Edmonton’s Flickr community isn’t as large or active as other online communities in the city, but with over 1000 members and 40,000 photos in the Edmonton group alone, it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. I have been trying to highlight some of the most interesting photos at Edmonton Etcetera, and after a while I realized that there are a few photographers I consistently enjoy. The one that stood out most to me was Darren Kirby – he’s definitely got an eye for the shot, as they say! I am consistently drawn to his style, his subject matter (mostly buildings and infrastructure around the city), and the fact that he licenses his photos under Creative Commons. I had to meet him!
Thankfully, he agreed to meet me for coffee recently. To start, I had to ask Darren about his extremely popular AGA-Cattle photo. If you have spent any amount of time online in the last six months, chances are you have seen it:
Darren told me that he had reviewed the route in advance, but didn’t exactly plan for the shot. “It just sort of worked out,” he told me. That photo was one of his most popular ones, and I think it’s easy to see why. It currently has nearly 800 views, 22 comments, and 11 favorites on Flickr.
Born in BC, Darren moved to Edmonton when he was quite young, and he’s gone back and forth ever since. “I love the outdoor ruggedness in BC,” he said, though he mostly grew up in Edmonton. At an early age Darren was interested in construction, in skyscrapers and other buildings, and it’s that interest that got him into photography. Darren was an active member of SkyscraperPage, a website that proclaims itself “the world’s finest resource for skyscraper and urbanism enthusiasts.” Indeed there’s a fairly active Edmonton community on the site. A couple of years ago someone posted an old construction photo of a building downtown, and it caught Darren’s eye. “I started thinking how neat it would be thirty years down the road to whip out some photos of the construction that is happening now.” That was the catalyst he needed to start taking photos around the city.
I was amazed to learn that Darren has only been wearing the photographer hat for a couple of years. “I jumped in head first, and found a passion.” His first proper camera was a Nikon D40, and today he mainly uses a Nikon D90. “I had always had a point-and-shoot but SkyscraperPage was the catalyst for me to purchase a DSLR and to start learning how to use it.” There were three main ways he learned: trial and error, self-learning using books and online resources, and shooting with other photographers. Darren told me he tries to get out for a good five hour walk at least once a week, and is a regular participant in local FlickrMeets (meetups for local photographers). He estimates he spends 10-20 hours a week at least, shooting and editing. “People probably think I do more processing than I actually do,” he told me. He adjusts levels and increases the contrast, but that’s it for most photos. As a fan of open source and an avid Linux user, Darren uses digiKam, Raw Therapee, and occasionally GIMP.
Though he has posted just over 4000 photos on Flickr (on his main account) Darren estimates he has close to 50,000 photos stored at home. “I only delete the really blurry ones,” he said. I mentioned my “shotgun” approach and Darren said he was like that too, but now is “a better judge of my own work.” His approach today is twofold: artistic and documentarian. Darren created the bulliver too account for constructions photos, and is the main way he documents the many construction projects happening around Edmonton.
One of the most interesting construction projects Darren has been photographing recently is the EPCOR Tower. Thanks to SkyscraperPage, Darren got connected with Qualico’s Ken Cantor, who invited him and few other photographers on a tour back in January. I asked Ken why he reached out to Darren. “Taking a Saturday morning to do the tour was a small investment that I was happy to make,” he told me, “besides, it gave me an opportunity to show off something I’ve been working on for a long time to someone who showed an interest in it.” Darren had already been photographing the building of course, just without the same level of access that the tour provided him. “Darren chose to share his work with others asking nothing back and I offered the tour on the same basis,” Ken told me. Darren was worried the tour was going to be cancelled because it was the same weekend as our record snowfall, but they went ahead anyway, and spent more than three hours taking photos. The only condition imposed on the photographers was that Qualico be allowed to use their photos internally as appropriate and externally with credit to the photographer. “At the end of the day, it is simply part of wanting to leave a city that has treated me well in a better condition than when I arrived here and it’s the personal, small things that are as important as the concrete big ones in making that happen,” Ken said.
Some of Darren’s favorite local projects include the Edmonton Clinic, the Alberta Hotel, and the Walterdale Bridge. As for photographers, Darren is a fan of many, including Hugh, Chris, and Nelson. He credits learning from other photographers as one of the most important ways he has tried to become a better photographer, though he admitted it hasn’t always been easy. Darren is naturally somewhat shy. “Join a community, whether it is Flickr online or something else, to learn from likeminded individuals.”
Though Darren enjoys shooting buildings and urban settings, he has started dabbling in model shots as well. “It’s a whole other world, tough but very rewarding.” Without a doubt however, his favorite kind of shot is the blue hour. “A nice looking building, well lit, during blue hour – there’s nothing better than that,” he told me. I think his love for the shot shows:
The blue hour is of course that wonderful time after the sun has gone down but before the sky has turned black.
It struck me that Darren is doing Edmonton a huge service through his photography, capturing the way the city is transforming physically. “I think it’ll be a very useful, important thing down the road,” he agreed. I think it’s especially important that Darren licenses his photos using Creative Commons, something that was a very conscious decision. “I didn’t even think twice,” he said of his choice to use Creative Commons. I mentioned perhaps connecting with the City of Edmonton Archives to store the photos, and noting that it might be too soon, Darren said “my photos are there for the taking!” I think it’s great.
For Darren, photography is a hobby but “a very enjoyable one that has been really rewarding.” He counts himself lucky to be a photographer in the digital age. “It’s great to get instant feedback from so many sources.” I asked Darren to offer some advice to other up-and-coming photographers, and he said “just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot!” Practice really does make perfect. He also said that it takes time, so don’t expect brilliant results right away.
Photo by Hugh Lee
I’m in awe of Darren’s work, and I’m so thankful that he is making it available for free online. Darren is certainly humble about it though. “I’m just a meat and potatoes kind of guy who loves taking pictures.”