Todd Korol: A Pro’s Pro, Part One

Todd Korol, a Canadian who lives with his family in Calgary, Alberta, has spent the last 20 years traversing the world with camera in hand on assignment for international publications including Time, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times and he has worked with corporate clients including Apple, Visa, Rolex and several other household names. His assignments have taken him all over the world, even far north to the Arctic Circle. Todd’s work has been included in the acclaimed Day in the Life series and published in over 200 books including his own book entitled “Harvest” documenting the lives of a Saskatchewan farm family working their land. The Paul Kuhn Gallery in Calgary represents his fine art work. Here Todd shares part one of his story with us.

Q: What has been your experience shooting with the Leica M9?

A: For me, the transition to the M9 has been very natural since I have been an M6 user for close to 20 years. One of the things I love about the M9 is that Leica has stayed close to their traditional M roots when creating this camera. It’s rugged, reliable and very straightforward, with a perfect, simple menu system. It’s about photography and not all the bells and whistles we see with modern DSLR cameras.

Q: Aside from the Leica M6, what equipment were you using prior to the M9?

A: I have a whole closet full of cameras, from a full Nikon kit, to Hasselblads, three 4x5s and a Deardorff 8×10. Of course I still have my M6.

Q: In general, how would you describe your style of photography?

A: I am at heart an editorial photojournalist. Even in my corporate work, I like to record things as they unfold. I love to shoot life as it happens and document the subcultures where I live, from the Canadian cowboy, to the roots music scene, to street life. I love roaming the streets of any city I am in and documenting the spirit of that city.

Q: How did you become a professional photographer? Did you, like many pros, start out as serious enthusiast?

A: Not really. I became a pro right out of high school. I started working at a small hometown newspaper and I have never stopped working as a photographer. It’s been over 20 years now.

Q: What made you decide to shoot professionally?

A: I saw a story that American Photography magazine (now American Photo) ran on the great photojournalist David Burnett back in the late ’80s. I was still a kid and knew I wanted to be a photographer, but didn’t know what kind. I came from a very small town on the Canadian prairies. I knew there were wedding photographers and school photographers, but that didn’t really excite me. I remember buying that magazine and going home to read it. I read Burnett’s story and said, “That’s it! That’s what I want to do.”

Q: Many of your images transcend the common notion of straight documentary and can be considered fine art. When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, an art form?

A: It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized photography could be used as a form of art expression. I came from the school of just documenting what was in front of your camera. It’s a very literal approach. It’s really only been in the last seven or eight years that I realized you can capture the mood or spirit of a place that can be full of shadows, form and motion. Often what’s out of focus is as important as what’s in focus.

Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you basically self-taught?

A: I was pretty much self-taught. I spent all my money on photo books, “How To” manuals and photo magazines. And of course I made many, many mistakes along the way.

Q: Was there a photographer, style of photography, or photographic genre that influenced your work or inspired you?

A: Many, as I said Burnett (and he still is an influence), and also William Albert Allard, Robert Frank and Keith Carter. A ten minute conversation with David Alan Harvey changed a lot for me. Bill Frakes and Heinz Kluetemeir have helped me a ton being a sports photographer. The work of Sally Mann and Edward Burtynsky (Edward is also a friend of mine) is amazing. But Avedon has remained at the top of that list for many reasons. That guy could do it all; I am still in awe of his work.

Q: Do you think the body of your work encompasses fine art, photojournalism, portraiture, street photography, etc. or is it something else entirely?

A: It’s a huge mix. It’s impossible to make a living doing one type of photography, here in Canada anyway. After a break of a few years, I am really into street photography again, in large part because of the M9.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica cameras?

A: One time, back in the late ’80s, I went into this camera store and there was this beautiful black Leica M6 in a white velvet-lined box sitting in their camera case. I wanted to check it out and I did. It was built so well and it was amazingly compact. One of the owners showed me how it worked and told me I had to get one, that I would have it for years and that they only got better as you used them more. It was simply gorgeous. This experience motivated me to do some research into Leica cameras. The more I looked the more amazing photography I found. I mean come on, Cartier-Bresson, Winograd, Frank, the list goes on and on. At the time, the Leica was like a secret key that unlocked a whole new world of photography for me. You have to remember this was pre-internet days. That was it. I had to have one and wanted to learn how to use it.

Q: What are you striving to achieve with your photography and how does it fit into your life?

A: Photography, as it is for many, is my way of communicating how I view the world to the rest of the world. The camera is my key to opening many doors of different cultures, people’s lives, sporting events. I have had a fantastic ride so far and it’s because of the camera I have been able to do it. My family is my life and the most important thing to me, but photography is everything else.

Q: What are you looking forward to most in the Leica workshop you’ll be leading?

A: I’m sure the Leica workshop will be so much fun. I guess I will be looking forward to shooting with the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux the most! Just kidding. Workshops are a great experience. If you get the right people into the mix, everyone goes home learning something new, including me. It will be fun to share my thoughts on shooting with Leica cameras and getting people to loosen up a bit with their shooting style. In North America we have a lot of “pixel peepers,” guys that don’t look at the image at all, just what the quality is like. They will dismiss photos if some kind of quality or new latest ultra-megapixel camera didn’t take the photo. Well, that’s the reason so many iPhone photos work these days, because people just dismiss them and use them for snapshots.  But in a lot of cases photographers have caught great moments or captured someone when their guard is down. These are the photos I want to take, and I will try to show the students how you can make more of those moments with the M9. In the end I want this workshop to be about the photograph.

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Todd’s images on his website, www.toddkorol.com, and his blog, http://toddkorol.wordpress.com. For more information about the Leica Akademie workshops visit, http://www.leicaakademie.com.