May 23rd, 2022

Kirk Lisaj (@largecrewneck) is a self taught photographer born in Mississauga, Ontario and currently resides in Toronto.  His photographs work to transcend moments into mystical visual gems; from transforming modern mundane objects into surreal still-lifes or capturing vibrant portraits of friends and strangers. Inspired by the visual rhythms of nature, dance music and intimacy; Kirk's images highlight the absurdity and romanticism of the human experience while also capturing our global wackiness in a tender and compassionate manner. Kirk has worked with clients such as Ssense, Bloomberg Businessweek, Paper Magazine and just recently was part of Pomegranate Press's group book Nothing Left But Healing.

I know music was a huge impetus for you to shoot; was there a particular event or moment that began your photo experience?

It was! I still tell people to this day that I wish I was a musician, and that photography was my backup plan.
       Going to FORM Arcosanti in 2018 was definitely a pivotal moment in my photography career. Back then, I would always bring a disposable camera with me to concerts and music festivals, but I opted to rent a DSLR to bring to FORM instead. FORM felt special because it took place in this gorgeous desert location in the middle of Arizona, it had an amazing roster of artists performing, plus I didn’t need a media pass to bring a camera with me. Honestly, I didn’t even know how to properly use the camera I rented. Nonetheless, I spent the whole weekend taking photos of the performances,  landscapes and friends I made there. I even did a (not so great) impromptu photoshoot with Caroline Polachek (of Chairlift)! I was so filled with purpose by the experience and happy with the photos I took there. I remember thinking when I got back home: “yeah…I need to figure out how to do this for a living”.

Much of your work shifts between documenting wacky structures and the way people interact with these absurd designs within society (ie: funky bike rack and  the man falling into green dumpster container). What draws you to these peculiar moments?
I live in Toronto, a city that I wouldn’t necessarily characterize for its unique urban aesthetics. There’s something random and incoherent about Toronto’s urban design, everything from the architecture to the public art feels like an afterthought. It almost feels like a stock broker designed one half of the city, and a yoga instructor designed the other. I think that since I don’t live somewhere surrounded by nature or colourful architecture, I like to challenge myself to go on walks and capture Toronto in a way that is fun, off kilter and tongue-in-cheek. Just living here has influenced my style a lot, and chances are that I wouldn’t be drawn to the same type of imagery if I lived somewhere more glamorous.

You have a unique range with your lighting; it's so dynamic. Always illuminating and mesmerizing (whether its natural light, star filter or flash). How do you go about deciding what type of mood with lighting you want to embody for a photo?
Wow thank you, I appreciate the compliment! It’s funny because I often get told that my lighting characterizes my work, but I still feel as if my understanding of lighting is rudimentary compared to my contemporaries. I like to switch up my lighting regularly because I’m not too concerned with consistency or maintaining a singular aesthetic. I'll usually opt to use strobes and strong backlighting for images that I want to feel bold, dreamy and ethereal. If I want to create images that feel grounded and intimate, I will probably just play around with natural light or use a warm continuous light.

I want my photography practice to feel fun and novel; I try to keep myself excited by playing around with different lighting setups, buying funky accessories/filters, and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone on a technical level.

I love how playful and non-conventional your still-lifes are: from everyday objects to handbags. What inspired you to start shooting still lifes?
I only started shooting still life photos after COVID began. Being in lockdown at home during the pandemic (and in the middle of winter) made it hard to do anything creative. I still had a lot of creative energy though, so I picked up a macro lens and started practicing taking photos of whatever was lying around my house. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of making mundane subject matter feel interesting, so I would try to tinker with my compositions to give them a weird flare. I want all my still life photos to have at least one element that makes the image feel hyper-real; rather through lighting, texture or composition.
During this time, I also got inspired by a lot of photographers on Instagram who do incredible yet strange still life photography, such as Sergiy Barchuk or Andrew B. Myers. Sometimes you need to be exposed to artists who are pushing boundaries to even know what’s possible within your medium.

What has your process been like going from shooting personal work to commercial? What lessons have you learned along the way?
I’m unbelievably grateful that I’m able to make a living through photography. I’ve only been doing it for a few years now and I didn’t go to school for it, so I’m proud of how far I’ve come. It’s nice that I’ve been able to establish a style that is functional both in the creative and commercial realm. A lot of my clients will trust my stylistic choices when I’m working on a project.
The most important lesson that I’ve learned is to not fully neglect personal work in favour of commercial work. Not having some sort of balance of the two will lead to burnout, and might encourage you to plateau stylistically. Even though I am able to take a lot of creative liberties in my commercial work, it is still a collaborative process where I need to consider the subject, the product, or the brand’s aesthetic and how it relates to my own. I now realize how therapeutic and necessary it is for me to still take photos that are entirely my own, expressing my distinct perspective, without anyone else’s angle being interjected. Allowing myself time to work on personal projects and explore my art on my own agenda is what allows me to fall in love with photography over and over again. 

Is there a particular photo that stands out to you for any reason?
I’ve been inspired a lot by the work of ambient musician and visual artist Malibu lately (image below). She creates & curates ambient mixes that incorporate trance, pop and synth arrangements in a way that I’ve never heard done before. All the visual art that accompanies her mixes feel substantial to me for a reason that I can’t exactly put my finger on. The images feel like hazy, ambiguous snapshots of your life that you would be reflecting on if it was your last day on earth. It’s really special when an image can feel quiet but bold at the same time. This image is my personal favourite, and I highly recommend listening to any of her mixes.


How do you unwind after a shoot/ day of shooting?

I stretch for at least half an hour. Photography is an extreme sport!

To check out more of Kirk’s work click here.