, first of all I’d say learn the technique: assimilate it, bathe in that geeky knowledge until nothing can phase you…then forget it. The image is what matters, the emotion it elicits—technique is just a means to an end. A toolbox. It should never become the focus.

Now, professionally…I don’t believe there’s a clear cut road to follow. But as I said, I tried being someone else at first—the service photographer, doing the type of work I thought people wanted, in spite of how it made me feel. And it’s only once I left all that behind, once I decided to scrap everything and publish the type of work I truly wanted to produce that things began to change. The banality of being yourself rings like a bad Hallmark script, but with so many photographers out there I think it’s more important than ever to find our own voice and communicate who we are. It might not work…and even if it does, it’s likely to be ups and downs all the way. It’s always a gamble. But I’d say be sincere and make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons—not for fame or followers. We live in a very socially driven society, but ask yourself this: would you still do it if no one cared? That’s the ultimate litmus test.

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You are a visual artist, a musician, and an author. Where can people learn more about your work?

I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if folks want to follow me there and I’ve begun experimenting with Medium for a new client project that can be found here (https://medium.com/the-reliable-way). I also now write fairly regularly for Photo Life magazine.

Apart from that there’s KAGE where you’ll also find my very talented buddies. This year we decided to adopt a monthly publishing schedule, so the content is now refreshed on a regular basis and I’m very proud of what everyone has been doing so far. And my main headquarters can be found at www.laroquephoto.com.

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Final note:  I want to say thank you to my friend Patrick for participating in this interview series.  I hope you enjoyed it, and please be sure to visit his website and view his work… I promise you will leave inspired.

Cheers,

Ian