I remember that when we arrived from Mexico City in Vancouver in 1975 I tried to look for a photo job. At London Drugs I was asked what I did by a man behind a counter. I told him, “I am a portraitist”. He became very angry, “I studied in McGill and I don’t call myself that.” And that was the end of my attempts so I worked for a couple of years washing cars at Tilden-Rent-A-Car on Alberni Street.
My mother often told me that a house is not a home without pictures on the wall. Because of the recent flooding in my house I had to remove pictures from the walls. This one of Rebecca taken in 2005 has been staring at me in my bedroom for almost two months.
I will put it up, where it was, on the little wall facing me when I walk down the stairs.
Today I knew I had to write about it.
Because have been a magazine photographer since 1977 I believe I can define for myself what is a good portrait. Many times when I took my contact sheets to Vancouver Magazine I had an 8x10 print in my car that I did not bring in. Both Rick Staehling and Chris Dahl would invariably choose the photograph (a portrait) from the contact sheet that matched the one in the car. I followed the protocol and appeared the next day with the photograph.
For many years I relied on studio lights to take my portraits. Then, and especially now, I believe that lighting helps a photographer to achieve what I call the Holy Grail of Photography – an identifiable style.
With cellphone captures (unlit) that kind of style is now history.
My studio was in the corner of Robson and Granville and it had four large windows. Across the street was the Eaton’s (then Sears) building with its massive white wall. Light was reflected from that wall and it came into my studio.
In the many times that architect Arthur Erickson came to pose for me he would invariably mention the quality of the light in the studio and called it “God’s Light”. And of course I would be connecting my studio flashes.
But I did literally see the light when my daughter Alexandra was making up Rebecca in the studio. I noticed the light and dispensed with my flashes.
There is something about this portrait that is remarkable and I would rest my case if someone asked me, “What are you?”
“I am a portraitist.”