(Interview by A.g. De Mesa. All photos by Siri Thompson)
Siri Thompson is a photographer based in Toronto, Canada. She constantly photographs her city in a manner inspired by her photographic heroes while putting her own unique twist. Siri also has a soft place in her heart for animals. Her photos feature a lot of imagination as seen by the layers of content in her frame but they can be easily understood. It is a mixture of mundane daily life and deceptively complex scenes.
Find out more about how she photographs and what keeps her fascinated with our interview below:
How did your photographic life started?
I think I’ve always wanted to be a photographer. When I was 9 years old I got my first camera and I’ve photographed on and off since that time. I started photography more seriously about 4 or 5 years ago and have been photographing on the streets for just over 3 years now. I’m not sure why I started street photography except that I’ve always been drawn to the photography of people like Helen Levitt, Alex Webb, Costa Manos etc. It just seemed like a natural thing to do.
What can you say about Toronto as a city? What are your favorite places in the city and why do you photograph those places?
Toronto is a fabulous city and I love it. There are so many cultures with so many unique and interesting and colourful neighborhoods. So much to investigate. In the summer the light is wonderful and there are so many people out and there’s a lot of events happening each weekend.
Recently I’ve taken to very off beat neighborhoods where there are more immigrants. I’m an immigrant as well and I feel these neighborhoods are starting to interest me more.
The one place that’s a very popular with street photographers that I really enjoy photographing is Kensington Market which is a great little area filled with unique and colorful shops, some small cobblestone type roads with an eclectic mix of people and dogs (of course). Once a month they have pedestrians Sundays where the roads are closed to traffic. On those days, there are bands playing throughout the neighborhood, art shows and a ton of other activities happening. It’s a really fun atmosphere.
I’ve also been photographing a lot at the Toronto zoo. In the winter when it’s very cold and there are hardly any people on the streets, it’s an interesting place to investigate. The light coming into the pavilions on sunny days can create some interesting effects and generally there’s a steady flow of people.
Tell us about your method of shooting? Do you wait at a spot or you wander around?
I wander around aimlessly for hours and hours. I go back and check spots that I find interesting at different times to see what the light looks like and if nothing is happening, I wander around some more. If something interesting is happening or developing at a spot, I may wait a bit and watch and take some shots. I try not to walk and shoot as generally none of those shots turn out for me. I have to be more deliberate.
In your images, you seem to have a fascination with reflections, Are you naturally attracted to those? And what do you see about them?
At first I was really interested in reflections shots as I saw some wonderful photos from other photographers. When I started in street photography, I saw a couple of reflection shots by Jack Simon that really stuck with me. One photo was taken at an airport with the plane and the steps leading up into heaven (okay the sky). The other one was the storefront window where a lady is reaching for a spray bottle. They are both so simple and so effective and I really admire those shots. I tried for more than a year to get a decent reflection shot, but all I managed was reflections of garbage, cars, dirty snow. It was very frustrating and I had almost given up on reflections. But one day, it was a spring day with nice light, I drove by this strange storefront window where there was a cat sitting in the sunlight. I pulled my car over, jumped out and ran back to the window and took 2 quick photos as a man was leaving the frame. That cat photo showed me a lot about reflections, how to use the light, how sunlight changes reflections, how things in front and behind work to merge together to form new scenes.
Now I do look for more reflections. I think of reflections as a fun way to play and blend scenes together to make something unexpected, sometimes even strange. It’s also useful, as I mentioned, I’ve been spending time at the zoo and using glass and light can really change how a particular scene looks.
You also have a lot of photographs of animals, what is your relationship with our furry friends?
I really love animals and have had dogs almost all my life. I grew up in Jamaica and along with a pack of dogs, we also had goats and a cow named Sheba. I guess that’s where my love of animals really comes from.
It’s funny because when I got into street photography, I started photographing my own dogs as practice for street. I practice framing, timing and I don’t pose my dogs at all (well, they wouldn’t listen to me anyway). It seems that many people prefer my dog photos to my actual street photos and I’m not always sure how I feel about that. However, it has led me to investigate photographing more animals. I have been visiting the zoo for about a year now, and this summer I am planning to photograph more animal events. I have been driving around looking at farms with cows, horses, sheep etc as well, looking for different settings. A couple of years ago I saw some corn fields that had hundreds of geese in the spring so I plan to look for something like that next year.
What do you shoot with? Do you prefer being stealth and blend in or do you ask permission from the people?
Last year I upgraded to the Sony A7 and I have a very old 35mm lens on it. I’m not really sure what lens it is, but it’s very old. I love my set up right now except the Sony has a very loud shutter and sometimes everyone around will turn to look at me when I take a shot.
I try to blend in when I photograph scenes but usually it’s fairly obvious to anyone looking that I’m taking photographs so it’s not really stealthy. I don’t ask permission, except occasionally with kids and only at a children’s playground or somewhere like that where I would really stick out.
Can you give a street photography tip or advice to our readers?
I wish I had some magic tip that I could use myself but there isn’t really one. Everyone is different and they have to figure out what works for them. But if I had to say something, I would say something that Alex Webb said to me. I was in the Alex Webb/Rebecca Norris Webb workshop last year and had my one on one talk with them. I showed Alex a bunch of photos I had taken for my dog racing series and he wasn’t too impressed. He said “Just take interesting pictures.” It can seem like the most obvious thing but really it’s not. Now I really try to take interesting photos, but like everyone else, it’s hard work and most days are frustrating. But when I get one decent shot, it makes everything worthwhile.
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