January 16, 1949 – October 22, 2022
For about 15 years this photographer (no artist) shared a floor in a building of the corner of Robson and Granville with two artists. With me were the studios of Rodney Graham and Neil Wedman.
We did a lot of mutual visiting and I got to know both quite well.
One day I went into Graham’s studio and told him I had found a pristine copy (unopened) of the 1980 Quintessence recording of the band U J 3 R K 5. He got very excited when I told him that I already had a copy of it. Those of us who were in the know pronounced the band’s title as U-Jerks. It was an LP-sized record that had to be played at 45 RPM. The most memorable tune for me was one called Eisenhower and the Hippies.
That nobody on the cover is smiling or making eye contact except for Colin Griffiths (on the left) to me reveals what few knew that Graham had a dry sense of humour behind his rimless glasses.
One day he came into my studio and told me, “I am taking photographs of trees with a 4x5 camera and I have a problem because the images are upside-down. What can I do?” I told him that he had the option of buying a expensive adapter to right side up the image or simply that he could learn to look at trees upside-down. This he did. You can still purchase some of his upside-down trees at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
In another occasion I had to photograph him a the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery at UBC for the Globe and Mail. When I arrived his show had rectangles on the walls which seemed to contain one note, in each one. In the centre of the gallery there was a Yamaha grand piano. Every few minutes a note would sound. Graham had programmed the piano to play a Wagner work that would take 27,000 years from beginning to end. He told me all this with that serious face of his.
What I thought was very funny is that the Globe title and approach of the story on Graham was "Rodney Graham's Upside-Down Trees in Post Modern Vancouver"
|Igor Stravinsky - Arnold Newman|
I suggested that we play a joke on the folks of the Globe and Mail and that I would rip off the photograph of Igor Stravinsky taken by Arnold Newman. He may have smiled (I believe). When I sent the image to the folks at the Globe I told them of our intention which was a humorous one and that for them to please honour my crop. This they did!
The conceptual and installation art that controls what art is supposed to be in our Vancouver is never really funny. Those who practice it are completely serious.
Fortunately for us, that hanging chandelier under the Granville Street Bridge is all about humour and sheds a light on a man that I liked and respected.
The Upside-Down portrait:
I told Graham that I wanted to make him look like one of the intellectuals photographed by German photographer August Sander. Graham was knowledgeable in art history so he immediately posed for me and gave me his version of the serious, radical and German intellectual.