Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Seventeen

This one is not a journal but a scrap book. Built from the solid bones of an Ampad 22-156 computation book, it started out containing design notes for teapots but soon was given over to illustrations and photography culled from discarded New Yorker magazines. Some of my favourite illustrators are found here: Adrian Tomine, Lara Tomlin, Seth, and others. There are clippings of photographic work that has been far to good to be tossed out with the recycling. There are sad obituaries for both Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.

#17 is still ongoing. When space gets tight it is time to sharpen the scissors and eliminate the stacks of periodicals. Over time it is surprising how much of a sourcebook the scraps become.

Despite the terrible name, Ampad makes great books. If you are the type who keeps a laboratory, and you need to make notes on the progress of experiments - you know, diagrams showing how your genius takes form, vectors, equations, forces, chemical names, explanations and observations - you could find no better book than the 22-156. You could paste in an entire 8.5 x 11 inch sheet and still have a margin left - which is why these work so well as scrap books. They are sewn together, finished with book binding tape, but have no spine - and so there is no spine to break. Some gentle rough-housing and they submit and lie flat. They are not cheap - especially North of the border. They may not be available for much longer, either. As the Wiki tells us, Ampad filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005. Stationer's trivia: Ampad invented the yellow legal pad, beloved of lawyers.

Keeping a scrapbook always leads me to contemplate images and essentialism. I keep images because they hit me in a profound way. Being something of an image mechanic, I'm always looking for the essence that makes an image work. You can see me late at night, turning the pages, muttering: what is it? what is it? Damn you -  give me your secrets! Invariably these books hint that whatever it is that makes the image work, it is never exactly what you think it is.

Here is a list of the books.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pancho and Sal Pace

Pancho and Sal Pace. Musicians. Taken August 8, 2011

Also known as the Rio Samaya Band, I know of few other people who's lives have been so given up to the Music. Inspired by it, governed by it, constantly following it, drinking it, breathing it in and exhaling it as life.

While I set up they took out instruments and began to play. I was particularly struck by Manhã de Carnaval. The song was sad and tragic, filled with beauty and rhythm. I had to just listen. I may have set up the room for a photo shoot, but they instantly transformed it into a Brazilian café.

Pancho was born in San Jorge, Argentina. As a young man he moved to Europe. He told me he was fascinated by instruments and always wanted to learn how to play them. Which instruments? I asked. All instruments! he replied. He followed his ambition; to create music and use it as a way to travel the world. After touring many countries, he was a confident troubadour-style musician.

The biography on the Rio Samaya Band page gives more detail: "While playing with Gypsies in the South of France, he learned rumbas and flamenco. His compositions reflect these influences of flamenco and other folk rhythms. After years of exchange with other musicians, his original music has a wide diversity of styles."

"Sal, who was born in England and raised in Canada, met Pancho in Cuzco, Peru, and from then on together as a family and musical duo have established a name for themselves. Sal compliments the music with her vocals, accordion, shakers, chachas, bombo and guitar. They have a unique poetic style of translating simultaneously from Spanish to English."

You can see many of the videos from their concerts at They are presently touring India.

Here is an index of portraits.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Fourteen

This book is composed of rough, almost unpleasant craft paper. Two pieces of galvanized sheet metal make up the cover. I cut the sheets and put the whole thing together during a month residency at the Banff Centre. It was February 1997 and I was working on a contribution for the "Deep Web" project. The results are still available on this site. An Index of Possible Saviours is a collection of animations I made of the concrete poems of Canadian poet b.p. nichol.

In 1997 Web animations were a kind of Zoetropic machine. They played at erratic speeds, were made up of low resolution GIFs, and were generally quite tiny. These qualities became advantages for web pages delivering time-based poetry and text. I adapted some of my own work for the medium. Bloodwork: An Epigram to Anna Akhmatova is a dedication to the Russian poet and Birds of Good Omen for Sandra married slow progress of the text with the stop motion photography of Eadweard Muybridge.

I also completed an animation of Leonard Cohen's "Two went to Sleep." As neither the images nor the text were mine I didn't put it up. But, I still like it, and there is something in the way the text and the images repeat that links Muybridge and Cohen together.

I was in the mountains and it was desperately cold. Each morning I would awake in the inky blackness and walk over to the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Building. Elk hunkered down in the thick snow and sometimes you would surprise one in the darkness. A magnificent but unsettling experience.

In 1997, when my month was done I left the project I copied my work onto a CD. A technician brought in two special pieces of equipment - each about the size of a desktop computer. The first was a dedicated hard drive the second was the CD burner. The process took all afternoon.

That CD no longer works and the word files on my computer from that time will not open. I have the pages of the journal to read and some letters in a box. Things fall apart. Time passes.

Does time pass differently for everyone? I think it might. For a while I asked people if they had a shape or a notion of how time passed. I asked because, for me, the year has always been a circle with the summer at the top. Christmas and new years are at the very bottom. Hence "the height of summer" or "the depths of winter." I tried to realize this notion by breaking the circle and swivelling out the lower half to make a sine wave. I thought that a web page that scrolled horizontally would contain this idea well. The page would scroll from left to right - like time itself. The project was hindered by the limitations of web browsers but I still have a desire to return to it one day.

Here is a screenshot of the beginning. Click on the image for a larger version.

Here is a list of the books.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Miriam Gil

Miriam Gil. Artist. Taken August, 2, 2011

I first met Miriam in the early nineties while volunteering at the Pacific Cinematheque. We worked the coffee bar. It was loud and the combination of the  coffee machine, popcorn machine, and her Columbian accent meant that I could almost never catch what she was saying. When I could hear her we talked about art, film, and writers. Since high school I had loved the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Miriam told me that in Columbia he was so popular they just called him “Gabo”.

The only certainty was that they took everything with them: money, December breezes, the bread knife, thunder at three in the afternoon, the scent of jasmines, love. All that remained were the dusty almond trees, the reverberating streets, the houses of wood and roofs of rusting tin with their taciturn inhabitants, devastated by memories. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Living to Tell the Tale.

I rented a room in her house for a few years. There were late night conversations over bowls of steaming chocolaté. There was a tulip tree that grew too close to the house. I could open the kitchen window and hang a bird feeder in the branches. I filled it in the morning with a teacup tied to a broom handle. The Steller’s jays loved the seeds and screeched their delight when it was full. Miriam had many friends and one Christmas she made a huge basin of a traditional Columbian potato-chicken soup. It was not served until late and it had a strange narcoleptic effect on the guests. Taking turns, in twos and threes, the guests fell asleep. A couple would doze for ten minutes, and wake up, only to find that another couple was drifting off.

She is a teller of stories, a painter and artist. You can find her artworks on her site

Here is an index of portraits.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Thirteen

Tuesday October 24, 1995. Heathrow Airport

Upon landing, and shuttle between terminals it occurred to me that there is a vast incongruous country composed of all the spaces that are nowhere. Fast food and gas stations along the 401 between Cornwall and Windsor. Airport lounges. The space after security checks where one can only wait. Citizenship is exclusive and strictly controlled. Rights are tenuous. Laws and currency are polyphonous.

November 6, morning. [while on a three-day journey by boat from Venice to Izmir, Turkey]

Today there are no horses in the waves. Today the waves are the slowly evolving typographies of distant mountain ranges. They are monotone aerial photographs, animated like some abstract film from a lost formalist school.

We are on the top deck now, and where we sit there is no wind. We are on the bow, but because the ship travels with the wind our seats are breezeless. The sun comes through the clouds to make islands of light. People stand by the rails, pensively, or speak in small groups. We are slowly approaching a group of islands but I have no idea what they are called, or what country claims them. Today we are further south, though none of my maps shows where we are.

Last night Salim mentioned that he got car sick. He trained himself to go to sleep as soon as he got into a vehicle. As a result he had no idea where his own school was and when he finally had to drive to his own graduation he had no idea where to go.

Mid-evening. Today I've been restless. We sat in the sun and practiced some Turkish, had lunch after which Salim and I played cards. J. and I spent the afternoon together but I found it very much frustrating. We have a long protracted way of conversing which holds a lot of silence. There is so much heavy empty space between the start and end that I am exhausted. This being true I had a nap. I worry that we don't talk about anything other than exhaustion. The more tired she is the more plans I make to wind up our trip as it seems to be lacking purpose. We pass from one exhaustion to the next. The work, the trip from Vancouver to London to Paris to Chartres, the two days of hitching, the night train to Venice, the search for a boat and now the boat itself. We are sleeping on the floor and it is a painful, cramped, ineffective way to rest. On deck it is cold and inside everyone smokes.

Do we all start out as realists? Do we open the door to see the world as it is, tire or become obsessed and then create another? Or, is the world what it is and no other? Looking out the window it is dark and I can see only the patina of salt on the glass. Why does this answerless question persist? What is the point in even asking such a question? There is now a low cloud of smoke in the room. It hangs at its own level and is only slightly dispersed as someone walks through it.

... The market was a village of strange voices. A laugh and an angry word mixed in the air which was already heavy with many smells. So it seemed to T that the market contained all things, like a magic case or a gold coin, it could become anything. He nursed in his heart a desire to know more about all the things in the market than anyone else. Every mineral in the apothecary would be known to him, the names of flowers would blossom on his lips as he inhaled their fresh and pungent perfume. Fine styles of ornament would be to him like the names of his family and people would travel many mile for his opinion ...

The ship is trailing a white cloak of foam behind it. The moon is white and full. This room is clouded with Turkish cigarettes. The Turkish men speak in their oddly aspirated language. Some, who have just entered the room, sing softly.

Here is a list of the books.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jaron Freeman-Fox

Jaron Freeman-Fox. Musician. Taken July 13, 2011

Constantly in motion and generating a climate of theatre about himself, Mr. Freeman-Fox offered up endless possibilities. He can be seen here, listening to the bridge.

Jaron grew up on one of the Gulf Islands, in a uniquely west-coast environment. Now he calls Toronto home. He is one of the many musicians influenced (and fortunate lad, mentored) by legendary musician and composer, the late Oliver Schroer (who was lovingly known as Canada's talest free-standing fiddler). Jaron carries Oliver's five string fiddle with him. He uses it to play his own compelling interpretation of Field of Stars. The fiddle was accidentally decapitated in September, sending shock-waves through the folk music world. The fiddle has been restored and lives again. If you are in Toronto you can probably catch Jaron playing solo or in one of the seemingly endless combinations of musicians that make up the TO music scene. If you are on the West Coast, keep your eyes on the Sunshine coast.

Check out Jaron's music here.

Here is an index of portraits.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sechelt Festival of the Arts 2011

[update] another picture of the opening event by Bob Evermon.

Tonight was the opening of the Sechelt Festival of the Arts Juried Art Show. My portrait of Giorgio Magnanensi hung right beside a work by Todd Clark - so I felt in very good company. As it turns out juror Greg Bellerby selected Todd's work for purchase by the District of Sechelt. Congratulations Mr. Clark.

This is my first public exhibition of photographic work. The show runs until the 23rd of October. All work is for sale.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chris Coole

chris coole by Tim McLaughlin

Chris Coole. Musician. Taken June 29, 2011

Chris arrived, banjo in hand. The banjo is a great instrument and the one that Chris brought was a five-string, open-back banjo. It was beat-up and wonderfully photogenic in itself. To my surprise, Chris had some postage stamps inside the body of the instrument - one of which was the Canadian commemorative of Yousuf Karsh. How interesting. We got some good shots of Chris with the body held up next to his head. We even tried some with Mr. Coole looking like a orthodox icon

Chris Coole as Russian Icon

My assistant, Esme, is crouching behind him, holding the banjo, trying both not to be seen and keep the banjo steady. Sadly there is not much of a connection between old-time music and Russian ikon painting or the photo would have been more useful. I much prefer the laughing Chris at the top.

Check out Five Strings Attached with no Backing it's a favourite or Old Dog - his solo CD. If you ever get a chance to catch one of the many bands that he shows up in you're in for a treat.

Find out all about him at his site

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Eleven

Book eleven was a mistake. When I made it I tried to avoid pasting anything in. It was to be text only. It was designed in a very self-concious attempt to focus on my writing without the distraction of graphic elements. It was a kind of textual puritanism. It took me five years to complete and undoubtedly failed to record what is most compelling about the passage of time - the ephemera, the visual, and the transitory.

This was the first book that I actually made. In that regard I have always been happy with it. I unbound an old atlas purchased at a second-hand shop. After painting the pages with a mixture of gesso and acrylic medium (designed to give a white surface for writing that would still permit the maps to show through) I folded them into signatures and sewed them together as instructed in The Craft of Bookbinding.. I completed it with a metal hinge. Part of my prohibition against pasting materials into the book was the inevitable expansion this caused. The metal hinge would not stand for this. The cover holds an engraving from the days of moveable type - it is a photograph, screened and etched onto a copper plate with four holes for mounting on a wooden block. The book boards are covered with tar paper - a preferred construction material for me at the time.

Some fragments:

July 12, 1995

A good book is the kind that is difficult to read. A book, the bones of which, catch in the throat and, if read at the right moment, can choke the reader. It's got to be a little like a difficult poison, like alcohol that burns on the way down and leaves you with false impressions. A good book will ruin your vision that way.

I have discovered the most eloquent melancholy in The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.

"He is an isolated individual who can express himself, but is unsure who he is."

"I never gave credence to that which I believed. I filled by hands with sand. I called it gold, and emptied my hands of all of it. The sentence was my only truth. With the sentence said, everything was done; the rest was the sand it always was."

If I had a camera I would always film everyone running towards the camera. Bright sun. Globs of light in everything.

August 16, 1995

Ears like a peel of grapefruit, large and pithy.

August 17, 1995

He always found the railing quickly in a stairwell for fear that someone would push him from behind. And the grocery store exuded a smell that was almost like almost every spice he knew. It must be fragrant to live in your world, they thought, where everything is the essence of something else.

If you knew that someone would never be happy would you be justified in taking their life? If you knew that humanity was doomed to misery what could you do? What does someone do who is faced with a meaningless life - sycophant.

He walked up to my front door one day. I said, "You look like you have something on your mind, what's the matter?" He said, "I am plagued by a meaningless existence. I merely am."

June 27, 1998

For a while every time someone said something to him he thought of a tree.

"I have lived in this city for ten years" elicited the image of a weeping willow. "She barely remembers" made him think of cedar. His sister was a Japanese maple. Each letter of her words, a leaf, the leaves, veined with green veins, spines across the body of leaves or else a silk hair drawn over the green fabric of her speech. The letters over and over again, growing into the space between worlds. Sounding so unlike the gravel of his conversation. HIS talk like nothing but sharp stones underfoot - like the prick of burnt grass on the bare instep in summer. His talk a thistle, his way of talking, thorn after thorn after thorn, pressed into the tender flesh of her sole."

Here is a list of the books.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dan Bouman

Dan Bouman. Photographer. Conservationalist. Taken June 28, 2011

In 2005 Dan Bouman turned a room in the Gibsons Public Art Gallery into a giant camera obscura. Entering it was an unusual and strangely unsettling experience. It was a bright sunny day in lower Gibsons and the interior of the camera was very dark. It took about four minuted for my eyes to adjust to the light. But when they did I could see the water, the dock and fishing boats of the harbour inverted and "projected" on the wall of the room. It made even ordinary events like the passage of a car or the progress of a person seem magical. As if the movement confirmed that this was not simply a reflection or faint slide projection, but was, in fact a copy of reality. The magic was accomplished with no more than darkness and a tiny hole placed in exactly the right spot.

There is a famous scene in the Pressburger and Powel film A Matter of Life and Death (also known as Stairway to Heaven) that opens with a man in a camera obscura, observing, godlike, the daily goings on in his English village at the time of the second world war. The scene has implications for what will transpire in the rest of the film. [I've embedded the clip at the end of this post.]

Dan is also the man behind a set of very well done photos of thespians in the Heritage Playhouse. Mostly completed around 2001, Dan took some time to set up the shots. They are perfectly lit and communicate a wonderful sense of humour and drama. The photos lined the theatre entrance and I was always inspired by them every time I passed by.

On the Sunshine Coast many of us know Dan as the director of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association. Dan is the director. His clear-headed, tireless work is much appreciated. To back up this endorsement I made an on-line donation to the SCCA the day this post went up.

Dan's camera obscura and pin-hole photography is the subject of a review in Going Coastal Magazine and a feature in The Georgia Straight by Andrew Scott. You can find out more about him in the directors page of the SCCA.

Here is an index of portraits.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Ten

I carried this around with me in a pannier as I cycled to work at Duthie's Bookstore on Robson Street. It became wonderfully worn. One day I was walking down Commercial Drive and I found a discarded grinding wheel. I used an exacto knife to cut a hole the exact size of the wheel in the cover of the book. I was able to fit it in. It was a snug fit and it stayed put.

Among the finds that this book records are the journals of Peter Beard. I would take a copy of The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa away on my lunch break and I would make colour photocopies of key pages. It was a revelation. I couldn't afford to buy the book at the time and it quickly became hard to find. The Duthies flagship store had a large art section with a good sampling of contemporary photography. I never realized until now the influence that it had on me.

It was here that I began the experiments that would become 25 Ways to Close a Photograph. I would look at a photograph of a person and try to come up with a description of them. The exercise was inspired by a line of commentary I once read. I've forgotten the author who was praised as "being able to convey in a few lines a more compelling description than most authors do in an entire novel." I would come up with a description, print it out, and paste it over a portrait. The effect seemed to me quite powerful. I began to scour the junk shops and antique stores for old photographs - group photos worked best. The writing seemed to take advantage of a quality that was at the centre of photography itself. The context of a photo is like the glue that holds the photo in its album - often it simply lets go with time.

One of the books we sold at Duthies was the heavy and formidable An Autobiography by Richard Avedon. We had a display copy that was all but destroyed -  the spine was broken, signatures had come loose and the pages were very worn from customers flipping through the book. I asked the manager if I could have it. The answer was yes. I kept it closed for a long time, opening it one page at a time and trying to write a description of the person on the page. It was like a vault of inspiration. I felt like a man who had been at sea for years who had a secret basket of fresh crisp apples.

The influence of Avedon on my portraits is clear.

Here is a list of the books.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chelsea Sleep

Chelsea Sleep. Musician and Composer. Taken June 13, 2011.

I first heard Chelsea play fiddle when she was about 16, warming up outside the Gibson's Heritage Playhouse. A remarkable player, she has since become a courageous instructor of younger fiddlers. Her group Bad to the Bow worked most of this summer in the recording studio to lay down tracks for their first CD. Together with Emilyn Stam Chelsea also formed The Twisted String, a group dedicated to performing the work of legendary Canadian composer and musician Oliver Schroer. Chelsea worked closely with Oliver for a number of years before his untimely death in 2008. One of the earlier students of Michelle Bruce Chelsea was also a key player in the Coast String Fiddlers, a group that inspired an entire generation of musicians. Chelsea recently released her first CD, Simple Song.

We had a number of good things come out of the shoot. The Twisted String were well known for doing an entire-band jump in the middle of some songs. So we got a bit of air time. We also took a lot of shots of her with her violin. Given who she is, Chelsea has a lot of these and at one point she said, "you know, I have SO many pictures of me with a fiddle, I'd like something different." So we did that. One of them came out of post-production, solarized, not quite showing the tom-boy fiddler most of us know.

As a photographer the first question you run into is "is the post-processing going too far?" I've thought about that quite a bit as I go through the editing stages. Sometimes an approach to photography seems to hinge on an idea of truth. People can have very strong views on whether editing and post-processing is legitimate or not. Epistemology is contested territory in any field but it seems particularly problematic with photography. In the end I think there is no falseness in photography - only in how the photographer presents it. Said another way there are no dishonest photographs - only dishonest photographers. It's a shift in emphasis on Richard Avedon's famous statement "Every photograph is accurate. None of them is the truth."

I'm not sure why there is a need to deny the editing and post-processing in order to make a photograph seem more "artistic" or spectacular. Surely, as with any media, all the decisions someone makes are part of the art. Perhaps photography seems so invisible, and brings the subject so close, that the genius of photography is going into the world to find an exact moment - not staging it or making it up after. Obviously as a photographer who works in the studio you can't avoid staging your photos - an this leads one to be more generous with acceptance of post-processing also.

Find Chelsea Sleep's work here.

Here is an index of portraits.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Nine

Book nine seems unexpectedly productive. It has one of my favourite passages. A favourite because it actually happened. It goes like this:

Wednesday March 8, 1993

A week into March and still the snow persistently falls. I walk to the vacant field at noon with my father's Polaroid camera. I want pictures of the ground, traces, the footprints in the field, but instead I am drawn toward the playground. Everything is black and white except the slides and monkey bars which are blue and red. I take the pictures but I must put the polaroids next to my skin, against my chest, so that they will be warm enough to develop. I walk back across the empty field with pictures forming under the warmth of my shirt.

That night I dream of a Polaroid camera for photographing paintings. The pictures do not develop like ordinary pictures–as if someone were slowly turning on the lights in a darkened room–but rather they develop as the artist produced the painting, brush stroke by brush stroke. I point the camera at you and squeeze the release on the shutter. The picture forms slowly, through all the years of your life, your face growing into the frame; while the background flows by like a road through all the places you have ever been.

The book also contains some typographic poems made in an early graphics program for windows. They were inspired by Herbert Spencer's Pioneers of Modern Typography. I remember thinking they might make good postcards. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Here is a list of the books.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Giorgio Magnanensi

Giorgio Magnanensi. Conductor and Composer. Taken May 30, 2011.

The morning opened with torrential rain, and although it stopped by noon (when our shoot was scheduled) it was still grey and overcast. This shot was done right at the very end when we tried some very formal, very still shots. Giorgio had on a white shirt, the backdrop was white and his beard and hair were shades of grey - the whole thing came out flat and soft.

Initially I was very disappointed. In my head I wanted high-contrast. But each time I encountered this photo in my editing it jumped at me. I decided to emphasize it's natural character even more in the processing stage. The surprising result is better than I could have hoped. When I met Giorgio to give him his print for the sitting, I gave him the choice between this and another more high-contrast print in which he is speaking and looking very prophet-like. It was at a gallery opening. Nadina Tandy was also there. Everyone emphatically agreed on the image above.

I have since had this one enlarged to 2 x 3 feet and mounted on aluminum. It seems to emerge directly from the early history of photography.

Giorgio Magnanensi is the Artistic Director of the Vancouver New Music Society, and even though his work necessitates a certain fluidity with technology, he still writes all his compositions and scores by hand. He brought a CD of his recent work with Veda Hille titled Young Saint Marie. He was great to work with, full of ideas and new ways of thinking, affable and generous with his time. And yes, he does have a fantastic beard.

Find Giorgio Magnanensi's work here.

Here is an index of portraits.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Eight

I bought a thin spiral sketchbook to take on a week-long trip to Morocco. It holds the end of an epistolary romance, broken in the landscape of North Africa. This book contains some Arabic script, notes from the night-train to Marrakech, descriptions of waking up in Tangier, and my impressions of the souks, streets and sands of Morocco.

February 5, 1993 
Morning Tangier. The city looks very 1940s as if there were a vast building spree that began in the 20s. Bicycles go by with crates of oranges. Gas canisters. The bikes are motorized. Not quite motorcycles and not bicycles either.

Evening, hotel-top. Beginning to cool off. Full moon, high clouds. Sea breeze. Moonlight on the Mediterranean. God, it’s a backdrop for a 1950s cheap romance. Whistles, beeps, below. Clean fresh air.

Today we ventured out of the hotel and, as we had been warned, we were immediately swarmed by hustlers, offering to take us everywhere, show us anything. They are incredibly persistent, unshakable. One followed us for an hour and when we tried to shake him he threatened to kill my mother.

There are certain things you can do that are really excuses to occupy space in an environment. I don’t smoke, so the pleasure of extending one’s stay at a café table while finishing a cigarette is lost on me. But a notebook is a reason to linger anywhere. Instead of the elusive pleasures of inhaling tobacco (gone with the last traces of smoke, leaving only ashes, carcinogens, and a bad smell) you have the traces of words. Maybe your coffee was done and you just needed an excuse to occupy a table for another hour, fine. But later that day, week, year, you encounter the page from that café table and you will find something there - for in the book you are still sitting at the table, the sunlight is still warm on the wood. The over-ripe oranges on the trees in the courtyard are still falling, landing with a dull, soft thud on the moroccan tiles.

Here is a list of the books.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Diego Samper

Diego Samper. Artist. Taken May 22, 2011.

Diego is a difficult man to describe. He has led me to some incredible photographers, the most influential being Hector Acebes, a Columbian who travelled alone through northern Africa in 1947. Diego himself is a gifted photographer who also paints, draws, constructs, assembles, makes films, and is an architect. The most general thing you could say about his work is that he never takes an idea half-way. Everything is developed until it reaches a kind of final organic, ecologic conclusion. I think this is why I enjoy his painting most - the abstract works seem to be, not an artist's explorations, but rather self-contained landscapes built from the very ideas of colour and texture.

He once made an entire book that followed the progress of a burnt hole through the pages. It is one of the most interesting objects I have ever seen.

Diego came to Canada from Columbia to avoid the frequent abductions and ransoms that were part of the drug wars. His family included two teenaged daughters when he arrived in British Columbia. Since settling on the Sunshine Coast he has been able to return to Columbia and re-establish his presence there. Here is a biography from his website.

See Diego Samper's work here.

Here is an index of portraits.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book Seven

The first of the travelling books. It started life as a spiral bound Strathmore sketchbooks. I added a front cover of hard cardboard and pasted on a page taken from a mathematics text published in Irish Gaelic. I worked on it through the winter of nineteen ninety-two when I had gone to live on the west coast of Ireland to write. The book opens with sunny, optimistic descriptions of Edinburgh in November.

November 21, 1992

Edinburgh again. The smell of coal and rain. Cars and diesel. Rain. Gey and a drizzle and then a stronger rain. Later, a rain that might be thinking of snow, branching out into larger drops, falling slowly, subject to a different sense of gravity; the drops from an eavestrough or awning falling slowly to sit in your hair with a trickle down your forehead.

Edinburgh has so much old stone. Stone that ages black, ages by turning the colour of the coal smudge that devours it, the oldest monuments black with a grit that hurts your eyes to look at.


It is rainy and damp. This is the kind of dampness that will fit into the bottom of your pocket and follow you for days. The kind of dampness that keeps oil paint from drying. Window frames painted in the nineteen-twenties are still wet, the paint catching at the ridges of your fingerprint. The kind of weather in which your hair goes mouldy and your fingernails curl into your palms. Fires give off only steam. Fruit begins to rot while still in the bud, before it can even grow.

It was weather like this when Jerico's uncle exposed his heart. He could be walking through that permanent dampness and think only of her. But always he saw her dully, as if through a heavy mist or under miles of water. Edinburgh, he thinks, reeks of stone, of black hearts kept in the cellar, of metal turned black with coal dust. This is your city, where nothing glows brighter than the headlights in the rain. Stone and clocks. A city where nothing is choreographed but the clouds and the drizzle.

Most of the rest was completed in a cottage in Connamara. I loved it there, despite the winter and the weather. This book contains a pop-up of donkeys made while staying at the donkey rescue service and a number of pictures of Wales where I spent Christmas with a collection of New Zealanders. I wrote a lot of letters that winter and lived for the arrival of the postman.

Here is a list of the books.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Buckman Coe

Buckman Coe. Muscian and Composer. Taken April 13, 2011.

I first met Mr. Coe in 2009. He was singing at an event held in a furniture warehouse that had been converted to a gallery for an exhibit of Bengal textiles. His voice had an eerie floating quality that seemed to come from very far away - as if he were channeling the spirit of a Tibetian lama.

During the shoot he made a comment that let to the creation of this site. We were positioning some lights and getting ready. By a strange coincidence the shoot was taking place in the same warehouse were I first met him. He took some pictures of the set-up on his phone and said "What's your site? I can mention it if you like." My last site update was almost 10 years ago. How embarrassing. I mumbled some excuses and said that none of my work was really online yet.

But now it is.

The shoot went well, but was beset by a number of technical problems. Lights kept failing and there were some focus issues. This was my second indoor session and I was struggling without the wonderful soft-everywhere daylight of my outdoor studio. Buckman was patient throughout the whole thing, though, and we had a great conversation about songwriting and creativity. He tried some tricks, like the stand-up-hair-flick on the left.

I was leaving in a few days on a trip, and Buckman was putting the final touches on his latest CD. I sent him some comps in case they might be useful and one ran in a review by Mike Usinger in the Georgia Straight. The CD is called By the Mountain's Feet. Design was done by local photographer/designer Reine Mihtla of Artpowerhouse. The full story of it's production can be found here. It is a beautiful piece of work.

See Buckman Coe's work here.

Here is an index of portraits.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Six

Hardcover Sketchbook. Given to me by Sarah Clift in the spring of 1992 and recovered three times. As each of the paper covers wore out and fell away, the centre portion of the front was pasted into the book. The final cover was made from cutting up a poster for the Vancouver Opera and a Knopff book catalogue. A friend once criticized it for being "too romantic - too emotional."

During this time I was reading a lot of Milorad Pavic and became fascinated by Derrida's The Post Card. And so the book contains several short lines very much in the style of Pavic:
She is a very delicate woman. The sound of a plate breaking could kill her.
While the derridian influence played out in other ways: I had a short relationship with a woman where I sent her a post card after each time we met. In the years when this book was written you could go into a drug store and purchase a colour photocopy for 49 cents. This was unprecedented. Photocopies were by definition designed to obliterate subtlety and detail thus reducing the world to a washed-out, yet high-contrast version of itself. With the colour photocopy all that changed. The technology has such implications for artists that the Western Front Gallery ran a show with the Xerox machine itself installed in the gallery. The saturated colours entranced us. It was tempting to put everything onto the platen: autumn leaves, fabric, old photographs, younger versions of ourselves.

Here is a page that interests me. On the right, a photocopy of a photograph of Georgian Bay, on the left the text reads:
Poem to the hands of a dead uncle 
Unpack your hands 
Joint by joint unhinge the fingers. The bones of a bamboo kite lacking paper, built of torn string and knots. Your hands are the ribs and skeleton of a crow. 
It is important to realize that, just as there are fields that dogs will not walk through because of scent, because of noise, because of dust; there are some things these hands will never do. They will not spill tar on rooftops or gather salmon. As if it would be easier with a felt-tip pen to darken squares on ariel photographs, or wade through supermarkets. 
If I could help you I would. Tighten or loosen the skin stretched over you palms with a key placed in your wrist. Lengthen your lifeline to improve fortune. But I see from the state of your body it is too late for mechanics. 
Later travelling the bus through Vancouver winter: the branches more like hands here. The long black fingers of a woman extended to catch rain.

Here is a list of books.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Self Portrait

Self Portrait. Taken October 25, 2010

"Time passes. People grow old, fall out of love, go their separate ways. Charis and Weston met in 1934, married in 1939, in the fall of 1945 she wrote to tell him she was leaving him, and in 1946 they were divorced. Weston took his last picture in 1948. He died in 1958. These are the dates. Nothing has caused me more problems in writing this book than the interminable need to establish and verify dates. I hope they are all correct but in one sense dates are irrelevant. The value of a life cannot be assessed chronologically, sequentially. If that were the case then the only bit that matters – like the closing instants of a race – would be how you felt in the closing seconds before your death. (This is one of the questions posed by photographer Joel Sternfeld – 'Is what we are at the end ultimately what we are?' – in his book On this Site.) The moments or phases that make life worthwhile can come early or late. For atheletes, and women dependent solely on their beauty, they always come early. For writers, artists, and everyone else they can come at any time. If you are unlucky they do not come at all. Sometimes these moments are preserved in photographs. The acts – in the artist's (or model's) case, the works, and, in an atheletes, the results – that redeem a life can come in advance of everything requiring redemption. Chronology can, sometimes, obscure this."
Geoff Dyer – The Ongoing Moment

Here is an index of portraits.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Five

Hardcover sketchbook. It is not a very nice book to look at. It is worn from being carried in a bicycle pannier for three months. There is nothing interesting pasted inside, and it is messy. Still - so many things began in this book. It has drafts of poems that I would complete later. Like Birds of Good Omen for Sandra. It also has bits of writing and thoughts that would find their way into finished works. Once piece that remains unpublished goes like this:

In the nineteen-seventies a fascination develops with dare-devils. Swimming pools are converted into shark tanks, the Grand Canyon bristles with approach ramps and the remains of rocket engines litter the rocks. High-wires are strung between the tops of skyscrapers.

Marcel d'Extrodinaire has a special car built with two accelerators. One for the driver and one for the passenger: "Like sewing in a second heart." he comments to the press.

He offers the passenger seat to anyone who will get in. "Experience the greatest thrill of all! The thrill of pure speed!" A large crowd blossoms around Marcel's vehicle, a flower of expectant faces. The crowd withers and disperses when Marcel tells them he has also removed the brakes.

He is finally approached by a young woman. When he reminds her there are no breaks she is unflinching.

"I will get into your car Marcel" she says, "on one condition."


"That I drive."

Marcel's family has a long history of tempting fate.

I was young - only twenty-five. Writing and wanting to write. I would set myself the challenge of describing things. Often I would use photographs because there was a moment of drama in them. Sometimes there was a character there that could be brought to life with only one or two lines. I would go to art galleries or photography exhibits and describe the people in the pictures.
- A man holds a child and smiles. The child is terrified.
- A man alone. Formal.
- A woman, her head turned left.
- A young girl, a baby, and a pair of arms holding the child.
- A daughter and mother facing each other.
- A young boy with thick black-rimmed glasses.
- A man with a dog - a great Irish Setter - the dog is blurred, trying to get away.
- An older woman in a black sweater and heavy eyelids, a small string of pearls around her neck.
- Two men, their arms are crossed as the each clutch the other's nose.
- A nun.
- A man in a raincoat and sunglasses. In each hand he holds a toy gun. The sunglasses are thin and do not hide his eyes.
- A frightened cat on a garbage-can lid.
- Three girls, their faces distorted as they try to press each other out of the picture.
- A woman with roses.
And as always there are fragments of things. Little bits that cast a partial, twenty-year old light:
The boy is shown frantic. He clutches at the neck of a large bird. The bird flies and the ground is missing. The eyes are wide on the boy. On the bird they are just ordinary avian eyes. Natural, unconcerned with the passenger attached around the neck. This is a natural form of flight. The kind you experience in dreams, when what is unnatural is the ground - placed like a wall in your path.

And the only thing I consider strange is that in the morning I awoke and my arms are clutched frantic about your neck. The plumage of your wings is crumpled beneath the weight of my body.
If I could give advice to a young person it would be this: Write everything down. Always. Absolutely everything - leave nothing out. The result will be like living twice.

Here is a list of books.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nadina Tandy

Nadina Tandy. Painter. Taken October 25, 2010.

Nadina arrived early and soon we were earnestly talking about daughters, trading stories about hers and mine. She conversed fluidly and with emphatic gestures. We switched between white clothing and black background and black clothing and white background. I ended up with a number of good shots but I couldn't decide on one that could communicate the way I wanted. This is often the case. It took me over a month before I decided on the top image. Often I end up in the centre of a field of possibility and I can push my interpretation in a number of directions. I almost decided on this one.

She was just a little tired and paused to rub her eyes, but the gesture is one of deep fatigue or unconsolable grief. It's not a great portrait of Nadina but it is a portrait of something. 

Where is the truth in a gesture? Part of our fascination with photography is our fascination with the very idea of truth. We often have a strong emotional investment in the ontology of the image. Has it been changed? Is it trying to fool us or manipulate us? These questions are as old as photography itself.
From its beginnings, photography has lived in persistent conflict with the nature of its being and those elements which can define it. this conflict arises over whether it is the representation of truth or a mechanism for metaphors. Photography is the most painful reiteration of what we are and what we don't want to be. It is the truth constructed with pieces of truth and pieces of lies. It is what anyone wants it to be ... With photography, there is always a mystery, a veil which does not allow us to have the clarity we desire.
Jorge Gutiérrez. Director 1990 to 1994 Museo de Artes Visuales  Alejandro Otero, Cararas. Quoted in "Image and Memory: Photography from Latin America."
"a mechanism for metaphors" I love that. Images, what are they other that the workings of the old eternal metaphoric machinery.

See Nadina's work here.
Here is an index of portraits.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Four

A hardcover sketchbook, completed mostly in 1991. I was so happy to find a hardcover book that did not have lined pages. Perhaps they always existed and I had just let a sheltered provincial life, but my joy was profound.

The front endpaper is a figure I devised, named the "mythic aleph" It is  composed of an aleph, photocopied over and over again until it reached the size of a sheet of paper, collaged with a cutout of a double ouroboros. In the study of mathematics the aleph is used to number transfinite sets. The figure (and my interest in many aspects of philosophy) was inspired by the Jorge Luis Borges storey, "The Aleph." This notebook is filled with notes from my Master’s Studies in Philosophy of Science.

The back endpaper is the notorious "Bertie Bassett" Liquorice Allsort man. He is an anthropomorphik - a human-ish figure made out of inanimate parts - like the Michelin Man. He led at lest one poet from London Ontario to produce a book of poetry. Anthropomorphiks by Robert Fones was the result of thinking "What power held all those inanimate parts together?"

Skimming this journal twenty years after it was written, I find wonderful (to me, at least) lines like:

Metaphoric considerations cannot be adequately dealt with by the framework of logical empiricism due to the simple fact that a metaphor is not subject to empirical confirmation.


Every game of perfect information has a solution in terms of pure strategies.

And earlier, an outline for a cross-diciplinary presentation given to a class in the English Department:

Language Theory – Adaptation of the model theoretic argument.

  1. What is a formal language and why would we want one? Leibniz's answer for a universal characteristic. The alchemical equation - that language is an exact copy of the world. Hence to master the world is a logocentric endeavour.

  2. What would the failure of attempts to recover the adamitic language imply?
          - Occult Platonism
          - Anthropocentricism or anthropological relativism
          - The failure of the axiomatic conception of science as realism
          - An undermining of any realist theory based on linguistic distinctions
          - Failure of the Universal Characteristic and confirmation of the fall.

"Adamitic" language is the lexical system used by Adam before he was kicked out of the garden, or the language used in the world before the tower of Babel was cast down. The rigour of the argument depends not one jot on religion, or if you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. All you need to believe (mistakenly, as it turns out) is that there exists an exact correspondence between language and the world.

There is a break in book four -  a number of blank pages - and then if fills with notes on hypertext. They became the foundation for my contribution to what is now The Electronic Labyrinth.

One of the hypertext platforms of the early '90s was called Hypercard. As I was working I kept a series of notes for a hypertext to take advantage of the hypercard platform, "HockeyCard" was to be a collection of citations and anecdotes in hockey card format detailing the loss of life and violence associated with the game. Research let to these notes:

In 1907, a game between Ottawa and Montreal included several stick swinging battles that moved the Montreal Star to call the game, "an exhibition of butchery." Later that year, Owen McCourt of Cornwall died the day after being struck in the head by a stick.

On March 28, 1950, in a game between Detroit and Toronto, Gordie Howe went into the boards and suffered a brain concussion, a slashed eyeball, and a nose fracture. Doctors discovered severe hemoraging in the brain. "When they opened up Gordie's skull," recalls Sid Abel, a team mate of Howe's at the time, "blood shot to the ceiling like a geyser."

And so on. I'm keeping "HockeyCard" in the wings - if the hockey riots keep happening, maybe I'll complete it.

Here is a list of the books.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Matthew Talbot-Kelly

Matthew Talbot-Kelly. Animator and Filmmaker. Taken October 23, 2010.

We did this shoot in Matthew's animation studios on Granville Island. He was working furiously (as he often does) on an animated story that takes full advantage of the iPad platform.

I've kept journals for years, and I have often wondered about the possibility of bringing the kind of collage that works so well on the page into film. Peter Greenaway has come very very close to this idea, but, as much as I admire his books and films, they don't quite capture the ... ummm ... something I can't quite name ... of the collaged page. Matthew's two short films, "Blind Man's Eye" and "The Trembling Veil of Bones" do.

I was hunting for subjects and Matthew needed some promo shots for a webpage and a magazine cover featuring him. We moved some desks and book cases out of the way and did a quick shoot against the white walls of his studio. Even though it was only nearing the end of October, I knew that these would be some of my last sessions of the year. When we would meet again in the spring, Matthew would give me some ideas about portraits that would open up very large and interesting doors. More on that ... later.

See Matthew's Moving Tales here.

Here is an index of portraits.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Three

Souls are living mirrors, images of the created universe. 
- The Monadology, 1714.  Gottfried Leibniz

In the autumn of 1989 I began keeping a journal of my dreams. But it is almost impossible to record them as the act of writing destroys the fabric that holds them together. You are left with nothing but tatters. As you seek to order the eidetic fragments with words you realize that you are not recording a dream to interpret it later - you are already interpreting a dream to record it now.

Despite the slippage that occurs, it is a curious and necessarily surreal exercise, often bearing strange fruit. Here is an excerpt:
It is a world war and I am on a hill, toward the top, looking down the slope. It is a nice green hill like the kind you would find anywhere in suburbia. The outfit I am with is advancing. Everywhere people are shooting and being shot. I only fire half heartedly and I aim to miss. I think this is senseless. As we advance the enemy start shooting themselves. We are not distinguished by race or uniform. There is a referee and a fool. The only way I know he is a fool is because he shoots the referee with blanks.

My mother and father are eating brunch in a hotel/motel. They invite me to join them, but I decline, I am trying to find a plate on the wall that tells what type of brick was used in the building. I go around to the front. The building looks like an old three-storey walk-up. There is a ladder going into one of the apartments. I know it is Eva Braun's. I climb the ladder and my parents follow.

It is a very small apartment with only a fridge and dusty kitchen. It is old an decaying as if the building had been abandoned since the war. On the fridge is a portrait of Hitler in his last days. His moustache is missing. His face is long, drawn and wrinkled, and he appears to be wearing make-up. Blush rouge in attempt to cover the yellowness of his skin. He wears the uniform of the SS. There are also blankets. I ask Mom and Dad if the blankets are theirs. They say no. I leave and take the picture with me.
Here is a list of the books.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Buckman Coe photo published


In April I did a portrait session with Buckman Coe. I was very happy to see that he just got an excellent and well-deserved review of his second CD, "By The Mountain's Feet." His review was supported by this shot and ran in the Georgia Straight.

Review by Mike Usinger. Publication date June 30, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Michelle Bruce

Michelle Bruce. Musician. Taken October 20, 2010.

On the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, where I live, there is a strong fiddle culture. Part of the reason for this is Michelle Bruce's love of music and equally strong love of teaching. She has inspired an entire generation who are now musicians and teachers themselves. Her influence can be still be felt in community halls and summer music festivals all over BC.

Some thoughts on framing.

One of my inspirations for this series is Richard Avedon's work "In the American West." For that project Avedon worked with an 8 x 10 view camera which gave him a large negative with a characteristic border. In his books the frame may or may not be included, depending on the aspect ratio of the book and the editor's preference, but in exhibits, it is always there. The frame provides a ground to balance and enclose the featureless white background and keep the composition intact.

I'm working with a digital camera and so there is no frame. And there is no negative. The camera yields an image in an 8 x 12 format which creates a problem when you want to make an 8 x 10 print. Unsatisfied with the rather drastic changes in composition when the image is cropped down, I created a "digital" frame for the subject to exist within. It is a variation on a view camera border with some playful additions. I particularly like the idea of a digital "safety image" - now digital photographers no longer need worry about their archive of data spontaneously bursting into flames the way the old nitrate negatives did.

The faux border is clearly a fake - but is it a fake in a good way? Opinions are welcome in the comments section.

Here is an index of portraits.