Monday, April 16, 2018

George Brown College 50x50 Exhibition

Detail from "Elaine Lloyd Robinson" by Kathryn Hollinrake. To see the whole image, please click HERE.

In September of 2017 I received an e-mail forwarded from a friend (thank-you Sonja Scharf!) who thought I may be interested in a contest George Brown College was running with the ultimate goal of mounting a portrait photography exhibit in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Ontario College System. The plan was to select 50 photographers who would be paired with 50 GBC graduates who were born outside Canada and whose livelihoods were significantly impacted by their experience at GBC. The photographers were to "tell their story through a photographic portrait." The exhibit would take place during the May 2018 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. 

I have been working on a series of environmental portraits of (creative) people in their spaces for years now, so I was excited at the prospect of GBC's finding me a new subject. However, when I was notified about my subject assignment, I have to admit I wondered about the fit. Then weirdly, as if the universe agreed, she could not be reached. Eventually the exhibit producer had to find me a new subject.

Elaine Lloyd Robinson was born in Jamaica and came to Canada as a little girl. A graduate of the Community Worker program (2007) she had wanted to participate in the 50x50 but missed the deadline to  make it onto the list. So when my first assigned subject disappeared, the path to Elaine’s participation reappeared, and I got her! If I believed that things happen for a reason I’d believe this did. We got together for a coffee and despite having vastly different backgrounds, quickly gelled over some unexpected shared experiences, including having a mutual acquaintance (another photo subject/client of mine), and being almost exactly the same age. Not only that, but to my surprise, and delight, Elaine told me she knew where she wanted to be photographed -- an unusual independent book store that had great personal significance to her -- A Different Booklist. The second she said "book store" I knew it was likely to be the perfect kind of space. And it was.

Snapshot of the corner of A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, the incubator for Elaine's newly launched business G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories.

Elaine put me in touch with Itha Sadu, co-owner of A Different Booklist, and I went to see her and what is actually much more than a book store. It is, in fact, a long-established and recently expanded -- in it's new home of just a year since it moved from the west side to the east side of Bathurst near Bloor -- cultural centre and community hub. I fell in love with its southwest corner almost instantly and snapped the picture above so I'd have a reference as I previsualized what would be the final portrait. Thanks to Elaine's long history of involvement and collaboration with Itha and A Different Booklist, Itha's response to my request to shoot there was "Anything for Elaine!"

We had to shoot at night because I needed relative darkness outside and inside, so with the deadline for shooting approaching we chose a night that worked for everyone, only to discover we'd have to wait until an event scheduled for that evening wrapped up. Even though we started a little later than I would have liked, the pressure of having to make a slightly complicated piece of photo art under a tight timeline woke me right up.

While I waited for Elaine to arrive and the tireless Itha continued with a post-event meeting, I started to set up, testing a few different chairs and some standing poses until I figured out what would work best.

This was not a pose that was working.

Elaine arrived with her make-up done, and changed into the wardrobe we'd discussed, specifically and most importantly a t-shirt promoting her newly-launched business G.H.E.T.T.O. (Getting Higher Education To Teach Others) Stories. Then just as I started to position her, a tiny eyelash-shaped disaster!  One false eyelash had sprung loose, we didn't have any glue, and it was way to late to go out searching for any. Thankfully the not-to-be-stopped Elaine managed to make it stick back on long enough to get through the shoot. I actually have a Photoshop brush preset for adding eyelashes to portraits, but it was nice not to have to use that.

The final image was to be composited from multiple, different exposures. The first and most important image to capture was Elaine. I knew ahead of time that I would be replacing the part of the background in which the light stand appeared, and I actually thought I might leave in the flash head for a little extra drama and flare. Unfortunately I later changed my mind, so I had the additional job of digitally fixing (ie. removing) the flare and the resulting colour shift created by that direct-into-the-camera light.

Exposure just for the Elaine portion of the final image.

The second shot was Elaine in exactly the same position but lit differently, purely to provide small bits of colour and detail, on her, where they didn't appear in the primary shot. It's worth noting that nothing about the pose was left to chance. I literally placed Elaine's hands and feet where I wanted them to be, and she held perfectly still for two consecutive exposures. 
Above Left and Right: the second exposure. Left, as shot, and Right, as adjusted in processing.

In reality, since I knew I was going to have to digitally remove the background from Elaine's frames in order to replace them with bits and pieces from the  frames specifically shot for the background, I should have sucked it up and brought a couple of extra stands and a seamless paper backdrop to put behind her:

What I should have done.

It would have made the close-cutting way, way easier. Once Elaine's shots were done, she stepped out and the subsequent exposures were all about the background.

This frame gave me my favourite capture for the window.

The final composition was constructed from nine different exposures, processed up to three different ways each, with specific details from each frame cut out, added layer upon layer, and adjusted as I saw fit.

One frame adjusted and processed three different ways.

One section of the image built up with the addition of layers and adjustments.
Left: Exposure for the background. Middle: exposure just for the lamp. Right: Background and lamp exposures combined.

The whole shoot took less than two hours (less time than the post-production). Two high energy entrepreneurs, Itha had visitors even after we started to shoot, and Elaine was making phone videos for social media right up until I had all my gear packed and ready to go.

By the time you read this Elaine's business will have officially launched in April 2018. Check her out: Click here to watch her interview.

I wish her all the best! I'm so grateful to have had the chance to meet such a fascinating, and enthusiastic subject with such an inspiring story, and such a cool place to shoot, and I'm so honoured to be able to contribute to the sharing of her story. Thanks to GBC and everyone who worked so hard on this project!

Please check out the exhibit between May 1 and May 31, 2018 in the main lobby of GBC's waterfront campus at 51 Dockside, Toronto. Opening May 10, 2018.

You can reach me at
And see my work at
I'd love to help tell your story!

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