Photographer’s Q&A – Patti Gower
This week’s Q&A is with photographer Patti Gower.
What were your first steps in the industry?
After a year traveling in Europe, I came back with a love for travel and an interest in photography. I had spent my year traveling by bike and train, shooting photographs on Kodachrome and the odd role of black and white film.
I thought naively that I could afford more travel by selling images for postcards! So I enrolled at Loyalist College, thinking that I would learn about my camera and how to take a picture.
What I didn’t know was that I would fall in love with storytelling in every form. I was fortunate to get hired as a summer intern, after my first year of college, at the Hamilton Spectator. But I burned myself out that summer and considered not returning to Loyalist for my second year. That was a short-lived thought ….
What were your fears as a student?
Probably like any other student: was I going to make a living, was I going to be happy?
I had left behind a university degree and a career in science to start something totally different. I remember vividly the day I drove to Toronto to start a summer internship at the Toronto Star. I felt totally panicked and spent a great deal of time, during the drive from Belleville to Toronto, wondering why I had left my old career.
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation and are you where you thought you would be now?
I graduated in May of 1989. The Barcelona summer Olympics were coming up in 1992 and I thought that I would spend several years in Spain writing and shooting stories. I had spent quite a bit of time in Spain while traveling before photojournalism and had taken Spanish lessons in evening classes while a student at Loyalist. I was in no way bilingual but really wanted to get back to Spain and travel.
Well, a summer internship at the Toronto Star came my way after graduating. After completing the internship, my boyfriend (now my husband!) and I took off on a one-month driving trip down the east coast of the United States into Florida.
I got a call from the Star to come back as one of the photographers was seriously ill. That was mid-October 1989. I was hired February 14th, 1990. I stayed 8 years.
I have since worked as a staff photographer at The Globe and Mail for four years and then freelanced for three. Last year, I went back to school to get my teaching degree.
During my time after Loyalist, I have been married, had two children, worked on self-directed projects and photographed with the collective Photosensitive.
It has been a great journey so far. One that I never would have predicted, nor have wanted to. My advice: be willing to change.
What are your biggest inspirations?
Resilience in people.
Did you have a mentor? How important are mentors?
I have had so many mentors over the years. Mark Fraser was my first at the Hamilton Spectator. I would also say Jack Horrigan, the (then) photo editor at the Hamilton Spectator who hired this totally green, first-year student to work for a summer.
Brad Henderson was also significant in my career. He was the photo editor at the Toronto Star who hired me and directed me in my very early years.
Others are those whom I have had the opportunity to work beside, like Andrew Stawicki, Pete Power, Bernie Weil, Tony Hauser, Benjamin Rondel, Lesley Sparks, teachers John Peterson and Peter Robertson. They have been photojournalists, reporters, editors, writers, artists and friends.
And then, inspiration from photojournalists Eugene Richards, Sebastio Salgado and Eugene Smith.
What was a pivotal point in your career?
There are actually three pivotal points so far:
• Attending a one-week photo workshop with Mary Ellen Mark at the Maine Photo Workshops in 1991.
• A trip to Krakow, Poland where, for 10 days, I was a street photographer.
• When I was awarded an Atkinson Fellowship in 2001, I took an eight-month leave from The Globe and Mail to work on a series of articles on adoption in Canada.
The common denominator in all three: time. Personal projects should not reflect what the industry wants but what you need to do, need to explore and need to express.
How important is Multimedia to you?
It may be the future of still photography in the mass communication industry. Some would even say that future is here.
What inspired you to be a photojournalist?
Being curious, travel and the question “why?”.
What is your favourite way to unwind?
Spending time with my family, reading (I always have my head in a book), Sudoku and, the best advice I can give, exercise.
This profession can be extremely stressful and it can also be physically demanding. If you have ever worked in 40 to 50 degree Celsius temperatures, you will know what I mean. And, the equipment needs we have are only getting more and more (video, laptops, still cameras, phones).
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
THINK and reflect.