Bob Mercer Dreamt Of TigersThursday, May 12, 2011
Oh incompetence! Never do my dreams bear forth the wild beast I yearn for. A tiger appears indeed, but autopsied or flimsy, or with impure variations of shape, or of an implausible size, or far too fleeting, or with something of the bird or the dog.
Dreamtigers, Jorge Luís Borges
Translated by A. Z. Foreman
|Crystal Pite, styling by Maureen Willick|
Silk dress from Obaki, shoes by Hugo Boss from Gravity Pope
But there is one exquisite pleasure in magazine photography and this is the fulfillment of a dream that more often than not results in real tigers not the incompetent Borgesian ones.
Consider this: Think of something. Plan it and weigh it your mind. Execute it and then wait a week (if the magazine is a weekly) or a month to see your dream come true. There are the disappointments like your first magazine cover not being attributed to you because a printer was drunk when the magazine went to press. Or the cover could be over inked or under inked or, even worse, the editor pulled the cover at the last moment and ran another story. While all the above has happened to me, in most cases the dreams of my imagination all became true. I have had at least 600 covers in my years of being a photographer but the thrill of seeing the cover on the day the magazine is out is a thrill that has never diminished for me.
I have worked with very good editors and art directors. I have worked for an art director who shouted at me and I have worked for a few incompetent ones. But the shine is never off that thrill of seeing the sketches of a picture in one’s mind and then to see it realized on a newstand.
Of all the magazines I ever worked for there was one, quite a recent one, where I had one hell of a good time.
The funny thing is that the editor was the art director and both the art director and the editor often apologized for being neither one! The man, Bob Mercer, the son of a preacher man (Nelson Mercer, United Church), which probably explained his taciturn and almost bleak demeanour, was the one responsible for all my fun. Mercer's magazine was called VLM.
And best of all he proved to me that when other magazines thought I was a photographer ready for deletion, that I still had some of the best photographs of my career in me to be developed by his gentle push.
Mercer ran his magazine with an extremely small staff and he did mostly everything. To his advantage he dealt with a modern, state of the art printing company that produced covers in which my photographs could not have looked any better had I printed them in my own darkroom with premium photographic paper.
Unfortunately Mercer’s own dream went the way of a Borges dream of tigers and he folded his venture after a couple of years.
One of the best of his spreads is the one you see here. It was a complete surprise to me as I expected that he would use only one of my photographs as a full bleed vertical page (picture only on one page). He used both my pictures and the result is one of my favourite interpretations of my photos by any of the many good art directors I have worked for.
I have never ever considered myself in having what it takes to be a fashion photographer. In fact I started at Vancouver Magazine thanks to the recommendation of fashion editor Gabriel Levy who gave me his card to present to the art director Rick Staehling. After looking at my pictures Levy said, “You are a good portrait photographer but you will never shoot fashion.”
I had to photograph dancer/choreographer Crystal Pite for a cover story I had written for VLM on the movers and shakers of the local arts scene. My secret weapon was stylist Maureen Willick who has a touch of elegance with no match in Vancouver. I went to Gravity Pope on 4th Avenue with Willick to pick up the shoes you see here. During the shoot Willick suggested a head to toe shot to emphasize her figure and show the shoes. I was most reluctant since I like to shoot tight portraits. Willick insisted. It was a hot day in the summer so I turned on the fan to cool Pite. Then I noticed the movement of the dress and chose to use a long exposure of 1/4 second. My camera was a Mamiya RB-67 with a 250mm lens and I placed the camera on the floor and looked through its waist lever finder. My film was Kodak Plus-X. I almost always used softboxes with flash in my studio. For these I used God's light coming from across the street, the white wall that is Sears. The son of the preacher man certainly approved.