Friday, November 20, 2015


Michael Snow, Parkdale, February 1994

PERHAPS IT SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT CANADA that one of our major homegrown celebrities is an avant-garde artist; for me, whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on the day. In fact, I can't remember a time when I didn't know who Michael Snow was - in my fifth decade now, he's been part of the cultural landscape for as long as I can remember, alongside Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Pierre Berton and Margaret Atwood. The day he came to my studio felt like a very big deal, as he was only the second person from that quintet I'd shoot.

Snow had been the subject of a major career retrospective just a few months previous, with his artwork, films and music showcased at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Power Plant, and collected in a quartet of books. I'm not sure what subsequent occasion put him on NOW magazine's cover, but I got the gig and felt obliged to rise to the occasion.

He was in a playful mood when he stood in front of my camera. Noticing the circular stains on the old wooden tabletop I used to help frame the shots, he cupped them like breasts; holding up a cut out letter 'S' just in front of where the magazine's name would sit above his head. (We didn't end up using those shots.)

Michael Snow, Parkdale, February 1994

I was going through a bit of a classical phase at the time, and drapery ended up being a recurring device in my shoots, in and out of the studio. I hoped that this setup would come across as tongue in cheek - Snow's work ranged over time from suitably gnomic and obscure to iconic and even picturesque and crudely populist, and I wanted to depict him as a heroic old master, honoured and celebrated, and far from the baffling avant gardist he had once been.

For the cover shot I pared it all down to one colour, with a blue backdrop spotlit from below and a wash of low blue light filling the foreground, Snow picked out in a warm spotlight. I had moved on from my obsession with cross-processing and felt confident enough to shoot transparency, though I never felt comfortable with the format; clip testing made it easier to nail exposure, but I was always anxiously aware that there was only one original, easily damaged or lost.

Michael Snow, Parkdale, February 1994

I'd taken over the whole of the Parkdale loft by this point, moving the studio into the empty room where my roommates once lived. It was a luxury having a space devoted to shooting and I indulged it as much as I could, experimenting with lights and gels and trying to bring as much of my business into the studio as possible.

I was making my whole living from shooting by now, and while there wasn't much money left over for vacations or other luxuries, I had the consolation of feeling like I was in charge of my career for the first time in my life. I would turn 30 that year.


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