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

Heather4

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

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

Shooting from the hip – March 2015

Boston-street-man

I spent a Saturday morning recently pouring over Photographs, a book by Canadian photographer Fred Herzog. Herzog’s work is unique for a couple of reasons not the least of which is that he shot in color using slide film within a genre (street photography) that was predominantly black and white.

He shot primarily in Vancouver with most of the images in Photographs taken during the early – mid 1960s. The images in this book instilled a powerful sense of nostalgia that was difficult for me to ignore. Not so much for a particular place (Vancouver) but for a very particular time (my youth). Which now seems so very long ago.

I was surprised to discover that Fred Herzog was an avid practitioner of a street photography technique called shooting from the hip.

Shooting from the hip is a crap-shoot (for mere mortals) because you take a photograph without raising the camera to your eye. You don’t look through the viewfinder to frame the shot. You prefocus the lens, estimate the exposure and take a photograph while holding the camera at hip level with the lens pointed in the general direction of the subject.

This technique allows you to shoot very quickly and often without being noticed. It can be an effective way to make a photograph when you and/or the subject are in motion.

On the down side, this technique is inherently inaccurate and results aren’t guaranteed.

Unless of course your name is Fred Herzog.

Silver gelatin print
Leica M6
Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC lens
Ilford 125 FP4 Plus, ISO 125

Posted in Darkroom sessions

Art and fear | February 2015

single-tulip-Edit

I asked my darkroom instructor a question last week.

“George, has there ever been a time in your life when everything you do in the darkroom is crap?” His answer was brief and poignant.

“Yes.”

In their book Art and Fear Ted Orland and David Bayles talk about how an artist’s job is to make art. Making art – and lots of it – is the only means by which we eventually create bodies of work that will convey our unique vision, our personal narratives. Making art – regardless of the result – offers us the time to practice. To experiment with our materials, fine-tune a technique, refine our work-flow, clarify our vision.

The problem, however, is that we fear the imperfect results of a consistent practice. We become afraid of our mistakes, our false starts, the thought of abandoning yet another project. We fear the prospect that despite our best efforts we may not become rich and famous.

At best our fear prevents us from practicing our craft as often as we should. At worst this fear manifests into paralysis and we stop making art all together.

It has been a week since my brief conversation with George and I have now accepted my current “dry spell” in the darkroom as an essential stage in my creative development.

There will be prints that disappoint but teach me invaluable lessons in their making. Lessons that I otherwise would not have learned.

And there will be prints that let me know I am on the right track – not in spite of my mistakes – but because I am determined to learn from them.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 120 f4 CF Makro-Plannar
Ilford HP5, ISO 400
Lightrein 400ws strobe with translucent umbrella

Posted in Darkroom sessions

The Omega Man | February 2015

urban-mini

I can barely remember the plot of the 1971 movie The Omega Man but I can vividly recall how it made me feel. The Omega Man stars Charlton Heston who – at the start of the movie – believes he is the sole survivor of a biological war between Russia and China. The film’s opening sequence follows Charlton Heston as he disparately searches for another human being in downtown LA.

This otherwise forgettable movie seeps into my consciousness whenever I find myself alone in an urban environment. When I say alone I am not talking about feeling lonely or isolated. I am talking about that moment when my ears and my eyes tell me that I have found myself alone in a city inhabited by thousands (sometimes millions) of people.

My most recent Omega Man experience happened last spring in Boston while attending a Teaching Professor conference. I stepped outside between sessions in an attempt to warm up. The incessant air conditioning had activated a chill that was becoming difficult for me to manage. Stepping outside was like walking into a sauna. I found a bench, closed my eyes and lost myself in the joy of letting the New England sunshine warm me up.

It wasn’t long before I began to “hear” the silence. Fargo Street was desolate. No cars, no dogs, no people. Just me and the oscillating hum of the traffic lights as they changed from red to green to yellow – for nobody. The scene became increasingly surreal as I waited for a brownstone door to open, a dog to bark, a voice to break the eerie silence. Nothing.

There was a time when I thought this feeling; this awareness of being alone in a large city was déjà vu. I found myself saying, “I’ve been here before. I know this place”.

Turns out it was a feeling, not a place, that was so intensely familiar.

Intense enough (and frequent enough) for me to try and capture that feeling with a camera in my own backyard.

Silver gelatin print
Leica M6
Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC lens
Ilford 125 FP4 Plus, ISO 125

 

Posted in Darkroom sessions