Wayne Fisher: On Following Form
Toronto based photographer, Wayne Fisher, discusses the art of architectural photography through the use of black and white imagery.
By: Kyle Haffermann
Assisted by: Christopher Casey
All images featured have been contributed by: Wayne Fisher Photography
From powerful shots of skyscrapers to panoramas of steel bridges, architectural photography gives buildings and structures the ability to be captured in their full essence. South Africa native Wayne Fisher’s vast experience with photography began at 16 years old. While studying photography in Johannesburg, Fisher completed an internship at the Johannesburg Star, working as a photojournalist for the newspaper. This experience proved to be volatile as South Africa was in turmoil, with daily demonstrations that made being a photographer a perilous job. Having deemed the profession too dangerous, Fisher immigrated to Toronto, Canada to secure a safer future for him and his family. Having pursued an art education, he learned architectural form through sketching. This love of architecture lead him to begin capturing architectural constructions through his camera lens.
Inspired by the likes of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, black and white photography was a natural instinct for Fisher. These influences paired with his formal knowledge of photography lead him on a pursuit to capture images of the finest architecture. The photos in his extensive portfolio showcase building exteriors and landscapes across Ontario and several other locations, including stateside metropolis cities like New York. The deep blacks and bright whites in his images are as powerful as they are melancholy.
Fisher is currently represented by the Elaine Fleck Gallery in Toronto to house his photography. This, he says, has been a positive experience for him as an artist that has helped his skills grow and develop. On his website, Fisher states: “I believe I have been given the gift of being able to see images and visualize the end result.” His eye for precision and varied angling techniques make his photos stand out and allow buildings to be viewed in all of their glory — the way their architects intended them to be seen.
When did you start photography?
Photography has always been a passion of mine from a pretty young age. I started around the age of 16 years old by shooting sporting events at my high school. I would take rugby photos and develop them in my dark room back home, which was attached to my house. I primarily worked with black and white photos. I did a little bit of color as well, but that was not very easy, so I mainly relied on black and white, negative processing, and printing. This really started my love of photography and my creative process, the images appearing before me under that red light.
Are you from South Africa?
I saw that your website mentioned a past in photojournalism?
So, what happened was that I studied photography formally in South Africa. It was a three year diploma program. In my last year of study we had to choose to do what they called a co-op program. During this year I worked for a newspaper, The Johannesburg Star, in downtown Johannesburg. I worked as a photojournalist in the last six months of my study. It was hands on, going out on an assignment with photojournalists, coming back, doing the darkroom work, presenting the images to the photo editor, and then a number of the images actually appeared in publications. It was a really interesting time. South Africa in the 1990s was very volatile time prior to Nelson Mandela being president. There was a lot of demonstrating which made photojournalism at the time a very, very dangerous job. I remember going out on an assignment with the staff of photojournalists and there were at least 100,000 people strong at a march. This experience was very eye opening. To be honest, I absolutely loved being in photojournalism, but in my mind I knew that South Africa was not in the future for me. I did not want my children to have to grow up in that environment. This decision was really cemented when I was out on an assignment, I was apprehended by a few guys and that kind of helped me make up my mind that it was time to leave South Africa.
When you left Johannesburg, did you move straight to Toronto?
Yes, in 1991 I immigrated to Toronto.
What lead you to begin shooting architectural photography?
It was kind of a self conscious journey. When I came to Canada, I mostly did event photography, portraiture, commercial work, and photos for publications. That remained for about ten years. After those ten years I took a little break from photography. I have some background in art as well, having gone to art school, and I have always sketched architecture. It has always seemed to be a passion of mine. I was always sketching lines, curves, shapes, and understanding the architectural form. I believe there is a journey of self-conscious direction from those initial sketches. I believe that that was part of the journey. When I began to actually photograph architecture, I attended the 2016 Canadian Professional Photographers of Canada Conference in Calgary, Canada. This sparked my interest back into photography and I really enjoyed shooting in black and white. I just love the shadow, highlights, and contrast, so that was not difficult to stick with as I just feel there is so much more that one can see in a black and white image than in color. I continued on Instagram. My daughter who is a creative person as well, who studies at one of the design universities in Toronto called OCAD University. She is very up on social media and what have you. I had never really shown my images to anyone and she said, “You know dad, why don’t you get an Instagram account?”, and I replied, “Oh, ok. Show me how it’s done.” It is a learning curve. So, she showed me how to get onto Instagram and since then it has given me some exposure and it seems to have taken off. You know, I am not getting any younger. So why not show my images? Since then, I have been nose to the ground, two years straight on it.
Which type of architecture do you feel photographs best?
I love to photograph modern architecture with its clean lines and form, as well as contemporary architecture that incorporates natural surroundings into its almost animated design.
If you could travel to photograph any building, which would it be?
The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain is so appealing to my eye. I’m inspired by Frank Gehry and his sculptural masterpiece with its flowing forms. My fascination with shapes and folds and the way in which he creates a feel of softness in his titanium folds puts visiting his buildings on my bucket list.
What kind of camera do you use?
What is your preferred time of day to shoot?
I love sunrise, before it is up on in the horizon. It reminds me of a photograph developing before my eyes in the darkroom.
How did you and Elaine Fleck Galleries start working together?
We have an organization called Art Toronto and I put my profile on their website some time ago. Gary Rush, the art director, contacted me to come meet with Elaine Fleck. We did a portfolio review and she asked me if I would like to be in her Fine Art Catalog that she produced twice a year. I got into the catalog in 2017 and subsequently started working with Gary on post-production workflow. I started a twelve week program with Gary because I felt that it was necessary to relearn some things as the digital world is somewhat an animal to the analog world. During this time I became a member of the gallery and a represented artist in 2018. I was featured in the December 2017 group show at the Elaine Fleck Gallery, and in Spring 2018 I was in another group show, as well as a in a three man represented art show.
Would you say that you grew significantly as an artist, being a represented artist?
Totally. I really believe that no matter where you are, because I have many years of experience, it doesn’t matter, because you have to stop and start listening again. I felt that Gary reeled me back in. With the conventional style of photography, you really have to think about your image because film costs money. Every image really has to have that huge thought process. With digital, we have gone over to, “It’s no big deal, because its digital. It’s not going to cost me anything extra.” I had to get back to the conventional way of thinking. Gary was very instrumental in, you know, kicking my butt a bit and helping me get back to that thinking. Working with a gallery does not change the way I create or what I do, but it helps you create more of a story around your image. To really think, when you are taking that image, “What do I really want to convey?” There has to be a lot more to it than just catching your eye. You have to really be on your game and produce the best work possible in order to be represented. It’s a completely different level.
Looking at your portfolio, there is a noticeable transition from architectural work into folds of fabric?
Yes there is. I really believe that if you are not evolving, you are staying the same. Gary taught me to learn the rules in order to break the rules. You have to know what you are doing before you can even try to break the rules. I am very much a purist in my approach and I like things sharp, I like things defined. I have always felt that I am more of an abstract kind of photographer. I like to combine my art with my photography. I feel that it best suits me in that genre. My latest work is more experimentation and more abstract, as I love to leave a little to the imagination.
What are your influences?
An early influence of mine for sure would be Ansel Adams. I studied him in school, as well as the zone system which is a ten zoned system, 0 being black and 10 being paperwhite, and all the zones in between. He devised this system. In school we worked with these zone system filters in the darkroom to gain a certain level of contrast. Ansel Adams was a definite strong influence. I loved his deep deep blacks, his beautiful whites, and everything in between. He shot most of his images in Yosemite National Park. I believe roughly over 500 images of his were in the park. I was also influenced by Edward Weston. He used to take green peppers and photograph them. He had a beautiful tonal range. If you research Weston, you can see that it is speculated that he was a large influence on Ansel Adams. I just love the tonal range of his images as well. Those were my two strong initial influences. As far as sculptors that worked with the human form, Rodin was certainly an influence of mine. I love his famous sculpture, The Thinker. He had a beautiful flow to his sculptures, so he has been a definite influence to me. In terms of portraiture, Yousef Karsh, a Canadian born photographer has been an influence. He photographed a famous shot of Winston Churchill, one of the very few shots of Churchill in which he does not have a cigar in his mouth. Karsh removed that cigar and walked back to his camera and remotely took the photograph. Robert Mapplethorpe is another influence of mine, I loved his portraiture, form, and flowers. I also love Annie Leibovitz. These are all people that had some sort of influence in my life. In terms of architectural inspiration, Frank Gehry, the Toronto born architect. My favorite works are his famous buildings like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in California, the Guggenheim in Spain, and his buildings in New York. Just his flowing, almost modernist sculpture forms are very appealing to me.
Do you travel for your photography?
I have done a number of travels to New York, South Africa, and Europe. The architectural photos I have taken within the past two years have been primarily here in Toronto.
Do you have a preference when it comes to digital versus conventional photography?
To be honest, I was almost rebellious against the digital revolution. I transitioned late. I held onto my analog equipment very late. I really believe that they both have their advantages. You cannot replicate conventional and conventional cannot replicate digital. The softness of conventional is appealing. The thought process behind it is appealing because I think I have become lazy over the years with digital. So, I am a purist in that respect. I think my mind takes me back to the dodging and burning in the darkroom. It is not the same feel going into Photoshop or a lightroom when doing your post-production. Look, digital certainly has creative advantages in the image that you can make through some manipulation. It is hard to say which I like better. It is kind of “join or die” and I am embracing digital the more that I use it. I think it is like a romance, I think it grows with digital.
What is a key message that you would wish everyone would take away from viewing your work?
Photograph what you love, be influenced, but remain true to yourself.