Monday, December 10, 2012


Everything I know about photography, I learned from Ivaan.  When he was photographing someone's wedding, he'd usually drag me along. I'd be responsible for doing the "bread and butter shots" - the groups of bridesmaids, the groomsmen, the in-laws, the outlaws (yes, there were often some of those at the weddings we photographed), the cake, the groom dancing with his mother - and I'd be totally exhausted, whereupon Ivaan, who had been taking it easy till then, would step up and effortlessly take the one perfect, heartstopping shot - the one that always appeared on the Thank You cards. Grrrrr.

And what does this photo have to do with wedding photography, you may ask?  It's an example of Rule Number One at the Ivaan Kotulsky School of Photography.   That rule is, get up as close as you can to the action.  Zoom right in.  You're probably looking through the lens at the pores on someone's face at this point.  Now, back up, slowly.  Zoom out a tiny bit.  Repeat, until you have the optimal composition.  Never start far away and simply zoom in, or come closer, because from back there, you can't see what the picture is all
about.  You can only see what the photo is about when you start from much too close.

My first independent photo gig, in 1989, was, unfortunately, Ivaan's mother's funeral. Believe me, I did not know I'd be in charge of photography.  When we arrived at the Cathedral, he simply handed me his camera and said, "You're doing the photography.  Just don't take any photos from up front where the Priest is standing."  I was horrified, partly because I didn't actually know people photographed funerals, partly because I didn't know whether this was permitted in the Cathedral, but as it was clearly important to Ivaan, I thought I'd just do the best I could. I survived, and I learned an important lesson in the process:  funeral photography is much easier than wedding photography. The "guest of honour" isn't moving, and you don't need to worry about getting people to smile in a natural way.

Ivaan had a line he used when he saw someone timidly taking a photograph from too far away. He'd say to them, "Back up a little more, why don't you? That way you'll be able to fit Asia into the picture as well."

There was one occasion I recall, in the late 1980s, when Ivaan really needed to be far away when taking a picture.  Ukraine was escaping from Soviet control and heading towards independence.  Correspondence between his mother and the Ukrainian relatives was no longer taking place in secret.  She asked Ivaan to take a photo of her standing smiling in her kitchen, holding the refrigerator door open, to send to the family back in Ukraine. She wanted it to be a really impressive shot.  So please, she told him, make sure you get both the stove AND the fridge in the picture.

So that was one occasion when Ivaan was obliged to take a photo from far back, with a wide angle lens.

The photo above shows Day One of the construction of The Subterranean Spa Room. I took the photo from as far back as I possibly could without actually leaving the building.  Perhaps you can't see the fridge and the stove (because Atelier Ivaan does not actually have a fridge and stove - or a kitchen, for that matter) but you can see, in the far corners, our new water heater and furnace.

And in between them, in the farthest distance, you can probably see Asia.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Angus and Ivor

Yesterday morning, I received an email from our 22-year-old nephew Angus, who lives in Kingston.  Angus is one of those rare people who does an astonishing number of things extremely well.  At eleven, he was a violinist with the Sault Symphony Orchestra.  He is a bagpiper and a trumpeter, a commercial pilot, a graduate of Algonquin College in Aviation Management. He was a member of the musical group The Tangible Ears, the Garrison Band, he currently performs with the Queen's University marching band, he is an instructor at an Air Cadet squadron in Kingston and has spent several summers as a member of the Fort Henry Guard.  Another thing he does well is wear Ivaan's favourite items of clothing.  They shared a lot, including a shoe size, and Angus has inherited Ivaan's beloved sheepskin bomber jacket and his black leather jacket with Ivaan's signature in red chenille lettering on the back, both of which he wears with pride and considerable panache.  He is a mentor to his 14 year old brother, Ivor, no slouch himself in the accomplishments department, who is among other things an accomplished violinist at Canta Arya School For Strings, an Air Cadet, and Vice President and Tech Support at Atelier Ivaan.

Here's an excerpt from Angus' email, reminiscing about his close relationship with "Avunculus", the Latin word for Uncle, which was Ivaan's nickname:

"Today I was fondly remembering all of the great times I shared with you and Avunc.  Whether it was eating at Le Commensal, or setting off fireworks, giving him the Doctor Death foot massage, or just hanging out at the studio, I cherish all the moments we shared.  He was, and will forever be the cool uncle I was always talking to my friends about.  I miss him terribly."

It might have been a difficult day yesterday, marking another year without Ivaan, but every time I felt gloomy, I went to the computer, reread Angus' email and was instantly cheered up.  Did I mention that Angus is also a fine writer?  Well, I guess you can sense that already.

I don't think I can say it better than Angus said it, but Ivaan, we remember you with warmest love and miss you more than we can say.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


On December 6, 7, 8 and 9,  in loving tribute to Ivaan, ATELIER IVAAN will be marking the fourth anniversary of his having left the planet by offering 20 % off all Ivaan's jewellery to registered Organ and Tissue donors.

Earlier this week, I attended the Trillium Gift of Life Network's Donor Medal event at the Palais Royale in Toronto, where I made a speech to an audience of Donor Families about being a hero.  I was thrilled to be presented with a Donor Medal engraved with Ivaan's name, in honour of his having been a donor.  It was a proud moment to be among so many wonderful donor families and staff of Trillium Gift of Life Network.  These people are indeed heroes to me.  Another of my heroes also spoke at the event.  Her name is Jennifer M.  She's a beautiful, vibrant lady, who was accompanied by her two charming and handsome sons.  Jennifer is the recent recipient of a donated heart.  Every time a potential recipient agrees to undergo transplant surgery, they become a hero: it's always a risky surgical procedure and even if it's a complete success, recipients face a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs  and constant monitoring. Seriously, it takes  huge courage to agree to undergo an organ transplant.  But every time someone does, they improve the odds of the next transplant recipient surviving, because the surgical team's expertise increases with every procedure.  Successful recipients also raise the public profile of organ and tissue donation - something Ontario desperately needs, as our number of registered donors is shamefully low.

If you'd like to acquire some of Ivaan's beautiful jewellery and you don't live in Ontario, we'll happily honour the 20% discount. If you live in Ontario but you're not already a registered donor, you you can register online in advance at or bring along your Province of Ontario Health Card from December 6th to 9th and we'll help you to sign up on the spot.

And, hey, ask to see Ivaan's Donor Medal. It will be proudly on display.  I'll even post a photo of it...when I figure out how to take a good picture of something so shiny.

Ivaan, this week and every week, you are loved and missed more than I can say.   Not only are you Canada's National Treasure, you are my personal hero.