Q&A with Toronto-based photogrrapher L.J. Petelko

Today is the official start date of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

As this year our photography exhibition is virtual, Arta Gallery director/curator Fay Athari and the Arta Team has curated a series of artist Q&A to introduce all amazing photographers that are part of our Time Lost exhibition.

We are starting with Arta Gallery's member artist L.J. Petelko who's work explores the physiology of our connectedness, self-image & time of transformation.



Why did you choose to pursue a career as a photographer?

I think I was lead to this path from many angles and I’ve been working with a camera for as long as I can remember. From coffee table books that I obsessed over, which captured my imagination as a kid, to being a product of the 80’s music video generation or the photographers in my life that inspired me.

Ultimately, I knew I was always going to be an artist for better or worse.  I identified more with the exploration of ideas, themes and collaboration. The way a musician or filmmaker might. Photography lends itself so well to this.


What is your favorite subject to photograph?

 I photograph nature and humanity but I like to find an ambiguity of feeling in both. So maybe that's my favourite subject. I love when a photograph leaves room for both beauty and struggle or sadness.

If it can contain these aspects or feelings, then I think it can sort of include us in it.


What makes the good picture stand out from the average?

It’s so subjective. I’d like to think we all feel so differently and there’s room to love so many things. I’m drawn to images that have a complexity and vulnerability about them. I find that to be a brave pursuit.

I think ultimately, if we can feel the artist coming through the image and it’s something we can feel or identify in ourselves, we’ve made a connection. That is good. Actually great!


Whose work has influenced you most? 

Speaking of bravery and vulnerability, I would absolutely say Nan Goldin changed my relationship with photography. I know it’s an obvious choice but she’s that artist for so many. As soon as I became familiar with her work, I could see there might be a space for my voice in this industry. You can absolutely see this in my early work but much less so now.

Also, Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton. They were daring, passionate and so all in. If you haven’t seen their documentaries, I highly recommend them.


What type of cameras do you shoot with?

 I work with the cameras that best suit the idea I’m working on. I currently use both a digital SLR and Medium format film camera.

My favourite was a beautiful Contax G2. Never thought I could actually  love a camera..but I could. I loaned it to a filmmaker friend a decade ago and haven’t seen it since. I still think about it all the time.



What kind of tools do you use for post-processing?

I use a lot of abstraction in my images lately. I do most of this in camera and tend to be pretty selective about light and palette but I also bring everything into Lightroom for tweaking.


What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?

Connection. When someone finds your work and is moved by it in some way. The way I’m moved by other artists. This is the magic and whats it’s all about.



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