Photographer’s Q&A – Adrien Veczan
This week’s Q&A is with Adrien Veczan, photojournalist and winner of the Tom Hanson Photojournalism award. His web site is www.veczan.com.
August 9, 2009 – Big Picture Month – Lighting strike over Highway 404 South as a major thunderstorm hits Toronto. (Adrien Veczan/Toronto Star)
What were your first steps in the industry?
I started out freelancing for community newspapers during my first year in school. I remember showing a really, really bad portfolio to Irv Mintz at the North York Mirror. Nevertheless, he sat down with me, analysed it, and patiently gave me feedback. He must have sensed that despite the poor quality of my images, I was going to work hard and he began to send me on assignments. I also started getting jobs from Walter (now retired) in the Durham region and learned a lot there too.
Meanwhile the Reuters guys in Toronto took me under their wings and if it hadn’t been for Fred Thornhill, Mark Blinch, Mike Cassese and Peter Jones, I wouldn’t be where I am now. To this day, I still go to them for help and guidance.
Then I did an internship at the Toronto Star alongside Sarah Dea and Ian Willms. I don’t think I need to explain how big a deal this was for us. Working with such a talented staff on a daily basis was a humbling experience. All the things I learned there helped kick-start my career.
Most recently, I was honoured to receive the Tom Hanson Award, an admirable endeavour with the noble goal to “give a photographer trying to break into the business the chance to perform on the national stage.”
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation and are you where you thought you would be now?
I moved from Montreal to study photography at Seneca College in Toronto. I had scouted a few schools and chose Ontario because there weren’t any good options in my home province. I opted for an English college because I wanted to become bilingual.
Seneca’s photo program is oriented towards commercial photography. The program just started out when I enrolled. Except for one, none of the teachers had any experience in photojournalism. I knew I’d have to pursue my journalistic goals off campus. The teachers were all excellent photographers in their fields (fashion, food, wedding, studio, architectural, nature/wildlife, stock photography) and while in school, I did learn a lot about post-production, marketing and business.
My business plan has since been largely based on winning the lottery, so in that sense, no, I’m not where I thought I’d be (yet). But as far as my career goes, I’m pleased that my efforts have paid off and so far, I really can’t complain.
August 13, 2009 – Big Picture Month – Paul Rademacher (front), “J-Rodd” (middle) and Bart Krzysztofek (back) skydive three kilometres over Cookstown. (Adrien Veczan/Toronto Star)
(The square photos included here were shot for the Toronto Star’s ‘Big Picture Month’. It was great to have the resources (and mandate) to generate pure, good photojournalism. There was a lot of debate about it over the month, but it was great to see everybody getting excited about it.)
Do you have a mentor?
Yes. Fred Thornhill. He is my own personal “Loyalist College”. I can go to him with any question, regardless of how stupid it is. He’s a great guy, a great photographer, a great cook and, when there’s no witness, a great fisherman. He has taught me a lot about photography and life.
My wish for any other photographer starting out is to have a mentor. There’s no substitute for the guidance and support you can get from someone who has been in your exact position before.
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
It’s always fun to look at the work of the famous photographers, but I’d say the photographers around me are bigger inspirations.
August 12, 2009 – Big Picture Month – 14-year-old provincial wakeboarding champion Mitchell Lowry during a training session on Chemong Lake near Bridgenorth. (Adrien Veczan/Toronto Star)
No documentary about Nachtwey can match what you can learn from shooting alongside the likes of Frank Gunn or Mike Cassese. Or listening to one of Boris Spremo’s many stories. Or sitting in the Star’s newsroom. Or going to Ottawa and sitting down with Adrian Wyld, Chris Wattie and Jason Ransom to hear your portfolio isn’t quite there yet.
And it’s not only the veterans. I’m inspired by the work and career path of the photographers a few years ahead of me: Carlos Osorio, Darren Calabrese, Mark Blinch, Pawel Dwulit and Tara Walton.
What was a pivotal point in your career?
For sure the Star internship and the recent Tom Hanson Award (which includes my upcoming Canadian Press internship.)
What are you working on now?
At the moment, I’m responsible for the photography of an annual magazine. I enjoy the creative carte blanche and the fact the deadline isn’t anytime soon.
Also, I have a extra bathroom that I wish to turn into a darkroom. I’m almost ashamed not to know anything about processing film – I guess that’s the new generation – but I really want to learn and play with chemicals.
So far the only thing I know is that I need a red light bulb. And I already have records and a turntable. By my calculations, I’m half way there!
How important to you is multimedia?
Not very. (Don’t hate me because I said that.)
I just think it’s a whole different craft. Video that is.
I really like the slideshows (stills and sound.) During a recent internship at the Sydney Morning Herald, I witnessed the “Down-under” approach to multimedia. They produce very powerful pieces with amazing photography and simple soundtracks (interviews, music, or ambient sound, depending). Editing is very simple and quick – and – you don’t have to sit and watch the whole thing if you don’t want to; you can simply browse through it like a simple photo gallery.
August 20, 2009 – Big Picture Month – Emergency Task Force (ETF) officer Alvin Valledor in tactical training at the shooting range of the ETF training facility in Toronto. (Adrien Veczan/Toronto Star)
How do you ensure you are progressing as a photojournalist?
I shoot a lot of pictures. I look at a lot of pictures. And I seek feedback from people whose work I admire.
What is your favourite way to unwind?
I’m into travel photography. I know it sounds similar to what I do day-to-day, but there’s a big difference.
I can’t take a step back from photography unless I close my eyes. I continually look at how the light bounces off what I see (and think about how I’d photograph it.)
Travelling makes me see that same light but from a different perspective.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
Tom Hanson’s wife Catherine recently told me, “Remember to keep your eyes and heart always open. That’s when the best shots are captured.”
I’ll always remember Richard Lautens telling me he couldn’t think of anybody who really wanted to become a photojournalist not ending up getting a job.
Describing the attitude a photographer should have, Mark Blinch told me: “Stay humble, keep your head down and do your work”, (which is echoed by one of Fred’s many many quotes: “No one wants to hire a jerk”)
August 3, 2009 – Big Picture Month – Visitors riding the Behemoth; the tallest (230 feet), steepest (75 degree first drop) and fastest (125 km/h) roller coaster in the country at Canada’s Wonderland. (Adrien Veczan/Toronto Star)