INTERVIEW // BRITTANY ESTHER
Our latest interview is with Canmore based wedding photographer, Brittany Esther Staddon. Raised in Calgary, Brittany shares with us her style of photography, her love for travelling and hiking and the challenges she faces running a business as a creative.
We’re honoured that Brittany will also be speaking at The Experience // ARC in Vancouver this October where she’ll share even more on a personal project about her Grandfather that has become her muse and changed her approach to her own work. This project will demonstrate to us how our own story is reflected through our images.
Interview by Sachin Khona // September 2016
Brittany’s Portrait by Sam Hugh Photography
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
THANK YOU FOR JOINING US IN THIS INTERVIEW SERIES BRITTANY. LETS START FROM THE BEGINNING. WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A PHOTOGRAPHER?
It took a two month road trip that was crashed by my now husband on what would be the world’s longest second date.
I had recently finished my undergrad degree in biomedical sciences and was weighing my options between med school in Canada (probably not), a masters degree in the States or Australia (probably) and photography, something I had been dabbling in through my university years. On that road trip I came to the determination that where I would be happiest was forty-five minutes west of where I currently called home doing wedding photography. There was no particular moment I can pinpoint where I knew, but by the end the choice was pretty clear. Haven’t had to memorize the Krebs cycle since!
Where is home for you and where do you work?
I now live and work in a small-ish mountain town five minutes from the Banff National Park gates called Canmore. It’s a wonderful place where you see people strolling down Main Street with bear spray strapped to them, outdoor wear is appropriate for fine dining, and everyone recycles at risk of being thrown out of town.
Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move to CANMORE?
Canmore has been home for three years and I cannot imagine a place that could bring me more peace or inspiration.
I still get giddy when there are low lying clouds beneath the peaks or on the very odd occasion I wake up early enough to see alpenglow.
I grew up in Calgary, the nearest city, and the change of pace and lifestyle is astounding.
In what way does your location influence your work?
Oh it influences it so much. I have come to really embrace shadows and harsher light. Mountains have a general tendency to block the prettiest light of the day therefore the past three years has been a constant study of how to utilize not so optimal light. Not to mention trying to incorporate the grand beauty of the area trying to do it justice. Or the stark change of seasons.
In the winter very few areas are accessible without snowshoes or cross country skis, the sun just barely skirts the peaks the few hours that it is up, meanwhile summer it seems like it is overhead until the last couple hours of the day.
Every single shoot is a challenge and I love it.
Do you have a designated workspace or office? do you have a photo that you can share?
My unit has lofted space where I converted the second bedroom into a library, a gaming room, and my office space. While my living space downstairs is more orderly and curated my workspace is just a hodge-podge of random trinkets. As ridiculous as it sounds it is kind of like Ariel’s space in the Little Mermaid. To anyone else it is useless stuff but to me each bottle, camera, knick-knack and porcelain Amish couple has a connection to a memory or a time. It’s my workspace. But let’s be honest the TV is downstairs and sometimes I relocate to watch some Netflix on the couch with the dog.
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you were felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that brought you to where you are now?
When I was 20 I went to Huehuetenango, Guatemala to document a NGO’s work in the empowerment of women through literacy and leadership classes. At this time I still wasn’t certain how much I wanted to pursue photography but knew I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary side of it. To photograph ladies where we had limited communication, on account of any of my questions having to be first translated to Spanish before being translated to the local language and then the answer passed back, was a challenge but also a unique experience.
Before leaving Guatemala we made sure to make multiple prints of each of the featured ladies so they had a print of their own, but I wanted to send back a book of my time there. It was a simple Blurb book, all in black and white. I ordered several copies and there was something about seeing my work (I hesitate to even call it that) in print was one moment I can truly say I was proud of what I did. I look back at those images and cringe a bit at my editing, yet I marvel at how I saw things when I first started on this photography journey.
So that, the first time I ever saw a cohesive collection of my work and one of the rare times I was proud of it.
Can you describe your style via a series of 10 photos that you feel define the work you’ve done in the last year and where possible describe why each one was included.
- It’s the anonymity of this image that I love. I had just finished taking images of the bride on the rock and we were about to head to a new location – the groom hurried up to help her down.
2. This is my favourite image of the past year. My dear friends had planned an outdoor wedding only to have some of the most miserable weather of the season with sideways rain and near 0 degrees celcius temperature. As we ran to the cover of the shed I think we all looked at each other marveling out the nuttiness of it all.
3. My kind of shoe shot – I am not much of one for details but when they come as part of the day I am all for them.
4. The father of the bride was toasting the couple – the play of expressions between the two and the general indifference of the guests in the foreground make it all the more wonderfully awkward.
5. The jubilation after leaving the church with the bride’s expression and the hands in the foreground, something about this composition just makes me giddy.
6. I am so thankful for couples that allow me time to experiment and use less conventional light, such as blinds in their friend’s farmhouse.
7. Something about couples just making the day their own. Rather than choosing the conventional ceremony location by the lodge they had their friends and family walk to the backside of the lake and were canoed in as a thunderstorm rolled in.
8. This image reminds me of why I do this, the absolute wonderment in this new father’s eyes looking at his newborn son. The glimpses of connection and intimate moments.
9. They chose to renew their vows in the church where her grandparents were married decades earlier. The juxtaposition of the emotion of the couple with the silent presence of her grandfather is what draws me to this image.
10. I find the simpler images to be the ones that jump out at me. There isn’t anything technically or creatively astounding, but it’s an image I can see them treasuring in forty years.
WHAT INSPIRES AND MOTIVATES YOU TO CREATE?
Ultimately it is for these images to be seen in years to come. My grandfather, who was one of the reasons I first started photography, left behind thousands of slides of his travels across North America and working on the farm. When I was seven or eight he was diagnosed with dementia, which slowly took his personality and ability to tell stories. I remember him as a meek man. Someone completely set apart from what the slides show. So through sorting and scanning his work in a way I feel like I am meeting and learning about a new friend and through his imagery I have learnt more about him.
So perhaps it is knowing that the images I take will be shared with the couples’ children and give them insight into where they came from. Or perhaps it is because the images I take for others are really a reflection of who I am.
Do you do any creative training outside of your work?
Nope. No I don’t. I should. Maybe I’ll take up whittling.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
Oh dear, been there a lot. First thing would probably be stepping away from the computer. Then I’ll jump in my car, put on some crumby music and go for a drive or I’ll plan a hike for later that week. So clearly the answer for me is to create distance between the obstacle and myself. All for the avoidance tactic here.
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
Probably when it has a due date that is near approaching or somewhere in the brief past. Even if I feel like an image is complete I have come to accept that in a week, a month or a year I’ll probably look at it and wonder whatever was I thinking. I have come to accept that as the creative process, or madness.
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share? OR can you share the Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
Something I will always be thankful to my father for is hauling me out of school for a few days in Grade 11 to go to an outdoor action photography course in Banff hosted by two National Geographic photographers. I can’t really think of many things I would be less interested in photographing than mountain bikers or kayakers (said with love all you athletic townspeople who may be reading this) but it was there that I heard advice that still motivates me today. It was this,
‘you are always missing the shot.’
It forced me to realize that every situation could be photographed with a different lens, a different angle, that light could be utilized differently or the exposure could be tweaked to evoke a different feeling. It doesn’t necessarily mean I shoot more, just that I could always have a better image.
Describe a photograph burned in your memory that you never took but wish you had?
I’m going to go with the time I fell backwards over a boulder in the middle of an intimate ceremony of about twenty people. Everyone had gathered around the couple holding stones they had brought from where they had traveled as the officiant recited this wonderful piece of how we were leaving the memories with the couple of this special day before everyone threw their rocks into the lake.
I was backing up to fit everyone in the frame and promptly lost my footing and toppled full force backwards. Oh I wish I had a photo of everyone’s faces, because only that could capture the absolute horror and embarrassment of interrupting such an intimate moment. Not to mention one of the most unfortunate memories of their day. Oh the shame.
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
I had to ask my husband because I honestly cannot think of anything that I would do that would be the least bit beneficial to someone or at the very least different. From seeing me work he decides it is how I communicate with my couples to put them at ease and show empathy to how awkward having your photo can be.
A touch of compliments, a bit of direction. Allowing for some quiet moments but also reassuring them that they are doing wonderfully.
So for the one time in my life I will say communicating with your subject to put them in a place of comfort.
WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE?
Food. Sam the husband. Hobbit the dog. I will not comment on whether the order is significant or not.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
I rent my place out when I am traveling and there is something I adore about being a long distance tour guide. Sharing the mountains and the little local tidbits with people passing by probably brings me more joy than it should. That being said let me know if you need a place to crash on your way through the Canadian Rockies.
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule / routines?
My mornings tend to consist of a lot of procrastination and excuses to walk the dog, or walk three minutes to get groceries, or catch up on what I missed on Reddit. Work starts after perpetual brunch, because by lunchtime I realize I missed breakfast. Depending on how much is achieved that day my evenings will consist of more food, telling Sam he is awesome at making said food, and probably emails that I didn’t get to earlier in the day.
I live the life my university self dreamed of.
What within your work do you not like to do and why? Do you achieve “work/life balance”?
Emails. Emails are these strange things where I avoid them for longer than I should; yet when I do them I wonder why I had avoided them for so long. I wish I could hire someone to do my emails but they would probably only have two hours of work a week. They are my nemesis. I also dislike the boomerang affect where you send six out and five come right back.
Dagnabit running a business can be difficult in the silliest of ways.
As for work/life balance I admittedly don’t have any. I’m certain if I had responsibilities outside making sure the dog is fed or walk, such as in the form of children this would be significantly more important. But my days are really a mix of work and play.
Which person do you respect most in your life?
My paternal grandfather. He gave up his love of travel, motorcycles and photography to raise his three children. His solace was his art in woodworking.
In a way, I travel and do photography with him as my muse, because I am lucky enough to do what I love.
What was your hardest / painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
Literally and figuratively probably falling over that boulder I mentioned earlier.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
Five to ten years will put my solidly in my 30s. I imagine still pursuing photography, maybe a bit more confident in my work (but let’s be realistic, that probably won’t happen), traveling a touch more, have an amateur grasp on whittling, and still looking at my husband going ‘you silly bastard why did you choose me of all people, you wonderful, wonderful person?’
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE ASPECT OF OUR SOCIETY THROUGH YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
A greater understanding of the common thread among our different cultures and practices. We may do things differently and find our peace in different ways, yet somehow we are all doing this thing called life in the best way we can. Documentary photography is something I hope to return to at some point to explore this.
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
I legit have no other creative talents.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Not formally. But the loss of several people close to me has taught me to seize every opportunity and make the most of the time here.
and If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
Probably buy the fanciest cheese and champagne I can find, hike to the top of a small mountain (because who has time for the big ones), sit down, play some soulful music and watch the world go by.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
This is my life. I’ll let you know once I figure out how to work through it.
A question that I haven’t asked but should have or something you’d like to share with others?
If you are shooting in the mountains remember to bring your bear spray.
JOIN US AT THE EXPERIENCE // ARC
Are you a wedding or portrait photographer looking for an edge?
We’ve just raised the bar..
This is NOT your typical photography seminar.
Welcome to The Experience // ARC, a one-of-a-kind event for passionate photographers and creatives.
We’ll have 10 expert speakers from all over the world joining us over 3 days.
alongside our host James Moes
Live Interviews // Live Judging of your images
6 BIG IDEAS, mini presentations
Food Trucks // Concert // After Party // Live Bands and DJ’s
find your voice . challenge your perspective . refine your vision
You’ll experience expert training, creative challenges, bold new techniques, powerful connections, amazing adventures and have a hell of a good time, all in one of the most breathtaking cities in the world as our backdrop, Vancouver, BC.
Learn more by visiting our new site for The Experience.
Limited tickets remain!
Grab yours HERE!
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS WITH BRITTANY ESTHER
Your favourite podcast(s)
Fav Music // Share a (Spotify) playlist
Really horrible soundtrack music. I won’t subject you to that.
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading.
A website you regularly follow?
Last place you travelled?
Drove to Texas. Came back with the dog. Forgot the husband.
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Rum and Coke
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
Your favourite photography book
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
THANK YOU BRITTANY!
You can see more of Brittany Esther’s work here // Web
UP NEXT …
Stay tuned for an interview next week with Vancouver Photographer Taylor Roades.
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