A few months ago, I took home my first gold at the National Magazine Awards for a portrait of the author Charlotte Gray (seen above) shot for Cottage Life Magazine. Now for those of you who might not know me, it may have come as a surprise that I shoot for Cottage Life since it doesn’t have a very strong presence in my portfolio. The occasional image sometimes shows up but, truth be told, I have never figured out a way to successfully blend them into my portfolio. Let me explain, but first let me take you back to the wonderful year that was 2005.
Back then, I wasn’t working as a full time photographer yet. I was working a 3-day-a-week job at Ryerson University that paid well but bored me to tears. I had shot the odd job for the odd small magazine here and there but no real clients by that point. However my portrait portfolio was starting to take shape so I decided it was about time to send out my first print promo. It was a 6 panel mailer which was a mini-portfolio of quirky, sexy, and very colourful portraits of my friends. Sent it out. Very little response. I think I heard back from Dose Magazine and that’s about it. Very disheartening.
I switched jobs the following year and started working at Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art which paid a lot less but was infinitely more interesting, and still a 3-day-a-weeker! (Quick note to assistants looking to make the transition from assisting to shooting. 3-day-a-week jobs are worth their weight in gold! Especially if you can move those three days around) Suddenly, as I’m on a coffee break, I get a call. ”Oh hi Daniel, this is Vicki from Cottage Life. How are you?”. She is the associate art director at Cottage Life. I played it cool. They got my mailer. A mailer of sexy quirky colourful portraits of my friends. They were a cottaging magazine. I was confused, but pretended not to be and they gave me my first assignment. I think I did ok. Got another one. Did way better. Got my first feature. Then my first cover. Six years later I’m still shooting for them. And holy moly do I ever love shooting for them.
But here’s the thing. When I shoot for them, it’s almost like I take a little vacation from myself. Plenty of me still creeps through, but instead of desperately trying to impose my style and interests on the cottages and cottagers, it’s a time for me to retreat back to the beautiful basics like colour, composition, moments, and light. So I thought I would use this opportunity to show off an entirely different portfolio of work then the one that appears on my web site, and one that I’m amazingly proud of making. I also had a little talk with Kim Zagar, the art director and photo editor at Cottage Life Magazine, about her working methodology and her relationships with photographers.
Daniel Ehrenworth: I think we’ve been making work together now for around six years. I was amazingly surprised to hear from you guys so many years ago. I think the reason you called me was because of a promo I sent you that featured colourful and quirky portraits of my friends. Nothing that even resembled cottage imagery. So I gotta ask, why did you call me and what has kept you with me for so long?
Kim Zagar: It was the promo that caught my eye and I’m always willing to work with new photographers. Most of the time I look at photographer’s personal work to get a real sense of what they like to shoot and how it will fit into the magazine. Your work had a fresh and quirky feel. We tried you out on a one-page story and now you’re one of Cottage Life’s main shooters. We like that you always bring something unique and special to each shoot.
Daniel: Can you talk a little bit about how you match photographers with assignments? And perhaps about the creative relationship you see between yourself as the photo editor and the photographer?
Kim: My role at the magazine is art director and photo editor. Most of our features are two-day location of people in their environment. There may be some specific shots I’m looking for like cover options, but mostly I like to let the photographer tell their story through the lens. I’m always amazed at the variety of shots Daniel comes up with – a great mix of compositions and angles not to mention the number of frames he shoots!
The final edits are made when the pages are being designed. That’s when the variety is critical. Sometimes my favourite shot just doesn’t work in the layout or the overall tone of the story.
Daniel has shot a wide range of subjects for us from chip wagons to celebrities at their cottage. This past summer we had a last-minute shoot of Adam van Koeverden at his cabin in Algonquin. Daniel had exactly two hours with Adam from 8am to 10am. Not a lot of time to get shots of him around his cabin, kayaking on the water, as well as working with the changing weather conditions. It turned out to be another one of Daniel’s amazing shoots!
Other shoots require travelling long distances and organizing several people in different areas. With different locations, it can be a challenge to have the light conditions work and eventually come together visually on the pages. Daniel manages to pull it off nicely.
Daniel, how did you coax “that bunch of musicians” to get out of bed and down to a gazebo, to play on rainy morning?
Daniel: It was like herding cats with too much catnip. Thanks Kim!