Please tell us a little about your background, and how you came to photography.
I come from a family of travelers, my parents lived and worked all over the world and I was born in the United States. A few years later, they decided they wanted to raise their kids in their home country, and we relocated to France. We continued to move every few years to a different region, and I still carry that yearning to travel with me!
I was always creative growing up (drawing, painting, ceramics, you name it), but the first time I picked up a camera, it was different, and more natural. I felt like I could see the world differently, and find more of myself in it.
I went into an arts program in high school and ended up studying art history (I still wonder if I then felt more comfortable in the role of the viewer than of the maker.) Throughout high school and college, I experimented with pinhole cameras and shot film on and off. I studied in Philadelphia for the last year of my master’s degree and got to take my first darkroom class, which sparked my interest again.
When I moved to New York after finishing my studies, my passion for street photography really started. I was shooting more (film, then digital) and got involved at the International Center of Photography where I took classes before serving as a teaching assistant. Eventually, I took a job as a studio manager for a photographer, while continuing to develop my own work.
After several years in New York, I was ready to pack up my bags again and I moved to Chile, where I’m currently developing new work.
You are currently based in Valparaíso, tell us about your approach to capturing the tone of this place, and how it’s different from your approach elsewhere. And how have you decided to depict this famously colorful city in black and white?
Working in black and white always comes naturally to me, it hasn’t been something that I second-guess when I start a new project, even when photographing in a place as stunningly colorful as Valparaíso (or Cuba, which I also shot in black and white.)
I think there’s a sense of “placelessness,” and timelessness in my work, which black and white really helps channel. I’m most interested in images that convey a sense of mystery about the place, photographs that feel unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. In that sense, I also find that there is a great continuity in my work: whether I shoot in New York, Valparaíso or elsewhere, I’m attentive to strong visual elements, unusual viewpoints, graphic lines and stark shadows.
As many artists before me, Valparaíso’s grit and poetry, dysfunction and energy drew me in. That sense of orderly chaos is, I think, central to my depiction of the port. Moving here has really felt like a turning point, both personally and photographically.
I moved to Chile almost on a whim – and not speaking a word of Spanish – so my interactions with the city were both exhilarating and confusing. It pushed me to reflect on my need to create a visual language, to find a sense of order, and why I rely on form so much.
Please tell us a little about you and your background with photography.
I was born in Canada, my parents immigrated here from Serbia about 40 years ago. I’m actually from a smaller city outside of Toronto. I lived in Toronto for ten years and just moved back to my hometown.
As a child I would always look through my parents photo albums. I was fascinated with the texture of the instant photographs, the ink, the colors, the rounded edges of the photos, and how dated everything looked. But I didn’t really discover it until I was in high school. I originally wanted to be a cartoonist and had an idea to take photos of my drawings to upload and share online. My friend surprised me with an Olympus point and shoot and, well, it just grew from there. I forgot about my cartoons. Although, looking back at my parents’ old family albums, I always had an affinity with taking photos, but didn’t pursue it until much later on. When I was little, I took photos of the Simpsons on TV, or my nephew crying while reaching for my camera and I remember thinking as a kid, “I like how in the moment this is.” Or, “I’ll be glad I took this one day.” I still have those thoughts when I take pictures.
You have more than one series with night photography, what draws you to night shoots?
I go through phases where I fear taking photos in front of people on the street, and then where I don’t care at all. Although it feels like I fear people more often. Night brought comfort in that way. I don’t have to worry about others, and it’s easier to hide. From there I’ve grown to love the cinematic and lonely feel that night brings.
Tell us about your motion blur series.
Originally I came up with the idea for engagement portraits. When I shoot the same thing over and over again for those, then I want to do the complete opposite of that. You end up shooting lots of clear portraits of couples, so I wanted to do messy, and blurry. While in New York, I thought to experiment with this on the street. The very first motion photo I took was of a couple. I saw them from afar, and they were in a bit of a fight. They briskly walked past me and I took their photo. What I love about the result was that even though it is blurry, you can see so much expression of annoyance in her face. It told a lot. Some photos from the series are of couples hugging or kissing, some are on dates all dressed up, some people are alone. I like that the blurriness makes you feel how those people might feel.
You travel a lot. What kinds of differences do you observe between Toronto and other cities you have visited?
There is a comfortableness in Toronto since I’m familiar with the areas and I revisit the same places often. I’m a timid person naturally, so attracting any sort of attention on the street with a camera in my hand is a little scary. But being familiar with neighborhoods helps ease the feeling of having my camera pointed at a group of people. Photographing downtown is nice too, because it’s easy to hide among the herds of people. That being said, I still have a timidness. One time an old man tried to hit me with his cane — you can’t be sure who’s going to be upset if they see your camera pointed at them. But I do my best to remain unobtrusive. I think that’s why a lot of my street photography is more of vague subjects. Silhouettes, the back of people, etc.
I’ve also photographed a lot of street photography in China and Korea. One of the main differences I noticed was the drastic decrease in people with cameras on the street in the cities I visited in Asia. Downtown Toronto you would often see others with cameras doing street photography, or photo projects for University. I loved feeling like I had a monopoly on some neighbourhoods in Asia, China especially. There are so many untold and unfamiliar scenes that I felt like I had an opportunity to photograph and bring back to share. I often think of a quote I read, it said to “give yourself your dream assignment.” I always think of this — but especially when we we’re traveling.
Being a Westerner also gave me an advantage to get in a bit closer than maybe I would back home. I obviously looked like a tourist, and people saw no threat in me photographing them, if they saw me. People were interested in talking to us, since we were in a city where tourists don’t typically go, and this broke the ice a lot. We found ourselves being invited into families’ homes, and having tea with them for hours, and I got to photograph them engaging together. After a while they forgot the camera was there.
You recently started a project exploring wider Ontario, outside of Toronto, what can you tell us about that?
I’ve always been fascinated with older things. Going through my parents’ photo albums as a child, I was so curious about the cars, their clothes, the film and cameras they used, the homes, the buildings. I think there is a craving for older things, and you can see that a lot in many photographers’ work now. People photograph gas stations, old signs, hotels, etc.
Since I recently moved back to my hometown, I’ve had more time to drive around Ontario, and it is filled with small towns that have many untouched buildings, signs, and people who were born in, and have never left that town. Some towns are so small they can be easily missed with the blink of an eye.
I wanted to photograph and share these towns because I don’t think a lot of people are aware of what we have in Ontario. I find it fascinating. It’s like just a glimpse of times past.
One town that sticks out in my mind is Teeswater. It was basically one stretch of road, and most of the buildings were up for sale. It was an extremely dead town except for this one shop at the end of the street. It was an antique shop owned by a man and his wife. He told us people drive from hours away to come visit his shop because of the product he has. He told us about the area, and how the town invested in a grocery store and it didn’t pan out so now it just sits abandoned next door.
I’m curious about the people in these towns and their different stories, and I’d like to share them with others.We don’t have to go far to explore. Driving through these towns reminds me of simpler and slower times which I crave. My ultimate goal is to share these photos in a more tangible way.
An @womeninstreet Gallery
This November, Alison Adcock’s #SomethingNew challenge invited us take on a new technique, or experiment with a genre outside street to gain fresh inspiration.
Below Alison’s top picks from her challenge, noting what was new for each artist