Who Am I?
I’m in a reflective mood these days so, after recently purchasing a slide scanner (the Plustek Opticfilm 7400) and reviewing my slide and negative archive from the early 1990's, the timing of this post fits perfectly.
Quite simply, I am a serious amateur photographer. I do not make my living as a photographer but I do sell prints on occasion. For over two decades photography has been a life enhancing passion, something I have invested a great amount of time and money into, something that gives me great joy and, at times, I’ve wanted to walk away from in frustration. But I always come back to it as my main outlet for personal expression.
I took a fairly serious interest in photography in the late 1980’s. I was in my early 20’s and my mom bought me a Pentax point and shoot for my birthday. The camera died on me after a few months of use so we exchanged it for a Pentax SLR, the SF10. It came with a 35-70 AF zoom and I felt I had hit big time with this. The only other SLR I had used prior was my parent’s Pentax ME in the early 80’s, with a 50mm f1.8 lens, for a darkroom course I took in high school. Funny thing was I didn’t really bite into photography at that time, I was curious about it but I was playing guitar and that was my obsession back then.
But with the SF10 in my hand my life changed. I was road tripping a lot and really wanted a camera to capture the moments. This camera upped the ante for me, it just felt right. At that moment a new path opened up and I really wanted to learn how to take better photos.
So I would browse the magazine racks and Outdoor Photography magazine caught my eye. I became a young man obsessed, reading articles from Galen Rowell, DeWitt Jones and George Lepp. I saw Art Wolfe’s incredible wildlife photos and bought his book ‘The Kingdom’. It seemed quite expensive at the time (as all excellent art books were until the advent of Amazon) but I was amazed at the clarity and composition of his work. I wanted to become a nature photographer. I believe my next purchase was ‘The Last Wilderness’, a collection of Canadian nature photography edited by Freeman Patterson, and it was a huge inspiration for me. This book also introduced me to Freeman's other books which taught me to be introspective when taking photos and thinking and seeing like an artist. They were like photography workshops and I can't recommend them highly enough.
At the time I was shooting colour negative film in my camera and getting prints made at the local drugstore, often disappointed in the prints. I clearly remember seeing the name ‘Ansel Adams’ in a magazine article and was fascinated by his black and white images so I purchased his excellent book ‘Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs’. That was also a life changing event for me. I was now enamoured with black and white photography but wasn’t sure how to go about it.
In 1990 a friend and I took a road trip from our home in Edmonton to Los Angeles. My camera was my new companion, one that would remain with me until the date of this writing. I shot colour negative and black and white. I believe I used Kodak Ektar 100 (for it’s sharpness) and Ilford XP2, my first attempts at black and white. I felt I was a real photographer on that trip, and the camera was the ultimate tool to create a visual diary of our journey.
Bryce Canyon, 1990
Oregon Dunes, 1990
Salt Lake City, 1990
Rock Detail, Oregon, 1990
After my return I bought a cheap darkroom setup and eventually moved onto the Saunders LPL diffusion enlarger and I was a man obsessed. Through reading a lot of books at the library and magazines I discovered Harry Callaghan, Ralph Gibson, Cartier-Bresson, Joel Meyerowitz, Mary Ellen Mark, Andre Kertesz, W. Eugene Smith, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Lee Friedlander. I really ate this stuff up, I couldn’t get enough. I took a few different photography courses in the early to mid 1990's pertaining to lighting, composition and black and white printing.
Armed with a Nikon F3 (colour slide) and FM2 (black and white) I then took a solo trip to Louisiana in 1992 to attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival as I loved roots music. But I really had the romantic intent of following in the footsteps of the photography masters I had been studying, travelling as a detached observer snatching glimpses of life through my lens. I was intrigued by the voodoo and charming grit of New Orleans, where the roots of jazz and rock and roll resided, made my way up Highway 61 to Clarksdale, Mississippi to try to feel the soul of Robert Johnson in Clarksdale and back down to Lafayette in the heart of Cajun country. I returned a couple years later to continue what was my first serious portfolio of work, a series of prints that I titled “Distant Rhythms and Soulful Heat: Photographs of Louisiana”. I was woodshedding in my darkroom, trying to make luscious fiber-based prints very influenced by W. Eugene Smith’s methods (including using farmer’s reducer to open up midtones, such a breakthrough!) and I was stylistically influenced by Ralph Gibson’s surrealistic tendancies. I only wanted to do work like this, from my heart, no plan, just go with the flow.
I studied art in more depth and made my way to Europe, very curious to see the great city of Paris, the home of Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, a city where so many great street photos were made.
During this photographic journey in my life, a colleague of mine and an excellent photographer who I consider my earliest mentor, Frank Gasparik, arranged for me to be a volunteer photographer for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, which was an invaluable experience for shooting live music and events. I also started shooting more colour slide film but was frustrated that making prints was not as accessible as black and white was. So when quality digital became affordable in the early 2000’s, I dove in and bought a Canon G2 then a Nikon D70, learning Photoshop and realized how beneficial my darkroom experience was.
Edmonton Folk Music Festival
Edmonton Folk Music Festival
Dry Island Buffalo Jump, Alberta 1995
Over The Strait of Georgia, 2008
Buffalo Lake, Alberta 2008
I also came to realize how important the final print was to me (well, is it ever ‘final’? That’s a whole other topic). Be it in book form or on paper in a portfolio or hanging on the wall. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I have always believed the photographic print is the ultimate end medium of expression for the photograph, digital, negative or chrome, and the craft of the print needs to continue to be respected and preserved. I am in the process of printing what I consider to be my best work to date and it’s been an immensely frustrating, challenging but ultimately satisfying process, for many reasons.
The fact of the matter is that my obsession with photography as a medium of expression has never really subsided (well, I admit that I have walked away from it more than once … the expense, both time and monetary, too much computer time, feeling I’ve done enough already). But I’ve always come back to it, it’s good to take a break to recharge now and again. I am also a guitar player, and believe that there are many parallels to the two mediums. Rhythm and tone are very important in both. In the end, in order to have success with any statement one intends to make with any form of art or external expression, there must be some sort of narrative present. And therein lies one of the challenges and continues to be challenging. But, to use a cliché, if it were too easy it wouldn’t be worth the time and effort.
So that more or less sums things up about me, the serious amateur. I hope to learn from this blog, I hope to hear from others and see other work, hopefully I can inspire and be inspired.
Keep on listening with your eyes.
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