The first photograph I see when I come into Dean’s studio is a portrait of a woman. It is a gripping photograph, with eyes that haunt you with a mixture of anxiety and grief. Later Dean tells me this portrait is the mother of a friend who, at the point which the picture was taken, had been fighting cancer for 12 years. “The eyes show a real strength; they also show a weariness”, Dean says. I want my photos to be able to stand on their own though, I don’t think you should have to know the story behind the person to be able to understand them.”

Dean has been working professionally as a photographer for three years. He moved into his current studio on Wyndham Street last February. “It’s much larger than my old place and it has a working studio,” he says. “Now I have real overhead. Now I have to really get serious. Right now, getting started in this space, I need to develop the commercial side of my business, to develop some steady work.” Because of this, although Dean’s first love is fine art photography, “I haven’t been focusing on that or portraiture lately, I’ve been trying to pursue the magazine and periodical side of my business.” He pulls out the August issue of Today’s Parent magazine, where there is a sepia tone photo of a sleeping child that Dean shot for an article about sleep deprivation in kids. “There’s not that much creativity, but they keep me on my toes technically.”

Sound technique is very important to Dean. “I am always looking at other photographers work, to see what I can learn from their technique, and to keep up with what other photographers are doing. Sometimes, people think that a photograph is interesting because there is a famous person in it. I sometimes look at a photograph of a famous person and think, ‘what makes this a great photograph, the technique or the famous face?’. Sometimes there’s not much there except the face.”

Dean explains the faces behind two of his portraits hanging on his studio wall. While in Germany, he photographed the painter Werner Pauli and his wife. He was in their home for about three hours. “Most of that three hours we were just talking and then, at the end, I made two exposures of each of them. I knew I had at least one good exposure of each.” When I express my surprise at this Dean replies, “Yeah, I only took two exposures of each of them, but I never could have gotten them that quickly if I hadn’t spent the majority of the time listening to them, finding out what they were like, learning how they interacted. It was clear to me, for example, that he could never have accomplished what he did without her, and I looked for a way to bring out that part of their relationship.” Other times a shoot doesn’t go anything like that. The “Kathrin/Nicholas and Sophie” photograph, for example, reproduced on Dean’s webpage, took an hour and a half of photographing and sixty exposures to get one good image. It’s a great picture though, both in its celebration of childbirth and its celebration of family.

Dean has an interesting perspective on getting children’s portraits done. “I love kids, and I love taking their pictures, but sometimes parents bring their kids in and I want to say ‘what your kids will really appreciate years down the road, is not to have a portrait of themselves, but a portrait of you.’ I have all kinds of pictures of me when I was a kid,” he explains to me, “but there is not one really good picture of my parents.” I think a lot of us could relate to that both as a daughter or son and as a parent.

Dean will be displaying his work out of his studio at 121 Wyndham Street North #108 as part of the Guelph Studio Tour October 16-18. One helpful (I hope) hint; Dean is at the very back of the building, and the building looks like it would be primarily office space. If you get the feeling that you’re probably in the wrong place, you’re probably in the right place.

Christime Stodart, September, 1998