After a busy day shooting, Angela Gzowski’s shared a few details about her evocative portrait photography with me as snow lightly fell outside her home in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
Gzowski is an award-winning northern Canadian photographer, born and raised in Yellowknife. She earned a BFA in Photography from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Equally at home doing portraits in her Yellowknife studio as she is bouncing on the back of a snowmobile at -40 in Canada’s Far North, her photojournalism has taken her to Tuktoyaktuk, Pangnirtung and Iqaluit, Nunavut; as well as across the NWT and Yukon.
Her most memorable photographic experiencing was meeting John Cockney, (a fisherman) in Tuktoyaktuk. He was pulling in his fishing nets and she asked if she could photograph him while he was working. Angela said, “he was a complete stranger and I was nervous about approaching him. I eventually got a shot of him filleting a fish with my studio light set up outside, with blood all over the table he was cutting on. Not only did I love the shot, but I also really enjoyed my time with John. He was a really nice guy and we shared tea on the shore together. He showed us all the different types of fish he was pulling in and smoking. I can still smell them being smoked.” Gzowski is planning to shoot a photo essay on hunting Beluga whales with him soon.
Since she was born and raised in the North, she has always been connected to its people. “As a city, Yellowknife is a real crossroads — you meet people from all over the North here, and get a lot of exposure to the variety of cultures.” Her knowledge and history with the people have allowed her to capture photographs of intimate moments. “I just make sure to listen as much as possible, and let my subjects teach me about themselves, their culture, and what is important to them.”
One of the things that struck me about her work is her distinct portrait style, which gives her body of work a cohesive appearance. She said that “people kept pointing out that they could see an image by me and knew right away that I’d shot it. I’m still not sure how I’d define my style, but I know I pay a great deal of attention to lighting, and that my career experience has led to a lot of blending of in-studio portraiture techniques with documentary-style editorial. Some major influences were people like Irving Penn, Annie Leibovitz and Helmut Newton.”
Gzowski has been asked to photograph many prominent figures and celebrities. Her favourite portrait of a famous person she photographed was Duane Howard, an actor who was in the film The Revenant. “I was shooting for the Yellowknife Film Festival in Yellowknife and I knew I wanted a shot of him — he has such an amazing face. So I brought all my studio equipment up the movie theatre stairs and set up a mini-studio right by the arcade games in the lobby. Then I asked politely if he would let me take his portrait. He was very kind and funny. I loved what he was wearing.”
Her advice to new portrait photographers is, “If you see someone you want to photograph, just ask. The worst thing that will happen is they say no. And that’s still better than never asking and then regretting it for days afterward.”
What’s in Angela Gzowski’s Gear Bag:
My go to is a Nikon 35mm 1.4 with an ND filter.
Dynalite Road series for studio and on location with Profoto 3’ RFi Octa. Softboxes
Bodies: Nikon D810A & D800
I love using a 35mm because I have to be close to my subjects and interact with them. I hardly ever shoot portraits from afar.
To view more of her work visit: