Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Prince

Prince, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, March 30, 1993

UNTIL LAST WEEKEND, I ADAMANTLY MAINTAINED THAT I HAD NEVER SEEN PRINCE LIVE. I did the same thing with David Bowie, until I began rooting around my files and found proof that my memory is the least reliable thing about me. It would have been nice if I'd remembered these shots earlier this year, but here they are nonetheless.

Prince, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, March 30, 1993

It's the Act I Tour, early spring, Maple Leaf Gardens, on assignment for NOW magazine. The most elaborate Little Richard marcel wave, the microphone pistol, the hat with the veil of chains. He was between the "Love Symbol" album and Come, and just at the beginning of his long dispute with Warner Bros., his record company.

It's two years after "Diamonds and Pearls" and "Cream," a year after "Sexy MF" and "My Name is Prince," and two years before "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." He's hardly a spent force - Prince's wilderness years are yet to start in earnest - so why did I completely forget that I saw this show?

Prince, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, March 30, 1993

The one thing that I do know is that I have just half a roll of photos of this show - eighteen frames, which means that photographers were likely given a single song to shoot, probably less. With a motor drive on my camera I should have been able to rattle off at least a roll if I'd had enough time, even with a lens change. It's a testament to Prince, though, that so many of them aren't bad (for concert photos.) I shot more than this at a Miles Davis show and got nothing. Prince was definitely a value-for-your-money performer.

Once again, I can only assume that the briefness of the shoot, the fact that it was just a job, sandwiched between a whole bunch of other jobs (the early to mid-'90s were probably my busiest time as a professional) and my own sullenness contributed to the core dump of this particular memory. A with Bowie, I thought I was seeing him too late - a whole decade since the Dirty Mind, 1999 and Purple Rain tours, after all - so I discarded the memory altogether.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mel Hurtig

Mel Hurtig, Edmonton, January 1993

I PHOTOGRAPHED MEL HURTIG IN HIS LOG CABIN HOME, overlooking the Edmonton River valley. It was really more a log mansion, with a spectacular view that was covered in snow on the overcast day I made these portraits. He had just formed a new political party and was running in that year's election in his hometown.

I'd been sent out by NOW magazine for the shoot - to this day the furthest west I've ever been in Canada. The sky was clear when I flew over the prairies and I had an almost endless view of the snow-covered fields, a white sheet broken up only by grid-like roads and the odd town or farm. Gradually, off in the distance, the foothills of the Rockies came into view, breaking up the endless flatness, and further behind that, in a blue haze, the jagged peaks of the mountains loomed.

It was like flying over a topographical map, and it was one of the most Canadian moments of my life - appropriate for my subject, a bookseller turned publisher and politician who was probably one of the fiercest nationalists the country has ever known.

I knew Hurtig as the man who'd spent a then-unprecedented $12 million on The Canadian Encyclopedia, an earnest and worthy project that was probably one of the last echoes of the explosion of patriotism that burst over the country in the centennial year of 1967. I don't know if it ever made any money but it was a passion project for Hurtig, who ardently believed that Canada was selling off its resources cheaply while being culturally swamped by our neighbour to the south.

Mel Hurtig, Edmonton, January 1993

To prepare for the shoot I read his latest book, A New And Better Canada, which was basically the platform of his National Party. It was a slim book but passionately argued, and when I landed in Edmonton I was mostly convinced, so we talked eagerly while I worked. Inspired by the view, I set up a light to the side and tried to take something between a portrait and a landscape shot, evoking Georgian portraits of the newly rich with their estates behind them in a cloudy haze of glazed paint.

We exchanged numbers when I left, and his campaign office contacted me not long after the story ran. They wanted to use one of my shots for publicity, which was fine by me, but they also didn't want to pay, which wasn't. I might not have known much about politics at the time, but I knew that there was some money involved, and that at least a couple hundred bucks of it could be used to compensate a struggling photographer.

It's probably a good thing that the National Party didn't do well in that election - they failed to win a seat, and while Hurtig did the best of all the party candidates, he only won barely 13% of the votes in his Edmonton Northwest riding, a distant third to the Liberal candidate, Anne McLellan. I'm not sure that economic protectionism would do Canada much good, and I'm positive that our efforts at cultural protectionism have been either pointless or harmful.

I'm a lousy patriot, though I can't help but admire it in our southern neighbours that Hurtig regarded so warily, or in someone like Mel Hurtig, whose passion and conviction I didn't doubt - which might explain why his career as a politician was so short and unsuccessful. (With rich 21st century irony, his economic policies aren't a million miles away from those currently being promoted by Donald Trump.) He was a nice man, and my brief encounter with him did a lot to help form whatever political opinions I have today.

Mel Hurtig died of pneumonia in Vancouver, British Columbia on Aug. 3, 2016.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Yellowstone

Park bus, Yellowstone National Park, July 2016

ON THE WAY TO THE NORTHEAST ENTRANCE TO YELLOWSTONE PARK we pass a lone bull bison ambling slowly down the two-lane road toward Silver Gate. He seems wholly uninterested in us as we snap away with our cameras, first from just behind the open doors of our car, then through the safety of an open window as he passes by  - slooowly - a few feet from us.

We take the road through the park's northern edge, parallel to the Montana/Wyoming border, through wide fields full of bison. After the thrill of that first sighting we get used to seeing them, wallowing in the dust and standing down near the trout streams on the meadows of the Lamar Valley, the bulls snorting and rumbling.

Yellowstone National Park, July 2016

We drive for most of the day, though we only see a tiny fraction of the park, never getting near Old Faithful or Inspiration Point, well north of the Yellowstone caldera and its hot springs and mud baths. There are mountains on either side of us at all times, and there's never a point where you aren't between at least two spectacular views, and by noon I think that something like landscape fatigue has started to kick in, and it takes a real doozy of a panorama to make you take notice.

There are three other photographers on the trip, and even if we all pull out our cameras at the same stops, we're all drawn to different slivers of the scene in front of us, wandering away from each other looking to find some scene forming in our heads. Greg Vaughn, who specializes in nature and travel, tells me that he tends to longer lenses when he shoots, while I'm usually at the widest focal length.

At the beginning and the end of the day Greg, Donnie and Callum are always heading out to find a sunrise or sunset, while I'm happy to get an extra hour of sleep or enjoy the bathtub in my hotel room. The difference, I suppose, is that I'm a city photographer shooting the country here, and when I'm not gawping at some view, I'm looking for places where our fingerprints are all over nature. By the time we hit the hot spots at Tower Fall and Mammoth Hot Springs I'm shooting the tourists instead of the scenery.

Yellowstone National Park, July 2016

In Mammoth the elk wander the streets, napping under trees and walking through backyards while park rangers chaperone them from a distance, putting out signs and asking tourists to keep their distance. I don't have to be asked; big animals naturally scare the shit out of me.

Finally we exit through the big arch at Gardiner and head back up into Montana to Livingston, stopping at a ranch on the way where I get the distilled Montana photo I joked about getting with friends before the trip. I have had a fantastic time, and leave wondering about setting up a portrait studio in Cooke City.

On the way from Yellowstone to Livingston, Montana, July 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016

Montana

Beartooth Pass, Montana, July 2016

I WAS IN MONTANA LAST MONTH. Another travel writing gig, and one that I was looking forward to quite a bit, as this part of the United States is mostly a mystery to me. Donnie, our guide, told us that "Big Sky Country" is just one of many slogans the state has used to attract tourists. Looking back at my photos, I certainly did shoot a lot of sky, but that's OK with me.

We started in Billings, then got in the car the next day and drove south to Red Lodge. There was a hike, a wander around town, a very excellent dinner and a drive up into the hills around the town as the sun went down, searching for a picturesque sunset. No sunset, but a lot of very eerie cows.

Montana, July 2016

The next day we were back in the car driving the Beartooth Highway through Wyoming and back up into Montana to Cooke City, a charming but slightly ragged little former mining town with a year-round population of eighty-five and several bars. I liked it there.

Another wander around town, then a wild off-road trip up into the mountains above Cooke City to where they once mined for gold. Suspicious as I am of mere lush scenery, I was grateful when Bob, our guide and driver, pointed out the piles of rusting machinery sitting in a mountain meadow. Finally, industrial detritus - something I know something about!

That night in Cooke City I ate bison, and hoped that no one would smell their cousin on my breath the next day.

Montana, July 2016

Somewhere along the way I even found time to do a quick portrait.

Next stop: Yellowstone.

Biker, Beartooth Highway, Montana, July 2016

Friday, July 29, 2016

Chris Buck

Chris Buck, Parkdale, Oct. 1989

IT'S MY FRIEND CHRIS BUCK'S BIRTHDAY TODAY, and in keeping with a tradition at this blog, I'm posting some more photos of him. As I wrote in the first birthday post, Chris was my subject more than anyone else in our early years as photographers, and I have this surplus of photos of him, back when we were under the influence (of Irving Penn.)

The shot at the top was taken in my Parkdale loft not long after we moved in, after I'd bought my first roll of white seamless paper and a set of strobes and started trying to figure out high-key lighting. If it looks like an album cover shoot outtake, that's probably because a lot of the photography I looked at was on record jackets and CD booklets; at this point in my career getting my work on an album sleeve was a cherished ambition.

I suppose you'd call this sort of pose "mock heroic." we tried on a lot of poses while shooting each other for our lighting and film tests; just how heroic or mocking we looked was usually a hit and miss matter.

Chris Buck, Toronto, Sept. 1988

This shot was taken a year earlier, in the hallway of a hotel (I'm guessing the Park Plaza, now the Park Hyatt) while Chris and I waited around to shoot actors and directors at the film festival. A pretty smoldering look, don't you think? It didn't have anything to do with me.

Chris Buck, Parkdale, Oct. 1989

Back in my Parkdale studio again, and another shot from the same session that produced the photo at the top. These were attempts to solve two problems - capturing action, and copying the look of Robert Longo's "Men in the Cities" series. I was a big fan of Longo at the time, and knew that this series of drawings had begun with photos he took on the roof of his New York City apartment, and I wanted to see if I could catch the halfway point - photos that looked more like the drawings.

What can I say - it was the '80s.

Chris Buck, Toronto, Sept. 2015

The final shot is more recent - part of a portrait session we did last year to go with an interview I made with Chris (still unpublished.) He was in town for a job, staying at an Airbnb in the east end, and I sat down with him for an hour-long chat, inspired mostly by a similar interview we did twenty-five years earlier, just before Chris moved to New York City.

After the interview and shoot, Chris and I went for lunch and he showed me his rough edit of photos for Uneasy, the retrospective collection of his portraits that he's publishing later this year. His Kickstarter for the project did very well, and after teasing us with a book of portraits of invisible celebrities, we'll finally get a chance to see the best of Chris' portrait work collected in one place.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Two years

On the Beartooth Highway, Montana, July 2016. (photo by Callum Snape)

SOMETIME IN THE LAST MONTH THIS BLOG CELEBRATED ITS SECOND ANNIVERSARY. Thankfully I was too busy to put up a post on the day, which is something I'm grateful to note; the whole impetus for starting this blog was that I wasn't too busy doing anything, particularly photography, and that was something I was desperate to change.

The photo at the top is from roughly where I was when this anniversary passed. A return to travel writing - and the chance to travel with my cameras - is obviously the biggest thing that's happened to me and my "career" in the last year. If you know anything about travel writing you know that the money isn't great, but the opportunity to wander the world and take photos makes up for it, at least for me.



There were some other happy developments in the last year, the earliest of which was my second photo on a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion record. As I recalled it last year, with my return to live music photography, the shoot that produced this band portrait was very spontaneous and ad hoc, but the results exceeded my expectations and a few months later Jon called and asked if he could use the shot on their live record, to be released on Record Store Day. Thanks Jon, Judah and Russell!


The next big project this year was already in the works when I shot Jon and his band. After posting my photos of White Zombie in their pre-stadium days, I got in touch with J. Yuenger, who was guitarist in the band after this lineup. He posted a shot on his blog, then told WZ bassist Sean Yseult about the shots. We had a nice back-and-forth on Twitter about it and I felt like that post had gone very nicely.

Not long afterward I got a call from the nice guys at Numero Group in Chicago; they were working with J. and Sean on an epic box set retrospective of the band's scuzzy, lo-fi New York period, and wanted to use some of my shots. Of course I agreed - Numero is probably one of the best reissue record labels in the world, and a chance to work with them was hardly something an old record geek like me could turn down. Thanks J. and Sean!


The biggest project of the last year, though, was the 25th anniversary reissue of my friend Jane Bunnett's Spirits of Havana record. After I'd posted a bunch of photos from our trip down there at the turn of the '90s, Jane and her husband Larry called and asked if I'd work with them on the package for the reissue, which would turn into one big photo essay from our time in Havana.

It also gave me an opportunity to work with my old high school buddy Joe Gisini's company, Pagewave, who put together the package. It came out last month and looked great, but the biggest surprise was when I cracked the shrink wrap and saw the following paragraph down among the production credits:


To be honest, I was a little choked up. Two years ago, when my wife encouraged me to start going through my old negatives and put them online, I had a vague hope that the work would create some sort of momentum that would give my old work new life, and encourage me to take new photos.

Two years on I'm shooting again, enjoying it, and finding new homes for old work that might otherwise have faded away on my office shelf. And for that I'd like to thank my patient wife, my children, my friends and the people who take time to visit this blog. I hope I can continue with that momentum, and produce new work worth your time and patience.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Honda Indy 2016


I'VE COVERED THE HONDA INDY EVERY YEAR FOR FIVE YEARS NOW. At first I did it because I'm a bit of a gearhead, and wanted to challenge myself to shoot motorsport. This year - possibly my last one if I can't find someone new to write for - I tried to do more formal portraits on the spot, a challenge I've been anxious to bring to everything I shoot lately.

Daniel Morad, IMSA Porsche GT3 driver
Jean-Francois & Louis-Philippe Dumoulin, NASCAR Pinty's Series drivers
Sara Price, Stadium Super Trucks driver
Neil Campbell, Andretti Motorsport mechanic
Alexander Rossi, Indycar driver
Simon Pagenaud, Indycar driver

While shooting the Indycar race, last year's winner Josef Newgarden lost control and hit the wall just in front of where I was standing. This shot of his car, wheel busted, hanging from the recovery vehicle's tow winch, might be a little symbol of where my own motorsport photography ambitions are, just at the moment.