Sunday, November 13, 2011

Barnes jungle adventure

I've had this jungle explorer idea sketched out for a while, but a few things kept me from shooting it.

I needed to find somewhere in Toronto that looked like a dense jungle.  This task turned out to be pretty difficult, but after a lot of searching, I finally found a place that fit the concept.

With the location picked, I then needed someone who themselves represented an explorer, had an interesting style, could pull off this idea and have the portrait relate/represent them in some way.

Who filled those specific criteria?  Well I thought I'd ask Matt Barnes: a super talented photographer repped by Westside Studio.  I was lucky enough to have him say yes.

Now why did I choose a photographer and why Mr. Barnes specifically?  Without sounding too cheesy, I feel photographers are always exploring the craft/art/medium/whateveryouwannacallit.  I find Matt to be one who definitely excels at it, pushing himself and his work through both creatives and commercial projects.  He also has a pretty unique taste in clothing and culture, so he was really the perfect subject for this idea.

It definitely had fun shooting it.  Once the outfit was donned, it's pretty hard to not get the mindset of a badass explorer.

I have to thank Matt again for letting me photograph him, styling the shoot and being enthusiastic about the idea.  It also wouldn't have happened without Jamie Rosenthal, who helped me out on the shoot.

There are a few more photos from this shoot that didn't make the cut, but are actually hilarious, so stay tuned.  I may just end up posting them.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Jeff Z

This is Jeff.  He rides a cool bike, he's a super nice guy and a good soccer player.

I got this idea while biking around downtown late at night; I have trouble sleeping sometimes.  It's been one of those ideas that is super simple, but kept getting delayed due to weather or timing.  We finally were able to shoot it after a game this week.  It was a really quick shoot since I had a game in an hour, but I was able to get a few frames I like.  I love the cinematic feel.

 I snapped a few while we were waiting for a break in Lakeshore's traffic as well.

Some behind the scenes now, and in case you were wondering what it looked like, here's a camera test featuring Jamie Rosenthal's hand.  He was nice enough to bike over and give me a hand (ha...).  He was definitely a must when working around Lakeshore and moving cars on a Friday night.

 ...and here's our transportation.  Bonus points to anyone who knows where that giant whale mural is.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

my dad

Firstly, I'll say it's been an interesting couple of weeks since my last blog post.  The only thing worth mentioning was a tweak in my "creative" mindset, which will be made evident in the next few posts.

To the topic of this post now, my dad came to Toronto on business yesterday.  When he makes it here, we always try and grab dinner or drinks.  This time, I wanted to photograph him as well.

Now my dad's been a light test stand in, assistant, stand holder or subject too many times to count.  This time, I wanted it to have a different feel.  

So I leave you a side of my dad few people see.

Until the next post!

Monday, September 19, 2011

meet Ian Willms

Who's Ian Willms? He's a freelance documentary photographer based out of Toronto and a member of the Boreal Collective.  He's also a friend of mine, which is what made this post come together.  As a few blog posts have mentioned, I love photo documentary work so I thought for those who are also interested in it, I'd ask Ian a few questions and post his answers.  I also got him to suggest some locations to make a few quick photographs (this is a photo blog after all).  

The following are my questions, his answers and some portraits inspired by the interview.
Thomas Dagg - What got you interested in photo documentary work?
Ian Willms - I know this is all going to sound a bit cheesy and personal, but I really believe that it all stems back to how I grew up. I was raised in a YWCA women's shelter by a single mother who battled regularly with drug and alcohol abuse. Being raised in that environment taught me pretty early about life's harsh realities. For some reason, this made me gravitate to the pain and suffering of others. I can remember being as young as three years old, watching the Christian Children's Network Africa relief telethons constantly. I would look at those kids living in shacks made of garbage, drinking brown, polluted water and be completely transfixed. I already knew at that age that I needed to do something that would help the people in this world who have been abandoned. That's a pretty heavy thing for a three-year-old to come up with, but that's just how I'm wired, I guess. 

From there, it was just a matter of finding the correct outlet for those feelings. I explored storytelling gradually through writing and visual arts as an adolescent. Eventually I happened into the medium of photography and everything just crystallized. 

TD - Who are your biggest influences?
IW - Woodie Gutherie is pretty high up there. He was a prolific storyteller who truly dedicated his life to his beliefs and helping the underdog. Even when everyone told him he was a loser and corporations sent goons to beat him down, he still kept going.  Anyone who doesn't know Gutherie's story should read his biography and/or watch the film Bound For Glory.

The entire genre of depression-era Delta Blues really motivates me. Those musicians created something so powerfully raw and soulful out of such extreme oppression and despair. It's just so tragically beautiful to me. Technically, the minimal approach used in that music also really speaks volumes to my own photographic process. In their case it was out of necessity that they made more from less. In my case it's a conscious decision. 

Photographer-wise, I'm pretty traditional. I sort of became obsessed with the Life Library of Photography textbooks very early on in my photography practice. As a result, people like Mary Ellen Mark, Gary Winogrand, Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank loom large in my photographic foundations. I don't really keep up on who is shooting what these days. There's too much great photography and I find it all to be very distracting. I just do my own thing and take a look here and there at what's going on. I also make sure to catch the World Press Photo exhibit every year. 
TD - What do you find yourself drawn to shoot?
IW - My work focuses on the systemic power struggles of abandoned people and the environments in which they live. That's kind of my "statement" as it stands at this point in my artistic practice, but it only really refers to my purpose and what I want to say. 

Aesthetically, I am drawn to anything that is dirty, rusty, old, worn, polluted, dark and industrial. I spent a lot of time shooting abandoned factories when I was a teenager. Those excursions were sort of a proving ground of sorts. I would set out to express my own interpretation of what I thought the building was feeling. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn't.
TD - When you're drawn to something, what steps do you take to capture it?
IW - There isn't much to my process. If I feel it, I shoot it. Sometimes it translates and other times it doesn't. I try not to make it any more complicated than that. I don't use zoom lenses or lights at all and usually only carry one camera with a wide prime lens. After the photograph has been captured, I don't mess with it too much. A big part of what draws me to photography is the presence of reality and the boundaries it puts upon the art. I challenge myself to find surreal scenes within reality and bring them to the viewer untainted by manipulation. 

TD - Where do you find yourself wandering when you need to think or need inspiration?
IW - My default place to go to clear my head is often the rail yard. The train tracks are always the back alley of any given town or city. They arrive behind factories, low-income housing, auto shops, scrap yards and other gritty places. I find these landscapes to be very honest and inspiring. There's no glossy facade along the railway. It's all pretty raw. I can walk the tracks for hours sometimes, thinking about anything and nothing at the same time. 

TD - Whats your favourite camera?
IW - I have a real soft spot for the Holga. I used the same one for three years, shooting Detroit. The process was slow, painful and at times completely infuriating, but that camera taught me a lot about minimalism, patience and persistence.

Lately I've been shooting a lot with the Lomo LC-A and am really loving it for street photography. It's small, discreet, simple, fast and has a great little lens in it. It's everything I love in a camera, really.

My most often used camera is a Nikon D3s. It's easily my favourite digital camera I have ever used. I just wish it wasn't so big.

TD - How you do you feel about the constant documentation with phones?  Is it taking away from photodoc work?
IW - I feel great about it. The more we document our world, the better chance we have to learn something from our past and possibly even our present mistakes. The more cameras out there the better. Thanks to all those cell phone cameras, we now have Citizen Journalism; a wonderful and powerful trend that I'm very excited about. We all saw the potential of that power recently with the uprising in Egypt. That revolution's success hinged on the use of cellphones and social media to document, communicate and coordinate the movements and efforts of the people streets who were fighting the Mubarak regime. 

Closer to home, we also witnessed that power during Toronto's G20 summits. I was shooting the protests for the Globe and weekend and personally witnessed many horrific acts perpetrated by police in Toronto. Thanks to all those people using their cameras to document what they saw, the police are gradually being held accountable for the widespread brutality they inflicted upon innocent civilians all over Toronto that weekend. 

TD - Where do you think your field is going in the next 10-20 years?
IW - Call me crazy, but I'm optimistic. Documentary photography is so important to the positive progression of our society that it absolutely must continue. I feel that it is only a matter of time before the rest of the world is once again able to appreciate that.
TD - Best tips for people trying to get into the photo documentary world?
IW - Shoot what you feel and feel what you shoot. 
     - Don't get caught up in thinking you need to travel abroad to produce meaningful work.
     - Wear good shoes.

I have to thank both Ian and Tom Franks (my assistant for the evening) for helping me get this post.

If you are the type who likes behind the scenes, here's a glimpse at what it was like shooting Ian, from his point of view.
 We climbed through some windows, gear and all.
 We traveled to a few cool locations on our bikes, so we packed light.
We set up in some pretty interesting locations.

I shot a few BTS frames as well.
Lack of sandbags (we actually transported everything to locations on our bikes) and a 6 foot octo meant Tom had to hold things together during the gusts of wind.
A view of half the set, as seen from my apartment's door.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Aliens and high ISO

 I went to watch Apollo 18 with a friend (Marshall Seyler), not expecting much.  It sort of delivered, being a somewhat quirky alien film straying away from the typical green men.  I love alien movies, especially when they have real life events woven into their stories and this one was no exception.

Although it was somewhat predictable, it was still entertaining.  It did a good job of building up suspense and a fear of the aliens without really showing them.  There was a lot of potential in the story and the cinematography had a few glimmers of hope.  It was worth the $9.00 (especially if you like alien movies).
Oh, and afterwards, we walked around downtown with our cameras, shooting by street light.  I took a few photos of Marshall, which can be seen above, and one really random shot of a boat crossing the city line of Toronto.  I really like the feel of these photos, even though they were unplanned and spur of the moment decisions.  I decided to shoot a portrait with a paired architectural detail.

There are more photos coming this week;  I have a few shoots planned over the next couple of days.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

X100 Review

Finally, I have some time to write my X100 review.

This review wasn't something I wished to rush; I've had the camera for about a month now, and I finally feel I know it well enough to offer my opinion.
First, I guess I should explain why I decided to buy it.  Visually, I don't see how you can't want it... it's stunning in almost every way... a poor person's Leica.  Luckily, for all its good looks, the X100 has guts that deliver constantly surprising results.

I bought it because of my constant need (OCD, ya) to document.  Although most of the stuff on this blog and in my book are concept portraits or thought out images, I have a love for photo documentary work.  Shooting the unexpected, unknown, unpredictable chaos that is thrown before us should not (and cannot in my case) be ignored.
 This camera fit my needs perfectly.  It's small, unassuming and powerful.  It's fast, predictable and minimalistic.  I can't help but like it.

One quirk is how silent the shutter is.  I find myself checking to see if I've actually taken a photo sometimes.  The shutter is almost indistinguishable and only noticeable if you and the surrounding scene are absolutely quiet.  It definitely helps when you do take a photo on the street, no one pays attention to it and it allows you to take photos where you normally wouldn't.
 The viewfinder is unexplainable.  It's not a true rangefinder in the sense that you manually focus etc, but Fuji have figured out a brilliant way to overlay all the information (autofocus point, meter, shutter speed, ISO, aperture and other customizable options) over the optical viewfinder.  It's bright, and in classic rangefinder style, it allows you to see outside the frame allowing you to lead your subject and compose much faster on the fly.

With the flick of a switch, the optical viewfinder turns into an electronic viewfinder, giving a through the lens view.  This is great for getting rid of pesky parallax error.  You can also view images off the card and use the menu systems through the EVF!  You never have to look at the back of the camera again... awesome.
The lens lives up to the rest of the camera - it's superb.  Attached is a fixed 35mm equiv. lens (the sensor is a DX or APS-C sized sensor) which lets you shoot wide open at a very respectable f/2.0.  There's a built in 3 stop ND filter, which lets you easily shoot wide open in broad daylight, but stop it down a stop or two and it gets even sharper.  I'm sure pixel peepers will notice some softness wide open in the corners, but it's never got in my way.
 Match the fast lens with a sensor capable of 6400 ISO (expandable to 12800) and you have an "any light" system.  High ISO quality is great and I consistently shoot at 1600 and 3200 without hesitation.

The colour rendition is great and even at higher ISO's the colours stay true.  I have confidence in it, even though the files are almost always output in black and white (it replaced my trusty Ricoh 35mm and Tri-X).  Autofocus is accurate and speedy once you understand a few of it's "quirks".  It can be preset at any distance for hip firing or set in a continuous or single shot mode.
Do I regret selling my 500cm to fund this camera?  NO WAY!  Fuji made a beast of a camera.  It has a spot over my shoulder or in my bag everywhere I go.  If you find yourself in need of a small but extremely well built and powerful camera to compliment your large DSLR, I can't recommend it enough.  I remember wishing there was a film camera with a shutter dial, aperture dial and digital guts... BAM
Unfortunately there are frames that I'm saving for other posts, or don't have permission to show, but stay tuned and follow my 500px account if you wish to see fresh photodoc work.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

the dagg family

I have so many half posts... I really need to get some time and finish them up.  It's been busy lately and there just hasn't been time to shoot post worthy stuff or edit previous creatives.

BUT, on the note of not posting anything, I'll dig into my "not posted" work to post something potentially entertaining this Friday.
This was taken during a test for an attempt at a quick family portrait last time I saw my parents.  We spent so much time outdoors when I was little and I really wanted to catch that casual "camping" feel without it looking too cheesy.  The mosquitos were horrible yet again, and I think we managed to get 6 frames before we gave up.

That spot in the middle (as you'll see in the actual photo below) is for me.  Why are they both looking at it you might ask? Well, it's actually an ant hill...

So this photo is even funnier knowing I'm sitting on hundreds of ants.  The ants turned into a great distraction and source of smile inspiration which is why my super squinty smile makes an appearance.
There are a few real posts in the works that should be up soon.  I also have a few creatives in the works and an ongoing review of that Fuji X100 that is close to completion.  Here's hoping!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

family visit photostory

As mentioned in the previous blog post, I visited my family "cottage" this past weekend.  I didn't go to make photos, but here's the weekend in photos; no posing, just raw photo documentary shooting on the Fuji X100.

conveniently the site was f22 

and finally, a random snap of the road... not part of the photo story, just an outtake 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

my grandpa

I went on a mini vacation to the family "cottage" this past long weekend.  I also got to test out some new kit, but more on that over the next few days!  There is definitely a photodoc post or two coming later this week, so stay tuned.

My grandparents also have a place up on White Lake and I got to spend some much needed time with them.  My grandparents have been people I've wanted to photograph since I first really got into portraiture.  I've had so many ideas, but they were either too elaborate or not meaningful enough.

So, while packing for the train ride back home, I made some room for my battery pack, a head, a mod and a light stand.  I spent many a summer up there, so I knew I could find an interesting location.

I could go on and on about inspiration for this shot...  My grandpa is a major reason I love the water, sailing, camping, nature, the outdoors and slingshots (and many other things) as much as I do.  There are just far too many memories to even think of off the top of my head.

I ended up shooting this during happy hour (a family tradition when we're all together).  I had to wait for the sun to drop below the trees for the mottled light I was looking for, and had about a five minute window.  Unfortunately the mosquitos were also horrible, so between the first and final frame was a span of maybe seven minutes.

The main goal was a candid feeling shot with just him and his (in my mind) famous slingshot and a couple of rocks.  The rest was just waiting for the moment I saw the real grandpa I know and fighting off the bugs.

So here's my grandpa, Bert Bashaw, as I see him.

Remember to check back every day this week, I plan on posting a few more posts from this long weekend as well as a gear review post...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Locations often surprise me.

I was asked by Rodrigo Daguerre , a photographer/assistant I met a few months ago, if I would be willing to stand in front of his camera.  I responded with a rare, "yes".

We arrived at Pi Media and I was surprised how cool a location it was.  Rodrigo is an assistant there, and I was quickly lead down to a large warehouse style room with set after set of fake rooms, walls and windows.
Amidst the organized chaos of gear and carpentry he set up and started his process for making photos.  Here's my view via iphone...

After he got his shot, he returned the favour and stood in front of my camera.  
I was drawn to this area (see first image - click to make bigger).  I wasn't expecting to like the studio as much as I did.  I loved the collection of random room props, electrical cables and boxes. The only ambient light came from modelling lights, which added to the eerie mood of the space.  The house lights stayed off the entire time we were there (it's how they work).  This is his "office"; it's where he works every day.  It's why I like environmental work so much... you really never know what you're going to get.   

Techie side note - I didn't have enough control using the actual strobes (only had 2400 w/s speedo packs at my disposal), so this entire thing was lit via their modelling lights and shot at 1600-3200 iso...