Society

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Tony Fouhse on photographing photographers

Darren Holmes

In September 2010, photographer Tony Fouhse received the prestigious Karsh Award, an honour presented every two years to an artist who has demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in the photographic arts. Because Fouhse is known for his portrait work, Ottawa Magazine asked him if he would, in turn, take portraits of five other local photographic artists whose work inspires us. The resulting photoessay, The Way I See It, appeared in the February 2011 Interiors issue. In this web exclusive, Fouhse talks about the process of photographing other photographers —and offers a few outtakes.

These days, it seems that everyone is a photographer.

Louis Helbig

To be a photographer in the olden days you needed to know about all kinds of specialized, esoteric stuff. Stuff like exposure, processing, making prints, and so on. You also had to have faith — faith in your technique and expertise, because you had to wait to see what it was you had actually done.

Now, for a few measly bucks you can buy a camera that takes care of just about everything for you …  a tool that, just 15 years ago, would have been considered science fiction.

But it’s not the tool that makes the photographer. The brain, not the camera or even, really, the eye, is the main ingredient to being a good photographer. That, and a solid work ethic.

Most of the great photographers I know eschew the simple (even though they almost all use digital cameras) and look for the complex (even though they may render it simply).

As well, being a photographer is a way of life, not simply something you might do in passing.

These are some of the things I thought when I was asked by Ottawa Magazine to photograph five photographers.

Jennifer Dickson

I certainly didn’t want to shoot them as camera-holding-heros, that would just be too cliché.  (Not that I don’t use clichés in my work, it’s just that I use my clichés.) No, I thought I might shoot these subjects as people who are just going about their lives, the theory being that it is their lives that, even in off-moments, inform what it is they do.

So I decided to manufacture some moments …

The anatomy of a shoot

Shooting five separate photos for a feature can be a bit tricky.  You want them all to kind of look and smell the same but not necessarily be identical.

Geneviève Thauvette

So when I set out on this assignment the first couple of people I shot were, in a way, guinea pigs. I was using them, their environment, and their patience to try some stuff that I could then plug in to the subsequent shoots. All of this stuff is just made up as I go along; I feed off the look and feel of the subject and location.

Justin Wonnacott

First up was Darren Holmes; I shot him in a few scenarios. Funnily enough, it was the first one that worked. (To quote Allen Ginsberg who was quoting the Zen dudes: “First thought, best thought”.)

Next was Louis Helbig. First stop: the kitchen and him just leaning.  I wasn’t too satisfied with that setup so we moved to the table, grabbed a teapot.  At one point he looked down into it and I knew that that would be the shot.

At this point I was pretty sure I understood the look and feel I was going for, so from here on in it was just a matter of getting to the subjects’ houses, scoping the joint, figuring out a scenario, fine-tuning the lighting, blocking, and expression, and making sure I had enough frames to give me options when it came to the final edit.

The only wrinkle came in the Justin Wonnacott shots, because we were working with a dog.  In the beginning Sadie (the dog) was very cooperative. Mid-shoot she got way too excited so we took a time out, everyone (and thing) settled and we shot that puppy.

For more Fouhse, see tonyfoto.com/drool