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.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Trickster's Hat

One of the great things about living on Gabriola is our library.  I confess I never used the library much while I was living in Vancouver but between tight finances and a ravenous appetite for books the VIRL has been an obvious choice.

Heather uses the library extensively and is much faster at reading and comprehension than I am.  So she brings home as many as ten books a week, which I usually get to browse through before she returns them.  The book that is the title of this blog arrived at the house a few weeks ago and I have been captivated by it.  Written and illustrated by Nick Bantock, author of Griffin and Sabine, this book contains a series of ideas to help stimulate the creative juices.

I admit that I occasionally lose my sense of enthusiasm for my own work (doesn't seem to happen for other people's work) and slip into a depressive place that I find somewhat difficult to escape.  I know the answer to my depression, it is work.  All I need to do is get down to it and I feel much better pretty quickly.

So I have started various projects as ways to launch myself into a mode that is creative and fulfilling.

There are times though, when the forces of inertia hold me in place and this book is filled with ideas and projects to feed the need to grow and expand without falling back to my tired old patterns.

I think we've pretty much established that my drawing skills are somewhat lacking and despite that, I draw.  But Bantock's approach seems to ignore the need for skill development and concentrates on creativity coupled with a philosophy that is uplifting.

What's more, at 5 1/2 by 8 inches, it fits easily into my camera bag and makes me look forward to those alone times in the coffee shop.

I'm going to have to get my own copy of this terrific book!