Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book Forty-Three

December 2008 - March 2009 
Hardcover  Notebook
Kept while in Vancouver, and Roberts Creek, Canada
5.5" x 8" 160 pages. 
Cover by Ajit Kumar Das

" and now he looks at everything as if it might be death.
Sleep, tiredness, illness ... everything."

and a poem by Michael Blumenthal

I believe there is no justice,
but that cottongrass and bunchberry
grow on the mountain. 
I believe that a scorpion's sting
will kill a man,
but that his wife will remarry. 
I believe that, the older we get,
the weaker the body,
but the stronger the soul. 
I believe that if you roll over at night
in an empty bed,
the air consoles you. 
I believe that no one is spared
the darkness,
and no one gets all of it. 
I believe we all drown eventually
in a sea of our making,
but that the land belongs to someone else. 
I believe in destiny.
And I believe in free will. 
I believe that, when all
the clocks break,
time goes on without them. 
And I believe that whatever
pulls us under,
will do so gently. 
so as not to disturb anyone,
so as not to interfere
with what we believe in.   

"What I Believe" by Michael Blumenthal, from Days We Would Rather Know.

Here is an index of journals.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Yukiko Onley

Yukiko Onley, photographer March 18, 2014

Its a daunting task photographing another photographer. I guess the reasons are pretty obvious.

Yukiko Onley and I did some sessions in the Spring of 2014. She was the perfect model with grace and poise and an intuitive sense of what a photographer might be looking for. In the end this was my favourite shot from the session. In my mind it harkens back to Avadon's work with Audrey Hepburn — the black shapes of the figure, the grey backdrop.

This was part of a photographic exchange. I met Yukiko at my exhibition at the Ferry Building Gallery in 2014. She asked me if I would be the subject of a portrait shoot and, as turnabout is fair play, I asked the same.

Yukiko is well known in the Vancouver photographic community for her black and white portrature of such figures as Arthur Erickson, her photography of the Kokoro Dance Theatre and her long artistic relationship/marriage to painter Tony Onley. Her studio/gallery VISUAL SPACE which she shares with Peter Eastwood and Noriko Tidball moved to Dunbar St. in December 2014.

We did this shoot in Yukiko's studio when it was still located a few blocks off Main street.

Here is an index of portraits.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Book Forty-Two

Book Forty-Two
November and December 2008 
Softcover  Sketchbook
Kept while in India, Cambodia, and Mexico
6" x 8.5" 160 pages. 

When I cleaned out my parent's house after my mother died, I came across a cigar box filled with post cards I had sent while traveling in the British Isles. I was travelling by bicycle, staying at hostels with strangers. What struck me most about those missives was the optimism and humour of the writer. It's not often that we get the opportunity to look back and see ourselves as younger people - but that was the effect of finding this stash of hidden mail. 

I've always been a proponent of new media, but I can't help feeling that finding a set of twenty-year-old emails would not have the same effect. Maybe it is because of my fascination with the digital arts that  I try to balance it through keeping books.

Here is a page from a book kept while in India and other countries.

Here is an index of journals.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kathy Para

Kathy Para, writer, June 29, 2013

By the summer of 2013 I had been working on the portrait project for three full years. I was preparing for my third exhibition and was optimistically working with a printer on a hardcover book. People began to contact me about the possibility of a portrait. One such person was Kathy Para. Her manuscript Lucky (a novel about a photojournalist in Afghanistan) was generating a lot of interest. It was due to be released by Mother Tongue Publishing in the fall and Kathy needed an author photo.

At a certain point Kathy put her hands together in a most unusual way. That was it. I could have used just her hands as a portrait - they seemed to say so much. A book publisher needs something a little less abstract, however, and so the photo below was selected.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Book Forty-One

Book Forty-One
January - October 2008 
Handmade  Book
Kept while in Vancouver, Roberts Creek, and London, Canada
5.75" x 7.25" 160 pages.


January 2, 2008.

We have been living in The City of Words, the 2007 Massey Lectures by Alberto Manguel.
I am the words I read and the words I speak. I cannot say more than this.

January 17, 2008.

Today my mother died. And with her the last of my childhood slipped away.

January 21, 2008.

The church has a digital projector and screen. Reverend Phil suggested that, if we wanted we could project some images before the funeral. That evening, shortly after the reverend left, my sister-in-law and I looked through 12 carousels of slides. I took pictures directly from the screen with my camera. We worked until 1am. This morning I worked through boxes of photos that my father had sorted. I had 67 photos when I was done. They provide a line of her life. And what I can't help myself looking for is the fulcrum. At what point did the balance shift. At what point did everything begin its decent. If we believe that one event can change our lives forever (a common pitch in a movie trailer) what event changed hers? I can never know. All I have are these photographs arranged in a line from beginning to end. The picture of my mom when she was young are heartbreakingly beautiful.

April 5, 2008

I misplaced this book and so had nowhere to write for a month. What can I tell you of this missing time? It is difficult to piece back together, like a watch with many pieces missing.

April 9, 2008
Because I was alone, however, even the mundane seemed charged with meaning. The ice looked colder and more mysterious, the sky a cleaner shade of blue. The unnamed peaks towering over the glacier were bigger and comelier and infinitely more menacing than they would have been were I in the company of another person. And my emotions were similarly amplified: The highs were higher; the periods of despair were deeper and darker. To a self-possessed young man inebriated with the unfolding drama of his own life, all of this held enormous appeal. Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild.
April 24, 2008

There are few places that we can get far enough away from to truly appreciate. This is one of the wonders of travel - it is what makes it so amazing to see your house from the air, to see your coastline from the ferry window, or to see the town where your family is from as the car crests a ridge or begins its decent down the escarpment. The reverse is what makes a lack of travel so deadening - a lack of perspective.

A quote given to me by Dorothy upon my return to the house:
I was struck by the way the light felt that afternoon. I have paid a good deal of attention to light, but no one could begin to do it justice. There was the feeling of a weight of light - pressing the damp out of the grass and pressing the smell of sour old sap out of the boards on the porch floor and burdening even the trees a little as late snow will do. It was the kind of light that rests on your shoulders the way a cat lies on your lap.
April 25, 2008

Esme had a dream that all the pets could swim. Even the guinea pig. The pig could hold its breath for a very long time and so it was hard to find when it was time to go.

May 7, 2008

Dave Watson died. Dave, three other people, and myself founded Knossopolis Media many years ago. Dave was perhaps best known for his Dot Comment columns for the Georgia Straight. I remember him as addicted to 500mg vitamin c tablets, Marlboros, and organizing information. My favourite review he wrote was for an uneventful software convention in which Dave barely mentioned the convention and instead talked about his previous life as a music critic; writing words to the effect of: "This is depressing, I used to be somebody, I was regularly backstage, Leonard Cohen once tried to hit on my girlfriend ..." His last assignment was to write about his own illness.
Even though I was quite foggy for much of that time (between the various pharmaceuticals, impaired liver function, and just plain old shock at how my life just changed), one of the moments that stands out was at the tail end of that process. My parents came into town (I moved away from Vancouver a couple of years back) and we met with the cancer specialist, who said that the main medical focus would be to “preserve Mr. Watson’s quality of life”. This wasn’t really a surprise to me by then, but it’s the effect on my dad that I remember. He just kind of deflated, like he’d been slammed in the guts. It was a horrible moment, actually, seeing that impact, although for some reason it’s become my touchstone for last fall, when I had to contact quite a few people and give them bad news. I had a lot of visitors.
July 3, 2008

Oliver Schroer died.
Sometimes I think of dying as taking a trip, a trip far away to a place from which I cannot come back. We all know people who do that ... move to Tasmania (great place, by the way). The point is, we wish these people well on their journey, but we don't get all choked up and overwrought about it. We remember them fondly, and they live on in our memories through stories and the legacy they have left. We toast them in absentia and hope they are doing well in their new digs. Well, my whole journey feels a bit like that. I am going to this place we will all go, and my travel plans are just a bit more immediate than yours. (Though life is strange, and I still might not be the first to go. Just be careful crossing those streets and driving those cars, folks.) I think a lot in terms of metaphors to help me understand things. I have been informed by the stationmaster that my train is coming in immanently, and that I should be ready to get on board when it does. But until that train comes, I am doing what I am doing fully and completely. 
Final letter from Oliver
Book forty-one. Handmade by Gaye Hansen, given to me by Charllotte. It holds an astonishing amount of mortality between its covers.

Here is an index of books.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Esmé, graduate, June 25, 2013.

The summer seemed to last forever.

But as all days do, this day slowly slips into the past, like a coastline as the boat pulls away from the shore. First the rocks, covered briefly by shallow water, where the measurements are all human: the water is ankle deep, now up to my waist, now over my head, now it is the distance I can swim out to, and now we are beyond that distance also; drifting; the waves are no more than a line where the land and the water meet. Now the deep greens and blues of the coastline are signatures, signing the landscape. Now we are far away. Now we are years away.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Forty

Book Forty
May - June 2007
Softcover Notebook
Kept while in Morocco and France
3.5" x 5.5" 58 pages. 

We are fiction. Allegory. Convention. Beyond the castle walls the ground dissolves, the gardens bloom nightshade and proverb, requited we place our souls in our own time and measure the length in days.

Here is an index of books. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Crispin Elsted

Crispin Elsted, printer, poet, April 30, 2013.

"The Elsteds have been operating Barbarian Press for more than thirty-five years. In that time they have done commercial work, such as stationary and cards, and fine press work, including broadsheets, pamphlets and forty books. They've published classic authors—William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Keats—and contemporary ones, such as Theresa Kishkan and Tim Bowling. They have created, and live, what might be called a handmade life, carrying on traditions and practices that have remained unchanged in their essentials since the fifteenth century, when Gutenberg modified a grape press in Mainz, Germany, and used it to print a bible. They are now among the most senior and respected members of a very small group of people worldwide (the Fine Press Book Association's website lists just 118 member presses) [...]"

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Book Thirty-Nine

Book Thirty-Nine,
November 2006
Softcover Sketchbook
Kept while in India
8.5" x 11.5" 80 pages. 

Two thick-paged sketchbooks from L Cornelissen & Son joined together.
Kept while on a Journey to India in 2006.

This book contains my first explorations into black and white portrait photography. It took me a long time to learn how to discern what I was after, and perhaps even longer to learn how to achieve it deliberately. I began to write short paragraphs describing the subjects. They created an unusual tension between text and image.

Here is an index of books.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

H Craig Hanna

H Craig Hanna, artist, March 23, 2013.

I first came across the talented Mr. Hanna when Charllotte handed me his sketchbook. "Here," she said. "You will never believe what we found in Paris." In the warren of gallery spaces known as the Left Bank, on rue Bonaparte, she had found the Laurence Esnol Gallery. Hanna's work was visible from the street.

I did a little research. I looked him up online, trying to find out if he might be a good subject for a portrait. He looked like a pugilist from Hemingway's Paris. Not without a certain nervousness I contacted the gallery and introduced myself. Then the answer came: Craig liked the sample photos I sent him and was willing to do a shoot. Timing might be difficult. Was I flexible?

On the last day of my visit to Paris I got a message from the gallery. Could I be there in an hour? Indeed I could. I felt considerably out of my league. I was in Paris, five-thousand miles from home, with some black velvet cloth and a portable studio set-up in a roller bag. I had support though. My seventeen year old daughter, Esmé would be my assistant. Together we did a quick set-up in the gallery. The results were exactly what I wanted.

Photographing Craig Hanna in the Laurence Esnol Gallery. Esmé McLaughlin-Brooks

In the end I need not have been so apprehensive. Craig was humorous and engaging. Laurence Esnol was kind, generous and very accommodating. During the shoot I had talked to Craig about differences between photography and painting. Before I left he inscribed the front of my copy of his sketchbook.
A photo captures a moment in time.
A painting is time.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Falling Off the Edge of the World

Falling off the edge of the world ... that's what it feels like. To work so intensely on one project that you put everything else aside. When this happens in the movies it's so dramatic. The person doesn't sleep and forgets to eat. They walk distractedly into traffic and are almost struck down by angry drivers. The music is paced to indicate that time is passing quickly and great advances are being made. Or, perhaps the opposite: that vast resources are being expended on attempts that do not succeed. The tension mounts. Will the project be a success? Or a failure?

For the past year I have been working on a book manuscript with Charllotte Kwon. It is a great undertaking made possible through the company, Maiwa. The project involves writing, photography, mirrors, threads, the British Raj, and great caravans of up to one-hundred thousand pack-bullocks.

The manuscript was finally sent to the publisher last week. Now, we don't want to jinx anything, so we'll just keep it mysterious and low-key for now. But I wanted to say, when I disappeared ... that is where I went.

With that deadline met, I am making plans to return to these posts and to Image on Paper.