Return To Couvrette Studio Web Site

 Publishers Message  |  Contributors  |  Subscribe  |  Contact us Todays Weather  9-30-2003 
$3.95 an issue
$18.00 a year + GST
Advertising INFO
Home Embassy News Lobbyists Hotels Restaurants Events Attractions Fashion Homes Section Hi-Tech/Business
  Search News
  Getting Around
  Where to get OLM
  History of OLM
  Past Editions
Latest edition out now
image 1
image 2
Paul Couvrette:Last Photographer Standing

Photographer Paul Couvrette is the closest thing to a Karsh that Ottawa now has, but he is different from those old masters in a number of ways.He has not specialized as much as the Karsh brothers — Yousuf (famous for his portraits) and Malak (known primarily for his landscapes). Couvrette does portraiture, industrial photography and landscapes. But no photographer (especially one from Ottawa) can escape the Karshes’ influence.

Couvrette explains: “Sometimes, I think I’m being creative with a local landmark or the tulip festival, only to discover that Malak got there first, and took basically the same shot decades ago. But I can always add my little touches to these shots. Because of the competition and the plethora of images out there, you have to be extremely creative nowadays if you want to stand out from the crowd of journeymen photographers.”

Couvrette pulled a “Churchill” when he took his shot of Deputy Prime Minister John Manley. “I rambled on about foreign policy until his look went from cheerful to perturbed and then I took the shot, which appeared in Time Canada. It became Manley’s official picture. (Yousuf Karsh pulled a cigar from Churchill’s mouth just before snapping the picture, capturing a look of defiance that “made” the shot.)

Couvrette is increasingly being recognized as one of Canada’s top photographers. When it comes to high-end portraits, Couvrette is the one they call. He has photographed every Prime Minister since Pierre Elliott Trudeau was in office. Couvrette shoots a half-dozen high-profile weddings per year for such clients as the Cowplands, Supreme Court Justice Beverly McLachlin and Ottawa entrepreneur Michael Potter.

In recent years, Time Canada has been sending Couvrette on assignment. Time flew him to Sudbury to shoot a scientist at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, located in a cavern 2 km underground. Couvrette recently shot very graphic black-and-white photographs for a Time Canada investigative report on the residential schools controversy (involving priests who abused several generations of native children).He photographed native leaders (some of whom were abused as children) and federal investigators.

Besides assignments for Time Canada, Couvrette is now also shooting for Business Week, Newsweek, Forbes and Reader’s Digest Canada. Conversely, feature stories about Couvrette have appeared in several American photography magazines.

Many of Couvrette’s former competitors have closed their doors and left the scene. Couvrette credits his success to a keen business sense (he bought his own studio, rather than pay rent) and an amiable manner that complement an artistic sensibility. Good customer service counts for a lot, too. Some of Couvrette’s clients go back more than 20 years.And Couvrette takes great pains to hire the right staff.He recently sifted through 200 applications and interviewed 10 people before hiring a new studio assistant. That’s a whole pile of work, but it’s absolutely necessary for the survival of a business, he explains.

Couvrette reflects on his good fortune: “It’s a tough business.When I started out in the downtown core, there were a dozen major photographers here. Today, I’m the only one left. Honest to God, it scares me sometimes.”

Another big plus is Couvrette’s magnificent Website [at]. Couvrette was the first photographer in Ottawa to recognize the Internet’s potential. “We have more people looking at my Website every day than visiting the studio every week. I have clients in Germany and Atlanta whom I’ve never met, because they liked what they saw on my Website. The Web has brought me a lot of international business and recognition. I was recently hired by a Texas ad agency to do Nortel’s annual report. I handled an assignment for a German multinational, which wanted me to shoot its pulp and paper plants in northern Quebec.Most of the work was done over the Internet.The world has really changed, become almost science-fiction-like.

“I was recently flown to Toronto for a halfhour photo session with three worldfamous lawyers who were being feted at the Royal York Hotel. The entire top floor of the hotel was rented for this event. So I find I’m doing more of this kind of thing nowadays. I’m not just photographing celebrities, though. I still do the breadand-butter family and wedding-picturetype stuff that pays the bills, and I enjoy doing it. I still do lingerie and hardware catalogues, but I’m seeing more of these peaks, if you will.The volume of high-end stuff has just gone through the roof in recent years. I suppose the Time Canada story on Wired Ottawa was the watershed event that changed things for me. Shooting for Time has been a big plus in my career. They don’t just hire anybody.

“People ask why I don’t move to the States or Toronto. And I always tell them that Ottawa was good enough for Yousuf Karsh. He lived and worked here pretty much all his life.”

Couvrette is now in demand for international speaking engagements. He has been asked to speak at photographers’ conferences in France, Texas and the Caribbean.

On June 28, Couvrette addressed the Canadian Camera Conference 2003, presented by the Canadian Association for Photographic Art. The event, held at the University of Ottawa, drew some of the world’s top photographers, including Steve McCurry, whose world-famous photo Afghan Girl graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985. The subject of Couvrette’s address was his work and how it relates to the Karshes. “I’m following in their giant footsteps,” he says. “I’ve been in touch with the Karshes’ estate and was given permission to include in my presentation all these Karsh images that no one else can show or publish. I knew the Karshes quite well.Yousuf even referred a few clients to me in his later years, when he was scaling back his workload.”

Couvrette’s reputation precedes him. Sometimes, he finds it hard to believe that he is commanding all this attention from clients who are willing to pay top dollar and fly him across the country for his services. He pinches himself, only to find that it isn’t all a dream. It’s well-deserved recognition of a Canadian master photographer who is now coming into his own.

Paul Couvrette and some of his work: The Time CanadaMan of the Year shot shows the pensive side of Deputy Prime Minister John Manley. The staircase shot was done for Ottawa Classic Stairs as part of a feature on the home of Revlon founder Charles Revson in New York. The cityscape was shot for Knorr Architects of Toronto, who will play a bigpart in redesigning the Ottawa skyline. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson was photographed on location at Rideau Hall. On the wall behind Her Excellency are her predecessors.

Contributor: Ottawalife Online
Edition: July 2003
Created: 8/18/2003 5:12:09 PM


Ottawalife Magazine -- Advertising Information & Get online with us