Marina Dodis lives in Vancouver, where her career in photography began with a job at a black and white printing lab. Today, she's experimenting with film, and shot a video of the making of her and Leslie Anthony's story, Showdown at Tumbler Ridge, in the January/February 2012 issue of Canadian Geographic.
Marina Dodis found herself in photography after several jobs, including a stint with Via Rail that let her explore the country and "wash dishes for 2000 kilometres." Having spent a few childhood years in Greece and traveled often with her parents, Dodis is a seasoned adventurer. She knows how to approach people of different cultures, how to capture people in their environment and when to put down her camera lens to fully experience a place.
Q You worked at a lab developing black and white photos. How did that help you learn about photography?
AYou see a lot of other people's work, which I think is essential. That's very much the same with video now. I wasn't watching enough movies, and now that I am it's amazing. I felt stimulated.
It was a black and white photography lab, the only one of its kind in Vancouver. It had a great reputation, so a lot of the top photographers were using that lab. So I got to see some of the best work of Vancouver in that lab, and I was able to learn about printing as well.
At first I was doing the contact sheets. It was a grunt job, but it was amazing to see all the images. The women I worked with were masterful printers, so I learned from them what it meant to create a beautiful black and white print, one that wasn't a commercially rendered photo that you would get at a regular lab. A lot of what we were churning out looked like Ansel Adam-ish photos. They were nice. The women I worked with were able to print with a lot of artistry. I suppose they were like an editor; they took [printing] to a different level of beauty just by some beautiful printing techniques.
Q What can photographers learn from the printing process?
AI learned a lot about light through printing. I did some printing of my own after two years there. I set up my darkroom and developed a pretty good reputation for doing good printing. I enhanced the photos I produced.
With editing, when you really know what you've shot and processing it, you're also internalizing it. Whereas if you just shoot a photo and just take it to somebody else to print, you miss that step.
One of the few things I've enjoyed about digital photography as an advantage over film is that I've now got a nice printer and can do the same thing with colour photos. I can be at home and not be in that dark room, because printing is hard work and rather tedious.
QHow did you get into architecture photography?
AI was primarily a portrait and travel photographer. Then I became interested in architecture, and I think it informed by portraiture. I don't think I realized quite as much how architectural portraits can be.
When I first started to photograph, before I got a job in the darkroom, I shot a lot of buildings as well as travel photos. I remember you could photograph these older buildings in older parts of Vancouver. A lot of them had personality. So I became interested in the idea that they seemed to have a personality like people did. I developed a language, an approach for how to photograph them. I think that stayed with me.
QWhat gives structures personality, and how do you capture that?
AI guess it's mostly the materials they're made from. We respond to different materials, like glass or steel or worn concrete, and interior forms like furniture. I was influenced by my dad's engineering background. When I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, one of the things I wanted was variety and another thing I was interested in was the technical aspect, like lighting and how it works. Not that I'm particularly good at physics and math, but I am involved in that balance between creativity and everything technical.
I think I just really like playing with the shapes of buildings within the rectangle of the frame and then how that rectangle can create dynamism by what part of the building you choose.
QYou've traveled around the world quite a bit. How does traveling influence your work?
AOne of my takes on photography is that even though I love image-taking and capturing situations, I try to keep myself grounded to the point that I'm still experiencing things. It can drop into an either/or situation, and I try to counter-act that so I'm not focused on photography to the point that I'm not noticing where I am. If I do that, if I am present with where I am and sensitive to my surroundings, it'll inform my photographs anyway.
I think sometimes I've had the experience on trips where I got overwhelmed with how visually interesting it was and got too involved with the photography. If you're not personally experiencing the place you're photographing, you're losing a vital aspect of it.
QYou shot some footage on your latest CG assignment. What can photographers learn from filming?
AI've been taking a documentary film program over the past eight months, so I'm almost halfway through. One of the driving forces is that I want to be able to document people for more than just one image and to tell their stories in a different way.
I started to just do little documentaries of trips. On a trip to India last spring, I wanted to keep playing with the idea of shooting a video and coming up with something I could cobble together. I ended up doing something on street food. It was one of my first pieces that's not about a ski or hiking trip; it had more of a theme to it. It was fun to make.
A lot of photographers are transitioning into film. I wanted to do that, because you can use much of the same gear. A lot of things are turning into video, particularly on the Web, and I wanted to be on top of that wave.
I have an advantage over some of my fellow students because I have the strongest photography background. So I understand composition and knowing how to set up a shot. But a lot of the similarities with photography start to fall off after that.
In video you have to be very rigorous and make sure you don't have any gaps. Whereas with photos, you're cherry picking scenes out of a period of time that are the most interesting. You can't do that with video; you have to have one piece work with another - in other words, shoot a lot of B-roll.