2013 Crankworx – Over the Hump

2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-22

There are many quotes about doing what you love, many of them, in the context of career, suggest to pursue your passion and the money will follow. I don’t believe it’s this easy; I like what Henry David Thoreau has to say about passion.

“Do what you love. Know your own bone, gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.” -Henry David Thoreau

It’s contrite and simplistic to believe that one will follow the other just because. It is more likely that through sweat, effort, failure and exhaustion that success will follow for some, but likely not all. I have been pursuing my passion now for 12 years with some significant ups and downs. I have been in a staff position at three newspapers, I have shot commercial product in more than 20 countries and for every piece of paid work I do now there is another that is done as personal work, as portfolio development, as an exercise in honing my craft.

I didn’t wake up one morning with the thought “Today will be the day I become a photographer.” I have always loved photography and over a number of years in my 20’s it came to have a greater and greater significance in my life. I was a member of the UVic photo club, I took a job at a camera store, I went back to school to study photojournalism and for time when my father and I seemed to argue every choice I made about life, school, etc, photography was the one point we could see and communicate eye to eye about.

My father, at the age of 49, lost his fight with Cancer 15 years ago this morning, and I suspect I will spend the rest of my life struggling with this at some level. A few days later, we held a service attended by more than 300 people, it was standing room only, in the hours that followed the service friends and family gathered to celebrate his life. I was lost, I was no where and this is when two dear friends sat me down with a bottle of Oban and mapped a course forward. It was another year before I finished my BA and two more before two more before I had the clarity and capacity to return to school and the following spring I was working at a daily paper with some of the best mentors in the business.
I am doing what I love, but it is not without sacrifice and to sure, I can’t say that I would be here, doing this, had my father survived. When looking forward it helps to consider how far you’ve come.Now that I have laid my somber self before you, here are a few pictures from yesterday on Whistler Mountain, yesterday was hump day and the best is yet to come.2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-12  2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-24 2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-25 2013 CX Robert Shaer Review-30

Personal Work – North Shore Trail Portraits: Run Shanny Run!

2013 MTN Portraits Penway-2

I have a pretty clear memory of the morning I met trail runner Shannon Penway, it was as if her giant smile bounced up to me and said “Hi! I’m Shannon, did you get some good pictures?” Or so that’s how I remember meeting Shannon following the first 5 Peaks event of the year last May at Golden Ears Park, BC.  Since then I’ve photographed Shannon a few times, at 5 Peaks Alice Lake in Squamish, BC, last weekend at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon, and a few weeks ago in the Lynn Headwaters region above North Vancouver. Shannon is relatively new to competitive trail running, but comes to it with the grace and athleticism of an experienced athlete. When Shannon runs, it is often with a grin stretched ear to ear and although I think that smile is a way to unsettle and intimidate her competition, Shannon says she smiles because running makes her happy. Since meeting her, Shannon has made the podium of a number of events and distances including placing 3rd in the National Mountain Running Championships recently held in Quebec where she ran despite a fall on a training run the day before.

Learning a lesson as a photographer is often humbling and can sometimes be quite expensive, especially humbling when things stop working the way they are supposed to while a subject waits patiently and with good humour for instructions to re run the same 15 meters of trail for 5th time. During our shoot my camera’s display took a nap, I don’t know how else to describe it. At one point I exclaimed, ‘I guess we’ll do this the old fashioned way’ and continued shooting without the digital play back and instant gratification (or horror) that comes from having instant access to review. What happens in situations like these? Well if you’re prepared, you pull your back up camera from your bag and keep shooting. If you are not, you turn the camera off and on for a bit, take out the batteries, groan under your breath and look to the tree tops for answers. After a few unsettling minutes everything was working as it should and we continued. In the end I think we got a few good pics and these are among my favourite.

You can read more about Shannon at her running blog Run Shanny Run, and if you’re a sponsor, you should reach out before someone else does first!

2013 MTN Portraits Penway watermarked-19

2013 MTN Portraits Penway-15

Personal Work – North Shore Trail Portraits

James Marshall April 2013 WM-16


Last weekend I was back on the North Shore with trail runners James Marshall and Tom Craik. Saturday and Sunday couldn’t have been more different. Saturday was dark and wet and by Sunday morning the spring sun was overhead creating an ethereal feel on the forest floor. Tom and James are experienced and active members of the local trail running community and seem quite at home at the feet of towering trees. It is as a surprise to me, as it must be to anyone who knows me, that I am finding a home in the running community, at least as a photographer. I’m not much of a runner, or really at all for that matter but it has been a gratifying and exciting experience getting to work with trail runners and their events.

Through the duration of each shoot we spoke about favourite trails, and the experience of being on these mountains. Tom described trail running in a way that suggested an experience akin to meditation, an experience I think shared by the mountain bikers we saw on the trails on Sunday. I’ve been hearing a term in radio ads for the past couple of months, Biophilia; it is the idea that humans are instinctively connected to their living environments. Tom said something about trail running on Sunday morning which resonated with my experience as a photographer. While I am paraphrasing here, he suggested that trail running was a way to interact with this environment, a way to experience this forest and geography so identified with the south west coast of British Columbia. When people ask me about photography, I sometimes describe it as the way I interact with the world, it is the conduit through which I can create unique experiences for myself and others.

James Marshall April 2013 WM-11


Tom Craik Trail Samples-3


Tom Craik Trail April 2013-11



Personal Work – From the Portrait Project with Gary & Elaine

Gary Robbins Profile WM-43

Lots going on over the last month; but work is like dinner, it’s better to be looking at it than for it. It has been an interesting several weeks of photography including a snowshoe race, shooting trail running, road running and some personal work, a Ms Teen pageant and on going work on a cookbook project for a local restaurant client. I’ve also had the chance to hear and hang out with Photographer Ian Ruhter who has been in Vancouver for a number of local speaking engagements and wet plate demos, if you aren’t familiar with Ian’s work, have a look at the first video he and his crew produced about a year ago: Silver & Light.

Two weeks ago I ventured into the trails above North Vancouver with Ultra Trail Runner Gary Robbins to work on some profile pictures which would serve double purpose for both my personal portrait work and Gary’s need for some new Profile content. Gary took us to a great little trail hub that provided an opportunity for a variety of looks and we finished with a couple of head shot style portraits fitting for a trail runner and event manager. In looking back at this work and the photos that will follow of both Gary and Elaine, I see characters in their environments. These are studies of people in the places they are most comfortable.

Gary Robbins Profile Web WM-13

By now the room that surrounds Elaine at her Piano will be very different. I haven’t seen it yet, but I understand that the shelves are nearly clear of books, packed and bound for new shelves in a new space in a new home. With lees than a month on the clock before Elaine and her husband Ken move into their new home I felt it was important to make a photo of Elaine at her piano in the house she has lived in for close to 30 years. I believe the spaces we inhabit, whether we choose them or they are chosen for us, become a part of who we are. I can’t wait to see Elaine’s new space, but I am glad we were able to get one last look at the old one.

Elaine Carty Portrait Project 2013-15

One more look:

Elaine Carty Portrait Project 2013-9

My space is subject to a perpetual cycle of cluttering and uncluttering. It is never static and often feels like a bit of a disaster. My workspace is often surrounded by piles of paper, folders, files and business cards and equipment transiting from one bag to another between shoots and assignments. One day I will make a self portrait of this chaos when I am brave enough to share, honestly, the state of my desk.

Personal Work – The Potrait Project: Jane

Portraits Jane V King-1

A few weeks ago my friend Jane stopped by for a portrait session; looking to update some of her web presence it was also time to update her profile photos. Jane arrived in full cycling gear and carried her bike up to my second floor apartment (and makeshift studio) and after a quick change we started to make some frames. Some photographers excel at making people comfortable in their view finders, I have to work at it. This is one of my favourite images from our 90 minutes and is Jane’s response to “Jane, tell me a dirty joke!” She claims she doesn’t know any, but her expression suggests she does. Her spontaneous and unguarded response also suggests that in that instant we broke the ice better than any good handshake or cocktail could

When I googled “How do you relax a portrait subject?” more than 3 million results came back and topping the list on three or four of the sites that I looked at were, engage the subject, relax yourself, no touching and show your work. I like to show my work, but I think I will try asking the subject to tell me a dirty joke a few more times before I rule it out.

Phillipe Halsman (1906-1979) was a master portraitist and had a bag of tools to “unmask” his subjects from their characters or public personae. Photography Critic Owen Edwards, in a 2006 article about Halsman for the Smithsonian Magazine described portraiture as “one of the greatest challenges in photography, because the human face is elusive and often mask-like, with practiced expressions for the standard range of emotions.”

While Halsman was an accomplished photographer and photojournalist with more than 100 Life Magazine covers to his credit, he may be best remembered for asking his subjects to Jump. Starting in 1952 and continuing for six years, Halsman closed his portrait sessions by getting his subjects, including Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, to jump and in that moment reveal their true selves. It would be difficult to overstate Halsman’s gift of revealing his subjects, and I can only imaging what a difficult ask it was to make with some of the more conservative or self conscious personalities he photographed. Photographers today owe something to Halsman even if they have never heard of him. We owe him for being innovative and inspiring spontaneity in what could be a rather stayed exercise and I think we could all try a little harder to do the same.

Read Owen Edwards article here:

The Smithsonian

Personal Work – The Portrait Project: 2012 Mo’rtraits Stephan

2012 Mortraits Steph MacIntyre-1

Movember has become a cultural phenomena in Vancouver with men indulging in a month long mustache fest and women indulging in Magnum PI fantasies to get them through. In fact mustaches raise money, lots of money, destined for men’s health issues and in November it becomes hard to turn around without seeing a friend with a lip warmer. Last year Movember Mustaches raised more than $125 million world wide for men’s heath initiatives with a special focus on men’s cancers. It’s still too early to tell what the 2012 numbers look like, but these men, and the people who have supported them through the month deserve great credit.

I dropped in on some friends at the end of the month to shoot a few Mo’rtraits in part to show my support beyond any donations and as an opportunity to add to my portrait project from which I have posted several studies since last spring. There is a different set of challenges when photographing people you know well or reasonably well. Knowing someone is to have a set of expectations of the outcome. Is the person in the photo the person that I know? I photographed Stephan and his business partners last Friday morning in a very quick shoot of less than a dozen frames of each of them. In fairness, Steph and his partners are also friends, family and clients of mine and I have photographed all of them before in a variety of social and professional contexts. When I look at this photo I see beyond the nights out, the weekend bbqs and the work we’ve done together; I see something contemplative, thoughtful, quiet and something suggesting relaxed.

The idea to shoot a collection of Mo’ Bros came to me late in the month and I hope in 2013 I will be better organized and get a few more people on board for a Mo’rtrait. If you’re thinking next year is your year to grow a push broom, Ned Flanders, Tom Selleck or Errol Flynn, let me know, I want to make your portrait.

More about Movember here:

Movember & Sons

Today’s Archive Image – Portrait of a Bedu 2006

There is nothing inherently remarkable about this image other than what it means to me. It was shot neither on assignment nor in a conflict zone nor is it a product of adventure travel. I was in Dubai about six years ago and was invited on a day trip into a nature preserve outside the city with a client liaison. It was typical in every way from the large American SUVs we traveled in to the Bangladeshi driver and the “Bedouin Fest” and Hooka pipes that closed the night. We rode camels and bashed about the sand dunes. I can’t even tell you a whole lot of about the reserve. It was one of those rare time when I gave in to enjoying a very typical tourist excursion leaving the planning and execution to someone else.

I was given to understand this Bedouin fellow worked on a type of farm, home to camels, oryx, goats and the like which was a stop on our tour into the reserve. While others were drawn to the animals, I was drawn to this man and indicated that I wanted to make a photo, he smiled and I snapped off a couple of frames. If I didn’t know the conditions with which this photo was made it would feel to me that it could have been made any time in the last 40, 50 or 60 years. I am drawn in by his eyes and expression, there is nothing suspicious or threatening about his face. The only thing I see is what I want to see; a suggestion of Bedouin hospitality and grace.

I have been working on a personal project, 1000 Portraits, and a component of this work is to push myself esthetically and technically as a photographer. I’ve been playing with lighting and back drops and going back into my collection of photo books to help me reframe my understanding of strong portraiture. This frame is one of three favourite portraits that I have shot, and all three were shot simply and spontaneously without lights, reflectors, or backdrops. To me, in this photo, there is nothing but content, nothing except this gentleman in his dish dash with a keffiyeh wrapped about his head.

Personal Work – The Portrait Project: Katie & Poppy

Well, to be fair, this was about a week before Poppy arrived. Despite my lack of presence on line over the past couple of months, something that I am trying to remedy, I have been shooting. Most recently product for a company which manufactures medical equipment and the Fall Classic, a 10km and Half Marathon on the University of British Columbia campus. Katie is a friend who came to me a couple weeks before her daughter Poppy was born and said “I have an idea for some photos, are you interested?”

We have since shot the after photos, with baby Poppy cradled in a way that mimics the way in which Katie holds her belly in this image. What makes this image for me is the subtle look on Katie’s face, her smile and the suggestion of love, anticipation and the wonder of expectant parenthood. This was a very simple set up, but I am in love with the results and hope that you see what I see in this photo. Oddly enough, the week this image was shot started with a family portrait shoot and ended with a shoot for UBC’s Midwifery Program which involved photographing a Lab session with Midwives to be assessing Moms to be. Looking forward to seeing these images in the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s in house magazine in about a month’s time.

Personal Work – The Portrait Project: Samantha & Alex

It has been a busy week. Last weekend I spent Saturday afternoon with Sam and Alex followed by an early morning in Stanely Park shooting a running event and the week fell away from me from that point on; I know it was a little over a week ago that these images were made, but it feels like a month. A week later I am coming off another busy weekend having shot and edited images of a press conference for The University of British Columbia Midwifery Program with my photos turning up on UBC & BC Government websites and a cycling event in Coquitlam which raised nearly $100,000 for the local Hospital Foundation. These past two weekends were book ends to a week filled with much thought and conversation about photography, personal projects and reasonable rates to charge new clients. This personal work, these pictures of Sam & Alex and the others before them, is a way for me to investigate and explore the relationship between subject and photographer and how I want to approach portraiture in the future. It is a definitely a process to learn when to direct and when to observe and I have always been stronger at observation than direction. It was great to see my friends warm to having a camera present, from an initial unease, to something more relaxed and comfortable.

I am on the lookout for subjects in the Vancouver area, let me know if you’d like to be part of my personal project.