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.

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