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Chris Dahl a Nagging Art Director - From Complexity to Simplicity
Saturday, August 06, 2016


Skinny Puppy


In May 1986 I was under the influence, pushing and nagging of a magazine art director called Chris Dahl. Many photographers of this century might think that being able to do as you please without instruction is true freedom. The same may apply who think that editors are meddlers who interfere and stifle personal creativity.

I must disagree with anybody who thinks that the above is right. For me the jury is still out on museum curators. At one time I would have stated that curators are failed artists. Now I am not so sure. But I will leave the subject of curators to a future blog.

Right now I am going to deal with the subject of the unpleasant fact that pushy art directors are the best thing that can happen to a photographer. At the very least I can write here how Chris Dahl made me the relatively good photographer that I am today.

Times have changed in this world of the diminishing influence of print journalism and good print magazines. At one time (my time in the 80s and 90s) there was money in magazines so these publications competed to have the best writers and the best images that they could afford. And afford they could.

Dahl knew, that in the 80s, I had a big studio with a very large curved back wall called a cove and a high ceiling. It was white but if you had your subjects far from it the cove could go from white, to gray to black. In those pre-digital times photographs had to be taken with lights. In some cases we abused this and used many, anywhere from three to six. These shoots involved large booms with lights up there that could project stars on the studio floor or hair lights that could be pointed with precision to make the hair of three guys go blood red.


Deborah E.

I have picked these three images from an essay by Les Wiseman in which he picked 6 people to watch in our city who were going to go places. This subject was always a staple of magazines once a year. As far as I know the only person who hit pay dirt was dancer Moira Whalley (now known as Whalley-Beckett) who was a producer and writer in Breaking Bad. The rest in Wiseman’s profile have perhaps faded a tad with the years.

But the purpose of this blog is to show how our city magazines, and in particular Vancouver Magazine, under editor Malcolm Parry and of course the aforementioned nagging art director Chris Dahl pushed style to the limit. Dahl in this instructions before the shoot (he never attended them so I did get that relief) kept using two words that scared me to death. He said, “Alex, I want these pictures to be heroic and monumental. They have to look like they would appear in Vanity Fair."

Jamie King

Of the three I remember that the most complex one was of swimmer Jamie King as I had to make the picture look like it was taken in a swimming pool while being able to control my lighting by shooting in the studio. From a pool manufacturing company I borrowed the chrome pool entry bars. I shot it all with my Mamiya RB-67 Pro-S and Dahl ordered me to use colour negative so that the resulting C-prints (as colour prints were then called) could be air-brushed (remember this was pre Photoshop) if they needed to be.

As I look at these pictures I smile. I smile because the stress of the past is forgotten and I can now acknowledge that Chris Dahl forced me into versatility and did his best to remove my from my then comfortable cubby hole and the comfort of photographic business as usual mode.

And I also note that I have made a long transition from the very complex to the very simple. It has been fun. My little Kitsilano studio could never accommodate all those boom stands and lights. But it is nice to know that if I had to I could do it all over again.

Thank you Mr. Dahl for pushing.



     

Previous Posts
Le tournesol, le tournesol

Where have the Penns, Avedons, Sterns, Halsmans, &...

Mel Hurtig - 24 June 1932 – 3 August 2016

The Smell of Paint in a Studio

The Found Card & the Process of Remembering

I'm Done

retractare

Reinterpretation

Reversed Special Effects

Water makes many beds



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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