I’m (mostly) a portrait photographer. The images from USER are portraits.
That’s what I’m shooting down on the corner. Portraits.

But I know that they also fall into some weird space between portraiture
and sociology, anthropology and document. Maybe a bit of art.

Rikki and Crystal, Ottawa, 2010

The photos are so quiet, so contained. What you don’t see in them is the
chaos, all the drama, that goes down on the corner. I’ll be setting up a
shot and my subject is doing a hit while s/he’s waiting. A fight will break
out, punches thrown. The other day Star threw her bicycle at someone.
Of course, it’s not always like that. There are also long stretches of the
calm and boredom that are typical of both photographing and addiction.

How can I show all that in portraits? What do portraits do? How do they

Melanie, Ottawa, 2010

When I’m down there shooting, blocking shots, working with the subjects,
I try to think a little bit about what’s going into my head. I try to be open
to the juju, the vibe, the feeling of the people and the place and how that’s
affecting me. I also try to trust my instincts and to not think too, too much.
I shoot first and ask questions later.

It’s later, when I’m editing, choosing frames, that the hard choices are
made. That’s when my biases move forward. I’ll only choose an image
if it suits that bias, if it fits with how I feel about that place, those people.
It’s not objective.

For me, that’s what portraiture is all about. That’s how portraits can begin
to describe how I feel.

Dave, Ottawa, 2010


Went to the opening of the World Press Photo exhibit which, once again,
was mounted at The War Museum in Ottawa.


Installation views

The invitation said dress was “smart casual”. Laurence (my assistant, who came
to the opening with me) sent me a Wikipedia link to a definition of what, exactly,
“smart casual” is. Seems like it’s actually pretty dressy.

Laurence and me, smart casual (and gumby)

At any rate, we got to the opening late, well after the speeches. The smart
casual crowd, having eaten all the “light refreshments”, had already headed
for the turnstiles. That left the 2 piece jazz band playing to an empty house
with the grand-prize-winning foto as a backdrop.



Most incongruous. Would have been much more apropos, given the nature of so
many of the images included, if they had got Rage Against The Machine to play.

But I digress.

Now, I’m not that interested in news photography and photo-journalism, so there
was much on display at the World Press Photo exhibit that didn’t really move me.
So I won’t talk about that aspect of the show.

It does, however, include many photos that were right up my alley…..

Denis Rouvre had some stunning images of Senegalise “ultimate fighters”. Seems
that brutal, hand to hand combat isn’t just popular here in N. America. Here.


African photographer Malick SidibĂ© had a shot from a fashion spread he’d done for
the New York Times Magazine. I remember hearing about this shoot just after it
appeared in print. Seems like he’d set up the models, nonchalantly shoot 4 or 5
or 6 frames, Hasselblad, B+W film, and then tell the A.D. that he was done, let’s
have the next models. I think, in this day and age of digital over-shooting, it blew
the minds of the powers that be. Here.


Simon Roberts was represented by a couple of prints from his great project:
We English. Even with the dodgy reproduction of the images in this show
(designed to be easily transportable and fingerprint proof) you could see
the quality of his large format images, not to mention their content. Here.


Anie van Gemert’s series of children who are androgynous was also a
standout. Here. (A shame about the watermarks on her web images.)


This is a show that will travel to venues all over the place. (It’s in Ottawa until
August 29th.) There’s enough range and interesting images here to make a
trip to see it more than worthwhile if it shows up in a venue near you. Here.


Sent some prints off to Abnormals Gallery, in Poznan, Poland, the other day.
For the group show I’m included in there. Packed them in a sturdy cardboard
shipping tube.

Got an email from Maria, at the gallery. Seems like the tube was left out in
the rain by some post office or other. Soaked right thru. Destroyed.


So, from now on, I’m gonna be shipping prints wrapped in plastic and in
a plastic shipping tube. And I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed.


Somehow, in a funny way, I think that the 3 separate items in this week’s
drool, USER and ANGER and TROUBLE, are all somehow related.

Read on…..make up your own mind.


Sifiyya writes to ask what camera/lens I use for this project.

drool doesn’t like to get too technical, preferring to leave that to the
fanboys and geeks out in the blogosphere. But here goes:

This year I’m shooting with my punkass Hasselblad and my Mamiya 6.
Both have standard lenses attached. I love standard. I’m using available
light and shooting Kodak Portra 160 NC color negative film. I scan the
negs with a Microtek M1 Pro.

Natasha, Ottawa, 2010.
While I was shooting Natasha I told
her that I thought she was quite
beautiful. She replied: “Everyone’s

Joel writes about his concerns that the USER images might cause some
harm to the subjects.

This, of course, is a serious issue and I have no way of knowing whether
the images are causing any harm to the subjects. I can tell you that every
person I shoot gets a copy of any image of them that will be shown. And I
can tell you that I’ll only shoot lucid subjects. I’m no fly-on-the-wall down
there. The images I’m making require the consent and collaboration of the
subjects. In fact, I’ve rarely met a group of people who are as in tune with
what I’m doing, and how they fit into that, than this small society of addicts
I’ve been shooting for 4 years.

Jennifer and Stephanie looking at prints

Jennifer holding prints of her and Kelly, her boyfriend

Kelly and Jennifer, Ottawa, 2010

I know of two instances where family members of the subjects saw their
photos and reacted in a very negative way. This caused some problems
for the addicts concerned.

If I was going to rationalize this I would say that these 2 cases are just
further proof that most addicts are addicts because of the facts of their
lives, and that includes having a damaged upbringing in a dysfunctional
family. To expect all families to react in a positive way is just unrealistic.
(If you see an image of your child in this series you have a couple of
options. You could go to him/her and do what you can to help or you
could get angry and do the opposite.)

I understand that I’m down there “representing” real people and that
the images have consequences. But in the end I believe that the work
I’m doing on the corner is worthwhile.

Stephanie and Melanie, Ottawa, 2010


I’ve been thinking lately about anger and photography. I’ve been trying
to find photographers/photographs that convey anger.

And by that I don’t mean fotos that show some angry person. No, I mean
bodies of work that might make those who view them think: “Man, that
photographer is really pissed off”.


Seems to me that the medium of fotografy just might not be suited for
that, though. It seems mostly too passive (in a weird way), and too cool
(as a medium) to actually make people want to drive fast and wreck shit
like certain songs have a tendency to do…..think The Sex Pistols, N.W.A.
or Public Enemy. Of course, these examples are from way back when,
when folks seemed to, maybe, be more open to anger instead of product
placement in the media they consumed.

And why is that, anyway? Why aren’t more people angry and doing
something about it? I don’t want to come across like that guy in the
movie Network, but come on folks. Have you had a look around lately,
looked at what went on at the G20 in Toronto, looked at the infantile,
partisan way we’re being “represented” by out Members of Parliament,
and so on and on and on and on….?

Anyway, I don’t want to get too angry about people not being angry.
(And I must add here that when I’m working I NEVER get angry. I find
anger to be totally counter-productive in certain situations.) But if you
know of any photographers who’s work you think exhibits anger, I’d like
to hear about it. Please either leave a comment here or PM me at:

tony (at) tonyfoto (dot) com.

Thank you very much.


SAW Gallery, in Ottawa, has mounted an important and compelling photo show

Installation view

The brainchild of curator Stefan St-Laurent, this show brings together photo-
journalistic and foto-documentation of performance art, the link being that all
the images look at the human plight to survive and to fight for freedom.

Installation detail

It’s a welcome relief to see such a well thought out, innovative group foto show
in Ottawa. Much of the time we Ottawans interested in photography are subjected
to group shows based on the most spurious criteria, mostly (in my recollection):
What’s available, who are my friends/clients/patrons and how many images can
we squeeze into the available space.

I won’t get into the details of BODIES IN TROUBLE here, since Peter Simpson, of
The Ottawa Citizen, has done such a great job of illuminating this show on his
blog. Please jump to here and read up. (You’ll have to scroll up to the top. The
only way I could figure out to link directly to this particular post was to leave a
comment and then link to that.)

Here is a link to SAW Gallery. If you are in town before it closes on October 3
I highly recommend you get down there and soak this up.


USER (less confused)

Well, there was a great response to last week’s post. The one about
me being confused. I guess people can relate.

I must fess up now and tell you all that, while I was (and continue to be)
confused, that’s totally normal.

You see, it seems to be a part of my creative process, especially when I
begin a personal project. I tie myself up in knots, second guess myself
and am full of doubts and anxiety. Obsessed, in other words.

Truth is, I know that it (confusion) will happen and I’m pretty sure that
I encourage and nurture it during the early days of projects. I believe
that the confusion, doubt and anxiety, the obsession, are all mental
tools that drive the process forward. (Of course, if you give in to these
things, rather than fighting them, they end up defeating the process

I’ve been back to the corner since that last post and can report that,
as expected, there has been progress. I’m beginning to understand
that the shots from this year will be more varied, in terms of their
look and feel, than those I’ve done here before, where I used a much
more strict and rigorous approach. But I’m finding images from my
most recent shooting that are pointing the way…..

This shot of Helena was pretty much a fluke (unless you factor instinct
into the equation). I love the mysterious, ethereal, spur of the moment
feel this shot has. It kind of reminds me of the shot of Joce, from last
week’s post, that I liked.

Helena, Ottawa, 2010

The next couple of pix are the direct result of the subjects making a request.

Deidre and Richard used to be boyfriend and girlfriend and are still friends.
They asked me to take a shot of them together, so I did.

The very similar shot below that is of Jeff and his mother, Lorrie. Jeff is a crack
addict and his mom is addicted to heroin. I had shot Jeff the first time out this
year and when I met him again I gave him a copy of the shot. He studied it and
started to cry. Later on he returned with his mom and wanted me to shoot them

Deidre and Richard, Ottawa, 2010

Lorrie and Jeff (mother and son), Ottawa, 2010

I’m not too sure how I feel about how similar these 2 fotos are, but something
tells me that their vibe is different enough that their sameness might actually
be a good thing. We’ll see……

Finally, here’s a shot of Stephanie.

Stephanie, Ottawa, 2010

Some who have seen and studied this latest USER shooting have commented
on how similar these are to what I did last year: USER Men.

I get what they mean but to me they seem so different. While USER Men was
about jagged emotion and rough edges, with a nod to German Expressionism,
this year’s images are much more tender and lyrical.

I suppose the obvious similarity is the light. I’m so in love with the way the light
on that corner falls on and envelopes the people. But to my mind last year and
this year are different animals.

There’s lots more shooting to be done. I’m starting to see what I’m thinking and
how I can apply my strategies to make this year worthwhile. These past few drools
have been a way for me to think out loud, work shit out and get some initial feed-
back. I find that that, too, is an integral part of my creative process.

Thanks for bearing with me.


A few months back I won the WinInitiative 10BEST10 contest thingy.
Co-sponsored by SONY. Won a SONY camera and some other stuff.

One of the things the 10 winners around the globe had to do was a
shoot, and they had to provide SONY with some video footage of that
shoot. The powers that be then edited that footage and posted the
thing onto YouTube. Some form of social media marketing.

Here’s what they did from the raw footage we provided. I’m pleasantly
surprised that they left in one “motherfucker” and the bit about being
a part of “the SONY propaganda machine”. I’m also pleased to report
that the camera, a 550L, is quite swell.


I’m happy to tell you that the USER work being shot this year
is being supported by the City of Ottawa. I received a Senior
Arts Grant to carry on the project.

One of my obligations is to publicize that fact and to include
the City of Ottawa logo in published materials.

Thank you.