Milan Ilnyckyj Q & A with
Milan Ilnyckyj

Interview by Ren Tomovcik

Originally from Vancouver, Ottawa-based photographer Milan Ilnyckyj is a graduate of UBC in International Relations and Political Science. He later attended the University of Oxford to continue his studies in International Relations.

Having travelled the world exploring his art form, Milan has amassed a large body of photographic work which resides on his website,, and in his online gallery at In the month of September, he unveils his first gallery exhibition: a selection of his photos will be on display all month long at Raw Sugar Cafe.

Milan chats with Ottawafocus about his passion for photography, his sources of inspiration, and the role of art in cultural change.


Milan, how did you start out in photography?  What was your first camera? When I was about seven or eight, I got a neon green 110 cartridge film camera in a McDonald’s Happy Meal, which I subsequently brought on a trip to Czechoslovakia. I still have the prints.

Do you now shoot entirely in a digital medium, or do you ever experiment with more traditional processes (film, slides, etc?)Day to day, I almost always shoot using digital sensors. When going on trips or photographing something of real importance to someone, I find it good to shoot some film as well. Each type of film has its own character, and negatives are a lot more enduring than hard drives or burned CDs.

Photo by Milan Ilnyckyj
What is your staple photo equipment?  What camera do you use?These days, most of my photos are shot on a Canon Rebel XS, using either Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 lens or their 70-200mm f/4 IS lens. Most of the photography in the Raw Sugar show was actually shot on a cheap Canon point and shoot camera.

How has the work of other photographers inspired you?I tend to get ideas from things my friends have done, as well as work I see on online communities. is an excellent resource for people who want to learn.

Tell us a little about your exhibit at Raw Sugar.  How did you select the featured images? The images were chosen on the basis of being colourful and simple enough to have appeal from a distance. A coffee shop is a very different environment from a gallery; as such, I wanted prints that worked well as part of the general ambiance, but also rewarded closer viewing.

Where in Ottawa do you go when you want to capture some new images? The various bridges across rivers and canals are generally promising, as are former industrial areas. For nature photography, the riverside path and parks like Mud Lake are excellent.

Photo by Milan Ilnyckyj
Having travelled all over Canada and the world, have you gained any different perspectives on the capital city?  What in particular strikes you about Ottawa when you return from somewhere else?I rarely get far outside Ottawa these days. I am avoiding flying for environmental reasons, which tends to keep me in the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa range. Compared to those cities, Ottawa stands out as being small and governmentally focused.

You often use your blog and website as a forum for discussing global issues like climate change.  What is the role of art in promoting cultural change and opening debate about subjects you're passionate about? Art is important because it inspires people to think beyond their experience and grasp the implications of trends. It also motivates people emotionally in a way that scientific analysis can be hard-pressed to do. When it comes to the enormous challenge of climate change, we need motivation and inspiration in addition to a strong scientific understanding of how the climate system works and how we can eventually reach zero net emissions.

Photo by Milan Ilnyckyj

What attracted you to photography over other forms of art?It is well attuned to those whose skills and interests are more technical than tactile. There is also a documentary role that accompanies the act, which feels worthwhile to me.

Do you see photography as primarily a documentary tool or an artistic one? I think there can often be a tension between the two. While excellent photographers who find themselves in good lighting circumstances can produce images of exceptional documentary importance and technical quality, there is more often a need to trade one against the other. A photograph of a historical event will rarely have the technical quality of a carefully established studio shot, but it will often have much more documentary importance.

Finally, as a photographer who is also a prolific writer, what do you think of the well-worn phrase "A picture is worth 1000 words?" The two aren’t really comparable, given how differently people engage with each. While it’s true that many ideas can be expressed more easily visually than in writing, photographs and written descriptions each speak to rather different elements of our consciousnesses.

Milan Ilnyckyj's photography will be featured at Raw Sugar Cafe until September 30th. 
Raw Sugar is located at 692 Somerset St. West, and is open daily from 10ish to 7ish.


You can visit Milan online at his website and blog, or check out his gallery for more of his work.

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