When I left the house early Friday morning to mark the route of a charity bike ride stretching from Crescent Beach in White Rock to Chiliwack, BC about 100km east of where it began I wasn’t thinking much about making photos. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left the house with my camera with it never seeing the light of day, but I always remind myself that there is a lot to miss in this world and you never know what or who you are going to run into.
I can’t tell you much about the community of Yarrow expect that it sits in the shadow of the Cascade Mountain Range, has about two dozen businesses on the main street through town, offers a great sandwich at the Yarrow Deli and has been home to Hank and his barber shop since the 1940’s. Hank had a seat in the sun in front of his shop when we pulled into town and the sun seemed to light up his white, starched barber jacket. He was impossible to miss and after our lunch break at the town park, I wandered across the street to introduce myself and ask if I could make his portrait.
“I’m Hank the Barber, guess how long I’ve been here.”
We only had about five minutes with him, and I shot shot a few frames, but this was one of those times where I was grateful to have had my camera in my bag. I love this colour frame of Hank, but as much as it captures a certain light in his eyes, it is a reminder to me that some portraits are more than the face they capture. What’s making me crazy, days later, is how I overlooked including more of his shop in the frame given his shop is such a large component of who he is and his place in his community. Next time I will do better.
Every photographer or photojournalist has had assignments they seem to remember with perfect clarity whether it was last month, last year or a lifetime ago. I remember my time with Danny Casper with a clarity that is absent when I think of other assignments shot for the dozen or so different newspapers I have contributed to at one time or another. I remember the state of his poverty-worn home, a trailer as old as he, his story of what happened to him as a truck driver when he returned from his military tour in Vietnam. I remember his acute sensitivity to light as a result of the medication he was prescribed to treat cancer. I remember being in his trailer and having to dial up the ISO to 1600 on my Nikon D1H, a camera not known for it’s capacity in low light. I remember shooting this image of Danny in his doorway on my way out, camera still set at 1600 at f2.8. It was lucky I didn’t end up with something blown out and unusable. I look at this image, one that hangs on my wall ten years later, and I see the perfect portrait subject, unaware of the camera and totally unconscious of his appearance. This remains one of my favourite images from my summer in Spokane at the Spokesman-Review in 2002 and remains my favourite of the portraits I have shot. No mater how strong technically or creatively appealing any portrait since, Danny Casper is the bar by which I measure any portrait I make and at the worst of times Danny Casper is the mirror in which I see myself in 20 years wondering what has become of my life.
So far this personal work, The Portrait Project, has already proved to be a learning experience. While I am still working on the parameters that will guide this work over the next few years, or it’s duration, I am trying new ways of presenting work both here and on my Facebook page. Years ago while I was an intern at a daily paper in Washington state, an item in the entertainment section popped out at me, it was a quote from actor Edward Norton in which he suggested that as a photographer I can do what I do in my room, but as an actor he required an audience. In no way am I comparing myself to Norton but in truth I haven’t thought as highly of him since. Photographers make images to be seen and shared and spoke about, debated and critiqued beyond measure and praised beyond reason. Photographers seek to share the world. We have forgotten that before the internet the way we imagined the world was informed by photographers and writers traveling and reporting back what they saw and experienced. What if Mark Twain had never left his room, or Steve McCurry had never left his? Could McCurry’s elegant Afghan Girl have been shot in a studio? Would the image and story be as iconic had it not been seen on the cover of National Geographic or through the thousands of times it’s been reprinted or the story retold since it was shot in 1984?
I am not McCurry, Norton or Twain, but these ideas inform my approach to sharing the work that I do. I have been giving some pretty serious thought to keeping everything but “snap shots” from Facebook but in the last few weeks, after posting images from shoots with subjects self conscious about their image, the feedback has been fantastic. As a portrait subject it feels great to hear from your friends and family how great you look, or how much you are missed. So this is the learning process and I will keep posting work to Facebook to share my experiences and I will work to find a template to continue posting here. Photography is meant to be seen and if you can bear with me, I will show you as much as I can. My shoot with Christopher started over coffee pretty early for a Sunday morning in Whistler in the shoulder season. It turns out, surprise or not, early mornings are something that photographers and event managers have in common. Do you like the way I have presented these three images? If so, let me know.