Lee Orr didn’t set out to be a professional photographer, but when the time came to choose between careers, it was an easy one.
It all started with a YMCA poster he made for his mom, and it snowballed from there. Of course, it took a while.
But it was that fateful poster which led to some work digitally retouching photographs.
Orr has always enjoyed working with computers, and it was this background that had him going to school in Castlegar to learn GIS mapping.
For the same reason, his digital photography was augmented in a way that is rare even among people in the picture-snapping world, and his talent in photography began to be in demand as well.
Because Orr also had the interest and capability to take pictures as well as digitally altering them, he soon became a second shooter for wedding photography.
“It’s a fun place to be,” Orr said, recognizing the value of taking part in such a special time, “At the end of the day with weddings, once the food’s done and the dress is gone and everything is put away, you know, all you’ve got left are the photos.”
But wedding photography isn’t for the fainthearted; the pressure is real to get the best photographers at the right time with no technical failures.
“There’s definitely an adrenalin rush that comes with wedding photography, sometimes it almost feels like a sport,” he told me.
The Kootenay mountains are what hold his heart, though, and landscapes are what Orr loves to capture. And the love affair is mutual.
“Nakusp has been awesome to me, people have been incredibly supportive and word of mouth has been great. I don’t think I would have got that in a larger centre.”
When he realized that if he could make photography work as a job, it would be worth it, he left Castlegar and made his home back in Nakusp.
“I sort of pursued everything,” he said, about looking for work once he returned, “I think you have to be able to do a little bit of everything here.”
Working here has been challenging, and Orr has found he has had to learn how to do all aspects of the job of being a professional photographer, down to printing and framing. He noted that there isn’t secondary industry that supports artists, such as a framing shop.
But new skills and techniques aren’t something the photographer fears.
“That’s one of my favourite things about photography, that it’s an evolving thing,” and Orr finds the internet a vast resource for new techniques and inspiration, “The techniques and what you can do are constantly changing.”
The only drawback with having your own multifaceted new photography business is the cost.
“Equipment costs are insane,” Orr said, with printers, cameras, lenses and computers easily running into the tens of thousands of dollars.
It’s been three years running his own business, and the photographer now finds himself teaching as well as creating photographs to keep the money coming in.
“Sometimes with any job it’s easy to take on too much, you end up doing stuff for way less than it’s worth,” Orr said, “You can find yourself working for nothing.”
But he’s planning on staying in the valley, wages or not, as long as it’s feasible.
“Definitely Nakusp is where my heart’s at. I’d love to be here for as long as I can,” Orr said, noting that although economic times have been particularly hard, people help each other.
He observed the ironic situation that exists here in Nakusp as it does elsewhere that even though there are few jobs here, there is still little available for housing which makes it difficult for young people and young families to make a go of it here.
“You worry about the future of Nakusp for sure,” he said, “It’s a great spot, it’s a great community, it’s a great place to be to raise kids. That’s why everyone tries to help each other out. You want people to stay.”