Neil Dankoff remembers the sense of wonder he felt seeing the lit-up screen of a digital camera in the late ‘90s.
“Now it’s just so commonplace to see that even on your phone,” says Dankoff, BA’92. “But back then it was one of those really jaw-dropping technology advances.”
The picture quality was “terrible and it was so expensive, but I still bought one.”
Thus began Dankoff’s foray into photography, first as a hobby, then as a business, and now as a Toronto-based fine art photographer whose striking panoramic landscape images are digitally woven together, and steeped in vibrant colours, giving them a painterly look.
Dankoff’s career received a big boost when Hotel X Toronto, which opened last year on Toronto’s waterfront, commissioned him to shoot about 800 panoramic photos – a project that spanned three years and took Dankoff around the world to capture dazzling vistas.
“It’s been huge”, he says. “(It) got me a lot of recognition, a lot of exposure.”
When Dankoff first launched his photography business, it was to take individual portraits of kids at summer camps. Meanwhile, he worked on his photography techniques and “it got to a point where I knew I had this unique style”, he says.
Dankoff took his first big photo trip to Israel with no intention of doing it for a living. “I was 40 years old and hadn’t travelled. I guess I had like a mini mid-life crisis of wanting to do something special,” he says.
Impressed by what he captured, Dankoff approached the Lonsdale Gallery in Toronto’s Forest Hill Village to see if he could rent the space for a night to show his photos to family and friends.
“But (the gallery owner) took a look at the work and said ‘I won’t rent it out to you, but I’ll take you on as a client,’” recounts Dankoff. For the next several years, Dankoff took photo trips followed by an annual solo show at the gallery.
The phone call for the Hotel X Toronto assignment came “out of the blue”, Dankoff says, for photos for every room, corridor and the lobby area.
“It ended up being the largest fine art photography transaction in Canadian history,” he says.
Dankoff had carte blanche in terms of locations. “I had this huge bucket list that I just completely cleared off and I had to add more to it because I hadn’t realized how many pictures 800 is.”
He took photos in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Hawaii and the South Pacific. With time an issue, he chose locations where he could get at least 25-30 images.
“I didn’t have the luxury to walk around and see what I could find. I would do months and months of research before each location. On location, I would start researching the next trip. It was a totally encompassing full-time job to complete this project.”
Asked if he has a few favourite shots out of the 800, Dankoff mentions that Bolivia was a fun, amazing experience even though it was the most physically challenging trip with altitude-induced headaches and nosebleeds.
Bolivia has the largest salt flats on the planet, and for a few weeks a year during the rainy season “if you’re lucky, you’ll get this one-inch of water that will create an amazing mirror effect,” Dankoff says. “I went just for that not knowing if I would get it. We did get it…There’s a few places you go…you feel like you’re on a different planet. Bolivia was one of those. Namibia was another one.”
His standard photo size is 79” x 35”. A final piece, on average, consists of four to six separate photos. For each photo, Dankoff shoots in three different exposures: over-, under-, and properly exposed.
“The benefit of that is I end up having more information than the human eye because all the stuff that’s in the shadows, I can bring out. All the stuff that’s over-exposed because of bright light, I can bring out all that detail if you shoot in multiple exposures.”
He also shoots in various focal points.
“There’s a lot of work done in post where I’m basically blending the exposures and I have my own recipe on how I do that,” Dankoff says. “And focus stacking to get all the focal points together, and then to stitch it together seamlessly.”
His work is displayed at Kandy Gallery, the first of which Dankoff opened in his native Montreal in 2015 with partners Derek and Kirsty Stern. They opened other locations last year in Hotel X Toronto and in Memphis. A fourth Kandy Gallery slated for Dallas is scheduled to open soon.
To see Dankoff’s work visit: www.kandygallery.com