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THE DRIFT 2019: Shooting the globe, one mine at a time

Sudbury photographer specializes in mining industrial photography

Mining is a dirty, distinctly unsexy business. It’s hot and uncomfortable underground, and everything is coated in a fine layer of grime. Yet, with the right lens, an adjustment in lighting, and an eye for detail, James Hodgins makes the industry and its people look downright badass.

Over the last six years, the Sudbury-based photographer has travelled around the world under his professional moniker, International Mining Industrial Photographer, capturing on film every facet of the sector, from machinery to equipment to the personnel who make it all happen.

His clients include global mining giants and small, Northern Ontario service suppliers. As companies aim to secure a foothold in a competitive, often volatile industry, Hodgins helps them stand apart from the crowd by creating distinctive, high-impact images used to market their products and services.

It's Hodgins' photo, taken at Pure Gold Mining's Madsen Gold Project in the Red Lake Mining District, that graces the cover of the inaugural issue of The Drift.

“A picture says 1,000 words,” Hodgins said. “When you see an image, you tend to focus on it a little longer.”

Effective lighting and unique composition are hallmarks of Hodgins’ photographs. Companies use them on their websites and social media feeds, as part of their investor presentations, and in their promotional literature distributed at industry tradeshows.

Having dynamic images that grab a viewer’s attention can mean the difference between a potential client pausing briefly before moving on and one who lingers longer to find out more about the business, Hodgins noted.

“I’ve gone to tradeshows and seen the same (stock) images in four different booths,” he said. “For me, as a photographer, that lost impact the second time I saw it.”

An adventurer at heart, Hodgins doesn’t shy away from what are often inhospitable conditions – for both him and his equipment. He’s endured 40-degree heat, walked a kilometre underground lugging 40 pounds of equipment to a transportation site, and wedged himself into some tight spaces just to get the right shot.

And Hodgins makes it easy for companies to hire him. He owns all his own safety equipment, and is certified in working at heights, confined space, confined space entry and WHMIS, maintaining a 100 per cent personal safety record.

A fluke led him into photography more than 25 years ago. While studying information systems in college, Hodgins signed up for a photography course to fill in a few missing credits in his schedule.

It captivated him instantly, turning the once-apathetic student into an attentive, eager disciple. He loved it. And, what’s more, he was good at it. He dropped out of his information systems course to concentrate on photography full time.

“It was one of the first things where I thought, ‘I'm actually not bad at this,’ and I say that with no ego,” Hodgins recalled. “It was the first thing where I was excited about doing something and I wasn't even thinking about making money down the road, although I knew I’d love to do it full time.”

After apprenticing and working for several years with Sudbury photographer Rob Provencher, Hodgins struck out on his own, opening a studio with his wife, Jocelyne, and specializing in commercial, wedding and family portrait photography.

But by 2014, a decade of photographing kids and engagement photos had dulled his interest in the work, and Hodgins set out to find a new challenge. Mining photography fulfilled that desire, and he now dedicates his skills exclusively to industrial work.

Travelling the globe to shoot for mining companies and suppliers still elicits a thrill for the photographer, and there remain some machines he’s eager to check off his photographer’s wish list – a bucketwheel scoop, used in open-pit mining, comes immediately to mind. But meeting and photographing people hard at work has become one of Hodgins’ favourite parts of the job.

At the end of every photo shoot, once the commissioned shots are done, he always takes extra time to create portraits of the employees who have paused in their work to pose for him.

“You can tell the difference between somebody who loves their job and somebody who's just doing the job for the money,” he said. “You get those professional miners who just take pride in everything they do, and it just shows.”

The Drift magazine, a new publication from Northern Ontario Business, features profiles on the people and companies making important contributions to the Northern Ontario mining service and supply industry.