How does quiet portraiture express character, mood, and chance with sustaining power? Lisa MacIntosh, a Canadian photographer who grew up in Toronto, reflects stories of encounter by focusing on the magic of understated moments. It’s endearing to notice the stains on a coffee cup, a lip bitten back, or a laugh caught in mid-eruption. Her portraits invite you to share and question the spectrum of emotions. In the simplicity of her photography, you can feel as though you truly know every person.
“I see things that someone else may completely not envision,” she says, “I am often drawn to people who need to talk to someone, need to be heard. Having that personal component to accompany my work is what makes me the photographer that I am today.” Being firmly rooted in her community plays a critical role in her visual narrative as well as in her personal life. A devotion to sharing experience and engaging community allows Lisa to capture a person’s image with an honesty that never feels distant. “I shoot and volunteer,” she states simply, “It’s a wonderful way to live.”
She is currently active throughout Toronto, having settled in the Port Credit area. Her projects seem to evolve just as naturally as meeting a new person, “I’m doing a lot of pro-bono work right now… and shooting for my show in between.” May marks an important month for Lisa MacIntosh, as she will be exhibiting at the Scotia Bank Photography Festival. In the meantime, it’s all about inspired process. “When I look back on work I did two years ago, it looks almost foreign to me. I think that who and how I shoot changes frequently. I want to keep growing as an artist and learning as I go along.”
WBM: Can you tell us about any particular moment, or a certain span of time during which you felt your direction turning towards being a photographer?
LISA: My first camera was a Polaroid–I was sixteen. I pointed that camera at anyone and anything. I shot film for a long time with a Canon AE1, which I still have and use. I jumped over to digital 8 years ago when my husband bought me my first SLR; my love for photography was reborn from that moment.
WBM: How do you find people to photograph? Is it client-based or do you pull strangers out for shots?
LISA: When I finally realized that portraits where what made my heart sing, I began looking for people to photograph. I began working on an exhibit late last year for an upcoming show and found the majority of people through Twitter. My show has since turned into a collection of portraits of local artists.
WBM: Is there anyone you hope to photograph, or any dream gigs?
LISA: There is a long list! I’m not sure that I could choose just one. I would absolutely love to photograph Gord Downie from the Tragically Hip, Neil Young and Geddy Lee from Rush. I really could go on and on, but those would be my top three–and they’re all Canadian! My dream gig would have to be a sit down with Bruce Springsteen! The one person who I always longed to photograph was Johnny Cash, a hero in my life since I was a young girl. I did just shoot Tom Wilson of Lee Harvey Osmond and Junkhouse fame last week…that was definitely a highlight for me!
WBM: Why is photography important to you?
LISA: Because it’s really an extension of me. My mom passed away last month and for the first few weeks I was immobilized. It wasn’t until I picked up my camera again last week that I started to feel whole. I don’t just take pictures…I have to.
WBM: Do you find it’s important to understand some of the history and character behind a person you are photographing?
LISA: I love to find out the story as I said earlier. I can’t tell you the number of times I have found that I have something in common with someone I’m shooting, that we have mutual friends, that there is a connection of some type. I love knowing what makes people smile, what makes them sad, what gets them engaged. It really is a big part of my photography.
WBM: Have you ever felt in love with someone you were photographing?
LISA: In love with someone’s thinking, way of life, gentleness, kindness towards others…definitely.
WBM: Something that struck me about your photography was the genuineness of the captured moment, how easily a person’s character is conveyed through a simple gesture or moment in between expressions. How do you capture these moments?
LISA: I’m not a fan of asking people to pose–it actually drives me crazy! I love to keep shooting while people are talking to me, asking questions, laughing (that’s my favourite), thinking about something. I have been told that I am a very approachable person, I think that helps when you are working with a stranger. And speaking of a stranger…they aren’t after I’m done.
WBM: Do you shoot portraits primarily in black and white or in colour? Can you tell us about why you might choose one or the other?
LISA: I’m a big, big fan of black and white photography. I find that it helps to tell a story, it draws people in. There are times when I will shoot colour and when I look at my work at the end of the day, some images just scream out for it. I recently photographed a beautiful musician named Collette Andrea. My plan was to shoot only in black and white…but the background where I was shooting and her blue eyes…well, I just had to do colour as well.