Todd | Home of the Brave

todd-h2

In their book Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland write, “To require perfection is to invite paralysis.”

And invite it I did – this past fall – when I became disorientated after a photography submission was rejected, leaving a sting lasting far longer than I had expected. The result was a brief, albeit bracing, dose of writer’s block that suddenly prevented me from writing a single word that would do the participants of Home of the Brave justice.

When I met Todd to discuss his participation in this project we were complete strangers. Our introduction (via email) was graciously facilitated by our mutual friend Angela Kokott.

Todd smiled when I told him Angela and I grew up together. “Any friend of Angela’s is a friend of mine.” he said as I began my introduction to the project and what had motivated me to take it on in the first place.

What has struck me the most about meeting and photographing Todd was his sense of commitment. When talking with Todd he listens to you, he really hears and sees you. His genuine authenticity draws out the authenticity in others.

That was obvious the night I attended the launch for his new book Halfway Home. You could feel the genuine warmth and festive hospitality in the church that evening. I was made to feel exceedingly welcome yet I knew not a soul, save Todd. Basking in the warm, glowing acceptance within the church I briefly imagined a large sign posted on the front door which might have read: Please check your armour at the door. You won’t be needing it this evening.

Looking now at this portrait of Todd and his beloved Boston Terriers (Piper and Puma), it occurs to me that we often experience rejection because of who we aren’t.

But we always experience acceptance as a result of who we are.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

 

Posted in Darkroom sessions, Home of the Brave Tagged |

Lauren | Home of the Brave

Lauren-culvert

I met Lauren through my cousin Lorene. Their friendship was forged from the shared experience of a profound, tragic loss.

Kalei, Lorene’s only daughter, was killed instantly in a head-on highway collision. Jarrett, Lauren’s older brother, died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm when he was 13 years of age and Lauren was 11.

I have met Lauren only twice. The first time at a dinner party hosted by Lorene and once again to take her portrait for Home of the Brave. Lauren and I have never talked about the death of her brother. There are some things you simply can’t explain to those of us who haven’t experienced that kind of trauma.

When I saw this negative on the contact sheet I was lamenting the fact that Lauren’s head was turned away from my camera. I had broken a cardinal rule of portrait photography – ensure you capture the subject’s eyes!

Still, I felt this photograph had something to tell me. Something too complex for words, too sad to be related in a conversation.

And then I saw it.

With a single gesture Lauren had shown me the sacredness of her brother’s story.

And that was all I needed to know.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

David | Home of the Brave

David-M-Edit

If you were asked to describe a courageous person what would you say? Many of us would start with our heroes and heroines from movies, TV shows, graphic novels and sporting events.

But what does someone with courage look like in the real world? Without a cape (or a sword) they can be hard to identify. Especially when they are a student sitting quietly in the front row of your Media Software for Journalists class.

Last month David attended an on-campus seminar with the rest of our journalism students. The topic was the ethical reporting of mental illness in the news. David’s participation in this event was unique because he was also a guest speaker who took the podium in front of his classmates and told them his story.

When I met David for our portrait session it was several weeks after the seminar. On that particular Friday afternoon I was fighting a massive headache. Searching my pockets for a Tylenol I asked how he liked speaking in public and if he had felt nervous.

“It was a challenge,” he said. “Speaking directly to my classmates was the hardest public speaking engagement I’ve done so far.”

“So far?” I asked, not hiding my surprise. “You mean that wasn’t your first time speaking in public?”

David looked at me for a second and smiled.

“No it wasn’t. I do this all the time. But speaking to my classmates was a challenge. You just don’t know how they are going to react.”

David continued. “I just want to help people out. I don’t want them to experience what I went through. If I can help just one person then it’s worth it for me.”

Feeling deeply inspired can do any number of wonderful things to a person. I never imagined that an instant remedy for a splitting headache would be one of them.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

Lorene | Home of the Brave

Lorene-diff-2

“We really had no idea what that poor girl went through, did we Dan?”

“No Mom, we didn’t.”

And so began a conversation between my mother and I about my cousin Lorene Holizki’s memoir Forever Kalei’s Mom: A Story about Life, My Child’s Death and What Forever Really Means.

Lorene’s book tells the story of the tragic loss of her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Kalei in a horrific car crash. With heart wrenching honesty Lorene tells her story of profound loss and unfathomable grief. Lorene’s memoir will serve as a survival guide for the bereaved. A literary “jaws of life” for those left behind, crushed under the relentless burden of their grief.

Mom was right. We didn’t know what Lorene went through when Kalei died. Even after reading Forever Kalei’s Mom we still don’t really know. Until I experience the tragic, sudden death of one of my boys – I will never know.

I am convinced, however, that reading my cousin’s book has made me a better person.

I know this to be true because I did not judge Lorene when she laid herself down in front of Kalei’s marker and silently folded her hands on her chest. Surrounded by the comforting silence of the cemetery I witnessed a beautiful, spontaneous expression of a mother’s undying love for her daughter.

I finally got a chance to see what Forever looks like.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

Heather | Home of the Brave

Heather

When Heather agreed to participate in Home of the Brave I asked if she would choose a location she considers a sanctuary. A place she can go to find inspiration, to recharge.

We agreed to meet Halloween morning in one of the numerous urban parks located in the city in which we live. Our visit began on a wooden bench overlooking a ravine of leafless trees. We talked about our work, the future of journalism, book publishing – and we talked about this project of mine.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” she asked.

We walked a short distance and eventually entered a thicket of trees. My first clue that Heather had taken me somewhere special was her change in tone. She was speaking softly now, with a reverence that reminded me of the muted conversations one hears in a place of worship.

She had led me into her sanctuary. A natural chamber protected by a dense barrier of dormant trees. I could feel the deep connection Heather had with this place.

I don’t remember “seeing” the sweeping branch in the foreground of my frame. But something told me to press the shutter at the exact moment Heather’s sanctuary chose to embrace her.

I am just so thankful I was there to witness it!

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

Lyndon | Home of the Brave

Lyndon

I’ve started a new long-term project.

The inspiration for this series of portraits was a photograph of Robin Williams published the day after his death. The photograph portrayed him as a man on the verge of losing his mind instead of a comedian in the middle of a stand up routine.

The photograph was presented intentionally out of context. Playing directly into the stereotype of what our society thinks mental illness “looks like.” It took less than 24 hours for that media organization to present Robin Williams as a tortured soul rather than the comedic genius and brilliant dramatic actor he actually was.

I visualize this project as a testament to those who have chosen to step out of the shadows to tell their story. A portrait series of advocates doing their part to dispel the myths, stereotypes and stigma associated with some of life’s most difficult personal challenges.

Thank you Lyndon Penner for being the first. Without your participation this project would not have seen the light of day.

If you have a story to tell, live in the Calgary area and would like to participate in this project, please don’t hesitate to post a comment. I will get back to you within 48 hours.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

Posted in Home of the Brave Tagged |

Cattails | June 2015

catails-wp

I have been looking at a lot of pinhole photography lately. In particular the work of Canadian photographer Dianne Bos.

The first time I saw one of Dianne’s photographs I was stunned by how big it was. At 40 in. x 40 in. this silver gelatin print had a commanding presence. The second thing that struck me was how beautifully imperfect it was. Most of the image was soft and the subject (a distant horse) was blurred perfectly.

I couldn’t stop looking. Here was a photograph that was speaking to me on an entirely new level. It had touched my soul through my eyes and it wasn’t letting go. The experience was at once exhilarating and unsettling.

My Leica M6 is a marvel of German engineering. It is a thing of beauty to hold and a delight to use. With the right lens it can produce razor sharp photographs with a visual bite I can almost hear. I love my Hasselblad for it’s minimalistic design and the creamy sharpness of the images it produces. I could never let either of these cameras go.

And yet I can’t stop thinking about that stunning pinhole photograph and its exquisite imperfections.

Which brings me to my Holga 120N and how it just might be the most valuable camera I own.

Silver gelatin print
Holga 120N
Ilford FP4, ISO 125
Natural sunlight

Posted in Darkroom sessions

Out of the clear blue sky | May 2015

UofC-long-X1

“Shoot what you love!” Click, click, click.

“Photograph what you hate.” Click.

“Shoot everywhere and everything.” Click, click, click. click, click, click.

Taking pictures is easy. Making a photograph requires more skill and effort. Embarking on a new project can be downright challenging.

The challenge isn’t what to photograph but rather what to say within the context of 15 – 20 related images.

The difficulty lies in deciding on a theme that speaks to your heart and the viewing public at the same time. Choosing a project that has the depth to express exactly what you want to say can be a major investment of your time and effort. That is why you want to get it right!

This search leaves in it’s wake a collection of lists, library books, false starts, lucid dreams and candid conversations.

Walking and shooting. Learning, watching, waiting. Frustration and elation. Repeat.

And then it suddenly appears out of the clear blue sky – unannounced and without warning.

Ground zero for your next project.

Coming on so quick and with such clarity that you can’t help but ask…

“Where have you been?”

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford FP4, ISO 125

Posted in Darkroom sessions

Toy camera | April 2015

Cruise-sleeping-Edit

Toy cameras are not everyone’s cup of tea.

Like most toy cameras the Holga 120N is a medium format film camera that is made almost entirely of plastic.

Photographers experiencing a creative dry spell are often encouraged to shoot with a toy camera in an effort to strip away the technical haze which can – at times – become a burden.

The Holga 120N has two shutter speeds – sunny and cloudy. When you focus the plastic lens you have 4 zones from which to choose – really close, not so close, far away and really far away (infinity) – making it the ideal camera for high school reunions.

The camera is prone to light leaks. Some photographers like this effect while others don’t. For those who don’t the solution is a sticky one – duct tape.

Toy cameras are notorious for a painfully low photographic yield. On a good day you are lucky to get 3 negatives that may have potential in the darkroom.

The best advice I can give to those of you wanting a cheap introduction to the glorious world of medium format film photography?

Purchase a Holga 120N and shoot when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

Shoot on a day made for a day dreamin boy.

Silver gelatin print
Holga 120N
Ilford FP4, ISO 125
Natural sunlight

Posted in Darkroom sessions

Swedish muscle in Montana | March 2015

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There are occasions when you need a large camera to take a photograph. When your subjects deserve a Swedish camera that has been to the moon and back.

I knew my weekend in Montana was going to be short. When I hit the Canada/US border late Friday afternoon I was already 24 hours and as many beers behind the friends I was meeting in Whitefish.

“Turn if off.” the US Border agent said as I rolled my van next to his boots. “What is the purpose of your visit?”

“I’m skiing with friends in Whitefish.” I said.

“Why now?”

“Birthday.” I replied.

He walked around my van stopping to look through the side window, his left hand surgically placed against the tinted glass in an effort to block the sun and reveal my cargo.

“Where are your skis?” he asked. His left eye catching both of mine in my driver’s side mirror – his pupil large and menacing – like Sauron’s.

“I’m renting.” I said starting to feel his vibe.

“What’s in the bags?”

“Camera gear. I’m hoping to take some portraits of my friends in Whitefish.” I said biting my lip as the title of this post suddenly (and cruelly) popped into my head.

He looked at me (and my van) and returned my passport.

And suddenly I was in America…

With a Swedish camera heading to Whitefish for some fellowship, cheap beer and the ambitious goal of capturing the souls of my closest friends on six rolls of Ilford FP4.

Silver gelatin prints
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 120 f4 CF Makro-Plannar
Ilford FP4, ISO 125
Lightrein 400ws strobe with translucent umbrella – camera left
Natural sunlight – camera right

Posted in Darkroom sessions