A Glimpse Into A Man's SoulTuesday, November 16, 2010
Sometime in 1985 I was dispatched by Vancouver Magazine to photograph an architect who was in town for a while from his then home in Toronto. His office was a small one on Robson.
I will admit as of now that I knew nothing of the man and did no research before I plunked my equipment to photograph him. Of the meeting I remember next to nothing except that he was gracious and he had one of those voices that would have made him a fortune as a CBC Radio announcer in those years, when not having a speech impediment or a good deep voice was an automatic reason to be rejected by the Mother Corporation.
I remember that it was easy for me to focus my Mamiya on Thom. I did so on the little flower he had on his lapel. I knew nothing of its significance. It was many years later, in the mid 90s when I went to P.K. Page’s house and garden in Victoria that I photographed not only her but husband Arthur Erwin. I had Irwin on one end of the garden and I was on the other. I shouted at him (certainly I broke some sort of protocol on the distinguished diplomat in so doing), “Mr Irwin it is easy to focus on you because I focus on the dogwood on your lapel.” “Sir,” Irwin shouted back, “this is not a dogwood; it is the Order of Canada.”
By 1994 I had developed a taste and an interest in BC architects and a pleasure in taking their pictures. It seemed by then that I had been the last person to photograph Ron Thom before he died. I was approached by Douglas Shadbolt (appropriately at a garden party given by Arthur Erickson) and told that he was working on a biography of Ron Thom and that the considered my portrait of the architect worthy of the cover.
It was also at this time that I convinced free-lance writer Kerry McPhedran to write a “ghost” story about her Ron Thom house in Vancouver. I had seen too many vapid articles in Western Living written by writers who had no connections with the architects and the houses they wrote about. I suggested to McPhedran that she write about Ron Thom from the point of view of what she could discern of the man by living in the house he had built. My suggestion was accepted and in the end McPhedran won an award for her Ron Thom profile in Western Living.
I post the cover of Shadbolt’s book here and the more complete portrait version that appears inside because of my current involvement in having doubts and concerns about the photography classes I teach.
It may have been in the 90s that a photographer asked to use my studio to photograph for the cover of Vancouver Magazine the then city counselor Carole Taylor. I was miffed that I had not been contacted by the magazine for the job. The art director wanted something edgy and perhaps I was seen as too establishment. The fact was that the photographer on the morning of the shoot asked me, “Who is this Carole Taylor that I have to photograph?” I was astounded that for a cover shot he would not have done some research. But now I see something of myself as a young man. I see myself taking pictures of Ron Thom and having only a vague idea of who he was.
And yet the picture I took made the cover of his definitive biography. Was I lucky?
I see in the portrait that eye contact that I equate with “looking into a glimpse of the man’s soul.” Was this an accident? Was it due to Thom who may have liked me and thus gave me what I did not know I was looking for?
Look at the portraits I took of my granddaughter Lauren in yesterday’s blog. I see in those pictures some of that “looking into the little girl’s soul.”
Can this be taught? Does it come with luck and or experience? All I know is that I now know when I get it. And that is a complete change to 1985 when I did not know.
The Luminous Building