Though he hates to admit it, these days, B.D. Colen of London, Ont., mostly photographs his three dachshunds: Webster, Edna and Cookie. But there was a time, he jokes, that he used to be someone.
He still is, of course. At 76, he's just retired (mostly), but remains a man with a long and impressive list of credentials who moved to London from Cambridge, Mass., in 2016 to be with his wife.
Colen is a former Washington Post and Newsday journalist, a Pultizer Prize-winning medical writer and a celebrated photographer. For 19 years, he taught news writing and his documentary style of shooting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
"The first thing I would tell my students is to always carry a camera," Colen recalled. "But the second thing is to remind them that the best camera you have is the one that's with you."
If Colen isn't shooting in black and white, he's converting his digital photos to black and white. It's the colour of photography, he said, echoing the words of the late Swiss photographer, Robert Frank.
Colen has also written 10 books and has travelled the globe for his work.
The thing I probably learned more than anything else is just shut up and listen. - B.D. Colen
His journalism career, which began at age 17, focused largely on medical writing and often about end-of-life issues. His reporting, along with that of his colleague Kathleen Kerry, won Newsday a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting in the 1980s.
"The thing I probably learned more than anything else is just shut up and listen," said Colen. "Let people talk. They tend to give you much better interviews, conversations that way, then approaching them with what amounts to a list of questions."
"For 13 years in my previous life, and actually for the two years I commuted from here back to Cambridge ... I would photograph people on the subway in Boston," said Colen, who became interested in "the isolation of individuals in the crowds."
The result is a collection of photographs called "Alone, Together" — eight of the images from the series have just been selected to appear at the first International Street Photography and Art Festival in Milan and will hang in Galleria gli Eroici Furori this October.
The day in our life
Later in his career, Colen ran a business off the side of his desk, photographing and documenting families. He would spend an entire day with them, from the time they get up in the morning, until they go to bed at night.
"It's those moments that you don't plan for that are the good moments," he said. "You don't see those moments coming in as an observer, I do. It's kind of like being, and it's the thing I like about it, it's being an anthropologist."
He said it takes about 30 minutes for families to ignore you, and vanishing is his greatest achievement as a photographer.
Offering workshop this weekend
Colen will be participating in this weekend's Bayfield Fall Foto Festival, which gets underway on Friday evening at the community centre with a talk by Canadian landscape photographer Robert Burley.
Colen will be holding a workshop, beginning at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon, at the Goderich Library. As part of it, he'll be sending participants out on the street to photograph strangers, "without asking permission and without engaging with them."
"Most people are — terrified is not too strong a word — of taking pictures of strangers and photographing in public," he said.
"[Colen] brings immediate authority and expertise to a topic, street photography, that is for most people at best awkward and at worst intimidating," said Jack Pal, the founding president of the Photography Club of Bayfield.
"His approach is very simple and as well as teaching about street photography, he slips in a whole new appreciation for black-and-white photography," he said. "He brings his message in a very affirming way and people will come away from his workshop with new creative ideas."