Interview by Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder
One of our favourite (if not THE favourite) parts of yoga retreats is meeting and connecting with wonderful souls from all over the world. Each of them has their story to tell, their journey to share. This June we’ve hosted an amazing young photographer Izzy Dempsey from Nova Scotia who has not only given us the gift of her amazing art, but also her insights into life, the world, and travel.
I’m so happy to share this interview and incredible photography with you, don’t forget – earth without art is just EH!
Tell a little bit about yourself and of course – how did you get into photography?
As I’ve been meeting people along the road during my travels, people often look a little perplexed when I say I’m from Nova Scotia, Canada. The typical response is “so, is that around Vancouver or Toronto?” – nope. It’s a little province right on the East Coast, on a peninsula! With nature and the ocean at my fingertips, I’m thankful for the roots it has given me. I find now whenever I travel for long periods, by the end of it, if I’ve been without the ocean for a while – I start to crave it. It feels almost necessary for my survival now.
My interest in photography sparked at the early age of 11, when I chanced upon an old film camera next to a garbage bin. From then on, I was fascinated by capturing moments and stories and using it to communicate with the world around me. I started pursuing it professionally after I shot my first wedding at 15, and although there has been the ups and downs with creating a business that feels representative of who I am and the art I want to produce, I’ve never questioned it as my life long career.
What is the most important thing for you in your craft?
The most important thing for me in my craft would be capturing stories and emotions, that in return can be interpreted to the viewer to speak to them in a way that makes them feel connected. The moment and emotion it draws out is what inspires me to lift the camera to my eye, and then the composition and details come afterward.
For example, while on the island of Vis at the retreat – the scenery we were surrounded with on a daily basis was in fact breathtaking, but my eye was caught more by the smiles and relationships building within the guests or the moments of peace and serenity that some would be experiencing within themselves.
What inspires you to do your work?
At the moment, I would say experiencing life, exploring new corners and nooks and crannies of the world, and above all – people. While I travel, one of my favourite things to do is to just walk the streets, plug in my headphones to cut out distractions of noise, and just enjoy how the light hits their faces, how people use their body language and expression to communicate with one another, or how they express themselves through their appearance.
On the flip side, in order to be inspired by this, I find it’s crucial for me to have moments of solitude and stillness to recharge. The early mornings when I wake up and everyone is still asleep, I listen to the bird chirps and the voice inside my head. These moments to myself allow for the inspiration of people and activity to be reflected and appreciated.
How would you describe your style?
Visually speaking, I would say my style is “raw”. Although not intentional, very rarely are my images super bright and “clean” so to speak. I don’t do a whole lot of retouching, I like to keep things less how they are, as I don’t like to alter what is being seen with the eye. I think that is the beauty of photography, to capture something real that you can look back on. In a world that is so instant, edited, and altered, I feel passionate about keeping it as is. I just aim to capture transparency, whether that is through someones story, or a place I visit. I try and see beyond what meets the eye, and convey it using light to draw out a feeling you get from it.
You obviously love to travel – what places did you like most and why, how do you capture them in your work and what’s next on your list?
As cliche as it sounds, but places off the beaten path. Perhaps it has to do with growing up in NS and the rural landscape I’m used to, as well as the lack of people, but I try my best to avoid the tourist spots. Despite how beautiful popular places can be, I find it can be difficult to see the realness to it when it’s full of visitors just sifting through. Sometimes I like this as a challenge though, to get past the surface and find the culture and story of these places. Also, I look for this out of respect. If I’m in a place that some call home, I want to try and learn about what makes it home to them.
For instance, when I was in Dubrovnik, I almost instantly gave up and left it, quick to dismiss it through its crowded streets of tourists of overshot locations, I then took some back alleys and wandered for a bit. I ended up meeting this man, while in search of space and true character to be revealed. I was glancing back down behind me, and I stopped to take a photo at the top of the stairs.
“Best street in the city, yeah?” said an older man with a salty beard and kind eyes, reminding me of my father.
I’m sure he’s seen it being captured millions of times by now.
We began to chat or tried to in the midst of the language barrier. He insisted I sit on his bench. He was selling cold drinks and an assortment of small souvenirs. He asked me what I wanted, and offered me it for free. I continued then to sit by him, drinking an ice tea, learning more about him as tourists passed by – eying his mini-fridge while the hot sun beamed down.
He is only one of the 700 who lived in the old town of Dubrovnik today. The rest is now filled with rental apartments, hotels, etc. He has been selling his items and drinks to tourists for 7 years during the summertime but been living there for over 50 years.
I took plenty of photos that compositionally and visually may be appealing in this city, but this encounter was just another reminder of how much human connection and photographs of people mean to me. He completely changed my impression of the city, showing me there is still something true beneath the exploitation of the city caused by the mass amount of cruise ships.
Next up? Good question! Being back in Europe has reminded me of just how accessible everything is. I think currently what’s in the works is a move for me. I’m so thankful for my community and home in NS, but I think I need a change of pace and environment in the near future. I’m mesmerized by the German language, so I hope to take language classes in Berlin and be rooted there for while doing freelancing, but then take travels during this time to other countries within Europe. As a photographer and artist, I think this is really important to feel this freedom and inspiration for new places.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
I think my proudest achievement so far is redefining what success means to me. After my dad past way almost two years ago, a lot of my perspectives on life and the values I wanted to take forward with me stood out, so since then, it’s been a bit of a journey with my art as I shift it to have it correlate with who I am, and how I can contribute and communicate with the world through photography that feels honest to me.
It’s hard when photography is such a saturated market, and from starting so young, I find people often evaluate your profession and success by how much money you’re earning or shoots your booking, or perhaps this was an evaluation of myself feeling like I need to prove myself and my work. This resulted in taking on any shoot that came my way, for that would mean I’m actively engaged in my business, and “doing it”. When I would shoot 15 weddings in summer at the age of 18, I felt like I had the approval of others to be taken seriously, but I lost the passion and connection with my art. Success to me is no longer about how much, instead it’s learning to say no when needed and staying true to my values and how this can connect to the work I produce. It’s about providing the client with something that goes beyond just a photo and is also about the experience.
For anyone looking to embark on their own journey as an artist or just as anything else – what would you say to encourage and inspire?
Prioritize it, and yourself! I know from my experience, it’s so easy to just say “I would like to go there, do this, see that… maybe someday.” – always questioning the effort and money involved. Honestly though, if it’s something you desire, and have a spark in you to do – just commit to it, and the rest will fall into place one way or another. After committing to staying put in Halifax this past year, I am also a strong believer that roots and stillness are important for growth, but if you’re open to the world, I think traveling can teach you some of the most fundamental and life-changing things.
My dad would always say on the way to the airport as we would go through the list to see if we had everything – “Do you have your passport? A bit of money?” – and with the response being yes, then he would say, “that’s all you need then.”
Second, follow your gut and your own needs. Solo traveling can be hard, but it is also freeing. You are in charge of yourself. This can be a blessing and a curse, depending on if you listen to yourself or not. There have been times that I’ve caught myself following the crowd when really it wasn’t what I needed or actually desired at that moment. For instance, accommodation – everyone says travel in hostels when you’re on your own, you’ll meet lots of people, etc etc. I did that and did love it at times, but I also knew that I get cranky and need time to myself as well, so I did a mixture and booked myself my own Airbnb room here and there as well. Or when you are traveling, people will often throw out a thousand different thoughts and ideas on what you “have” to see or do. Obviously, at no fault of them, some of the best places I’ve been are from recommendations, and I’ve passed on my own, but it’s important to take these comments with a grain of salt. What’s good for them, might not be what’s good for you. Create a trip to suit your own needs, learn from what you do but didn’t like, and don’t get too hooked on social media and the thousand blog posts saying “top ten MUST do’s”. Read it as you CAN do.
What’s next for you? What are you looking for to achieve?
As I mentioned, I think a move is on the horizon. I’ve been scared to fully leave the security and comfort of home, and what I feel like I’ve worked so hard (especially in the past year) to get, that being: a photography business representative of who I am and community. During this trip though, I have learned that it wasn’t something to achieve, but to add to the shaping of who I am. Now I can apply this experience elsewhere.
Something I am looking to “achieve” is balanced, and a life that is more about living, and less about having to do this or that in order to feel accomplished and fulfilled. I’m not someone that will say just live in the moment purely, I think goals are important and help to encourage us to continue the cycle forward and cultivate growth, but it’s also easy to become a slave to this, particularly when you run your own business.
That was one of the main reasons I did this trip, to just be, to recharge, get inspired, and drop judgment on myself. When I’ve gotten a rush of inspiration, I’ve put my head into my art and business, and plugged away happily, but when I’ve been uninterested and uninspired, I’ve taken time to just read or write, or sit with my flatmates in Berlin with no aim in mind to do anything. Sadly enough, this is rare for me back home. I can’t remember the last time I would just read a book for the sake of wanting to, or not feel the need to have an activity or purpose to be with others when I knew there was always work I could be doing.
I’m in this bizarre transitional period, as I realize it’s not just a temporary move I will be making – but my time in Halifax has come to an end with no reason to come back in sight. I’m not going away for any purpose besides following my gut in what I need to feel fulfilled. Halifax will always be a wonderful place to come back to visit, but as for now, I’m starting a new chapter. As my dad and I would always say every morning before he left for work, “to infinity and beyond”.