Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Erinn Interview (Urban Nation)

I've been following Erinn's photoblog, Urban Nation, for at least three years, maybe even four. During that time, he's moved from Toronto to Ottawa and traveled to several foreign and exotic lands with his camera in hand. Learn more about the man pushing the shutter release in the following interview.

[Salvador forgot to write the introduction last night. The previous paragraph was added after the interview was originally posted - Ed.]

How did you first get into photography? Who gave you your first camera, or did you purchase it yourself? Was it film or digital?

Like most people, I had a crappy point and shoot that my parents gave me at some point in my teens. It never got a lot of use, however. My real entry into the world of photography was a gradual one. I decided when I was 28 that I wanted to go back to school to study urban planning. Several of my courses necessitated the use of a camera to photograph different building types and forms, so my mother, recognizing my state of wretched poverty, bought me a digital point and shoot. However, the focal length of the lens wasn't quite what I wanted for architecture, so I never shot as much as I would like. After a while, I was given my grandfather's old Pentax Spotmatic, which had a 28mm lens. I was then able to start shooting architecture more as I wanted and developed an interest in photography as an end unto itself.

You have quite the eclectic collection of camera gear. How does what you shoot influence the gear you take along? Do you start out with a specific vision and mind and take the gear to accomplish it, or do you pack your camera bag first and then see what you find?

I start with a vision and pick the gear to go with it. Gear is there to achieve your vision with. Although I have a lot of gear, I tend to use only a few cameras on any regular basis. I use my Pentax 6x7 mostly, because of the high resolution and the shift lens I have for it that gives me more flexibility for composition. When I travel, I use my Mamiya 645. It's a relatively compact medium format SLR that won't do permanent spinal damage if you try to carry it all day.

Other than that, I will sometimes use offbeat cameras like my Holga, or a pinhole to experiment and just have fun. Sometimes it's nice to shoot stuff that's not normally your main subject matter, or just grab a camera and go, to keep your eyes fresh.

On Urban Nation, you seem to favor black and white, please tell us what you like about monochrome.

There are a few reasons I like black and white. It became my film of choice when I started because I could buy a roll of 35mm AGFA APX400 for $2.50 after tax, as opposed to $4 and up for everything else. So essentially because I was/am cheap. I also like the control you can exert over the black and white process by using different developers, darkroom techniques, etcetera.

From an artistic perspective, my own tastes tend to run to black and white because I see it as a medium that puts more emphasis on strong composition and because it strips away a lot of distraction, forcing you to engage the subject matter, not the details of the subject matter.

What made you decide to start a photoblog? How long have you been photoblogging? What frustrates you most about photoblogging?

I've been photoblogging since 2006. I decided to photoblog because I felt I needed an outlet to share some of my ideas and my vision. When I started, I thought it would help me to improve simply by spending more time on my photography. What frustrates me the most about photoblogging now is the sense that if you're going to do it, you have to post 5 to 7 times a week, which sometimes leads to a focus on quantity over quality.

Do you try to stick to an overarching theme, or is your photoblog more of a visual journal?

It's a bit of both. My training as a planner and interest in cities tends to keep my focus largely on architecture and urban landscapes. That's not to say I don't get distracted and entertain other themes, so in that sense, it can also be a visual journal.

Do you enjoy the computer/technical aspect of photoblogging, or is it a source of irritation?

I'm neutral about it, for the most part. I suspect that sometimes it distracts me from learning about good technique to some extent.

What other internet related photography projects have you participated in?

Every now and then sites like the following have made use of my photos:

What is the best photograph you never took? What is the best photograph by another photographer you wish you had taken?

I'm going to have to say that the best photograph I never took was a shot of a canal in Venice. I did take a version of it with people in it that I found a bit distracting. If I had waited another couple of minutes, I would have had it, but alas, when you travel with other people, you sometimes can't afford to wait!

There are so many photographs by other people I wish were mine. This is one of them: Seattle Freeway by Michael Russo.

What is the most interesting story about one of your favorite photographs?

I feel slightly embarrassed to say that there aren't too many interesting stories to go with a lot of my photos. I tend to shoot on my own, and when there aren't too many people around, so the element of spontaneity is not often there.

I suppose what I sometimes find funny is that when I think of a picture like this one: City View is how many times I sometimes go back to try and get the light I want. Some people would just go with a digital camera and study the light for a few weeks, but no, I go and blast through a roll of film each time. I have another half-dozen versions of this shot, and this isn't even the one I like the most!

How much is your artistic vision influenced by what you do for a living?

I would say my profession (I'm an Urban Transportation Policy Advisor for the Canadian government) and my photography both came out of my love of cities. I would say they are different sides of the same coin.

When traveling, how much does the local environment influence your subject matter? Or do you have an idea of what you want to show (e.g. architecture, signs, urban form) and go looking for specific locations?

I tend to go with what's on offer when I travel, as my trips are not typically influenced by what I want to photograph, per se. That being said, I usually get a few ideas for what I might like to shoot when I'm reading up and planning for my vacations. The rest is the result of serendipity and what the local environment has on offer.

Enough about your photography, tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm a mild-mannered bureaucrat by day, and urban photographer by night. I live in Ottawa, Canada with my wife, and we're expecting our first child this spring. I'm also about to test my love of home renovations on an older home we've bought. I also love good movies, witty comedy, music, travel and good wine.

Favorite guilty pleasure?

Anything in a bottle that doesn't have pineapple.

What is your favorite thing to do when not photographing?

It varies. Lately, I’ve been quite content to read a lot of books. I'm working on one of Johnny Cash's autobiographies, a book about Charlie Chaplin, Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries and some home renovation guides. I've also been known to entertain myself with good food, good wine and company. Scrabble is also a part of my day.

Have you had any formal training in photography? If so, what did you find most useful? If not, what advice do you have for others making their own way?

Not directly. I have had a bit of formal training in print making, which has made me think more about lighting, framing and contrast than I used to. However, if you don't have the vision, it's not worth much. Training only helps you to focus your vision.

Do you enjoy the community aspect of photoblogging? Give a shout out to some of your favorite photobloggers and briefly tell us what you like most about their work (i.e. what keeps you coming back).

I do and I don't. I've met some absolutely wonderful photobloggers over the years, so from that aspect, how could I complain? However, I find that the bonds that can form over the months and years can obscure the artistic merits of blogging, at times. Looking at people's work every single day can breed complacency. Combine that with budding friendships, and I think it can make it harder to engage each other's work critically. I do still visit the blogs of a handful of people on a regular basis, even if I don't always leave comments. I'd say the people worth a shout out would be:

Actually, all of these photographers have varied styles. What keeps me coming back is the fact that they all have different takes on things, which I find refreshing. I try to balance the photography I look at between those who I can get technical inspiration from, and those who have a passion and unique outlook.

What's next for you and your photoblog? Can we expect more photographs from your travels, or more of Ottawa in the near future? More night and low light photography? Do you have any shows planned (group or solo)?

I'm hoping that early in the new year, my blog will have been redesigned and refocused. I'm moving away from the idea of a photoblog (although there will likely be some element of that on my site), and more towards a portfolio, or project-based site, where I may post less frequently, with a more of a focus on presenting my photos as a body of work.

I'm currently editing a series of shots taken in New York City this summer and will likely cull some of my best shots from the last 5 years to make galleries with. I'm sure there will be plenty more of Ottawa and more at night. The onset of winter may slow those down a bit.

I currently have no shows planned. I am in the process of trying to complete a series of photos so that in the next year or so, I can shop for my own exhibition, however.



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