Thursday, December 21, 2017

Louise Dennys

Louise Dennys, Parkdale, April 1997

THERE WEREN'T A LOT OF BOOKS IN OUR HOUSE WHEN I WAS GROWING UP. What there were are in these photos of publisher Louise Dennys, shot for NOW magazine in my Parkdale studio toward the end of my time with the paper. I didn't shoot a lot of publishers - probably because there aren't many - and this shoot was my excuse to take these books off their shelf.

They were my grandfather's books. He died the year before I was born, well in his '90s, a man born in the reign of Queen Victoria in a dockside slum in Birkenhead, a sailor, a Boer War veteran, an immigrant factory worker and the builder of many of the houses in the Toronto neighbourhood where I grew up. I never knew him, but he left an indelible impression on my brother and sister - a tough little Irishman who was one of the first literate people in his family.

Louise Dennys, Parkdale, April 1997

I told Louise Dennys about him while I set up for this shoot. It was my way of making small talk with someone whose world I only occasionally glimpsed. My social life by the mid to late '90s was quite restricted - by choice. Occasional bouts of depression and a lifelong misanthropy were only part of the reason; I had realized by the time I hit thirty that my education had been patchy and limited, so I mostly stayed at home, teaching myself to cook and reading about all the things that I'd ignored or missed between high school and an incomplete university degree.

These shots are a good example of what I would do in the studio when on autopilot. A half-assed mix of Penn - and old obsession - and Hollywood glamour photography - a newer influence that I was trying to incorporate into my studio work, they're usable but hardly original, and show what I would do when I stepped back from really striving to find a style.

Louise Dennys, Parkdale, April 1997

I'm sure my grandfather would have considered my lifestyle peculiar, even neurasthenic. When he wanted to broaden his horizons from the narrow ones expected from a former sailor/soldier/tanner/builder, he bought these books, a mix of used schoolbooks and multi-volume digests of classics, history, biography and literature. But he didn't lock himself away in his apartment; a man like him would have considered it a sign of incipient madness, or an admission of weakness. And maybe it was. In any case, my self-imposed isolation would soon be over.

Louise Dennys is one of a handful of stars in Canadian publishing. Where Jack McClelland spent his life making books and writers part of the mainstream in a country that was suspicious of bookish types, Louise Dennys emerged when Canadians had finally mustered just enough self-confidence to imagine ourselves part of an international literary scene. Glamourous and sophisticated, she made friends with book world stars and gave them a reason to linger in Toronto for a reading, a signing, a day of interviews and a party or two. She was a role model for all of the pretty, educated young women (like my wife) who staffed the publishing houses and literary magazines that briefly seemed to thrive here.

1 comment:

  1. Love these. I'm about to speak to Louise for some advice and it's wonderful to read your words and see your pictures.