Toronto photographer Angela Lewis reached out to me a few months ago and when I clicked through to her portfolio, I was blown away by her beautiful work full of candid portraits, fashionable shoots, and natural elements. Angela makes me want to be a better photographer and I admire her ability to capture the energy of her subjects, many of whom are female artists themselves. She takes great pleasure in photographing other women and has had that honor with Margaux Williamson, Sheila Heti, Margaret Atwood, and other women over the past year. What follows is a correspondence of questions and photographs that Angela and I exchanged over our shared love of photography.
When did you first become interested in Photography?
When I was younger, I would often ask my friends to stand in front of my point & shoot camera as they mimicked cheesy model poses. At the time, I didn’t think much about why I was getting satisfaction out of creating a set and dressing them up. For us, it was just a fun way to pass time in a small town.
My grandfather had a darkroom where I’d watch him work; but again, I didn't necessarily think it’d be something I’d find passion for down the road. It wasn’t until I started working in the darkroom during high school, where I really began to enjoy photography and take it more seriously. All I ever wanted to do with my free time was to shoot and be in the darkroom learning, developing and printing.
How did you get started as a photographer?
I attended Sheridan College for their two year, Applied Photography program. Before I started shooting full time, I assisted and produced for almost 3 years. It got me to meet people in the industry and see this time as an opportunity to acquaint myself with the workings of a photo job from start to finish. It allowed me to develop and accentuate my strengths, and discover solutions for my weaknesses. But at the end of the day, I always worked and pushed hard, while continuing to shoot my own work. Success in an industry like this is a relentless struggle, particularly in the beginning.
What is your favorite subject to shoot?
I am incredibly curious about people, as they are the most intriguing to watch. When I take their portrait, I aim to get those ‘off’ moments, which in my mind, are their ‘on’ moments. Along with that, observing nature and objects captivates me just the same. In my photos, you will usually find I sync them all together.
Who has been your favorite person to shoot?
There have been a lot of fond moments, but the shoot with Sheila Heti for The London Telegraph was first that came to mind. We shot in her home and shared homemade cookies, then ventured out to her front yard in Toronto during a snowstorm, with her dog running around us, as she wore a voluptuous and elegant vintage fur coat.
What inspires you?
I regularly look out the window watching the world and the moments within it. This is how I feel comfortable observing and fully taking in my surroundings. Seeing people interact with one another and being real is where I find most of my day-to-day inspiration.
What's your secret to making people comfortable for portraits?
I'm able to read people easily, and quickly understand my boundaries within this newly formed relationship. Once I feel comfortable with them, they tend to feel comfortable with me and we can start relating to each other. It’s really important to me that I can connect with my subject and that they trust me. I often act a bit silly when I’m behind the camera, as that sort of thing comes naturally, but I also think it helps people feel at ease. I'm showing them I’m comfortable with being myself in front of them so they can too.
In your experience, are male and female photographers treated equally?
It hasn't come to my attention that male photographers get treated differently than female photographers. I think a major element of my success getting editorial work in Toronto, was the fact that I am female. There was a not so discreet vibe that many photo editors were enthusiastic about the hiring of female shooters.
Tell us about your favorite project.
I did a series for the Women by Women gallery during Toronto Fashion Week a few years ago. I combined young boys dressed in old school baseball uniforms with a female model wearing clothing and using props inspired by the sport. I’m very interested in creating a story within my fashion work, as well as combining contrasting roles.
What are you working on right now?
I am working currently working on a photo postcard series with my friend Katie Lee to help raise money for our wonderful pal, Aaron Graves. He was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and many friends have come forward to help him and his family with medical expenses. We call it High Five Postcards, and it includes 6 different postcards with photos from our travels, including where we met Aaron in North Carolina. We started an Etsy shop and have had various Toronto stores carry the cards to show support.
I especially like this project because it encourages snail mail, which is something I thoroughly enjoy and believe we’ve lost touch with in this generation. You may see the postcards and learn more about Aaron here: www.etsy.com/ca/shop/highfivepostcards
How would you describe your photography style?
Calm, candid, real.
How do you improve your skills?
Constantly be shooting and creating. If I haven't shot in a few days, I will walk around and try to find something to shoot. Even if I never look at the photos, it’s still important to exercise your craft. Also, communication with your subjects and having the ability to direct them is just as important and takes practice in itself.
Where do you like shooting best?
I prefer shooting outdoors with beautiful scenery and light. The chances of natural elements from the world coming into play are the surprises I look for. Whether it be wind, water, light, strangers, animals etc. you’re always getting a little bit inspired each step of the way.
Do you have a favorite place to shoot in Toronto?
I used to live right across from Trinity Bellwoods park, which is a cool destination for artists and dog owners in Toronto’s west end. I would often photograph friends and strangers here, since it was such a central location and had beautiful light throughout the day. Later on, I created a “street style-like” project called Woodies & Belles, which captured the fashionable people hanging around Trinity Bellwoods park.
Where is your favorite travel destination?
I keep dreaming about going back to Budapest to see how the light changes throughout the year, but also really enjoy Berlin’s nightlife and New York City’s energy.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I’m feelin' good, I like to explore the city and spend hours in magazine shops. On a day that doesn’t start right, I like to spend time close to any body of water. But most of all, cooking special meals with friends tops the list on any day.
All images by Angela Lewis.
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