Meet Neil Dankoff, Canada's Epic Travel Photographer
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer? Where did you receive your training?
Even as a young boy, I remember thinking that a camera was one of the most incredible inventions. It is almost magical in it’s ability to freeze time, to capture a moment forever. I graduated with a degree in Film and Communications from McGill University in Montréal, but it wasn’t until the birth of digital photography that I could envision a possible career. I am self-taught, partially through books and available information on the Internet, but mostly through trial and tribulation. My equipment was new (digital medium format) and what I was trying to accomplish had not previously been done, or at least it hadn’t to the point where the information was available.
When did you pick up your first camera and what was it? What models do you like to use now?
My first serious digital camera was the Canon 10D back in 2002. Years later I purchased the Canon 5D Mark2, but I met the love of my life three years ago when I brought home a Pentax 645D. It seems as if this camera was built for me (or at least that’s what I tell myself). I will most likely be upgrading to the Pentax 645Z later this year.
You specialize in landscape and panoramic photography, was this always a natural route for you?
Panoramic landscape photography using multiple exposures has got to be one of the most difficult methods of photography, but when you see the end result, you are motivated to go through that process. It also helps if you enjoy travelling and waking up at an ungodly hour. My favorite time to shoot is 20 minutes before sunrise. I truly love those moments when I’m set up in the dark waiting to see what happens. It all comes down to the clouds as they control the light.
Travel is an integral aspect of your photography, how do you decide where to venture to? And where would you like to visit next?
When I first started, I chose far off destinations that I thought people living in my city, Toronto, would appreciate. There were sections of our community that had ties and family backgrounds stemming from countries such as Israel, Italy and South Africa. Nowadays, I choose locations where I see potential photographs that lend themselves to my style of photography: Bora Bora, Namibia, Hawaii, to name a few.
You have just opened your own gallery in Montréal. Tell us a bit about it and what it means for you and your work.
My last three trips have been very memorable as my friends, and now business partners, Derek and Kirsty Stern accompanied me. The photographs from our trips inspired us to open an art gallery, The Kandy Gallery in Montréal. The gallery is over 5200 sq. feet and has 45 of my large, panoramic prints on display, as well as some great smaller prints by Derek and Kirsty. Derek managed the construction and design of the gallery, which had been in the planning stages for over a year. We had our opening launch party at the beginning of October and we are happy to say that both the photography and the gallery itself were well received. We have a lot of exciting plans to develop the Kandy Gallery and our ongoing photography trips will ensure each visit is unique and worthwhile. We are currently planning our next photography trips to Greece and Iceland.
What fuels your creativity?
It’s a mild addiction. It’s not as if every photo is a winner, far from it. It is very much a hit and miss scenario; however, when you do get that photograph close to the way you envisioned it months earlier… few experiences provide that kind of satisfaction.
What is the best piece of creative advice you have ever received? Who was it from?
My father would often come home from work and catch me watching TV on the sofa. This would infuriate him. ‘Get outside’, he would yell at me. Although this may not constitute creative advice, I later understood what he meant. Experience life, get out there and find your passion. After university, I was a partner in a small business with good potential, but I didn’t like what I was doing and hated going to work each day. I told my father and he simply told me to quit. I was fortunate enough to have my father’s support which eventually led me to a job that I love waking up to.
Neil is one of the winners of The Culture Trip’s Canada Local Favorite 2015 Award. The Local Favorite badge is awarded to our favorite local towns, restaurants, artists, galleries, and everything in between. We are passionate about showcasing popular local talents on a global scale, so we have cultivated a carefully selected, but growing community.
Interview by Isabelle Pitman