A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

Off The Cuff And No Worse For It
Saturday, December 04, 2010

When I started out as a professional photographer in Vancouver I longed for a studio and its de rigueur studio lights. That took a while as lights used to be much more expensive then than they are now. For a while I depended on little flashes that then we used to call head-on-flash. These would slide on top of my Pentaxes. But as my income increased I was first able to get a powerful portable flash called a Norman 200B and from there I bought my first Ascor power pack with two flash heads and a Fresnel spotlight. I converted our Burnaby house basement into a studio. When I did that I could consider myself a full fledged professional.

From the
Burnaby basement studio
I moved to better and bigger studios and my studio lighting got ever more complicated. For a long while I became obsessed with 30s and 40s Hollywood lighting and I would brag how I had managed to use 7 or 8 lights in one setup.

A local magazine is planning to do a spread of my pictures from my past. Of course I am flattered but I received, at the same time. a sobering shock which will, I believe provide me with a respite on what I though was shaping up as my definitive fading into the photographic sunset.

An designer told me, “I like all your photographs but my favorite one is the one of Elizabeth Smart.”


I photographed Elizabeth Smart in the CN Railyard in 1983. I used a Pentax MX with a small Sunpak flash attached to its top. There were two unusual elements involved. One of them was the use of a beautifully corrected (few aberrations) 20mm wide angle and the other was my choice of film. This was Kodak Technical Pan Film which was (it is no longer made) the sharpest film ever made by man.

The negative does not look quite like what you see here. I have done some digital vignetting. This digital vignetting is almost the same as the darkroom manipulation I performed on the original print that ran in Vancouver Magazine in 1983.



What the designer really means in telling me that he likes this image over the others is that the picture has the raw and edgy ( a couple of terms that are in vogue now). The beautifully lit studio photos for which I am more likely known have a patina of slickness that in this 21st century might only be tolerated in such magazines as Vanity Fair.

It was for one of the last versions of Saturday Night that I was hired to photograph Gillian Guess (a second time as I had photographed Guess for an earlier incarnation of the venerable magazine). The art director told me they wanted a fly-on-the-wall shot with little production value and not studio lighting. In the end I used the light of one naked bulb of Guess’ bathroom. The photograph was well liked and I received kudos for it.

There is a pattern here that I have observed that comes and goes in what I do. Some years it is the edgy look. In other years it is the well lit Vanity Fair photo spread that art directors want. These trends come and go serving to keep me on my toes and warning me to not rest on the laurels of this or that.



If I am to believe the art director in question there might be new work coming my way in 2011 that will involve me fishing for my Nikon FM-2s or (I still have it) that Pentax MX with that perfectly corrected 20mm wide angle.

Today I looked at the file of young lady whose boyfriend was a PA at the CBC. She was a nurse and I have forgotten her name. She had a face, such a face that I took her to the cliffs of West Vancouver and to Parthenon Place (alas that Parthenon in miniature is now gone) and snapped pictures of her using my Pentax, Kodak Technical Pan Film. I never used the pictures for anything but I enjoyed taking them. Even then I knew I was lucky to photograph such a face. I chose to have her close her eyes for most of my snaps, she was much too dangerous when she looked straight at you.

I see in these pictures a romance and beauty that my studio photographs lack (at least a bit). Simplicity seems to spice these pictures up. I understand what the art director is driving at. And, best of all, I feel excited at the prospect of going back to my roots of 1983 when my photography was simpler, off the cuff and no worse for it.



     

Previous Posts
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The Winds Of War Flow In All Directions

A Baltic Reprise

The Hot Black Sands

My Perception Of Snow

Death, Dining & Sex



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6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

3/5/17 - 3/12/17