The Photography of Ali Eisner

Ali Eisner’s iconic photo of The Flash sitting in an LA Diner.

When I meet Ali Eisner I feel like I already know her. I’ve been wandering around her exhibition at The Gladstone Hotel for about an hour, looking at the vast array of photos that comprise her show Favourite Things.

Sometimes, when starring at photography works it can be hard to get a sense of the artists, but not with Ali. The photos in this exhibit cover a wide range of subjects, from musicians to urban landscapes to superheroes in diners to inanimate objects. And, when I finally get talking with Ali after the show, she confirms just about every positive feeling I have about her and her work.

The iconic sign above Honest Ed’s.

Ali started her photography practice at a young age, essentially growing up in a darkroom. Her father worked in the camera shop at Honnest Ed’s where her parents met. Starting with the use of film and darkrooms has been a major influence as Ali’s work has moved to digital. She says she tries not to abuse the use of digital and overshoot, “I try to take my time with stuff and be in the moment.” This patience is evident in Ali’s many shots of musician friends. You can tell she just waited for that “right moment.”

The Flash sunbathing.

Hilariously, sometimes her photography is a bi-product of making moments happen. The photo above, The Flash, was taken in LA when Ali and her partner Christine missed Halloween. The two had their costumes planned and packed, but when Christine got sick on Halloween their plans to go out as The Flash and Batman were ruined. So, later, Ali decided they would dress up and take photos. Christine is pictured here in a sun-bathing, while Ali is behind the camera; yes, dressed as Batman.

Ron Sexsmith playing an intimate show.
Ali is also very physical with her photography, favouring a fixed lense with no zoom. “I really got used to having to compose my shots using my body.” While a courageous move that forces her to interact with her subjects, being 5’3″ means that “getting close” can often be a hassle. “The tallest guy in the stadium will somehow find his way in front of me,” she says while laughing.

Gimmie an R! by Ali Eisner.

None-the-less, the use of fixed lenses definitely creates an intimacy that is apparent. Her piece, Gimmie an R! spoke to me at the show, and when I asked Ali about it the reasons were clear. She says the shot was from Douglas Coupland’s exhibition Atelier – a very colourful show involving kids toy blocks spelling very “adult” words. Oddly, I found the piece sad and reverent, both because of its lack of colour, but also because of its focus. Ali confirms that she trusted her instincts when focusing solely on one letter, rather than the entire word, and that the choice to change the photo from colour to black and white was deliberate. “It’s not how I was feeling in that moment,”  she tells me,  “It was a happy moment but I decided to see another side of it.”

Trusting your instincts is an important part of being an artist and something Ali does quite well. Beyond being a photographer, she is also a puppeteer and musician. Ali recently retired from the role of CBC’s Mama Yamma and still plays Jay the Blue Jay on TVO Kids’ Gisele’s Big Back Yard. She says that acting is about making moments happen, while being a photographer is about watching and waiting for those moments to happen. She says that photography helps her find balance in being an actor and that the energy of one bleeds into another. “It’s important for me to do quiet stuff,” she says.

While Favourite Things is over at The Gladstone, Ali has alluded to many exciting new projects in the future. In the meantime, check out many more of Ali’s photos here.

Article by Brian Cauley.

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