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.