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.

--- - ---

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.

lee roberts 2.jpg

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: goldmoss.com

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: http://www.creativite.com

Robert Studer

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

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.

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 vedahille.com

Yukiko Blackwell

Yukiko Blackwell. Katazome Artist. Taken October 11, 2011

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)

James Graham

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

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.

Jean Pierre Makosso

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

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 www.makossovillage.com.

Serena Eades

Serena Eades. Musician. Taken September 19, 2011

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. www.serenaeades.ca

Merlin Eayers

Merlin Eayrs. Student of Architecture. Taken August 29, 2011

Merlin Eayrs. Student of Architecture. Taken August 29, 2011

Why Portraits? 

If I pick up a pencil to draw in a serious way, I always want to draw faces. Everything else seems mute and powerless. Drawing well still seems just beyond reach, but photographic portraiture is within my scope. A successful portrait for me is one that conveys the same feeling as a good painting or drawing. Its not that I want the photo to look like a painting - that is backwards and can lead to gimmickry. What I want is the presence - the feeling or emotion that flows from a good portrait.

So far the best description I have found of this process comes from British artist Tom Phillips:

"Once I get to work on a canvas I find it a nerve racking endeavour. I fear to waste the sitter's time as I dither, frittering away the hours it seems in indecisive manoeuvres. It is immensely frustrating to work for session after session without seeming to make any progress, but somehow (and in the final analysis I do not know why or how) some presence seems to emerge, a statement real enough to argue with. Getting a likeness is not the problem: any professional should be able to achieve that in a couple of sittings. The problem seems to be in reconciling a set of possible likenesses into a unity that has the feel of the subject's actually being there. The great test, as HWK Callom says, is to turn the picture to the wall and see if it seems that someone has suddenly left the room. Once, so to speak, this lack of absence is caught, many problems fall away, new elements suggest themselves to occupy the space that reality has created: painting a person has turned into painting a picture."
Tom Phillips* - The Portrait Works

It is surprising how similar the process is with photography. There is a precarious attempt to do two things at once - engage the subject and capture that engagement.

Phillips says "getting a likeness is not the problem" and indeed, with photography the problem of getting a likeness is almost entirely absent. You never find that you have made the nose too large or the ears not quite right. But the ease with which technically accurate images emerge only sharpens the question of what makes a portrait. You know when you have one with a certainty that is as strong as your inability to express what it is. Perhaps this is closer to the truth, the portrait speaks for itself and you cannot speak for it. It has a voice of its own that has uttered "a statement real enough to argue with".

True it may take weeks after the shooting for the eidetic dust to settle. And our conviction may grow stronger or change with time, but that is the essence of the process. So far, this feeling of an image working as a portrait has been the strongest with Merlin Eayrs. It brought me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when it was finished.

Here is an index of portraits.

* I found out about Tom Phillips through a book published by his daughter, Ruth Phillips. "Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard: a Memoir of Provence" tells about her life and marriage to another British painter, Julian Merrow-Smith. Julian's blog Postcard from Provence, which auctions a painting online every few days, is highly recommended, a brilliant idea, and often held up by me as "the clever use of technology to live the life you want." Oddly, I was led to Mr. Merrow-Smith by Vancouver-book-designer-who-fled-the-rain-for-the-South-of-France, Dean Allen, who's fitful web presence has faded but who's "About the Author" (the only reliable web page left) can still make me smile.

Lawrence Kristmanson

Lawrence (Kris) Kristmanson. Artist. Taken August 8, 2011

Lawrence (Kris) Kristmanson. Artist. Taken August 8, 2011

You never think of television as a hand-drawn medium. But as a young artist, one of Kris' jobs was doing pen and ink illustrations of Vancouver scenes to be used as CHAN TV interstitials. It was the era of theindian head test pattern, before the frenetic rotating logos, animations, and tickertape news feeds. In comparison to today's television, the local news at that time was more like a slideshow at a community hall. He once told me he was reprimanded for doing an illustration of Vancouver's east side. It was a "We can't put that on air. What the hell were you thinking?" kind of thing. No urban decay or dope fiends, mind you - just buildings and streets.

Throughout his life, Kris has tried his hand at almost every image making technique. Illustration, painting, prints, lithographs, watercolour ... he even has a small foundry set-up to do castings and he shares a credit for a medal design for the the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association. Kris taught for a number of years at the Alberta College of Art and Design where he inspired a generation of young artists. Visiting the Kristmanson house was like touring the back rooms of a museum. But it was a museum where a very curious person had gone through the deep storage and pulled everything out to see what could be found. Paintings and sketches by well-know BC artists would be leaning up against a complete set of Krazy Kat cartoons, next to a book press, next to an etching press, next to a stack of lithographic stones that he had found abandoned in an alley behind modernizing print-shops. It was a maker's house, a house of ideas. It was always a stimulating visit. 

Pancho & Sal Pace

Pancho and Sal Pace. Musicians. Taken August 8, 2011

Pancho and Sal Pace. Musicians. Taken August 8, 2011

Also known as the Rio Samaya Band, I know of few other people who's lives have been so given up to the Music. Inspired by it, governed by it, constantly following it, drinking it, breathing it in and exhaling it as life.

Pancho and Sal Pace. Musicians. Taken August 8, 2011

Pancho and Sal Pace. Musicians. Taken August 8, 2011

While I set up they took out instruments and began to play. I was particularly struck by Manhã de Carnaval. The song was sad and tragic, filled with beauty and rhythm. I had to just listen. I may have set up the room for a photo shoot, but they instantly transformed it into a Brazilian café.

Pancho was born in San Jorge, Argentina. As a young man he moved to Europe. He told me he was fascinated by instruments and always wanted to learn how to play them. Which instruments? I asked. All instruments! he replied. He followed his ambition; to create music and use it as a way to travel the world. After touring many countries, he was a confident troubadour-style musician.

The biography on the Rio Samaya Band page gives more detail: "While playing with Gypsies in the South of France, he learned rumbas and flamenco. His compositions reflect these influences of flamenco and other folk rhythms. After years of exchange with other musicians, his original music has a wide diversity of styles."

"Sal, who was born in England and raised in Canada, met Pancho in Cuzco, Peru, and from then on together as a family and musical duo have established a name for themselves. Sal compliments the music with her vocals, accordion, shakers, chachas, bombo and guitar. They have a unique poetic style of translating simultaneously from Spanish to English."

You can see many of the videos from their concerts at riosamayaband.com. They are presently touring India.

Miriam Gil

Miriam Gil. Artist. Taken August, 2, 2011

Miriam Gil. Artist. Taken August, 2, 2011

I first met Miriam in the early nineties while volunteering at the Pacific Cinematheque. We worked the coffee bar. It was loud and the combination of the  coffee machine, popcorn machine, and her Columbian accent meant that I could almost never catch what she was saying. When I could hear her we talked about art, film, and writers. Since high school I had loved the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Miriam told me that in Columbia he was so popular they just called him “Gabo”.

The only certainty was that they took everything with them: money, December breezes, the bread knife, thunder at three in the afternoon, the scent of jasmines, love. All that remained were the dusty almond trees, the reverberating streets, the houses of wood and roofs of rusting tin with their taciturn inhabitants, devastated by memories. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Living to Tell the Tale.

I rented a room in her house for a few years. There were late night conversations over bowls of steaming chocolaté. There was a tulip tree that grew too close to the house. I could open the kitchen window and hang a bird feeder in the branches. I filled it in the morning with a teacup tied to a broom handle. The Steller’s jays loved the seeds and screeched their delight when it was full. Miriam had many friends and one Christmas she made a huge basin of a traditional Columbian potato-chicken soup. It was not served until late and it had a strange narcoleptic effect on the guests. Taking turns, in twos and threes, the guests fell asleep. A couple would doze for ten minutes, and wake up, only to find that another couple was drifting off.

She is a teller of stories, a painter and artist. You can find her artworks on her site miriamgil.com