By MEGAN REED March, 2019
Most of the time, it seems, when we speak of artists and their process, reference to the struggle in finding and maintaining the muse in whatever its form comes up; that magical rarity of true inspiration that seems to strike at its own whim, befuddling and frustrating many an artist. But what if the muse finds you? Such is the charmed case for Brendan Meadows, a Vancouver-based photographer who has spent the entirety of his professional life heeding the call of the photography god(desse)s, who seem to be far from done with him. And he keeps delivering magical results.
One could say the first muse to seek out young Brendan, had royal, if not divine, connections. The year was 1986 and Meadows, then merely 10 years old, had just received his first camera--a Polaroid--from his parents. They happened to be heading to Expo ‘86, the World’s Fair held that year in Vancouver, British Columbia. Coincidentally, a certain young royal named Princess Diana happened to be there that day as well. Brendan found himself in the front of the viewing line, positioned perfectly for what would become his first and perhaps most prophetic shot: we see Princess Di from a child’s vantage point, resplendent in royal blue, looking up at her face framed by white, fluffy clouds, flowing almost ghost-like through a pale blue sky. She looks angelic, a smiling presence who seems to be lit from within. Looking at it now, knowing her fate and all that has since transpired, it’s even more haunting. A ten-year-old captured this with a prescience and a sense of beauty that confounds. How did he get such a view, I ask? No big deal, Meadows replies, kids are often at the front given their height. But I’m skeptical. Given the sharp eye, the absolute deftness of vision the photograph reveals, it’s hard to believe this was an accident. The muse must have played a hand in orchestrating the opportunity and the many that seem to keep coming.
Meadows is quick to dismiss that photography was ever a lifelong dream or deep-seated calling. Hearing him talk about it, it simply was in his life, always. Both of his parents were hobby photographers, keeping a darkroom in the basement of the house in which he grew up. Meadows shrugs at this being a key factor in his development, referring to it almost as another tool or language at his disposal. Photography was a place to “play around.”
This long-standing exposure, though, clearly primed Meadows for the photography muse’s certain revisitation. Fast forward to college-aged Brendan, only four months into his first year at Ryerson University in Toronto: he received a call from Chris Gordaneer at West Side Studios--one of the biggest ad firms in the world (their website shows photos of anyone from former US president Barack Obama to Dave Grohl of the band Foo Fighters)--who had “heard good things about him” and wanted him to come work for them. Now. As in, drop the university pursuits and be a full-time, big leagues, commercial photographer. How’s that for the muse paying a visit?
What ensues is the stuff of photography career fairy-tales: Meadows welcomed the calling, quit school and, as he describes it, was taught “everything he knows” on the job. This willingness to follow these types of invitations seem very particular to Meadows. Imbued in this, I suspect, is a deep curiosity in where the journey will take him and a quiet confidence that he’ll be up to the task. And indeed he has been: a glance at Meadows’ vast portfolio reveals an astonishing depth and breadth of photographic inquiry: deep, soulful portraits of people both known and anonymous, each captured in ways that feel simultaneously vulnerable and powerful, human and monolithic. It’s hard to not refer back to that Princess Di photo--Meadows knows how to capture people in ways that reveal their humanity while retaining a sense of mystery and individuality for that subject.
Meadows doesn’t only photograph people or solely in commercial contexts, though he mentions that is a big part of his work and where he retains much of his professional satisfaction. Even a scripted shoot has ample room for creative license, he explains, and one guesses his influence in the creative direction of these shoots is vaster than he lets on, which is a testament to his facility with both the camera and his subjects (who often resist relinquishing control over their image, one their career often hinges upon). Peripherally, he continues to push the medium of photography forward through his robust personal pursuits: from shooting landscapes in Iceland (they offer fantastic contrasts and complements to his images of people), to playing around with development techniques that push the medium itself into new, playful territory.
It is in this vein that Brendan Meadows secures his place in the fine art photography world with appearances at both the recent Photo LA and the upcoming Foto Fever in Paris with his most recent personal series, “Ipseity”. The series is comprised of portraits completed in the complicated (nearly 45 steps per photo in the development process) melding of traditional portraiture, graphics and the potentialities of the dark room, that he himself has devised, with printing completed by the master printmaker Bob Carnie. The images have a haunting, holographic, even timeless quality to them that propels both mystery about the context of the subjects they capture and, importantly, about the methodology behind how they were created. In a decidedly image-saturated culture, where selfies abound, and everyone’s an amateur photographer, this series of work offers a refreshing reminder of the complexity of photography and of the many avenues through which it still can be explored. It’s another example of Meadows shifting gears to follow photography’s amiable calling. His path is a faithful testament to staying the course, but never getting too comfortable; you never know when the muse will pay a visit, beckoning for a new kind of photograph that perhaps only Meadows can take. WM
Megan Reed is a writer and fine artist based in Los Angeles, California.