Angela Gzowski: Photographer of the North


Angela Gzowski is a photographer and photojournalist in the Canadian North. Her work explores the quotidian tensions of her environment.

Gzowski grew up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in a household of photographers. Her father, owner of Arctic Divers, an underwater exploration company in Yellowknife, did a lot of underwater photography, and her mother had an interest. As a result, there were always cameras lying around the house for her to use. From the time she took a high school photography course, Gzowksi has never stopped taking pictures. After high school, she studied painting and sculpture at Red Deer College and then moved on to Halifax where she majored in photography at NSCAD University.

Gzowski stayed in Halifax after graduation to work for The Coast and The Dalhousie Gazette. She took every opportunity that came her way to learn from professional photographers and colleagues. The more she worked in her field, the further she developed her own style. Gzowski uses neutral density filters with flash to get more depth of field. She uses backlight frequently when shooting on location.

She later returned to Yellowknife to work as the photo editor for Up Here magazine. Her assignments led her to travel much of Canada’s North, covering a wide variety of stories, before she opened her own business.

Growing up in Yellowknife, Gzowski had accepted her surroundings as “normal,” the way a child who is used to her surroundings would. Unexpectedly, when she returned home, she saw the northern environment with different eyes, the eyes of an outsider. Her newfound detachment enabled her to see the North as a unique place with its own culture, climate, and landscape. She became aware of the tensions that are part of life in the North, and that made a huge difference for her creatively.

One of the challenges of photographing outdoors is the need to adapt to different levels of light at different times of the year. According to Gzowski, the summer in the North is a photographer’s dream, with 24-hour daylight, but the winter offers very little natural light. Shooting on location requires a different set of skills from those she uses when working in her studio, as she cannot control many aspects of the shoot. The need to be spontaneous can be both thrilling and challenging.

Often she has to make quick decisions about whom to photograph, where, and in what light. In the studio, Gzowski enjoys the control that she has over a project. In preparation for a shoot, she researches her subject, plans the lighting and set-up, and composes the questions that she will ask. Even if text will not accompany the images, Gzowski wants her subject to relax, and she has learned the types of questions that will help to achieve that. She really cares about the people she photographs and works hard to let them know that. She describes herself as unintimidating, which has worked in her favour, as she has been admitted to places for photo shoots where others might not be able to go.

Gzowski has learned never to let an opportunity to shoot an image pass by. There is always a risk that someone will say no when she asks permission to photograph them, but not to ask would only leave a feeling of regret that something special has been missed. Her advice to others is to follow their feelings. Gzowski says that she has seen many books of northern landscapes, but she feels a need to create a book with a different focus. She is working on a book of images that celebrates the people of the North, rather than the locale. She wants to show the rest of the world the fascinating and unique faces of Canada’s North. The seemingly infinite possibilities of portraiture keeps Gzowski motivated.

To see more of Angela Gzowski's work, check out her website: www.angelagzowski.com

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