As one part of the brothers Canlis who own the venerable restaurant perched atop Queen Anne, Brian Canlis and his older sibling Mark can often be found chatting up guests, making them feel at home and easing them into the makings of what's surely to be a magical night. And while both bros are hospitable, charming and just plain old fun to be around, Brian's calling card is the laughter he often leaves in his wake. He's a total card, cajoling smiles from the seemingly sternest diner and leaving those nearby wondering, "What did he say to them?" In all seriousness, though, Brian Canlis has earned quite the reputation as a pretty damn good photographer.
Brian Canlis: Shutterpug?
For this week's Counter Balance, Canlis talks about a hobby that, just like the restaurant he owns, captures a moment in history while constantly evolving.
How did you get into photography?
My favorite book is Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev. It's the story of a Hasidic Jewish boy becoming the greatest painter of his generation. It's a book that made me actually yearn for museums instead of just attending out of touristic obligation. It made me love the power and beauty of brush on canvas, and long to create in the same way. The only problem--I was truly, truly terrible at painting. So, I quit and picked up a camera.
What about photography appeals to you?
The potential to capture a moment. Perfectly. A great photograph, to an even greater degree than painting or film, can take you back to the exact time and place the photo was taken. It can communicate so much. The really good ones bring back the sounds and smells.
What got you hooked?
A family hired me to teach their children photography. One day, I gave the youngest boy, an eight-year-old named Oliver, my camera for the afternoon. He looked at the massive black camera in his hands, gave me smile, and wandered away. The photos that came back were stunning. His perspective was so surprising. I love it that he taught me more that day than I taught him. It struck me that I could take photos my whole life and never grow weary of it.
What kind of camera do you use?
Canon, 5D Mark II. But I also shoot with a Holga from time to time. It's so refreshing after the unlimited blitz of digital media.
How long have you been taking photos?
I took my first photography class when I was 23. We were forced to only shoot slide film. If you want to be a great digital photographer, become a good film one first.
How good of a photographer are you?
The funny thing about photography is that sometimes you're great, and sometimes you're downright terrible. And those two shots can be back to back. I still think I'm trying to get as good as Oliver.
Because I fell in love with painting first, I often create photographs (with long shutter speeds) that look like paintings. With the right set-up, you can even do this in the daytime. It's so much fun. I feel like a painter. My favorite is of two kids playing on the beach.
Do people pay you to take photos? Are you for hire?
I've been hired to do photography for all sorts of gigs, but I stopped accepting jobs a couple years ago.
How does your photography fit in with your duties at Canlis? Do the two complement each other?
It's a huge asset to the restaurant to have a photographer on staff, especially because I'm free! We just launched our new website and nearly every photograph is mine. It's also nice when someone from the press calls and asks, "Do you have a photograph of _______?" And I tell them, "No, but give me twenty minutes."
Do you have a website or any place people can see your photos?
Canlis.com has a ton, but it's mostly food and commercial photography. Nothing to make Asher Lev proud. We're remodeling Canlis' basement right now with two new wine cellars and I'm trying to convince my brother to let me hang some pieces in the hallway. You'll have to ask for a tour next time you come!
Who/what is the most photogenic person/thing at Canlis?
Most people say the view, but I say the building itself. It's an architectural masterpiece. It's always changing, always surprising you with its uneven lines and soaring angles. It's over sixty years old, but it has never looked better. Kind of like George Clooney...if he were sixty and never looked better.
Do you like getting your photo taken?
Nope. Have you ever met a photographer who does?