Q&A with SPAO student and local photographer Vera Saltzman

Ottawa photographer Vera Saltzman

Born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Vera Saltzman spent most of her life pursuing a career in human resources in both the public and private sectors.   After moving to Ottawa, her self-portraiture work led her to a crossroads in her life. She is currently a full time student at the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO).

Tell us a little bit about how you found your passion for photography. You lived in the Arctic for five years – how did Nunavut inspire your photographic work?

Though photography has always been a “back burner” interest,  I didn’t focus seriously on it until I moved to Nunavut.    There is no shortage of interesting landscape in Nunavut.  In the bleakest of blizzards, or the coldest, sunny day the vast space provided an interesting backdrop. But, it was the faces of the people I found most captivating.  While living in Clyde River, I did a series of portraits of the community elders that now hangs in Ilisaqsivik, the hamlet’s family resource centre.

Nunavut landscape, by Vera Saltzman

Nunavut landscape, by Vera Saltzman

You mentioned that you are very interested in portraiture, can you explain why you’ve picked that specialty?

A love of people and a deep interest in the human experience is key to my work.

My goal is to make portraits that will be seen as compelling works of art, alive with the personality of both artist and subject.  I study faces constantly. I find myself walking down the street, in coffee shops or sitting in traffic staring at people. Watching how they move and what their faces say.  I wonder, if the face holds the sum of the life experiences then what is their story. I want to immortalize them so others will know their story,  ensuring it will be told over and over again; even long after they themselves no longer can tell it.

An opportunity to make a portrait of someone is a gift that a person gives to me as a photographer.

Photo by Vera Saltzman

Photo by Vera Saltzman

Photo by Vera Saltzman

Many people have said that with digital photography, “anyone can be a photographer” – do you believe that is true?

Most people can take pictures today which is wonderful but for me to consider myself a photographer there is more to it than “taking pictures.”     I have always been uneasy calling myself a “photographer” as I am always striving for something more.  There is a difference between “taking” pictures and “making” them.

SPAO’s motto inspires me to continue pursuing the ideals of  Vision, Content, Craft.

Why did you choose to sign-up with SPAO?  What kind of courses are you taking?

Michael Tardioli spoke one evening at the RA Photo Club.  His approach to photography inspired me.   I have never been a shutterbug, but always loved photography, so when he spoke about slowing the process down and shooting with intent I realized that I didn’t have to be a shutterbug in order to be a photographer.   After taking a part-time course that summer with Michael Tardioli and Angelina McCormick, I was even more taken with the school’s approach to learning and decided to apply for the full-time program.

Photo by Vera Saltzman

This was a huge decision as once I was accepted it meant leaving my government employment behind. I have no regrets.  The one-on-one instruction is invaluable. At SPAO, instructors are constantly guiding students to develop their vision and create a meaningful body of work.  Course content in level 1 is delivered through a series of Photo Genre Modules (Still Life, Architecture, Landscape, Portraiture, Documentary and Contemporary), which introduce, through practical experience and exploration, the tools, techniques, and visual vocabulary needed to create a strong photographic foundation. Level 2 is less structured, and more self-directed than Level 1, and entirely centered on portfolio production from the beginning of the school year. It will be an exciting challenge next year.

Photo by Vera Saltzman

What is your favourite space in Ottawa to photograph?

Every Wednesday evening in the summer motorcycle and car enthusiasts converge for a Show and Shine at Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton Raceway.  I spent a number of evenings there shooting for a SPAO Street Photography course instructed by well known Ottawa Photographer Tony Fouhse.

Our challenge was to approach strangers and ask to take their photo rather than sneaking a picture of someone.  I met so many interesting people who share a common passion. After attending a few evenings, the sense of community created in the midst of city life became evident. I learned quickly to never judge a book by its cover.  Those who seemed most intimidating turned out to be the kindest in helping me with my project.

It’s people and events like this which make Ottawa more colourful.

A huge thanks to Vera for sharing her beautiful photography with us. We look forward to hearing more from local photographers in the future! Want to get involved? Send us a note!