by Ashley Csanady
Toronto photographers Raina + Wilson are a package deal, working together to create award-winning portraits, still lifes and landscapes
Clients get two photographers for the price of one at Raina + Wilson studio. The duo started occasionally shooting together when they met 15 years ago in Vancouver, but they didn’t open their Toronto studio until 2004. Since then, they’ve built a client base that includes Toronto Life and The Globe and Mail, while supplementing their editorial work with multiple award-winning advertising shoots.
Although Raina Kirn says their business was affected by the global economic downturn, she believes their unique style has helped them stay strong when other studios were closing their doors. “We kept afloat because there’s two of us and we are able to shoot a wide variety of subjects,” she says. “That’s probably the two biggest things: we’re diverse and we can handle anything. And definitely the fact there are two photographers on every shoot.”
“People feel more confident that there’s extra eyes on set,” Kirn adds. “We’re both always on set and we’re both always involved.”
The pair spent years working on different sides of the country, Kirn in Montreal and Wilson Barry in Vancouver, until they both came to Toronto, in 2002. But they didn’t start working as one right away. Drawn to the industry by a love of travel and meeting new people, they helped each other out on set in those early years in the city. Then they realized their best work came when they worked in tandem, so, in 2004, they set up shop in a Richmond Street West studio.
Now they have an agent, a long list of awards and do a mix of editorial, magazine, design and advertising work. They shoot everything from landscapes to action shots, but Barry says they’re best known for shooting “real people.” “Most of the clients that we work with know that we’re good at working with non-models.”
Raina + Wilson’s ability to tell a story through portraits is evident in the Applied Arts Magazine award-winning shot “Gamer,” an eight-frame ad that depicts a young man in progressing states of decay for seven frames and then a triumphant hand holding up Call of Duty Black Ops.
It’s the pair’s love of documenting the faces that aren’t used to the glare of flash bulbs and spotlights that makes portraiture their strength. And after meeting everyone from Canadian Living editors to actual Bank of Montreal employees posing for a recent campaign, Barry says it is his subjects continue to drive him. It’s that interest in people that got both Kirn and Barry into the business in the first place.
Both Kirn and Barry got into the business because they were fascinated by documenting people, but the breadth of their online portfolio demonstrates that their talents go far beyond portraits. A series of breathtaking shots of South Africa rivals anything in the pages of National Geographic, and another, titled “Objects,” captures shoes plunging into water and paint splattering against a black wall. Even their still life photos teem with activity.
And those seemingly impossible shots are captured in camera. Unlike many studios that rely on Photoshop to achieve that “wow” factor, Raina + Wilson prefers to capture everything in the moment, on set. That dedication lends an artistry to their work, but it’s also a more time-consuming prolonger. It takes longer to set up and to shoot, but the pair is always happier with the results from this process.
Each photographer’s style is as individual as the digits that snap their shots, and with two photographers on set, Raina + Wilson have doubled down on their chances to capture something unique.