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.)


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