Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I'm excited to present my next photographer to feature in this blog. I only recently met Leah, however, we have communicated by Facebook and email for over a year now. Following my goal to feature photographers I admire in Ontario, Leah is actually the first woman. We are both members of Spirit of the Hills Arts Association and are equally grateful for the support and encouragement we draw from this group.

Leah is also a writer and just recently got news that a piece of her poetry is about to be published. I believe there are so many great things coming her way. I'm so pleased to introduce her to my blog followers. Trust me, I do believe many will know her name in the near future!

Leah, on a personal note, I'm honoured to now call you one of my new go girl!

In Leah's own words, this is the interview as written:

When did you first get interested in photography?

I got hooked in my teens, when my dad got a job in West Germany – I can’t remember ever NOT being interested, but I definitely got hooked then. We got to travel all over Europe from there, and I did my level best to bankrupt my parents with film processing costs over that 3 years.

What kind of camera was your first and what do you use now?

The first camera I remember using was a Brownie box camera that we had when I was very little. I still have some of the prints that were made from photos taken with that camera. Now my workhorse is a Canon D20 and my daily hike camera is my iPhone.

What, in your opinion, are the advantages and disadvantages between ‘point and shoot’ and ‘DSLR’?

Point and shoot gives you freedom of movement and flexibility in a tiny package – can’t beat it for a widely varied day of shooting in multiple venues. It’s also great for a wide range of photographers from the absolute beginner to the emerging professional, especially the ones made nowadays, which have all kinds of controls to explore on-board.
DSLR gives you much better control of each individual shot, and with its interchangeable lenses, widens your options for interpretation of the image considerably. It’s heavier, though, and takes a bit more time to set up perfectly, and it requires a bit more knowledge to use successfully.
Then there are the medium and large format cameras, which are another issue altogether – I’d love to get one of these with a digital back and play around with landscapes – incredible depth of field and detail in my landscapes would be heavenly!

What type of pictures do you tend to shoot the most?

I call them “slow documentary”: I tend to explore a place thoroughly through my lenses, paying attention to the local flora and fauna and light patterns. Every place I go I find a wonderland of sorts. For the last few years I’ve been documenting a vast ruined industrial park in the town where I live. The industry that used to be there was a WWI munitions plant, and it blew up in 1918, leaving huge craters in the ground and twisted girders, crumbling foundations and massive concrete slabs tumbled everywhere. The plants that were used in landscaping went wild there, so now, 90 years later, it’s a veritable paradise of natural and escaped domestic plants, including wild berries, rosehips, a fruit bearing pear tree and two apple trees, wild carrots, bulrushes, 16 varieties of native grasses, butterfly bushes, meadow milkweed, snapdragons, vetch, loosestrife, sumac and so on. Birds and rabbits swarm there, along with garter snakes, coyotes and
deer. Right around it is a busy more modern industrial park – and none of the tenants there realize the history and ecology that’s in their back yard.

What type of art, photography etc. do you have in your own home?

I have a couple of original oil paintings by local artists, one or two prints, a collection of my own work on one wall, a dozen different kinds of small sculpture, basketry, bits of fabric and leather craftsmanship, a quilt or two, some wood carving, digitally produced art prints by another friend – it’s pretty eclectic. I like fine craftsmanship of any sort, so quality work in any form gets cherished.

What is one tip you’ve learned to improve your photography?

Look at the ordinary things around you until you see the extraordinary in them. Then photograph that, however long and hard you have to work to capture the extraordinary lurking just below the mundane surface.

When you do portrait work, what is your biggest challenge?

Doing portrait work with humans!! I tend not to do this much – I really come alive doing portraits of animals, as I find them much easier to interact with through the lens. Dogs and cats and horses and birds and sheep and goats and bulls and tigers all enjoy themselves so much in a portrait shoot that it’s impossible not to enjoy it right along with them. I’ve ended up with a few great shots of people by accident while I was photographing their animals – but I’m not a portrait photographer by any means.

What type of photography is more difficult for you?

Indoor horse and livestock shows – capturing the best portrait of the animal and handler in motion indoors is technically challenging in most of the venues AND trying to get more than an ordinary not very exciting reportage shot under such circumstances is artistically challenging. This is, of course, stuff I love to do, too!!

Is there a particular photo you just haven’t managed to shoot yet, but you really would like to get?
Yes: I’d love to get an infrared film series done on my above mentioned “slow documentary” ruins – haven’t had the money for the film and processing time in a darkroom (gave up my own black and white darkroom 3 years ago due to lack of space). It’s still burning away in my dreams, though, and I’m still harbouring hopes of someday being able to do it.

Who influenced your love of photography?

Jerry Uelsmann, Ansel Adams, Stephen Bulgar of the Bulgar Gallery in Toronto, Sorin Alb, Yousef Karsh, Bob Pearson, Freeman Patterson, Steve Curry, Daniel Cox and always Frans Lanting. A pretty eclectic list!! Locally Bob House, Bob Leahy, Ted Amsden. At home, it was my Dad, who has been a shutterbug almost all his life, and my mom, who paints with words in ways I wish I could emulate.

Name one photographer you admire living or dead and why.

Only one??? Well, I’d have to say it would be Frans Lanting: he’s combined great photographic skill, incredible creativity and good business sense and done amazing things with it. I’d love to live in his head for a while – it must be amazing in there! A paradise of things to learn and try and do!

Which shot, up until now, are you most proud of?

Hard to say: I have a couple that I really love, one of a simple bit of timothy grass backlit by the summer evening sun, and one of a deep red day lily that came out so detailed and sharp that you can almost feel the velvet on the petals – also a couple of the shots of my friend Cliff’s utterly gorgeous Arabian horses. But there’s always another image coming around the corner or up the trail, and I’ve discovered that I’m not a one-shot photographer, at least, not yet! If I ever shoot something as iconic as Steve Curry’s nomadic girl, I may fall in love with that, but so far, while I like a bunch of my images, I’m not able to name just one that stands out in my own mind as “yeah, that one, that one is as perfect as it gets!” There’s always some little bit more that I see later I could have done to perfect an image, and there’s never enough time to go back and make the best ones perfect. So I do the best I can at the time and move on – time is a river, right?

One tip you could give a relatively new photographer.
Don’t try to learn it all at once! Like living, most of the best stuff happens on the way there, and once you get there, “there” moves – it’s never HERE. So you will have to keep trying to get HERE anyhow. Don’t rush it or push it – just learn your craft at your own pace and take the time to enjoy it while you do it. It’s really a journey worth the

How do you use social media to grow your photography business?

I shamefacedly admit that I don’t, at least not yet. Unless you count texting on my iPhone as social media! I have a Facebook page and a web site, but I’m just starting to seriously think about blogging and tweeting, even though I’ve had a Twitter account (@Old_Crone) for a while now.

What shot has eluded you so far?

The perfect Tae Kwon Do shot: I am STILL trying for one I consider really good – one that captures the spirit of the sport and the practitioners. A close friend is working toward his 3rd Dan black belt, and I go along to his tournaments and competitions sometimes to be the cheering section, taking the camera along for the ride. I love watching this stuff, especially at the black belt levels – it’s REALLY fast and furious action at that level. Hard to shoot well though!

What is your ultimate goal as a photographer?

My ultimate goal as a photographer is to combine images and words in such a way as to awaken at least one other person to the wonder of the world we live in – this is truly an amazing and magical place. So many of us walk around in the middle of it unaware and sunk in the misery of our lives rather than celebrating the awen of it all. (Awen is a Gaelic word meaning a state of rapture, bliss, total engagement, a “being in the zone” sort of mindset.)

What awards or acknowledgements have you received thus far, if any?

A few folks have been kind enough to buy my art prints – that is always very exciting because I know I’ve reached them on some level. I get minor notice in photography shows – my work isn’t spectacular or wildly innovative as yet so I tend not to stand out in a crowd. I’ve been really nicely treated by the Spirit of the Hills folks in Northumberland County, who help me exhibit and really encourage and support me in a lot of different ways besides letting me roam all over the
sheer beauty of their rolling hills! And people hire me to photograph their livestock and pets a lot – I think they notice that the animal is totally my focus above all else when I’m working with them, and they often remark on how happy the animals seem to be, doing what we are doing. I’ve done a bunch of small art photography for other artists, which I just love – doing that kind of product photography is deeply gratifying. Taking someone’s beautiful work and placing it
perfectly under exquisite lighting in studio and coming out with a photo that you can almost feel the material in is unbelievably satisfying.

Leah Murray
Photographer & Digital Imaging Artist

Digital Visions Imaging
Thank you, Leah. I wish you wonderful, new things to come your way.

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