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Getting candid with a camera

This Midweek Mugging features Guelph photographer and brick maker Dean Palmer.

If you have lived in Guelph for any period of time there is a good chance you have been photographed by or at least seen photographs by Dean Palmer.

“I was born in Australia but my parents moved back to Guelph when I was two,” said Palmer. “I feel like I am a lifelong Guelphite but you could get me on a technicality if the birther conspiracists demanded to see my birth certificate.”

He said the secret to getting a good photograph of someone is taking the time to get to know who they are.

“So many times I’ve heard people say they hate being photographed,” he said. “I like to think that really they hate being photographed by someone who doesn’t know how to photograph them.”

Palmer has honed his skills over countless rolls of film and many years of trial and error.

“It had always been a hobby,” he said. “My dad let me turn his wine cellar into a darkroom when I was 13. That’s really what got me off and away was the dark room and black and white movies.”

Photography was a passion but he didn’t plan on it being his career.

“I became a photographer more by accident than by plan,” said Palmer. “My plan was to be a high school history teacher. I went to the U of G for history and theatre and was planning to go to teachers’ college but never quite made it.”

His interest and knowledge of photography helped him land a part time job downtown at Ponds camera shop while he was in university.

“Then it just sort of morphed into a full time job until I figured out what I would really do,” he said. “In 1995 I made my first business card. I was doing little jobs here and there before that but the business card made it official.”

He gained some valuable experience early in his career while shooting at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.

“A friend of mine casually mentioned that he was very good friends with Margaret Atwood and asked if I wanted to photograph her,” said Palmer. “It was in the days of 120-12-exposure film so, I had my 12 shots and Margaret Atwood came out and asked where I wanted to do the photos.”

They found a scenic clearing for the shoot but Palmer’s nerves got the best of him.

“All of the photos were horrible and it was the days of film so I didn’t know,” he said. “I was probably stuttering like a pathetic fan boy. I remember looking at the photos when they were done and thinking what a waste of nerves. You are not going to be star struck ever again. That was a seminal moment in my photography education.”

He has gone on to photograph many more celebrities as well as cultural and historical events in the city but he approaches every subject with the same respect and humility.

“Probably my favourite is the portraiture,” said Palmer. “I love it when people see their loved one in the picture and recognize something unique about them. If it’s a mannerism or a way they sit or a way they tilt their head. So, really trying to capture those unique characteristics. That trick of trying to learn who someone is and what is unique about them.”

Palmer and his wife Jessica Steinhauser have two adult children Audrey, 21 and Felix 19.

Steinhauser is an award winning ceramic artist and when Palmer isn’t snapping pictures he is making bricks for her custom-made, wood burning stove business Kachelofen.

“I have a business card that says Dean Palmer photographer and a business card that says Dean Palmer brick maker,” he said. “I’m in a very interesting time because I’m really enjoying that and I have been photographing all of her work for decades. We work really well together. I seem to be really good at the stuff she either doesn’t like to do or doesn’t have time to do. I see it as a mix of both going forward in some way. What the mix is, we’ll find out.”