If you had to describe your overall photographic vision in 25 words or less, what words would you choose?
Classic black and white landscape photography with a modern, sophisticated, minimalist touch.
Maybe? Heck I don’t know. I’m just following my heart and photographing what catches my eye.
Why do you prefer black and white photography?
I have always believed that colour photography contains too much truth. If I show you a photo of green grass– and the colour is slightly off– you know and you feel something is not quite right. That can be a good thing if you are after a mood but most viewers see colour photography as reality. Colours are predefined so to speak.
Black and white photography is different from that in the sense that every viewer can interpret all the tonalities themselves. They HAVE to use their own mind and imagination to translate the image. That effort makes them see the image in a different way. They need to make a more subconscious effort to see the photograph.
Therefore, I believe that b&w photos are more looked into than looked at.
Who are three of your favorite photographers, and, more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
No landscape photographer can go around looking down at Ansel Adams. I know it is a cliche answer, but it is the truth. I recently had the opportunity to see a 100+ photo exhibit of his work in Helena, Montana, and I was completely blown away when I came out of the museum– not only by the tonal range and artistic qualities of Adams’ prints but also the fact that not all of his prints were 100% technically perfect (though I now have a mental tonal step wedge in my head of what certain tonalities need to be).
Yes … you have read that second part right. It’s kinda hard to say it though. It feels like blasphemy. But it is the truth. The whole exhibit showed Adams as an artist searching for perfection. Sometimes he achieved that perfection, and other times he missed the mark. There’s this myth going around that Adams did everything perfect. I was happy to see that that was not the case at all. He was human and had his shortcomings. That was probably the most important lesson I learned from this exhibit. That it is completely okay to make mistakes.
To this day, nobody can, in my opinion, get close to the quality of work and consistency he produced throughout his career. One wall in the gallery in particular featured 15-20 large pieces that Adams photographed over a forty year period. Looking at that wall from a distance you could really see his brilliance. All the photos looked like they belonged in the same series.
I also absolutely love Michael Kenna’s work. I know this is another cliche. But again, it is the truth. He’s a photographer on a mission, a mission that comes from the heart. He is a master composer. I look up to him because of the philosophies behind his work. If you watch the Hokkaido video on his website, you will see a scene in which he is photographing a crooked tree next to a lake. After he’s done, he walks up to the tree and touches it. He’s almost thanking the tree for it’s patience. When I first saw that, I was emotionally touched– especially since I work in the very same way … relaxing, listening to what I photograph, smelling, feeling. I thought I was crazy for doing that, so I was happy to see I’m not alone. He spiritually inspires me to do better, to make more meaningful photographs.
The third photographer I especially like is Ian Ruhter. We’ve all seen his Silver and Light videos. What I like about his work is, once again, his whole philosophy behind the why and how of what he does– plus he produces work that is very original and just plain awesome. In his portraits, he is able to capture the soul of his subjects. You almost see their misery. It’s very emotional photography that I like a lot.
Of course there’s a lot more photographers out there that I enjoy seeing new work from. For exmple: Chris McCaww (now THAT is long exposure photography), Chuck Kimmerle (great guy!), Cole Thompson (love his photographic celibacy idea), Hengki Koentjoro, Michael Levin, Josef Hoflehner, YOU! just to name a few. There are so many amazing photographers out there right now.
What artistic influences, outside of photography, have had a significant influence on how you approach your photography (for example, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, etc.)?
As a graphic designer I am attracted by the concept of ‘finding order in chaos’. I love lines and symmetry and will always strive to simplify things as far as I am able to.
This is a little bit of a humbling question though. My taste in music is far from classic. I love good metal and hard rock tunes. I love the drum patterns in that kind of music and listening to it makes my feet mimic those double kick bass patterns. Just ask my fellow co-workers: they absolutely HATE me because I drum away for eight hours straight every work day (grin).
What are your thoughts about trying to find the best gear possible versus working on making the best possible image with the gear you already have?
Photographers have to be, first and foremost, problem solvers. However, looking to gear for the answers we seek to the problems we encounter is never a good solution. Instead, try asking the right questions first– and you will find the answers automatically.
That said– this an important question to ask oneself– especially in the beginning of one’s career. When I started out I shot everything with a Rebel XT and two crappy lenses. That’s all I could afford. And then a few years ago, I moved up to a full frame camera. Almost immediately I had to relearn how I saw the world around me. The lens was different; the camera was different. The depth of field was less and I had a hard time getting everything in focus.
It took me a fair bit of time to come back to the same level as before the switch. That’s something not a lot of people understand. If you change something in your workflow, it WILL alter the way you see the world.
It happened again when I switched full time to a film camera. I had to deal with not only the learning curve of getting it right on film but also the huge difference between the 6 x 7 format vs the 3:2 format. I had to relearn how to compose again. I think I can finally say I am where I want to be right now. I once again feel confident in what I do– though it did take me about a year and a half.
How would you define fine art? Is it just a label?
Tough question. I still don’t know if my work qualifies as fine art. I believe it does. Kinda. Heck … I don’t know and I don’t really care. It is certainly not something I actively think about or loose sleep over.
But I believe all art is something that has to come from the heart. And it needs to be something you HAVE to do as an artist to feel good. If these criteria are fulfilled I think you will hit the mark pretty close.
If you had to come up with one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn, what would it be?
Simplify your images and avoid clutter.
What are your thoughts about the benefits of online sharing? Are there any particular social media or image sharing sites you prefer or do not prefer?
In today’s world, I think we more or less have to share our work online. I use the five big social media platforms: Google+, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter. And from the moment I started doing the social thing, the attention my work has received certainly has humbled me.
I really like G+ because it is very photography focused. Facebook is great for connecting with and finding new clients and pinpointing your marketing. LinkedIn is great for connecting with people in the industry such as curators.
What photographic cliché or common photography question, if any, irritates you the most?
… photographers that swear by the rule of thirds. It is just one of the many, many rules you can follow, but it does not guarantee a successful composition. The diagonal method, in my opinion, is much more powerful, for example, but it’s probably a rule not many photographers have even heard of. I love lines, diagonals, repeating shapes and so on.
I also absolutely dislike photographers that download pictures off the Internet and go to the same locations and shoot the same compositions in those images. That is just dumb. They miss the whole point of what makes photography so great, and they will never know what it is to create creative work, to let their inner self speak.
If you were stranded on an island, and you could have one camera, one lens, one filter, one tripod, two books, and ten CD’s what would they be and why?
I would take my
- Mamiya RB67 proSD
- Mamiya Sekor C 127mm
- A cable release
- A red filter
- A Gitzo Mountaineer Series 2 tripod with a Manfrotto 410 Junior head.
- I would try to convince you to take three CD’s in exchange for my Sekonic 758 spotmeter.
- I would like to exchange the other seven CD’s for some developing tanks, some chemicals of course, a crazy amount of Ilford Delta 100 film, and everything else I need for developing and archiving my work.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I was recently contacted by the Ian Tan Gallery in Vancouver, and I am now represented by them for Western Canada. I am definitely concentrating on getting my foot in the door of the Canadian fine art market. This year I am aiming towards international photo competitions and awards. Next year or maybe the second half of this year and next year will be focused on being part of group expositions. Getting at least one solo exhibit next year would be the ultimate goal.
Is there any specific place that you would like to visit to take photos?
Japan for sure! Antarctica, Greenland and Iceland … just to start. Places where solitude reigns.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
Yes, as I already mentioned, I am really excited to announce that my work is now being represented in Western Canada by the Ian Tan Gallery out of Vancouver. I’m incredibly honoured that they chose me as their first photographer to represent. I can’t tell you how proud that makes me! Here’s a link to a .pdf they put together about my work that they are currently representing. I also wanted to mention that one of my photographs (“Snow Barrier”) received a bronze medal at the annual Prix de la Photography competition (PX3) this past month (2103). That just blew my mind!
And, lastly, if anyone wants to see more of my work, more is available on my website [ed. see below].
Explore more of Olivier’s photography: Website
Spotlight on Three Images
1. “Snow Barrier” (c) Olivier Du Tré
This was one of those fog galore mornings. I was randomly driving around a nearby highway when I spotted these long wind barriers lining the landscape. I quickly turned onto a gravel road and lined myself up to take the photograph.
I stood there looking at this for about 30 seconds. And one thing came to mind:”Holy F*ck this is good!” Yup … I said that out loud to myself. The sky was blank. The snow was lit with a super diffused light. I could barely make out the horizon.
I went back and forth about focal lengths, trying to decided what would work best. I finally decided on the normal 127 mm lens (for medium format). I planned the exposure so that the low contrast scene was fairly high up the scale. I envisioned a high key photograph for this scene. I placed the snow high on zone VIII. The barrier fell on zone IV, and the shadows of the barrier fell on zone VI. I made 4 frames, and, in the end, the composition of my first frame was the best one.
The photograph recently received a bronze medal in the yearly PX3 contest. Something I am very proud of.
2. “Ice Covered Trees” (c) Olivier Du Tré
2012 was an interesting year for me. In 2011, I spent over six months playing around with the idea of returning to film again– and, in 2012, I made the decision to move back to the world of film for all of my photography.
Ever since then– I haven’t photographed anything digital. At first, I was moderately successful translating tones and colours to Ansel Adams’ zone system, but I soon found out that making a perfect exposure wasn’t the tricky part of the whole process. The real problem was that I wasn’t able to translate my vision of a scene to the negative all that well. That is — until the morning I saw this scene captured here, a beautiful row of gnarly looking trees just Northeast of Calgary (somewhere along Highway 9 I believe). The heavy fog had created a beautiful layer of hoarfrost. I was racing back and forth on this country road to find the perfect looking tree as the centerpiece of my composition. I had just set up my camera and decided on the focal length of the lens when all of a sudden the sun came out and the fog started to lift. I knew I had to be swift because the fog was disappearing very quickly, so I quickly made the decision to screw on the red filter in order to add some drama. The zone placement was pretty simple. I placed the tree trunks on zone IV (and with the red filter I knew they were going to fall a little lower so that was good). The foreground snow fell on Zone VI and the illuminated tree branches on VII and VIII. Also, I knew that with the red filter the contrast in the sky, which was now just fog and clear blue sky, would be enhanced.
After developing the negative in my kitchen a few days later, I was very excited to see what the negative contained. It turned out perfect and very few adjustments had to be made– just a little burning on the edges and a minor contrast adjustment.
This is the very first image I created in which everything fell into place. It’s one of my favourites images from last winter. Ever since then, I have a far better understanding of the creative usage of Ansel Adam’s zone system.
3. “Breakwater” (c) Olivier Du Tré
This is a very recent photograph that I took in May on my first trip back home to Belgium since moving to Canada. During my flight, I wondered if I would experience the Belgian landscape differently than I did before leaving five years ago. I was wondering if I would be able to simplify the landscape like I am able to here in the Canadian Prairies. I quickly realized, however, that this was going to be very difficult to accomplish with all the light and electricity poles, fences, and houses everywhere. Then I realized the best plan for making simple pictures in as little time as possible would be to go to the beach along the North Sea. So, off I went.
To be completely honest, I was amazed to see how well this negative turned out. I made only very minor adjustments in post– a little bit of burning on the edges and a slight contrast adjustment was all that was needed. When I was exposing the film, I had my doubts, but I am very pleased that I was able to make this nice L shape with the waves that start in the left bottom and stretch out to the waves at the tip and to the right of the structure. Thank you long exposure!
The normal shutter time for this photograph would have been 1/30 of a sec at ƒ/22. I photographed this with a Lee polarizer and a Lee Big Stopper. By trial and error, I now know that equals 13 stops of stopping power. This equals a four min exposure with a digital camera, but for film I needed to factor in the reciprocity failure for Ilford Delta100, which has horrible reciprocity law failure numbers (but I like the film very much). All of that extended this exposure to 9 minutes and 20 seconds.
The Gallery Selection
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