I have a clear memory of a moment of my childhood, being struck by beauty in the most unlikely spot, and wishing my eyes were cameras so I could capture the moment for ever. As luck would have it I do still remember it, the way the light danced off of the strip mall by the ditch, the happiness I felt after crossing the four lane highway on my way home from school. It must have been the sky and the colours that struck me so deeply and what I remember most is that wish to hold the image and share it with others.
So even as I was developing my voice, learning songs and singing in public, I maintained that joy in the visual. I chose to study film in university not only because my opinions about music were rock solid and I didn’t want to hear any more about it please, but because I felt I would be inspired and learn a lot about photography and video.
My first summer jobs were photo related, printing photos of jazz musicians on rich Agfa fibre-based paper in a small home darkroom, making a video on chunky 3/4” tape for the community outreach program to encourage women from the neighbouring ghetto to try university, then a series of photography related day jobs followed. Slopping around with darkroom chemicals, working big photo printing machines under fluorescent lights in a mall, retouching student photos with a brush and photo inks, assisting photographers in a big glamorous studio space, and finally, working in one of the first stock footage libraries in Canada where I learned first-hand that one artist’s trash may be another’s treasure.
It was clear that the digital revolution would cause many of these jobs to evaporate and thankfully also many of the health risks. As I ditched day jobs for self-employment, juggling night club gigs with sporadic small jobs for other freelancers, I also upgraded my digital skills regularly. Thankfully I have always been unafraid of machines and enjoyed adapting. Sky high rents in Toronto drove me and Michel out of the city as we could vagabond through France for far less money and we sought new inspiration. And when we’d exhausted our resources there we landed back in Canada, settling in Montreal with its music and arts scene and luxuriously inexpensive apartments back in the day.
The night club gigs had nearly all dried up and I found myself more interested with taking new technology into artistic places. I would spend hours at a time developing web art projects and they were included in new media exhibitions all over the world. It was, however, a labour of love, and as the first of my two children danced around underfoot I could no longer spend full days dedicated to tackling ever-changing computer code. I needed to be able to do something that could fit around our erratic new schedule (see Jazz as a parenting style).
It was around the time that istockphoto came into being and I decided to sell photos online. I would just keep my camera with me as I continued my daily life, stopping to snap a photo of the perfect apple during an outing with my son’s daycare, or taking that one moment to snap a lovely salad before digging in to eat it. In the dark of winter here in Quebec working on luminous, colourful photos while my kids were sleeping was a great way to unwind after dashing through the snow or performing children’s music in the afternoons.
And so it is that we adapt. It’s amazing how many zoos and gardens and parks we visit when our children are small, and all of these environments offered me opportunities to take photos of plants, animals, landscapes. And in any anxious freelance moment I could head to my desk to work and upload and organize my photos and videos for sale. These days I sell primarily through Shutterstock and a handful of other photo agencies. Here’s my portfolio.
I do confess, it doesn’t bring in as much money as many other things. I never seem to upload the thousands of photos I store on my hard drive but there is happiness in knowing I could. And while the sales may be small they are steady, continuing even as I neglect them for years at a time. A super melty cheese fondue image also doesn’t age badly, and so it remains my top seller year after year, all over the world. A piece of sea coral my mother picked up on a beach holiday is then used as the logo for a conservation organization in the same area. I am happy to see my photo from a tamale festival now being used in their promotional materials. Because those tamales were so, so good and deserved the recognition.
And so I work to balance life and art, juggling time and effort, parenting and artmaking. I don’t always get it right, but at least I am enjoying myself greatly while doing it. And when I cook something new, not only do we get to eat it but the photo can be sold worldwide. When I discover the perfect nutmeg fresh from the tree during an artist residency outside of Kuala Lumpur, I can photograph it and sell it to people who do need to illustrate their nutmeg businesses or perhaps just the health benefits of nutmeg. So the nutmeg inspires a poem, a thought, a song and a little magical bit of what some jazz musicians liked to call mailbox money.
I often encourage others to join me in selling their photos and will offer a workshop at Sur Place Media in Mile-End in Montreal beginning March 10, 2020. Join me there and I will share some of my tips and tricks, secrets and bright ideas.