From Still Shots To Moving Images, Irem Harnak is a Visual Genius

The world is full of people who take pretty pictures, so what is it about the work of certain photographers that sets them apart from the pack? What quality do they contain that others lack? The answer lies is their ability to make the observer feel something, to capture an emotion or a moment in time.

Irem Harnak, a photographer whose name is internationally recognized throughout the world of fashion and commercial photography, is one of those rare visionaries whose portraits flawlessly capture the personality and emotion of her subject in a way that transports viewers and makes them feel as if they know the person in the photograph.

Over the years Harnak has amassed an astonishingly impressive portfolio of work that places her among the upper echelon of today’s photographers. Marie Claire (China) featured her shots of designer Erin Kleinberg, who dresses Golden Globe winner Lena Dunham(“Girls), and her long list of fashion stories and editorials have been featured in other well-known print and online magazines such as The Ones 2 Watch, The Fashionisto, Fantastics, Bon Bon, the Uk’s Kenton, Boys by Girls and Pause, Germany’s Superior Magazine, and more.

Audiences will also recognize Harnak’s work from the plethora of lookbooks and campaigns she’s shot for recognizable fashion brands over the years, such as leading activewear brand Titika, women’s golf apparel company Birdy & Grace, swimwear company Zubaida Zang, top Canadian designer Joeffer Caoc and others.

Harnak was also hired by Baker Vandertuin Inc., an ad agency known for its creation of successful campaigns for major clients such as the Heart & Stroke Foundation, Canadian Touring Car Championship and Durabond Racing, to shoot famous jazz singer June Garber.

Irem Harnak
Jazz singer June Garber shot by Irem Harnak

“She is an amazing jazz singer, great performer with so much charisma, elegance and energy. I find it hard to get that kind of energy from the 16 year old models I shoot,” admitted Harnak about shooting Garber.

With such a wide variety of subjects, the through line that connects all of Irem Harnak’s work is the eye-catching creativity she brings to the table and the way she manages to bring out the  unique personality of each of her subjects in every shot.

Although she has spent the last decade in Canada, Harnak was raised in Istanbul, Turkey, a thriving city that she described in an interview with Yes Supply Collective as: a crazy, beautiful city with layers upon layers of civilization and history. It’s a place where everything has a voice, everything talks, day and night. The waves of the sea, the ferries going east and west, the seagulls, the breeze, the cars honking, people rushing from one street to another simultaneously talking to each other, telling each other stories day and night.

Anyone who’s had the chance to check out some of Harnak’s breathtaking and emotive photography will immediately see how her early beginnings in a visual inspiring place such as Istanbul has impacted her work.

Irem Harnak
Jenna Earle shot by Irem Harnak for Kenton Magazine

While Harnak’s shots of famous models such as Carly Moore, Jenna Earle, Emma Génier and Robbie Beeser have put her work in the spotlight and made her a sought after fashion photographer, she’s also managed to successfully translate her skills as a photographer into the film world.

Harnak says, “I have always been inspired by cinema, that was one of the things that pushed me to become a photographer. Being a photographer one understands the lighting, the framing, how to execute a visual language in one or more frames. When you are a cinematographer, you need to do everything a photographer is doing to create a unique shot, but bear in mind that whatever you are framing is a continuous action not a moment frozen in time.”

As the cinematographer of the films “Personal Space,” “Living with Strangers” and “I Am You,” Harnak has proven her ability to move from shooting beautiful stills to creating moving imagery that effectively tells a narrative story.

The feature film “Personal Space” follows Sid, played by James McDougall (“The ABCs of Death 2”), a down in the dumps twenty-something guy trying to move past his recent breakup with Karri, played by Amelia Macisaac from the 2015 comedy “The Spirit of 39B.”

A self-proclaimed anti-love story, “Personal Space” is one of the few films out there that truthfully depicts what it’s like when the passion fades from a relationship, the uncomfortable phase that follows when two lovers have no choice other than to separate and the unglamourous depressive period that follows a break up. The way Harnak chose to capture the shots throughout the film create an authentic portrayal of real life, without all of the escapist fairytales that most films rely on.

About shooting “Personal Space,” Harnak explains, “I was working in really tight spaces, I was literally in the actors’ personal spaces, I had to light the space with little lights and rely on bounces, and reflectors. It depicted the feeling of loneliness and being lost that we were trying to get across.”

Just like real life, “Personal Space” is often awkward to watch, for example, the many times Sid tells Karri he wants to talk but has nothing to say. Overall the film gives viewers an accurate slice of live view into a real breakup, and Harnak’s cinematography nails the mark the whole way through.

While Harnak received praise for her cinematic work on “Personal Space” and “Living with Strangers,” her work on “I Am You” is what has really brought her unparalleled talent as a cinematographer into the spotlight.

“I Am You,” which debuted at Toronto’s Kaleidoscope interactive art crawl, is more than a movie, it’s an innovative step in using virtual reality technology to create a film. The film follows a young couple who discover a new VR app, which allows them to swap bodies and experience life as the other; and, as the viewers watch the film from the characters’ perspectives, it’s as if they too have been transported into the film.

About her work on “I Am You,” Harnak explains, “I shot the traditional part of the film. With the framing I set up, I was trying to describe the alienation, disconnectedness the couple was feeling towards each other. I placed the camera at a considerable distance and used a bit of an unconventional frame cropping to make the viewer feel unease.”

Produced by Cinehackers, “I Am You” has garnered an overwhelmingly positive response with Vice writing: Cinehackers had created a way to let virtual reality users feel like they were in a first-person perspective movie, kind of like Being John Malkovich… And Toronto Film Scene writing: ‘I Am You’ is an amazing piece of work in VR filmmaking. An intimacy enveloped me that I had never felt before while watching a film.

Although photographer Irem Harnak has clearly cut out an indelible mark for herself as a fashion photographer, her work as a cinematographer is definitely worth taking note off; and frankly, we can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

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