Frank Vernon Hollahan interview

If you haven't read my interview with Tom Cochrane yet I highly recommend you go back and give it a read. It's interesting to compare how these two photographers separated in generation  see their craft differently.

“The camera does something to your thinking, it changes the aspect of what you see. Every day, every minute, wherever you look, you have an imaginary frame in front of your eyes, composing everything and anything.”

JB: So you’ve taken photographs for your whole life?

FH:  No, I haven’t taken pictures my whole life. When I was young I was fascinated with optics, anything you could look through, a telescope, microscope, binoculars, magnifying glasses. At the age of 12 or 13, I built a camera, which was part of a science kit. From that moment forward I knew a camera was a tool I’d eventually spend time with. So, I would play with my mother’s cameras, peering through the viewfinder, framing all kinds of objects in and around the house. I didn’t know what I was doing then, but now I understand, I was composing.

My mother’s side of the family were “artsy” people. She had two sisters, they were the ladies with the big straw hats sitting on the side of a hill or in the middle of a field with their paint brushes and an easel. Other members of the family were talented artisan woodworkers. So when I discovered this about my family, I felt art was my calling.  

JB: What got you back into painting or photography?

FH: It was a craving. The creative juices were flowing and all I wanted to do was compose. I don’t paint much anymore so photography is, and will continue to be, my artistic outlet. When I head out with camera gear in hand and find a composition, everything becomes spiritual, “solitary artist”, so to speak It’s an amazing feeling to apply your own style in order to craft an image that you’ve envisioned. If I return home without a composition, that’s okay, as long as I hear the click of the camera and have fun at the same time.

JB:who is it that inspires you and why?

FH: Well, there’s a couple photographers I used to follow. I became a member of a website “”, in 05 and met a couple people there from Scotland and Ireland. There’s this one gentleman in particular, who produced fine art photography and I really admired his work. Everybody’s doing something different. The key isn’t to copy someone's work, but rather use other people’s work as inspiration. If you allow yourself to become inspired, your own style will slowly follow. Do the best you can with what you’ve got and learn from your own mistakes. So practise, practise, practise, and stay humble! And last but not least, it helps to give yourself some time before your post-processing work begins, that way you’ll become less of a critic!

JB: Is that a rule that you follow? I used to edit my photos constantly but then I read somewhere that it’s good to wait a few months before looking at them. I find it helps me be more objective in editing.

FH: I like to give myself a significant amount of time between capturing an image and finalizing the post processing, just so the image becomes new again with a fresh start. I have files at home that I haven’t been processed yet and they’ve been sitting there for months or in some cases, a year.

“The key isn’t to copy someone's work, the key is to use it as inspiration, develop your own niche and your own style."

JB: do you print your photos a lot?

FH: yeah, for me, printing is the last and final process. It’s a lot of fun. Going online or seeing it on a website is fine, it’s a good way for people to view your work. But when you print, you see the fruits of your labor come to life.

I did an exhibition in Alberta in ‘09, which was a lot of fun. It was an art gallery that was newly open. At the time, I was fortunate enough to have met an artist from Russia who has done exhibitions in Russia, Malaysia, US and Canada. She was a painter and wanted a photographer whose work closely related to the subjects she painted. The theme would be “Fire and Ice”. Her sunset/sunrise paintings would represent fire and my iceberg images would represent ice. I received the invitation via email to ask if I would be interested in joining her as a duo artist for the grand opening. Unfortunately, I was late opening the email and missed the deadline. It wasn’t long after when I was invited again by the same gallery to do a second exhibition. It was a great experience and I even thought about doing one here in Corner Brook.

JB: Tell me about your workflow for creating images.

FH: I prefer to keep my images as natural looking as possible with a twist of artist flare thrown in for good measure. I like to keep things fairly basic and don’t like to get to complicated with my workflow.

JB: What is it that brought you to Newfoundland? Were you born here?

FH: Yes, born and raised. But, like many Newfoundlanders, I was interested in exploring and working in different parts of the country. Seeing new things and meeting new people is always good for the soul. I’ve met many artists and photographers on my journey and shared a wealth of information. It was a great experience.

I was home on vacation a few years ago when I decided to stay. Newfoundland is certainly a photogenic place with compositions everywhere you look, but like anything else, ya have to be patient.

JB: let’s talk about criticism

FH: Sometimes artists can be their own worst critic. Over the years I’ve learned to use criticism to my advantage, weather it be positive or negative. Once you find your style. run with it and perfect it.

“Don’t put up any boundaries to your imagination, even if it requires you getting up at 4 in the morning and sitting in the freezing cold. Rain, Fog, snow, whatever, it’s all fun.”

JB:I saw you had a series of black and white photos of flowers and they looked like they were done in a studio

FH:That was a project I started while living in northern Alberta where landscapes are a little on the sparse side. Fairly simple, it consisted of a backdrop and natural lighting. When it came time for the post processing, I realized color was too distracting, so I decided on a B&W approach, focusing more on shades and textures.  

JB: Why do you put your photographs into the world?

FH: More and more people wanted to see my work, so what better way than an online portfolio? For the longest time I was just as happy printing and storing my images on hard drives, but to have an online portfolio was a presentation that I was experimenting with to share with family and friends.

“Art will never die because of technology. The medium may die but the desire to create art will live on.”

JB: Tell me about your iceberg photographs, you have a lot of them.

FH: I really enjoy photographing icebergs. The white of an iceberg with the surrounding light makes them such a challenging subject to photograph. I prefer to find a composition that will encompass an iceberg into the landscape and not necessarily make it the main focal point.

Icebergs are a dying breed so I feel it’s important for me to photograph them whenever I can. The one great thing about composing for icebergs is that the image that’s captured will never be captured again. They’re a “one and only.” And of course there’s a story behind all of them!

“ Landscape photographers are solitary artists. They travel by themselves, work by themselves, and most of whom I’ve spoken with, prefer it that way. And that’s the way I like it as well.”

I’ve done a few pictures around the Blow Me Down Mtns, but there’s one in particular that I’d been waiting to do for a couple years. I just needed the right conditions. That’s the great thing about landscape photography, sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t, it’s always a challenge.

JV: Do you go to the same spot multiple times?

FH: Oh yes, many times! There’s one I did in Bonavista that wasn’t the safest place to get yourself into, tripod at the edge of the cliff, a gale force wind blowing and only a 3 ft sq area to huddle around your tripod to prevent camera shake. It was a difficult spot to make an image. But, after making numerous trips over a 5 year span, I eventually got the picture I envisioned. It was a great feeling to walk away with the picture I’d been waiting for that took so long to get.

“With photography, composition is everything. If you don’t have a composition, you don’t have an image.”

You can see more of Frank's great work on his website

Tom Cochrane Interview

This is a series of Interviews I hope to be updating periodically. For these interviews I sit down and talk to artists about why they do their work and why art matters in the world. Here is my interview with Tom Cochrane.

Tom Cochrane is a photographer, collaborator, and overall awesome dude. Tom’s the kind of guy whose eyes become wide and arms start to flail in excitement when he starts talking about how awesome photography is. Tom’s probably best known for his landscape photography around Western Newfoundland, particularly Gros Morne. But it would be wrong to consider him just a landscape photographer, read the interview to learn more.

“it’s that act of sharing and trying to bring people together, that’s the core of what I do.”

JB: How did you get your start as a landscape photographer?

TC: It’s interesting that you say that because I never considered myself to be a landscape photographer. In grade 9 I had an art project that was photography based and I ended up using my dad’s old pentax k1000. It was a cool experience and I got good feedback from it. That was probably the first time that I got positive feedback from creating something outside my family.

Then at some point I got a camera for Christmas. It was a Canon point and shoot that my parents bought for me, but I remember asking for one that could be used in manual settings. I got that and used it for about a year and then I was like oh! this is super cool! I want to do more! I just loved being able to document different experiences. I learned I could document an experience and share it. That’s what it was about for me at the time, sharing. It still is a lot about sharing.

Then I moved to Toronto. I was living there for 2 years, I went to a bunch of concerts and that started this obsession with concert photography which I still love to do. I shot that which was super fun. I got some gigs writing concert reviews and publishing music photos for some magazines up there, super cool. Then I moved back to Corner Brook in 2010. That’s when I started getting involved with a classical music festival that’s based between here and Gros Morne.

I originally started working in communications and marketing at memorial university. But I also started a community news website

JB: I’ve seen that before, are you still working on it?

TC: It’s on indefinite hiatus right now.

JB: So it might be revived?

TC: It’s on an indefinite hiatus. (laughs)

You know it was definitely a project of passion for a few years. Then you move on and try to do other things. But my art practice always goes back to sharing ideas and things. While I didn't recognise Corner Brooker as an art project at the time, because I didn’t consider myself an artist at the time, it’s that act of sharing and trying to bring people together, that’s the core of what I do. I’d put the photos up on the website and give the community a chance to see itself, which I think is really important.

JB: Who is it that inspires you?

TC: I get inspired from friends, I get inspired a lot by them and the people I get to work with. I have a bunch of pals that are photographers so I would see their work and I was like that’s awesome! I want to learn how to do that! So I’d go out and figure out how to do it. Something I tell people all of the time is if you want to get better find someone that’s better than you. Emulate them or figure out how they do it. Then figure out how you can integrate that into your style, or what you like to do.

“I could go on about why I live in Newfoundland for just way too long. I think at the end of the day it just feels right, and it feels special, it feels magical.”

JB: What brought you back to Newfoundland?

TC: Just, Newfoundland’s just special. I could go on about why I live in Newfoundland for just way too long. I think at the end of the day it just feels right, and it feels special, it feels magical.

JB: I hear that a lot, there’s something special about Newfoundland.

TC: Do you hear it from people that were born here, or people from away?

JB: Mostly people born here.

TC: It’s not for everybody. I think that’s really important to recognise. Newfoundland is not for everybody. It’s not an easy place to live, you’ve gotta be stubborn as hell to live here. (laughs) The weather is just foolish sometimes.

I know a ton of other folks that aren’t from here but somehow discovered this place and have made it their second home. Coming here for a week or two is necessary for them to live for the rest of the year. There’s an energy in this place that’s real special. It’s been interesting over the past couple of years to recognise the impact that has on my work.

Last fall I went  on the road for about 4 weeks. I was in Ontario for 2 or 3 weeks and that time was meant to create, go and huddle away for a little while and create. But I couldn’t and it was brutal. Things just weren’t ticking in my brain properly. I’d try and shoot and it just wouldn’t work so I was like what’s going on? Then I came home in November and I was like oh right. It’s here, this is important to my work.

JB: What keeps you motivated to create?

TC: Definitely sharing. create share, create share, create share. you just get addicted to that process. You create because you make friends and they’re sharing and you’re just like holy fuck their work is so incredible and you want to keep up. That whole thing it creates is, it’s both good and bad. It pushes you to make content and I love that. I tell people that all the time just make as much content as you can. It’s not good in some ways because you’re just throwing tons of stuff out into the world and you’re not thinking as much about your stuff. But I think as long as you find the time to have a balance then it’s pretty cool.

“I find that really inspiring, to play a part in other people making cool stuff. I think that there’s a really important role for that, to create more cool stuff in the world.”

JB: when did you realise you wanted to photograph Gros Morne? I know you go there all the time.

TC: I live there for 4 or 5 months of the year

JB: Damn. Have you explored all of it?

TC: I haven’t done every trail but I’ve done a lot of it. I’ve been really lucky to do helicopter tours for work. Being in a helicopter you get to see a lot more. I’ve been on boats off the coast and in the backcountry. Around 2010 would've been the first summer where I was up there every weekend for probably 6 or 7 weeks. I was working for a music festival and that was really cool. That was that first kind of “ting” where I realised Gros Morne had something special.

JB: Light, nature and weather are all things that are crucial to landscape photography. Do you ever think of one being above the other? Do you enjoy one over the other?

TC: In my interpretation of those words it would be light. That’s what drives me. Then nature just because I love working on the coast and the type of landscape is really important to me. But I’ll gun it if I think that the sunset’s gonna be real good. It’s always on my mind. What time is sunset? What’s the weather like today? Is there a chance of good light? The plan’s always churning in my head.

“If someone sees it and they like it and they want to share it with their bunch of people, and if someone with a lot more following sees it then they can share it with a ton of people and that can happen like bam bam bam. I just think that’s really cool”

JB: What’s the role of your art right now?

TC: okay, my art... It’s interesting because my art practice, or the way that I see it right now, it’s a visual thing but I also like to curate people. I like to create networks with people. I like to create collaborations. It doesn't even need to involve me, I  just want to put some people in the right place. The process of doing that, curating creation is something I really enjoy. I find that really inspiring, to play a part in other people making cool stuff. I think that there’s a really important role for that, to create more cool stuff in the world.

Also to work collaboratively. To work with someone on telling their story. If they have a story that’s great! But let’s find a ways to incorporate visual elements, or video, or sound or whatever just to turn it into a bigger thing.

There’s also something to be said about the artist’s role in responding to the world. I think the world’s pretty incredible. We’re really lucky as humans to live where we do. But it’s also real messed up, we’ve messed it up real bad. It’s part of the artist’s role to respond to that, how you respond to that is up to you. I do it by trying to inspire others very positively, others take on the more aggressive and angry approach. I think there’s room for both and I think both are necessary. Also bringing people together, that’s really important, which comes back to the positivity thing.

You can see more of Tom’s work here