December 5, 2011

Anonymous asked: I'm a big fan of your stuff, there's just so many photos! What are your top 10 favorite? (of yours, of course!)

That’s a tough question to answer! I’d probably give you ten different responses if you asked me ten different times, but I’m flattered enough by the question that I’ll give it my best shot. Here, in no particular order, are ten of my photos that I especially like for some reason.

#31: 2-11-2011 - Financial District, Toronto: I think this might be the only real keeper from the "300 Project" I’ve been working on. I like this photo more than almost anything I’ve taken. I’ve been fixated on symmetry and geometry lately, but photo also has some human interest - something I leave out of my photos too often - and it hints at a story already in progress. I love Edward Hopper’s paintings of 20th century American city scenes glimpsed through big glass windows, and I’m especially happy that a few people have pointed out that this photo shares a bit in common with his paintings.

Market Vendor, Thailand, 2011: I’ve never been a portrait photographer, but during a recent trip to Asia I made a real effort to take photos of people. I met this guy at a market north of Bangkok and he cheerfully posed long enough for me to capture two photos. I missed the focus on the first but nailed it on this one. I love the lucky juxtaposition of his red striped shirt against the blue striped canvas behind him, but his tattoo peeking out of the collar is what sells it. When I look at this photo I feel proud of the shot, but also a bit sheepish for being afraid of taking posed portraits of strangers for so long.

São Paulo Skyline, Brasil, 2009: This one is pretty straightforward: rows of skyscrapers receding into the hazy atmosphere of a hot Brazilian day. I love it because reminds me of how I felt when standing in the middle of that sprawling South American city, but it also reminds me of the anxious moments that came later that day. I changed lenses to get that shot, and in just the few seconds my camera’s guts were exposed to the city’s air I ended up with hundreds of sticky dust spots on my sensor. With my cleaning tools left at home (I won’t make that mistake twice) and none of the local camera stores able to help me, I cleaned the sensor myself with a microfibre cloth wrapped around a chopstick, soaked in pure grain alcohol. It worked.

Scavengers, Turkey, 2005:  My feelings about this photo have waxed and waned since I took it. I grew up with stacks of old National Geographics in the house, and my photography habit probably has a lot to do with that. For a long time my goal was to recreate the trademark style of 1960s-80s National G photographers who framed other cultures as exotic “others”. I took this photo will traveling solo in Turkey, the farthest from home I had ever been by that age, and I was intoxicated by the otherworldliness of the country and this community of scavengers I had found near a shipwrecked oil tanker. I shot this from the hip and congratulated myself for doing those old photographers justice. Now when I look at it I feel a bit less proud, but I can’t quite put my finger on what I should have done differently.

Honest Ed’s, Toronto, 2008:  Digital sensors have become so good lately that you can shoot street photos at night no differently than how you shoot them during the day. What once would have needed a tripod and a static subject can now be done off the hip with reasonably safe shutter speeds. Around the time that I took this photo I began to experiment with “wrong” white balance settings under artificial light, and while I may not have nailed the technique with this shot it was the start of an idea that’s since tinted a lot of my work. Plus it’s kind of fun to cast Honest Ed’s as a sinister backdrop when it’s usually featured in photos for its blinking carnival of lightbulbs.

Riot Police, Toronto, 2010: The G20 riots were a big deal in Toronto, even though they were wimpy compared to what’s happened recently in the rest of the world - or even Vancouver. I didn’t set out to take photos that day but I ended up caught behind police lines for part of the afternoon. I shot this with a medium format film camera, and I like the textures and charged imagery. Had I known what was about to happen to so many accredited photographers, though, I probably would have been a lot more careful.

Shaw Street, Toronto, 2010:  Another night-time street shot with a slightly “off” colour balance treatment. I like this because I had set out to capture the tone of some of Gregory Crewdson’s meticulously-lit photographs and I think I got pretty close. It’s a slight photo but I like the stillness and unease of it.

Trafalgar Square, London, 2002:  I took this during my first big trip away from home when I was still a teenager. I spent almost as much developing my slides as I did flying to Europe and back, and while a lot of the photos were just mileage markers on the way to becoming a better photographer I still love this shot from London. It isn’t breaking any new ground in the field of travel photography, but the late afternoon light flooding the square was there and gone within ten seconds and I was pretty happy that I had finally been able to read the sky well enough to be prepared before it happened. That’s the first time I can remember being proven right by a hunch like that.

Rotterdam, 2005:  I went back to Europe on an exchange during my 3rd year of university and while I was there I became fascinated by these old Citroëns. I began to collect photos of them wherever I found them, letting their parking spots force my framing. This was just one of at least fifty nearly identical shots I took that spring, but for some reason I love it the most. The futuristic slope of that radical design set against the rational simplicity of the modern Dutch row houses behind it just sits well with me.

Brussels 2005:  I took this photo around the same time as the one above. I began collecting photos of commuters framed through train and tram windows that same spring. This guy is my favourite from the collection, gloomily gazing out at a Belgian train yard long after rush hour had wound down. My photographic winning streak started at the end of that trip, and when I look through my archives I can almost see a dividing line in my style before and after those months. I settled into a style a little more comfortably, and I stopped pointing my lens at the picturesque. After those months I didn’t take too many more photos of sunsets or autumn leaves. No more close-ups of gourds. I think I discovered that I preferred to take photos of almost-ananymous city streets more than the familiar landmarks a few neighbourhoods over. I started to seek out scenes that were a little more worn, wearing a bit more of an industrial patina. For whatever reason that’s always felt more true to my instincts than the sorts of things that would probably sell more often.
This photo has a lot of the elements that have kept coming up again and again since, but it was one of the first that put it all together. 

  1. renbostelaar posted this