A snapshot of Queen’s photographers

Photographers discuss their styles and the role of photography in the modern age

The Do it for the Grain zine opts for a minimalist design
Supplied by Kenneth Boulin
Photographs are a foundational part of the modern human experience. The media allows for cross-generational sharing of common experiences and worldly perceptions. 
In interviews with The Journal, two photographers at Queen’s discussed storytelling and their personal interest in photography. Kenneth Charlebois, M.PL. ’24, and Sean McHale, PhD ’24, have gone back to the medium’s roots by shooting on analog cameras.
With 36—or fewer—exposures per roll of film, McHale and Charlebois use their photos as a means of expressing their personal interests. 
For Charlebois, his undergraduate studies in Industrial Design have informed his eye on composition. He credits his education for developing his problem-solving skills. 
“I’m kind of just a walk-around photographer,” Charlebois said. “I’m mostly focused on photos of the built environment and our interaction with the natural environment.”
For McHale, taking an undergraduate Archeology course got him thinking about the role of photos in material culture in his locale of Manchester.  
“I was studying petroleum geology and [...] oil was something that I was really amazed with at that time,” McHale said. 
McHale said despite his potential educational goals, he often consumes critical media in the form of a photobook by Edward Burtynsky, a celebrated Canadian photographer known for his depictions of humans’ industrial footprint.
“The images [Burtynsky] makes are very beautiful. They’re also depicting—depending on what you think—not such a beautiful practice,” McHale said. 
“Cottonopolis” is McHale’s favourite collection of photos in his portfolio. The series covers changes to his home city and the evolution of landscapes.
“You have pristine fibreglass and steel, and what I would call swanky apartments in quite rundown areas. You have the canals, which in some cases are under the city,” he said. 
Ingrained in McHale’s photos—and at the forefront of his Cottonopolis series—is the tranquility within a dynamic world. The title is a nod towards Manchester’s days as a “capitalist centre of the world” in the 19th century as a cotton market hub. 
Meanwhile, Charlebois curates the Do It For The Grain zine, which is a film photography publication designed to be welcoming and inclusive. 
The zine relies on submissions from community members, receiving close to 200 per month. The zine’s submission form allows people to self-identify as part of a “priority group,” including BIPOC and LGBTQIA.
“With that, we try to create a vibe at the same time,” he explained. “The images have to flow; it is still a curated thing. We think of it as a mini exhibition of sorts.”
“Do It For The Grain” is a pun on the expression “do it for the gram,” referring to the grainy nature of photographic film. 
However, Charlebois was initially hesitant about uploading inherently physical photographs online.
“The internet just didn’t feel appropriate for sharing physical images,” he said.
So, rather than posting them to Instagram, he chose to expose local photographers’ work through a concrete medium.
McHale noted how Instagram feeds are often “highly curated”—the dozens of photos that don’t make the cut typically remain unseen. However, the beginning of McHale’s photography journey was the opposite of this: the finite number of frames on his roll of film taught him to shoot selectively.
Charlebois also said shooting on film has taught him to be more selective in his digital photography. He prefers waiting for the right moment—Henri Cartier-Bresson would approve.
“Every time you take a photo, you’re sacrificing a dollar on film and development,” Charlebois said. 
For that reason, Do It For The Grain sets prices of its workshops and zine subscription as pay-what-you-can.
Scarcity is not his only concern.
“You’re also sacrificing that moment in time in order to capture it. If you’re just hanging out with friends, you’re interrupting that moment to take the photo.”

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