By Amy Juschka
Photography by Trevor Brady
Born in South Africa, Trevor Brady moved to Vancouver, B.C. in 1993 and began to work in advertising and design, but soon discovered a love for photography. Today, Brady is a highly acclaimed fashion photographer who spends his downtime exploring the architectural beauty of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. But while strolling through the neighborhood’s many alleyways, his lens focused on the intricacies of century-old hotels, Brady saw something in the people he met along the way, and soon refocused his lens on them. The result is the honest and captivating portrait series he calls “Beautiful.” Regardless of where you’re from, there is a universal appeal and interest to these portraits.
Megaphone Magazine caught up with Brady to talk about the inspiration for his “Beautiful” series, and shared the interview with the Denver VOICE.
MM: How did you start photographing people in the Downtown Eastside?
Brady: When I moved to Gastown I started to walk around the Eastside and photograph the architecture and street scenes, kind of like everybody else has done, but then, of course, walking down the alleys and streets you start to bump into the people that are in the neighborhood as well.
I was always a little reserved as far as photographing the people here and I kind of stayed away from it for a long time, but then I found them really approachable, more so than I expected, which was kind of an odd discovery. There had been times in the past when I’d walk around with a camera and sort of get tagged by a couple of people, almost taunting you a little bit. I found that a few years ago, but when I started to do this body of work I found it very different—people were more intrigued and kind of inviting.
Brady: I don’t think I did it for any reason really other than for myself. It was an opportunity that came about while photographing the stuff that I like to photograph. I’m always very cautious of approaching people and sort of taking away something that is theirs so I don’t really want to do it for commercial purposes and I’m not the kind of person that’s going to get them to sign a model release.
In regards to what’s been done, I guess I had a slight consciousness that the stuff I’ve seen of people on the Eastside tends to be in black and white. I feel that it’s kind of given it a bit of a gritty dark kind of a look. It was important to me to go out and consciously make an effort to make sure to keep it backlit to give people more of a glamorous look in a way.
MM: How did you choose your subjects?
Brady: For this work, they chose me. I wasn’t going to force somebody or take a picture behind someone’s back. It was pretty much who was in front of me.
It was what they could give to the photograph. Only afterwards I noticed something that they were giving back to me as opposed to me trying to get something from them. There was sort of a strange message in what they were communicating to me. They wanted to do it—they wanted to show me something.
MM: Lincoln Clarkes’ “Heroines” portrait series was criticized by some as voyeuristic and exploitative. When photographing marginalized people, how do you ensure your work is respectful?
Brady: I haven’t gone out and tried to market these images. I have come across a few people who have found them and I did a little show in France.
It’s not something that I’m looking to sell and make a profit off of. If I had to think of long-term it could become a book or some sort of documentation. But otherwise I guess I don’t know—I don’t really have an answer for that.
MM: What else can you tell me about the Beautiful series?
Brady: Going back to the name of the work, when I would walk around the alleyways I was very specific in using an old roloflex—the camera you look down into and it’s got twin lenses. It looks like a vintage camera so people are intrigued and I’d often get asked, ‘Does that really work?’ or whatever else so that became sort of a conversation piece to engage with people.
It was a bit premeditated, I guess to sort of make people interested in what I was doing. I would ask them if they wanted to have their picture taken and I don’t think I had anybody who didn’t want to have their photograph taken and I felt that I really got something more than I bargained for—there were a few cases where I didn’t feel that I was getting the message from them, but most times, especially with women, I felt there was this kind of soft smile that I can very rarely even get from models. Something really soft came through, and this was coming through naturally. I never asked anyone to smile or be serious, but most people had this warmth, which was interesting and I never really expected that to happen. So that’s where I got the name.