Industry Night: Behind the Scenes with Brilynn Ferguson

Industry NightBehind the Scenes is our new series that focuses on folks in the restaurant biz that have cool jobs. And stand out from the crowd.

I hope it inspires you to try new things, and perhaps even change careers.

Name: Brilynn Ferguson

Job/Jobs: Photographer/Filmmaker

I wear a lot of hats and that still doesn't encompass everything. Different roles have included filming The Secret Pickle Documentary, and I've done a lot of people's auditions for TV, both food people and others (Amazing Race Canada, Season One Team. They came in second). For a long time, I did a food blog. Then I did less writing and more storytelling through video form.

Recently, I contributed to Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer… by Mirella Amato, an intro and explanation about beer. About 80% of the pictures are mine.

The Great Lobster Cookbook by Matt Dean Petit: all the photos are mine. Matt Petit jokes that I just stalked him until he gave me a job. I’ve followed him since he was just a pop-up. I'm at a lot of food events shooting personally or for someone else and we became friends. I do a number of things for him - currently I’m designing menus for Rock Lobster.

Industry Ink: When I started as a freelancer, work was sporadic. There was either a lull or it was insanely busy. During the lull, I needed a project. I wanted control over my own things. I had different ideas and concepts.  A few different stories melded together.

On a shoot, there was this actor. Actually, he was a bartender/photographer/actor/music producer. He was in a tank top and he had this tattoo, a side piece that was peeking through. This was way before tattoos like this were popular. For the most part, you wouldn’t see them. But the story about it was fantastic and quite powerful.  There was more to this than just going out and getting an arbitrary tattoo like a dolphin. There were numbers underneath the image. Often, numbers indicate a birth or death date. Here, the numbers were the longitude and latitude of where his brother’s plane went down. He was a pilot.

Then I was shooting two chefs for fun. I asked them about their tattoos. They were completely covered, and their tattoos ranged from the silly to more serious. It brought out a bigger story. I realized, ‘there’s something here.’ I'm interested in this, but are other people? Will they say yes to me? They did. Some are people I know, some came from cold calling.  I cover the industry as a whole – chefs, bartenders, servers, etc.

The website is in construction, but I started posted pictures on Instagram, a lot of it in September. By Monday, I will have 115-120 in total (and it’s going beyond just Toronto – I’ve been contacted by folks in the States, Montreal and other places).
I didn't know at first if I liked doing it, but I thought, ‘It’s my project, I can stop anytime.’ I am completely blown away. I am so excited after a shoot.

I mostly shoot at restaurants, on Mondays when they are closed or before they open for the day. I don't shoot with a flash, as it can be awkward for the people posing. I always try and make them look their best. I’m surprised by the openness of people showing their tattoos and the number that have taken their shirts off!

Do tattoos appeal more to you now? Will you get one? I've changed the way I perceive them in general. I’m not opposed nor interested).

Typical weekly hours (avg.): (She laughs). All the time. But I am happier than I've ever been in any job. I can see this could be a career, not just a pastime or stepping stone until something better comes along. I couldn't do Monday to Friday 9 to 5 now. I go to the grocery store Monday at noon when it's empty. I’ve kind of taken on the industry schedule - i.e. work weekends, take Tuesdays off.

Hardest aspect of your job: A huge portion of my job, and the part that I struggle with the most, is marketing and self-promotion. My business is entirely word-of-mouth. You don’t know where the next job is coming from. The other hard part: everyone wants it yesterday.

Great part of your job: I haven't applied for a job for three years. More people know I exist, so it’s easier.

Biggest misconception about the job: With photography and film work, everyone has a camera on their phone - It is hard to justify hiring a professional for the job when people think they can just do it themselves.

Early days projects: Early on as a freelancer I would do anything - I just wanted to work. One of the more interesting shots I did was a reality TV show pilot to be pitched to a network. It was about female indie wrestlers and shot in rural Ontario (Tillsonburg). I spent the whole day in a church with a wrestling ring set up right in the middle, with the pews moved to serve as seats around it, a big screen TV on the stage, and a guy giving "sermons" from the pulpit. Women with names like ‘Silvie Silver’ done up in full costumes told about the fall fairs they were doing and how they were big in Japan and soon be going on tour in Europe. There were snakes and rats (to feed to the snakes)… One of the reasons I love what I do, is the crazy adventure.

Next project: Can’t say just yet, but it’s exciting.

In the meantime, you can head to The Drake Hotel this Monday, January 12 at 8pm, for the launch of Industry Ink - the website with full stories, and soon-to-come, multiple photos of each person. Not only is there a whisky competition and Kanpai Snack Bar (opening later this month) providing cool snacks, there will be a slideshow of my work, along with a few prints. A number of people who I photographed will be there as well. The website is live, just as a placeholder, until then:

Home office, outside office or both? I have a home office but not one that people come to. I usually go to restaurants were people work, as it’s easy and convenient for them. I am surprised by the number of people who have invited me into their home.

Dream client: There's a photo floating around that was shot awhile back. It’s of Paul Bocuse pulling down the sleeve of his chef coat to reveal a tattoo of a rooster. I wish I shot that. I would love to work with Dorie Greenspan.

A lot of people I shot were people I didn't know about or not that well, and not the biggest names, but some of the most open and interesting people I’ve ever met.

Equipment: I just sold most of my equipment. It’s usually just what I can carry. Now I have just one camera - a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. I use Lightroom and Photoshop for editing photos and Adobe Premiere Pro CC for video editing. A lot of my time is spent editing. Video editing takes forever!

Parting words: I am so amazed by how hospitable the hospitality industry is to me. This project is restoring my faith in humanity

Brilynn Ferguson:
Twitter: @brilynnf

IndustryInk: | @industryink | Flickr

p.s. Check out our Facebook page for a few photos from Industry Ink.