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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Two

There is an intense pleasure in filling a page with script. This pleasure could lead to hypergraphia, but for most of us a blank page is a threat rather than an enticement. I understand the many inhibitions keep us from the pleasure of the text - fear of spelling, anxiety over saying something stupid, or worse, saying something banal; a worry about describing those you love with the voice of a petty-minded, spoiled ingrate.

In 1986, when I started this book, I felt all these things. But I also had, often just before sleep, a strong narrative voice in my head that sounded like prose. If I had been reading, the rhythm and drive of the author's style would persist, but with my thoughts, shaping what I was thinking as if it were being read from a page. I found it added order to so much that was chaotic in how I thought - about people, about places, about feelings, about everything.

I was twenty when I filled this book. I've never really revisited it in detail, but it waits, and as you dissolve over the years, dropping bits of yourself and changing other bits of yourself, forgetting and remembering, it keeps a paper version of you safe between its covers.

Here is a passage that I found:
May 1986
In the morning Mark, Mother and myself pile into the truck and drive out to poplar hill where Grandmother lives. Poplar hill, that’s the perfect name for a village where your grandparents retire. I mean, with a name like that, you expect to find people like grandmothers with cookie jars, and huge willow trees. The kind of place where one summer afternoon seems to last forever.

Grandfather passed on in the winter. December. So we are going out to clean out the garage. It was a strange feeling, cleaning out a dead man’s garage. There were so many things that I remember faintly from when I was young, and we used to play up in the loft over the garage. There was a bobcat that had been stuffed and mounted on a birch log. I always used to be fascinated by the marble eyes. Now he was falling apart and his fur was coming off in clumps, his claws showing through. 

After lunch we went to visit the cemetery where Grandfather is. We drive in, and the trees are huge, immense things filtering the afternoon sun and casting shadows on the graves. Everything is soaked in peaceful shades of green that you can walk through. It is a quiet, restful place. The sunlight comes down like liquid gold, perfectly poured, it bounces off the cars, the trees, the graves and into my eyes. I remember walking through and wanting to describe it perfectly. We stand in small groups, Grandmother places flowers on her husband’s tombstone. We walk through and read the stones. While standing apart from the others I can imagine all the people buried here standing by their places dressed in the clothes of their time...

Here is a list of the books.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ian MacLeod

Ian MacLeod by Tim McLaughlin

Ian MacLeod. Painter. Taken on October 20, 2010.

I'd known when I started that I wanted to photograph Todd, Maurice, and Alan. There were others that I wanted to work with, but it was taking time to co-ordinate schedules. In the meantime, I didn't want to waste the good days before the rains set in and I had to stop using my outdoor studio for the winter. Todd offered to make the suggestion to some of his contacts and passed me Ian's name.

Ian was the first subject I had never met before. He is a calm man, easily moved to laughter and so my best shots of him were in a light mood.

There is a lot to keep in touch with while working - the technical aspects of the photo, depth of field, composition, the camera, the lighting, the lens, and so on - and the interaction with the subject. I talk to the person the whole time. In some ways, there is so much going on that photography becomes almost like automatic writing. At least that is the impression it gives me. You want to be fluid enough with the camera to catch things, but not so premeditated that you lock out possibilities.

It is an interesting fact that almost no one can pose and converse at the same time - and so I use the conversation to keep the subject from stiffening up into a pose. The play of emotions that crosses someone's face even during a single sentence is amazing. But when a person poses they tend to become like cardboard. There is a dynamic between what people want to show and what they actually present. The subject is giving up control of how they are perceived and that involves quite a bit of trust. Or anxiety - depending on who you are.

Irving Penn has a great quote about that:
"Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show the world... very often what lies beyond the fa├žade is rare and more wonderful that the subject knows or dares to believe."

Irving Penn - quoted in 'Portraits' at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
It's a great quote by a great photographer.

See Ian MacLeod's work here:

Here is an index of portraits.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book One

I was given this blank book as a present by my parents. As a child I could not spell. In high-school aptitude tests my results for grammar were shockingly low. One english teacher was impressed with the content of an essay, however, and encouraged me to revise, correct, and re-type it. It won an award and my parents, sensing there might be a scribbler in the house, a notion encouraged by my love of dusty secondhand bookshops, bought me a blank book for my next birthday.

I filled the book over two years, largely with terse poems and observations in the style of Leonard Cohen's "The Energy of Slaves." On a dreary winter day in 1998 I looked through it and found it's contents to be largely embarrassing and so, after tearing out two pages with some song lyrics I wanted to keep, I burned it.

I mentioned this to a friend. She said she understood, but told me that; "if you could have kept it for another ten years you would have likely changed your mind." Time has proven her correct.

The song lyrics are from a band that used to play in London Ontario called "Feast of the Mau Mau's." They named themselves after a Screamin' Jay Hawkins song, and among the permanent members were Frank Ridsdale and Jack Whiteside. They did a ballad in the spirit of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" called "The Ballad of Ned the Killer." It didn't take itself very seriously - being about a killer smelt. I'm glad I kept these pages. I don't know why but the lyrics still amuse me.

The Ballad of Ned the Killer

The talk has been told from Whiteshead to Mish
of a fish in Lake Erie waters

The tale was found in Port Stanley town
the home town of old Ken Palmer

I heard a man shout that the smelt were about
I knew that he wasn't funnin'

The ice broke like starch on a cold day in March
it was then I knew of their runnin'

Oh, flautists use flutes and fishermen use boots
each has a tool of his trade

He's only three inches long, though no nets been as strong
enough to hold Ned that's been made

Fifty-four years old, with his blood that runs cold
like a bad dream Ned keeps recurrin'

Year after year fishermen tremble with fear
when to Ned, someone's referin'

For many show signs of a bruise or a welt
from trying to capture Ned ...

Mish's brother Paul. He was the bravest of all
and he said to the lads there a' drinkin'

"Well that killer smelt Ned, well tomorrow he'll be dead!
On this, I've been doin' some thinkin'"

Jack said, "Don't forget!" as he picked up his net
"That many men have died just a' tryin'

"That fish is an omen, like a evil wind blowin'
"I'm in no mood to see you a' dyin'

For many show signs of a bruise or a welt
From trying to capture Ned ...

Well there was barely a cough, when they heard Paul scoff
and he said, "I'm gettin' kinda tired

I'm bagin' some Zees cause tonight you'll freeze
and you don't catch any fish when you're wired

So Paul went to bed and he was dreamin' of Ned
and he dreamt of bells ringin' and ringin'

He dreamt about death and loosing his breath
and his hide on a plaque just a' hangin'

Well steel be the will, when the waters that chill
rise up above crotch level

But paul had no time to pay it any mind
when lookin' for a fish that's a rebel

He was barely five minutes in when he spotted that fin
that holds the scars of the ages

Well all the rest ran, but Paul stood fast and man
did he ever look courageous

Together they splashed and together they thrashed
in the chillin' Lake Erie waters

And excitement was abound in Port Stanley town
the home town of old Ken Palmer

Well the fight went on all night long
and the residents grew weary and retired

When the sun hits their eyes, in the morning they arise
just to see what had transpired

And what they saw, Oh it should a' been against the law
cause it looked so damn horrendous

Well the women they cried and the men they sighed
Lord God, please defend us

Well Paul was dead, but so was Ned
he hit him with a ball peen hammer (whump!)

And the bells did sound in Port Stanley Town
the hometown of old Ken Palmer

We'll you've all heard of Ken, he plays mandolin
in a band called the Dixie Flyers

By the Flyers he gets paid, and by the Flyers he'll stay
Until the day he expires

... two, three, four
Ned the killer smelt! Ned the killer smelt! Ohhhh Ned Ned Ned Ned the killer smelt!  etc.

- Frank Ridsdale.

Here is a list of the books.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Todd Clark

Todd Clark by Tim McLaughlin

Todd Clark. Painter. Taken on September 22, 2010.

Todd works mainly in abstract landscapes. Every summer he has an open studio for a week at his place in Gibsons. It is a bit of a menagerie: two llamas, two emu, chickens, and a flock of peacocks. He has gained a certain notoriety in town - whenever someone spots a llama on the road his number is at hand. The studio and openings are great events. Blissful. In my mind it is always early summer there.

Todd is wearing the coveralls he uses when painting. It was a tough decision to stick with the black and white because the colour of the paint splotches was so good. He has had this set for a long time and the texture on the front is very compelling.

You can usually see some of his paintings on the Sunshine coast, especially if you stop somewhere for coffee. The works hang in a number of cafe's. Here is a link to his studio. As I'm posting this, his 2011 open studio hasn't happened yet - catch it if you can.

Here is an index of portraits.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Maurice Spira

Maurice Spira by Tim McLaughlin

Maurice Spira. Painter and blockprinter. Photographed September 20, 2010.

You can see a sample of Maurice's work on the first post of this blog. He did a blockprint portrait of me almost ten years ago. I love the way he works with blockprints - such a strong sense of line.

When I first started this portrait project I had in Maurice in mind so I called him up and set up a shoot. He was very accommodating as we tried different backdrops and lenses. We kept the conversation going the whole time. I ended up with a number of good shots. 

Now I had to decide what I wanted from the editing process. It's difficult, like feeling in the dark for some object. Also photography is, maybe, a little like writing. With writing you can tell about someone in a compelling way that shows their character, but the subject might not be so happy to read about themselves with their flaws and quirks exposed. It is similar with photography. You can get some images that show the frailty of someone, the exhaustion or uncertainty - something really human - but I don't think people want to see that in themselves. So it is a challenge to push past what the subject may think of the photo and find the one that expresses something more. I didn't have this concern with Maurice, but I've encountered it with other subjects.

Maurice's Website:

Here is an index of portraits.