Thursday, April 23, 2015


Jane Bunnett, Toronto, November 1990

OVER A YEAR PASSED BETWEEN RECORDING THE RECORD that would be Live at Sweet Basil and the cover photo session with Jane Bunnett at my Parkdale studio. It was probably the busiest single year of my career, and the delay was a gift - what I learned in that year of busy shooting were skills I could never have brought to a portrait session in the summer of 1989.

Over the course of that year Jane released New York Duets and signed a deal with Denon Records in Canada. The turn of the '90s was probably the last golden age for the record industry; there was a lot of money around and even the Canadian branches of record labels run by Japanese stereo manufacturers were flush enough to get ambitious and put out software to play on their hardware.

I knew and liked Lloyd Nishimura, the head of Denon Canada, and convinced him not only to let me shoot the cover but to let me have a hand in designing it - on the record, I'd be credited with "Photography/Design." Which sounds impressive, but it really meant that I had a really great idea that I wanted to rip off.

I showed Stephen Fok, Denon's designer, my Penguin mass market paperback copy of Martin Amis' London Fields and said that I wanted to do something like this. I thought it looked striking and contemporary and knew the black bar and bright lettering would set off a cross-processed colour portrait of Jane. Stephen affably went along with me, and while I'm still fond of the result, it's undeniably dated - not that that's a bad thing.

Ever since her first record, Jane had been wary of putting a picture of herself on the cover of a record. At the time - and it might still be true now, I don't know - there was a perception that any pretty girl on a jazz record was probably a singer. Nonetheless Lloyd insisted that Jane's face had to be front and centre, though we all agreed that she had to have an instrument in her hand.

I loved glamour photography though Jane had never done anything remotely like it, but I asked her to get her hair done for the shoot. To oblige me, she went and got "done" at a beauty parlour just up the street from her Parkdale house - the sort of place where, a generation earlier, ladies would have their bouffants and permanents maintained weekly, reading old copies of Chatelaine and Family Circle while sitting under the hair dryers.

Jane Bunnett, Toronto, November 1990

I'd been cross-processing film for at least a year, inspired by work I'd seen done by Chris Nicholls, a local photographer who I'd replaced at NOW magazine when he moved on to a career in fashion. He'd explained the basics of running colour slide film through negative (C-41) chemistry to me, but told me to experiment, since every different brand and speed of film produced different results. For a couple of years I was in love with the look, and rarely if ever processed colour film the way it was intended.

It meant an awful lot of experimenting, which meant that I was usually plowing part of my profits from the business back into tests. By late 1990, I knew that Fuji's 100D film - RDP, or the predecessor to Provia - produced vivid and intensely contrasty negatives with a pronounced cyan shift. The blown-out highlights, however, were very flattering if lit correctly, and I laid in a small supply of film for Jane's shoot.

Jane Bunnett, Toronto, November 1990

I shot what I considered a lot of film that day - seven whole rolls, with no black and white back-up in case the cross-processing didn't work. I couldn't imagine a better portfolio piece or promo than a CD cover, and I knew that the record was a big deal for Jane, so it felt like a lot was riding on the shoot. I changed backdrops and tried to get as many options on film as possible. After almost three years Jane and I were getting comfortable on either side of the camera, so when the film came back and I pulled my first contact sheet from the processor at Toronto Image Works, I was more than pleased that the shots looked 95% like what I'd hoped for.

I won't pretend that this was the most original work I'd ever made, but at the time I was more concerned with producing photos that held up on the racks at a record store. Having passed mere competence, I was anxious to arrive at what I considered the long, sunny plains of professionalism. It wouldn't be long before my work with Jane would take me somewhere else, somewhere much warmer; a different country, and one very different from Canada.

No comments:

Post a Comment