Matthew Talbot-Kelly

Matthew Talbot-Kelly. Animator and Filmmaker. Taken October 23, 2010.

Matthew Talbot-Kelly. Animator and Filmmaker. Taken October 23, 2010.

We did this shoot in Matthew's animation studios on Granville Island. He was working furiously (as he often does) on an animated story that takes full advantage of the iPad platform.

I've kept journals for years, and I have often wondered about the possibility of bringing the kind of collage that works so well on the page into film. Peter Greenaway has come very very close to this idea, but, as much as I admire his books and films, they don't quite capture the ... ummm ... something I can't quite name ... of the collaged page. Matthew's two short films, "Blind Man's Eye" and "The Trembling Veil of Bones" do.

I was hunting for subjects and Matthew needed some promo shots for a webpage and a magazine cover featuring him. We moved some desks and book cases out of the way and did a quick shoot against the white walls of his studio. Even though it was only nearing the end of October, I knew that these would be some of my last sessions of the year. When we would meet again in the spring, Matthew would give me some ideas about portraits that would open up very large and interesting doors. More on that ... later.

See Matthew's Moving Tales here.

Michelle Bruce

Michelle Bruce. Musician. Taken October 20, 2010.

Michelle Bruce. Musician. Taken October 20, 2010.

Michelle Bruce. Musician. Taken October 20, 2010.

On the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, where I live, there is a strong fiddle culture. Part of the reason for this is Michelle Bruce's love of music and equally strong love of teaching. She has inspired an entire generation who are now musicians and teachers themselves. Her influence can be still be felt in community halls and summer music festivals all over BC.

Some thoughts on framing.

One of my inspirations for this series is Richard Avedon's work "In the American West." For that project Avedon worked with an 8 x 10 view camera which gave him a large negative with a characteristic border. In his books the frame may or may not be included, depending on the aspect ratio of the book and the editor's preference, but in exhibits, it is always there. The frame provides a ground to balance and enclose the featureless white background and keep the composition intact.

I'm working with a digital camera and so there is no frame. And there is no negative. The camera yields an image in an 8 x 12 format which creates a problem when you want to make an 8 x 10 print. Unsatisfied with the rather drastic changes in composition when the image is cropped down, I created a "digital" frame for the subject to exist within. It is a variation on a view camera border with some playful additions. I particularly like the idea of a digital "safety image" - now digital photographers no longer need worry about their archive of data spontaneously bursting into flames the way the old nitrate negatives did.

The faux border is clearly a fake - but is it a fake in a good way? Opinions are welcome in the comments section.

Here is an index of portraits.

Ian MacLeod

Ian MacLeod. Painter. Taken on October 20, 2010.

Ian MacLeod. Painter. Taken on October 20, 2010.

I'd known when I started that I wanted to photograph ToddMaurice, and Alan. There were others that I wanted to work with, but it was taking time to co-ordinate schedules. In the meantime, I didn't want to waste the good days before the rains set in and I had to stop using my outdoor studio for the winter. Todd offered to make the suggestion to some of his contacts and passed me Ian's name.

Ian was the first subject I had never met before. He is a calm man, easily moved to laughter and so my best shots of him were in a light mood. 

There is a lot to keep in touch with while working - the technical aspects of the photo, depth of field, composition, the camera, the lighting, the lens, and so on - and the interaction with the subject. I talk to the person the whole time. In some ways, there is so much going on that photography becomes almost like automatic writing. At least that is the impression it gives me. You want to be fluid enough with the camera to catch things, but not so premeditated that you lock out possibilities.

It is an interesting fact that almost no one can pose and converse at the same time - and so I use the conversation to keep the subject from stiffening up into a pose. The play of emotions that crosses someone's face even during a single sentence is amazing. But when a person poses they tend to become like cardboard. There is a dynamic between what people want to show and what they actually present. The subject is giving up control of how they are perceived and that involves quite a bit of trust. Or anxiety - depending on who you are.

Irving Penn has a great quote about that:

"Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show the world... very often what lies beyond the façade is rare and more wonderful that the subject knows or dares to believe."

Irving Penn - quoted in 'Portraits' at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

It's a great quote by a great photographer.

See Ian MacLeod's work here:

Here is an index of portraits.

Todd Clark

Todd Clark. Painter. Taken on September 22, 2010.

Todd works mainly in abstract landscapes. Every summer he has an open studio for a week at his place in the town of Gibsons, BC. It is a bit of a menagerie: two llamas, two emu, chickens, and a flock of peacocks. He has gained a certain notoriety in town - whenever someone spots a llama on the road his number is at hand. The studio and openings are great events. Blissful. In my mind it is always early summer there.

Todd is wearing the coveralls he uses when painting. It was a tough decision to stick with the black and white because the colour of the paint splotches was so good. He has had this set for a long time and the texture on the front is very compelling.

You can usually see some of his paintings on the Sunshine coast, especially if you stop somewhere for coffee. The works hang in a number of cafe's. Here is a link to his studio. As I'm posting this, his 2011 open studio hasn't happened yet - catch it if you can.

Here is an index of portraits.

Maurice Spira

Maurice Spira. Painter and blockprinter. Photographed September 20, 2010.

You can see a sample of Maurice's work on the first post of this blog. He did a blockprint portrait of me almost ten years ago. I love the way he works with blockprints - such a strong sense of line.

When I first started this portrait project I had in Maurice in mind so I called him up and set up a shoot. He was very accommodating as we tried different backdrops and lenses. We kept the conversation going the whole time. I ended up with a number of good shots. 

Now I had to decide what I wanted from the editing process. It's difficult, like feeling in the dark for something. Also photography is, maybe, a little like writing. With writing you can tell about someone in a compelling way that shows their character, but the subject might not be so happy to read about themselves in that way. It is similar with photography. You can get some images that show the frailty of someone, the exhaustion or uncertainty - something really human - but I don't think people want to see that in themselves. So it is a challenge to push past what the subject may think of the photo and find the one that expresses something more. I didn't have this concern with Maurice, but I've encountered it with other subjects.

Maurice's Website:

Here is an index of portraits.

Alan Sirulnikoff

Alan Sirulnikoff. Photographer. Taken on September 15, 2010.

Probably one of the most curious people I know, Alan was already an established photographer when I started messing around with a Pentax ME Super in April of 2004. He enthused about photography, had his own style and approach, and was often experimenting with the medium. He also delivered some of the funniest slide shows I've ever attended. Photographically, he's been an inspiration and so it seems appropriate that I post his portrait as the first of this series.

We were working in an outdoor studio when this was taken. I had a Nikon D90 tethered to a laptop and Alan was looking at the screen as I took pictures. He is, in a way, looking into the mirror.

Of all the photos I've done this remains my favourite.

Here is a link to Alan's website.

See an index of portraits.

Missive: The New Epistolarian

Covers for Imaginary Books: Missive: The New Epistolarian (A Journal).

Covers for Imaginary Books: Missive: The New Epistolarian (A Journal).

A cover for an imaginary periodical. I did the sketch as a quick gesture exercise. I would have really liked to read this issue. The teaser line reads: In This Issue: The beginning of Time  |  1000 Journals  |  Why Mornings are Better  |  The Post Box at the End of the World.

Black Irish

Covers for Imaginary Books: Black Irish.

Covers for Imaginary Books: Black Irish.

Cover design for a book that was never written. I started with a concept for this one - my own (possible) ancestry. Some of the Irish have swarthy skin, tan easily in summer and have dark hair and brown eyes. They are known as the "Black Irish" and are generally supposed to be descended from survivors of the Spanish Armada which was wrecked along the Irish coast in 1588. It seemed a good title for a historic fiction, a family history, or a memoir.

Karma Thief

Covers for imaginary books: Karma Thief.

Covers for imaginary books: Karma Thief.

I am designing book covers for imaginary titles. I've always loved book design and if I ever have a ticklish design problem I can often solve it by considering the brief to be for a cover rather than for something else. I was reading a lot of Haruki Murakami and Kenzaburō Ōe at the time. I got the title from mishearing some song lyrics. I still really like the title and maybe one day, if I write a novel, I'll use it.

&& Co. #1

Tim McLaughlin linocut by Maurice Spira.

Tim McLaughlin linocut by Maurice Spira.

Blogs are to writing (and publishing) what cameras are to making pictures. They are a great mechanism for enabling; a simple way to make content and cast it about.

On the most abstract level they bring simplicity to the chaos of web pages by setting everything into the unforgiving cement of chronologic order. Perhaps this explains why in the ‘90s everyone had a web site and now everyone has a blog. Progress is the introduction of time. They also look much nicer.

So in early 2009, clearly about five years too late, I began the task of dismantling I have been so invigorated by the ease with which one can push content into the blogosphere, so beguiled by its natural ability to incorporate bits and pieces and fragments and lists and ephemera in an elegant, graceful way, that I’m going to try out a couple of projects that have sat in the dustier corner of my mind for several years now.