Heather Saitz is an award-winning photographer, creative director, and graphic designer but despite her accolades, she still struggles at times to find galleries to exhibit her fine art photography.

Her first real exposure to photography was at home as her father was a seasoned journalist and photographer who worked for the now-defunct Mississauga Times. They even had a darkroom in their house.

“It really intrigued me and it was great because I could do homework from home, literally,” says Saitz.

Saitz, 39, attended Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School in Peterborough, Ont. which had a photography course. After high school, Saitz knew she wanted to do something creative.

In her teenage years, she practiced her photography skills by taking pictures of friends and remembers one photo in particular.

“I shot it with a really shallow depth of field and you could see her hanging off the bridge and you faded into this sort of blurry ‘depth of field’, it was very cool,” says Saitz.

The first camera that Saitz shot with was her father’s old manual film camera and to this day, she still prefers film for her art photography.  

After high school, Saitz graduated Sheridan College in 1999 in the greater Toronto area, which is where she started her career. She started out as assistant to a photographer working for a large commercial photography studio. During this time the studio was doing a lot of catalogue work.

“Shooting catalogue work is not something you get out school to aspire to do as a photographer,” says Saitz.

Heather Saitz, a photographer and graphic designer, in her studio located in downtown Calgary. She is busy with her comercial graphic design work while focusing on her personal fine art photography work. Photo by Dana Holloway.

However, Saitz describes the experience as a positive one because she had learned a lot about studio photography. During the late 90s and early 2000s, she lived in Toronto where she found frequent work.

“There was a lot of work in that industry, steady work, very steady work. So, I did it,” says Saitz.

When she first came to Calgary in 2003, She moved to Calgary in 2003 in part for work. However, at the time, Toronto’s design and advertising markets were over saturated. Also, Saitz was dating a guy from Calgary while in Toronto and decided she needed a change.

She began working  as a freelancer and a contract photographer. By 2015, she had landed a position as the art director at Post + Press , a public relations and content marketing company.

As a creative director, Saitz works with two junior designers every day. She finds the job all-encompassing and rewarding.

When Saitz is not working her day job, she works on her fine-art photography, a more personal pursuit. Her gallery work and personal photography have become an extension of who she is as a person.

She often ventures around Calgary photographing society at its best and worst.

One of her pieces from her collection titled, Room for Tourists. Photo courtesy of Heather Saitz.

For her personal work, she shoots exclusively on a rare Miyama 6 film camera. She uses 120mm film, which produces a larger negative and more detail than standard 35mm film.

Her photography has garnered praise from the likes of award-winning local photographer George Webber.

“She’s really good and she’s really interested in how people and environments are connected and how they interact. Most of her photography or documentary photography is usually described as environmental portraiture,” Webber said.

“My eyes are drawn to the human footprint in the world,” says Saitz.

She also finds time in her busy schedule for yoga, travel, spending time with her husband or cooking dinner. As Saitz describes it, none of it comes easy.

“It’s tough and in order to make a decent pay cheque and a good living and making the work that you want to produce in your career you have to hustle.”

The major theme in her work is how the environment and people come together.

“My eyes are drawn to the human footprint in the world that we live in together, whether that is in a big city, whether it’s in the middle of nature.”

She uses film to shoot most of her fine art and gallery work. Saitz’s work has a very retro look.

One of her photos from her Room for Tourists collection. Photo courtesy of Heather Saitz.

Film cameras have to be developed in a dark room. While digital gives the reader an instant look at the picture. With film it usually takes time to process and develop before the reader can see the finished product.

“I’m naturally drawn to that aesthetic. I like things that are old. I like history. I guess that is another central theme that always plays out in my work is history.”

Rooms for Tourists and The Building Project are projects that Saitz shot over the course of a few years — a lot goes into these kinds of ventures.

“Those types of projects are usually not something that just happens right away. There’s years of planning, funding, and researching and traveling and shooting and reshooting,” says Saitz.

In 2014, Saitz won the Gold Photography Award for ‘Au Vieux Fanal’  at the Alberta Magazine Publishers Awards. This award was won for her photographic work in Rooms for Tourists.

During the shoot of Rooms for Tourists, Saitz was to photograph the owners of the motels but several of them did not want to be in the photos.

Saitz faced several other challenges while shooting Rooms for Tourists. “I would travel all the way to these locations [and] the motels wouldn’t be exactly how I had seen them online, or the lighting was really bad or it would be pouring or we would get there and I wasn’t allowed to shoot them, like some of the owners were very rude,” she says.

Another piece from the collection, Room for Tourists. Photo courtesy of Heather Saitz.

Saitz is searching for a gallery to show her work. As a creative director, she can often take rejection with ease. However, because her photography is an extension of who she is, rejection can feel more personal.

“I’ve already had galleries say no and it’s heartbreaking. There’s a lot of self-doubt that goes along with ‘Can I do this?’ or ‘Is my work good enough?’” says Saitz.

However, she says she can look back on her work with pride and excitement for what the future holds.  

Saitz travels in her free time to different cities and countries when she isn’t working at Press + Post photographing the human footprint society leaves on the environment.

“I just like that imprint that we’ve made in some capacity and how society functions together as a whole” she says.  In the future, Saitz looks forward to spending an extended period of time photographing Vancouver Island and Tofino environment.

dholloway@cjournal.ca 

Editor: Kate Paton | cpaton@cjournal.ca