Brant Slomovic is a documentary photography based in Toronto. He was recently featured as a Contender in the 2012 Hey, Hot Shot! International Photography Competition and in the Collection at Flak Photo. His current personal projects include Shinny, which details the ubiquity of shinny Hockey in Canadian culture, and Puja, which explores daily rituals of spirituality in Indian life. Please follow Brant on Twitter.
1) You became a documentary photographer after pursuing emergency medicine. First what motivated you to change tracks? And, secondly, what was it in your training as a medic prepared you the most to be a documentary photographer?
Those are great questions, but to clarify, I was a photographer long before I even considered becoming a physician. So it wasn’t really changing tracks from one métier to another, as much as it was rediscovering of a need to make photographs and tell stories. I had abandoned photography when I entered university. By the time I finished my specialty training in emergency medicine this deep desire to express myself through images reemerged. It was unstoppable.
I think of the two - medicine and photography - as completely separate existences. I’m keenly aware of the potential for conflicts of interests to arise, because I am a photographer and at the same time a physician. So the choice not to cross paths is deliberate. Perhaps one day I will find a way to approach a subject and bring the two together; the insight and empathy that my training as a physician has developed and photo making.
2) If I was to describe the images on your website, I would use the words: “quiet” or “deliberate” do you agree? Where did you acquire this sense of rhythm in your images?
I do agree, it’s a very fair statement. I search out these moments. On one hand its a reflection of an esthetic that I’m looking for. On the other, it gets back to your first question, about the relationship between practicing medicine and making images. As a result of the inherent chaotic environment of the emergency department, I look for the opposite when I am engaged with the other elements of my life. It’s about finding a balance for me personally.
3) So many interviews I have heard or read focus on the process. I am interested in your intention. The projects you have embarked on Shinny and Puja couldn’t be more disparate. Can you tell us what it is about each that you are drawn to?
Both the Shinny project and the Puja work emanate from very personal places. My long term projects have to come from something that stirs within, whether it be a deep curiosity or something I am already connected to and passionate about.
Shinny is about my love of hockey and the place it has in Canadian culture and art. As a Montrealer, having grown up during the heyday of the 70’s, it would be impossible not to be passionate about this subject. I see shinny as a deeply unifying Canadian experience, shared by a huge spectrum of people, from elite professional athletes to new immigrants. The initial inspiration began with the paintings of great Quebec artists like Terry Tomalty and John Little, who have established a tradition of painting hockey scenes. I thought “no one is doing this kind of work with photographs”.
The Puja project is also highly personal. My wife was born and raised in Bombay. So my attraction to this work began with my discovery of her and where she came from. I am fascinated by the intertwining of cultures in India, how the lines of distinction are blurred, and by this sense of unification through diversity. The ritual of puja is a beautiful expression of devotion and I love that it can exist in public spaces and that it’s interpretation is limitless. Puja can be a specific religious act as much as it can be about the way in which one travels to work or performs mundane daily activities.
4) Around 1984, when you graduated from high school, you tasted your first big win in an art competition. How important is it for you to enter contests? How do you select which ones to enter? And, lastly how do you edit your images and select your personal “winners”?
To be honest, contests, per se, are not very important to me. The recognition is of course nice and there is certainly a role for them in the advancement of one’s work. At this point I am concentrating on building the strongest body of work that I can and on developing new projects. But hey, if you’re interested in nominating me for anything, I’ll accept graciously.
Editing is always a challenge. First, I take time away from the images and the experiences. I need the separation physically and emotionally; the space to gain objectivity. Then I enlist the eyes of a few trusted friends. The personal winners communicate emotion and that impact stands the test of time.
5) Tell us a little bit about your sense of awareness of when an image should be made.
A large part has to do with the preparation before you even show up. Developing a clear idea and intention, researching, immersing in one’s subject. Then, for me, its about being as present an open minded as possible. Looking and often waiting for specific moments but having the awareness to let things happen as well.
6) When I came across image #14 in your “PUJA” series, it stopped me in my tracks. Can you tell us about why that image was made and what its significance is?
That image was made because it was there. The significance is that for me the image is a reflection of India, in it’s totality. It is a literal and perhaps slightly cliché representation of the contrasts that personify India. I was also attracted to the scene because it made me wonder about the story of those roses where and by whom were they made, what was their purpose and in what kind of ceremony were they used. And finally, what was their journey and how did they end up adrift in murky waters.
7) I have to ask you about the form factor of your gear. What are you using? Are you shooting film or is all of your work now digital?
The majority of my work, and specifically the two projects we have been discussing, are shot on medium format film.
8) Whether it’s “PUJA”, “SHINNY”, “GLENGARRY” or “PAAN”, I get the sense that you are most interested in how humans inhabit their spaces. True? Is distilling it to that even fair?
It is fair. There is certainly an element of that in my work. For a while, I wanted to make images devoid of people. It was just something that made sense and felt natural at a specific time in my evolution. When I was editing my first show, Glengarry, I realized that I couldn’t fully tell the story I wanted to tell without including the human element in the edit. From that point forward it has been something I strive for – how people fit into the narrative. I think of the work of Simon Roberts and Massimo Vitale as great examples of this.
9) Personal projects are never ever finished as they go on and on. Do you find yourself finding a point to stop and say that you’ve got it all and you move on to the next project?
Ha! Well I thought so. But recently I was encouraged by one of my mentors to return to a project I thought I had closure on. I’m considering it, but haven’t gone back to it, yet. I think some will inherently come to an end, either when I feel a sense of satisfied completion or simply exhaustion. With Shinny, I’ve just begun to scratch the surface and I’m excited for it to carry on for a long time.
10) Are you represented by an agency or a gallery? How would one go about buying one of your prints?
At this time, I do not have representation. Buying prints can be done through the contact link on my website, www.brantslomovic.com. Thank you Seshu. It’s been a real pleasure.
Know of other documentary photographers like Brant or Jim Mortram pursuing projects that they are ready to show and share with the world? Send them my way. I would love to highlight their efforts and interview them.