This IMA grad is photographing the quirky couches of Toronto

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By Premila D’Sa

For most students, final year projects are something to do and be done with.

This wasn’t the case for Adam Coish. For seven years now, the Toronto-based photographer has been carrying on with a project he started in his final year as a Ryerson image arts photography student, taking photos of people on their couches.

That’s it. Really. The idea came to Coish when he was looking for a final project idea for his advanced portraiture class. He was sitting on a couch when he realized how many stories he had attached to that one piece of furniture—he wanted to capture that.

“I don’t consider myself to be the most creative photographer, I don’t think this concept was overly creative,” he said. “But I think as the series has grown it’s become a bit more interesting and intriguing.”

Since starting the project seven years ago, Coish has photographed over 60 couches throughout the city. The portraits go up on his website. Take a quick glance and you’ll realize they’re not just quick shoots, but meticulously set up scenes. Each shoot takes Coish about half a day, between packing his equipment, travelling and setting up. 

He said the shortest part of the process is actually taking the photo. But the prep work is entirely more important for Coish. The open nature of the project means his subjects aren’t necessarily models or actors, people that are used to being in front of a camera.

Coish is entirely aware that his project involves entering people’s intimate spaces. To get them comfortable, he starts out by having them fill out a questionnaire about themselves.

“I don’t like to just set up and just treat it like business, I like to really get to break down the barriers by just asking them questions and getting to hear a bit about them.”

He realized how many stories he had attached to that one piece of furniture

Then he takes a gander at the room, though Coish has probably already seen what it looks like before. Since the project has gained attention, he’s had to become more selective with picking people. People hoping to be picked have to send in photos of their couches and rooms so that Coish can see what he has to work with.

Though Coish doesn’t actually require that you have a couch.

“I look at it more like that essential piece of furniture you use and that you spend a lot of your time on for relaxing or socializing and all that stuff,” he said. He’s featured people on their beds or lounge chairs.

What he does look for is some sort of alluring aesthetic he can work with. Also pets!

“I always love having pets in the photos and I’m always more excited when there’s an animal involved in the couch shoot,” he said. “So I’m always on the lookout and it’ll pique my interest more if I know there’s a pet involved, but by no means is it a requirement.”

After getting his subject comfortable, Coish will work on setting up their room so it reflects their personalities. He’ll draw attention to unique pieces they have.

Then he’ll take a bunch of photos, working out different poses. When it comes to the editing process, he’ll usually end up picking out one or two from hundreds of photos. Coish said he picks the one where they look the most “comfortable” for his final product, though he admits that sometimes he doesn’t always get it right.

“Sometimes I get stuck in wanting something so specific or so symmetrical within the shot that I go for that one but the expression may be not as nice as the other ones,” said Coish, recounting a time he sent a final photo to one of the subjects, who pointed out her face looked better in another one.

Coish realized she was right, and that he liked her pick better.

“In the end I’m capturing this moment in their lives and their space—you know a lot of these people will eventually move out of this house and not own that couch anymore and honestly I think as they’re older they’ll be able to look back at this time and remember their lives.”

Photo: Adam Coish

Coish said he has no intention of stopping the project. The plan is to “hammer out” as many couches as he can in 2019 and hopefully have a gallery showing by 2020. Then maybe a book.

“I’m in no rush, I want it to happen when I know it’s right.”

But as the project develops, so will he. He’s been trying to address a specific problem pointed out by a BlogTO commentator—the diversity of his subjects.

“It just happened that when I reach out social media platforms it just happens to be that the people that respond and have interesting spaces happen to be predominantly caucasian,” he said. Coish had posted a callout for his project on the social group Bunz.

“I just haven’t had a lot of different cultures reach out to me and it’s super challenging to find people that fit the bill.”

Coish said moving forward he’s working to find a wider variety of people, and is hoping to address not just different ethnicities and genders, but different living situations, classes and so on.

“Toronto is such a culturally diverse city, and I really want to showcase that, I want to show all walks of life.”

To see more of The Couch Series and Adam Coish’s photography, check out his website or follow him on Instagram.

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