TIFA 2021 Interview with Ian Pettigrew
1st Place winner in Advertising, Professional, “Air Dogs”
Q: Tell us a bit about your background? How did you discover your love for photography?
I like to think of myself as a Graphic Designer who happens to take photos. I’ve worked in advertising for over 25 years, and that experience as an Art Director makes the difference in my work. You can learn technical skills as a photographer, but having a great eye is what really matters. I was lucky to work with many great photographers, and was mentored by some great creative minds in the Canadian ad industry. I started in advertising in the 90s, and we shot mainly on medium format film. That was quite a process to be part of, even as an art director. I became fascinated with photography, especially working with people. From there it was a matter of the journey of experimenting. Like The Helsinki Bus Station Theory, eventually you find your calling. Practice, practice and more practice and a dash of talent. By the time I thought photography could be a second career, digital was already the go-to over film. Even before advertising, as a teenager, I would be so captivated by great photographs – maybe it was a magazine cover or album cover. I would think HOW can I do this? I bought Herb Ritts’ Notorious in 1992 and I was completely hooked from there.
Q: You were awarded TIFA 2021 Advertising Photographer of the Year for your witty and fun work, Air Dogs. How did the idea for this project come about? What is the most notable memory that you lived through during this project?
Everything starts with a thought in my head, and usually at inopportune times. I try to carry around a notepad everywhere, to jot down anything and everything. Always a pencil, too. I like to physically write things down; i feel the thought is better retained. The kernel of a thought leads to the creative idea which leads to the actual execution, like the lighting, the model, the styling, etc. Thats the technical part. The hard part is still the idea.
For the Dogs, I think I saw just an image of a balloon, and I liked the pastel colours. Previous to Air Dogs, I had worked on some very serious portrait projects. After a couple of years on these I really needed something light and fun to work on. I thought, at the very least, the dogs would bring a smile to people’s faces. I actually tried to do the same with a cat, and I can say DO NOT TRY this with felines. I did also “float” a small gecko, and that looked pretty cool as well. The ultimate goal was to float a small piglet, but thats a lot harder to come by, when you live in an urban area. Once I settled on the dogs, it was a matter of how exactly I was going to put all the elements together. I wanted to make sure every single element was actually photographed – that means all the ropes, balloons, etc were all photographed separately.
All of the dogs were fun to work with. Both the dogs and the owners were excited. The one standout dog, Walter, actually had to cross the border from the US into Canada. Walter was getting a custom portrait made as a gift (Walter is the Boston terrier on the pink background). So to see someone so excited and enthused about the project, willing to drive 4 hours and cross international borders, was fun to see.
Q: What genre do you enjoy creating in the most and why?
I’ve always been more drawn to Portrait photography, and that’s been my main focus. In 2015 I started a portrait project that lead to me publishing 2 books, both were focused on adults with Cystic Fibrosis.
I have CF myself, so the project was very meaningful to me. It is a genetic disease you are born with, although I was very late in life diagnosed because I have a milder mutation. Up until just a few years ago the average lifespan was only 40 years old. So the power of photography – especially Portraits – I was able to utilise to great effect. The projects were very successful, and the impact these portraits made, not just for the people involved, but for the CF Community as a whole, was incredible. Below is link to my website where you can download PDFs of my 2 books:
Q: What does winning this award mean to you?
Winning any award is always fun. It’s validation of your work, it’s recognition from your peers. But this particular award, for this specific project – during THIS hard time period – I hope (like I said above) that it brought a smile to someone’s face and some joy in to lives, even if it was for a brief moment. We could use that right now…still.
Q: What would be your dream project in photography if there would be no budget limits and you could travel anywhere, photograph anything/anyone?
Thats such a tough one. Honest answer would be build a time machine (no budget you said) and go back and do portraits of all my personal heroes that aren’t around anymore. From James Dean to Salvador Dali to Winston Churchill. But realistically, my dream now would be to land the cover of a major magazine. Probably to be asked to photograph Time’s Person of the Year or maybe something for Rolling Stone.
Q: What would be the one advice you would give to novice photographers?
Study. Practice. Then practice more. Don’t get hung up on gear, although gear does matter to a certain extent. Study design and art especially. A bad idea is just a bad idea, no matter how well its executed. Not everyone has that innate talent for design. Maybe work with a graphic designer. And try to photograph everything, eventually you will find what you are passionate about.
Q: Are you working on something new right now? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Because of lockdown restrictions in our area its been tough the last couple of years. But luckily I live with my muse/girlfriend/model and we have been able have some fun during this time.
One project we started was working with a monochrome colour palette. So we choose one colour – maybe Yellow – and try as much as possible to make the one image where everything is yellow with her.
I have included example of what I am referring to. For my own personal growth, I’ve finally started to try my hand at product photography, so my goal for 2022 is to expand on that.