Beach photographers offer a glimpse behind the lens with studio tour

Beach photographers Samira Sharezay and Judith Thompson. PHOTO: Anna Killen

In terms of artistic process, Beach photographers Judith Thompson and Samira Sharezay couldn’t be further apart on the spectrum.

Sharezay’s method is incredibly technical – a precision photographer, she works out of her studio, photographing objects of nature up close, focusing on light and lenses, highlighting details that might miss the naked eye.

“I’m really inspired by lighting because it changes how you see everything,” said Sharezay, sitting beside Thompson outside an East End coffee shop earlier this month. “In the studio I get to control the lighting, which really enhances the beauty that is already happening. In nature it does that too – sunrise, sunset, on a cloudy day or a sunny day.”

Thompson’s method considers nature, too. But hers is stripped-down photography – just her, her iPhone camera, and a beach or wonder of nature. She takes photographs while vacationing in places like Costa Rica, Ecuador and St. Lucia. While she pays close attention to framing, getting her artistic vision just so, she refuses to digitally alter her images.

“I want it exactly as my eye saw it,” she said. “I’m out there, in the raw, looking at organic images that I don’t manipulate in any way. Nature is really the masterful hand, I’m just there with a lens to capture what I see.”

But while their methods might be different, the similarities between the two artists are great. Both are passionate about their craft, supportive of each other and other artists, and have a keen, unique artistic eye.

“I love photography because you have a perspective, and then by capturing it you can show other people your view of the world and the beauty you see and the details that are sometimes taken for granted,” said Sharezay.

Thompson agrees.

“Maybe nature is creating for you, but you had the artistic vision or the artistic eye to capture that,” said Thompson. “I remember my husband saying, ‘I walk the beach and I see sand, you walk the beach and you see these amazing images of female forms, of jazz dancers, of yogis.’”

“Photographers tend to kind of stare at something, whether it be a building or a beautiful beach and see something that others don’t see,” said Sharezay, noting that she often goes for walks with her children, pointing out moments or sights along the way. “I always felt that I see things differently. When other people walk by things, I tend to stop and stare.”

Thompson said her way of seeing has rubbed off on her partner.

“I’ve seen a beautiful change in my partner, too. Now when we’re walking together he’ll pause with me and he’ll look. I think that’s also the power of art. The power of the artistic eye, or the artistic vision, that you can share it with others,” said Thompson.

Both photographers are newly featured at this year’s annual Fall Beach Studio Tour, happening this weekend. Along with over 20 other artists, they’ll be opening up their studios and practices to the public over three days. Both have long been attendees of the tours – Thompson, who recently moved to the East End, travelling from her previous home in the country to support her friend, sculptor Noriko Yamamoto, and Sharezay attending over the eight years she’s lived in the Beach – and this year, through the prompting of friends, decided to join.

“It’s an instant support system,” said Sharezay. “As artists we normally work alone, so this is a great way to connect with each other and support each other. You feel like you’re part of a team now.”

“The beautiful thing about the tour is that it’s given me an opportunity to meet my artistic community here,” said Thompson. “I think building community is probably one of the most challenging things, a transitional change from country to city… I already feel like because of the tour, I feel this instant community.”

Community is one of the most important aspects of the tour. From the support of the area businesses to the people who visit from the neighbourhood and from out of town, the Beach’s “village in a city” vibe is accentuated with open doors, offers of tea and treats, and dynamic artwork on display.

“It’s the diversity here, too, that is so absolutely impressive,” said Thompson. “In a small community to see everything from fabric art, to painting, to printmaking to sculpture, to photography…”

“Everyone is putting their soul and heart into their work,” said Sharezay. “It’s a real reflection of the individual. It’s diverse.”

As for her work, Sharezay found inspiration in florals for her current collection.

“I try to find unique flowers and I design it,” she said. “I create an image by choosing different backgrounds and colours to enhance the beauty of it. I try to show every detail of the flower.”

She captures those intricate details using a macro lens – and care in her setup.

“Sometimes it’s things you can’t even see with the naked eye, it’s a little bit more accurate,” she said. The scene “has to be really still because any little movement will take some of the focus or detail away, so I use a tripod and lightings. (Capturing) that small little detail… the veins on the flower. It’s really amazing when you see it.”

Thompson, whose background is as a movement artist, began taking her photography hobby seriously several years ago when leading a Nia dance and yoga retreat in Costa Rica.

There, in Playa Guiones, she took note of the changing sand along the beach, untouched by development.

“There’s absolutely no building on the beach so when you walk that seven kilometres all you see is ocean, sky, jungle. Nothing else. And the sand that changes with every tide,” she said.

“It’s almost like it opened my eyes more clearly, or opened them in a different way. I started noticing and walking the beach twice a day. Every day you have a blank canvas and you have changing images with every tide.”

She said it is fitting that she’s showing this body of work here as her first show in the Beach.

“I sort of feel like I’ve come home,” she said. “I’m so close to the lake, we’ve taken long walks along the boardwalk, along the lake through different beaches and I feel like it’s almost like taking that initial passionate thing I felt in Costa Rica and feeling it here, in a different way, in an Ontario way. I feel similarly inspired.”

There are plenty of artists to inspire at this year’s fall studio tour, on October 21 through 23. Since 1994, Beach artists and artisans have been opening up their homes and studios for an annual self-guided tour. See a guide to the 13 tour stops and find out more at

Thompson will be at site 6 at 18 Balsam Ave. – her work is also on display at Melanie’s Bistro on the Danforth – and Sharezay will be at site 13 at 22 Elmview Drive.

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