Friday, December 14, 2012

Hanif Janmohamed

Hanif Janmohamed, artist. Taken June 18, 2012.

Photography, being a relatively recent art, is always understood in terms of something else.

Most famously, William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature (1844) saw photography as a kind of automatic drawing done by nature in concert with the sun. What was remarkable about it was the lack of human agency. The composition (within the frame) and the execution were the result of light and the photographic process itself. One can read the history of art photography from that point onward as an uneasy tension between, on the one hand, the lack of human agency in photography, and on the other, a need to locate and celebrate an "artistic" intention in photography in order to claim territory in the dubious and evanescent landscape of the arts.

It is also possible to understand "the pencil of nature", where the act of creation is not drawing, but rather writing.

Driving to Horseshoe Bay recently, I was listening to the 2007 CBC Massey Lecture, "The City of Words" by Alberto Manguel. As I drove through the snow that was almost rain, I heard descriptions of the craft and interpretation of writing. These I chose to deliberately misunderstand as being about photography. Consider the following passage, as being not about the short story, but rather, about a photo:
"It states facts, but gives no definite answers, declares no absolute postulates, demands no unarguable assumptions, offers no labelling identities."
We may see a photo - especially a portrait - and grant it a state as "true" or "untrue" insofar as it matches what we think of the subject. But there is nothing in the photo itself that can be validated one way or the other.

I write this because, as I enter the third year of this portrait project, I find myself a little suspicious of my ability to say who these people are in words. The goal at the beginning and the end is always the photo. Yet I find myself in an uneasy relationship with the text on these pages as I try to say who the subject is - or at least, how the photo took place.

Hanif Janmohamed has a considerable range of interests. You can find some of his design portfolio here:

Here is an index of portraits.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Twenty-Six

Book Twenty-Six
June 2001 (not yet started)
Handmade Book. Covers are 1/8 thick sheet metal.
Created in Grantham's Landing, Canada
13" x 9.5" 204 pages. 
No entries. 

Sometimes a book is not about what is between the covers - sometimes a book is about itself.

This is the case with book twenty-six. A rather extreme experiment with heft, the covers are 1/8 inch thick sheet metal. The book weighs 14 pounds (about 7 kilos) making it a bit less than portable. On the other hand, if you believe that one must suffer for art, carrying it around might be just the thing.

I went to the local scrap yard to get the metal. When the man finished with the acetylene torch I asked him to leave the dribblings on the edges. "What ya gonna do with these?" the man asked, file in hand and a bit disappointed that he couldn't clean the edge. "They're for a book." I replied. "A book? I've got thinner sheet than this. Wouldn't you rather something lighter?" He said. "No. No. this'll be perfect."

This book has not been started yet. It sits rather uneasily on the shelf with the other completed journals waiting for the right time. What project could fill it? Perhaps an impossible project like Borges Book of Sand would be appropriate.

Here is a list of books.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Havana Opening Night

Sunday was the opening at the Havana Art Gallery. It was a great turnout and we packed the room. Many, many thanks to everyone who came out.

Many more thanks to Charllotte who took photos while the action was on.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hanging in Havana

Thursday morning was the day to hang the show. The Havana Art Gallery is part of a Theatre/Restaurant/Gallery concern on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. We needed to hang the show before the restaurant portion started cooking up the heuvos rancheros.

Early mornings are not a problem. Early mornings are, in fact, the best time to measure - before the events of the day make everything fuzzy.

This show went up a little faster than the Melriches show, in part because it was possible to use brackets to hang the pictures. These photographs are c-prints mounted on sheet aluminum. It was also a little quicker because the room was empty. At Melriches I was working around the customers - always a little worried that I'd injure a patron with the sharp aluminum edges. Oh dear.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of putting the first image on an empty wall. It is immensely satisfying. After the first image, the portraits begin to interact with each other. They talk to each other. Sometimes they are happy to be where they are - sometimes they ask to be moved.

This show is a joint show between myself and Sophena Kwon. Sophena is inspired by everything about the polaroid process - the immediacy, the objects, and the wonder of the developing image. For this show she has also come up with an ingenious way to recreate the images in a larger format.

There is an opening reception this Sunday. Official times 4-7pm. but likely it will go until about 9pm. Please drop by for a glass of wine.

Here is an index of portraits.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Show at the Havana Art Gallery

There will be a reception on Sunday November 25th. Official times are 4 - 7pm, but we will likely be there late. Please drop by and enjoy a glass of wine with us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Robert Studer

Robert Studer, sculptor and installation artist. Taken June 18th, 2012.

These portraits might be an attempt to make people into theatre. To this end they are not portraits of individuals at all, but rather depictions of characters. As if each person was an actor playing themselves in the movie version of his or her life. And so the meaning of the photo is not - Who is this individual, have I captured the essence of this person? But rather a larger question, who is this character? What is the nature of this story? ... and what is the meaning of theatre? or narrative? or even life itself.

Robert is the maker of a fantastic body of work. Some idea of his energy and the scale of his thinking can be found at THIS IS IT.

Here is an index of portraits.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hanging the Show

Last night I hung my first exhibit at Melriches Coffee House. 
A big thank you to Esmé for her help and for documenting the process.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Melriches Exhibition Opens Tomorrow

There will be an artist's reception on 
Saturday October 6th
7 - 9pm

I look forward to seeing you there.

Melriches Cafe 1244 Davie Street.
Vancouver BC Canada

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Veda Hille

Veda Hille, musician and composer. Taken November 30, 2011.

Veda was open and generous with her time. I've admired her work ever since I saw her sing a version of e.e. cummings' somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond. It was at the 'cultch. She sang and played accordion. The audience were astounded.

Just as I was setting up for the shoot a vital piece of lighting gear failed. This session was taking place in an improvised studio: without lights there would be no shoot. Veda was due to arrive in about 15 minutes. I had to reconfigure and improvise. Nothing like a little pressure to focus your mind.

Veda is very sharp and she always had a thoughtful response to my questions about her song writing. I especially enjoyed talking to her about creativity and the process of writing. I should transcribe these sessions, I thought, because as I negotiate a relationship with the subject I always get amazing answers to my questions. The temptation to set up a little audio recorder on a table is overwhelming. But I am working toward an image - and I feel I must remain completely focused on the image alone.

When the shoot was over I felt I had achieved something that was sympathetic to my idea of her work. What might that be? If I could put it into words there would be no need for photographs. You can find out all about Veda's music and many musical activities at

Here is an index of portraits.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Studio

It started for me, as it did for so many other photographers, with Irving Penn's natural light studio portraits. In 1945 Penn rented a photographer's studio in Cuzco Peru. Such studios were based on the painter's atelier. They usually had a roof and a north facing wall made of glass. Designed to maximize available light, in Haussmann's Paris this requirement dovetailed nicely with the least expensive rooftop garrets. Later Penn would use just such a Parisian studio to photograph some of his "small trades."

Penn devised a portable version of his studio, using nylon, aluminum poles and canvas. It could be set up by two men and was most famously used to photograph the Assaro Mudmen of New Guinea in 1970. The project was attractive to me for many reasons: the beauty of the light, the incongruity of a studio set-up in a remote area, but mostly for the formalized and intimate interaction with the subjects. Like all studio work the overt and premeditated nature of the work required the subjects and photographer to become more equal partners in the production of an image.

In the yard of our house is a carport. Built from driftwood and small timber it was originally covered in a blue tarp. I changed it to white and instantly had a garage-sized soft box. A small table for the camera and lenses, nine-foot seamless white, and some remote flashes with shoot-through umbrellas completed the set-up. 

Modified slightly with additional side tarps and a clamp that allowed me to hang a shoot-through umbrella from above, the studio can be used throughout the summer - but suffers from very low light during the overcast winters of the pacific northwest. Not to mention the potential for a cold, damp, uncomfortable subject.

It is far away from Vancouver, and therefore difficult for many subjects. I've tried to recreate the soft light of this studio indoors, but it requires a large number of speedlights bounced off white walls or ceilings. Could it be made portable? More on that later ...

Here is an index of portraits.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book Twenty-Five

Book Twenty-Five
June 2001 - January 2002
Handmade Book
Created in Grantham's Landing, Canada
11.75" x 7.5" 156 pages. 

By rights, photographs should mirror the memory of the photographer. They should become blurred as memory falters. Indistinct and worn. Faded, they should hold out a tantalizing promise of detail that is often impossible to resolve into a true knowledge of the past.  

The photograph above shows a table under a leafy arbour in the dappled sunlight of July, 2001. I converted it to the production of books, making, what remains, my favourite. Saying so is a minor sacrilege, like saying you love one of your children more than the others. Yet it it true. 

To make the book I cut apart a shopworn edition of Herb Ritt's Pictures.  I painted over the imagery with a combination of gesso and acrylic medium while keeping the grey of the pages where they showed a blur of beach or  a portion of indistinct sky. 

I then folded the pages - adding an extra flap so that the spine would not tear when the book was filled with ephemera. The pages, once folded, were sewn into signatures using kite string. While working on this book I carried a wooden box filled with vials of ink and several dip pens. I felt very Victorian while working away at it. It was a bit of an eccentric habit but it had its benefits. My daughter would often find special things while we were walking or sometimes, while she was away with her mother. "Here. This is for your book." She would say as she handed me something. 

I always pasted what she gave me into the book.

Here is a list of books.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Yukiko Blackwell

Yukiko Blackwell. Katazome Artist. Taken October 11, 2011

"I do use light to reveal – or the opposite of reveal – with my subjects how they are feeling or how I feel. 

"I think there is a lot of correspondence and communication between two human beings that goes on without one’s mouth moving. And that’s in body language and I think just in brainwaves. I think we do really connect. It’s often quite a heightened moment for the sitter, you known, because they have someone really quite near them with a camera pointing at them and it’s a … I think in those heightened moments you communicate even better.

"I think something like that goes on and I really trust it. You know, that’s what I trust. And I think that’s the moment when a picture becomes a portrait.

"I really deal with the cadaver of a person. It’s a form in front of me that I show in a certain way by lighting in a certain way. I’m certainly not looking for a truth in them. Often I think it might be more a truth in me.

"I like to know how they look so I recognize who’s who when they walk in the door but really not much more than that.

"I really like the connection that human beings have when there isn’t a great knowledge – like when you first meet people. I would find it very, very hard to photograph a friend well. Or to photograph somebody that I knew well. I think that that tension when you first meet people allows you to communicate without speaking, really sharply. So I don’t find out a lot. I don’t chat a lot. I hardly talk when I photograph. But I do … there will be something about a person that will cause me to direct them following things they do. They might glance somewhere and it make me think something that I trust and try something with them and slowly they become themselves. A very accurate themselves. And that’s when I think it works the best."

Excerpts from Nadav Kander on Portraiture 
National Portrait Gallery (posted on Strobist July 25, 2012)
Here is an index of portraits.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book Twenty-Four

Book Twenty-Four
April - June 2001
Modified Sketchbook
Kept in Grantham's Landing, Canada
9" x 6" 196 pages. 

Tissue paper will go through a printer. This was a revelation and delight. It led to a lot of layering and the ability to add quotes over other work already in the book. Some of the text in book twenty-four is a transcription of the narrator's thoughts from Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm." His ruminations on The Fantastic Four interested me most:

"To find yourself in the negative zone, as the Fantastic Four often do, means that all everyday assumptions are inverted. Even the invisible girl herself becomes visible and so she looses the last semblance of her power. Seems to me that everyone exists partially on a negative zone level. Some people more than others. In your life it's kind of like you dip in and out of it -  a place where things don't quite work out the way they should. But for some people there's something about the negative zone that tempts them. And they end up going in ... going in all the way."

I began blockprinting during this time and started to experiment with lino blocks. I snuck away from my work to take a weekend class in Vancouver and learn some technique. I felt I could never get a cutter that was small enough. 

My favourite quote from book twenty-four:

"'A fish-hook in the mouth of God.' An attempt to replace narrative tension with metaphoric tension."

Here is a list of books.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

James Graham

James Graham. Barrister and engineer. Taken September 29, 2011

I have known James for a long time. We first met at a shared house located on the corner of Cambie and King Edward streets in Vancouver. The house was behind a thick row of trees but you could still hear the traffic from the busy intersection. At night things became quieter except for the occasional shriek and sudden crunch of metal. In the morning if you went to the curbside you could usually pick up a dustpan or two of shattered windshield.

The house was a casual collection of five and sometimes six people. When someone left the remaining tenants would put up ads to look for a replacement. James saw one of the adds, called, and was asked to come and present himself to see if he would fit into the mix. When he arrived the other tenants (all women at that time) were gathered in the kitchen making chocolate truffles. "Gosh" he remarked, "What do I need to do to get a place here?"

The summer I was in the house James was seldom there. He was travelling through northern British Columbia and the Yukon, hand panning for gold. He had a little film canister filled with small nuggets. He would hold it next to his ear and shake it as he tilted his head. Undoubtedly it held more than bits and flakes of precious metal - worth surprisingly little given the central role of gold in so many plots - for him it was more like he was shaking out the sound of his entire summer spend kneeling in creek and river beds.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book Twenty-Two

Book Twenty-Two
October 2000 - April 2001
Modified Sketchbook
Kept in Grantham's Landing, Canada
8.25" x 5.25" 196 pages. 

"Embrace the unwieldy" seems to have been the theme of this book. I was working in this one when I took a course in silkscreen printing. And so, naturally enough, the book would often be placed under the screen instead of a sheet of paper. Registration was more difficult, but the effect was great.

This one started life as a generic black sketch book. It grew over a few months and received a lot of poster  paint on art days with my daughter. It also received a lot of fragments found on the printshop floor at the school where I was studying printmaking. I covered it in leather, and, when dissatisfied with the edge, I used a thick copper wire to stitch the front. Rivets kept the back in place. It became stiff and very difficult to open, yet much more satisfying as an object.

I'm not a regular newspaper reader. But for a while, each time I opened the paper there was something fantastic in it. Like the headline "Man Punches Cougar in Head, Rescues Cyclist." Years later I mentioned this to a friend who works as an engineer on a tugboat. He knew the man and the story.

Here is a list of books.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jean Pierre Makosso

Jean Pierre Makosso. Actor, performer and storyteller. Taken September 21, 2011

Jean Pierre arrived on the Sunshine Coast of BC in 2001. He was an instant sensation, giving performances of traditional storytelling and dance at festivals and cultural events. I first met him shortly after he arrived when he visited the Grantham's Landing community hall. His presence could not be contained by the small room. In addition to his stage work he is a director and author who has just released his third book of poetry.

We talked of his home in the Congo and his face lit up when he mentioned that he had been invited to perform in Paris. "Paris? Paris!!" But the truth of a trip to Paris was more complex, he would probably have to turn down the invitation unless he could be certain that he would be able to return to Canada. He also wanted very much to return to the Congo to visit his inspiration and the source of all his stories - his mother.

Here is Jean Pierre's web site

Here is an index of portraits.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Twenty-one

This could also be called the book of crows as there are so many flying through the pages. 

It was also during the tenure of this book that I created a set of stamps for the imaginary kingdom of Akshara. The book contains notes on the designs, and the mythology which underpins the commemorative issue. Here is the first day cover with a return address: Kingdom of Akshara Royal Postal Service Overseas Philatelic Bureau.

They were triangular - the most exotic shape of stamps. But triangular stamps are very very difficult to perforate, and I trashed quite a few sheets before I got it right. Here is the layout of the stamps on a sheet.

Here are some close ups of the individual stamps.

The book also contains this poem:

In the springtime there is air
and the bite of foliage:
transactions of weather and
hesitant abundance.

Certain clouds are without
youth or age, no age but
impermanence, no youth but

I once knew a man could 
forecast with a mirror, save
halos and vapours in amber
forsaking the light bodies of 
dead insects, as everyone knows
the dead are without souls.

If I awake sometime past 
November, we must negotiate
the year; times of harvest and
repentance. For each of us 
there is a season, for every will
an August, for every soul
a disturbance in the air.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Serena Eades

Serena Eades. Musician. Taken September 19, 2011

Serena is one-quarter of the rakish angles and a product of the Sunshine Coast's ardent fiddle culture. As a child she studied with Katie Angermeyer, Michelle Bruce and Kathleen Hovey. She's been busy ever since playing both classical and folk-music gigs across the country. She's has also been a freelance (freebow ?) musician playing with The Gruff, Mark Berube, C.R.Avery, and Giorgio Magnanensi.

See Serena's website for a full biography.

Here is an index of portraits.