Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Church Shop

Mary, 1989

I PROBABLY WOULDN'T HAVE CALLED MYSELF A ROMAN CATHOLIC WHEN I TOOK THESE PHOTOS. As a friend - an Anglican priest - would tell me years later, "You were never not a Catholic, Rick."

Point taken.

Back when Queen Street West by Trinity Bellwoods Park was a sleepy strip of storefronts, either empty or failing, somebody took advantage of the cheap rent and set up an antique shop specializing in ecclesiastical cast-offs - statues and lecterns, pews and hunks of wood trim and ornament salvaged from churches, probably Catholic ones, and very likely from Quebec.

St. Peter, 1989

I was drawn into the place like a moth to a fluorescent tube; so much for my self-described agnosticism. One day I asked the owner if I could come by with my camera when the shop was quiet. It was quiet most of the time, and they said yes. A few days later I showed up with my Mamiya C330, a tripod and a few rolls of black and white and slide film.

Sacred Heart, 1989

I must have worked for about an hour, setting up on anything that caught my eye. I treated the statues like portrait subjects, but even more of a breakthrough, started focusing on details and the bits of gesture and texture that seemed to tell a better story than any attempt to capture the contents of the crowded shop.

Fallen Angel, 1989

At that point, labouring under a heavy burden of anxiety of influence, I'm sure my inspirations were equal parts Josef Sudek and 4AD album covers. I didn't worry about that at the time - you shouldn't when you're young; the influences will sort themselves out - but moved from spot to spot in those rooms filled with plunder from the Quiet Revolution.

Sacred Heart, 1989

I was still unsure how to work the Mamiya even a couple of years after I'd bought it, and it was easy to accidentally double-expose images. I ruined a few frames this way, but on at least one contact sheet, I discovered one of those lucky accidents that it would take me years to learn to treasure.

Jesus and Joseph, 1989

Most of these images sat unprinted for years, and I don't think I looked at the slides again until I scanned them this week. But I took the portrait of Mary at the top of this post in and out of my portfolio for years, unsure about what clients would think and, even more, what it was saying. I should have been more confident; I still think it's one of the best portraits I ever made.

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