Lisa Tolmie is a Lady on Fire

For Ottawa-based photographer Lisa Tolmie, there has always been photography. Despite being a busy wife, mother and career woman, what began as a hobby chronicling her life with family and friends grew into a passion and her heart’s work. Her evolution as a photographer took the route of a degree in Fine Arts, cabinet making and floral design. Through these varying creative pursuits, she began to realize that photography was a language she understood and one which she enjoyed expressing herself.

When I first discovered Lisa’s work on social media, I immediately fell in love with her unique style. Her images really stood out for me and she seemed like the kind of gal who liked to colour outside of the lines. I was intrigued, so I dug a little deeper & I’m thrilled to share the following Q&A interview with Lisa about her work and business, Lady on Fire Photography.

When did you first think of becoming a photographer? How did you get started?

I’ve always had a camera in my hand but taking the Basic Photography night class at Algonquin in 2014 changed my path in photography to a more professional direction. As part of an extensive final project I had to take 15 portraits of one model. My cousin, Tammy, eagerly volunteered. She wanted portraits depicting a horror movie theme, some as a rock star and a few with Day of the Dead make-up. Her friend Tina, an accomplished make-up artist, brought her themes to life. Together we jumped in with both feet and took portraits like nothing I have ever done before. Unsure of what my professor would think, I handed in my assignment. He loved everything about them! His remarks gave me the confidence to start Lady on Fire Photography, and with both Tammy and Tina by my side we set forth on a path of unique and unusually themed portraits.

Who are some of you favorite photographers past or present that you found inspiring?

My professor at Algonquin, Harry Turner, is definitely someone who inspired me. In his lessons, he always included photos that he had taken and used these as examples to teach a new technique. One particular photo intrigued me, a “photo painting” where you move the camera on a slower shutter speed and create these gorgeous swirls of colour. His work has inspired a part of my landscape photography. He evokes movement and light in a magical way.

Brit Bentine from Locked Illusions Photography takes controversial and shocking portraits usually of young children in fantasy art pieces. Each is unique and not for everyone. Her style definitely evokes a gut reaction and although it can be over the top at times I can’t help but smile when a new piece comes out!

Alexander Khokhlov does amazing 2D face paintings involving a mix of face-art and different textures which inspired some of my own photographs. His love of lines and contrast appeal to me greatly.

Recently I have come to love the work of Melanie Mathieu Photography. She captures “moments” in life so beautifully. Her photos leave me breathless at times, her vision and use of angles are especially inspiring. It is a style I wish I had half her talent in. We are very different in our approach to photography, but she inspires me daily!

What kinds of assignments do you like the most?

The weirder the better! We don’t take “typical” photos. We don’t photograph weddings, babies, or traditional family portraits. I like a client who comes to us with their own vision, preferably one that makes me a little uncomfortable. Then the challenge is to make their imagination come to life! I also love the challenge of my “Phlogs” (photo blog). I ask my Facebook group to suggest themes and I try and make them happen in an original and fun way. These Phlogs often inspire some of my best work and they also provide the opportunity to push myself outside my comfort zone. Run of the mill is not what I am about. There is a bit of an electric undercurrent in my work, as there is with me. After all, I am the Lady on Fire…

Why do you create the photographs you do and what do they mean to you?

Unusual face painting photography brings out a different personality in people. I like that the make-up gives them an excuse to hide their shyness and makes them less uncomfortable. It allows the portrait to come to life. I’ve seen older, married men who were dragged in by their wives turn into the best models as soon as the make-up and the character develops on their faces. In front of the camera the make-up gives the model permission to be weird and to try things they never would have tried. When they see the final results they are usually pleasantly shocked with the outcome. Everything outside of the face painting portraits is created out of simple things that I find beauty in. I like pulling out the things people don’t normally see or take for granted. I enjoy creating a mood and starting a conversation with the everyday made extra-ordinary just by zooming in a little closer or looking at it from a different perspective.

What images or series are you most proud of and why?

My favorite series was the Sesame Street Phlog. This was a Facebook suggestion that I would not have considered otherwise, but it turned out to be something I am very proud of. It was a challenge for me as it was the first time I had left the studio and did location shooting. I enjoyed sourcing the costumes, scouting locations and developing the background stories for how each childhood character had grown up. At the time it was the largest series I’ve put together and is still one of my favorites. Many thanks have to go out to all involved in making that session happen!

One of my favorite single images is “stranger on the rocks” it was a very quick split second shot of a gentleman on the rocks at Britannia beach. I loved his vintage swimsuit look and the clouds. It doesn’t always have to be a large set- up. Sometimes the best pictures are one-offs that just happen!

Day of the Dead- Tammy. This was one of the 15 portraits for my assignment at Algonquin College. This set the path to the creation of Lady on Fire Photography.

Image: Day of the Dead - Tammy. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.
Day of the Dead – Tammy. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.

Stranger on the Rocks. One of my favorite fluke pictures! I literally turned the camera and with very little thought I snapped the photo. (private collection). Lady on Fire Photography.

Image: Stranger on the Rocks. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.
Stranger on the Rocks. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.

Painted Forest.  Inspired by my professor, I love making these photo paintings. It’s a lovely marriage between my Fine Art Degree with photography. Lady on Fire Photography.

Image: Painted Forest. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.
Painted Forest. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.

Creepy Clown.  From my last Phlog. I am terrified of clowns and yet I felt compelled to face my fear and do an epic clown photo-shoot. This picture captures my worst nightmare! Lady on Fire Photography.

Image: Creepy Clown. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.
Creepy Clown. Photographer: Lisa Tolmie of Lady on Fire Photography.

If you could go back ten years, what advice would you give yourself and to other aspiring photographers?

Starting a business was not on my radar ten years ago. I was at home with my daughters who would have been 3 and 6 years old. Being immersed in my family and motherhood felt isolating at times. Taking pictures of my children was an outlet for me, a way to be creative. Finally taking the leap into a more professional photography business has led to stronger bonds with my family and friends and opened up a confidence I didn’t know I had. I am blessed with a husband, daughters, family and friends who are ready, (though occasionally unwilling), models who inspire me daily and allow me the freedom to experiment. I’d tell myself, GO FOR IT and never second guess a shot, just take it!

What are your main goals now as an artist?

I want to be as original as possible and break rules. Through my work I want to continue creating a conversation in a positive and inclusive manner.

Can you tell us where you feature your work?

Many of my pieces are in private collections in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. I have recently put my photography out on various forms of Social Media. I began with a Facebook page that allowed an interaction with people that I really enjoy. Their suggestions end up being some of my best creations. I love the feedback and creativity they invoke. I’ve recently started showing my photographs on Instagram. I feel very new age and hip being on there! It’s been a fascinating adventure to see how each photograph is received. I have a website www.ladyonfirephotography.com this is where you will find the famous Phlogs and a sampling of my landscapes, oddments and portrait work. Pixieset is where you will find the body of my work as well as a way to purchase Fine Art prints. In its infancy I have ventured into the world of RedBubble. It seems my more eclectic photography makes for fun leggings and I-pod covers! Things will be removed and added over the coming weeks but feel free to check it out!


About the Author
Deanna White is owner and publicist for storylinePR, exclusive PR firm & marketing agent to Ottawa’s most talented fine art photographers. If you would like to be featured on our blog, connect with us!