Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Self-portrait, Gray Ave., spring 1986

I DON'T LIKE MY FACE. That's probably why I have so few pictures of myself. I'm 51 today, and feelings about my face aside, I should be used to it by now, which seems as good an excuse as any to excavate the scarce handful of self-portraits in my archives.

The photo above was taken in the backyard of the house where I grew up. I know it's spring because the trees behind me - the apple and pear trees planted by my grandfather - are in bloom. I had only owned my Spotmatic for a few months at this point and, at a loss for subjects, I turned it on myself, with the aid of a long cable release and the tripod my sister and her husband had bought me the previous Christmas.

I am 21; I have recently dropped out of college and had spent much of the previous summer doing drugs and taking long nighttime walks. I am living in the basement of my childhood home; my mother had recently been moved into a nursing home, the house will be sold within a month or two, and I will spend the following summer homeless, living on friends' couches. I have never been asked for ID at a bar. I have never had a girlfriend.

At home on Maitland St., 1988. Photo by Chris Buck

Technically this isn't a self-portrait, but it was taken on my camera with my film. Shortly after buying a Mamiya C330, my first medium format camera, I invited my friend Chris Buck over to take a look at the thing. My homeless summer had ended when I'd found a cheap apartment - two small rooms with a bath and a kitchen built into a closet - on Maitland Street, on the edge of the gay ghetto. It was small but it was home, not only to me but dozens of cockroaches.

It seemed obvious that we load up a roll and try my new camera out. After taking a few shots of Chris, I handed the Mamiya to him and told him to have a go. He must have set up on my tripod because the light was dim in my little place, even in the daytime. Behind me is the fridge and my desk, which doubled as my darkroom. I am 24 and, gratefully, no longer a virgin.

Self-portrait, Queen St. W., 1990

I only ever trained a camera on myself when I had a good reason. Two years later I have moved into a big loft apartment in Parkdale with my girlfriend and her sister. I am desperate to get into press screenings at the film festival, and my friend Stephen has figured out how to make nearly perfect forgeries of the standard media pass. All he needs is a properly-sized photo.

I take out my tripod and cable release again and finish off a roll of film in my Nikon shooting myself in front of my white seamless roll facing the north light window in my bedroom-cum-studio. I am trying to look serious, to stare down anyone who might have doubts about my bogus credentials. I know now that this was not a good look but I had a girlfriend and, obviously, have stopped caring. She would break up with me a year later.

Self-portrait, Queen St. W., 1998

My girlfriend's sister lived with me for an awkward year after our breakup and a friend took her room for a year after that, but when I was finally roommate free I turned their room in the Parkdale loft into my first real studio. I would be alone - and miserable - for six years, seesawing between loneliness and horniness and the peculiar joy of being single, self-employed and seeming master of my own destiny. It was a time that I enjoyed immensely, but I could not wait to see it end.

I am in my mid-thirties and need a photo for a new passport, because I have met someone who has asked me to spend a couple of weeks with her in Barcelona that summer, where she's teaching a course at the university. I am too cheap to pay for one so I take out my Bronica SQa and my tripod, set up my strobe kit with a single light bounced into an umbrella, and shoot a roll. I get my passport and fly out to meet her. Three years later we get married.
AN APPEAL: This blog is approaching its first anniversary, and hard use has taken its toll on my old HP scanner, which now only produces clear scans on a narrow strip on the right margin of its glass. I'm on the market for a new scanner, but the only comparable replacement costs several hundred dollars beyond my budget, so I'm asking anyone who's enjoyed what I've been doing here - and wants to see more - if they can chip in and help. There's a PayPal button up near the top, and anything would be appreciated. Also, if you feel moved, please click on my links - a small percentage of anything you buy helps fund this blog. Thank you so much in advance.


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