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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.