OVERWHELMED. UNDERWHELMED.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the senselessness and meaninglessness of it all. But then I wonder, how can I be overwhelmed if there is no sense and no meaning? If that’s the case shouldn’t I really just feel nothing, not care?

But the way it seems to work if you’re Human, especially a Human with an existentialist bent, is you have to make your own meaning. And that’s hard work. Much easier to go along to get along, to accept whatever you’re handed.

I see this dichotomy, too, in photography. Some photographers work and struggle to create and shift meaning, others just seem to accept the world at face value.

And that, accepting this nuanced and multifaceted world at face value, leaves me underwhelmed.

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BLAZEJ MARCZAK

Born and raised in Poland, Blazej moved to Scotland where he lived for 11 years (2005-16). There he studied photography at Stevenson College in Edinburgh. After graduation he moved to Aberdeen, and, over 4 years, shot (amongst other work) The Grey City. Last year he moved to Ottawa and sent me an email after he found my website. Now Blazej and I get together from time to time and compare notes. I asked him why he takes photographs . . .

One day I just decided that I would become a photographer, without having a clue what that really means or what kind of photographer I wanted to be.  At the beginning I used family’s old soviet Kiev and Zenith cameras without even knowing that I can change the lens on the cameras. That was in 1999.

I love all aspects of making photographs so saying that I am doing this for fun wouldn’t be far from true however there were and are many other reasons for photographing. The urge to discover, understand and document is the most important drive to me right now.

I love to be out there at weirdest times at night, to contemplate, unwind, dream, respond to the place. I want to feel local anywhere I live and photography enormously helps with that.

I am making images for myself, the choice and the way I am approaching my subjects reflect who I am,  but I also hope that other people now and in the future would relate to my work in one way or another. I am finding photography to be an important medium which helps us to look at ourselves from a variety of different perspectives and it is healthy to not be limited to one perspective.

Our multi layered world is constantly changing and I see photography as a valuable tool which could be used to grasp this “liquid modernity” we live in.

Images from The Grey City (click on images to enlarge).

Then I asked him to compare Aberdeen and Ottawa . . .

When I first arrived in Ottawa I was struck by the abundance of colours, which was notable after living in the rather monochromatic Aberdeen. However I remember that when we met you told me that I “moved from one grey city to another” which I found surprising at that time. When walking around some areas of Ottawa during bleak autumn and winter days I understood what you meant. I love the mighty winter here though. I think it’s fantastic!

I  like how nature blends into the urban environment of both cities which benefit from having two rivers flowing through them and which were extensively used by local industries.

Ottawa has a fine green belt and scenery and in Aberdeen a few minutes walk would take me to the North Sea seaside and dunes. I am missing the Grampian Mountains surrounding Aberdeen but the scale of the snow heaps during the winter makes up for that.

You can see how modernism shaped and unfortunately also scarred Ottawa and Aberdeen, there are good and not so good examples of modernist thinking in these two cities.

The level of homelessness, drug addiction and mental health problems in Ottawa is scary. Aberdeen wasn’t an idyll neither but the level of human misery I observed around some areas of Rideau Street is striking.

I can hear bagpipes in both cities and I can drink amazing local IPA’s in both but I definitely prefer the prices of single malts in Scotland.

Images from Ottawa . . .

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ONLINE PHOTO CONTESTS?

If you’re a photographer you’ve seen ’em. Online photo contests that offer exposure and, sometimes, actual rewards. Often they feature some “name” jurist or panel of industry movers-and-shakers. It’s easy to enter. Just fill out the form, send ’em the money and some jpegs and you’re in the running. It’s kinda like buying a lottery ticket, for the price of admission you get to hope and dream.

The claim is that your work will be exposed to someone or some group of people who might do your career a big favour by looking at and/or selecting your photos. Those images will then get thrown up on their website or, maybe, if you are the grand prize winner!, in an actual gallery or print publication. And you get to jump for joy and add the words “Award Winning Photographer” to your bio.

I’m sure some of these contests are legit. And I know it costs money to run these things. I’m also sure that many of them are organized and arranged for the purveyor’s enrichment. After all no one ever went broke preying on the hopes and dreams of desperate people.

And then there are a handful that seem to put industry support over profit-motive. Here are three that I know about and think are pretty damn legit: The New York Times LENS Portfolio RevueConscientious Portfolio Review and PhotoLucida Critical Mass. The first two are free, Critical Mass is quite expensive but has a strong history, deep roster and broad reach. I’m sure there are others that are equally well run and worthwhile but, like I said, these are the ones I’m familiar with.


For me, the best bet for career enhancement is not broadcasting, but narrowcasting. Spend time doing good, authentic, organized work, find 5 or 6 or 7 people/institutions/publications that might support that work and spend your time and money actively pursuing them. Make it personal.

Of course, in the end its your money and your time, you can spend it however you want.

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I welcome your comments. No vitriol please, but contrary opinions and insights are welcome.

Thank you for your time.
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Author: Tony Fouhse

Tony is an Ottawa-based photographer.

4 thoughts on “OVERWHELMED. UNDERWHELMED.”

  1. Great to see Drool back and you posting again Tony. I’m starting to look forward to your posts every Monday morning. One thing, Jörg said that unfortunately 2016 was the last year that he was going to do the Conscientious competition, I read his blog regularly and was quite disappointed as I had dreams of maybe one day not winning, but just at least being interviewed.

  2. Hey Tony, Thanks for bringing your blog back. I was a photo blogger as well and followed/read your blog back in the day. I understand why social media sites like Instagram are so popular and the advantages that come with it, but I miss the personalization people put into their own personal websites. Blogs take a lot more work and time and offer the reader a deeper look into the artist/photographer/writers work and perspective. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate it and will one of the people reading your blog as you post content to it.

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