Saturday, May 08, 2010

Interview with Rob O'Hoski

I find it surprising how many people I work with in the highly technical world also have a keen interest in photography. Perhaps many, like me, wanted an outlet which allows them to use the other half of their brain.

Recently I was handed a leaflet for a photo exhibit that is on this month at "The Rex" Jazz bar in Toronto. I was very surprised to see a name I recognized. Could it be the same 'Rob' I have worked with for many years? Sure enough it is! Rob has graciously agreed to an interview about his work and the current exhibit.

Terry: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in photography?

Rob: I've always needed a creative outlet to balance my day job. I used to paint (egg tempera and then pastels), and eventually discovered photography. I was writing travel articles (still do, occasionally) and realized I could sell them a lot easier if I had photographs to accompany the text. I started shooting slides, the only thing magazines would accept way back then. At some point, I can't remember why, I decided to shoot in black and white and I fell in love with it.

Terry: What areas have you specialized in?

Rob: Until recently I shot film exclusively – slides to accompany my travel articles until about 2000, but mostly black and white figure work from 1997 until today. I work with models for portraiture and nude studies. I love, and now miss terribly, dark room work in b&w. I reluctantly, but inevitably, switched to digital about two years ago. I miss the hands-on, chemicals on my hands, craft of making a fine art b&w print in the darkroom.

Terry: What gave you the inspiration for this set of images all taken at the Rex? How did the opportunity to exhibit come about? Did you have a vision for the series from early on, or did it evolve as it progressed?

Rob: The Rex project is a departure for me – a large scale project on a topic not related to the figure. I was at the Rex enjoying Swing Shift, a big band with 19 members and a singer crammed onto the small stage and overflowing into the audience seating area, when I saw a remarkable portrait of a long-time client sitting at the bar, not even paying attention to the band. I looked around and realized there were many portraits to be found there. I approached Bob Ross, the Rex owner, and pitched my idea to celebrate the Rex in photos. He loved the idea. We approached the Queen West BIA for funding - they came through and have been great in advertising Contact and the now 11 venues they have on Queen West. My original idea was to cover the building itself, the performers, the staff and the customers. As the project evolved, I started to focus on portraits, mostly the performers, with a few key shots of staff and customers who are my friends.

Terry: How different is the final result from what you originally conceived?

Rob: As I say, I ended up with a set of portraits and ditched the shots of the building exteriors and interiors, and had to dispense with a lot of shots of staff and customers due to legal issues around photo releases.

Terry: Your exhibit features the selective colour technique. Can you describe that technique for our readers and why it appeals to you?

Rob: I used to love hand-colouring b&w shots. This exhibit uses the digital equivalent. It’s really quite simple in Photoshop. You take a colour shot, make it monochrome, and with the history brush, selectively bring back the colour in certain areas.

Terry: How did you go about about framing your prints? Picking the spot to hang? Lighting?

Rob: I’ve exhibited before, once before in Contact in the Junction area near where I live, and a couple of one-man shows. I typically pick a simple frame and mat and frame all the shots in the show the same way. I assume that buyers may reframe to suit their own decor. I had no choice over hanging location and lighting. I have the back room at the Rex, lit with incandescent lights.

Terry: Shooting in a venue like that can be challenging since it will often be very low light - what tools or techniques did you use? I was trying to avoid the gear question, but I can't resist - what is your favourite lens and body?

Rob: You’re right. Low light was a major issue. I did my first shoot last November using flash. It was too intrusive for both the performer and the audience. Thereafter I shot without flash using a high ISO rating (1600) to capture the shots. Of course the prints have a lot of grain as a result, but I came to embrace this and actually enhanced it in some of the final photos, giving a kind of painterly quality to some of them.

My lust for equipment always outstrips my budget, so while I would like to have a Nikon D300 or D90, I settled on a D40. I’m happy with it. My favourite lens, the equivalent of which I had on my EOS Elan film camera, is the Tamron 18-250mm zoom. I don’t need any other lens and it’s great.

Terry: Where do you go or what do you do for inspiration for inspiration?

Rob: My favourite place to shoot is Spain and my favourite subject, apart from location shots, is the human figure. You play light across the human form and you have infinite possibilities for expression.

Terry: What's next? Do you have another project in mind?

Rob: I think I’ll be back in the studio next, working with models.

Terry: Where can people find out more about you and your work?

Rob: I haven’t established a web presence yet, so unfortunately my work is only available at the Rex for the month of May, or by contacting me at

Thanks Rob for sharing your passion with us all. Be sure to go visit The Rex during the month of May to check out Rob's exhibit and also many of the other great exhibits that are part of the Toronto Contact photography Festival.
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