Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Maria Bello

Maria Bello, Toronto, Sept. 2004

THE WORST THING - WELL, ONE OF THE WORST THINGS - about doing this blog for nearly four years is realizing how rarely, if ever, my photos arrived in print looking halfway decent. As my scanning and Photoshop chops have improved with every post, photos that I took ten, twenty or thirty years ago are being republished at a quality level I couldn't have hoped for when I shot them.

Most of the reason for this is that I spent most of my career working for newsprint publications, from indie rock mags to alternative weeklies to free dailies. You could make the finest print possible in your darkroom, with a long smooth gradation from black to charcoal to gray flannel, and it would look like mud on the newsprint page, so the first thing you learn when you get a job shooting for newsprint is to hand in flat, dull photos that would look dismal in a frame on your wall.

Black backgrounds were to be avoided at all costs when I started work at NOW magazine, and though print quality improved gradually over the decade I worked there, it was always mildly depressed that my photos were never being seen at their best. At the free daily I worked in colour, but since my photos had to compete with columns of type and colour ads, I'd boost the contrast and saturation to the edge of garish.

Maria Bello, Toronto, Sept. 2004

Which is a roundabout way of saying that these portraits of Maria Bello didn't look anything like this when they ran in the free daily. It's nice, I suppose, to get a do-over on all this work I've done over three decades, but it all seems a bit late. Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered if I'd had my photos published on thick, glossy stock, but at least I would have been sure that I was getting the best possible version of my work in front of the public.

I'm not really sure what film Bello was publicizing when she arrived at the film festival; her filmography has two entries for 2004, neither of which are highlights of her career. I do remember that her whole look - her swept back hair, her thick strands of pearls, the collar of her shirt spread against the lapels of her coat - put me in mind of the sort of Hollywood golden age glamour I've always loved. But I never would have handed in jpegs to the free daily processed with such dramatic highlights or muted colours.

That's the enormous irony of living in the bright new digital future: I finally have the venue I always wanted for my work at its best, but it's arrived at the point where photography, new or old, has become an almost valueless commodity.

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