Tag Archives: Toronto

End of an Era: This Blog Ends Here

While speaking at the 2014 CITE Conference about the way that blogging has changed my writing style, how this blog has reached over 100,000 views all over the world, and what topics I have written about, I realized that now was the time to end the blog. Maybe it is that I have changed, maybe it is that the theme of If Not Now, When? has become removed from where my life is: I fulfilled the expectations of doing whatever I wanted over these past five years, and I have translated that into an amazing life in an amazing world. My reality is that the now is constantly in play, and I have the momentum to continue to the end without looking ahead or behind.

For this final entry I wanted to write a summative piece; I have avoided writing for the past two weeks to ensure that what I wrote was strong. In the end, I decided to reflect on the people who I have met in the past two years, and who changed what I knew to be true. Each one is a creative genius, an artist, connects deeply with my photographic work, and is an inspiration to work with. First…Graeme Cameron of Base Camp X.

Wendigo Blades

I met Graeme through a series of random events. Over two years I have shot about 200 images for him. His tools are beautiful, rugged, and connect to an inspirational narrative. I now own four axes, two canoe paddles and a few lethal, zombie-worthy knives, and I am always impressed by what he pulls out of his bag at each photo session. This week had me photographing his new series of Wendigo Blades, a slingshot, and a few clothing items. These new blades, especially the middle size, are prime examples of tools that not only make sense to own, but also feel like an extension of your body. The work I do for Graeme is personal, and money never changes hands; some work is simply worth the doing.

Darren EedensDarren Eedens

When I began going to to hear music two years ago, we came across a local banjo picker at Cameron House whose music became the soundtrack of our lives. Darren Eedens has since become a friend and continual inspiration. I seem to recall taking a few shots at a show at Cameron House, and then at Lee’s Palace. I never tire of the songs “Waiting For the Freeze”, “Darlin'”, and Footprints in the Snow”. Darren’s music inspired me to pick up my guitar again for the first time in years. I ended up writing and recording an album about my life over an intense three month period. I began going to hear music at local bars even when I was exhausted from work. I found the music in life again. I found myself in the places between a pint of beer and a steel string guitar.

Paderno Nature Pan

The third person who altered my being is the most important. She is the person I am going to marry. She is the person who awakened me from a deep slumber. She is the most talented, adventurous, and kind individual that I have met. Our life is full of joy and challenges, but the balance keeps us moving forward together, and I know that I have found the love of my life. She keeps me in the now. I care little about the past now, and the future is not as important as what we do in the present together. We move into our new house in July, and I am happy. What does this have to do with the photograph of me dragging a sled?

I chose this photograph because she took it, and it represents a full circle coming around in the past year when I took a similar photograph of her with Paderno’s first Nature Pan. That photograph was widely published, and represents the highest point of my success in commercial photography. Our life is filled with passion and art; I need for nothing while I have her by my side.

Anthony N. Chandler

So here we are. While I continue to work as an educator, photographer and writer, I do so now because the work offers artistic and personal opportunities. While I continue to travel the world widely with a summer trip to Bangalore and Paris, I have a deeper desire to stay close to home and America. Instead of writing for this blog, I want to turn my talents over to a novel that I began two years ago. In it, I bring the mythical sirens to life in magical world beneath the one we all know too well. The idea of writing a longer, fictional piece feels like a logical progression. Thus ends If Not Now, When?  and the rest of my life’s story begins now.

“Teach me to hear the mermaids singing…”

~John Donne

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The Mockingbird Session: Photography For Darren Eedens

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Getting down to business is difficult for the best of us; making a solid living in any business these days is starting to sound like a country song: “can’t pay my bills, no food for my table, hope you got a way forward cause I just ain’t able.” Fortunately, I am quite able to take care of the tasks required to make a go of it in the big city. I have been able to forge a superb career as an educator at one of the best schools in Canada so the bills do get paid on a regular basis. It never hurts that I also work hard towards becoming a better photographer just in case those bills slip out of control due to unforeseen circumstances. Photography is my art form that I could fall back on in times of need.

One of my favourite aspects of photography is that I am able to work with musicians. Music is a major force in my life, and I know how hard professional musicians have it in these days when bars seldom pay bands to play, and when the tip jar is filled at the mercy of a drunken audience. Musicians provide the soundtrack of our memories. My best memories have come from my past year of living in downtown Toronto, and many of my favourite soundtrack scenes have been scored by local banjo evangelist, Darren Eedens. Working on a new set of promo photographs with Eedens was last night’s business.

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Finding ways to shoot compelling portraits is always a challenge. The hard part is not physically taking the photo, but rather finding a way to convey the personality of the subject while still creating a mythical persona is the obstacle. Great photography takes elbow grease and a sense of humour.

For Darren’s session, I wanted to reflect the musician whose music brought me close to the love of my lifetime, while not being so personal that these shots could not be used for simple promo posters as he travels across Europe in the Spring. I needed a few shots where there is negative space that could be filled with text about a show, I needed a few up close portraits that could be used online or in a magazine, and I wanted a few 4×5 film shots for my portfolio and that would stand out from what millions of others in the business have in their kit.

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For my first few shots I simply wanted to make Darren feel comfortable with the camera. No small feat when one never knows what the other person is going to hope for, how he is going to dress, and whether photography sessions are old hat for the subject. These shots are good, usable and were generally easy to take technique-wise.

My second set were taken with the Hasselblad CFV 16 medium format back. As one can see from the smooth tones and photographic quality of the first shot, the CFV excels at portraits. I shot tethered to my Macbook Pro with an 80mm f.2.8 CFi lens, and was able to crank out one shot every three seconds with my Profoto D1 lights. It is the type of photograph that stands up against anything else in this genre. It has depth, the lines of the shirt and tattoos flow beautifully, and the eyes betray a million words of love gone wrong and riding the rails.

The third set was shot in 4×5 tim with my 1960s Linhof large format camera. I won’t have those developed until next week, but I expect them to be photographs on a whole other level. The best part of the night was a ten minute jam in the key of G with Eedens on banjo while I banged out a blues on my Martin guitar. The ProTools recording is absolutely beautiful, especially given that microphones were haphazardly set up and we had no plan to even play. Moments like that make work worth the effort.

I labelled last night the Mockingbird Sessions; mockingbirds mimic the songs of others in an attempt to find love. On our morning walk with the dogs we came across a pair outside of the studio, so the message was clear and fortuitous. All creatures sing for different reasons; some for love and others for money.

Relax, Refocus and the Art of Breathing: Summer Begins The New Cycle

Holister

I live my life in cycles based on the school year. I have targets to persevere through, I have times of the year that I love, and there are moments that never fail to provide surprises and growth. Summer is my time to renew, reflect and enjoy two months on the road with friends and family. 2013 remains the most productive and personally fulfilling year of my life; I am thankful for the success, the challenges and failures the universe has offered up to me, as I truly believe that each second of 2013 has been pivotal in finding my dharma: my life’s chosen path.

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The past week has found me hosting a bachelor’s party for my best male friend, has found me dancing in the streets with new friends for Pride Toronto, cooking cupboards clean before I head East and then West for outdoor and wedding adventures, and I even had time to practice my bass playing in a serious fashion. As I sift through the week’s most interesting photographs, what strikes me most is how the littlest fragments captured can speak so deeply about the world around us.

As I walked through the Pride Parade aftermath in Toronto with friends, I found myself not snapping the “big shots” with a giant lens. I was not looking for images to sell or even share, but rather I wanted to remember what my eyes actually saw as I drifted with the crowds towards stages and patio parties. My eyes part-objectified the world around me: I saw necks, hips, backs, feet and the messages written across bodies for aficionado to find and decode.

Stars on Parade

As I slow down, sleep in (first time sleeping more than 6 hours in a year or two), and even catch some tanning time by the pool, I feel healthy and capable of whatever my mind seeks out. I have been reading Plutarch, essays on food and identity construction, short narratives about how Time and the Modern Area clash and our need to reconnect with Nature, and even a few Estonian fairy tales about gnomes. I have watched a rabbit attempt to build a burrow in the middle of a freshly cut lawn, and I have spent a few hours observing a pair of young cardinals build a nest in a smoke tree. Time continues to pass, but unlike any other time in my life, I am present and making sure to fill each second with worthwhile, enriching activities and personal connections.

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Food is another story. With time on my hands and a need to leave no food behind to rot in my absence, I have been playing a game with myself: what can I cook from the random ingredients at the back of cupboards and in the back of freezers. Mealtimes have become Iron Chef competitions with myself. I entertain friends with recipes that come from my imagination and creative mind; I also make the effort to swim, run, lift weights and drink less coffee in an effort to balance out the calories and late nights. Balance is key.

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While I am not a fan of Italian cannoli, in general, I do have to admit that despite the sublime perfection of my own experiments with pineapple-upside down cakes, molten chocolate cakes, bread puddings, and plum crumb cakes, the cannoli from Toronto’s La Strada bakery beat me hands down and into submission. After munching three of these little beauties I was in a bit of Heaven. In fact it somehow inspired me to try my hand at cooking pork shanks on the barbeque after a few hours of pre-cooking in beer and spices. While I was aiming a a German beer garden taste I ended up closer to great southern barbeque. Next time, there will be less boiling, more brining and an oven used to crisp the final product into my Munich aspirations.

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Next step has me preparing all week for Friday’s trip to Ottawa for a wedding. I got a sweet room at Chateau Laurier, and am so looking forward to hitting the road even if my bank account would prefer to not have to pay to board my two dogs for a few days at a time. Regardless, the cost of boarding them is worth the unexpected freedom: priceless.

 

The Value of Objects: That Hoard and Sleep And Feed, And Know Not Me

20130531-141023.jpg The value of most things lies in their use and not in their intrinsic financial worth. Capitalist society functions on the belief that baubles and objects have great value, that certain brands retain their worth, and that by hoarding rare objects one can accumulate riches beyond imagination. Reality television shows us this through programs about antiques, storage lockers and pawn shops. If we merely sit in our baseball cards, comic books and heirlooms then we will be rich. To quote poet, Anne Sexton: “That story.”
Reality is that items are only worth what a market will pay, and that is seldom more than a few dollars. Today I sold my gold wedding band and a ring I found on the street to a good dealer for a whopping $100 cash. Was I robbed by Oliver the Gold Man? Depends on how one perceives value, I suppose. I sold gold for cash at a rate minus refining fees minus this and that. It was less than was paid thirteen years ago despite gold being where the unwashed masses run to in strained economic times. Am I upset? No, I am relieved to be rid of a symbol that sat in a drawer, that signified slavery and pain. I sold it five years to my separation day, and am now free to be with the person I love. The value of freedom from a burden cannot be measured in trinkets.
The moral of my day’s business (which I already knew): put your value into experiences with those you love versus objects you hope will appreciate when society crumbles. I will take that $100 and spend it on a wonderful night out sharing a dinner with the woman I love. The value of those moments cannot be measured on a scale at a dingy money lenders office. Build the foundation of your life through education and experiences in lieu of gold and objects, for things will crumble into nothing, but our actions cannot be taken away.

Kitchen Knives and Vegetables: The Hasselblad CFV 16’s First Session

Hasselblad CFV 16

The mastery of any craft demands three components: time devoted to learning technique, the set of tools the craft demands, and a passion for the previous two that will make the sense of time and tools disappear. The photography studio rebooted for 2013 with the aim towards improving both my workflow and to reinvent the abilities I have been working on for the past five years. My time had been spent on learning to take better photographs with each and every new opportunity that came along. I shot a book cover, a cd cover, a large scale poster, catalogue work, advertising, portraits, sports photos, drama, head shots, babies and children, art work, naked bodies, food and lifestyle, events, and even engagement photographs. It was never about “that’s not what I do; that is not art”, but rather “I might learn and improve my craft while being paid to do what another human will appreciate.” Time was spent on small details and learning how to do each session just a little bit better.Without the hours of actual work I doubt that my skills would ever do more than marginally develop. Many people own cameras and read about photography, few do more than machine gun their way along through what are really a series of snapshots, and then they fix their mistakes in Photoshop or an Instagram-style of filters. Sloppy in – pig in lipstick out.

Tools cannot be ignored. Picasso might be able to create art from a bicycle seat, but he lived and breathed time into his craft at an exponential rate compared to what we might be able to do. Jack White might choose to struggle with unplayable instruments so as to develop his techniques and sound, but he developed his aesthetics while apprenticing as an upholsterer: the ideas of one craft transfer to another. In my case, I have worked my Canon EOS 1D mkIII to its borders in terms of resolution and the ability to produce a competitive digital image. The artefacts of a small sensor (10MP) being used with 20 year old, medium format lenses began to tear at the seams as I started being commissioned for larger prints and digital media. I faced the choice this year of either using the Canon until clients complained (or stopped calling), or taking on the burden of $15,000 plus in debt to be able to purchase my way into the medium format realm where my lenses would perform at peak and wherein the resolution would permit cropping without much loss in quality. Introduce the Hasselblad CFV 16…

Hasselblad CFV 16 image

Fortune smiles on those who know what they seek but who wait patiently for delivery. Just after the Phase One World Tour demo, I decided to go with a used Phase One back for my Hasselblad system. Before making any purchases, however, I decided to check out KEH.com to see if they had any digital backs for sale; I had never seen any before. Miraculously, a CFV 16 in EX+ condition came in for the cost of $3546. Yes, it would be three generations behind the current CFV 50. Yes, I would be buying used technology, which never makes sense due to obsolescence. Yes, I might get a beat-up lemon and regret the loss. I chose to take the risk. KEH has always been great to purchase cameras and lenses from, so I felt good about the risk and the $7000 savings compared to a similar purchase in Toronto. The risk appears to have paid off.

The session last night had me shooting a knife set and cutting board for Paderno Cookware. The shots themselves had to be in sharp focus throughout the image: one white background and one hero shot for packaging. I shot with the CFV 16 on my 501 C/M body using a 50mm f.4 lens. The settings were around f.16 at 1/500 with two Profoto D1s with 3×4 and 2×3 softboxes. For the purpose of the blog, I am posting test shots straight out of Phocus versus the actual corrected images. Despite a few hot pixels and dust/oil on the sensor (I will need to buy proper wipes when I travel to NYC in two weeks), these are the cleanest, crispest images I have ever shot. The white background shot ended up being of the highest quality of any photograph I have taken, and the hero shot could be endlessly cropped and corrected with no loss of detail. The photo featured here is a 1/2 crop.

I should also note that I shot while being tethered to my new MacBook Pro Retina. Tethering is what the CFV was built for, as the actual LCD screen is pretty awful. With the super light MacBook Pro and Phocus the workflow was smooth and compact. I will always shoot this way with the Hasselblad now. As well, the focusing screen in my 501 will need to be replaced to make sure that I see where the crop factor comes into play. I should note, that the 50mm becomes an 80mm lens effectively due to the crop factor of the sensor. This actually works in my favour as I only shoot product at this focal length and the 50mm lens is the best one in my stable of CFi lenses in terms of sharpness and colour accuracy.

There will be more to come from the studio soon, as I want to practice with a few items lying around. In the end, each camera I own does one thing in a way that no others can. The Hasselblad CFV 16 shoots products in a manner that can force me to develop my talent until I reach another plateau five years down the road. Until that time I have the best tools available and the wherewithal to push myself to adapt to a bigger pond. If not now, when?

Building a History: The Next Five Year Business Plan for Photography

ImageProgress is never a simple path. Business is often about “the money”, but in photography it is also about relationships. Trust, connection, creation and reliability are values that must find their way into one’s work if you are going to build anything beyond a few tricks learned while snapping shots. My five year business plan has come to an end this month. I have reached so far beyond my actual goals. I have done catalogue work, done a book cover, a cd cover, done art reproduction, shot portraits, shot baby photos, and covered countless events. I have had photos that have now been seen by millions. My blog has over a hundred readers a day, and more than twenty Facebook friends use pictures that I have taken of them for their profile pictures [little vainglories]. I have paid off my camera gear, and this year I totalled $27,980 in invoices to clients. I own a full range of Hasselblad CFi lenses [50mm, 60mm, 80mm, 120mm, 150mm, 180mm and 250mm], a Leica M3, a Linhof 4×5 Color and the best of the Canon L series lenses. I own two Profoto d1 lights with a collection of modifiers.  I have built a travel portfolio of photographs from Morocco, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, New York, Vancouver, South Africa, Peru, California, Oregon, Germany and Spain. So the question has to be: so now what?ImageThe “now what? is what I have had to focus on for the past week. Between having three local companies attempt to acquire, without payment, images I had taken at various events, I realized that over the coming business term I would need to push harder to ensure that I was seen as a professional photographer versus “the guy with the camera who takes really great shots”. As good as my Canon camera was, it is now getting past its prime. I thought that I had found my solution: I was going to simply rent a CFV-39 back from Headshots Rentals in Toronto for my commercial work. Such an option would make it easy to use my classic Hasselblad lenses and my SWC 38mm seamlessly. Perhaps it would be awful for focusing, but I could work around that….until Headshots pulled the CFV-39 from their rental stable last week. I could buy the back for $10,000, but that would leave me with no upgrade path nor any major technological advances in the long term.

Other options? I could buy a new Canon 1DX for $7000, but that would not truly offer me any compelling advantages over my current set-up beyond another five years. I could buy into the Hasselblad H5D system through Headshots for $22,000, and use the V lenses via the CF adapter. I could also purchase a Phase One kit from Vistek for between $15,000 and $25,000 depending on what I decided worked best for my needs. I might focus all of my energies to shooting film despite its dwindling opportunities to develop and even procure rolls. I could remain in a status quo situation until my clients questioned the validity of the quality of my images in a retina-display world. None of these felt like reasonable options, and I have felt more than a little lost at a time when I have an energy to my work that I do not want to lose. I have had terrible experiences with Vistek over the years, so I would never invest in a system through them. Headshots feels like they are withdrawing from where I needed them to go [especially as Henry’s owns them and are moving more towards to consumer market]. Film…see my last blog entry; plus, if all other major pros abandoned it, then it probably is not the way to move forward in the long term. Enter B3K and S1 Group

ImageIronically, yesterday morning a colleague brought me a gift of her grandmother’s Yashica 4×4 camera in mint condition. The contrast between this beautiful machine that is useable if I find a source for 127 film and where I need to go was palpable. I need to accept that the latest and greatest might be the best place to start: a Phase One body and a Scheider Kreuznach lens. Recently, I attended a World Tour Event at S1 Group in Toronto. I did not attend to hang out with photographers or pixel peep on Eizo monitors, nor was I there to demonstrate my prowess shooting test photos with the model-for-hire; I went to get a sense of who Jim Anderson and Walter Borchenko were as people. The technology is useless if I cannot connect with the men who sell and support the product I want.

While other attendees asked questions to hear their own voices [and inflict their random Canon versus Nikon versus Phase One questions in reference to creating compelling art], I left the room to speak with Mr. Borchenko and hear what he had to say about the Phase One system, the DF+ body with IQ backs, and the Schneider Kreuznach leaf shutter lenses. I have to admit that I was impressed. I expected that the DF+ body would be similar to the Mamiya AFD camera I had owned and shot with in Japan. I expected the lenses to be of high quality, but of a similar build-quality to the Mamiya lenses I used. Nothing could have been further from reality; nothing could be more dangerous to my credit line. Image

After speaking with Walter for twenty minutes, he left me in the hands of Jim Anderson from S1 Group as I needed to know what I would need to do to rent Phase One kits from him over the next year. From the firm handshake to the impassioned conversation about the state of the photographic industry in Toronto, I knew that Jim would be a man I could work with in the long term. He made it clear that I would be best to get some type of photographic insurance to cover any potential loss or damage if I wanted to rent from S1. I had to agree, I was a nervous wreck putting $15,000 damage on my AMEX for the CFV-39 back; too many things could go wrong without any recourse despite my meticulous treatment of equipment.

Where am I? I see the forest and the trees. The Phase One felt like an extension of my body. The lenses from Schneider were equal to the build quality of my Hasselblad CFi lens collection. The people selling and renting the system spoke with integrity and experience. All that is left is for me to decide how much further I want to push my business into the professional arena, to decide how best to pay for such a large investment in a single production tool, and to decide whether to sell off other parts of my gear collection to move solely into Phase One or to keep it all together to allow me to continue to shoot a myriad of styles. My decisions will not be easy, but I am pretty certain that after a few Phase One rentals the vision for the road ahead will become more clear, perhaps as clear as the Phase One DF+ viewfinder and 80mm LS lens…if not now, when?

Film: Dying, But Not Dead…Yet

Simon McCamus 4x5 Portrait II

I love film. I hate film. I love film. I hate film. I spend hours of my time and hundreds of my dollars on film. I wait weeks, or often months, between the shot and the final developed image. I never know if I have the shot: the subject is gone and there are no re-takes. Dust and poor lab work means time retouching the negative to make it clean enough for modern digital eyes and expectations. Most people say that they cannot see the difference…but almost all of them prefer the images taken with a film camera. Film is the woman you love more than you ever thought possible; she is the woman who tosses your heart around like a rag doll.

Last weekend I spent two hours with Simon McCamus, a budding Toronto comedian. Our goal was to capture a few headshots for his artist portfolio. The deal was that I was not going to charge him because I value his art and his commitment to comedy. The benefit of being well-paid for the commercial work is that my personal work can be done as I see fit and without compensation beyond the pleasure of the work. My normal fee, $500, was waived, and we were under no pressure to produce anything other than what we did.

Simon McCamus 4x5 PortraitFor the session I wanted to shoot digital, 6x6cm film and 4×5 inch film. The digital is the money shot, the medium format is the back up, and the large format…well, that is the art. One of my artistic goals this year is to shoot ten portraits with the 4×5 film of artists who are still working to learn and practice their craft. Simon was a perfect candidate.

4×5 film is a bitch to shoot. I have to focus upside down and backwards, without a loupe for magnification, and then demand that my subject not move an inch while I push in a film holder and pull the slide. Given that the last time I shot with the Linhof was March of last year, my film holders were half empty and unorganized. I ended up having to rush to the bathroom, load 5 sheets in the pitch blackness and rush back out to capture the final four shots of the session [I loaded one backwards]. My only hope was to get one great shot; I did.  Total cost: $40 for 4 shots.Simon Mc IV BW

With digital I can take 300 exposures and eventually get a solid shot, but film is a stranger beast. For the digital shots I used my Canon EOS 1DmkIII with a 50mm f.1.2 lens for the colour shot and with a Hasselblad 150mm CFi lens for the black and white. The first thing to notice is how different lenses compress or expand Simon’s face through the series. I feel like this focal length compression plagues most portraits as people feel they should look a certain way which often contrasts how the photographer sees the best sides of the subject.

Simon Mc II

In the end…I prefer the 4×5 film. I suspect that Simon will prefer the colour 50mm f.1.2 shot because it is what his eyes see on a daily basis. Still, how often does a person get to have a photograph taken on them on a forgotten media with German lenses and a large format camera made in West Germany in the 1960s? The challenge for my work in film is now to ensure that I have film stock and a lab that will develop the final negatives. I can keep my scanner running and Photoshop keeps getting better in terms of cleaning up the first scan, but I would surrender if I found myself need to develop sheets in a non-existent dark room.

I might mention that I have to admit that I much prefer the wonky Rapax lens made in America over the Schneider Kreuznach 210mm. The Schneider is sharper and more perfect, but the Rapax [which cost me $100] produces a more mysterious photograph due to its lack of focus and shallow depth of focus at f.4.5.