Sophie Hogan



Published, EAC Communiqué, October 1994


In the open living space of the converted Middlebrook Schoolhouse, a black canvas backdrop hangs from high ceiling to the floor. Umbrellas stand open to diffuse light. This is the home of Photographer Sophie Hogan, where work is not far from coffee by the glowing wood stove. Annexed to the studio-living area is the Dark Room where Sophie develops the black and white film which emphasises her strength in composition, lighting and originality. In the early days of America, Native people called cameras ‘soul-catchers’. For Sophie, a photographer of the human scene, this is the challenge. “The basis of my photography is not about cameras. It’s just letting people be people, and documenting them as well as I can”.

In September, Sophie began a nine-month venture, “The Body Image Project”, two-thirds funded by a Canada Council Explorations Grant. The conception of this innovative project is the use of photographic reality to break down stereotypes of the female body fabricated by fashion and advertising. This ideal has distorted the lives of many women. Sophie explains, “We all have forms. This project is an exercise in acceptance of the forms that contain us, so that we can get on with other valuable aspects of living”. To initiate “The Body Image Project”, Sophie wrote an article in “Motive” magazine: “Calling All Brave Souls and Their Bodies”. She requested volunteers of varied body types and weights, from 20 to 80 years of age, who would accept to be photographed nude in a short five-minute documentation. One hundred women will take part. Sections of these body images will be mixed and compiled to stimulate realization of the diversity of women as physical beings. Images may be juxtaposed to emphasise the fundamental, true woman behind the playboy image or the career role. “The Body Image Project will be presented to the public at Toronto City Hall in February 1996, as an interactive experience related to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.


A buoyant, down-to-earth person with optimism and sympathy for people, Sophie is enjoying the depth of project-oriented photography. Perhaps this sturdiness and warmth reflects her family’s roots in the Maritimes. Her father, unwilling to work in the mines of Cape Breton, found a new career as a professional boxer and bar owner in Toronto, but each year Sophie returned with the family to Cape Breton. An interest in photography began after Grade 12. Sophie journeyed to Scotland, England and Wales to visit the origins of her family following the death of her grandfather, who had encouraged her in every undertaking. As she was about to board the plane, a friend thrust his camera in her hand. Sophie became intrigued by this faithful companion which could capture and hold her experience and memories.

A year and a half later, returning to Grade 13, Sophie joined the high school camera club, spent lunch hours in the dark room, and built up a valuable portfolio of work to accompany an application to Photography at Ryerson. For the first time she was forced to think about the source of pictorial images through the probing questions of her teacher David Heath. “He was always asking me ‘why?’. This was strange. I didn’t know aesthetics were supposed to have a reason!”  During four years Sophie attended Ryerson, taking the Photo Stills course.

 Images may be juxtaposed to emphasise the fundamental, true woman behind the playboy image or the career role.

After graduation in 1988, to say “thanks” to her parents for their support through her studies, Sophie undertook a photo essay of Cape Breton and Newfoundland. While visiting her grandmother in Cape Breton, she learned that the famous American photographer Robert Frank owned a farm nearby. She was fascinated by his work and the lifestyle of this man who walked the United States with his camera, recording ordinary life. Frustrated by circumstances through which she missed meeting him, and aware of Frank’s interest in the Maritimes, she began to send him postcards of her photos, annotated with notes and stories. Sophie became known to him as The Postcard Woman. Before his retrospective exhibition in Washington last year, and the publication of his book “Life Dances On”, Frank contacted Sophie to ask if he might quote the last words her grandfather spoke to her, poignantly recounted in a postcard story. He suggested they meet when he came to Ryerson in February. This was a happy experience for Sophie. Frank, whom she regards as a mentor in her photographic career, was one of three “appraisers” for her Canada Council grant.

Returning to Toronto, Sophie did freelance photography for the Toronto Sun. Frequent excursions to Elora to enjoy walks in the country, the Café Flore and the Desert Rose were a contrast to her urban life. Gradually the attractions of Toronto dwindled, and she established a permanent studio at the Middlebrook Schoolhouse. In order to maintain her freedom to pursue in-depth photo projects, Sophie likes to do creative wedding photography, promotion and fashion shots, and portraits.

In future Sophie would like to do a photo-essay on the elderly. “I’d like my photographic efforts to have substance”. Last Christmas she spent the day at Wellington Terrace, meeting people through the magic of her camera. She was struck by the sympathetic inter-relationship of elderly residents. She became aware of them as repositories of traditions and knowledge soon to be lost. Other fascinating sources of unique experience that she would like to record are war veterans. To create a permanent record of these traditions and the traces etched on the faces of the elderly by war and ageing would be meaningful.

For Sophie Hogan, 1995 will be a special year. Not only will it be enriched by work which is socially meaningful and fulfilling, but Sophie will become a mother in the spring. Her well-known photograph of a newborn baby: ‘Michael’s First Day’ speaks eloquently of the hope and tenderness of a new life in Sophie’s own, chosen idiom.

by Beverley Cairns, October 1994

Gradually the attractions of Toronto dwindled, and she established a permanent studio at the Middlebrook Schoolhouse.

UPDATE – 1997

Since being interviewed, Sophie has finished work on “The Body Image Project”. It has travelled widely, and in spring of ‘97 is returning from St. John’s, Newfoundland. In September ‘97, the show will be exhibited at The Floating Gallery, Winnipeg. Sophie is being encouraged to publish it in book form.

Sophie is now the glowing mother of a little girl.

UPDATE – 2005

When Sophie was studying in Maine last year, another student heard her story about writing postcards to Robert Frank, and told Sophie about an obscure book called “Thank You”. It is a compilation of postcards that were written to Frank over the years from numbers of f photographers….and lo and behold, Sophie’s postcard was included in the book!

In 2003, Sophie’s exhibit: “My Elora: The Grace of Belonging”, drew crowds to the new Minarovich Gallery at The Elora Centre For The Arts. “My Elora” was created out of the need to give back to the community Sophie felt has nurtured her through both vulnerable and joyous segments of her life. “Creating intimate portraits is my passion,” she says. This collection of representative portraits of local people, along with their personal statements on the value of community, are now being considered for a book.

Sophie Hogan’s portrait photography has won awards at the INSIGHTS shows in 1997, 2002, and 2004.

In 2003 Sophie’s exhibit: “My Elora: The Grace of Belonging”, drew crowds to the new Minarovich Gallery at The Elora Centre For The Arts.