Friday, January 30, 2015

Who are they?

Manspreading, Toronto, 1996?

THERE WAS A LOT OF TALK ABOUT "MANSPREADING" LAST YEAR. Here's a photo of a fellow giving his meat and two veg quite a bit of room to air. A fair bit of Memphis style design detail in the background. Don't know what that's all about.

A portrait, shot for NOW magazine, at some point in the mid-'90s. Haven't a clue who, or where, or precisely when. Any guesses?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

In a Field

Cows, July 1989

"STOP THE CAR! STOP THE CAR!" We were on our way north from the city to my sister's place in Caledon when I spotted the herd of cows loitering near the fence of a farm. A year previous I had passed a similar herd posing perfectly on a long slope of grass just by the road in the bright summer sun; it would have been a perfect photo opportunity but I didn't have a camera with me.

On this trip to my sister's the cows weren't as neatly arrayed and the light nowhere as bright and specular, but I had my camera and swore I wouldn't waste a chance again.

Cows, July 1989

Shooting landscapes - and whatever, from my own hopelessly urban perspective, passed for wildlife - became my only hobby in the first couple of years where I was trying to make my whole living from photography. Trips up through the still-undeveloped farmland bordering the city on the way to my sister's place were my chance to see if I could make decent photos that didn't involve people.

A seasoned dairy farmer probably doesn't see any menace in a herd of Holsteins, but to my city kid sensibility there would always be something threatening about a few dozen animals of a few hundred pounds each, especially when a single wild eye came up and looked at you across a couple of hides-to-be.

In a field, July 1989

Most of my shots off this roll are of the cows, but as I was leaving the field on my way back to the car I snapped a few shots of the fencing in the long summer grass. I made a note in china marker on the frame above but never printed it until today. Thanks to a bit of judicious work in Photoshop, it took on something like the detail off to the edge of an Andrew Wyeth painting - or at least it did to me.

The next time I'd point my camera at something that wasn't people, it would be in a different direction.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Fela Kuti, Toronto, July 1989

I USED TO HAVE A LIST OF PORTRAIT SUBJECTS I WOULD DROP ANYTHING TO SHOOT. The list included names like Frank Sinatra, Richard Nixon, Claudette Colbert and Peter O'Toole. I didn't end up shooting most of them, and today it's obvious that I never will, but I did end up scoring a portrait session with a major name on my list at the end of the '80s, and ended up with a set of photos that I cherish.

I don't know why Fela Kuti came to Toronto in 1987. This was after he'd been jailed by the Nigerian government for currency smuggling, which had increased his profile as both a musician and human rights figure in North America, leading to several tours and an appearance at a major Amnesty International concert the year before.

He had never played Toronto, however, and with no hint that he ever would, I went to a press conference he held here in September knowing that it might be my only chance to get a photo of the man. In person he had an intensity that was impossible to miss with a camera; I didn't have much of an idea of what particularly he was talking about - it would be years before I was able to make much sense of African politics, and even now the subject is so dismal that I pity anyone who has to make it their business.

Fela Kuti press conference, Toronto, September 1987

Two years later came the announcement that Fela would be bringing Egypt 80 to Toronto for a concert. The promoter was a man named Gary Froude, who went through untold trouble arranging the gig, which was originally announced for Lamport Stadium but ended up at the Concert Hall, a former Masonic temple that was a fraction the size of the soccer stadium.

I did everything I could to arrange a shoot with Fela, using whatever credentials I had to get into the show during soundcheck with my then-standard lighting setup - a medium format camera and a single flash bounced into an umbrella. Scouting the basement room where Fela, his band and massive entourage were hanging out before the show, I found a white wall and set up the light just above and behind me.

Fela Kuti, Toronto, July 1989

I shot two rolls of Fela, but there was a gap of at least a half hour between them, as he took a break and motioned for someone to hand him a massive spliff about the size of a pastry bag. He moved over to a sofa and lay back, smoking one gargantuan joint after another, tapping the ashes into an aluminum tray on the floor next to him.

Fela Kuti was one of the most genuinely intimidating men I have ever met. He projected an undeniable sense of authority that affected everyone around him with little more than the odd pointed remark and a piercing stare. It's probably foolish to speculate about this now, but I have a hard time imagining that a regime with him as its president would have been much less authoritarian than the ones he spent his life fighting.

When we resumed shooting, he began pulling at his face with his fingers as I worked; I couldn't figure out whether this was a sign of subtle disrespect or his attempt to give me something unique. What I do know is that these are photos of a man who was heroically stoned, albeit one who would shortly play an epic, hours-long concert.

Fela Kuti, Toronto, July 1989

Between the portraits and the show I went home and switched cameras. I managed to get a prime spot at the front of the stage, helped by the fact that, even after the move to a smaller venue, the Concert Hall wasn't anywhere near capacity. For all of his pain, I'm not sure Gary Froude ended up making money off the show. Which was a shame, because it might possibly have been the greatest live music event I have ever witnessed.

Fela Kuti & Egypt 80, Toronto, July 1989

Fans of Fela's music know that by the '80s, after the breakup of his Africa 70 band, his music had taken a trance-like turn. Songs that lasted twenty minutes now topped a half hour and longer, his signature circular rhythms and vamps becoming more insistent, the chanting and solos knitting themselves more tightly into the songs than before.

Fela Kuti & Egypt 80, Toronto, July 1989

I only had a few records to prepare me for Fela's live show, but they were wholly inadequate to what I saw - an almost superhuman musical event that seemed to exhaust the audience more than the band or - amazingly - its leader. It was July and the Concert Hall was never less than a sauna even in the winter, so no photo can give a sense of the heat and humidity in the room.

I shot several rolls of colour slide and black and white film, and could have scanned many more shots than this - wandering the lip of the stage with my camera, mere feet away from Fela, I could frame and shoot at will and get something worthwhile. Fela would come back to Toronto again - his double bill with Jimmy Cliff a few years later would be much better attended - but my memory of this show was so indelible that I didn't want to risk disappointment if he was having an off night.

Fela Kuti & Egypt 80, Toronto, July 1989

I don't know that any of these photos were printed after this concert. I sent one of the Fela portraits to Rolling Stone Press on spec with a bunch of other prints, but they were all returned unpublished. One of the portraits was in and out of my portfolio for years, but I'm pretty sure that this is the first time these photos have been seen publicly.

Fela Kuti died of AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma in 1997.


Friday, January 23, 2015


Heath Ledger, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

WHEN ASKED, I USED TO CALL MYSELF AN EDITORIAL PHOTOGAPHER who specialized in portraits. Today I don't know what I'd call myself any more. I'm a man with a camera. I take pictures. Sometimes people pay for them.

While working on my David Lynch post I tried to remember another time when I barely shot a handful of frames. When I was young and poor and shooting film cost money, I'd economize by using a single roll for several shoots. As I got older and started making real money I'd never use less than a roll for a shoot, and made a point of putting my cameras away between jobs empty.

When digital arrived, film and processing costs became irrelevant, so you could shoot until you were sure you had what you wanted - or until someone told you to stop. Why would I just shoot a handful of frames?

And then I remembered: Heath Ledger at the film festival, promoting Brokeback Mountain.

I was working for the free national daily, and whenever possible we tried to book a quick portrait session to go with our festival interviews. Most of the time we could be accommodated, even if only for a minute or so, but with every passing year access tightened and publicists said no, offering us handouts or - worst of all - telling us to see about paying for access to the pics being made available from the agency photo suite on the second floor, where festival guests would be taken for portrait sessions.

For some reason, nobody made a decision about giving us access to Heath Ledger right up until the moment I entered the hotel to interview him with Chris, the writer. He was a star and his film had lots of buzz so there were two levels of publicists involved in handling him and one of them - the Canadian one, and apparently the more junior of the two - seemed to have no problem with us getting a few frames after the interview. After all, we were a big player in her market, and it served her interests to give us access.

I had, by this point, been shooting in film festival hotel rooms for twenty years, so it wasn't hard for me to find my bit of light in these familiar spaces. As ever, I searched for the "Anton corner" - that space where the window light flattens out and turns warm and flattering, and upped the ISO in my Canon to get sufficient sharpness. There would be some "grain," to be sure, but digital "graininess" wasn't nearly as hard as film grain; the trade-off was that the shots looked fine in print but couldn't stand being blown up too much.

This was an average work day at the festival. I introduced myself to Ledger, who was polite and happy to simply stand in the corner I'd chosen and take my minimal direction. Aware that I was probably sneaking frames, I tried to work fast. 

These are all of the frames I shot of Heath Ledger, from the moment I raised my camera and focused...

Heath Ledger, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005 when the other - apparently more senior - publicist burst into the hotel room and told us to stop.

Ledger watched while she wagged her finger and made angry noises, then looked at me and shrugged. This was the price of stardom, it was implied, and he'd have to get used to it. I thanked him, we shook hands, and he followed the angry publicist out of the room. Three years later he'd be dead.

Heath Ledger, Toronto, Sept. 12, 2005

The two frames I've highlighted on either side of the shoot aren't bad shots. They're portraits of a young man with suitable charisma and intensity to address the camera with confidence, though to be frank their salient value probably comes from being pictures of a famous person, as per Duane Michals' timeless dictum. One of these shots ran with the interview, but I doubt if anyone's seen them since then.

Heath Ledger died of an accidental drug overdose in January of 2008.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015


David Lynch, Toronto, Sept. 1986

THIS PORTRAIT OF DAVID LYNCH HAS BEEN IN AND OUT OF MY PORTFOLIO since I shot it, almost thirty years ago. I took it at the Toronto film festival where Lynch was premiering Blue Velvet, the film that would ensure he'd be in the business of making David Lynch films for the rest of his career.

It was the first Festival of Festivals I covered as both photographer and writer, and a landmark of sorts for me - the first shooting I'd do outside of the world of indie rock bands and my own friends and family. Working for Nerve magazine, I was probably near to the bottom of the media ladder, but in the early days of the film festival access was easier to get, but even then Lynch had been a hot item ever since Blue Velvet was a critical hit at the Montreal film festival a month before.

Access at the festival was still controlled almost entirely by festival publicists - a room full of mostly young women who were worked into exhaustion for the ten days of the festival. I was lucky, though, that Lynch was being handled by a particularly pretty publicist whose good side I'd contrived to land on when she told me she collected Godzilla memorabilia. I was working in a wind-up toy store at the time, so I came in the next day with one of each from our range of walking, rolling and spark-spitting Godzillas.

I had been a fan of Lynch since high school, when I'd drag only occasionally grateful friends to see rep cinema screenings of Eraserhead. A photo and interview with Lynch would be my festival prize, so I put in my request early and hoped that whatever charm I had - and a handful of cheap toys - would get me a slot.

Lynch's schedule had filled up fast, but the pretty publicist said that if I was willing to do the interview in a limo on the way from the Park Plaza to the Windsor Arms - a distance of about two short city blocks - she'd see what could be arranged. I was happy to get anything, and agreed.

I met Lynch in the press office where introductions were made, and we got in the elevator to the lobby where he got into an animated discussion with what I remember as an elderly British lady dressed in what looked like gardening clothes. After he said goodbye to her and we walked through the lobby, he told me that he couldn't believe who he'd just met. "Don't you know who that was? " he asked. I confessed that I didn't have a clue.

"That was Julie Christie."

I squeezed into the back of the limo with him and his manager and stumbled through an interview comprising all of two or three questions when we pulled up in front of the Windsor Arms. I remember him being friendly, and in a great mood. He had a hit film on his hands, after all, and this wasn't an Elephant Man or a Dune - it was his own movie, and after years as an outsider he had arrived.

We got out of the car and I pulled out my Spotmatic; Lynch rooted himself on the pavement between the car and the front door of the hotel and I knew that I had to work fast.

I shot a total of six frames of David Lynch, in the middle of a roll that also contains the whole of my portrait shoots with director Jean-Jacques Beineix and screenwriter Horton Foote. I was parsimonious with my film back then. The portrait at the top - the one I've featured for years - is the first frame of Lynch I took. The next five photos are the balance of the shoot, printed for the first time since I took them.

I began with some vertical frames, crouching below Lynch as he stood next to the limo...

David Lynch, Toronto, Sept. 1986

...and then I turned the camera around and shot some horizontal frames, from one side of his face, and then the other...

David Lynch, Toronto, Sept. 1986

...and I was done. I thanked Lynch for his time, he walked into the Windsor Arms and I never saw him again. Except for that photo which I printed over and over again, trying to get the best possible version. I'd sell it a few times, and since his celebrity has never really waned, it was always being considered for some iteration of my portfolio.

My instincts were sound - get up close, concentrate on the face - but my technical shortcomings, understandable but undeniable barely a year since I'd bought my first camera, have forced me to struggle with a troublesome negative since then. It's a given that the lens on the Spotmatic wasn't the best, but I made the mistake of shooting Tri-X outside on a cloudy day, with my subject silhouetted against the cloudy sky.

The result was a negative that's both thin and flat, and pulling detail and contrast out of it was an ongoing test of my darkroom skills. The shot at the top of this post is the last, best version I could make in the darkroom, as full of detail and good, rich blacks as I could summon from that lucky first frame. Of course I wish I'd pushed my luck a little and moved Lynch just a few feet away from the car and shot him with a dark wall behind him and the light behind me.

David Lynch, Toronto, Sept. 1986

The shot above is the latest version - produced with a flatbed scanner, Vuescan and Photoshop. It's the first time I've put light through this negative in over a decade, and it helps make a great case - one I'm hesitant to endorse - that something is being lost as we shut down our darkrooms and toss our enlargers away.

But I still have a lot to learn about digital printing, so maybe one day my learning curve and digital technology will meet up and unlock whatever it is I've been trying to dig out of this photo for so long.


Monday, January 19, 2015


The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

THE ONLY THING I KNEW ABOUT THE GO-BETWEENS was that friends in bands liked them a lot. One of those bands - The Lawn; more about them later - opened for the Australian group when they were passing through town, playing the El Mocambo. There was no client and no subsequent record of any print made in the big ledger, so this is probably the first time these photos have ever been seen.

The shot above is the only really printable frame of the single roll of a dozen portraits I shot, probably during soundcheck in a dressing room at the club. Two or three frames were ruined when the film buckled in the developing reel, and in several others drummer Lindy Morrison is having a hard time stifling a giggle.

All I remember is that the band were somewhat intimidating; a group of adults, bemused and a bit put out at having a photo shoot thrown at them unannounced, taking my measure and doubtless seeing a nervous kid struggling with his gear and failing to get five people to look at the camera at the same time. This is no masterpiece, but I like the faraway look on Robert Forster's face and especially Amanda Brown's wry smile. I wish I'd asked Grant McLennan to take off his sunglasses.

Shot with my Mamiya C330 and a flash on a light stand bounced into an umbrella placed close to the group. The Go-Betweens were touring their Tallulah record; bassist Robert Vickers would leave the band by the end of the year.

Grant McLennan, The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

I stuck around and shot the show that night. I have very few memories of it, but I do know that it would take me years to really appreciate the band, whose very literate sensibility - Lindy Morrison remembers them all killing time on tours with books; Robert Forster recalled poet Anne Sexton being a big influence on his songs around this period - was veneered with increasingly slick production.

Amanda Brown, The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

Over 25 years later I appreciate them a lot more; "Cattle and Cane" is one of the finest songs of the '80s, the sort of tune that fulfilled the promise I'd seen at the beginning of that decade, which seemed to get swamped by all that big hair, all those shoulder pads and gated drums.

Robert Forster, The Go-Betweens, Toronto, Sept. 1987

In a six-part history of Australian rock that aired in 2001, Lindy Morrison remembered with some bitterness the band's behaviour during their final years in Australia.

"When you're in a rock band for seven or eight years you become institutionalized," she said. "We all acted so badly, so atrociously. It was just three years where everybody was so mean...It was just a desperate time."

This was when I met the band, and I think that a bit of that tension - perhaps - is visible in my portrait, glimpsed accidentally by an interloper and his camera.

Grant McLennan died of a heart attack in 2006.


Friday, January 16, 2015


Tado, Toronto, 2000

I DIDN'T GROW UP WITH CATS. I became a cat person both by accident and by inclination. We were a "dog family," but I ended up with my first cat as an act of mercy. Though if you think that means I was being merciful to the cat, you're very wrong.

Keebler was a stray, a big tuxedo tomcat that my friend Howie had been feeding. I'd become friendly with him while cat-sitting Howie's two other cats. Howie had to move and didn't want to leave him to the mercy of the next tenant, so he offered to take him to the vet and pay for his shots if I'd pick him up and take him home.

Keebler, Toronto, Nov. 1992

Keebler was the benchmark - the gold standard for cats. Solemn and dignified, he brimmed with empathy, and was my constant companion after a long, miserable breakup and for many years of bachelorhood.

He liked other cats, though, so after a year I decided to get him one of his own.

Nato, Toronto, 1998

Nato was a kitten when I got her from the pound. She never grew much, but made up for her lack of size with almost constant chattering. She was needy and possessive, and gave my wife a hard time when we moved in together. She was also a hopeless camera hog, walking nonchalantly into my studio when I worked, practically begging me to take her picture. She even ended up on a CD cover.

Nato left us early, dying of cancer just seven years old, while I was on a travel junket in Spain. Nobody was as lonely as Keebler, though, so we waited barely a week before returning to the pound to get him another friend.

Tado, Toronto, June 2006

We called her Cortado, which shortened itself to Tado, or Turtle, or Duds. A ball of furious energy as a kitten, she eventually calmed down, and became the presiding presence in our home after Keebler passed away eleven years ago.

Tado left us early this week, after a brief but harrowing illness. We're still living in a shadow of grief.
Good St. Francis, you loved all of God's creatures. To you they were your brothers and sisters. Help us to follow your example of treating every living thing with kindness. St. Francis, Patron Saint of animals, watch over my pet and keep my companion safe and healthy. Amen.


Thursday, January 15, 2015


Rosamund Pike, Toronto, Sept. 6, 2007

THEY ANNOUNCED THE OSCAR NOMINEES TODAY, so I thought this was a good time to dip through my archives for familiar names. I didn't have to look far - every name I had was on this side of the analog wall, shot in the last decade, mostly at the Toronto International Film Festival, for the free national daily.

Rosamund Pike got a best actress nomination for Gone Girl, but I photographed her when she was at the film festival for either Fugitive Pieces or Fracture or both. She's probably one of the half dozen most beautiful women I've ever shot, which helps when you've got five minutes (or less) in a hotel room with whatever available light makes it into the room.

There is, to be fair, a tiny bit of retouching done on this photo, but not a lot. I was lucky, both with my subject and with the light that made it into the room that day. This was taken less than eight years ago, but I'm certain that a star of Pike's stature, newly credentialed with an Oscar nomination, would probably be off limits to mere low-level newspaper photographers now.

Mark Ruffalo, Toronto, Sept. 13, 2007

I photographed Mark Ruffalo a few days later, at the same film festival. He's been nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for Foxcatcher. He was in Toronto for either Zodiac or Reservation Road back in 2007, and while The Avengers was still in the future, he'd been having a pretty decent career so far, including In The Cut's explicit sex scene with Meg Ryan - one of those benchmarks on Hollywood's inexorable journey to producing pure porn.

You could either try to make a feature of the hotel rooms you were shooting in or you could save time by finding a decent patch of light and working on a close-up. Since time was of the essence ("five minutes" to most publicists is closer to two or three) I usually chose the latter, and found it best to just get up close with the subject and let the inherent awkwardness of the situation inspire at least one or two interesting expressions. As you can tell from the sliver of focus on Ruffalo's face, there wasn't much light in this room, and I was lucky that the centre of his face fell within it.

Bennett Miller, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2005

My portrait of best director nominee Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher) is probably the weakest of the bunch, but it's also the oldest. He was at the festival for Capote, his debut feature, so access wasn't an issue. With just two films to his name, he was a mostly unknown quantity but made up for it by being by far the most intense subject I shot at that year's festival.

Perhaps I was hoping that intensity would make up for the backlighting blowing out this picture. In 2005 I was only just starting to get back into shooting regularly again after a couple of slack years, and the rustiness showed here.

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Toronto, Sept. 9, 2006

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu was in Toronto in 2006 promoting Babel; he's been nominated for an Oscar this year for Birdman, and with films like Amores Perros and 21 Grams in his filmography, he's the sort of director who'll never be a stranger to Oscar ceremonies.

I don't remember much about this shoot except that it was rushed, and that my only light was a very flat bit of creamy wall just around the corner from a very busy press office. I could have asked him to take off his bucket hat, but I liked the texture it gave the shot, along with his gray wool sweater, and spent most of this very brief shoot playing with the way he had to peer from under its brim. When your range of variables in a shoot, from time to lighting, is so restricted, you learn to focus on the little things.

Wes Anderson, Toronto, Oct. 18, 2007

My shoot with Wes Anderson happened in a particularly dim hotel room, so I was forced to photograph him by the only window. He was in Toronto a month after the film festival, promoting The Darjeeling Unlimited, and it was obvious from his work so far - right up to this year's Oscar-nominated The Grand Budapest Hotel - that he had a very retro sensibility for such a young director.

I'd seen and liked everything he'd made up till that point, so I knew that shooting him in the style of a feature in a '60s British magazine wouldn't be inappropriate, so I pretended the light was coming in from a street in Mayfair and I was working for the Sunday Telegraph. It's the sort of game you learn to play to make these very hurried shoots interesting.

Even though these shots are only a few years old, I know that in the five or six years since I stopped shooting movie people, access has become more restricted and the off-the-cuff hotel room photo shoots that I've done for most of my career are rarer, and far more controlled.

It also says something about either me or the movies in general that I haven't seen most of the films nominated for Oscars this year.




Sacsayhuaman, Peru, 2003

THE BOTTOM OF AN INCA WALL, snapped while I loaded film into my new Canon EOS Elan 7 on the third day of a press junket to Peru. These stones were put in place when Europe was building cathedrals, but the Inca empire was neolithic, so it feels so much older.

This was taken at Sacsayhuaman (or Saksaywaman, depending on what you're reading.) I'd already been to Lima, Cuzco and Macchu Picchu by the time I was taken to see these massive walls. They're wildly impressive - most Inca ruins are - but are only a remnant of what was once here - all but the heaviest stones were carted off to nearby Cuzco to help build the new Spanish colonial centre.

I'll eventually get around to scanning the photos I took on this trip, but they come at the end of my twenty years of pre-digital photography, at the foot of the analog wall which, in my mind at least, is still almost as solid as these Inca stones.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

I MIGHT HAVE FORGOTTEN A LOT OF MY SHOOTS, but I have never forgotten the morning I spent with Spalding Gray in his Soho apartment. I was on assignment for NOW magazine and Gray was coming to town touring his Monster In A Box monologue. Shooting in New York gave me an excuse to stay with my long-distance girlfriend, and I remember walking from her apartment in the West Village to Gray's place, excited about my subject.

I recall walking up a set of stairs that looked on the vast tar paper roof that Gray describes as the view from his loft, while bemoaning the lack of scenic views in his life during Monster. I might be misremembering, but in my mind's eye his loft was within sight of the door of the Performing Garage, home of the Wooster Group and the venue where he would workshop his monologues.

I was met at the door by Renee, the girlfriend Spalding would mention constantly in his monologues. She was on her way out, but told me that he'd just woken up and that I should try to get him to eat something. I had left the emotionally fragile New York of my almost monthly visits and entered Spalding Gray's world.

Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

Gray emerged, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, and asked me what I had in mind. I was grateful to see white walls everywhere in the loft, and chose one by the sort of solid wooden table that was his constant stage and prop in his shows. I asked him if we could get some other props - the glass of water, for instance, that he constantly sipped from. He came back with the glass and the massive manuscript of the novel he was supposed to be writing - the "Monster."

Gray was happy to play for the camera, giving me frames that jumped back and forth between mere posing and mugging. I had to shoot a cover for NOW, and decided to switch between warm- and cold-toned colour stocks. Spalding was a generous subject, and I clicked away, knowing that I was getting a lot of shots to choose from. The morning was going well.

Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

When I was done Spalding asked if I was hungry, and took out some bread and cheese, which we ate at the table where I'd been shooting. We talked about our mothers. His had committed suicide when he was young and had become - this is obvious now and probably was even then - his muse. Mine had died a couple of years previous, and I was still nursing a mix of grief and guilt.

Thanks to Swimming to Cambodia, Gray had become an unlikely hero for a lot of my generation. Unlikely because he was so many of the things we weren't and strove not to be - a Boomer, outspokenly neurotic, uncritically fascinated with the New Age and its spiritual and pseudo-medical panaceas. But he lived his life tossed on eddies of doubt and fear, and that was an setting we could recognize.

Spalding Gray, New York City, Feb. 1990

I shot a roll of Gray with my Rolleiflex, but only recently decided to make a scan of the shot above. I don't think I could have produced this result in the darkroom a quarter century ago; my skills were still fairly rudimentary, but it has to be said that Photoshop helped me pull a lot more from this frame than I saw through the viewfinder on that morning in Soho. If I do say so myself, I kind of Steichened the fuck out of it.

I met Gray one more time, just after he'd finished Monster In A Box on its opening night in Toronto. I'd told everyone how well we'd gotten along when I'd photographed him, and my girlfriend told me to go over and say hello when we spied him emerging though the backstage door into the lobby. I went over and re-introduced myself, then told him how much I'd loved his performance.

"Was that a performance?" He asked me, his voice suddenly panicked. "Did you think it was a performance? I didn't want it to seem like some kind of performance..."

I frantically backtracked, trying to find a better word to calm his anxiety, but he was abruptly surrounded by a group of people who whisked him away. I never saw Spalding Gray again except onscreen.

Spalding Gray killed himself on Jan. 11, 2004.


Friday, January 9, 2015


Jane Bunnett and Don Pullen, New York, Aug. 1989

NINETEEN-EIGHTY-NINE WAS A BIG YEAR FOR JANE BUNNETT. I know because I was there for most of it, camera in hand. She played her first major date in New York City and produced the record that ended up breaking her out of the (very small) Canadian jazz music market.

It was also a year where the pace of work forced me to sharpen my skills and upgrade my very rudimentary equipment. Thankfully, that was the year I ended up inheriting a bit of money from my mother's estate and the sale of our family home, so I upgraded my Spotmatics to a Nikon F3 and my Mamiya C330 with a Rolleiflex. With all this fabulous new gear, I just needed to up my technical game, and shooting Jane's very busy year would provide me with plenty of challenges.

Jane Bunnett, Toronto, Jan. 1989

The year began with a quick shoot around the corner from my Parkdale loft, in the house Jane shared with her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer. A new 8x10 was needed for the year's gigs and especially an upcoming booking with Don Pullen at a jazz club downtown.

I still hadn't moved up to a roll of seamless paper for my backdrops, so I shot Jane using what had been for at least a year or two my standard portable background - a white painter's drop cloth I carried around with a roll of gaffer tape in a gym bag. Using my Metz flash bounced into an umbrella, it was a pretty basic portrait setup; the sort of thing a first-year photography student would produce in the school studios using a classmate as a subject. I was sure I could do better.

Locked out of East 85th, April 1989

The booking - at East 85th, one of a handful of jazz clubs in Toronto at the time (there are fewer now) - turned into a debacle. With Don Pullen co-headlining on piano, it was supposed to be Jane's follow-up to the gig that produced In Dew Time a year before, but it ended with a note and a padlock on the door and drummer Barry Romberg's kit locked inside the darkened club.

It had been a tense gig up till that point - as I mentioned in a previous post - and after a call from Jane and Larry I took the streetcar down there to shoot the band waiting outside in the rain. That's my camera bag on the sidewalk, and one of the headshots from the January session pinned to the marquee board behind the band.

If everyone in this shot looks miserable, they had good reasons. Beside's Barry's drums, there was the matter of unpaid wages for the band and the balance of Don's airfare and accommodation. The prospect of being out of pocket for an as-yet-unknown amount of money was a potential blow to Jane and Larry's plans for the rest of the year.

Jane Bunnett, Toronto, July 1989

Still disappointed with my work on January's shoot, I was grateful when, early that summer, Jane asked to do another session for a promo shot. By this point I'd invested in a roll of gray seamless and set it up in my loft, with the big north-facing windows in the bedroom providing light to fill the shadows from the umbrella flash. The results were much more satisfactory.

By this point Jane knew she was booked to play the Greenwich Village Jazz Festival in August, and had rented studio time in the city to record her second album - a duets record with Don Pullen. A shot from the July portrait session would end up in the CD booklet for New York Duets, but we needed photos of Jane and Don together for the package, which I had convinced Jane to let me help design.

In a rare coincidence of timing, my girlfriend was moving to New York at the end of that summer to study film at NYU, and we'd be driving her down just in time for Jane's gig at Sweet Basil. At some point in the afternoon, probably between the soundcheck and dinner, I posed Jane and Don against a white wall in a cramped corner of Jane's room at the Washington Square Hotel and shot six rolls of 120 film on my new Rolleiflex, desperate to get at least one good shot.

Don Pullen & Jane Bunnett, New York, August 1989

"Don had my back," Jane remembered when I asked her about the recording sessions for New York Duets, "and that gave me a lot of confidence." She remembered the portrait session in her hotel room better than I did, and recalled looking at Don as we shot, hardly believing that she was actually making a record with someone whose work she'd admired for years.

I like to think that my shots reflect the bold but nervous step Jane was taking, and Don's generosity as both a musician and a friend. They're hardly technical masterpieces, and tasked with doing them again a year or two later I'm sure I'd have done something much more ambitious, but in this case their utter artlessness ended up helping show the relationship between the subjects in bolder relief.

Don Pullen & Jane Bunnett, Top of the Senator, Toronto, 1990
(please click on the image)

With a record to promote, Don and Jane shared a bill again the next year at the Top of the Senator, and I decided to shoot the matinee gig as a technical challenge to myself, leaving my F3 at home and bringing the Rollei on a tripod and a rented Widelux panoramic camera. Knowing that there would be plenty of bright afternoon light streaming through the Senator's big west-facing window, I guessed that I wouldn't have an opportunity like this again.

The year ended for Jane with two records either released or recorded. Personally, it left me a slightly better photographer with a few better tools and a long-distance relationship that, despite all the grief it would lead to, gave me a brief base in New York to pursue my career outside Toronto. For both Jane and myself, there were even bigger challenges ahead.