Story 122: Joshua McMillan

What is your backstory?

I was born in, raised, and still call St. Catharines, Ontario home. For some geographical context, it's about an hour from Toronto and 15 minutes from Niagara Falls.

Growing up, I played lots of sports and was much more involved in that than any hobbies that related to art/creativity in any way. There’s a long-winded answer that I’ll save from this, (though I’ll happily share over coffee or DM with anyone interested) but photography really just fell into my lap at the tail end of 2016. So for the last 5 and a bit years I’ve been trying my best to make good photographs. I was just a 16 year old kid, but it still doesn’t feel like an understatement to say that photography really rejuvenated my life at that time. I’m immensely grateful for it along with the opportunities it’s led to thus far.

I graduated high school in 2018, but I haven’t gone into any form of formal post secondary education yet, photography or otherwise. Learning photography has come by way of doing it, consuming it, free online resources, and some workshops.

A lot of the practicing, especially in the first few years was just by documenting life as I would go about different experiences.

What camera gear/editing setup do you use?

Currently I use a Mamiya RZ67 with a prism finder (I am very much anti waist level finder and will die on that hill). For black & white I use Kodak Tmax 400, for colour I use Kodak Portra 160. I get my film developed and scanned by Boréalis Laboratoire in Montreal, then any adjustments to the scans are done in Lightroom.

How do you achieve the look of your photographs and could you take us through the process?

It’s largely dependent on a few factors, the subject matter before me, what my intentions are when it comes to making a particular photograph, or how it’s supposed to work or act within a body of work. It’s very intuitive/reactionary, but those reactions differ.

When I’m home and have the time, I’ll often spend a couple hours just driving aimlessly around the Niagara region, stopping whenever something catches me enough to stop, get out of my car, then make a photograph. Be it a person, an object, or light. Ideally 2 or 3 of those altogether. A small project I did last year in the Yukon, Midnight at Sixty-Four, was made by just walking around Dawson City for 45-90 minutes in the middle of the midnight light with my camera on a tripod. Similar to driving in Niagara, I would walk around looking for something to stop me to make a photograph. In my ongoing project From Dawn ‘Til Dusk, Then Dawn Again, there are a few different manners in which I’ve gone about working on it, but the majority of the reactions happened while following along the crew of gold miners as they went about their day, ready to document anything

that felt worth clicking the shutter for. It was kind of funny, it felt as though I was using my clunky RZ67 in a similar way that I would use a 35mm slr when taking quick snapshots. I paid a lot of attention to the light and shadows, but photos were made at any given time of day with various lighting situations.

Light and composition are really essential tools or elements that aid in achieving the intention of your photo, but I’m not sure there’s one specific technique to be completely fixated on. It’s not a formula as much as just working with what you have and figuring out how to best utilize it to convey the message and/or feeling intended.

Could you tell us the backstory of some of your photographs?

The best backstories from singular photographs would be from portraits of strangers, which I did a lot of from 2018 through 2020, whether traveling or near home. In regards to From Dawn ‘Til Dusk, Then Dawn Again, there’s a long story about how I even ended up in the Yukon, which again I’m happy to tell anyone but will withhold from right now.

Anyway, I honestly had no clue what I would be photographing when I got to the Yukon or what my project would be about. Due to covid-19, at the time, the Yukon required anyone entering the Territory to self isolate for 14 days. On my first day out of that, I ended up meeting and staying with a married couple in their 70s in Whitehorse for a few days. Barrett gave me a brief history on the Gold Rush of 1896 and introduced me to the poetry of Robert Service, who lived in Dawson City and wrote poems about said Gold Rush. He played a few readings of his poems over a speaker. In the poem “The Spell of the Yukon”, one of the last lines reads

“Yet it isn’t the gold I’m wanting,
So much as just finding the gold.”
That line really struck me and in that moment I decided I would commit to pursuing this subject for a project.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

Ha, well seeing as I just turned 22 a couple days ago and am only 5 years into this, I still very much fall into the “aspiring” category but these would be a few things I’d say to anyone just getting into it.

  • Continually lead with intuition and curiosity. Structure and basic photography guidelines are important, but for the first while especially, it should be exciting and enjoyable more than anything.

  • Consistency coupled with patience is the simplest but most important “ingredient” that will get you heading in the right direction. It’s also important to recognize that no effort is ever wasted. I can’t count how many rolls of film I’ve shot through just to have no photos that seemed worthwhile to ever give a second look or thought to. But I really believe that every time you make any sort of effort, whether there’s direct fruit to come from it or not, it’s an important part of the continual process as a photographer. I really only feel like the last year is when I first saw or felt a glimpse of my true photographic voice if that makes sense. And I really believe that ripping through rolls of 35mm that will never see the light of day for years played a part in leading me to that. And as I’ve been home for the winter, evaluating the work, I feel that this year will see another step as I head back to the Yukon to continue the project in March. Then another step, and another, for years and decades to come.

  • The last thing I would say is to be intentional about consuming photography. Study as much as you can, take your time with books, or looking through photographers’ websites.. When a photograph really moves you, sit with it and try to think of why you love it. Just as important, figure out why you don’t like a particular photograph when you come across one. Do the same with other art forms, movies, music, poetry, paintings etc. Those are all a part of you and letting those influences be part of your guidance doesn't mean you’re straying from who you are as a photographer.


Joshua McMillan


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