Looking behind the lens: Our photo shoot at SPAO
After a great Q&A with photographer Olivia Johnston, she was kind enough to invite us in to get a glimpse of the space, as well as snap a couple of photos of us – professional head shots and a few in her signature style.
Check it out:
We had a lot of fun – Olivia produces great photos, for sure, but we also saw first hand how a lot more goes into portrait photography than just having a good eye. As neither of us had ever really had our photo professionally taken, Olivia had to do a significant amount of work to help us get comfortable (read: not look ridiculous).
This led us to have a few more questions about her craft.
Describe to us the most difficult subject you ever had.
How do you get a subject out of his/her shell?
Usually when I’m doing a portrait sitting, I’ll take some time to have a conversation with the subject beforehand – it calms people down, and helps them to get into the atmosphere of the studio. The atmosphere is huge for me – I find when I’m not in the right mood, I won’t get the right mood from my subject; they give to me what I project to them.
Why do you think it is difficult for some, but not for others?
I think some people are just more comfortable and relaxed in front of a camera – they know their “angles”, so to speak. I also find that portrait sittings also tend to go better if the subject has no expectations; this probably explains why the people close to me have a harder time posing for me – if they are close to me, they want to “perform well” behind the camera.
Thanks for giving us a personal tour of SPAO – it is a very cool place. Can you talk a bit about how SPAO is a “transformable space?”
SPAO is a really interesting space – there are about five “classrooms”, all of which are transformable in their own way. For example, during the day, the studio becomes a classroom space – computers, desks, chairs, the like. When it’s not being used as a classroom, more often than not someone will be shooting in there. At the end of the year we remove almost everything from it, repaint it, and it becomes a gallery. The other rooms are similar; for example, during our Open House event in November, the digital lab – where we usually do photoshop and inkjet printmaking – becomes a digital gallery with all of our work featured in slideshows on our laptops. It’s really important for us that the space is so transformable; we would need a lot more rooms if it wasn’t. It also allows the students to really own the space – it becomes what they need it to.
How do you feel about the SPAO as an art space?
I think SPAO is a fantastic art space. I think it’s truly showcasing some of the most interesting photo-based artwork emerging out of Ottawa right now. It’s also a huge range of work; there’s such a range of people that there has to be a huge range of styles, and so there really is something for everyone at our end of year exhibition. One of our recent exhibitions, Exhibition No. 6 in April, featured anywhere from a photo documentary essay on the Amish in upper New York State (Caroline Tallmadge) to a series of the mayoral candidates of Ottawa in this past October’s election (Kathy Roussel) to a study of Ottawa and its environs – underground (Cory Shepherdson), as well as many others. My own project was a series on women who had recovered from eating disorders, which sounds very different from all of the above projects, but they all fit extraordinarily well together on the wall.