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205 Main Street East
North Bay, Ontario P1B 1B2
Photo Journalist. Documentary Photographer and Videographer. Born and raised in Northern, Ontario, Canada. Studied Photo Journalism at Loyalist College Belleville, Ontario, Canada. Published in Macleans, Post/Sun Media, True North Photo Journal and other international publications. The journey of an artist is not straightforward. For some, it is not just about loving your craft and developing a practice. It is a journey that ebbs and flows, it is inspiring, and it is tiring. It develops over time, with experience, through passion and vision, in harmony with missteps, and despite deadlines and expectations. When I spoke with photographer and videographer Isaac Paul, he got candid about what it is like when the desire to create isn’t always there and his path towards an artistic practice that is fulfilling.
Isaac’s love for photography and videography started from a young age. He explained that he got a little digital camera when he was eight, and he and his friends would make little videos in the backyard and take lots of pictures. In recalling the early days of his craft, Isaac fondly remembers how much fun photography was for him at that point in his life. However, he admitted that things changed by the time he reached high school, and photography was no longer a prominent part of his life. He expressed that the “want,” or the desire to create, was lost. While there was a period when he lost touch with his creative side, Isaac rediscovered his desire to capture the world while living in Toronto some years later. He explained, “when I was living in Toronto, I felt like the sky was the limit, and I could be anything I wanted to be.” And eventually, following an interest in conflict journalism, Isaac went to Loyalist College for photojournalism.
For Isaac, art is life or death, and it’s something that he takes very seriously. He has been told that his work is moody. But Isaac emphasizes that while that may be partly true, his work changes. He is drawn to deep, sometimes dark stories that shine a light on the underbelly of society. The kind of stuff that no one sees, or, perhaps more accurately, the stuff that people look past. Isaac brings these stories out of our peripheries and calls on us to look at the world as it exists behind the scenes. At the same time, he is also fascinated by creative people, learning about creative processes and what drives them to create. As a photographer, Isaac is curious about people who create with their hands; how artists handle their tools and physically interact with their medium. Isaac feels that “artists deserve a little window for us to look into their minds and show off what they are doing,” and he wants to be part of creating that little window.
Before finishing his program at Loyalist College, Isaac reached a point in his career where he realized that he was shooting for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t about creativity or because he felt passionate about what he was capturing. Isaac believed that he was shooting for his ego and because he felt like he needed to be producing work. At the same time, he reflected on the commercial projects he has worked on and explained that “as a young photographer doing freelance, people would tell me what to shoot, and that was tough. It was intimidating because I could feel my control as an artist slipping away from me.” Coming to terms with these realizations meant leaving school and rediscovering a love for photography and videography that was rooted in passion rather than expectations. In doing this, he has found that when he focuses his energy on creating for himself, rather than what he thinks other people want to see, his practice has become more fulfilling. He explained, “My camera is my camera. I want to point it in the direction that I want to. Not the direction somebody else wants.” And as a result, creativity has become so powerful and uniquely his own.
Isaac grew up in the area, but, as we know, life took him elsewhere for a time. Now, back in North Bay, Isaac admitted returning was tough for him because he believed that he had limited opportunities to pursue creativity in this community. But in fact, when I asked him what inspires him to create now that he is working in North Bay as an artist, he stated, “Friendships have. People have. I think this is a great community.” To Isaac’s surprise, being in North Bay and meeting other creative people from this community helped him fall more in love with creativity. Working alongside other artists from our creative sector, including fellow photographer Shawn Morton, has helped him learn and grow as a photographer and videographer. Through this personal growth, Isaac cautioned that he still feels like he hasn’t made “it” yet, “that one thing that I want everyone to see.” Having come to this understanding, he started taking his camera everywhere, even golfing. Isaac spoke in great detail about this, partly because it was fresh in his mind and so clearly an invigorating experience. Recounting his time on the golf course with friends and his camera, Isaac explained, I would see my friends walking across the greens where the sun would hit just right, and I would get them to hold their position or stay where they were, so I get the shot. I would position myself so that the sun was right behind them, and even while taking the photos, I knew exactly how I would edit them when I got home. It’s this weird sort of amalgamation of vision, skill, timing. It's like energy forces colliding in your brain when you know that you got the shot. While he admits that the photos from that night may not turn into anything, they represent a memorable experience and hold great significance. If nothing else, that is powerful.
My conversation with Isaac was a meaningful one. It served as an important reminder that creativity can manifest in different ways and unexpected places. So I would like to end it here, with these final words from Isaac, I was a very driven, egotistical guy in photojournalism school, so I’m sure my work reflected that. I like to think that I have done a lot of self-improvement to the point where I can say that my work is genuine. From the second that I say these words and on, what I do now is the most genuine creative work that I’ll ever do. And that is something that I believe we can all strive for.
All images provided by Isaac Paul