Photography, videography and what it means to travel – An interview with Brian Ceci, our director of photography
I love meeting someone who has so perfectly found their path in life and continues to move and grow in their chosen career, without looking back. Brian Ceci is one of those people, and he just so happens to be the man behind the lens of A Brit and A Broad.
He is a native to Vancouver, born on the North Shore, and grew up like a good Canadian boy; playing hockey and romping amongst the trees. Rather than wearing the 30+ stamps in his passport as badges of pride, he uses his experience to create passionate, engaging, and most importantly, beautiful work in both film and photography.
I sat down with Brian, someone I have know for seven plus years, to find out what drives him, how he sees the world, and his best memories from travelling.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Brian Ceci. I make films and I take photographs.
What do you call yourself? Are you a photographer, a videographer, a cinematographer, a director of photography? Are you all of those things? Are you none of those things? Does it matter?
I’m not sure it really matters. But to answer the question – photography is more of a hobby to me and I love it for that reason whereas cinematography is more of a craft that I have studied. I choose not to do commercial projects for photography. I’d rather shoot things in their element and capture moments as they are.
What do you love about photography?
Well, I love to take pictures because it’s a still moment in time that you can tell a story about.
You mean, you the photographer can tell a story, or the photo tells a story?
Well, you, the person, tell the story because you took the image. You captured that moment. But also, there’s just beauty you can’t see with your own eyes and you have to use your skills and know-how to capture them in a specific way that other people will enjoy.
Do you think growing up in such a beautiful place, like the North Shore of Vancouver, influenced what you do now?
Definitely. There was a point where people were seeking Australian DOP’s (directors of photography) because the way that the light strikes people in the Southern hemisphere, particularly in Australia, was very striking.
I think that the way that I’ve grown up in Canada on the West Coast, it’s kind of the same way. When that light appears (when it’s not raining) it’s just overwhelming.
Yeah. The light – just the way that light hits things. The way it shapes people. I do think it’s a big influence, location, and the way you grew up and the way that you think about your childhood. They’re all indicators of how people shoot, because nobody’s gone through the same exact things, so why would they view things the same way? So no matter how much you try and copy somebody, you won’t look at things exactly the same way.
What made you travel for the first time?
Before I left, I just had this feeling that I didn’t need to be at home. I was in college for a year and a half and I didn’t like it. I remember my dad telling me how he would have to wake me up five minutes before class started and how he had to drag me out of bed… to go to college – is that really what your future is supposed to be like?
When you went travelling, did you view it as the start of something big?
At the time, no. There is this song called ‘Wet Sand’ by the The Red Hot Chili Peppers and at the end of the song there’s this 40-second interlude where the guitar kind of has this reverb effect.
At the time I would hear it in my mind and I always pictured that as the sound of travelling. Years later, I figured out that it’s very cinematic sounding and it all made sense.
You would hear the song, it would make you think about travelling, and then later you realized you were imagining life through a lens?
Yeah. It’s really beautiful and haunting. It’s hard to explain. I wanted to go to Australia because I thought there was something there that needed to tell me something. At the time, I thought it was love but I didn’t know that it wasn’t until I got home, and it wasn’t a girl, obviously. I just needed to be away and collect my thoughts and understand why I needed to be abroad.
I don’t know why I wanted to go to Australia. I think at the time it was just marketed for people of my age. I was 20.
It was safe enough that your mom wouldn’t worry about you?
I guess so, yeah. I ended up in Thailand for a few weeks first and I remember arriving there at night and taking a taxi. We had had all these warnings about taking taxis and stuff and I remember being pretty freaked out for the first couple days… and wanting to go home.
Yeah, right away.
Why did you stay?
Because it would be stupid to go home (laughs).
Fair enough. So, why do you travel?
(Big groan) I travel because there’s a feeling you get even when you’re in the shittiest situation that it’s something you’ve never encountered before.
Even if you’ve been to similar places, there’s always something that you run into that you’ve never seen before, or heard of before. Or even if you’ve heard of it, you can hear about something a thousand times over, you can hear other people stories, but until you’ve experienced them for yourself it becomes a part of who you are, I guess. You start to understand that everyone’s different but really they’re just the same.
Yeah, that’s kind of half the fun of it, is seeing that everyone is different but just as well, everybody’s the same.
Yeah, and if you think about it, you run into the same circumstances over and over; mothers taking care of their kids, who are the same age as the kids at home and they do the same things, just in a different way, you know? They’re still innocent little kids and then they grow up. It just depends on the culture, how they change.
What happens next.
Yeah. It’s interesting.
Do you think everyone should travel?
I’d like to say yes, but I just don’t think travelling is for everybody. I don’t. I think some people are homebodies and they like that, and that’s great.
So you wouldn’t recommend that those people should travel, even just once?
I mean, I think you should give it a shot if you have any feeling that you want to do it. You should just do it, give it a go.
On the art form
What has been your favourite place to travel to from a photographer’s perspective?
Definitely South Sudan and the reason being, it’s just so raw there. So real. It just feels like the last place in the world that hasn’t been touched by any sort of tourism, which I know is untrue. But it just feels like that. It’s a really special place, in that way. When the light starts coming down low on the horizon it’s just so beautiful. There’s nothing like it.
Do you feel more inclined to share your work from South Sudan because it’s more rare that people have been there?
It’s more just, I feel pretty lucky to have seen it at its state. And I hope it doesn’t change.
How do you portray the feeling there, which is so different from anywhere most people have encountered?
That’s a good theme in general. For both video and photo, what you’re trying to evoke is emotion out of both. You want people to feel something – whether it’s “oh my God, that’s hilarious”, or “that is breathtaking”, or it’s just intrigue. It gets people looking at it, looking closely. One of the things I learned pretty early is, if it doesn’t evoke emotion of some sort than it’s nothing. The photo’s not worth it.
Do you choose photos or video content to use based on how it makes you feel?
Oh yeah, definitely.
When you choose it, do you think, “People are going to see this and feel…”?
No. It’s about how I feel when I look at it. For videos, when I shoot things, I feel something and then when I go and cut it, I try and tell people what I’m feeling by picking the right music or cutting in a certain way.
It’s like any art form – the artist is at the core of it.
And I think some people forget that. Sometimes I take pictures of things and people look at me like, “why aren’t you taking a picture of this thing here.” Sometimes, I just want to take something in for myself, and that’s all I need from it, rather than sit there and blast of a thousand photos.
What’s the difference between shooting video and shooting photos? And do they overlap or are they two independent entities?
They’re very different… and the same.
So they do overlap?
Yeah, they do. It really depends on the subject. From what I understand, it’s more difficult to learn photography and then go to video versus the opposite route, simply because of all the post-production requirements for video.
I personally think if you understand editing and directing, as well as shooting, you just have a better chance of being a better cinematographer than if you don’t. I know people who are simply directors and they just don’t understand how to piece stories together or they’re just cinematographers so they don’t understand the story. So when you’re shooting things, you’re not looking at the bigger picture.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best at all of them it just means you have a good understanding of all of them.
Does that relate to photo?
I think the framing is more of the focus in photography. You can be more versatile. You can catch moments here and there, within a scene and be seamless whereas you can’t necessarily do that in video.
On Moving Forward
What has kept you moving forward and have there been signs along the way to tell you you’re on the right path?
I think what keeps me moving forward is that there’s always going to be that photo or that moment that I’ll capture and that will be forever internal, once you get it. It will be forever recorded. There’s that. If you ever stop learning, then you may as well just give up.
I remember being in a van in the outback of Australia and filming out the window with my shitty little camera, and taking photos and I came home with the pictures and you know, your mom is like, “oh my God, these are great pictures!” but I really did think I had something there, both with the video and the photos. I just felt like there should be a story there. So, I wanted to learn how to do it after that.
Was there ever a moment where you wanted to stop? Where you thought, “I’m done with this”?
No. There hasn’t been. There’s been frustrating moments, hair pulling moments, of course, but it didn’t mean I should stop just that I needed to switch things up.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Brian’s interview; his tips and tricks, finding your style and keeping your gear safe on the road.
For more of Brian’s work visit www.brianceci.com
For info on Brian’s work with the Obakki Foundation visit https://obakkifoundation.org/