Friday, November 28, 2014


Bob Baker and Pinocchio
Bob Baker and friend, Toronto, Mar. 2009

I MET BOB BAKER ONCE, on a press junket promoting a DVD reissue of Pinocchio, the animated classic he'd worked on as a 12-year-old boy, showing Walt Disney's animators what a young boy looked like when he played with a marionette.

Baker was mad about puppets, and went on to work for George Pal, Edgar G. Ulmer and Roger Corman and the original Star Trek. He designed the spidery aliens that emerge from the mothership at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

He opened his own puppet theatre, Bob Baker Marionettes, in downtown L.A. in 1962. It was the oldest running theatre in Los Angeles, but with the lease running out next year, it's future was uncertain.

I wrote a story on Baker for my old blog after I was laid off by the free national daily. I also shot a short video of him, demonstrating the basics of working a marionette:

Bob Baker died on November 28, 2014


Who are they?

THIS MAN IS STANDING IN FRONT OF A PIECE OF HISTORY. Thanks to my increasingly minimal negative filing in the second decade of my photography career, that's about all I can tell you about this photo, apart from it being shot some time in the 1990s for NOW magazine.

The Funland pinball and video arcade is gone now, closed in the summer of 2008, its iconic sign removed from the dubious stretch of Yonge Street where it had stood for as long as I could remember. The man in question - a developer? an activist? head of the BIA? - posed for me up and down Yonge within a half block of the sign, and while I tried out a few locations over the course of the roll, this shot, which only catches a fraction of the sign, would have been enough to signify the place for anyone who grew up here.

Funland, like a lot of Yonge Street between Dundas and Bloor streets, was a tacky, low-rent place, only slightly more palatable than the peep shows and porn shops and a lot less beloved than Sam's, the venerable record store across the street from the arcade, which closed down one year before Funland. It had survived disapproving laws and the general distaste for Yonge Street's abiding appeal from the forces of public rectitude, but it wouldn't survive the hunger for redevelopment that long ago replaced Protestant moral righteousness as my hometown's spiritual fuel.

It's a serviceable bit of editorial work, as much a piece of illustration as portraiture, but I'll bet you that if you put five photographers on this stretch of Yonge with the same subject at the same time, four of them would have produced a shot like this.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014


The Mekons, Toronto, 1987

THE MEKONS WERE COMING TO TOWN AND I WAS EXCITED. If there was any band I wanted to photograph in 1987 it was this second wave punk band from Leeds, who had recently reincarnated themselves as one of the earliest purveyors of what would soon be called alt-country. Luckily I worked for Nerve - the only publication in the city that would consider a band like the Mekons to be a big deal - and my editor Dave told me to go ahead.

I wasn't the only Mekons fan at the paper. Phil Dellio - a truly talented writer whose taste I implicitly trusted - wanted to interview them, so we agreed to work together on the piece, with me doing photos and chipping in with questions.

I was only vaguely aware of their earlier music - a handful of singles and an album, and a reputation for being one of the most musically inept bands in a scene that never took much pride in musicianship. (They might have been inept, but they caught the attention of Lester Bangs, who called them "the most revolutionary group in the history of rock 'n' roll. They are also the finest artists ever to have graced this admittedly somewhat degenerate form with the grace of their aesthetic sensibilities, rarefied as a glimpse through a butterfly's wing.") Many years later I would finally hear tracks like "Where were you?" and the band ended up making a whole lot more sense.

The Mekons live, Lee's Palace, Toronto, 1987

But back then, on the albums being released by Sin Records in the UK - bought here on import at considerable cost - they were a discovery to me, a band comprised of adults, singing about what seemed to me very adult subjects, to a very rough approximation of country & western, a music that I always thought dealt with adult regret and the consequences of poor decisions. I was only 23, but I had an inkling that I might have already made a few decisions that would come back to bite me. The appeal of a band like this was irresistible.

(I forget who wrote that the title of Fear & Whiskey summed up all of country music in two words. Not strictly true, but a great line nonetheless.)

And so I showed up at Lee's Palace and found a spot at the foot of the fire escape in the back alley of the club, with my Mamiya C330 and a flash and umbrella on a stand - the most complicated technical setup I could handle at the time. I felt ambitious, and was desperate to get the best portrait of an avowedly leftist country punk band from the North I could manage.

I didn't get it, but I did learn a couple of things.

The Heroic: (l) Gang of Four, Leeds, late '70s (r) Chinese propaganda poster

My inspiration for the shot was simple enough: A vintage portrait of the Gang of Four - friends and peers of the Mekons from their early days in Leeds - and the communist propaganda posters that I was always certain served as the model for that photo. I explained this to the band; they knew the Gang of Four photo I was talking about, and understood what I was trying to accomplish. Some of them didn't seem jazzed about it; I think you can see that on Jon Langford's face.

Just a little earlier, when Phil and I were in a fast food restaurant just down the street from the club trying to interview the band, I said that I was pretty sure they probably didn't make their living from the Mekons, and asked what their day jobs were. I was fascinated by this sort of real-life detail, but they balked, protesting that it wasn't important.

"But aren't you socialists?" I asked them, trying to lighten the mood with a joke. "What about the dignity of labour?"

They grumbled and shrugged. One of them told us they did social work. Langford said he was a graphic artist. I'm pretty sure it was all downhill between me and the Mekons from that moment forward.

The Mekons still perform and record, and last year a documentary about the band was released. I have no doubt that they continue to describe themselves as socialists. I still think Fear & Whiskey is a great record.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Terra Cotta

Cheltenham Badlands, Caledon, Oct. 1988

IF YOU WANT TO SHOOT LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHS it helps to have access to a landscape. Sometime in the late '80s my sister and her husband moved north of the city to Caledon, a rural area full of farms and forest that was already developing a posh reputation. They scored a deal, though, with a run-down bungalow next to the Bruce Trail, at the elbow where two roads met, tucked into a little pocket of woods.

I'd bring a camera along on my visits and try to take shots of the trees and fields and wildlife we'd pass in their car. I was - and remain - a city kid, so nature in any form is a strange place, whatever form it takes. But I knew that landscape photography was a major genre and I wanted to see what I could produce now that I had landscapes in front of me.

Cheltenham Badlands, Caledon, Oct. 1988

Thankfully Caledon and its environs, pawed over by man for a few generations, had a few attractions that weren't merely pastoral. The Cheltenham Badlands aren't a natural feature - these rolling hillocks of red clay happened when someone cleared away the trees and brush, exposing the earth beneath to erode in the wind and rain. They became a tourist attraction and the backdrop for countless photographers, and I can't think of another place for a thousand miles that looks so lunar. (Or more specifically, Martian.)

The province would end up buying the land over a decade later, but in the '80s it was still the sort of place where you'd ditch your old Chevy (I'm thinking mid-'70s Nova, or Caprice) and set it on fire. The car is gone now, and there's talk of restricting access to the site to prevent all those feet from speeding up what some farmer started in the '30s.

Cheltenham Brickworks, Caledon, October 1988

It goes without saying that you'll find a brickworks wherever you'll find clay, and not far away from the badlands are the Cheltenham Brickworks, abandoned since the late '50s. Inside, with the machinery stripped down to just the massive iron gears and spindles, it seemed a lot older. I guess if you wanted to nitpick you'd call this "urban exploration" or "ruin porn" rather than landscape photography, which is fair - I'd take baby steps toward training my cameras on plants and birds and rocks and tree, and this was an appealing stop on the way.

I have never printed these photos until now. I'm rather surprised at how well they turned out, over twenty-five years later, and particularly enjoy the glimpse of the adjacent building through the window in the shot below - an echo of the castle on the hill glimpsed through arched windows in late medieval paintings. The Brickworks are completely closed up and inaccessible now, apparently, much to the frustration of younger photographers I know; sometimes it just pays to be old and in the right place first, I guess.

Cheltenham Brickworks, Caledon, October 1988


Thursday, November 20, 2014



CITIES ALWAYS CHANGE. If you don't enjoy this essential fact about urban life, you probably shouldn't live in one. They might get better or they might get worse - and your definition of "better" or "worse" might not be the same as mine, of course - but life in a city is never static. And more often than not each wave of change is heralded by heavy construction equipment.

I came home the other day to find a crew at work up the street, taking down a 200-year-old oak tree that was here before there was a street or even a city. It's a sad but majestic spectacle when one of these things goes down, so I took out my phone and tried to capture the moment. And yes, I know that sentence wouldn't make a bit of sense to me not so long ago.

Once it was down I tried to imagine what a skilled furniture maker could do with all of that beautiful wood. I'd heard that a lot of my neighbours were really unhappy about the tree going down, but it was in the middle of the lot, and I couldn't see how the new owner could do much without building into the tiny footprint of the existing house - one of the remaining shacks that were the first homes built in neighbourhoods like Earlscourt.

As for the house, I suppose you could have called it quaint. I took a photo of it two summers ago, when the last owner was probably still there, judging by the mowed lawn and the flowers in the window boxes on the porch. Tar paper over a wooden frame; it might have been good enough before Vimy Ridge or talkies or television, but in a city where home prices go up twenty or thirty per cent a year, it was a goner.

114 McRoberts Avenue, July, 2012

With the tree gone, on the morning of its last day, it looked cornered.

I'd gotten to know the new owner, who let me take a look inside while the excavator idled outside on the lawn, its huge steel bucket nosed into the earth next to the front door. You couldn't help but notice the details - the thesaurus/dictionary on the nearly empty shelf; the nearly full package of adult diapers on the couch.

It didn't smell very nice - the usual mix of cat piss, dirty clothes and sweat: Old man smells. The rooms were small and the floors were dirty, but it was hard not to feel sorry for the place when you read the numbers written on the tile by phone, next to last year's calendar. It was nasty, but it was someone's home, and they'd left so much of their last moments there that it made you imagine a hasty exit, distracted and involuntary.

The front lawn might have been torn up - a lost battle still half fought - but in the overgrown backyard you could still imagine the refuge this mean little house gave its owner. I don't know what happened to the old man who lived here, but when I took this picture the house had minutes to live.

Watching an excavator at work demolishing a house is truly remarkable, no matter what you might feel about the work at hand. The man at the controls began by taking tiny bites out of the roof, like a kid eating the white from the middle of a crusty roll. With the teeth of the bucket, he'd delicately pull off bits of siding and nudge roof beams away from the neighbour's wall, then with the enormous weight of the steel jaws, he began pulverizing the contents of the house, punching them into the basement.

There are strict by-laws about separating building debris, so the huge bucket would reach in and scoop out the fridge, the chest freezer, the sink and the flimsy frame of the plant shelf and the grow lights. As more of the house was pushed into the earth, the treads of the excavator would roll forward, till finally the last wall was knocked down, picked up again and tossed casually to the ground.

While I stood on the sidewalk watching the house go down a neighbour joined me, an older Italian gentleman who used to run the corner store down the block - now closed - for twenty years. He said there had been a family here once, a mother and a daughter and then finally a son living there alone. He had been a postman, but that was a long time ago.

Before the lunch hour was over the house was gone, pushed into the ground so that the excavator could get at the garage behind it. There was nothing left the next day but a few piles of cinder blocks, and the ghost of the house - a smudged outline on the wall of the house next door, open to the sun and air for a few brief weeks until a new house rises to cover up its last trace.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maple Guardian

At Fort Irwin, California, Feb. 2010

IN FEBRUARY OF 2010 I FLEW TO A U.S. MILITARY BASE IN THE MOJAVE DESERT. A friend in the Canadian armed forces was organizing a press junket to Fort Irwin to cover the training of one of the last deployments of Canadian troops to Afghanistan and had an empty seat on the plane. On short notice and unaccredited, it was still an invitation I couldn't resist.

Seven years earlier I had obtained an application to the Canadian War Artists program; I had been fascinated by official war artists and their work for years, and wanted to see if I could contribute to the incredible work that had been done by people like Paul Nash, Charles Comfort and Alex Colville. But my wife was pregnant with our first child at the time and pointed out that it would have been the worst possible time for me to follow this distinctly inconvenient and even remotely dangerous dream.

This, I knew, was the closest I would ever get to my war artist fantasy, so I went to an army surplus store and bought a canteen and a scarf to keep out the dust, checked my gear and boarded a private government jet at a remote corner of Pearson Airport and flew south.

Victorville, CA, Feb. 2010

We landed at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California. Formerly George Air Force Base, it was a shadowy facility next to blocks and blocks of abandoned military housing - a ghost suburb. At the edge of the runways we could see dozens of mothballed airplanes parked in the sun - an aircraft boneyard for commercial airlines. I was desperate to hike over and take some pictures but was told to stay put and wait for our ride.

We were a mixed crew - a reporter from a Toronto tabloid, another from a senior's publication, and a group of young women with a huge baggage train of flight cases - TV reporters from local affiliate stations all over Ontario who were their own cameraman for the assignment. One of them had cut her honeymoon short to make this junket. Their aggregate ambition dwarfed my own at even the most eager point in my career.

We were only on the road for a few minutes when we passed a sign saying that we were passing Barstow. I looked around and recited "We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold..." I hoped that someone would get the joke.

Fort Irwin, California, Feb. 2010

It was my first time in a desert and my first time on a military base, so I spent my first afternoon wandering around with my camera, trying to capture all the variations of sand and sky, with the odd bit of military detritus interpolated between the two.

For a photographer, the first few moments in a new place are almost like getting new gear, as you thrill to the novelty of different light and locations, and at a different latitude, get used to how shadows are cast by a sun that sits in a different place in the sky than your home. It's easy to see why some photographers become addicted to travel, and the constant challenges that refresh the basic circumstances of how you shoot.

Ft. Irwin California, Feb. 2010

Military architecture is like nothing you'll find anywhere else; modernist dictums about form begetting function are taken to an extreme that would be considered unbearably stark in a civilian context. Even the roads have a brutal minimalism, with only a handful of vehicle types, painted in shades of one or two colours, varied only by how much the sun and use have faded them.

The "training villages" set up by the Americans were particularly graphic - collections of boxes and rectangles in concrete punched through with regular windows. Structures set aside to represent some sort of use - a market, a police station, a mosque - would be ornamented with a simple dome, a sign, or a handful of wooden stalls filled with scant piles of plastic fruit and vegetables. It was a cityscape drawn by a very neat child's hand, filled in with the odd bit of three-dimensional clip art.

Drills, Ft Irwin, Feb. 2010

For the first day or two you're put on edge by the fact that the only activity busying the hundreds of people around you are drills for war, fully accessorized with guns and trucks and armoured vehicles and the thrum of helicopters overhead. Dressed in civilian clothes, and by comparison only fitfully busy with the business of recording what you see, you begin to feel left out.

It doesn't take long to get used to being surrounded by men with guns, though, and you'd soon find it normal to pick your way through the mess hall stepping over C7 rifles placed on the ground just behind soldiers at their tables. Settling down for the night in a standard issue sleeping bag on an army cot wasn't the most comfortable sleep I've ever had and showering was a communal ritual done in cold dawn light. But the food wasn't bad, and despite dishes that were dubbed "roadkill" and "shit on a shingle," I think I actually gained weight at Fort Irwin.

Everyone at both the main camp and Forward Operating Base King - our simulated FOB closer to "enemy lines" - maintained a laconic demeanor at all times, but the single moment when a buzz ran through the camp was when a rumour began circulating that JTF2 troops, Canada's equivalent of U.S. Special Forces, were around. On a military base, even one engaged in simulated combat, there are garage bands and there are rock stars.

Training exercise, Ft. Irwin, Feb. 2010

On our second day at FOB King we were kitted out with body armour, helmets and ballistic glasses, loaded into the back of a truck and driven out to one of the villages. We were placed on the corner of a second storey roof and allowed to watch a squadron of Canadians advance into the village behind a LAV III, right into an ambush led by "insurgents" hidden just a few feet away from us.

From our rather conspicuous perch we watched as the Canadians took "casualties," pulled back, counterattacked, then began a sweep of the village. At one moment it looked like real people playing out a video game; at others it looked like chaos.

Afghan civilian interpreter, Ft. Irwin, Feb. 2010

After the firefight we were ushered into a courtyard where soldiers were holding a council with local elders and officials. They had to learn to use their scraps of Pashtu and the interpreters provided for them, and after it was done we were introduced to the "villagers" - mostly Afghans and Persians hired to play friends and possible foes while U.S. military took the roles that required weapons; police, Afghan military and insurgents. (Though with hindsight the difference has proved to be rather notional in real life.)

One of the men - an Afghan who had recently owned an electronics store in Los Angeles - showed me the shipping containers converted into little apartments where he and the other interpreters lived. He talked about wanting to help the Americans bring law and order back to his country, but talking to him I couldn't help but think about my own ancestors, who left behind another place full of poverty and lawlessness and never looked back.

"We had to pull some strings and some favours in the way of wavers and signing authority from people way above my rank and pay level, but it took some teeth-pulling to get me on this tour. I definitely could have refused this tour. Hopefully my girlfriend don't hear this but I did volunteer to go over just to try to contribute and pass on what I've learned on previous tours to the new rotation."   - Master Cpl Mike McCullough, 23 Service Batallion 
"What am I expecting? I'm always asking myself this. Besides the extreme heat, bugs, not that bad but, uh ... If I had to say anything a lot of emotions. If you're going outside the wire first few times is going to be scary, sure. The adrenaline's going to be pumping one second because you see something. Maybe by the end of the tour there'll be boredom because you're used to it. I can expect a lot of care packages from home - a lot of candy and such. To be honest, sir, I'm not too sure what to expect." - Cpl. Stephen Craddock, Queen's Own Rifles of Canada

The soldiers I met ranged from veterans with decades of experience deploying on their third or fourth tour to young men and women about to go over for the first time. They all talked about doing their job, sticking to their training and their duty to their unit. The rigorous code of a volunteer military, which does a decent - but not perfect - job of hiding the undeniable attraction of doing something out of the ordinary, of escaping the mundane boundaries of job and home, of having an adventure, though no one would ever dare to use that word.

Rubble field outside "village," Ft. Irwin, Feb. 2010

Driving away from one of the training villages, we passed a huge field of rubble that covered acres of desert. We were told that this was what happened to old village buildings when they outlive their usefulness.

Our flight back was delayed so we ended up spending more time at Fort Irwin than we expected. I went to the camp PX - in reality a shopping mall - and got an honest-to-heck military haircut. The lady reporters all went to Vegas for a night so I went to see Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes at the movie theatre with the other media guys, then played a few games at the bowling alley. On Sunday morning I went to church.

I came home from Fort Irwin with a vicious cold, an hour of interviews and pages of notes, a couple of souvenir t-shirts for my kids and hundreds of photos. I began calling and e-mailing everyone I thought might be interested in the story; some of them got back to me, but most of them didn't.

The closest I got was the editor at the national daily who said that he'd already turned down permission for one of his salaried reporters to go on the junket, and that it would create friction in the newsroom if he bought my piece. After nearly twenty-five years in the business, it was frustrating and depressing how hard it was to get work published. This is the first time anyone has seen these photos.


Friday, November 14, 2014


I HAVE A TUMBLR BLOG NOW. You won't find anything there that isn't here, and my essays will be reduced to a quote or two, but they tell me that I should do Tumblr, so I have.

That Rick McGinnis and his photos.


THIS MONTH'S LUCKY DIP into the box of film trimmings is a streetscape, but it's certainly not anywhere in Canada or the United States. If you're from the UK, however, you'll recognize it as a classic middle class Victorian terraced street.

It's Elgin Crescent in Notting Hill, where I stayed over the Christmas of 1997 with an old friend and his pregnant girlfriend (now wife.) It was my first time in the UK - my first time overseas, in fact - and I spent the first few days on the ground suffering from something I'd never encountered before: Jet lag.

I remember staying up late at night staring out over the rooftops, sleepless and fascinated by urban features like the gasometers I could glimpse in the distance, confounded at how they would be different heights whenever I looked at them. London was terribly expensive - more than I anticipated, and even though my friend paid for my meals, the £200 I managed to scrape together for the trip evaporated from my wallet just buying a pint or a newspaper or a magazine.

It's also a frame from the last film I would ever shoot with my Pentax SV, taken along in the interest of being as portable as possible. It was fun to use a camera with a single prime lens and no meter - a challenge to my skills at a point in my life when I would have described myself as a photographer and nothing else.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Linton Kwesi Johnson, Toronto, March 1990

SOMETIMES DIGGING THROUGH MY ARCHIVES IS LIKE DISCOVERING A WHOLE OTHER LIFE I FORGOT ABOUT. I wish I could tell you more about my shoot with Linton Kwesi Johnson back around the time of the Exxon Valdez and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, but these photos were a complete surprise to me.

What's really surprising is that - as with David Bowie and Iggy Pop - I was a fan. I'd been listening to LKJ since 1985, when Dave at Nerve handed me an advance cassette of his first live album and said "give it a listen - tell me what you think." I liked it - a lot, and especially loved his backing group, Dennis Bovell and the Dub Band. So I obviously would have been excited when I was assigned to cover his concert five years later.

Linton Kwesi Johnson, Toronto, March 1990

Going through the big ledger, I discover that while I never printed any of these shots for anyone, I had been assigned to photograph Jean "Binta" Breeze for NOW magazine in early March. Breeze, another dub poet, was a label mate of LKJ's who also performed with Bovell, and the live shot above is on the tail end of a roll of shots of Breeze and Bovell. I'm guess that the double bill was at the BamBoo, and that I talked the promoter into letting me have enough time with Johnson before the show to get a roll of portraits.

The portraits, like the concert photos, were shot on T-Max P3200, so I must have found a bit of decent available light somewhere backstage at the BamBoo - a difficult job - and shot a roll of tight head shots with my lens wide open. I wish I could remember what Johnson was like as a subject, but he was clearly a good one since I have a contact sheet full of nice frames; choosing just two to scan wasn't easy.

Linton Kwesi Johnson, Toronto, March 1990

While scanning the shot above I had a vague memory of making a portfolio print but taking it out when I lost my nerve, sure that nobody would know who it was. (In my experience, nothing deflated a go-see faster than having to explain who you'd shot and why.) Which means that this is probably the first time anyone has ever seen these photos.

Johnson has had a pretty decent career for a lifelong protester and scold of the establishment - many awards and honours, and the distinction of being only the second living poet to be published in Penguin's Modern Classics series. He's also managed to survive prostate cancer.

Two years ago he told an interviewer from the Independent that he hadn't written a poem in years: "If I never write another poem, so be it. I don't know whether I've written my best work. Some writers keep going on writing and writing, but you reach a peak at a particular age, and then go on to write inferior work."


Monday, November 10, 2014


Mike Harris & Dianne Cunningham, Toronto, March 1990

THE MAN AND THE WOMAN IN THIS PICTURE HATE EACH OTHER. They might not have hated each other at some point previous to my taking their picture, and might not have done so at some point afterward, but on the evening when I set up my light at the Albany Club in the early days of spring in 1990, Mike Harris and Dianne Cunningham could barely stand to be in the same room.

Harris and Cunningham were fighting each other for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario at the time. I had been assigned to take their portrait by NOW, whose rather stridently leftist politics might have made both of them wary, to be sure. But when I showed up at the Albany - a private club that is considered home base for establishment conservatives in the province - the tension between the two of them was almost electric.

They were supposed to be giving crucial speeches to the assembled party elite. Harris was seething when we were introduced, visibly trying to control his temper and on the verge of failing. Cunningham, for her part, was doing her best to needle him - blithely ignoring entreaties from his people as she took obvious joy in delaying the evening's schedule, as part of what even I could see was a passive-aggressive tactic to throw him off his stride.

It was the kind of behaviour I'd recognize again a few years later, when I had the bad luck to be trapped in a room with a middle-aged couple - the parents of a friend - who were in the final stages of an acrimonious divorce. He would try - and fail - to remain indifferent while she would do everything she could to provoke him, up to and including insults. I was in my mid-twenties when I took these photos, and was frankly appalled that adults - never mind politicians struggling for the levers of power - could behave so poorly.

Mike Harris & Dianne Cunningham, Toronto, March 1990

Normally I would have used a relatively wide lens to take a tight shot of their faces together - my standard working method; I admired the Arnold Newman-type "environmental portrait" but rarely felt confident enough in my ability to attempt one - but while I was setting up I discovered that my long flash sync cable had shorted out, and I was forced to use the short, coiled one I used when my Metz flash was attached directly to my Nikon. So I shot these photos tethered closely to my light stand and umbrella in the middle of the room, shooting Harris and Cunningham in quarantine, so to speak - at a careful distance, switching to a longer lens to get the horizontal shot.

Harris ended up winning the election, becoming Premier in 1995 for less than two full terms, a contentious tenure that I saw up close as NOW led the very vicious opposition to his "Common Sense Revolution." He might have hated Cunningham on the night when I photographed them together, but he still appointed her to three different posts in his cabinet over his time in office.

And that is all you need to know about politics.

(UPDATE: I just noticed - they're on a love seat. Heh.)


Thursday, November 6, 2014


Harold "Herk" Harvey, Toronto, Jan. 1990

HERK HARVEY MADE JUST ONE FEATURE FILM.  For almost thirty years Carnival of Souls was one of those cult films that was occasionally glimpsed on late night TV, where a friend of a friend would see it and try to describe it to you. It probably got a whole lot stranger with each re-telling, but by the turn of the '90s a group of fans organized a reunion of the original cast and crew, got a new print struck and sent it out on the festival and rep cinema circuit.

Toronto was apparently key to the revival of Carnival of Souls, which is why Harvey, by now retired from a career as an industrial filmmaker and doing theatre in his Lawrence, Kansas hometown, made it up here for a personal appearance. I photographed him, but almost twenty-five years later I can't tell you where or why, who assigned me, and what I was supposed to do with these photos.

Harold "Herk" Harvey, Toronto, Jan. 1990

Greil Marcus once described the intense, compelling stew of blues, country and gospel music that inspired Bob Dylan and the Band to make the Basement Tapes as the "old, weird America." For those of us who came of age in the '70s and '80s, films like Carnival of Souls were that old, weird America's successor, recorded for posterity in B-movies, blurry TV kinescopes and pulp magazines.

They were our evidence that the whole complacent postwar economic boom culture with its crinolines, grey flannel suits and sunny suburbs was just a veneer over a strange, uneasy and even sinister world that had abided long before cars had tailfins and would - we dearly hoped - linger in the shadows long afterward. There was nothing terribly original in this theory, of course, and if we'd bothered to take a longer look at the Doris Day films, Technicolor melodramas, westerns and early TV sitcoms we'd have glimpsed that same simmering anxiety in its adult form, hiding in plain sight.

For the generation that embraced punk and new wave, though, we thought we were making a discovery, and certainly one that encouraged our only slightly ironic fascination with the retro culture that our older siblings had made such a big, hairy show of rebelling against. We'd been sitting in mildewy theatres watching Eraserhead over and over, so when Carnival of Souls was finally excavated and dragged into the sunlight, we had our evidence that we were in tune with a cultural current that was as profound as it was unsettling.

Harvey's film was cited as in influence on both George Romero and David Lynch. I'd go further and say that Mulholland Drive is really just the Cinemax lesbian softcore remake of Carnival of Souls. Harvey's single feature can be seen all over most of Lynch's work.

Harold "Herk" Harvey, Toronto, Jan. 1990

I've gone back and forth through the big ledger and I have no record of anyone assigning me to shoot Herk Harvey. 1990 was probably the busiest single year of my career, so it's plausible that I could lose track of a few shoots. I only shot a single roll of 35mm colour slide film of Harvey, which is conspicuous since it would have cost me more than black and white to shoot and develop, and would have affected my very low overhead if I were shooting Harvey on spec.

There isn't a single frame missing from the roll, so nothing was ever clipped out, mounted and sent to a client for publication. This is probably the first time anyone has seen these shots.

It's Ektachrome P800/1600, shot on my ill-starred Nikon F3 with window light that somehow gave the film a very warm cast. If Harvey was wry or bitter about his long-ago flop of a film turning into a cult favorite so late in his life, he didn't act like he was. A vague memory - and the evidence on the film - recalls Harvey as amiable and very happy to endure yet another photo shoot.

In his very professorial corduroy and turtleneck, he came across as that uncle - your mother's favorite brother - whose job no one could recall or describe, and who only showed up every year or two, full of jokes and stories; the one who, one memorable birthday, gave you a present that was both extravagant and perfect.

Herk Harvey died in 1996.