Holland College Blog

News and views from around the college

An interview with alumnus Liam Mogan, Photography and Digital Imaging 2006

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Liam MorganLiam Mogan graduated from Holland College’s Photography and Digital Imaging (PDI) program in 2005 and has been honing his skills ever since. He’s been winning awards along the way, too; most recently, he won Gold in the National Magazine Awards for a fashion story in Sharp Magazine.

Liam was born in Prince Edward Island, but moved to Brandon, Manitoba when he was 11. He returned to the Island to attend Holland College, where he studied with instructors Alex Murchison and Jean-Sebastien (J.S.) Duchesne, and then moved to Toronto, where he currently lives. I contacted Liam to find out more about the trajectory of his career and to see if the 31-year-old photographer had some advice for people considering a career in this highly competitive field.

How did you become interested in photography?
My dad would take pictures with an old Canon FTB SLR when I was a kid, so that was always in the back of my mind. In Grade 8 I took an industrial design course where we developed and printed black and white. Finally, after high-school I moved to Alberta where I had the chance to take an intro to photography night course at SAIT [Polytechnic]. After that I was hooked. I spent the following year taking pictures of anything and everything…on film…it was expensive.

Why did you decide to take the Photography and Digital Imaging program at Holland College?
A couple of reasons: first, my brother, D’Arcy, graduated from the Culinary Institute and suggested I look into the photography program, (he’s a successful executive chef now). Second, I had a place to live on the Island, and third, I love Prince Edward Island! It’s kind of funny; I wasn’t accepted into the program at first. Fortunately someone backed out and I was able to enroll.

In what ways did the program prepare you to enter the field?
Aside from the technical/compositional/business aspects, the program really helped me become a self-starter, which is essential if you want to make it in this industry. I think because Alex comes from an editorial/commercial background, the program truly mimicked a working professional studio environment. Operating my own editorial/commercial studio feels very similar to my time at PDI. Alex and J.S. were great mentors as well; in fact, I still email them now and again for advice when I’m stuck on something. Just having that support alone is quite nice.

What was your first job after you graduated?
I wanted to keep the ball rolling, so right after graduation, my girlfriend and I packed up a car and moved to Toronto. Once we found an apartment and hooked up a phone I called every photographer in the city looking for assisting work. The first guy who hired me was an interiors shooter. We would go to model houses in the middle of the suburbs and spend 12 to 16 hour days taking pictures of kitchens and living rooms. Not exactly glamorous work, but it was good training. After a while, I started to assist bigger-named shooters and eventually I worked on large advertising campaigns. I also had a part time job at a camera store to help with the bills at one point.

In just a few years you’ve managed to make quite a name for yourself. What are the key components that have enabled you to become so successful so quickly?
Hard work and luck. I ended up renting a studio while I was still an assistant. Although it worked out for me, I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing that…with the overhead, there were times I could barely afford to eat. Fortunately, a photographer who I had assisted landed a huge advertising contract and needed a place to shoot. So I bundled [the cost of ] my studio and my assisting services. We shot for that client out of my studio for a couple of years. It was a great gig and I was lucky to get it. That photographer became my friend and mentor – I learned so much from him.

Moving into shooting was a challenge. First of all, it took me years to develop my style (still ongoing). Once I was confident that my work was technically sound and that I could handle being in charge of a production, I started showing my book around. Most magazines and agencies have portfolio drop-off days, so I would do those and then harass the art buyer via emails and phone calls. You can’t be scared of rejection in this job – besides, it’s never personal. The first photo editor that took a chance on me was from Toronto Life, and both my first and second shoot for them were cover shoots. After those came out, things really started to snowball. Now I work for most Toronto-based publications. I was also lucky enough to be the main food contributor for a city weekly, The Grid. That magazine was very widely respected in the Canadian mag industry. In the three years it operated, it won so many national and international awards, (including SND’s Best Designed Newspaper in the World three years in a row). Working for them was basically free advertising for me.

What’s an average day like for you (if there is such a thing!)?
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time renovating my studio kitchen in order to make the shoots easier on food stylists. On average, however, a typical day could be anything from making cold calls, doing lunch with creatives, pitching ideas, building sets, researching new techniques, and even taking photographs! For instance just yesterday, I put together a lunch meeting with a photo editor/producer, creative director, and writer to hash out a cook book concept. A lot of my days involve sitting at the computer to be honest, whether it’s doing pre-production or post-production. Aside from marketing, that’s one of the biggest time sinks. Shooting jobs/creatives take up about 30 per cent of my time.

Depending on the job, shoot days vary quite a bit – shoots are rarely the same and always have problems to solve. For example, I’ve had to build plexiglass tanks to photograph things under water – we’ve even planted 20 square feet of grass sod in the studio to fake the perfect lawn. For some food shoots, I’ve had a dozen of Canada’s top chefs show up and fight over my studio kitchen to make their dishes. Those are always interesting and stressful. Last summer I did a cocktail bar guide were we spent the whole day shooting/drinking amazing cocktails in the park, which was a nice gig. Twice I’ve had to photograph $50,000-worth of gold coins in a vault with a security guard breathing down my neck, (I asked the magazine if they’d pay my rate in gold…no dice). Recently, I was flown to Newfoundland to photograph a cabin in the middle of the wilderness. That was a great gig because it’s not something I typically do. It was nice to be out of studio and photographing humans for a change.

What advice would you offer to people considering a career in photography?
To succeed in this industry, you not only have to work extremely hard but you also have to be incredibly self motivated. To start, shoot everyday, especially when it’s not fun or you don’t feel like it – it is a job, after all. Keep looking at established work, photographers, ads, magazines, and art within the field you want work in, whether its wedding, editorial, commercial, food, etc. Develop your own style and voice. Also, don’t get too caught up in the camera gear trap – you don’t need thousands of dollars of equipment to create a beautiful photograph. I’d even argue that having limited gear could be beneficial to creating your own unique style. Finally, don’t be scared of failure or rejection; like I said earlier, it’s not personal.

 

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Written by Sara Underwood

July 28, 2014 at 11:45 am

One Response

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  1. Alex M

    August 2, 2014 at 6:52 pm


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