|Guanajuato,Guanajuato - 1962
In that past century where I lived most of my photographic life there was little specialization. When Rosemary, our two daughters and I moved from Mexico City in 1975 I wanted to be a photographer. I had no idea what an editorial photographer was and that is exactly what I became. From the beginning I rejected the idea of shooting fashion as here photographers would come and after a success of a few months they became unfashionable.
I worked with two excellent magazine art directors in Vancouver, Rick Staehling and Chris Dahl. In Toronto I worked with the ones in Saturday night and the Globe and Mail. None of these art directors pigeonholed me and they all pushed me to stuff that was not in my comfort zone.
Rick Staehling who was the Man in the Movies on CBC Radio liked a film term called cross-casting. He insisted I go to Whistler to shoot a Social Credit Party function to elect a new candidate (Bill Vander Zalm won). I told him I was not a newspaper photographer. He insisted. On another occasion he had me photograph sewing machines.
|Bill Vander Zalm and wife in Whistler Convention 1986
Bill Vander Zalm
In that past century I also shot street photographs in Mexico, Spain and Italy, landscapes, family portraits and when people asked I would tell them I was a portrait photographer. I also have a very large file (700 separate ones) of women in many stages of undress.
In short I cannot be pigeon-holed. In this century photographers specialize particularly in phone sunsets.
There were two men who saw in me a particular talent of which the photograph in this blog (I scanned the framed photograph) attests to their favorable opinion.
In 1962 when I was studying engineering (I failed it) at Mexico City College I had a friend Roberto Hijar who was studying art. He had access to the college darkroom. He persuaded me to accompany him on long nights there and taught me to process film and to use an enlarger. I learned because of him. One day he told me that an instructor (a lovely person) Merle Wachter, was taking a group to the most picturesque city (in my opinion) in Mexico, Guanajuato in the State of Guanajuato. It is far enough from San Miguel de Allende so there are fewer gringos. I went along and took my two cameras, a Pentacon-F and an Asahi Pentax S-3. I brought several rolls of Kodak Tri-X.
When we returned, I processed the negatives and printed. I participated in a college art contest and I won the first prize for the photographs (3 they were) I had taken in Guanajuato. My diploma was signed by Rufino Tamayo. That was the first man who indicated I had talent in one particular field.
The second man was Samuel Frid, a Mexican gallery owner, the Threshold Gallery, in Vancouver. I had several shows in his gallery. He said I was wasting my time shooting nudes or working for magazines. He told me,”Your real talent is to take more photographs in Mexico like the ones you have taken.”
My Bitter Friend Smiled Again
I have a few of my Mexican photographs framed in the hallway to my kitchen and going up the stairs to my guest room. I printed them for my first show in Vancouver in 1979. They went up in a restaurant on the corner of Davie and Seymour. How was I to know that many other artists (I was not yet one!) would show their work in restaurants, (“Sir can you please move so I can see the photograph on the wall behind you?”)
I have no idea if I can ever return to Mexico and especially Guanajuato to take pictures that might resemble the ones of my past. I returned at least a dozen times with my Rosemary and once we took our granddaughter Rebecca along.
I wonder what would have happened if I had taken Samuel Frid’s advice?
I like the photograph of the Guanajuato water girl because there is no way of knowing how tall she may be. There is no reference point. For these photographs, which I printed in my little darkroom in Burnaby on Springer Avenue, I used Ilford Ilfomar photographic paper which had a warm tone to which I added sepia toner.