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Interview with Gayla Trail of Making Happy


Gayla Trail is photographer behind Making Happy. She is also the founder of Fluffco and You Grow Girl.


PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Gayla Trail: I’m 35, I’m a garden communicator, which means that I write and speak about gardening for a living. I also take photos of gardens and plants. I used to do graphic design for a living but most design work is now done primarily in conjunction with the gardening work.

I live in Toronto, Canada with my partner Davin who is also a photographer and graphic designer.

PP: How did you first become interested in photography?

GT: I bought a Polaroid One-Step from a thrift shop when I was 18, but sadly could not afford to buy much film for it. I went on to take a couple of photography classes while doing a Fine Art Degree, including non-silver photography which I really enjoyed.

Despite that and some dabbling with digital cameras after university, I would say that my interest only really took off sometime in 2003, shortly after starting Making Happy.


PP: Do you exclusively work with film?

GT: No. Although I have a hierarchy in my head with film at the top. I consider the film photos to be the “real” photos. I use digital primarily for work. It is used out of necessity but I would use film all of the time if I could.

PP: What is it that you love about medium format? Why do you shoot medium rather than 35mm?

GT: I have an affinity for squares and prefer to compose within that shape. I think this is because square photos allow you to get more height into the shot without making a very long rectangular, which is what you get when you turn 35mm sideways.


PP: Why did you end Making Happy after five years?

GT: There were a number of reasons. One was that I felt I was becoming too locked into that format (photoblogging) and wanted to push myself to try something different. That required making some space. The great thing about websites like that is that in some ways there is no definitive beginning or end. This can allow you to go where you don’t expect to go and build something one day at a time with less pressure or intimidation. The problem is that it can go on forever.

I wanted to get back to making art with a defined beginning and end. I needed to force myself to edit in a way that went beyond, “I like this today.” When I started the site I needed that open-ended freedom. Over time I felt that the space and time dedicated to it was keeping me from challenging myself in other ways.

PP: Any chance Making Happy will make a comeback anytime soon?

GT: I don’t think so. I’ve had another online photo project in mind for a while but it has been shelved due to a new book and an enormous workload over the last year. That project will not be a blog but will definitely have a beginning and end in a defined number of parts. the62steps.


PP: Can you give an estimate as to how much money your photography hobby costs?

GT: Ha! No idea. I keep myself in a safe little bubble of denial about that. I try to keep it in check and allow myself to splash out on film in exceptional circumstances. Since the digital stuff is primarily work I keep that separate.

PP: What do you consider the most important technical element of photography that aspiring photographers should focus on mastering?

GT: I have got to be the worst person to ask about technical stuff. Bring up the word technical and my eyes immediately start to glaze over. I feel like a fraud offering any advice in that regard.

I think this is why box cameras were what got me back into photography. Going back to the basics and understanding light without worrying about f-stops. All you have to worry about is distance, composition, and holding the camera steady. I learned more from exploring box cameras than I did in school. From there I was able to move back up into the technical stuff with ease.

Mastering? I’d say work on figuring out what you want to photograph and composition. The technical stuff is secondary.


PP: Can you briefly explain what a box camera is and how it differs from other cameras?

GT: The box cameras I am talking about are older model cameras that often held 616, 620, or 120 film. It’s literally just a box that holds film and has a lens, a shutter, and a viewfinder. Often times that doesn’t work very well. No focus or aperture, although I have seen a few with a version of both. In general they are really simple cameras. And yet there is still a lot of room for experimentation. A pinhole camera is a box camera without the lens.

PP: How do you go about taking a photo? Can you walk us through your mental process?

GT: I don’t know how to answer this question. Not as a process. Here’s all I’ve managed to work out:

This is very different depending on the photo I am taking. The work photos are much more conscious. I did a lot of set up shots for work in the last year, which involved styling the shots. That involved another step in itself because I often had to prepare all of the aspects of the “sets” beforehand. If I am taking a portrait of someone it is also much more conscious because I am really concerned about not making those pictures so much about me. The other photos, the ones I call the “real” photos are much more unconscious. I would describe that process as meditation in motion. And while I can’t meditate sitting still, my experiences here function in the same way, clearing my mind. All of the same steps are going on in my head, but I have no idea how I would lay that out as a process.


PP: What equipment do you use these days?

GT: My favourite camera is a Hasselblad 500 C/M. I have two lenses for this: a 120mm and a 60mm. I bought the camera as a kit from someone I know and that’s what came with it. I still regularly use my crappy, falling to pieces, has exploded several times Great Wall DF-. How that thing is still working is a small miracle and the product of much taping and jigging with coat hangers, etc. I love my SX-70 Alpha 1 camera to bits but haven’t had any film to take pictures in about 6 months.

I still take my Horizon 202 panoramic out now and again and just bought an older, metal model too. There are lots of others but those are my go-to cameras.

PP: How often do you shoot?

GT: I take photos everyday or very nearly everyday.


PP: What advice do you have for an aspiring photographer?

GT: Not to get too hung up about gear. You can take a good picture with any old piece of shit. Yes, the equipment does matter when you’ve got a specific idea in mind, but it’s by no means the be all and end all. A lot of people seem to think that the can’t be a photographer without the “right equipment.”

I am also often asked about taking a class. I can’t answer that question for everyone, but I will say that I learned TONS more by just experimenting on my own than I ever did taking classes.

PP: Do you follow any photographers online? If so, who?

GT: Shannon Richardson, Zoe Strauss, Miles, Therese Brown, and Andrew Newson.

PP: If you could see one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

GT: Of the photobloggers, Shannon Richardson.


PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

GT: It sounds so silly but really to just get out there and take pictures and try not to get hung up on having the right equipment or doing things the right way. I don’t think there is any one right way to do anything. And some of the best results come from totally screwing up and doing things wrong.

Take chances. Photography is very subjective and personal in a lot of ways. The photographs I like best both from myself and other photographers are emotional and individual. Try not to worry about what other people think about your photos too much and instead trust your intuition.