Forward To The PastWednesday, January 27, 2010
Every couple of days as I watch the present rush past me like a hummingbird on amphetamines I find a need to reflect and exchange thoughts with three friends in particular. They are writer and novelist John Lekich, designer Ian Bateson and freelance writer and English eccentric Mark Budgen. It is with the latter that I spend many minutes per day discussing the state of journalism. Of late it has been all about pay walls on the internet.
John Lekich, a once avid television (John would never utter that as TV) viewer restricts himself to the Turner Classics Channel and even that one is losing some of its luster as Lekich finds he has seen most of those films. He does not indulge on Twitter as Twitter would ban his beloved ajective, syntax and good writing.
Ian Bateson, who has a small but efficient design firm called Baseline Type & Graphics has a deep interest in social change. Of late Bateson has been exploring new ways to do business. One of these has been in navigating the business social networks like Linkdin and social networks like Facebook. He has been communicating with like-minded designers but finds that most comments are very short and mostly banal.
Mark Budgen, somehow went from sound recordings on records and bypassed everything that happened in-between and incorporated the iPod and podcasts to his life. He listens to esoteric classical music stations from Norway and reads the Guardian and the NY Times on line with great detail. Budgen is very informed on trends even though he has never driven a car or had a driver’s license. It was in the 80s that he got rid of his credit cards.
I have another friend writer Les Wiseman, who ever since I met him back in the late 70s always knew who was the latest very good but obscure rock singer or the finest up-and-coming porn star. It is no surprise to me that he now has Facebook friends that number in the three digits and that some of his e-mail messages to me have this at the bottom:
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network
Many of his friends are reformed and aging punk rockers who spat on the stage while performing but now have developed fine manners. I looked at some of the profiles of these people and it occurred to me that most of us see the world as a past/present/future continuum and in that order. Some others live in the past. But using lateral thinking I do believe that Les Wiseman and his friends have simply changed the past/present/future configuration to future/present/past and look, paradoxically ahead to the past.
I am not too sure that what follows has any relevance to the above.
It was in October, 1981 that Les Wiseman and I spent most of a late afternoon and long evening at Gary Taylor’s Rock Room trying to secure an interview and photo session with ex-New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders who was in town to play with his band. His band included one Rat Scabies on drums. Until Thunders finally did himself in on a drug overdose in 1991 many who went to his performances where like the Vancouver Sun photographers who used to collect at the hairpin curve in Westwood waiting for some racing car driver to crash and kill himself. Johnny Thunders concerts were full of those waiting to see death on stage.
In 1981 I still subscribed to the idea that a camera recorded an event, exactly as it was and that the only personal interpretation to be gleaned from a photograph was the accidental or random fact that the photographer chose to press the shutter now as opposed to then or in a bit.
I snapped pictures of Thunders throughout the night mostly backstage. He would disappear to the bathroom for long half hours where he probably pierced with a needle whatever little patch of skin that was left that was intact. You can see here Les Wiseman’s account (part of it) on this Vancouver Magazine tear sheet. I know of many who think this is one of the pest snaps I ever took.
By 1986 Annie Leibovitz had changed the world of photography. It was New York City photographer Gregory Heisler who said for the record (American Photographer) something like, “Before Annie we could photograph people as they were and we took the best portrait we could. Now because of her we have to photograph people doing something.”
By 1986 my rock shoots for Vancouver Magazine had gotten ever more elaborate. We had enough clout that we would reject to photograph The Cramps while performing and insisted and demanded (and got our wish) to photograph them back stage, exclusively without any other journalists or photographers. By 1986 we had the custom of featuring a local rocker in a Christmas spread. In December 1986 Les Wiseman decided on heavy metal singer Darby Mills.
Out of the blue I decided to photograph her, dressed in a white teddy) with 100 white teddy bears. I filled my wife’s very large Audi with the bears which I obtained from the owner of a West Vancouver store called Bears Toy Store. The picture is slick and I used a complex lighting setup.
John Lekich would appreciate the Darby Mills shot. He would appreciate and probably count to see if indeed there are 100 teddy bears in there. Lekich might not understand the on-the-fly virtuosity of Johnny Thunders who might play brilliantly for 5 minutes and then crash for an hour with a cocktail of Courvoisier and heroin. In some ways many would say that my incidental grab shot of Thunders represents that momentary brilliance of the doomed man.
In a similar way I have approached nude portraits with elaborate lighting, large cameras and exotic locations. Even when I used my more neutral studio the cameras were still big and the lights powerful. I took some pictures on Monday of Anita a new model I have discovered who hails from Prince George. She has an easy smile (she had a bit of time following my instructions not to). She looks very young yet she is 35. I look at her pictures and see no connection to Darby Mills and all those bears. I see a solidarity to my images of Johnny Thunders.
Is simple more authentic? Is more elaborate less honest? As I pressed the shutter of my Nikon FM-2 (not much different than the Pentax MX I used to photograph Thunders) to photograph Anita in my living room, I felt a rush of youth as if, indeed the past were in front of me and all I had to do was to reach and find all that I thought I had lost, right there.