Kevin Head

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To make art with a photographic portrait is always a collaborative act. As with any duo the balance tips often, sometimes to the photographer, sometimes to the subject. It is the peculiar nature of this relationship that the results, the mixture of observer and observed, are inseparable. If this were theatre we would be unable to separate the actors from the play. If it were life drawing, it would be as if the subject's hand reached over the paper and corrected our lines.

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Exhibition - Gibson's Art Gallery

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I'm happy to announce a new show scheduled for August, 2013. The portraits will hang in the Eve Smart Gallery in the newly renovated Gibsons Art Gallery. The show will run from August 1 to September 2, 2013.

There will be a reception on Sunday August 3rd from 2-4 pm. This reception will also be the official launch of my first book. Portraits Found and Taken is a hardcover edition containing 144 pages of black and white portraits from the past three years. The book features a preface by Vancouver writer, photographer, and publisher Stephen Osborne.

The book is produced in a limited edition of 300 copies, signed and numbered. Subjects will each receive a copy. If you would like secure a copy before the release date, I've made the book is available to pre-order online here.

I look forward to seeing you at the show.

Tim McLaughlin

Colin Whitworth

Colin Whitworth, technician, taken November 7, 2012.

Colin Whitworth, technician, taken November 7, 2012.

I think a book of photographs is the most coherent way of putting across your ideas, some argument you are making about the way you see. Putting a book together, for me, has been the strongest way of using photography. But I also love the experience of a print, standing in front of something which is at an appropriate scale, so that you can dwell again in the experience. Photography has this incredible characteristic of illusion, presenting an illusion of deep space with many things going on. It stills time in such a way that if you can stand in front of it and immerse yourself in the experience it describes, you can loose yourself in there. I look for that kind of opportunity, where the photographer has been generous enough in how they have been entranced in their moment, that I have an opportunity to stand in their shoes.

Joel Meyerowitz 

Francisco Toledo

Francisco Toledo, artist, taken November 28, 2012.

Francisco Toledo, artist, taken November 28, 2012.

In an impressive display of cultural ignorance, I arrived in Oaxaca City with no idea who Francisco Toledo was. It would be a little like landing in New York City having never heard of Andy Warhol. Worse perhaps, as Toledo has gained his considerable reputation through not only his art and graphic works, but also through his concerted efforts to prevent the unraveling of the fabric of Oaxacan (and Mexican) culture.

He's a vessel in which the heritage of his people has been aged into a fine brew and [it] now pours through him in an astonishing array of work. Rita Pomade.

Toledo began his studies in 1957 with another Zapotec artist, Rufino Tamayo. Three years later he was in Paris learning the graphic arts of etching and engraving with Stanley William Hayter. He worked in a concerted, almost obsessive way. Everywhere he went, he seems to have been a conduit for inspiration. In 1965 he returned to Mexico with the foundations of an international reputation firmly in place. Rita Pomade summaries his life mid-career:

Toledo returned from Europe and immediately integrated himself into the artistic community of his native state. He immersed himself in an incredible array of media which included lithography, engraving, sculpture, ceramics and painting. He even designed tapestries with the craftsmen of Teotitlan de Valle executing his designs. Though his work was "Mexican" in style, it was executed from a new ideological and aesthetic perspective. 

His reputation as a world class artist spread quickly. In 1973 he had a show at the Carl Finkler Gallery in Paris, and in 1975 he showed at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York City. In 1977 his work was exhibited at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Oaxaca, and a lot of what we think of as representative of Toledo - cats, dogs, bats, insects all in his native landscape - came out of this period. During this period, he also started to experiment with semi-erotic male figures, often with faces that were like sketches in geometric form similar to ancient masks. 

By 1978 his work was being shown throughout Europe, the United States, Asia, Mexico, and South America, and he was well represented in public and private collections from London to Oslo. By 1980 he had such an impressive collection of work that the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City had a retrospective of his painting. Somewhere in that prolific output, he also managed to illustrate books.

I met Francisco Toledo by chance at a former cotton mill, now a centre for the arts. I was helping Charllotte Kwon with research for Maiwa and we were walking the wide stone plaza of the colonial building. Our mutual friend, Stephanie Schneiderman set up the opportunity and negotiated permission, I directed Mr. Toledo to the north facing shade and three frames later it was all over.

As we walked the streets of Oaxaca City in the following days, Toledo’s influence and contributions were in evidence almost everywhere. We visited the Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca (IAGO). During the teacher protests and strikes of 2006 this building was set up as a first aid post. Toledo, with wry humour, commented that “Never have we had so many visits.” On the other end of Oaxaca City’s picturesque core is the Museum de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (ACO) and the Patronato Pro-Defense y Conservacion del Patrimonio Cultural de Oaxaca, which houses a library for the blind, a photographic center, and a music library.

Toledo was also instrumental in keeping McDonalds out of Oaxaca’s main square. When Reed Johnson of the LA Times asked Toledo what the difference was between Oaxaca City’s Zocalo and other historic city centres like Paris and Barcelona (where the golden arches have made substantial incursions), Toledo replied "The difference is that I live in the historic center of Oaxaca, I believe it's a personal thing." Johnston explains the outcome and tactics of the resistance:

Oaxaca's tactics in opposing the new burger barn reflected its cultural self-assurance. No irate farmer drove a tractor through a storefront window, as happened in France. No protesters battled with police, as in the resort city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City, over Costco's plan to level an old spa-casino and a grove of ancient trees to build a warehouse.

Instead, during the peaceful, months-long campaign, opponents covered the proposed locale with "No McZocalo" signs and handed out traditional Oaxacan tamales, examples of the region's distinctive cuisine. In public meetings, officials wisely used the occasion to solicit residents' input on the zocalo's future development.

I left Oaxaca City after only a short visit. I had located a number of Toledo's books and seen much of his work. I was developing a love for Oaxaca City. Much of my affection for the place seemed to be owed directly to the man I had photographed but not recognized, its most famous artist, indeed the man many kept calling "Mexico's greatest living artist," Francisco Toledo.

Laxmi Duclos Naik

Laxmi Duclos, Banjara Embroiderer, Taken October 28, 2012.

Laxmi Duclos, Banjara Embroiderer, Taken October 28, 2012.


The story goes that Alfred Stieglitz, well known proponent of photography as a fine art, and founder of the Photo-Secession movement, was outraged by a review of his work. The offending reviewer, Waldo Frank, had claimed that the strength of Stieglitz’s imagery was in the power of the individuals he photographed.

It is a fundamental concern in photography - to come to terms with the relationship between the quality of the subject and the quality of the photograph. In Stieglitz’s case that quality was power, but it may just as well have been beauty or any other attribute.

Rather than untangle the subject from it’s representation, Stieglitz chose to redefine the entire act of creating and appreciating photographs. He embarked on his now historic project of “Equivalents.” In direct response to his critic it seems, Stieglitz chose subject matter that was as pure and as abstract a possible: a series of clouds. As if he were attempting to relocate all creative force within himself rather than the subject. 

What interests me are not Stieglitz’s equivalents, the cloud photographs themselves (though they arebeautiful) so much as the entire system of thought that came into being from them. The idea of equivalence was taken up again and described by Minor White in 1963:

To outline this theory (we hardly have space to discuss it), we will refer to "levels" of Equivalence. The term covers too much ground for a linear definition. At one level, the graphic level, the word "Equivalence" pertains to the photograph itself, the visible foundations of any potential visual experience with the photograph itself. Oddly enough, this does not mean that a photograph which functions as an Equivalent has a certain appearance, or style, or trend, or fashion. Equivalence is a function, an experience, not a thing. Any photograph, regardless of source, might function as an Equivalent to someone, sometime, someplace. If the individual viewer realizes that for him what he sees in a picture corresponds to something within himself—that is, the photograph mirrors something in himself—then his experience is some degree of Equivalence. (At least such is a small part of our present definition.)

At the next level the word "Equivalence" relates to what goes on in the viewer's mind as he looks at a photograph that arouses in him a special sense of correspondence to something that he knows about himself. At a third level the word "Equivalence" refers to the inner experience a person has while he is remembering his mental image after the photograph in question is not in sight. The remembered image also pertains to Equivalence only when a certain feeling of correspondence is present. We remember images that we want to remember. The reason why we want to remember an image varies: because we simply "love it," or dislike it so intensely that it becomes compulsive, or because it has made us realize something about ourselves, or has brought about some slight change in us. Perhaps the reader can recall some image, after the seeing of which, he has never been quite the same.

When it was first conceived the idea of equivalents was almost a type of emotional transference through images, similar to the effect of trying to communicate pure feeling through abstract painting. It focused on the non-representational. An equivalence was made to something within the person, rather than to something in the world. Perhaps to be in the presence of Stieglitz’s clouds was similar to being in the presence of Rothko’s Chapel. 

On the other hand, the equivalence (as Minor White defines it) works with any image. And so I would apply it to the representational as well. In this way, for me, Laxmi's portrait is an equivalent - but not because it is a likeness.

Why do we want to remember an image? In a world that is increasingly mediated through the portal of the computer screen, a world increasingly dominated, not only by images, but by images that are stripped of their referents (and with tumblr this includes their creators, publishers, origin, and context), it may be the only mechanism left to us to re-engage the image in a meaningful way.


Laxmi Duclos is a Banjara Embroiderer and co-founder of Surya’s Garden. She visited Vancouver as part of the Maiwa Textile Symposium in 2012 with her husband Jan Laxmi and their infant boy Solal. 

Lee Roberts

Lee Roberts, artist, taken August 17, 2012.

Lee Roberts, artist, taken August 17, 2012.

One of the biggest challenges of photographing someone is to not have them look like they are being photographed. It is a subtle quality that is almost impossible to define, but easy to see. To this end I usually engage the subjects in conversation during the shoot. Invariably people have interesting stories. Often so interesting that I'd like to pause from taking pictures and start taking notes.

This was the case with Lee Roberts. So, instead of taking notes, when it came time to prepare this post, I sent him a list of questions about subjects that had come up during the shoot. The result is this interview. Lee has generously supplied photos of his wire sculptures to help illustrate our conversation.

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Where were you born?

I was born in Woking, in England, and grew up in North Wales.

You had to change schools when you were young and it had quite an effect on you. Can you tell me that story?

I received a scholarship and attended Lowther College, at Bodelwyddan Castle, for most of my schooling. It was originally built as a shelter for the Royal Family. It was set in 250 acres of parkland with a golf course, many formal gardens, practice trenches from the first world war, 3 different libraries, (reference, fiction and general) and there was original artwork throughout. Academia was not really the priority of the school. I was most interested in architectural drawing, art, and being a member of the ornithology club. The students were from all over the world and being one of a handful of lads amidst 300 girls was good fun too!

Unfortunately, Lowther School closed and I was moved to the local high school which was and entirely different experience — 1700 kids and a concrete playground. Fortunately for me, Lowther had a strong emphasis on physical education and I faired well at the many initial challenges I faced from school gangs. After a few solid fights, a desk top being hurled at me, and successfully besting the kid with the worst reputation I was left alone.

At Lowther, art was viewed as purely a recreational activity, so coming top of my class was relatively unimportant. In this new school it was different, and my art teacher almost immediately identified with my art and really encouraged me to follow a creative path.

Despite the academic teachers encouraging me to go in other directions, my art grew and was my real focus. At 15  I took my paintings of birds and an abstract of David Bowie to art school and applied for the Higher National Diploma. I was accepted and (after debate with my parents) left home and rented a room in Wrexham - a few miles of the college.

You apprenticed as a sign painter. What did you learn from that and how did it influence your future work?

From the age of 14, I built and painted commercial signs to earn money and support my studies at art collage. I learnt by trail and error, but did a good enough job to be asked to come back and retouch the signs over the next few years – some would age or be damaged. It wasn't my intended business model, but it was a good one, and I left college without debt. 

When did you move to Canada?

I came first to Canada when I was 22.

My Great grandfather was Canadian and my grandfather told me that "If you go to Canada, you won't come back, its a marvelous country."  When I was 16 at art school I had to write an essay about what I saw myself doing. I said that “I was going to be an artist in Canada"  

When did you start the Goldmoss Gallery?

Goldmoss Gallery was opened in October, 2010.

What are your feelings about Goldmoss - your philosophy behind it? It is, in my opinion, built and run on a very professional level. Running a space like that is a lot of work. What is it that keeps you at it?

A belief in Art. Enthusiasm. Patience and energy … lots of energy!

Actually, the decision to open Goldmoss as a commercial space happened quite organically — it was done to foster long-term creative and collaborative relationships. The art industry is a transient one, and we (myself and Bon Roberts) liked the idea of a consistent base to meet and create from. We're now in our third year. Its very rewarding: seeing artists, including ourselves, develop and produce, and then introducing works to new people and witnessing them build an understanding and appreciation of the work.

We share the Goldmoss gallery spaces without commission or fees to the artists, so essentially, we're all artists sharing the space.

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About the birds.

Why birds? 

While I paint and sculpt many other forms, I studied bird bone structure, have collected skeletons and feel very at-ease incorporating them into my art. Four years of life drawing classes at art collage has meant that the human form and the avian form can work together (or separately) for me.

Wire sculpture - Lee Roberts

Wire sculpture - Lee Roberts

The wire sculptures are a remarkable combination of drawing and sculpture. How did you come up with that idea?

I make little things with whatever is in my hands. I've made hundreds of things out of, say, match boxes, or out of the wire from wine bottles, or materials I come across. They are just little 3d sketches that I like to make. People seem to be attracted to them. The combination of wire and drawing is very natural to me. The wire I use is about the width of a pencil line. I draw every day, but I think three dimensionally. 

Wire is wild and unwieldily stuff though, and it's so easy to loose the form of a line. It is very easy to have it look like wire - rather than a drawing.

How would you describe the wire sculptures that are part human, part bird?

I feel like a bird, a raven actually. Not from choice or desire, I just resonate with their approach to life. When I put a bird head on a human body in my art; I don't have any real challenges with the transition — which still surprises and delights me.

They really do fit together as one, when I draw, carve, cut, or form them out of wire. This means that they can talk to people, without the obvious identification of features, and be more universally communicative with the viewer.

Wire sculpture - Lee Roberts

Wire sculpture - Lee Roberts

If I recall correctly, one of the bird-people was modeled after your father - can you tell me about that and his reaction to the finished piece?

Yes, it was a small piece, about 14" and it made everyone that saw it smile. This is how I see my father: a light, whimsical, and fun loving spirit, with a bit of a peck. It sold the first day it was shown so my Father didn't get to see the real thing. I sent him a picture of it and it's the first piece he didn't comment on almost immediately. I think ... it was a bit of a shock for him initially.  But he gets it now, and he is a big fan of the Bird people.

Wire sculpture - Lee Roberts

Wire sculpture - Lee Roberts

What are your hopes for the future?

Bon and I are working at developing our own paths as artists in painting, sculpture and installation.

Collaboration is huge for us, and we work together, as well as with other artists almost on a daily basis. I see this getting more formalized and growing nicely.

Without expectations ... or a ceiling to the limit of our abilities to contribute to the world, to the art world directly, or the artists we share our space with ... we just try our best at what we choose to take on. There are always surprises and truly memorable events and encounters at Goldmoss, we deeply cherish these and are always open to them, and the changes they bring.

The Sunshine Coast is a place where we love to be close to nature and free from the mundane, so far — so good!

You can find the Goldmoss Gallery online here:

Masami and Arthur Yesaki

Masami Yesaki November 5, 1951 - January 10, 2013 Photo taken June 29, 2011

Masami Yesaki November 5, 1951 - January 10, 2013
Photo taken June 29, 2011

All photographs stop time, it is this quality and this quality alone that makes each one melancholy.

In the summer of 2011 I invited Masami and her husband Arthur into the studio. Masami was fighting cancer and we needed to juggle scheduling around treatments and days when she found she had little energy. I asked her if I could photograph her because there was something indomitable in Masami's personality that the illness had polarized.

When I look back to the shoot it does not surprise me that I was disappointed with almost all of the images. Whatever was happening, whatever it was that came across so strongly when in Masami's presence, it was not visual. I don't know if you can photograph strength of will.

It never left her. I had a chance to visit with Masami for the last time a few weeks before she passed away. She commanded a brightness in the room. The light and the conversation flowed from her to everyone else.

And so now, I am left with this photo, and an absence, and a wondering how it can be that people persist in their photos when they are gone. When I think like this I am always called back to Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida

"All those young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality do not know that they are agents of Death. This is the way in which our time assumes Death: with the denying alibi of the distractedly "alive," of which the photographer is, in a sense, the professional. 

"With the photograph we enter into flat Death. One day, leaving one of my classes, someone said to me with distain: "You talk about death very flatly."— As if the horror of Death were not precisely its platitude! The horror is this: nothing to say about the death of one who I love most, nothing to say about her photograph, which I contemplate without ever being able to get to the heart of it, to transform it. The only "thought" I can have is that at the end of this first death, my own death is inscribed; between the two nothing more than waiting. I have no other resource than this irony: to speak of the "nothing to say."


"In 1865, young Lewis Payne tried to assassinate Secretary of State W. H. Seward. Alexander Gardner photographed him in his cell, where he was waiting to be hanged. The photograph is handsome, as is the boy. He is going to die. I read at the same time: This will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. What pricksme is the discovery of this equivalence. In front of a photograph as my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder, like Winnicott's psychotic patient, over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Weather or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe. 

[I've slightly edited Barthes, removing references to terms he defined earlier in the text] 

Hanif Janmohamed

Hanif Janmohamed, artist. Taken June 18, 2012.

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: