What Represents Your Work?

December 15, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I recently did a portrait session for this gentleman. He himself an artist in the discipline of drawing and watercolour. He is also a professor in neurobiology, studying the brain and consciousness in invertebrate animals. Interesting stuff, but well above my pay grade.

After the session I received an email from him, discussing some insights he gained from the shoot, and he reiterated a question that he had asked me in the studio, "What represents your work?".

I remember him asking the question, and at the time I was unable to come up with an answer. I'm still a little unsure if I can.

What represents my work?

Well, what does that actually mean? Does it mean what is my style?, or where do I draw my inspiration/influences from?, or what motivates me to make photographs?

I thought I would give some background on my photographic journey to this point, and perhaps I will figure out 'what represents my work' as the words land here on this virtual page.

I will skip the usual stories of being that kid that always stole his mom's kodak instamatic camera and filled up the film with weird 'artistic' shots of tilted horizons, sunsets, frost on windows, dogs, etc. I will skip the part where I bought my first SLR camera, a Pentax K1000, and I'll skip past the part of using that camera to document my life on the road as a traveling carnival worker. Yes, I was a carney! I will even skip the part where I was a long haul transport driver for about 10 years.

We'll start in the early 1990's, '92, to be exact. That's when I decided that I didn't want to drive a truck anymore and enrolled in a photography program at Red River College in Winnipeg. That was a turning point. That was the first time that I saw the potential in making images as a career. For a kid from a non-artistic, blue collar family, this was a huge revelation!

Maybe that is what represents my work?

I began working as a freelancer with the local Winnipeg weekly newspapers photographing 'good news' stories, community events, school sports, and advertisements for local businesses. All with my trusty, completely manual, K1000. (if you know, you know)

Soon the assignments got bigger and I outgrew the little Pentax. In less than a year I found myself shooting in steel mills, hanging out of helicopters shooting mine sites, shooting magazine covers, annual reports for large corporations, and a lot of products for catalogs and flyers. (I even got to go to Nunavut to photograph the Premiers of Manitoba and Nunavut in an igloo!)

During those days I had minimal gear, I couldn't afford all the top stuff, so I had what I needed and learned how to make the most of it. I a was very economical photographer and never really attached to the gear.

Maybe that is what represents my work?

One year I got a job as an assistant for a company that did graduation portraits in rural Manitoba. There was a lot of travel involved. On one particular trip my boss asked me why I wanted to be a photographer. I gave it some thought and said, "I think people need photographs to remember their history, and to share their stories. Photography gives legacy, and to be able to help people in some small way in their quest for connection and belonging seems like a noble endeavor". Or words to that effect.

Maybe that is what represents my work?

The years 2005 to 2018 were, to put it mildly, a bit of a photographic dry spell for a number of personal reasons. I did do some work, had some shows, and did some neat stuff, but I would say the spark was nearly all but extinguished.

Things began to change in 2019, mostly my mindset. I began to get interested and inspired again. I started taking tiny steps towards regaining my love of photography.

In the fall of 2021 I decided to leave my part-time job to focus on my photography full time. In early 2022 I produced a body of work for a gallery show, my first show since 2015. That body of work was 'The Broken Project'.

That project tested me in so many ways. There was a tight deadline, there were processes that I had to learn on the fly, there were woodworking components that I had to learn, there was the early spring west coast weather to contend with, and then there were the stories.

Oh my, the stories. That project was an emotional roller coaster, but I learned something from each person I photographed for the project. I learned to hold space for people, I tapped into a deep well of empathy for the people that sat before me. I began that project feeling small, weak, depressed, and myself feeling broken. But when the final works went up in the gallery, I was blown away. Seeing this cohesive, touching, body of work come together was amazing. I found immense pride in not only my work, but in the people that were portrayed in my portraits. We all contributed to the success of the whole. I have so much gratitude for those people who put so much trust in me.

So perhaps what represents my work the most, is empathy and gratitude. To get to this point though, has taken a certain amount of vulnerability, courage, tenacity, and self reflection. It has been 30 years since photo school, and I think I am just now beginning to realize my potential and find my photographic voice. So the question, 'what represents your work', comes at a time when I feel like I am re-emerging as an artist, re-awakening to the possibilities, and discovering that I, in fact, have a photographic 'style'. 

I guess to answer the question, "what represents my work", I'd say;

My work seeks to portray people, places, and objects in an honest, thoughtful, and empathetic way, using modern or historical photographic processes in a simple, minimalistic style utilizing the aesthetic of black and white imagery.

What do you think? How would you answer that question? Let me know.

Cheers!

 


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