Multimedia Laboratory

Interview with photographer | Naomi Harris

Why do you take photos?

Some photos I take to earn a living, some I take to make art. The reason I got into photography in the first place was to be able to interact with people whose worlds would otherwise be closed to me. That’s why my work, although often portraiture in nature, also has a documentary element to it. I want to learn from others and expose the viewer to what goes on around us. I like the idea that photography can be a visual record while also being an object of beauty.

I suppose at this point of time it’s my job and if I stopped photographing I’d be unemployed but seeing as I’m freelance and can’t collect unemployment I’ll just continue shooting.

Describe your start in photography.

I really didn’t plan to become a photographer, it sort of just happened. I was a printmaking major in university and since my prints were mainly photo based and I was appropriating other people’s images I thought it might be wise to learn how to take my own photos so I took a basic photo class in my third year. That summer I went to Europe and brought my camera along. When I developed my film and I saw my contact sheets that fall I decided that was it, this is what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t really see myself making a career out of being a printmaker but I could see a future as a photographer. That spring I applied to the International Center of Photography for their Documentary program, surprisingly I was accepted and the rest is history.

Who are some of your favorite photographers and why do you admire their work?

I tend to respond more to documentary photographers like Bruce Davidson, Martin Parr, Wiliam Eggleston or Jean Pigozzi, but I also love portrait photographers like August Sander, Disfarmer, or Seydou Keïta. Basically I love work that makes me question who the people are in the photograph and how the photographer got there in the first place. While I’m not a huge fashion fan of course I love the heroes of [fashion] photography- Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin with their sexy images and bold use of colour. I also love to see work with a strong sense of humour.

What is your greatest experience as a photographer?

Too many to name just one! Shooting Joan Rivers was a dream come true or getting Tony Little to take his top off and let me photograph him on a bearskin rug has been great. I’m young-ish and I think my greatest experience hasn’t happened yet… it’s happening daily- me being able to squeak a living out doing what I love.

What equipment do you prefer to use and why?

Currently I use a Contax 645 with a Phase One digital back. I started shooting medium format back in 2002 but with film and shortly thereafter gave up my 35-mm camera entirely. I began leasing a digital back in January 2008 (just made my last payment in December, hooray!) for my Contax when I realized I didn’t want to buy a 35-mm system just because people demanded digital. I am primarily a portrait photographer though I shoot documentary style off-the-cuff work with my 645 as well so it was a better decision to get a digital back for the camera system I already loved.

As far as my lighting kit goes I have a combination of lights: Profoto Acute 2400 with 3 heads, a ring flash that operates on the Profoto 600 portable pack and a few Quantum Q-Flashes. I often have to travel to my shoots and with baggage overages being so outrageous having a more compact and lighter system is best. When all these lights are used together they pack a punch. Depending on location and feel I may use an octabank or a beauty dish…I have no formula, my lighting changes from each shoot and person.

Describe your editing process (i.e. How do you go about selecting, retouching and printing your photographs?)

When I switched from film to digital it took me a while to get my workflow habit after being so comfortable editing from contact sheets. Now I guess I eliminate the horrible shots first: the ones that are out of focus, where the person blinked or isn’t flattering and the ones that just don’t work. Then using the program Capture One I make my adjustments and process the remaining images and work off of these to whittle down to a tighter edit that I’ll send to editors to choose from. I was using a combination of an older form of Capture One and Bridge but now that I’ve finally updated to a newer form of Capture One I do it all in that program.

But really it’s a gut feeling. After looking at all the images I shoot there are generally a handful that stand out from the rest. I’m lucky because I’m a good editor of my work, I don’t let personal feelings get in the way like, “we had so much fun when I shot that.” At the end of the day I want the person to look their best and pick the most complimentary and compelling images.

I don’t do a lot of retouching in my work, mainly a few stray hairs or a blemish here or there. If a client wants more done for say a celebrity shoot I tend to turn it over to someone else who specializes in retouching. Same goes for my printing, I don’t actually enjoy working in the darkroom, never have, so I’d rather leave the printing in good hands with a professional printer.

What are your plans and aspirations for the future regarding photography?

Currently I’m prepping for a cross-Canada road trip (thanks to a grant form the Canada Council for the Arts) that will commence in Victoria, British Columbia on Victoria Day (May 23rd) and will end in St. Johns, Newfoundland on Labour Day (September 5th). I’ll be traveling solo along the Trans-Canada Highway, the worlds longest, documenting the country and her people. I’ve barely seen much of my own country as I’ve been living in the US for the last 13 years and have seen more of America, and Europe for that matter, than my own country. I’m also excited to explore a niche of documentary photography, the “road-trip,” that has long been dominated by male photographers ie. Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Alec Soth and Simon Roberts just to name a few. The only woman who comes to mind is Dorthea Lange and that was a commissioned piece by the Farm Securities Administration.

I also plan to shoot video and create a multi-media website that will be real-time and will include social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. The future of simply making books and exhibitions as an end result is becoming archaic and I welcome this new way of reaching a broader audience.

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One response

  1. These remind me of the early work of Annie Leibovitz. Strong and rich images of striking people, great work Naomi.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm

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