James Ellis is a photographer in Toronto. Self-taught and with a background in engineering and design, Ellis is continually producing great work across portraiture, street, documentary and snapshot. We reached out to Ellis to feature him on our blog because his photography does a very good job of portraying the city as a lived experienced. His work is honest, expressive, social and tells a story.
See more of James’ work here
TUPF: How has your background in engineering and design impacted your photography?
JE: Going to school for engineering and working in the field has had a huge impact on the way I take photos and look at the world in general. The hundreds of hours I’ve spent on the computer or with a pencil and ruler drafting has given me the ability to notice the little details in things most people gloss over. Things like lines, curves, shapes, and their relationship with everything else in nature.
Engineering is all about problem solving so I sometimes find myself using that kind of approach when it comes to learning and improving. I spend a lot of time looking at photos and thinking about what underlying elements make a photo special or what makes it art. I try to keep those ideas in mind the next time holding a camera.
TUPF: Are you pursuing photography as your career? What type of photography do you want to focus on commercially?
JE: I have been perusing photography as a career since January 2013 and it’s been a fun ride so far. I have learned so much the last year and I’m very excited to see what’s in store for 2014. Right now I specialize in documentary, editorial, and portrait photography. In the future I want to get more into fashion and video.
TUPF: What are your thoughts about the Toronto photography scene?
JE: I don’t really think there is a photography scene here just yet. I know of a few other photographers but we don’t really hang out or discuss ideas or projects – we kind of just do our own thing. I feel like right now the city is going through a renaissance period where the arts starting to be appreciated and a lot of great artists are emerging. I think this is a great time to be doing something creative in the city.
TUPF: In your experience, which photos of yours do people respond best to?
JE: That’s a hard question and one I think about a lot. I think people respond to my photos differently simply based on who they are and their background. I get a lot of positive feedback for portraits of individuals but what sells the most are photos of landscapes or cityscapes, basically things that have nothing to do with people.
TUPF: Is there something about Toronto as an experience that you have learnt through photography?
JE: I’ve noticed that people in this city rarely leave their own block. I can usually tell where someone is from after talking to them for a bit. Every part of the city has its own unique vibe and you notice it more in some places than others. The people who live around Yorkdale look and talk one way while people in the beaches look and talk another. It’s a great thing and makes me appreciate how unique this city really is.
TUPF: What are you up to with Universal Music?
JE: I can’t really go into too many details but basically I’m taking some press photos for one of their artists. I have always been interested in the music biz so getting the chance to see how things work up close has been great.
TUPF: What was your experience like working with Vice?
JE: Getting to travel and shoot for Vice was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in photography. I’ve always loved vice documentaries so getting the chance to actually be part of a story is something I’ll never forget.
The story was about a fur auction in North Bay and from the morning I left Toronto to the time we got to the auction house was so afraid that my camera wasn’t going to work or that my battery would die. When we got there the writer Dave Dean asked the questions and I took the photos and I thought we made a great team. I took a very cool picture of a room full of polar bear skins but we weren’t allowed to post it in the article. It was a great experience and I’d love to do it again.