An Interview with the lovely Vanessa Paxton
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Vanessa Paxton, and I never know what people want to know. I’m pretty introverted. I think over the years that has become magnified. I’m sure that shows up in my work as I’m mainly a self-portrait photographer. My artwork is personal and I don’t like working with people when I’m trying to get an idea out. Professionally I’m a portrait photographer, but when it comes to my art I’m pretty closed off.
Where do you live?
I’m in Canada. I live in Toronto and Scarborough. I go back and forth between homes.
Everyone dreams of moving somewhere special, Where would that be for you?
Some place warm. On a beach or in a jungle. Some place secluded and warm.
Have you taken any courses or have you attended school for Photography?
I went to Ryerson University. I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography Studies.
How long have you been a photographer?
I picked it up in high-school, so I’ve been doing it about 8 or 9 years.
What or who got you started in photography?
I got myself started. I remember I dropped my drama class to take an art prerequisite so I could get into my high-school photography class. I just wanted access to the cameras but my teacher ended up being really motivational and so I stuck with it and pursued it at the University level.
How would you describe your style?
I have a problem answering that question whenever I’m asked. I really don’t know how I would describe it. It’s not quite surreal but that’s usually what I resort to saying. I’m a fan of the central focused, square cropped, shallow depth of field look. It breaks the rules but I’ve always said you need to know the rules before you break them.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Mitchell LeBlanc. We met in highschool. I used to pretend to be doing homework in the cafeteria theater while he was at play practice just so I could look at him. He’s my complete opposite, he’s well spoken, outgoing, and eternally optimistic. He actually bought me my first camera and helped me apply to Ryerson. I didn’t think I had any chance but he always believed in me. Even now when things are rough and I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to shut down, but he’s the one setting up my store and trying to sell my work.
What is your greatest fear?
I don’t know if I want to tell you. My greatest fear is losing Mitch. He doesn’t know how to swim and it freaks me out. We almost drowned in his friend’s pool while I was trying to teach him to swim. He slipped and grabbed on to me instead of just standing up. We were in the shallow end. The. Shallow. End. I didn’t even think it was possible to drown in three feet of water. So now I’m afraid to even be near water with him.
What is your current gear setup?
Canon 5D MKII, 50mm 1.8 and 24mm 1.8
What is your favorite lens and why?
50mm. I’m just comfortable with it. I’ve tried switching lenses but I always come back to the 50. It’s just the perfect distance for me.
What lighting equipment do you take on a regular shoot if any?
None. I’m purely a natural light photographer.
What is your favorite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Adobe Camera Raw and Nik Software.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
Just as important as the taking of the image itself. My final images are composed of multiple shots to achieve such a wide scene while maintaining the depth of field. So my final vision couldn’t exist without Photoshop.
Are you a Mac or PC lover?
I’m a Mac user. I have nothing against PC’s. I used them for many years before switching to Mac in University.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment in the near future and if so what do you have your eyes set on?
I really want to expand my lens collection, but it’s so hard for me to commit to change. I’ve had my eye on a 35mm and Canon’s new 40mm. So possibly one of those.
Your work really inspires myself and many others to pursue photography in a wider degree. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
Thank you, that’s good to hear. I find that more and more I’ve been resorting to Flickr and 500px for inspiring images because I feel like I’m not moving, like I need to be producing something, anything, but looking at other photographers work for inspiration usually has the opposite effect by demotivating me, yet I keep looking. It’s my addiction. I haven’t been truly inspired in a long time. I used to be inspired by music and books and life. Now my work is more about the way I’m feeling on that particular day that I decide to pick up my camera.
What has been your most memorable or favorite project and why?
My favorite project by far is my Ballerina Series. It’s my most honest and personal project. I created it in secret, with no intention of having anything come of it. It was just for me.
Is there a photographer you would love to say you got your photograph taken by?
There are so many. But if I had to choose, maybe Kirsty Mitchell. Or Rosie Hardy. Or Lissy Elle. Ah, I can’t choose. I guess there isn’t any one photographer.
What is your most favorite photograph you have shot recently? Can you show how the composition came to life and what the photograph means to you?
Unfortunately I can’t show you how the composition came to life. I don’t show work in progress anymore. It takes me out of the image and I like to believe what I’m seeing. Showing how it came to be isn’t important to me. In fact, when I’m done with an image I like to delete all the working files. It locks the image in. Like a negative. I can sort of tell you how it came to life though. I shot this with Mitch’s help. We nearly lost our hands to the cold. We were actually on the dock during sunset and it was snowing. I was terrified the whole time that he would fall into the lake. It’s hard to explain what it means. I actually did my Major Thesis on the theory behind the images I make, how they come to be and what they mean. I couldn’t possibly do any justice to summarize it in a few sentences but I will try so as not to leave you hanging. We claim to consciously know why we do things but our subconscious mind has a tendency to show itself in less obvious ways that we only notice upon reflection and close study of our behavior after the fact. So while I may claim to know why I set out to shoot that image and why I made the decisions I made in post, there is actually something deeper there that I need to analyze after the image is complete. Initially I may have just liked the way it looked or I thought it would be cool but when I look at the image afterwards I realize that I’m much darker now than I was in my previous self-portraits. I’m identifying with short black hair, I’m wearing black, I never wear black. And then I realize why. I’m still mourning. Furthermore, of all the images I shot, I chose the one where I’m not powerful, I’m submissive, I’m intimidated and cornered.
I do self-portraits to better understand what is going on in my own head. There is a lot more to be read into that image, I just wanted to give you an idea of how to go about reading it.
Do you have or ever use an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on any projects?
Occasionally I’ll go out with Mitch, but other than that I work alone.
Do you have a website and/or blog you visit often? How about forums?
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photography?
Making something meaningful and not just something that’s pretty to look at. Also, knowing when to stop editing (with digital photography).
What do you think of the current state of the photography industry and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
It seems like the future of photography is online, digital. I see a lot of neglect in stores like Indigo and Chapters. Maybe that’s just me, but it seems like people aren’t interested in buying photo books anymore. The internet is so saturated with images that there really is no need or demand to own a hard copy. I hope for my sake that people don’t stop buying prints for their walls, but with digital frames they really don’t have to. I really know where the photography industry will be in 5 years. Perhaps a lot of the artists that are big today will end up working for advertising companies. That’s the extent of my vision into the future.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
I might not have gone to Ryerson. I know it’s always good to have a degree under your belt but that was 4 years of my life that I could’ve spent advancing my career and 9 years that could be spent saving instead of paying back a loan.
Is there a particular person in your life that you could say has taught you the most out of anyone you know?
Not particularly. I’m self-taught. My friend Jason Gaskins has always been pretty helpful though.
What talent would you most like to have other than photography?
I’d love to be able to sing. I’m suck a terrible singer. It’s embarrassing.
What are you currently learning/working on?
I was trying to teach myself how to play the piano up until a few months ago, but I’m not working on anything now. Oh I think I have a video on vimeo from way back, when I first started. It’s pretty stupid and I wouldn’t watch more than 10 seconds of it but I’ll share it with you anyway: http://vimeo.com/14891857
Your favorite film / movie / TV series of all time?
Based on the fact that I will watch this movie whenever it’s on TV, despite the fact that I’ve seen it more than 20 times I’d have to say Titanic must be my favorite movie. Sunshine is a close second. Favorite TV series would be Star Trek: The Next Generation
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Oh man. I’d get my family and close friends out of debt. I’d go back to school and become a vet so I could take care of animals in the third world. I’d probably build animal hospitals and attempt to put a stop to the cutting down of rain forests and the smuggling of exotic animals into first world homes. I’m pretty big on helping animals as opposed to people. People can understand their depraved situation, animals can’t, and it breaks my heart to see what man has done to their natural habitats.
And the last question, if you had one wish…
I’d wish to win the lottery.