Sean Trostem

PRAIRIE RANGER PHOTOGRAPHY

Written by Andrea Johannson
Photography by Sean Trostem

Sean-Trostem,-Photography-by-Callista-Gemmell

Sean Trostem, Photography by Callista Gemmell

On a rainy July evening, Peace Region photographer Sean Trostem and Art of the Peace (AOTP) met at a local coffee house for the first of two face-to-face interviews. This led to multiple texts and an e-mail question and answer follow-up. During the course of all of this communication, it became clear what a committed, enthusiastic, and generous artist Sean is. From fashion shots to commercial events, and very much everything in between, Sean’s technical aptitude drives the boundaries of commercial photography to innovative and compelling heights. He is quickly building a reputation as a fine art photographer as well. Through his dramatic use of light, Sean’s evocative imagery reveals an emotional edge and captures the moment in time which best conveys his sublime and sensitive narrative style.

Sean is a very busy artist, teacher, administrator, and family man. He is also owner of Prairie Ranger Photography in Grande Prairie. Thus, his time is sacred. AOTP is grateful to Sean for very kindly bestowing his thoughts and experiences upon us. What follows is a snapshot of our conversation.

AOTP: Sean, please tell us when and how you became interested in photography.

ST: I got my first camera at 14 from my dad. Growing up in Calgary, there was a lot of wildlife, landscape, and friends around and consequently a lot of opportunities to practice picture taking. I was never part of a camera club but I took art classes (2D and 3D) throughout high school. I always liked drawing, painting, and leather-work. Coming out of school (1992) I wanted to pursue fashion photography and go to Art College, but the downturn in the economy quashed that.

Untitled,-The-Red-Project

Untitled, The Red Project, Sean Trostem

My second favourite pastime was being outdoors so I studied Forestry. I broke from photography when I went to college and established a career, but I really missed it. Eight years ago I decided to get back into taking photos, but now it was all digital.

I work full-time for the Government of Alberta. I keep the day job really separate from my photo business. The practical side of me will keep this job since I have a family of three boys.

AOTP: How did the name Prairie Ranger come into being?

ST: Because I grew up in the prairies and southern Alberta I felt the strong cowboy influence. I always related to the west, Texas Rangers, their badges and gear. Also my great grandparents worked on some of the biggest ranches in the west. And I used to be a forest ranger.

Prairie Ranger Photography was started in 2007.

AOTP: It sounds like you are one very busy man. How do you balance your commercial business with your art photography?

Home

Home, Sean Trostem

ST: I shoot weddings, families, rodeos, concerts; I like the mixture. It keeps it fun and challenging and it’s a way to fund my art. In the past year I’ve been moving more towards commercial events. It’s a better fit for me, a little more free-flowing. That allows me more time to do more artwork. I do a lot of female portraiture, boudoir and glamour shots. Women who have seen my work want to be portrayed in that beautiful, confident way. I try to separate the fine art ideas from the glamour shots as much as possible. In the fine art shots, you’re dealing with a nude body but in a non-sexualized way. It’s there to tell a story or be tied into a story. In the past year I’ve brought in an apprentice and that has really helped reduce the pressure.

AOTP: You sound like a process-oriented person. Tell us how you cultivate your concepts. How do you build an idea?

ST: I tend to work more in series or projects. It’s a long process for me and I tend to shoot for hours but it’s my therapy, and a way to express my feelings. I’ll start with the concept. I might story board because I tend to forget some ideas, whether it’s a certain look, a position, a shot list or a scenario. I start shooting the concept, building on it, making it mine. When I get to the end of a project I’m hitting my stride. I know I’m finished when there is no more left to tell. Series are sometimes deadline-driven and always satisfaction-driven.

AOTP: After you got back into photography, what were the pivotal moments that you felt advanced your career?

ST: Meeting Candice Popik. After I showed her some of my work, she let me join her for test shots and to be a second shoot at weddings and events. This helped build my skill set. She also helped me with editing since the whole Photoshop thing was new to me.

Heart-+-Soul

Heart + Soul, Sean Trostem

Another local photographer, Al Gervais, encouraged my interest in lighting. I dove in deep. I became obsessed with everything from speed lights to studio strobes and every light modifier I could get my hands on. I read and watched various tutorials and did a lot of test shots to hone this new skill. It was what helped develop the look I do now for my fine art studio work.

AOTP: Let’s talk about The Red Project, your first solo exhibition, at the Centre for Creative Arts. How exciting was that?

ST: It took me 14 months to get ready for The Red Project. There were 30 large pieces exhibited. I wanted to see what I could push myself to do, so you could say it was nerve-wracking. I won’t reveal anything until I think it’s just right. The Centre for Creative Arts has always been a very positive environment for me. The staff is very helpful and knowledgeable, and I meet a lot of artists there. Dan Arberry answered all my questions about setting up the show, and allayed any fears. And I made my first sale of an art piece. Now that was exciting!

The AGGP (Art Gallery of Grande Prairie) was also a high point of my art photography ‘coming out.’ I got so much positive feedback from artists and patrons about the piece I donated to the Silent Auction 2015. It was so encouraging.

AOTP: What are you working on now?

ST: The working title is Baring Souls. I built on the idea of relating the nude body to a landscape so it becomes part of the setting through line and shape. How I look at landscapes now is ‘How can I fit a person in here?’ ‘How can I tell a story?’ It’s taken many years to develop the skills required to produce these final images. There’s a fair amount of post work in it which I don’t usually do because I’d rather be out taking pictures, instead of being on computer doing Photoshop. It’s my main project this year and I started it 3 years ago. That’s what’s speaking to me now and fuelling my interest. I print the finished product on metal. This has a fantastic look, especially the black and white work. It has a beautiful shimmer to it, a little more 3 dimensionality. I’ve been looking for venues to perhaps launch a one night gala, but I don’t have all the pieces ready yet. Baring Souls is an ongoing project and sometimes I don’t think it will ever end.

AOTP: Some photographers seem to be gravitating back to using black and white film. Tell us why you are using these ‘old school’ tools.

Anonymous

Anonymous, Sean Trostem

I’m going through a black and white phase. Digital photography does not give the same effect as film, that is, the richness of tone. The effect just can’t be replicated digitally. What’s missing is a grain, a grittiness, a tone that doesn’t come through with digital. A couple of years ago I bought back into film cameras (a 35mm Canon) and six to eight months ago I bought a medium format camera. Anything I shoot in film now is always black and white.

AOTP: What are your thoughts on Photoshop?

ST: I’m experienced in both film and Photoshop but I’m not a darkroom person. Photo manipulation has always been around. It really is just another tool. Like a film-based photo, you still need the skill to do digital well. One project I’m working on depends very much on manipulation because that’s the only way I can get that look for what I need. For my other fine art work it’s not that prevalent. I’m there to capture the scene as is. Photoshop is a valuable tool in the tool box but if you don’t get the basic picture right, you don’t get the picture right.

AOTP: Who would you say your influences have been?

ST: I look at a lot of books and magazines about fashion photographers of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton. Not only did they do fashion but they shot in such an artful way. Russel James has got that good mix. He’s been a photographer for Victoria’s Secret for ten years. He also does fine art photography. I follow his work and his use of light, subject matter, and landscapes. A lot of this work is in black and white. Peter Colson is another fashion/art photographer I’m influenced by. He uses black and white film as well. I’d love to go to one of his workshops (preferably in Australia, where he is based).

Moon-Goddess

Moon Goddess, Sean Trostem

Because I’m a visual person I’m drawn to a site called 500px. It’s predominately European where beauty is an everyday thing, not North American conservatism. And there’s amazingly beautiful work coming out of the former Eastern Bloc. It’s inspiring to see those pieces.

Also, many of the artists I’ve met at The Centre for Creative Arts have increased my depth of knowledge. They have recommended that I look at other media, paintings or drawings, and how other artists deal with remarkable light. My studio work deals with a lot of dramatic lighting, but I like natural light too. I can appreciate how one shot can be lit in two ways.

AOTP: Two of your former students revealed that you know a lot about technical workings and different ways of shooting. What philosophies do you want to instill in your students? Is there a quote that resonates with you?

ST: “Emulate, Imitate, Innovate” (quote by Don Giannatti). Emulate one or several photographers; imitate how they light or shoot; innovate by taking what you have learned and finding a way to make it your own.

I teach intro photography at the Centre [for Creative Arts]. I teach people how to get off the automatic settings and get into a creative zone, to start making decisions so they can be more artistic. If you teach people about process they’ll become more resourceful and courageous about equipment and ideas. The thought process is the greatest thing you can learn.

I also like to promote the ‘happy accident.’ Not everything is about success; you can learn just as much from failure and figuring out how and why something went wrong.

AOTP: What would we find in your kit-bag?

ST: I don’t obsess too much about gear. A camera is just a box that captures light. It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have, you still have to understand light. As George Eastman said, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all know light. Know it for all you are worth and you will know the key to photography.” I have all the tools to produce the work I want.

AOTP: How do you promote yourself?

The-Light-vs.-The-Dark

The Light vs. The Dark, Sean Trostem

ST: I enter shows and contests. I still need more confidence though. It’s challenging to find a gallery to support photography but I realize that it takes time to build a reputation. I’m very involved in the community and try to be in the right place at the right time. I really do a lot of networking and I have a strong presence on social media.

AOTP: What would you say is your favourite photo session?

ST: My favourite photo session would have to be anytime I get to work with my team and we do something creative. It’s a fun collaboration and we always manage to top ourselves. My current team is Carly Kennedy (makeup and sometimes hair stylist), Ange Simpson (hairstylist) and my assistants are Christina McMulen, Callista Gemmell, and Maj Jose.

Which of my photographs is my favourite? “The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” (quote by Imogen Cunningham).

AOTP: If you could do a shoot anywhere in the world, where would that be?

ST: The medieval ruins in Ani, eastern Turkey. From the amazing history of the place to the exotic remnants of its churches, that area would make a dream site. I can see shooting landscape and architecture with models and wardrobe to produce some stunning fine art nudes.

AOTP: Can you name someone you would like to photograph?

Connor-Trostem

Connor Trostem

ST: I’m really torn on this one. I don’t think it would be an ‘A-list’ celebrity. I would likely go with one of the top models, like Candice Swanepoel, so I could work with her at the site in Turkey to photograph and create amazing art.

AOTP: Where do you see yourself in the future?

ST: I’d like to be doing what I’m doing now only more of it. I’d like to be recognized and make my living as an art photographer creating work of merit and integrity. My future also rests with my boys. I pass my retired equipment on to my sons and this reminds me of what my father did for me many years ago.


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