Bill, Bob, Mike & Jack & The Boys From St GeorgeMonday, June 18, 2007
Objectivity is a subjective invention of man.
Santiago Genovés Tarazaga
In November 1983 writer Don McLellan and I were sent by Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry, to St. George's, the Vancouver private school, for a story that made the January 1984 cover. At the time I remember that Don McLellan wore torn jeans ahead of the fashion trend of later years. He wore torn jeans because he was poor. Facing rich kids at a private institution that almost guaranteed that those who graduated would have a certain prosperous future amongst the social elite of our city made McLellan ill disposed to write positively of the school. I sensed this and I believe that was the first time in my photographic career that I determined that whatever objectivity had guided me before had no say here.
I consciously took photographs, with a definite positive bent, that were to "balance" McLellan's writing. I had attended a Catholic boarding school in my youth and the experience had been a positive one. I liked private schools.
Later that year I took photographs of Mayor Mike Harcourt. Vancouver Magazine art director, Chris Dahl, asked me to photograph him sitting in a wing chair and wanted the photograph full frontal with plenty of room all around. He told me he was going to put it on the cover. He never told me his complete plans. In an age before Photoshop Dahl had an artist paint obvious hair on Harcourt's very bald head and when the magazine was on the newstands it caught me by surprise.
Harcourt never blamed me for this and our relations have been cordial all these years. I have photographed him for his campaign poster when he was running for premier and recently I took the first photographs of his early attempts at walking after his accident.
In April 1985 I headed to Victoria in a float plane with Equity editor, Harvey Southam. He interviewed Bob Skelly who was then leader of the NDP. Subsequently I photographed Skelly for his campaign to become premier (he lost). I had an admiration for this honest man who looked great in shark skin suits and looked at you in the eye when he talked to you. But I sensed a lack of passion and perhaps that's what did him in.
In December 1985 I was asked to photograph Premier Bill Bennett for the Equity cover. I was given 30 minutes by Bennett's assistant. I decided to take a make-up artist (Inga Vollmer) who would probably use up most of that time. I thought that makeup would work wonders on the man and I would then quickly shoot him in 5 minutes. I will never know what led me to chose a portable pink velour backdrom for the picture.
I had read bad stuff about Bennett in the newspapers and I had seen his wooden performance when facing a TV camera (except the time I caught him enjoying a not so friendly sparing with Jack Webster). I was prepared to dislike the man but I vowed to make him look as good as I could. I have always thought that it is the obligation of a photographer to do just that.
The day of the shoot with Bennett came and I was most nervous. Vollmer and I were whisked into Bennett's Vancouver office (at Robson Square). We were both instantly charmed by him. We quickly found out that in a one-to-one basis Bennett was not wooden. He was intelligent and we left loving the man.
Photoshop was still not available. I had to shoot with colour negative so that the resulting C-print (colour print) could be air brushed. And it was. Vollmer said of Bennett's face, "I never expected to see all the colours of a Persian carpet on a man's face."