Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Focus On: Starsign

There are so many great stories here in the POE about how we found photography to be our voice. Craig Gillespie, aka Starsign, a photographer/writer/landscape designer from Winnipeg, Canada, found photography partly from necessity as he formulated his career as a writer. Read on to find out how the passion for all things film has taken Craig on a marvelous journey for which there's no end in sight.

Ann: Are you a writer/photographer or a photographer/writer? Does writing pay your bills?

Craig: My intention was to be a writer; strictly writing fiction. But I took a magazine writing course and began sending out query letters and opinion pieces. With a little luck I happened to get a couple of acceptances -- one was a gardening piece (I studied to be a landscape designer), and they asked me to supply the photographs. Which I did. Long story short, I soon found there is more demand for someone who can do both -- write the article and take the accompanying photos. So, I enrolled in a photography course and fell in love with the medium. So much so that writing has taken a back seat to photography. I guess then the real answer would be there has been a steady evolution from writer to writer/photographer to photographer/writer and now primarily photographer.

Do they pay the bills? Let's say they contribute (more and more) and get me through the winter months. Living in Canada, that is a large portion of the year. Come summer it's landscape design work that's my primary source of income. I've found ways to incorporate photography into this as well as offering before-and-after photos and photo journals of the gardens I've designed.

A: What's your favorite photographic subject?

C: I love to photograph old buildings -- especially churches and farm structures, like barns, out-buildings, and barbed wire fences. The more wear and tear on the subject the better -- peeling paint, collapsing roofs, broken windows. They lend themselves so well to black and white. I love texture and atmosphere -- weathered wood, crumbling stone walls, shadow (I love shadow).

A: Do you head out with deliberate intent to photograph something, or do you just find things along the way?

C: I do often go out with a specific subject in mind; on occasion a specific shot. There are times I see something and I know I have to photograph it,and I know exactly how I want it to look in the final print. That being said, I'm just as likely to find any number of subjects other than the one I had in mind, and I end up following my lens.

A: You shoot film and digital. Do you have a favorite, and why?

C: I do shoot both film and digital. For colour work, I shoot exclusively digital. The technology has made it just so much more convenient to work in digital. And I'm a hands-on type of person -- I like to be able to control every aspect of the image (from the choice of lens to final colour correction). When it comes to black & white, though, I still rely on film more often than not. Having a darkroom set-up in the basement makes this possible.

A: How did you build your darkroom?

C: Piece by piece I acquired the equipment. With so many people abandoning their darkrooms for digital, it really has become affordable. I've had it in operation for four years. Living in a hundred-year-old home, the basement isn't suitable for finishing into living space. Aside from a laundry area, the space was basically used for storage. So, I picked up a couple of used kitchen cabinets and set them up in the back corner, changed a couple of lights, boxed out a window, and voila! -- instant darkroom. It works out really well.

A: Can you give us some details of your setup?

C: I use a Bessler Print Master 35 enlarger. I purchased it used, but it's in great condition. It's a fairly simple enlarger, and I'm comfortable using it. I've had experience using a number of other enlargers, only to find that as long as the enlarger is in reasonably good working order, and if you know your enlarger, you can achieve excellent print quality.

Paper-wise, I'm all over the place. I love to experiment with different finishes and tones. Finding the right paper for the print means so much. I remember back in one of my first courses, the instructor tried to steer me away from matte finish paper, but for certain images I wouldn't dream of using anything but.

The best purchase I made was a Fuji light desk and loop. being able to select a good negative means so much; you can only work so much magic on a poor negative. With digital you can take a good image and work with it, but with film you really need to start with as good a negative as you can.

I do process my film when time permits, but if I've got a pile of rolls, I will take them to a professional lab. If I've just a couple of rolls, it's no trouble to get out the canisters and twist, flip and repeat, but otherwise, I'd much rather spend my time at the enlarger.

I try to keep things simple in the darkroom. I use the basic chemistry -- Kodak Polymax T developer, Kodak stop bath, and Ilford Rapid Fix. There's really not a lot to it. I wash my prints afterward in an old (but clean) bin and then hang to dry.

One thing I've learned is dust is the enemy. When I'm done everything gets covered up.

Perhaps the biggest influence on my darkroom work is Eddie Ephraums. His book, Creative Elements, is a must read. Not only are his prints gorgeous, but he also explains everything so well.

A: Are there any other photographers you admire?

C: I also enjoy Freeman Patterson's work. He's got such a broad range, and he shoots so well.

I think you take something from all photographs. I love seeing how others shoot. I could literally spend hours examining others' images, trying to place myself in the shooter's place, and trying to see how they see. It's an ever-evolving process for me -- there's always something new to learn. That's part of what keeps it fresh.
Thank you Craig!

A world traveler and self-taught photographer, look for Ann wandering around city streets and tromping through woods and hiking trails with her camera. After owning an international transportation business for many years, Ann has found her creative spirit again through the lens. See more at Ann's shop and her website, and say hello to her on her blog too.


Every Photo Tells A Story said...

I love the simplicity of "Threads."
Great photograph.

UrbanJunkies/zuppaartista said...

great interview ann!
craig, fantastic shots! makes me miss my darkroom days!

Hero's Cousin said...

I agree that the simplicity in "Threads" is very compelling and refreshing. I also LOVE forget-me-nots. Beautiful work and great interview!

Kellie H said...

good questions..and answers! Love the colors of the floral photographs

elle moss said...

happy easter!

Curtis Copeland said...

Nice work! Great photographs. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!