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.

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