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

Jaron Freeman-Fox

Jaron Freeman-Fox. Musician. Taken July 13, 2011

Jaron Freeman-Fox. Musician. Taken July 13, 2011

Constantly in motion and generating a climate of theatre about himself, Mr. Freeman-Fox offered up endless possibilities. He can be seen here, listening to the bridge.

Jaron grew up on one of the Gulf Islands, in a uniquely west-coast environment. Now he calls Toronto home. He is one of the many musicians influenced (and fortunate lad, mentored) by legendary musician and composer, the late Oliver Schroer (who was lovingly known as Canada's talest free-standing fiddler). Jaron carries Oliver's five string fiddle with him. He uses it to play his own compelling interpretation of Field of Stars. The fiddle was accidentally decapitated in September, sending shock-waves through the folk music world. The fiddle has been restored and lives again. If you are in Toronto you can probably catch Jaron playing solo or in one of the seemingly endless combinations of musicians that make up the TO music scene. If you are on the West Coast, keep your eyes on the Sunshine coast.

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Sechelt Festival of the Arts 2011

Tonight was the opening of the Sechelt Festival of the Arts Juried Art Show. My portrait of Giorgio Magnanensi hung right beside a work by Todd Clark - so I felt in very good company. As it turns out juror Greg Bellerby selected Todd's work for purchase by the District of Sechelt. Congratulations Mr. Clark.

This is my first public exhibition of photographic work. The show runs until the 23rd of October. All work is for sale.

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Chris Coole

Chris Coole. Musician. Taken June 29, 2011

Chris Coole. Musician. Taken June 29, 2011

Chris arrived, banjo in hand. The banjo is a great instrument and the one that Chris brought was a five-string, open-back banjo. It was beat-up and wonderfully photogenic in itself. To my surprise, Chris had some postage stamps inside the body of the instrument - one of which was the Canadian commemorative of Yousuf Karsh. How interesting. We got some good shots of Chris with the body held up next to his head. We even tried some with Mr. Coole looking like a orthodox icon

My assistant, Esme, is crouching behind him, holding the banjo, trying both not to be seen and keep the banjo steady. Sadly there is not much of a connection between old-time music and Russian ikon painting or the photo would have been more useful. I much prefer the laughing Chris at the top.

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Check out Five Strings Attached with no Backing it's a favourite or Old Dog - his solo CD. If you ever get a chance to catch one of the many bands that he shows up in you're in for a treat.

Find out all about him at his site chriscoole.com.

Here is an index of portraits.