Pursuing her camerawork : Kaja Tirrul


Words by Sonia Staali

Capturing a picture is not just a matter of light. For Kaja Tirrul, the essence of her approach is to be honest by portraying a timeless youthful atmosphere. Zoom on how all it began for this young photographer.

1.   Please tell me more about your background and what made you become a photographer?

I grew up in a small town south of Ottawa where, for my 10th birthday, I received a Kodak 110 camera as a gift. I was completely hooked on taking pictures after that. I would take my rolls of 110 film and walk to the local shop to have them developed. I would patiently wait a week to pick up my 4” x 5” prints, which I would pour over and carefully put away into albums.

After receiving my mom’s old Canon AE-1 camera, my uncle taught me how to use his darkroom and develop my own film and prints. Watching my image slowly appear into a photograph was like magic! I realize that sounds cliché, but it was a feeling I couldn’t get enough of. I just knew this was what I wanted to do for life.

2.    What kind of study you did? 

After high school, I moved to Toronto where I attended Ryerson University’s Image Arts Photography program. I received my Fine Arts degree in Photography in 2008. I was grateful to have been accepted into this four-year program, as it is half hands-on and half theory-based, so I learned a great deal about this industry, this art, and the skills required in both.

3.   Define your style. 

I have always had trouble defining my style. I find it challenging to place myself in any category or within any definite borders. And I suppose any artist will say the same thing, irrespective of medium. The one thing I try to maintain when I am taking pictures is a “fly-on-the-wall” approach – a complete honesty, as it were. In every respect, I do my best to make an image where it is not evident that I was even there – be it fashion or fine art. As the viewer looks at my images, I hope to create a nostalgic longing feeling within them. As my motivations for taking pictures have not changed since using that first Kodak 110 all those years ago, I take my pictures with a love and care that is truly timeless for me. I believe this translates for the viewer.

4.   What are some major themes that you attempt to communicate through your artwork?

The themes that are reoccurring throughout my personal photography are female identity and childhood. I search for my childhood every time I take a photograph. I am constantly peeling away the layers of my adult self each time I take a photograph until I can reach an honest youthful place.

As a woman who struggles with what it really means to be a woman, I am constantly looking for answers through photography. I have questions about our place in the world; our role, our physical identity and our perceived physical identity. I work out these issues the only way I know how and that is through photography. Exploring what it is to be a woman is something I will most likely continue to do, as I do not see this question being easily answered.

5.   What invaluable lessons have you learned that helped you develop your distinct style?

Trust yourself. I have learned to trust my gut and my feelings on something. And while I need to remind myself of this lesson often, I know it to be true. My ongoing reactions to what I am actively shooting is all I have to go by as to whether or not something is working. It is an indescribable barometer that I have learned to pay attention to.

I also always shoot as if I am shooting with film and not digital. I rarely look at the back of my camera. I need to know lighting, exposure, perspective and composition before I even pick up my camera. Learning with film and hand printing is invaluable as a photographer, as one learns not to rely on technology but to rely on your skill as a photographer.

It drives me crazy when photographers use the phrase “I’ll photoshop it later”, as if the proper noun has become a verb. No. I need to get it in camera in order to get it.

Photoshop and other programs are great tools, and I definitely use them. And at the same, possessing post-production skills cannot turn a bad photographer into a good one.

6.   Who are your influences?

Currently my favorite photographers are Chris Buck, Lauren Greenfield and Nirrimi Hakonson. I love Buck’s humour, Greenfield’s honesty, and Hakonson’s beauty. Of course I have a love for the greats; Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon in particular. I think it is great to have inspirations come from others. Especially when those “others” are people who have been in the industry much longer than I and have much to teach. However, being influenced by another photographer and emulating another photographer are two separate concepts. The latter is never a good idea. More importantly, directly comparing your own work to anyone else’s is ridiculous and will only drive you crazy.

7.    What projects are you currently working on?

I have been working on a series called Dilly Dally for about two years now, which surrounds the experiences of being a little girl. I am not sure when this series will be complete. For that matter, it may never be!

I just started a series on twin siblings, so if you know anyone who would like to be photographed, I would love to meet them!

8.    What are your long term career goals?

My long-term career goal is to GROW. Simple enough in concept, and it allows me to accept challenges and opportunities as they arrive organically. Sure, I would like to say “I plan on having a gallery open in X years”, but life doesn’t necessarily play out the way we plan. And that’s ok. If I am honing my skills further, meeting more people in the industry, and taking on new challenges, it all works towards my goal of growing. And if I happen to expand my exposure while I am at it, you won’t hear me complaining.

 Tirrul_bus stop

Tirrul_easter on the roof

Tirrul_spring puddles summer breeze

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Kaja Tirrul




4 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Katie Hache

    So excellent! Loved hearing about a new, inspiring artist and the images are beautiful! Really enjoyed this piece.

    • Avatar

      Thanks! We are glad you liked it! Our next issue is coming out soon, stay tuned!

      • Avatar
        Heather Stewart

        I am truly humbled by the honesty and informed vision as a result of this interview! The questions and content create a vision of a true artist. This is what inspires others who realize a goal, but are not sure how to get there. Love the personal approach!

      • Avatar

        I agree with you. This artist really inspires. Thanks for reading us!