Karen Campbell At LastFriday, March 23, 2007
While working at Tilden Rent-A-Car some 30 years ago I decided to learn to swim with style so I took a stroke improvement class at the YMCA. A French-Canadian fellow swimmer found out I was a photographer and she asked me to take her portrait. I did not know that she worked at the gift department of Holt Renfrew nor did I know that she slipped my colour 8x10 prints into many of the frames of her deparment. Then one day Marlene Cohen (of Army & Navy fame) entered the gift department and I ended up taking portraits of the whole Vancouver Cohen family. It was Mrs Joe Cohen who told me to look up Gabriel Levy who was the fashion writer for Vancouver Magazine. Levy looked at my portraits and said (to my chagrin), "You are a good portrait photographer but you will never shoot fashion." He then gave me his card to take to Rick Staehling who was the art director at Vancouver Magazine. Shortly after I quit my job at Tilden and became a freelancer.
Except for once (a spread in Vancouver Magazine) I never shot fashion and I was jealous of all those photographers like Howard Fry who photographed beautiful women and were paid to do it. For some years in the late 80s to early 90s I shared a huge studio in Yaletown with Denis Montalbetti who did a lot of fashion. In particular I was jealous of his shooting the Vancouver super model Karen Campbell. One night in particular Karen Campbell was posing for him while in a corner I was taking portraits of Gavin Walker with his sax and Kool cigarettes. As much as I like and liked Gavin Walker I felt shortchanged.
In May 1989 John Lekich and I decided to correct the situation by offering the Georgia Straight an article on a beautiful blonde ( who happened to be Karen Campbell). The Intro article saw the light of day. In those days it was enough to be beautiful and blonde. Or at least it was enough for editor Charles Campbell (no relation!).
Shortly before Levy died of AIDS in the early 90s he summoned me for a favour. He wanted me to shoot a couple of nude men for a calendar contest for a gay club called Neighbour's. The winner of the contest (one of the nude men)was going to have an expenses paid trip to Hawaii. During the shoot Levy confessed to me, "I was wrong about you. You are an excellent fashion photographer." Without him knowing his correction came too late to ruin my photographic career. In Vancouver, with the loss of Woodward's, Eaton's and Bay catalogues, had I been a fashion photographer I would not be in business now.