Wednesday, April 29, 2015

New Portraits

Danielle at Iron Oxide

Jean Pierre Antonio
Professor - Suzuka International University

Victor Anthony
Musician. Actor, Photographer

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Inventors

A new series of photographs about a very special breed of people, Inventors.  Now to some degree we are all inventors, we solve problems on a frequent basis and are often called upon to come up with solutions that are unique to the situation.  But this series is focussed on those who dedicate their entire existence on creating solutions that not only solve problems but can be brought to market.  The obstacles are huge and the personal cost is often all-encompassing.  But the vision, the passion, is total.  These people are dedicated, relentless and hard working.  Eminently suitable and fascinating subjects for location portraits,  I am proud to have met them.

Tom and Georgi - 2015

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our Crisis in Democracy

It has been far too long since I published my last post.  I blame this on no one but myself of course.  The truth is that I have been struggling with depression for many years.  I know I am not alone in this and feel that perhaps this is the malaise that is most prevalent in Canada and our dear neighbour, the United States.

I don't believe that moving to Gabriola has contributed to my depression but I do know that being retired has.  I thought my retirement as an earned freedom.  After working for close to 50 years, paying taxes to a faceless, demanding government, I felt this freedom was well earned.   I still do.

However, freedom can be "just another word for nothing left to lose."  I thought that my photography and my writing would carry me for the rest of my days.  I still do.  But I no longer see it as a financial support, this island is small and as remote as I would care to be.  The mechanisms to establish and develop a web presence are certainly there but I have no interest or energy for working in the isolation that seems to go with web based marketing when what is really needed is a personal presence.

Having a small pension is a blessing to be sure, but trying to live on it has been a struggle and a losing proposition.   I have watched my overdraft climb and my opportunities diminish over the last three years.  Moving to an island like this, at this time of life, has become a one way trip.   Yes, I love it here and I love this community, but the truth is, I can never move back to the city.   I simply can't afford it.

But recently, I found a job working evenings, three nights a week, in a local liquor store, for minimum wage.  It has been an enormous gift.    The few dollars that I make every month is more than money.  It is hope.  I'm slowly taking care of the debts that I have accrued over these last few years and have a rough plan for the long term.

Frankly, I have no complaints, my life is what it is and there is plenty in it to sustain me.

However, I was startled when a young man walked into the store the other day, just before the US election.

"You've been around for a while." he said.   "Do you know how I can eliminate my name from the voter's list?"

In further conversation he confessed that he felt our electoral system was flawed, that his vote had no meaning, that the government was comprised of megalomaniacs who cared not a whit for the common man.   Therefore he wanted to opt out.

When it became obvious to him that I thought he was making a huge mistake, he walked out.

A few days later, the Republicans won a huge victory in the midterms with a record low turnout of 36%.

That means that 64% of the voters declined to show up at the polls.

I am convinced that each one of those no-shows is convinced that their vote has no value.

I refer you to this article on Bill Moyers' site in response to this terrible situation.

There is little doubt that our Prime Minister is in fact, a Republican.   He holds republican values and is operating as if parliament is nothing more than a serious inconvenience to his ideology.

Elizabeth May describes this more eloquently than I ever could in this article from the Huffington Post.

In short, I think that we are all suffering.  I think that we have lost hope for the future and feel helpless against the big money that is destroying our democracy.

But we must not fail.  If every single Canadian voter took responsibility and showed up at the polling station with an concerned and informed decision on who would do the best job for this nation, our collective depression would evaporate, our economy would turn around and our values would be reflected in the policies that govern the country.

Well, maybe not, but it sure would make our democracy meaningful.   I can't believe that the majority of Canadians support the actions of this government.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Back in the City Again

Well, it has been a while but I am now back in Vancouver.   Not surprisingly, there have been a number of changes to the city.   Translink appears to be updating/renovating the Skytrain Station at Main Street and not every train stops there any more.  After four and a half hours of travelling I finally arrived at the Burrard Skytrain Station and found myself vaulting off the train as the doors closed because of an announcement that it didn't stop at Main.  I waited for the next one, same thing.  Hmm.   Third time lucky but getting out of the Main Station was an interesting experience as well.  Not difficult fortunately but a surprise none the less.

I was waiting for the number 19 bus to Metrotown when a Main Street bus pulled up, loaded a bunch of weary people and rolled away just as a chap came running full tilt swearing at the top of his lungs at the departing bus driver.  I'm sure the driver heard him but I'm equally sure that he was convinced more than ever to keep going as he seemed to accelerate rather quickly as he pulled away.   The man on the street stormed, stamping his feet and treating us all to his vast vocabulary of expletive phrases and epithets.  I wondered if it was really worth it and just how long his tirade would last when he stopped mid phrase to help an older lady who I am sure now, was deaf to his vocalizations.

Just then a taxi pulled up with two more seniors who did a remarkable slow motion scramble to escape the car while a BMW behind it exploded with sound as the irate driver leaned on his horn, gesturing wildly as he pulled around the taxi to complete his right turn before the light changed.  I had forgotten how angry a place this is!

My bus arrived and I got on only to find that I didn't need a ticket as the fare machine was broken and covered with a bag.  It almost made me happy until I realized that I had already spent the fare anyway to get there.  Oh well, I guess there are other things to be happy about.   Getting back home will definitely be one of them.

On the other hand though I am sitting with my dear friend Robert while his computer chugs away.  He is reading his book while I post this.   I'm sure dinner will be another adventure.  We're both terrible flirts!

By the way, Heather.  I walked from the Gabe ferry terminal to Departure Bay.  I hope that counts as my exercise for the day…

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Lighter Load - Looking Back

Without a doubt, the most significant thing that has influenced me was my father's death.  I was eighteen at the time and he was a force, not a big man but a very solid guy.  He was a good man, a musician, he  never drank to excess.  He was predictable, had a sense of humour, and a strong sense of right and wrong.  He was an only child and wanted a big family but I think he was overwhelmed with the life that he chose.   We were six kids and pretty average for the time, three girls and three boys.  I was the eldest.

When he died our lives came crashing down.  The family crumbled and I was struck by the fragility of our existence.  People told me that I shouldn't try to step into his shoes but then they seemed to disappear.   I felt alone and, in very short order, a failure.

I was fired from my first job for going home when I should have been working.   The fact was that my mother was in a very fragile state and needed me so that I was torn between the job I loved and the woman who meant so much to me.   It was a terrible blow.

I discovered photography shortly after his death.  The phone rang one day and it was  Bob Goodall of Goodall Photo asking when my dad was going to come in to pick up his camera.  It was like a message telling me what to do.  I went to the shop, where Bob refused to charge me and gave me two rolls of Tri X.

It was February in Winnipeg, minus 20 and I went out to do some pictures.  I took them back to Goodall and got my prints the next day.  (I wish I still had those prints.)   Anyway, I loved them and felt that I had found my calling so I called my girlfriend of the time and told her I was coming over to do her portrait.   Unfortunately, the pictures we did were terrible and we broke up in short order.  I decided that once again I was given proof of my lack of talent and stopped taking pictures for the next six years.

Later on, I came back to it and have been devoted to it ever since.

Fast forward 40 years and I along with many others have an inventory problem.   I've gone through my prints, negatives and transparencies so many times, trying to sort the good from the bad, which is not too hard.   But the real challenge is the emotional attachment.   I have photographed my life, from 1974 to the present.   I have done many, many projects and pursued many interests over that time.  I have been through several relationships and still love each person who has shared a bit of their life with me.   My photographs aren't just an attempt at artistic expression, they are a record of a life that is unique.

Reviewing photos from the last four decades is quite overwhelming.   My dreams, the people I loved, the experiences I had and the places I've been are all recorded on film.   My innocence, my naiveté, reveal themselves in unexpected ways sometimes jabbing me in the heart or the belly.

In retrospect, I wish I had trusted myself more, believed in myself and my ability to learn.   My father's death introduced me to worry and I held on like a life raft in the ocean.   I seldom felt comfortable.  I felt like a fraud.

Over the years,  I have learned to trust my feelings and to share them when appropriate.   I have embraced each day, often in frustration at being part of the machine, trying to balance my priorities with my responsibilities.

I have sought help when I could and suffered when I couldn't.  In many ways I am rich and in others I am poor.  I live in paradise but I'm uneasy.   Most of the time, I feel like I am floating on a log, trying to keep my balance. And you know, I really don't think I am that unusual.  In our industrialized society, meritocracy is a sham.   I was faced with being a player or living a life.   I chose the latter.

My pictures are precious to me because they allow me to revisit the life that I have lived, to see myself with the compassion of an aging soul.   I realize that digital is the way now but I hold my prints, my negatives and my slides dear.   I have always written but unfortunately, I have torn, burned and thrown away most of my notebooks.

At 67 I am grateful to still be alive.  Many of my friends are gone, but they live with me still as pictures, slices from time.   I wonder what will become of them when I am gone.   I suppose the best place to store them is on the Internet as it is the only thing that I am sure will survive me.   But context is everything so I must write and continue to try to express the things I have learned, dreamed and experienced for anyone who might come after.

My hope is that we don't destroy the planet.  We seem bent on doing so at this point but I still have hope and faith that the generations to follow will cherish and guard this, our paradise, floating in space.

As we move to the post industrial age, I am reminded of a film which seemed prescient of our future.  Frankly, I hope not.   It is called "Silent Running" and should be on the list of required films for every human.  

The Oligarchy that is our world now, is based on the cold ruthlessness of wealth and power.   We have been sold a belief that consumption leads to happiness.   It does not.  Being in the moment, being the best that we can be, loving ourselves and our fellow creatures, developing compassion and generosity, these are the true paths to happiness.   The most joyful moments of my life all contain these truths and I offer them to you as the only real gift I have to offer.   Be well, dear reader, live your love and celebrate each day for it is a priceless gift.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mini Folio

One of the best things about being a photographer is to occasionally look back through old work.   I have a wealth of it.  Sometimes it feels like a burden, at others it feels like hidden treasure.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Guerrilla Still at GIRO

Strange as it may seem, this is one of the things I used to love about doing weddings.  I called them guerrilla stills because I could only spend a minute setting them up and shooting them but I felt they were important.   I haven't done one for a while but it was really good fun...

Be An Artist!

Heather found this post card among her things the other day and, in the spirit of good humour, gave it to me.  Over the past few months especially, I have become excessively frustrated with my financial situation to the point that I found it difficult to do any art.  

My immediate reaction was to look for a job but Gabriola is not a flourishing economy right now and being 67, retired and occasionally grumpy hasn't helped either.  A year and many frustrations later I find myself trying to live in the present and not worry too much about the future.  Not an easy thing to do considering the state of the world, Canadian politics, the relentless corporate machines that seem to be dedicated to destroying the planet, and my aging body.

But I know now that the solution to my dilemma is in doing the work (see previous post.)   We must move forward with courage and faith, that whatever shreds of integrity we have left will be sufficient to carry us through.  

I say "we" because I know that I am not alone.  There are many many people who are in similar or much worse circumstances.   But I am always confronted with one question.  Is this what I have been working for my whole life?  I thought I was trying to accumulate enough  to survive over these remaining years so that I wouldn't have to worry.  You see worry is the one thing that I have lived with my whole life, that I have never learned to be without.   It is the weight on my back that makes each day a trial.  It is the greatest source of frustration to me.

Recently, I have been considering moving off-island.   I watch my bank balance slip into the negatives every month and I think that moving to a community with a more vibrant local economy is the answer to my woes.  But the more I look the more I am confronted with the realization that a geographical cure is no resolution.  The real answer is to do what I've always wanted to do.  Live within my means.

CPP and OAS provide enough to eat, to rent a room, to walk to the places I need to go.   But no more.  There is no room for the unexpected, no room for dental care, no room for eye exams and new eyeglass prescriptions.   A car is a luxury and possessions are too.  My savings, such as they were, are long gone.

So it's hard not to feel judgemental and self critical.  If only I had done this, if only I had done that.  Why did I decide to dedicate myself to something no sane person would ever choose?   What ever possessed me to move to an island?   On and on, and on and on it goes.

I have always been a rather introspective person and in the process of asking so many questions I sought the help of a therapist.   This was in 1988 I believe.  Anyway, she suggested that I write a description of myself the way I want to be but to write it in the present tense as if I had already achieved it.   Hmmm, I thought about it long and hard, decided several times that it was too difficult, at times I thought it was too dangerous to limit my ideas of myself to paper.  

But one day, on the bus it came to me, and I jotted it down in my notebook on the rather bumpy ride home.

The truth is that I have known from my childhood that I have always wanted to be an artist.  Art is my wealth and it is the wealth of this planet.  Good art survives, sometimes it dies, misfortune is everywhere.  But art is alive and well.  All the artists of the past are there to inspire every day and I admit that every day, inspiration is available in the form of art.  Art is why I can look forward to every day.   Coming to terms with that was a revelation.   This is what I wrote.

A well known and respected fine art photographer appreciated for his sensitivity and the uncompromising excellence of his work whose imagery has been widely published and is in great demand.

A compassionate and sensitive individual with strength and self confidence who expresses his feelings, ideas and love with clarity, purity and generosity.  A warm and sensitive lover who virtually glows with health and vitality.

A competent personal manager who lives a remarkably creative life, full of humour, comfort, love and passion.  He easily lives within his means.

A man whose contact with God provides him with a limitless source of energy, wisdom, truth, morality and ethics.

Well, as you can see, I have my work cut out for me.    I don't find anything easy.   But I do know what I want.   That revelation has served as a touchstone and enabled me to carry on over the years.  I am not particularly well known but there are those that respect me.   My work is not in great demand but I have not produced the kind of work that is a commodity either.  It seems I don't want to.  I don't care about trends, I only work on what moves me and I must be content with that.

I just had a glorious salad from a neighbour's garden.  (Thank you Rosemary!)   I live in a place that truly is a paradise.   I'm not comfortable yet but I have only been here for a couple of years and things take time.   Sooner or later, I will achieve a balance with Gabriola or die trying.  It doesn't matter because this is where I live; this is where I'm doing my work.  I'm not selling my precious time to some megalomaniac (yes, I have worked for them) and I am still breathing clean air.  I can walk and I am with a marvelous woman, two wonderful animals, surrounded by trees, and ideas galore.   What more could I want?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Gift in Doing the Work

The last few days have been especially wonderful for me.   The preparation for yesterday's exhibition was demanding.   As usual, I procrastinated, hoping for inspiration, direction, a vision of how I might present this work that is so important to me.

As time grew shorter and my sense of urgency increased, I chose the simplest task and started to work.   As I worked, things came to me, solutions to the problems I was facing seemed to come from nowhere. The more I worked the more focussed I became.  When I encountered things that I was unsure about I would go downstairs to talk with Heather on how I might best approach them and she would stop whatever she was doing to listen and offer her ideas.   When I made mistakes, she came to help and her skills once again shone like the morning sun.

The fact is I never sold anything yesterday.  We had 134 visitors to the exhibition and relatively few showed much interest.  But I learned something.  It's about doing the work.  It is the work that is important.   I was happier over the last few days than I have been for a long time.  My worries, oh those worries, faded into the background as I grappled with each challenge.  I felt a sense of satisfaction as each of the projects reached its completion.   I felt the potential of doing work that has value to me, not for the money, for the integrity of doing the work.

Many things came up yesterday that I found especially challenging.  I dropped my prices.  It seemed that everyone there was undervaluing their work.  Many were charging at a rate that barely covered their costs.   But I honestly believe that price isn't important.   I don't think I will ever put a price on my work again.   The real benefit, the joy, came when the few who really got what I was doing, responded to it with their own enthusiasm.   That was the gift.   It didn't happen a lot, but when it did, I felt very fulfilled.

I think that putting price tags on the work (mine was the most expensive work there) creates a barrier between the meaning of the piece and the joy of relating to something that speaks to us.

Heather helped me set up and did a couple of shots that I would like to share with you as evidence of my joy.   (See, I'm almost smiling!)

In closing, I would like to thank Diane and Dirk whose seemingly boundless energy and professionalism made this show possible.   True Gabriolans those two!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Our tiny printing company's first folios.

In 1962 I had a dream where I had founded my own printing company.  At that time I was in high school and was the editor of our yearbook.   I loved it and felt that publishing was the world for me.   Several years later I went to work for the Winnipeg Tribune selling advertising.   It was quite a learning experience and I loved every minute of it.

52 years later and I have returned to my roots doing fine art publishing.

On Sunday, May 18, I will be previewing the first set of fine art folios published by our tiny printing house.  It has been one of the most exciting things I have ever done.   The box above contains the original prints that I used to do the layout of my first book.

There are 37 of them I think, (I forgot to count  :) and they are so delicate and beautiful.   I am offering them as a boxed set for the discerning collector.   

I will also be offering several other folios of work containing 8 to 10 pictures each of which I am very proud.   

In addition, I will have a number of framed prints ready to be taken home and hung on your wall.   Please come to the Rollo Center on Sunday afternoon and have a look.   I'd love to hear what you think and would be honoured if you decided to purchase a folio, a box set or a framed print.   

As an introduction, (and because I need more equipment and materials desperately)  I have set my prices to be considerably lower than usual.  

In any event, I would be so pleased if you would be kind enough to drop by and say hello.