Bio. Offer us a short, snappy (not-copied-from-your-website or any publication), fun biography. Who are you?
I’m a freelance photographer and videographer currently living in Toronto, juggling personal work with work that pays the bills. My family has been in Canada for six generations and comes from Norway and Scotland on my dad’s side and Ireland, England and Scotland on my mom’s side. I grew up in Toronto but my work has been done elsewhere. My personal work has taken me mostly to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and Schefferville, Quebec. I'm starting to work on projects locally now, and I'm pretty excited about that. Family is a theme in my work that I always seem to come back to.
Beginning. Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera? The first picture you took? Tell us a story about your beginning.
I don’t remember the first picture, but I remember my first meaningful experience. It was Valentine’s Day when I was in my mid-twenties, and I was working the dinner shift at a restaurant that night so I took myself out for lunch for my Valentine’s date. I brought my Rebel camera (a graduation gift from my parents) with me and set out to photograph people with their flowers out in the streets of the neighbourhood I was in. It was my first time photographing strangers. I remember the feeling of locking eyes with whomever I was about to photograph, camera in hand, and intuiting whether I could interpret their reaction as consent. I took a few photos and returned to the same neighbourhood on Mother’s Day to do the same thing. I didn’t end up taking to street photography, but something revealed itself in me that day and I knew I wanted more of it in my life.
Becoming. Can you identify when you first started calling yourself a photographer—when you felt comfortable naming yourself as such? How did you morph from someone who takes pictures to “photographer”?
When I was studying photojournalism I was focused on the theme of motherhood, and I started spending time with a great-grandmother, Margaret, who was raising her great-granddaughter, Ellie, in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Photographing them was my first experience spending long amounts of time with people as a photographer, and we have also become friends. I learned with them that spending a lot of time, even if it feels directionless, is a big part of the process for me. Their patience and generosity enabled me to start to discover how I wanted to be as a photographer, and I think that’s when I started feeling comfortable identifying as one.
Being. What are you working on now? Where? How? Why?
I’m working on a long-term project called Wind of the North, which looks at life on North America’s first Indigenous-run railway and the significance of this railway for the people it connects. This is a project I started in 2015 and since then I’m either on that train, or thinking about being back on it. I’m also working on a new project about the impact of a condo development on the neighbourhood it’s being built in in Toronto. I’ve been craving sticking close to home these days and exploring my own backyard.
Borrowing. Tell us a little about your artistic lineage. Who are the artists and/or works that influence you? Who or what inspires you and why?
Family has been a major focal point for my work and so I’m drawn to photographers who have explored this theme, and especially ones who have photographed their own families. This is something I started doing in my own life when I worked on my contribution to a MUSE Projects show, and I’ve since noticed how hard it is for me to explore something I’m going through, and right in the middle of, with my photography. I have a huge appreciation for and am endlessly inspired by Sally Mann, Gillian Laub, Eugene Richards, Ash Adams, Sarah Pabst and Matt Eich.
Blown-away. Show us the last image that completely took your breath away (contemporary or historical—depending on where you’ve been looking). What do you love about it?
These images are from a project on seniors’ fashion in Seoul by my friend and colleague Hannah Yoon. Hannah went to Korea to work on a project about her grandparents’ generation, who face disproportionately high rates of suicide in Korea. She gravitated to the stylish seniors she met who are using fashion as a way to preserve their dignity and to feel present in society, and that’s what she decided to photograph. I’m inspired by work that acknowledges a person’s pain without asking them to relive it, and I love how Hannah has done that in this project.
Business. Can you talk a bit about the business versus the art of photography?
I love talking about business. It felt like a taboo subject when I started freelancing, but ultimately we all need to figure out a way of making this work, and I think the more transparency the better. I remember shortly after graduation from photojournalism at Loyalist College I took a grant-writing workshop with Donald Weber and Rob Hornstra. As an aside at some point, Rob Hornstra talked about the benefits of a photographer working at a bar to make a living. You make good tips, you have interesting conversations and you don’t need to worry about your money-making work being morally compromising where your documentary work is concerned. Shortly after that I went to a Martin Parr talk at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He talked about how he had chosen to use the skill set he had cultivated in his personal practice towards fashion work, and that’s how he supported himself. Both approaches have clear advantages, but I chose some version of the latter. I am a documentary photographer, and I also parlay my skill set into the commercial realm, and that’s how I make my living. I chose this approach because I think the non-documentary work gives me the opportunity to hone skills that I can take back to my projects. I also happen to really like working with clients to help them tell their stories. In the past year in my commercial practice I’ve worked with a midwifery organization, a theatre organization, a tech startup—all organizations I’m proud of working with. I’ve learned that commercial work doesn’t need to involve compromising the values that motivate the rest of my life.
Balance. When you are not photographing, what are you doing that keeps you grounded? What (else) do you do for fun?
Maintaining my relationships helps me feel grounded. For the first few years of freelancing I really let things slide, falling out of touch with people and feeling unreliable when I had to cancel plans due to work coming up last minute. I kept waiting for the right time to connect. What I’ve learned is that regular communication with people I love is imperative for my well-being. I don’t wait for the ideal situation for connection to arise anymore, and a big part of that is trying to include my loved ones in my work. I reach out before leaving on a trip to explain where I’m going and why, and love writing friends and family from the road with updates, even if it’s just sending a cell phone picture of where I’m having my morning coffee that day. Documentary work can be so solitary, and I used to feel that my unique experience wouldn’t be something that people I love could relate to. But I find that people have a greater capacity to understand, or to want to understand, than I gave them credit for, and I want to let them in.
Best. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard? (It doesn’t need to have been given to you personally or be about photography specifically).
“When you miss your dad, throw a dinner party for your friends.” I was given this advice seven years ago when my dad died by an old friend who had lost a parent years earlier. What I took from it was that when I feel lost, I should ground myself by making something; when I feel lonely I should create a reason to have company. For me it was a reminder that problems (in this case, heartbreak) are sometimes best approached obliquely rather than directly.
Beyond. Tell us about a future project or challenge that you hope to tackle.
Aside from continuing my ongoing projects, I am starting to photograph my own life and my own family. I’m pregnant right now, and my experience over the past several months has taken a toll on my physical and mental health. I am starting to use my camera as a tool for processing this period in my life. I tend to want to rationalize and quickly look for solutions when I feel discomfort, and it’s difficult for me to just sit with it. My main goal in all corners right now, and going forward as a mother, is to cultivate some combination of patience and persistence.