Our first conversation, we were slouched on separate couches in a living room. The clock had struck way past midnight, but we stayed awake talking of dreams and passions.
His was undeniably what he saw through a camera lens, explained in delicate words, as though he were describing a devoted lover.
“It lends itself to the way I work. It lends itself to my mind,” says photographer Morgan Whibley. “The medium itself is half technical/scientific and half artistic and that’s kind of the brain that I’ve been given.”
Morgan and I met during our university years in Ottawa – he, the loud-mouthed photographer from the local college and I, the slightly more reserved journalism student. When a job offer led me from Toronto to Whitehorse, Morgan decided to pack up and join in.
He’s called the place home for just over a year and is dedicating his first solo photography exhibit to those who have welcomed him.
“The reception that I got, as a person creating art in this city, via other artists was impressive to me because it inspired me to document these people,” he says of his show,Conversations, featuring black and white portraits of 10 local artists.
“My number one passion is portrait photography and it just kind of presented itself as a great collection, a great group to study.”
Growing up in Orillia, Ontario, Morgan often played the role of assistant in his father’s photography studio. That is where he says his love for portraiture developed.
“I’ve been looking at the work ever since I was growing up, not only my father’s, but of the masters like Yousuf Karsh, who is a huge inspiration for me in terms of the amount of character he could bring out in his subjects in a split second.”
In Conversations, Morgan explores the relationship of a photographer with a subject – from fellow photographer Mario Villeneuve, to poet Michael Reynolds and visual artists Catherine Deer and Emma Barr.
“All these shots are the product of a conversation with these people. I don’t approach with the direct intent of creating a well-composed image of a person. I talk to a person and I converse with them to the point that the image presents itself,” he explains.
“The conversation is there because you’ve got to get to know somebody. And once you get to know somebody they can trust you and they don’t just look at you as a person aiming a camera at them, but as a person that they’re having a conversation with that just happens to be holding a camera.”
To capture his subjects, Morgan used a 1957 Yashica-Mat medium format camera given to him by his father. And hand-printed the entire show.
“In a lot of ways with the industry of photography and the way it’s going, I’m constantly being forced to work quickly with digital implements and not really put the time in,” he says.
“I wanted to not only put the time in with my subjects to really get them to expose themselves to my camera, but I wanted to have a camera that complemented that. Taking time and really putting some thought into it.”
It isn’t difficult to tell Morgan takes his craft seriously – that is between sarcastic remarks about using the medium simply because he can’t draw.
He says he plans on continuing to explore the traditional side of the art form beyond Conversations.
“I always live for those shots where it was a fleeting moment. It was that split second – the image taken just then caught that perfect expression, that perfect twinkle in the eye, that moment that would disappear.”
And when asked what he hopes visitors will take away from the exhibit, Morgan initially paused.
“A keener interest in the characters that live around them every day,” he eventually responds.
“People that walk the streets of Whitehorse and the communities outside of it. I hope these images just do something to, even in the least, bring a greater connection to the people around you.”
Conversations is on display at the Yukon Arts Centre Community Gallery from June 27 to July 27.
PHOTO: MORGAN WHIBLEY