How a wrong advice helped me discover one of my photographic styles?

Tetyana Brazhnyk in Outlandish © Benjamin Kanarek

Just wish to share this little story with you that you may find interesting…

I want to shake you ALL up… I never studied photography… I never wanted to be a photographer. I studied architecture and played drums in a punk rock group. I literally fell in to photography by ACCIDENT..

Everything I learned was by experimenting. I was such a bad photographer when I started, that if I got lucky and took a good image and was asked to replicate it I couldn’t. In fact about one year in to shooting, I was asked by Sears to shoot an advert for them based on an image in my S–tty portfolio. The problem is that I didn’t have a vocabulary and I didn’t know how I did what I did in the first place, so I couldn’t replicate what I did. I must have lost about 50-60 percent of the clients I shot for. I would get a great fluke shot and wow them with it. “Hey Ben, we want that! ” and I would say “GULP ah OK” and I would think to myself, “OOOOPPPPSSS, Sorry, ummm, I can’t recreate it, I don’t really know how I did that!”

But the good thing was this. I did stuff that nobody would even consider doing if they were taught what and what not to do. One of my techniques that I and perhaps a few people around the world at the time were doing but not aware that we were at the time was the following.

One day I walked in to a camera store in Toronto to ask advice from the sales people who happen to be Ryerson (Polytechnical) School (Photography) grads now called Ryerson University. They knew all the techniques, which I had none of. I asked them for a certain emulsion for doing, if I remember correctly “Cibachrome” or development for slides. They kind of giggled and said, “Here use this and this and this”. I said OK I will… Well lo and behold, they gave me the wrong stuff that became what is now known as cross processing that got me in to L’Officiel, Elle, etc. I was on exposition at the Arles Festival in 1986-7 presenting my C41 stuff with Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Satoshi and Nick Knight. I was known for “THAT” technique.

Well, about five years later I went to Toronto to visit the family. I was being published everywhere. I mean everywhere. I needed some photo stuff and walked in to the same camera store “Toronto Camera” at the time on Yonge Street and there were two of the guys who sold me the “WRONG” stuff.

Well I walked right up to them and said “Thanks for your advice. Do you remember a little joke you pulled on one of your customers? You know, ah you need this stuff for that type of film?” “ahhh yyyeeeaahhh maybe, sort of … WHY?”

“My name is Benjamin Kanarek,” “Your BENJAMIN KANAREK!” Yeah…”Wow”
I said “I want to thank you for giving me the BEST wrong advice I have ever gotten in my whole life!”

I walked out of the store with a huge smile…

Because of that advice I shot some very interesting Advertising Campaigns.

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