January 4, 2011

clareski said: Your work has inspired me to do better, and to make the photos I want to make, rather than trying to please other people. Thankyou for sharing and Happy New Year :)
My question is- who are your top five photographers that are still working at the moment?

Hi Clareski,

I’m not sure what to say besides “thank you”. That’s a very gracious compliment, and I hope that 2011 becomes your best year yet as a professional photographer.

To answer your question:

Gregory Crewdson

Without a doubt he is my favourite living photographer. Though his work borrows heavily from the documentary style, his shoots are set up and lit more meticulously than a movie set. He shoots with an 8x10 view camera and creates every effect in camera. I’m more attracted to his outdoor work even though he’s better known for his unsettling interiors. I’ve tried to copy his tone (in both senses of the word) in my own work: link link

Edward Burtynsky

Seeing his work online won’t do it any justice. Burtynsky is a pretty big deal in the photo world, but he’s an especially looming figure here in Toronto. His sizeable reputation, though, is humbled by the size of his enormous prints which are in turn dwarfed by the scale of the subjects he shoots. For more than a decade he’s been turning his lens on the massive scars that industrial production and resource extraction leave on our earth, and a even few minutes spent with his very straightforwardly-presented images is a very moving experience.

James Nachtwey

He has a singular style, a signature that finds visual balance and harmony in the chaos of some of the world’s most horrible conflicts. His photos say more than I could right here.

Bruno Schlumberger

Daily newspaper photographers are a weird breed. They’re strangled by deadlines, they’re victimized by crop-happy editors. Their work jostles for space with half-page ads for car dealerships. Schlumberger isn’t just the best staff photographer at the Ottawa Citizen - the city paper in the place I grew up - he’s the best staff photographer in the country. He’s quietly racked up more awards than any of his colleagues, but somehow he’s still relatively unknown beyond those whose eyes dart to the byline when they see a particularly great image over breakfast. I’ve heard, from one of his colleagues, that he has a reputation for coming back from an assignment with just one negative.
Growing up and seeing stuff like this on a daily basis was a photography education worth well more than the price of delivery.

You had asked for five photographers, but in trying to complete this list I realize that all the contemporary photographers who are inspiring me are men. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve paid my dues to Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus and even Leni Riefenstahl. I’m just embarrassed that I can’t come up with any women that are still practicing their craft that have influenced me like the men above. I’ll leave this list incomplete for now and invite my followers to open my eyes to the work of the talented women that are surely out there. Who am I missing?

11:50am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy2Qo8_S
Filed under: Writing 
December 31, 2010

ijhehermann said: Hi, ren! i am wondering, why don't you put a watermark on your photo?

Happy New Year!!

For one, I find a lot of watermarks pretty ugly and distracting. I’m not trying to say that my photos are too perfect and precious to taint with a little logo in the corner, but I don’t think I would be doing the pictures any favours either.

The real reason, though - and I have to be delicate with how I word this - is that I don’t care if somebody wants to steal my photos. There’s not a lot of damage you can do with a 1024 pixel-wide jpeg. There’s so little money to be made in the photo business right now that if somebody were able to make money off my images they’d have to work a lot harder selling them than I did shooting them.

I have a weird relationship with the idea of copyright. Creativity doesn’t work in a vacuum; artists of all stripes must be able to borrow, update, remix and quote the work that came before them. The internet has had some very unexpected consequences for the culture industry, but I’m a firm believer that we’re all richer for having virtually free access to the sum total of all of humankind’s artistic output at our fingertips. If somebody wants to “steal” one of my photos, frankly, I think that’s a tiny price to pay back.

Please, go ahead, download my pictures. Make them your desktop background, print them out as 4 x 6’s. I’d appreciate a credit or link back, but you’re by no means obliged. All I ask is that you please do not try to pass it off as your own work.

If anybody would like a larger print, get in touch and I’ll be happy to sell you one.

10:35am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy2NZ49Y
Filed under: Writing 
December 28, 2010
Other Tumblrs you should check out

The lazy stretch between Christmas and New Years seems like as good a time as any to point out a handful of other Tumblrs I’ve followed closely for much of the last year. If you enjoy my work I’m certain you’ll like these other photographers’ work. A few months ago I wrote about some artists I am lucky enough to know, but the artists linked in today’s post are all photographers whose work I’ve discovered through Tumblr.

My Pen World

I doubt you’ll find a more consistent body of work on Tumblr than what you’ll find on My Pen World. Though all of the images are perfectly gorgeous on their own, together they piece together a picture of an Istanbul caught between the past and present, east and west, optimism and melancholy. It may seem like I’m wringing out more hyperbolic praise than any one collection of photos should deserve, but there’s really no overstating the quality of what you’ll find, every day, at My Pen World.
One of my favourites

NYC on Film, Some Digital

Shawn Hoke’s photos of New York’s neighbourhoods can be alternately funny, poignant or mysterious. Whatever the subject, they’re all unified by his eye for the mundane details that distinguish life in one city from another. New York is a photographer’s paradise, the stewing pot for many of my favourite 20th century artists. Shawn’s photos prove that even after decades of gentrification and Giulianization, big box incursion and security paranoia, New York is still the fiercely unique world of bricks and people unmatched by any other metropolis.
Have a look at this

Photos by Alexis Allison

Alexis seems to shy away from the title “photographer”; she describes herself as somebody who takes pictures, simple as that. Semantics aside, she has a photographer’s intuition. Using her iPhone as often as one of her DSLRs, she manages, like the two artists above, to find inspiration in the everyday. Her style is fully-formed and confident; somewhat personal but knowingly universal.
Check this out. 

Tokyo Ras

While all of these artists earned their spot on this list by possessing a distinct visual style, Tokyo Ras’ work belongs to the same school as My Pen World’s. Both are piecing together a back-alley collage of their cities, both produce work that seems more intent on creating mystery than answering questions. While it would be easy to simply fall back on worn-out photographic tropes like inky shadows and turned-away faces, Tokyo Ras’ work deserves special attention because a very formal and muscular sense of composition dominates the work, even more than the intriguing scenes depicted.
Have a look.

K. Praslowicz

Tumblr is a friendly place for analogue refugees. About half of my work is shot on film, and several of the above artists obviously reach for a film camera as often as anything else. Still, while we might feel pretty cool for dropping a roll off at the lab now and then, Kip puts us all to shame. Using everything from 35mm and 120 TLRs to old press cameras and even an enormous Mamiya RB67, Kip is obviously steeped in the history and vernacular of all the street photographers who came before him. Working in Duluth, Minnesota, his intuition for capturing the unexpected is matched only by his clear affection for the city where he works. I especially like his nighttime winter photography, so I feel only a little bit cruel for hoping that the midwest is buried by a long, dark winter this year.
This is why

December 19, 2010
I’m on Twitter

One photo a day isn’t enough Ren Bostelaar for you? Then follow me on Twitter. Warning, I tweet about bad 90s rap more than I probably should.


5:08pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy2DnlE7
Filed under: Writing 
December 15, 2010

Anonymous said: I check your page entirely too often.

You produce quality sir.

Thank you! My aim is to go at least one year posting an image every day. That means you’ve got until May, at the very least, to keep checking back compulsively. Next time I’m feeling too lazy to go digging through my binders of negatives or through my tangled Aperture library I’ll think of you… whoever you are.

9:38pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy2AzYvJ
Filed under: Writing 
December 15, 2010

split-prism said: what happened in that starbucks post?

Toronto hosted the G20 Summit this summer and a few idiots used it as an excuse to cause a ruckus. It’s a silly idea to host an event like that in the middle of a city of five million people. Downtown businesses paid the price, either by having their windows smashed in or by losing a few weeks worth of business as a big Orwellian fence went up around the “exclusion zone”. It was just one big hassle for anybody who lived downtown, like myself, but the photos are pretty dramatic.

Here’s some more pictures from that weekend:


9:35pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy2AzQ97
Filed under: Writing 
December 14, 2010

ythof96-deactivated20120302 said: Do you have any advice for me? I'm an up and coming photographer, a 14-year-old living in Inglewood, CA. The bad side of town. No one here really knows too much about anything, and I need to know what I have to start with. I have a GE digital camera (point and shoot) and a Canon T50 (SLR) with a Vivitar 2000 Flash. IS this good enough? Or do you recommend I try to build enough money for a better type of camera? Please answer as soon as you can.


I started taking pictures when I was 14 as well, I wrote about it a few months ago.

What you’ve got is more than enough to start with. You don’t need the newest, most advanced camera to be a great photographer. The pictures on your blog prove it, you know what you’re doing. Some of the most beautiful or poignant or important photographs in history were captured with equipment that we’d laugh at today. What you’ve got is good to practice with. Composition matters more than anything else in this art, so keep looking for moments where the the light is just right and all the elements fall in to place. Make sure you always have your camera with you.

You can’t really compare any one art to another, but you might want to imagine that your photo is like a piece of music. When all the elements are working together there’s visual harmony, and it’s a little bit like a musical note. It just looks right the same way that a beautiful chord sounds right. Or, if you’re trying to convey a feeling with your photos that isn’t happy and beautiful, you can compose a photo that looks the way an unhappy song sounds. It seems silly, but try to really imagine what your photo would sound like it if were being played through a set of speakers, and you might be surprised.

When you first start taking photos you’ll feel like you get better at it very quickly, but you might hit a spot where it doesn’t feel like you’re improving at all. This might last months or even years. Don’t be discouraged, that’s actually a good sign and it means that you’re expecting more and more of yourself and keeping your standards very high. You will be improving, you just won’t know it.

10:14am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy29s-zB
Filed under: Writing 
December 12, 2010

yardsailing said: your photographs are amazing and inspirational. i'm sure you have answered this multiple times, but what camera do you prefer most?

Thanks! You’ve got a great eye, I like what’s on your Tumblr, I just wish there was more of it!
I don’t really play favourites with my cameras but the Canon 5D, especially for something that was designed five years ago, is still a great digital camera. I have a pair of Mamiya 645 Pro TLs that are a lot of fun to use, especially in places where a big medium format camera wouldn’t make sense like at a party or as a tourist.

6:53pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy22gOIf
Filed under: Writing 
December 11, 2010

Anonymous said: Do you prefer fixed or zoom lenses? Which lens do you find yourself using the most?

I prefer prime lenses by a really, really wide margin. Not only are fixed primes faster and sharper than most zooms, the “limitation” of having just one focal length is actually a blessing. They force you to carefully consider your scene and use your position to eliminate or include the elements you want. You have to use your feet to zoom, and it’s usually only after you’ve moved closer or stepped back that you discover the best way to capture the scene. Zooms make me lazy and often prone to settle on the first shot. I like film for the same reason, you can’t afford to waste too much of it so everything has to be a little more carefully thought out.

That said, one of my favourite lenses to work with on my 5D is the 17-40L. It’s not especially fast, but you can usually creep down into the slow shutter danger zone safely when using ultra wides. I tend to keep it at 17 most of the time, but it’s nice to be able to quickly push through to 20, 24 or 28 when you don’t want the extreme exaggeration of perspective that 17 gives you. When I’m shooting digital I carry that lens, the 50mm f/1.8 mk I from the late 80s, and maybe an 85mm f/1.8 if I think I’ll be shooting people.

1:13pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy21jbiB
Filed under: Writing 
December 10, 2010

Anonymous said: You clearly spend a lot of time traveling, how do you make this happen?
What kind of places do you stay in? How do you get around? How do you afford all of this financially?

Because I’m pulling from more than a decade’s worth of pictures, it probably looks like my life is a lot more exciting than it really is. Still, I have been incredibly lucky to have been able to see so many places so far.

Most of my travel within Canada comes curtesy of my job. I’m responsible for staff training for a Canadian photo retailer with about thirty locations across the country, and even though we do most of our training electronically I’m still out on the road a few times a year.

Otherwise, I just save up and take off whenever I can. Travel can be as cheap or expensive as you’d like it to be. I love public transit because you get to see a city or country from the same perspective as somebody who lives there. I stay in hostels most often, or I take advantage of the generosity of friends who live abroad. I went to school in Europe for a while, and after that I came home with a rolodex of free places to sleep just about everywhere.

3:26pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZqrjJy21EPhY
Filed under: Writing 
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