Photographer’s dream job suits riding

By Marissa Baecker

All our lives we are encouraged to follow our passion. If you love what you do then it isn’t really work right? Some choose careers for the salary and follow their passions in the hobby world. But, what if you could do both? Kelowna photographer, Tim Swanky, has found the key how to combine his passion for his work with his passion for motorcycling with the recent publication of a book titled, “Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbiafor which Swanky was the photographer.

Approximately 80% of the remote locations traveled to by Swanky were done from his motorcycle. Needless to say, catching up with Swanky proved to be challenging and we finally found him stationary at the local BMW dealer while he was having his motorcycle serviced. We sat in the lounge and listened to his tales from the road.

After hearing of a history as a logger, a self-taught photo journalist and then a professional photography studio owner it became clear how the early beginnings in the outdoors and a history of telling stories with photos would make Swanky the perfect candidate for the book.

“The book was an awareness/recruitment project,” said Swanky. “That was the logic.”

The book illustrates health care workers in Northern British Columbia in their natural elements – who they are as people as opposed to what they do for a living.

“The entire health care profession is represented and the book was aimed at attracting new health care practitioners by exposing the lifestyle that comes along with working in the North”, continued Swanky.

Swanky’s part of the project took just over a year to complete because “I wanted to represent all the scenery that the seasons have to offer and the diverse outdoor playground of Northern British Columbia.”

“All the images were photographed prior to any writing,” said Swanky. “Every aspect of the photography was a clean canvas. It didn’t have live up to any pre-conceived idea. Complete creative direction was all mine.”

As we listened, we couldn’t help but notice the degree of tan on Swanky’s face – a sure sign of many hours behind bars this season already. He continued, “I was given names and phone numbers. I knew nothing about the people, and no concept of what I was in for. I would phone the individuals and ask them about their passions away from work. The mandate of the book did not allow for any work or occupational photos – this was a book about the people.”

A dream project by any photographer’s standard, however, selecting to do all the necessary travel by motorcycle may not be the transportation of choice for most but for Swanky it was the only choice.

“I wanted to be paid to ride,” laughs Swanky. “The plan was to try and ride as much as I could while still working. It was an ideal job that would allow me to ride. No schedules – if I got weathered out, I could just wait it out.”

After reviewing the published photos we wondered how Swanky managed to get the proper lighting to capture such professional images. Good photography requires specific lighting so we were interested about what concessions Swanky had to make in gear selection in order to take his motorcycle?

“With today’s advancing technology,” Swanky eluded, “and thanks to Joe McNally and his lighting course” he added with a laugh, “I packed light without sacrificing quality.”

Joe McNally is a world famous National Geographic photographer. He hosted a week-long lighting workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico that Swanky attended. The topic was location lighting and the effective use of small strobes in place of large studio lights.

“With that knowledge, a portion of the images in the book are lit with small strobe units and the balance with natural light,” he said.

It was difficult to tell the difference and that was exactly what Swanky was aiming for. Shooting with his favourite body, and four independent strobes, that left two luggage compartments for clothing and necessities and no room for camping gear.

“When I ride anywhere, I prefer to camp. I really don’t like hotels and motels. I would rather have the same bad bed each night instead of a different bad bed each night,” smiled Swanky.

Picture the bike – a 2009 Buell Uylesses – with hard saddlebags and a trunk. One saddle bag for camera gear, one for clothing and necessities and the top trunk with his office (laptop, phone, and camera/lighting accessories. The travel gear was 80% camera equipment and 20% personal effects. As for lighting stands, well those were the passenger strapped cleverly to the passenger seat.

“I had recently sold my Harely-Davidson Road King to buy what I had envisioned would be the perfect motorcycle (the Buell Uylesses). It was fast and comfortable on pavement and adept off road – the perfect travel machine,” he recalled.

One of his favourite shoots during the project was Sophie Thomas, the woman to whom the book is dedicated. By the time book was published, Sophie had moved on.

“Sophie Thomas was legendary in her time,” recalls Swanky. “I rode to just outside of Vanderhoof, to Stony Creek before I came face to face with Sophie and this was when she was on the high side of 90. A healer or ‘Medicine Woman’ I guess you could say but it is hard to pick out a favourite story as each person in this book is so unique. Everyday I had a new favourite story.”

A journey of a lifetime is how Swanky refers to the project. The only regret, “I had no choice but to sell my Buell after 60,000 km, and a year and half of owning it, as a result of Harley-Davidson’s decision to discontinue manufacturing the line.”

“Now my ride of choice is a 2009 BMW F800GS – although not as powerful as my Buell, it is a better off-road bike for me,” he continued. “Since owning the BMW I have just passed 23,000 km and the bike had 6,000 km when I bought it. ”

Considering Swanky purchased the bike in September 2010 and it is only June, we asked Swanky if he lived on his bike?

“I don’t think so,” he laughed. “Just last summer I was home for two days straight.”

He then went on to tell us that since he didn’t have any work booked for the following weeks, he jumped back on his bike and decided to go have coffee with friends. . .  in Prince Edward Island . . . but that is another story.




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