Photographer’s Q&A – Grant Black
This week’s Q&A is with Calgary Herald’s Chief Photographer and Photo Manager, Grant Black.
I love paddling a canoe, so the opportunity to cover the first few days of the David Thompson Brigade was pure joy. The brigade paddled from Rocky Mountain House to Thunder Bay, tracing the route explorer David Thompson took in 1808. Chris Kissinger (left) digs into a steaming pot of oatmeal as fellow paddler Steve Flawith eats the steaming breakfast on a frosty morning. Photo By Grant Black
What were your first steps in the industry?
I started shooting for the weekly newspaper in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, when I was in my teens. I was involved in scouting and would photograph scouting events and sell a print or two to The Enterprise. A humble start indeed.
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation and are you where you thought you would be now?
I wanted to take photos for a daily newspaper and also thought I might like to have a position of leadership in a photo department some day. I also thought I’d work on photo books, magazine stories and travel the world.
So far, I’ve been a photographer at two dailies, photo editor at The Windsor Star, and now supervise the photo department at The Calgary Herald. I’ve shot several book projects and did a story for Canadian Geographic. And I’ve even been to a couple of exotic destinations with a camera bag on my shoulder.
Things have been good!
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
I’m inspired by many things: music, light, my subjects, books, the mountains and the work of greats like W. Eugene Smith. I’m also inspired by Ted Grant who continues to do be passionate about photography at an age when most people spending their time on their couch channel-surfing. But, I’m mostly driven my my need to produce good pictures on all assignments.
Dance is another one of my photographic passions. I’ve photographed the Jeunesse Classique Ballet several times over the last few years, usually for our ‘Neighbours’ section. Here, a dancer flexes her foot while waiting her turn to dance at a dress rehearsal of The Nutcracker. Photo By Grant Black
Did you have a mentor? How important are mentors?
Yes, I’ve had a couple of mentors in my career. My photo teacher at Loyalist College, John Peterson, helped guide me early on. Dick Wallace, a wonderful photographer at The London Free Press, was also very influential. And Bill Bishop, long-service photo editor at The Windsor Star, was a tough but loving boss. I’d like to thank all three of them for their help. Mentors aren’t only helpful, they are almost a necessity in this business.
What was a pivotal point in your career?
Purchasing a CD of ‘Cowboyography’ by Ian Tyson. That music lead me to contact Ian with the idea for a photo story based on one of his songs. After photographing him for that story, (and a couple of other times), I recognized how creativity burns in him. And I recognized that in myself. Up till then, I didn’t think of myself as a creative person. Now I do and it has opened doors in my own thinking and helped me stave off middle-aged burnout. He’s 76 and just released a new CD. Thanks Ian.
How important is multimedia to you?
An incredible way of story telling that I¹ve yet to truly embrace. I’m still struggling with the technology. This is an area I need to work on.
For many years, I didn’t shoot many personal pictures. However, after I bought an Epson RD-1 camera from Wendell Phillips, I started shooting for me again. Lil Cherkas is a long-time friend of our family. My parents and Lil work together to plant and harvest a large potato crop on her farm near Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Photo By Grant Black
How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?
The usual: reading, looking at photos from many sources, and experimenting. For many years, I used Leica rangefinders and I’ve recently bought a used, poor-man’s Leica, the the Epson RD-1, and a fast 28-mm lens. It isn’t the latest and greatest but it has changed the way I shoot and see. The fast lens allows me to shoot available light again. Wonderful. During the early digital era, I over-lit everything.
What are some of the must-see websites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g. inspiration, guidance, information, education).
I’m not a huge web surfer but I go to the NPAC.ca site for news and gossip, and I often check out the work of individual photographers I see elsewhere. I also use the web as a resource to help solve photographic technical problems.
What is your favourite way to unwind?
Skiing, canoeing, hiking, and watching Fish Creek Provincial Park from the front deck of our condo.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
Long-time Calgary Sun photographer Mike Drew is a very wise man. He told me that being a newspaper photographer is a privilege and we should treat is as such. We’re invited into people’s lives and homes and we witness things the public only sees through our work. Respect that and never take it for granted.