All images by Curtis.
“My favourite images are often created on the edge of discomfort.”
OFFBEAT recently had a chance to catch up with OFFBEAT Contributor, Curtis Jones. Always entertaining and inspiring, Curtis fills us in on his relationship with photography, his tips for beginners, overcoming challenges, how to get out of creative ruts, and more!
What are some tips that you would give to a beginner photographer?
Be patient, take chances, believe in yourself, and don’t get hung up on the bigger picture too early on. Remember to find the joy in what you are doing.
What kind of photography do you specialize in?
I specialize in outdoor photography, I guess. What I mean by that is whether it is a portrait, wildlife, landscape or commercial work, the common element seems to be the great outdoors. More specifically, I like remote places and adventurous souls. My favourite images are often created on the edge of discomfort. Sometimes that’s capturing the raw fury of a North Atlantic storm, others, the ear to ear grin on a friend’s face as they push themselves past preconceived limits.
What does being OFFBEAT mean to you?
OFFBEAT is at the core of what I value most in photography. And that is shared enthusiasm for creative play, growth, and the willingness to give yourself a chance. It’s difficult to describe and best shown. If you see a crew of OFFBEAT people travelling and shooting together you know right away that it’s an all for one and one for all sort of party. Just good, supportive, creative people making the most of every opportunity to get out and explore.
How do you get out of a creative rut?
It’s not always easy and I think the method changes from rut to rut, but I am a big believer in having a frank discussion with myself about where my hang up is and then giving myself space or time to work through that hurdle without too much self-judgment. Once that’s done I put my head down and make a conscious decision to put in the work. Knowing that it can only get better each day I decide to show up.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
Believe it or not, this might be the toughest question of the bunch. I really don’t know. I’d like to say that I’d still be a creative, I love entertaining, storytelling, teaching. I would hope to still be doing something that allows me to chase those core elements. Something that gets me outside as much as possible. Travel would still be high on my list. International Circus Performer or Super Hero sidekick?
Anything in your gear kit that might surprise people? Why do you include it?
It’s not a piece of photography kit, but I take it everywhere now. It’s a set of tweezers. After a most unfortunate encounter with a cactus in Nevada last year, and no way of removing dozens of needles, I can’t imagine not having it. That’s a bit of a joke, but I do carry a small first aid/survival kit with me always. Anyone that knows me or has followed my YouTube channel is maybe not that surprised, but I am often head-over-heels or one step away from injury. This basic kit has most things I need to get me, or those I travel with, out of most minor tumbles.
Is there something you always ask yourself or think about just as you’re pressing the shutter?
I don’t think it’s every time, but I do try to take a moment before committing to a shot to appreciate the scene. I feel like digital photography has made most things much easier but it has also contributed to a decrease in intentional shooting. For me, the potential to take an unlimited number of shots can sometimes create an anxiety that compels me to bounce from composition to composition. Hoping to capture everything instead of trying to capture the one thing that really speaks to me about a place.
Can you describe the moment when you felt that photography was calling to you?
I think it whispered for quite a while before it really started calling. I was living and working in Northern Canada and looking for a creative outlet. Spending so much time outside in a such a uniquely beautiful place it was natural to want to document and share the place with others. It wasn’t until after my first expedition to Greenland that photography was blaring at me. I wasn’t sure on the how, but I was certain I wanted to be a fulltime photographer and storyteller.
If you could take your art into a new direction, without any fear of failure or rejection, what would that look like? Why?
Such a great question, so often it is precisely that fear of failure and rejection that keeps us in the shadow of growth. I have been spending more time working with video and conceptual photography to tell stories, I feel, are too big for a single image or series of images. My passion is and always will be rooted in outdoor and landscape photography but I find myself peaking beyond the boundaries of traditional outdoor work, playing with creative concepts and ideas that are a bit more cinematic. Work that supports a narrative.
Describe a challenging situation that you overcame when shooting and what you learned from it.
I think many photographers would tell you that most of shoots provide ample opportunities for troubleshooting a challenging situation. There is always a compromise to be made and a solution to be sourced. I’ve had gear fail, weather destroy entire shoots and even a team of dogs run away with all my equipment in the Arctic. Oddly, though, the biggest challenge that comes to mind for me was an editorial shoot for a national magazine. It was early in my career, I was bursting with untested bravado and saying yes to every opportunity that came across my desk. In addition to being unprepared and inexperienced, I made the mistake of thinking my client was the subject, when in fact the client was the magazine that hired me. Long story short, I let my subject – a local business owner, dictate the creative brief, with no oversight from the magazine. This resulted in me delivering images that were exactly the opposite of what they were looking for. There was no opportunity to reshoot and unfortunately it ended on a bitter note. I was down about my chosen career after this. But I learned and I changed my approach. I now know the importance of knowing what is expected of you and how to run a shoot. How to take charge while letting your whole team, subject, or client know that their input has value – but ultimately, you are accountable for the final images.
How has photography changed your perspective on the world and on life?
Photography has given me a passport to a world so much bigger than I could have ever imagined. Maybe without a camera, I would have found a way to see the places and meet the people that I have been so fortunate to see and meet, but that’s not my story. In my story, there was a camera, and it was a catalyst towards embracing the unknown, always opening doors, and understanding every day how much I still do not yet understand.
Do you have a favourite resource/blog/podcast you to turn to?
Well I love our OFFBEAT community. It might sound cliché but I have always found the best inspiration and support in the work of friends and peers. Outside of that, I feel like I am reading or listening to a podcast or blog or YouTuber regularly these days. I wouldn’t say I have a favourite, but after doing some of the same myself, I can appreciate the work and dedication these folks put into creating content. And the content is often not related to photography. Some of my favourite talks have been given by social scientists, graphic artists, and comedians. I tend to gravitate toward content that’s informative but also inspiring.
Any cool projects, workshops or products you’ve got coming up?
I’ve got workshops coming up in Newfoundland this month (Oct 2020), as well as some scheduled for the summer of 2021 that have a handful of seats available! Come explore Gros Morne National Park and the Viking Coast of Northern Newfoundland or explore creative and conceptual portraits along the rugged shores of the Avalon Peninsula! http://www.newfoundshores.com/
Photographers should also check out this brand new offering, The Alchemist’s Library! It is a seasonal collection of tutorials from the fields of photography, costuming, retouching and set design.