Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chris

Chris Buck, Toronto 1988
MY GOOD FRIEND CHRIS BUCK TURNS 50 TODAY, which is a good time to write something about the person I photographed more than anyone else in the first years of my career. The photo above, painstakingly scanned from the original very thin and dusty negative, was shot in my old apartment on Maitland Street, just after I got my first medium format camera - a Mamiya C330 - and I was likely showing it off.

In retrospect, I was fortunate to meet Chris when I did; he was studying photography in school, and making the first steps in a career that would take him to the success I think both of us dreamed of at the time - a home in Manhattan, a portfolio full of famous faces and a client list that included dozens of major magazines and nearly as many major corporations. At the time, though, we were "just kids," as they say - Chris in the basement of his parent's house in the west end, me in a dingy little apartment between the city's main drag and the gay ghetto.

Me and Anton Corbijn, Toronto 1987, photo by Chris Buck
There were a lot of reasons the friendship shouldn't have lasted. We dated the same girl - Chris for a couple of months, me just after that, and for several years. We were in the same business, in the same provincial city, hoping to work for the same clients, and with a wish list of subjects that overlapped massively. We even shared the same influences (Dutch rock photographer Anton Corbijn; Conde Nast legend Irving Penn); From the outside, we were living in each other's pockets, personally, professionally and aesthetically, and that should have ended in grief.

Chris Buck, Toronto 1988(?)
There was, of course, some jousting going on; the contact sheet above was shot a couple of years after the photo at the top, when I'd moved into a big studio space in Parkdale, and Chris had come to show me the Hasselblad he'd just bought. I unpacked the Bronica SQa that I'd bought to replace the C330 and we set them up on tripods to compare them, then asked my girlfriend (yes, the same girl) to come in and tell us which one looked better.

"You know how this sounds, don't you, guys? No, I won't."

Chris Buck, date unknown
We'd help each other on shoots when we couldn't afford assistants and use each other as subjects in lighting and film tests. The shot above was probably done in my Parkdale studio, when I was trying to figure out Robert Mapplethorpe's lighting scheme and Chris was, near as I can tell, doing his best Morrissey. (What can I say - it was the '80s.)

As much as we were inspired by Penn and Corbijn, Richard Avedon and Joel Peter Witkin and whoever else we aspired to be back then, we were just as inspired by each other, and happily shared every bit of information we acquired about cameras and film stock, photo labs, publicists and photo editors. For a while he was even my boss, working as photo editor first at Nerve, the sloppy but energetic indie-rock magazine where we met, and then at Graffiti, the music slick where most of the Nerve staff ended working.

Chris shoots my roommate Sally Lee, Sunnyside Beach
As a result, we ended up documenting each other rather intensely over a five-year period until Chris moved to New York while I stayed behind in Toronto, with vague plans to follow him when I had the money. It would be a few years before I realized that would never happen, and for at least some of that time Chris actually kept a spare steel  sink he'd picked up somewhere, intending to pass it on to me for my darkroom when I'd made my move.

If you know anything about American photography today you probably know about Chris. If you follow U.S. politics, you only need to say that he's the guy who shot the "crazy eyes Michelle Bachmann" portrait for Newsweek. He has - and I think he'd take this as a compliment - overcome our rather crippling weight of shared influences to develop his own, very recognizable style, which will (I think) one day become part of the visual shorthand we'll use to remember the political, social and cultural moment we're struggling through now.

Chris and Olive Buck, Toronto 2012
I am immensely proud of my friend Chris. We both came late to marriage and fatherhood, but they've been a gift to us, and from just over the far side of our midlife peaks, I'm grateful that all the things that should have derailed our friendship so many years ago have just ended up as shared history. Here's to you, Mr. Buck, on your birthday, and for the record I don't care whose camera is bigger.

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