The four Ottawa women are supposed to be retired. But they are spending two weeks in April wandering around the streets of Vienna pursuing their new demanding careers as photographers. Collectively, they call themselves Studio 255, a number reflecting the total of their ages when the hobbyists turned pro in 2007. That was a year after they bonded at a course at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa. Their “discipline” impressed the school’s executive director, Michael Tardioli, who continues to mentor them: “They’re relentless; they barely let me take a lunch.”
The foursome travel abroad every year or two to shoot the architecture of European capitals. Back home, they mount joint exhibitions, publish books and win critical acclaim. The four “retirees” are Leslie Hossack (school principal), Patricia Wallace (hospital administrator), Abigail Gossage (businesswoman) and Barbara Bolton (corporate librarian). Below, Hossack discusses the group.
Is photography a second career or a hobby?
“It’s well beyond the hobby stage. It’s very deliberate. It is very focussed on continual improvement. When something captures my interest, I just get absorbed into it and I think one reason Studio 255 works is we’re all the same in that regard. We’ve become absorbed in something, fascinated by something and we just love keeping at it.”
Why the focus on photographs of architecture?
“I’m fascinated by the historic events the architecture witnessed, whether it’s Stalinist Moscow or Nazi Berlin.”
How does the group choose a city to photograph?
“We get together; we have meetings over coffee or over dinner and one of the items we will talk about is where next to go. It takes several weeks or months. Some cities put on the table initially and rejected come back onto the table six months later and we say ‘That is the one.’ When we get consensus – ‘OK, it’s Vienna for 2016’ – then energy is released and everybody’s just so excited about what they individually will do in Vienna.”
What is a typical day like for you abroad?
“We stay in the same hotel but we don’t meet for breakfast. Each of us goes off, gear in a backpack slung over a shoulder and camera in hand. Each of us shoots all day long. Essentially we’re all back at the hotel by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Each of us download the photographs onto computers. Around 6 p.m or 6:30 p.m., we meet in one of the hotel rooms with a bottle of wine and we talk about our day. Then we go for supper in a nearby little restaurant and talk about our day again and what we’re doing the next day.”
What will you shoot on your first day in Vienna?
“I will be starting my photographic exploration of Sigmund Freud’s pre-war Vienna at Berggasse 19, the location where he lived and worked for almost 47 years before fleeing the Nazis in 1938 and settling in London. (Wallace says she will begin by shooting the 17th century Leopoldine Wing of the baroque Hofburg Palace. Bolton and Gossage will first go exploring.)
What do you love about photography?
“I love the way it combines everything I am so passionate about. It allows me to be creative. Photography is a medium that is very well suited to dealing with complex issues. I am fascinated by the conflicted monumental events of the mid-20th century. I love history. I love research. I love writing. Most of all, I love photography. It allows me to combine all these things.”
Studio 255 will have an exhibition of the Vienna photographs Oct. 13 to Nov. 23 at Exposure Gallery, 1255 Wellington St. W.