“I do not think that when in a hotel you have to feel “at home”, on the contrary, you have to get the feeling that you are definitely elsewhere…”
-Aurelio Vazquez Duran
One million years ago, or so it feels like, I traveled in excess of 200 nights a year photographing hotels. You know the photos. The misleading pictures that make rooms look much bigger, cleaner and better equipped on line, than the room finally looks when you arrive. I have written here and there about my experiences in this industry, but I assure you, the best stories are the ones told over beers or a solid glass of bourbon, and they get better as the drink count climbs.
In five years I worked and traveled in more than 20 countries and photographed many Condé Nast gold list properties. I also photographed more than 150 budget properties strewn across thousands of American Interstate miles. In the last few months in this job, before exhaustion and frustration drove me to resignation, I started a series of self portraits in an attempt to illustrate what had become a very lonely and isolating career opportunity.
These photos were not a deliberate antithesis of the marketing photos I was sent to make, rather an attempt to share my experience with those who had a difficult time imagining what life on the road was like for myself and my colleagues. It was also an attempt to keep things interesting and entertaining as the redundancy of the daily check in and check out of nearly identically furnished rooms wore on after weeks on the road. In between the daily move from one hotel to another, of room shoot after room shoot, we struggled greatly to preserve some degree of normal life.
The photo below is one of my favourites from the series. Not only does it show the make shift workstation I spent hours at each day sorting through photos and trying desperately to maintain connections with my personal world through Skype or MSN Messenger, but it shows me in the process of repairing a flat tire for a bike that I had bought on this particular trip. I had done previous trips with a bike in my baggage and it became the best way to stave off the worst internal crises that surfaced on any extended trip. It became the best, and most healthy, way to preserve what felt normal.
“I’d invite you back to my place
It’s only mine because it holds my suitcase
It looks like home to me alright
But it’s a hundred miles from yesterday night”
–Man in a Suitcase, The Police
“First we eat with our eyes.” – Attribution unknown
Back in January I was asked to sit in on a conversation between a client and a creative director regarding a book project that had fallen off my radar months before. It was the first conversation of many that led to more than a dozen individual shoots including location and studio-style work featuring the spaces and the food of Burgoo Bistro. Burgoo is four neighbourhood restaurants with a reputation for rich and satisfying comfort food. Soup, stews, salads and grilled cheese sandwiches washed down with Imperial pints of their signature beer, Burgoo Brew.
I am very excited, after months of work, and months more of waiting, to have a copy in my hands and to be able to share some of this work with those who have been patiently waiting with me. Having come from a background in photojournalism my approach to photography has always been fast and light. Even when I was photographing hotels, my colleagues and I traveled pretty light compared to others in the industry who traveled with case after case filled with every imaginable piece of gear. We traveled solo with a basic kit and laptop and we accomplished some pretty incredible work relative to the amount of equipment we traveled with.
When I say studio, I am stretching the truth a bit. All the work in Food For Comfort was shot on location. Most of the food photography was produced on a boardroom table in a space shared with the company’s test kitchen. The ephemeral shots, or atmosphere photos were shot in one of Burgoo’s four locations around Vancouver. Unlike my days traveling, I took more of maximist approach to this project. Surrounding the boardroom table, were stands of strobe lights, softboxes, cables & cords and a camera tethered to my iMac which I had brought in for each of the food shoots.
It was my first time shooting tethered with content arriving on the screen a few moments after capture without the benefit of any image selection or corrections. The plus side, and it was a huge plus, was though there were four of us on ‘set’, each with a distinct perspective, we were all able to recognize without negotiation that we had arrived at the right image and it was time to move to the next dish.
I remain super stoked about having this book in my hands, and I think it will take a while before the novelty of having it wears off. Though it is Burgoo’s book, it feels a little like mine and I am proud to be able to share it.
Burgoo: Food for Comfort is available at Burgoo locations in addition to online at:
Burgoo at Chapters
“Ultimately photography is about who you are. It’s the truth in relation to yourself. And seeking truth becomes a habit.” – Leonard Freed
Several months ago I came across a name on the internet, as one is apt to do. On Facebook or Twitter or one of the photo blogs that I check in with from time to time I found Vivian Maier. Which is to say a lot given that Vivian died in 2009 and lived a life of obscurity as a nanny to Chicago area families for nearly 40 years. She was not well known to the families she cared for and she remained unknown as a photographer till a couple years after her death. What is remarkable, and the reason why she has exploded in the world of photography, is in her lifetime she shot more than 100,000 frames of film at the time of her death her negatives filled box after box with boxes still of 700 rolls of undeveloped film.
A few days ago I had the chance to see the documentary Finding Vivian Maier in a small, sold out, theatre in Vancouver. It is a story of her life, as well as it is known, and it is the story of her discovery as a photographer. An author, John Maloof, in seeking old photographs for a book project, purchased a box of her negatives at auction in 2007. It took a few days to really get into the work, but once he did, he was able to recognize he had found something remarkable and started sharing his find with the world. In 2009 he launched a blog, Vivian Maier – Her Discovered Work and the world started to take notice, and Vivian took hold of Maloof’s professional life.
Maloof’s film presents Vivian as he discovered her through the people who remember her, the children she cared for, the families she worked for and what developed was a slightly disturbing portrait of a women driven by her obsessions whose behavior became increasingly erratic as she aged. Vivian was intensely private, and though she often photographed the children in her care it is uncertain whether these photos were ever shared. She walked a lot, and photographed what she saw with an alarming clarity; the best of her work perhaps comparable to the street photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson and akin, more locally, to the photography of Fred Herzog.
I’m not writing to summarize this film, rather as an invitation to seek it out. Vivian’s photography is revelatory and although she spent so much of her life creating portraits of others, her own was often incomplete even to those who knew her best. We traverse life meeting those with shared interests and colleagues with similar ambitions but I wonder how complete these pictures are. In an era where the capture of an image comes with increasing ease it is too simple to reduce photography to the press of a button or the activation of an app. There is certainly more to a photograph than what it portrays and there should be no doubt that there is more to a photographer than the act of making a photo. In the end there maybe as many stories going on behind the lens as there are unfolding before it.
“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”
― Dean Karnazes
It’s been a busy few months, with September just as busy as August and finally now, mid October, life is starting ease up a little at a time. Between the start of August and the first week of October I was on hand for running events in Whistler, Squamish, Vancouver, West Vancouver, Buntzen Lake and Surrey, BC. With the exception of the Surrey marathon I shot all of these events including two first time events, the Eastside 10km and the Spirit of the Shore Half Marathon.
Between shooting races I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few new clients, and take care of some longer standing collaborations and there a couple exciting things left in store for this fall. At the end of August a project on which I was a collaborator was offered to the world in the form of a crowd funding campaign to self publish a cook book. Authored by my friend Hana Dethlefsen and featuring her recipes of Japanese home cooking the Let’s Cooking Indiegogo campaign doubled her funding goals. Let’s Cooking is on it’s way to a publication run and I can’t wait to have a finished copy to share. In a couple more weeks I will be excited to share another project announcement more than a year in the making.
From 5 Peaks Trail Series on Blackcomb
From the inaugural Eastside 10km
From the Inaugural Spirit of the Shore Half Marathon
“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”
The Meet Your Maker 50 is now a few weeks in the rear view mirror but I keep coming back to the same few images shot in the hour before gun time. I keep coming back to these images because they are unlike any images that I have shot before. It wasn’t my first shoot with my new Nikon D800, it was my second, but it was the first in the challenging conditions offered by a shoot that started at 4am and took me from the valley floor to the alpine high above Whistler Village and back again. I shot into the darkness and into the sun and with the review of each frame I felt stronger and more confident as a photographer.
My feelings about equipment are well known in my circle. The gear debate is for gear fetishists and those more concerned about cameras and technology than photography and content. Whenever I over hear another photographer going on about the latest tech and how they can’t live without it, I respond with a reflexive roll of the eyes. Some of the most iconic images in the history of photography were made long before built in light meters, autofocus and certainly before pixels forever changed the medium. I believe my camera bag is a toolbox and my cameras are tools, the right lens and the right camera can help you get the shot, but no amount of tech will compensate for a photographers sole reliance on it. The difference for me, that Sunday in Whistler, was that the D800 did a better job at capturing what I felt and saw better than any camera I’ve used before.
Since Labour day weekend in Whistler with MYM I’ve completed several shoots and projects including commercial products, packaged goods, running and corporate head shots. It’s been a very busy six weeks and despite my above comments, the D800 feels like a game changer. I feel like it’s made me a better photographer, and although that may say more about my strengths as a photographer than it does about the quality of the Nikon, I am excited that it’s so good at helping me capture subjects the way I see them.
MYM was my second Ultra Marathon shoot in as many months, as you may recall from an earlier post the Squamish 50. Shooting an Ultra maybe one of the hardest things I’ve had to shoot. Without commenting on what I haven’t shot, I will say that Ultras take planning and prep from what you have in your bag, to where on course you’ll shoot, to what you power yourself with. I have a tendency to favour gear and bag prep over making sure I have what I need to survive these long, long days. Do: Take more water than you think you’ll need. Don’t: forget extra batteries, memory cards and sunscreen.