Friday, January 22, 2016

Bjork, revisited

Bjork, Toronto, Jan. 1997

THERE ARE DAYS WHEN WORKING ON THIS BLOG CAN BE PAINFUL. As I've confided to friends, re-visiting my old work is too often a reminder of missed opportunities, and a career that began with energy and optimism then seemed to falter and stall. There are occasional minor triumphs, though, and revisiting my 1997 shoot with Bjork just over a year ago was one of them.

The shots I scanned for that post ended up being one of the first real "hits" here, and did a lot to encourage me to keep going when, to be honest, the urge to put everything back into binders behind the analogue wall and let painful memories fade could be quite compelling. As last year began, I tried setting myself a goal: See if some of this work is interesting enough to get on the wall of a gallery. To that end, I promised myself that I'd enter some photos in a group show of music photography that the Analogue Gallery holds here every year.

Bjork, Toronto, Jan. 1997

I did, and of the five photos I entered, Bjork ended up making the cut. I went back to the original negatives and, with my new and much better scanner, created a fresh digital file for printing, polishing up the image a bit more with the benefit of an intense year's worth of new Photoshop skills. The result is shown above, and for the next two weeks you can see it - and perhaps even buy it - at the gallery.

While I had the Bjork negatives out, I decided to revisit the shoot and scan a few more frames. As I wrote over a year ago, the Bjork photos (much like my Patti Smith shoot) were a frustrating memory as my skills at the time didn't match my ambition. I knew that I'd gotten some really good images, but it was only now that I could unlock what I saw in my mind's eye when I set up in that hotel room almost twenty years ago.

Bjork, Toronto, Jan. 1997

Even though we barely said a dozen words to each other, Bjork provided me with a performance for my cameras that produced more really worthwhile frames than I'm used to getting from a portrait session. It was a bit of a gift, albeit one that I couldn't really use until now. 

When I was working on the shoot a year ago, one particular image seemed to stand out, and it's the one that ended up on the wall at the Analogue Gallery this week. Going back over the negatives recently, though, I found another frame nearby that looked promising, and so I put it in the mount, made a scan and got to work.

Bjork, Toronto, Jan. 1997

My inspiration, then as now, was Cecil Beaton's early work, where he draped his studio in swags of clear cellophane to create a sort of fairyland setting for portraits of his sisters, friends, socialites and movie stars. I only had the back of a hotel curtain, which I needed to obscure enough to make it look less like fabric and more like something more ethereal.

With a heavy hand on the layers and blur filters and some judicious tweaking of the colour balance and desaturation tools, I found myself getting even closer to my inspiration this time than I had before. And I almost feel guilty saying it, but this might be the image I should have entered into the show instead.

In any case, I have one more reason to be cheered at what I can produce today, at the start of my fourth decade as a photographer, and one more reminder of the creeping disappointment I felt twenty years ago, as my ambition began to dull and bend against my insufficient skills and my poor choices. They were ponderous obstacles, to be sure, but they were just half of what would sap the momentum out of my career; the other half were factors that I couldn't anticipate or even describe until they'd taken their toll, not only on my career but on the whole business of photography.


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