Saturday, July 28, 2018


Chris Buck, Toronto, Sept. 2015

NOT LONG AFTER I STARTED THIS BLOG I began a tradition of posting pictures of my friend, the photographer Chris Buck, on his birthday. I did it initially because I realized, while rooting through my files, that I'd photographed Chris more than almost anyone else in the early years of my career. (I'll admit to getting a little bit of joy from needling him by posting some shots I'm sure he'd rather stayed buried, but I'm kind of a jerk that way.)

Mostly, though, it was a fond gesture towards a friend and peer who was there when I started in this business and, quite against the odds, is still there today, even more of a friend than when we started. I have never really sought out the company of other photographers; at the beginning, it was mostly because they could all have been, in one way or another, competition for work. With time, though, it was simply my own lifelong misanthropy at work, striving to keep my circle of friends as small and discretely separated as possible.

Michael Vendruscolo in his studio, Toronto, June 1990

One exception in the early years was Michael Vendruscolo, another young photographer who Chris introduced to me, as someone who shared our taste and influences. Michael was incredibly talented, and had impeccable taste. He was also far more intellectual about the work than either Chris or I, and it was always interesting to hear him explain what he thought was going on in the work. For a brief period we formed a trio, offering each other mutual moral and creative support.

Not long after Chris moved to New York City Michael seemed to have a crisis with his career. He became more discouraged every time I saw him - he hated the business of selling himself to editors and art directors even more than I did - and then one day he just seemed to disappear altogether. We lost contact, but I would frequently wonder what happened to him, though repeated Googling never turned up any trace online other than his iMDB credits on two Bruce McDonald films.

I assumed he was completely lost until he showed up unexpectedly at Chris' father's funeral last year. Chris recognized him immediately and they spoke, but I don't think he got Michael's contact information and I still doubt that I'll ever see him again. Still, I've always had Michael in mind as part of that tiny, ideal audience I imagine out there, and wondered what he'd have thought about my work, if he saw it at all.

Edward Burtynsky, Toronto, Sept. 2006
Joel Meyerowitz, Toronto, May 2005

I haven't photographed a lot of photographers over my career. There was Bruce Weber, early on, and Vancouver photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, whose own blog was a huge influence on this one. While I was at the free daily, though, I was assigned to interview and/or shoot at least a couple of big deal photographers.

I first met Ed Burtynsky at Toronto Image Works, the photo lab and rental darkroom he started to help support himself while he was developing what would become his very influential take on industrial landscape photography. I rather like this shot; without the option of shooting Burtynsky from hundreds of yards away, standing at the bottom of a quarry, this was the best I could do in the time and space I had to try to refer to at least the tonal palette of his work.

Joel Meyerowitz is a legend for anyone interested in cityscapes and street photography, and he was in town with a show of the work he'd done in Lower Manhattan in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center. It was a somber subject but almost every frame I shot of Meyerowitz showed him smiling - a big, warm, cheerful smile that just didn't seem to work with the subject matter in the gallery. This is probably the only shot where he looked appropriately sombre.

Franco Deleo in his studio, Toronto, June 2015

I've mellowed as I've gotten older, and I've relaxed my shunning of friendships with other photographers in recent years. I can count almost a half dozen other photographers among my circle of friends these days. (I had intended to photograph them for this post, but decided to wait and make them the subject of a portrait series when I finally move on to a new blog.)

There's Paul Till, a colleague from NOW magazine days, and my neighbour Steve Stober, who was only a photo cutline I'd read for years until we met in front of an old house up the street that was being demolished. And there's Gunar Roze, whose colour-obsessed street photography I followed online for years, after an introduction through a mutual friend on Facebook before we finally met in person. And there are new friends I've met on my travels - photographers like Mark Peavy in Birmingham, Alabama or Stuart Forster over in Newcastle, quick friendships made on the road who make me want to get back to traveling again.

Then there's Vince Lupo, who was actually a schoolmate from high school who's lived in Maryland for years - we met again through another St. Mikes alumnus, my friend the ad man Tracy Jones. And there's Franco Deleo, whose family owns Tre Mari, my local bakery up here in Earlscourt. I photographed Franco in his studio behind the bakery, where he was preparing a show of portraits of old-timers from the street's Italian heyday, most of them employees and customers at the shop.

I have another friend, not a photographer but a fellow media veteran and Catholic; he once helpfully described our get-togethers over coffee as "fellowship." Fellowship is what I get from these friendships - a sounding board and a sense of community amidst the adversity of being a photographer at a time when photos have never been easier to create and see, but have never had less marketplace value.

Jonathan Castellino in my backyard, Toronto, July 2018

Probably the closest new friend and peer I've met in the last few years is Jonathan Castellino. We met after I'd been laid off by the free daily and started doing work at blogTO. I kept noticing the work of an incredibly talented photographer being featured there - cityscapes and urbex and terrifying but exhilarating rooftop work. One day I got an e-mail from the photographer who'd done this work, pointing out that we actually knew each other already, from the offices of the monthly that had been printing my column.

It was obvious that we had a lot in common, both in our personal commitments to photography and religion, each of which overlaps in ways that I think we don't have to explain to each other. Jonathan does spectacular work, and our conversations over the years played a big part in reviving my enthusiasm for shooting. He's an intelligent photographer; in a lot of ways he reminds me of Michael Vendruscolo with his interest in what photos mean and how other arts inform a good photographer's work.

Together all of these people have made me feel far more optimistic about the work - my own and the craft in general - than I've felt in decades. I'm not sure I would have realized my great good fortune when I started this blog four years ago, and it's with this uncharacteristic optimism that I wish a happy birthday to my old friend Chris.

Chris Buck in my backyard, Toronto, July 2018

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