Photographer’s Q&A – Gordon Ball
Gordon Ball is a photographer and artist who – as the name suggests – is the son of world-renowned Canadian photojournalist, Doug Ball. Gordon grew up in both Montreal and Oakville, Ontario and he shoots commercial, editorial and fine art work. His clients include Nike, Audi and MTV.
You can view more of Gordon’s work at www.gordonball.ca
At the risk of asking a painfully unoriginal question, what does photography mean to you? Is there a common element or idea that ties all your photographs together?
That’s actually a good question. I have actually had to think about that question for a few hours, and to be honest, I love photography because of the relationship it’s given me with my pops. It’s such an amazing thing that my pops gets it, you know? It’s not like my parents are like “you’re fucking up, go to school, learn something, make money.” They are the same with my brother and him playing in his band ‘Barn Burner’. They stand behind us 150% and push us to do what makes us happy.
That being said, my pops taught me photography through photojournalism: how to tell a story. There’s a strong journalistic style in my work and that boils over from fine art to my commercial work.
Nudity – both male and female – seems to be a recurring theme in many of your photos. What do you find so interesting about it?
I shot some nudes of myself in art school many moons ago, then that moved onto shooting some snaps of my friends. That’s when I noticed how carefree my friends were. Then I continued that theme up until a few years ago. My friends are pretty rock and roll and I kept that in mind when I had my camera out with me. My friends really embraced creativity and they are really supportive. I don’t know if they were doing some of that stuff for fun or to contribute to my work. None of it is really shocking, we’ve all kissed someone, we’ve all smoked a cigarette, we’ve all come home from the bar at 4am and sat on the bed naked eating pizza. I’ve had people tell me that my work looks like a game of dare. How daring is it if we all have done it?
You also seem to shoot a lot of film. What’s the appeal?
I like to think of myself as a traditional photographer. I learned photography as a trade, not as a form of expression. Expression is something you learn later on. Does that make any sense? It takes time to figure shit out, and then you harvest your craft.
Keith and Mick wanted to play Chuck Berry covers. So they learned how. They taught themselves how to play guitar and then were able to learn from some of the best early in their career. It took a good decade before they really figured out how to express themselves musically.
I liked photojournalism, and wanted to be like my pops. He taught me how to take photos, but it wasn’t until I was older that I figured out my own shit. Took a lot longer than others, though.
There’s a romance with analog photography, it’s such a hands on thing. 99% of the time you know what you are doing. Then all of a sudden, there’s a fuck-on in the exposure and it’s the best photo on the roll.
I love digi also, don’t get me wrong. Being able to bang off thousands of photos without using film?? Genius! I don’t miss mixing chemicals though. I worked in a darkroom for a few years when I was 20, mixing up the film processor, color machine and the b&w machine. I’d lose sense of smell for a good hour out of my days. I’d have to wait ’till Friday afternoons to sepia tone prints, that shit was lethal!
As a photographer, what influence has your father been to you?
He pretty much showed me the ropes, how to deal with people, how to use the “Ball” personality to our advantage. He taught me photography, from loading film into a camera, to how to take a proper photograph, even how to print a photo, but it goes beyond that. Business is the best kind of art, he’s made a career out of it, and he’s been able to show me a step-by-step on how that all works.
But when I get in the dumps, as we all do, Mom and Dad are there to pick me up and give me words of advice: “Why don’t you try it like this” or “just say this”. I’m very lucky.
What is the “Ball” personality?
The Balls are talkers and we are always up for a good time. There is absolutely no prejudice towards anyone. So we get along with anyone. I have found myself talking golf to corporate bosses on shoots, even a few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with Nike, and the brand marketing boss mentioned something about loving the Cro Mags. We ended up going on and on about New York Hardcore.
Can you share a good “growing up in the Ball household” story?
I’ll never forget one time – I guess this was mid to late 90’s – I was in bed and I went down to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. My parents’ place is really small, so I walked into the kitchen and my pops was there with 4 or 5 guys from the Leafs just sitting at our table pounding beers. I remember Dave Elliot was there.
Another good story happened recently. My brother’s band was on tour, and whenever they are in Ontario, my brother has this great idea that my parents’ place is a flop house for anyone on the road with his band. Well, they pulled in one night, and my dad had prepared steak, chicken wings, burgers for everyone in the band. Well, my brother Snick is vegan, like one of those really rude vegan’s who wont even acknowledge you offering him some dinner, he won’t make eye contact with you and wave the food away saying “NO”. Anyways, they pulled in and the band found all this wicked food my dad prepared for the starving band, they also noticed a pot on the stove with a sign on it saying “VEGAN”. Snick went over to check out the vegan meal my dad made specially for him. It was a pot of water with a carrot in it.
Of your father’s work, is there a particular photograph or assignment that makes you wish you’d been there to shoot it?
His first job was shooting the Rolling Stones in 1965. Hands down that would have been the best experience. It was in a hockey arena in London, Ontario. They only played 1 song before the crowd rushed the stage.
It says on your CV that you’re a third-generation photographer. Your father’s career has been very well documented, what can you tell me about your grandfather’s career?
My Grandfather taught my pops and my uncle Lynn photography. And they’ve both been very successful. A lot of his work is kept in a safety deposit box. He photographed a lot during World War II. Pretty heavy-duty stuff. He passed away over 10 years ago, but my father has his Leica M6. I’m not sure if he would have understood my work but he’d be pretty happy that I have continued the tradition.
What are you currently working on?
Life. Trying to maintain as much integrity as I can. I was so burned out in the art game last year that I needed a break. I was looking at my work and I felt like I lost my identity. It was kinda like a “who am I, what am I doing, what do I want to leave as my legacy”. I want my work to be regarded by people twice my age, not people 10 years younger than me. I was joking with my buddy Michael Barolet that we are adult culture photographers now.
I have started shooting a new art series, loosely based around some Leonard Cohen poems. Not directly based to his work, maybe inspired by it.
The monthly Photographer’s Q&A focuses on Canadian photographers and visual journalists. Is there a Canadian photographer you want to know more about, or do you want to make a submission? firstname.lastname@example.org.