Trash

Trash (Card Party), Toronto, May 2020

LOCKDOWN WAS REALLY JUST AN EXCUSE FOR ME TO FINALLY START THIS SERIES. There’s a whole list of still life subjects I want to shoot, but this one got bumped to the front of the line by quarantine. I really had a good time taking these photos – they’d been thought about for so long that taking the shots went by too quickly. To get the full effect, click here or here and turn up the volume to have some idea what was playing in my head while I was shooting.

I collected my subjects several weeks ago, at the end of a two-week self-quarantine. Someone in our family came down with suspicious symptoms. (Thankfully it was only a false alarm.) We dutifully stayed inside, and by the end our world had shrunk to our property boundaries. Most of it came from the alleyway behind the house – one of the miles of parallel streetscapes here in Toronto.

It’s a whole other world in the alleyways. At night it’s mostly owned by feral cats, raccoons, and the pack of coyotes that recently moved into the cemetery behind our street. During the day it can be a low key party – people working on cars and other projects, or just enjoying an increasingly illicit smoke, an energy drink, a beer or two, or that most Canadian of beverages – Tim Horton’s coffee.

Trash, Toronto, May 2020

At first I just wanted to document each item like an artifact. But I can’t deny that Irving Penn’s street material still life series was an inspiration for all of this, so it was inevitable that groupings began suggesting themselves, little portraits of the detritus from all that back alley life.

Trash (Coffee Break), Toronto, May 2020

Trash is a snap shot of a time and place – Penn’s street material is full of paper takeout containers and blue and white “Greek deli” coffee cups. I suppose one day my plastic water bottles and energy drink cans will evoke an era in consumer waste.

Trash, Toronto, May 2020

Penn’s cigarette trash is also peculiar to a time and place, featuring brands like Camel and Chesterfield. I haven’t smoked in years, so I was taken aback by these crumpled packages, obviously Canadian, perhaps local, and strangely generic. I can’t imagine how they’d entice anyone to want to smoke.

Trash (Smokes), Toronto, May 2020

Picking trash like this can be called premature archaeology. When I was a boy I wanted to be an archaeologist, before I learned that most of the time I wouldn’t be digging up tombs but sifting through dirt for pot shards or evidence of ancient privies. Today that sounds exciting.

I found these pieces of tile in the gutter down the street. Rubble left over from a kitchen or bathroom renovation, they were missed by the garbage men; to my eye – trained after watching weeks of Time Team episodes during lockdown – they looked like tesserae, the busted floor of some Roman villa or a bath house on the other side of the ocean.

Trash (Archaeology), Toronto, May 2020

It might be harder to identify this metal disc. I know that I found it in the parking lot by the Portuguese karaoke bar at the bottom of my street, a piece of hub cap flattened by countless car tires. And perhaps I’ve lived in cities too long, but a little grouping like the one below is what I expect to see in the heavily-trafficked margin where constrained nature meets my street.

Trash (Windblown), Toronto, May 2020
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Spring

Spring #1 (from a neighbour’s tree), Toronto, May 2020

SPRING HAS BEEN TEASING US WHILE WE’RE STILL LOCKED DOWN. They say April is the cruelest month, but May is trying to compete, alternating between a few lovely warm days and then sleet, wind chill and frost warnings. There’s some sort of end in sight – maybe – which somehow makes the budding trees and early perennials pressing forward despite the weather even more poignant.

For weeks, of course, it was all just grey dirt and unraked leaves and the dried husks of last year’s flowers, still standing after the snow. They felt appropriate at the start of the era of social distancing.

Spring (coneflower husk), Toronto, May 2020

And then the first buds started to appear in the parks and yards, looking as surreptitious as we felt, breaking quarantine and heading out to get some sun and air.

Spring #2 & #3, Toronto, May 2020

I’ll give the lockdown some credit – I never would have noticed all this abundance, in all of its shapes and colours, if I hadn’t been stuck at home, desperate for material to photograph, and strangely, newly aware of everything I was seeing on my walks and hikes.

Spring #4, Toronto, May 2020
Spring (Blackcurrants), Toronto, May 2020
Spring #5, Toronto, May 2020
Spring #6, Toronto, May 2020
Spring #7, Toronto, May 2020

I’ve been desperate for subjects, and having run out of flowers I went for a walk with a pair of secateurs to harvest some cuttings in our backyard, and off the trees and bushes along the rail corridor by our house. Without their leaves, I couldn’t tell you what you’re looking at – perhaps a botany enthusiast reading this could hazard some guesses. Everything here was photographed in the lockdown kitchen studio, even if it might look like it was taken outside against a cloudless sky.

Spring #8 (before), Toronto, May 2020
Spring #9 (after), Toronto, May 2020

The two frames above are a testament to how robustly the new life is seeking a fresh start – the second photo is of the same cutting after spending a few days sitting in a glass of water in our kitchen. Even without roots, the imperative is to bud and grow, in whatever circumstances might be even slightly optimistic.

The shots below are little personal landmarks. The cutting from a neighbour’s tree was taken with his permission – it’s a tree that explodes in flowers every year when spring is finally established, covering the sidewalk with confetti-like petals just before the lilacs start to bloom. The one at the bottom is our own apple tree, a multi-grafted sapling that I planted a few years ago, in honour of the one my grandfather planted in the backyard of our house in Mount Dennis.

Spring #10 (from a neighbour’s tree), Toronto, May 2020
Spring #11 (Apple blossom), Toronto, May 2020
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Flowers

Orchids, Toronto, April 2020

IF THIS THING KEEPS GOING INTO THE SUMMER, the best thing I can hope for is that at least I’ll have some things I can shoot growing in the garden. My next post will give you some idea of how desperate I’ve been to find subjects for my still life kitchen studio. When the lockdown started all I had was a vase of already dried-out flowers from Valentine’s Day. They were great, patient subjects but I finally had to admit that I’d squeezed everything I could out of them. Here’s a little Instagram tribute to those wilted blossoms:

Thankfully, a friend generously dropped off a bunch of surplus bouquets – roses, orchids and tulips. I hadn’t photographed newly cut flowers since last year; the best comparison I can make is doing portraits of young people versus older people. There’s a freshness and even beauty with youth that seems to make getting a flattering picture easier, but it doesn’t take long before you realize that the results can be a little generic. Real character emerges when the bloom starts getting overripe, and by the time the petals are brittle and wrinkled every flower head has its own personality.

Rose, Toronto, April 2020
Tulips, Toronto, April 2020
Rose, Toronto, April 2020

This was my first time shooting orchids, which are both proof and exception to this rule. They’re a lush, striking flower – it’s hard to find a bad angle on either a single orchid or a thick bunch like these ones. The petals are meaty but the interior of the blossom has the look of a predator insect or an alien pilot. They do most of the work for you, so I felt obliged to feature a single wilted bloom on a thick stalk of flowers, just to provide some contrast.

Orchids, Toronto, April 2020

Very much like tulips, orchids live only as long as their blooms are fresh, and their demise is both quick and total. Roses remain my favorite flower, though – the buds are demure, even coy, but as the petals open and then begin to subtly curl and discolour at the edges they become more interesting, with more surfaces to catch light. The sepals, with their serrated edges, curl and pull away from the petals they protected.

Rose, Toronto, April 2020

I’m shooting as much as possible with my new Kamlan 50mm f1.1 lens, both to get used to it for portrait work, and because it has a character of its own as a close-up optic, especially when wide open. I’ve noticed the glowing penumbra it produces when out-of-focus highlights contrast against a darker background, but something about these shots, seen through the viewfinder, stirred a memory that made it easier to decide to press the shutter.

Roses, Toronto, April 2020

It took me a while to realize that the colour palette in these shots came straight off the cover of Todd Rundgren’s classic 1972 double album Something/Anything?, which was once one of my favorite records to play during long overnight darkroom sessions in my old Parkdale studio.

After about a week the orchids were dropping flowers and the tulips were just past their peak. Tulips are fairly generic when we find them for sale in florist’s shops, tight buds distinguishable only by colour and varieties of petal shapes in fancy varieties. In front of my camera, they always appeared at their most vegetal at this stage (look at the photo near the top of this post.) It’s easy to see that they’re from the same family as garlic and onions, with their thick stalks and meaty leaves.

Tulips, Toronto, April 2020

Now overripe and wilting, this is my favorite time to photograph tulips, but it only lasts about a day. A week previous they’d been a huddle of buds standing alert; in the shot above they look more like a selfie taken at a raucous party.

Tulip, Toronto, April 2020

Hours away from dropping their petals, tulips finally become really expressive and much more graphically interesting. A single line thrusting upward gives way to curves in several different directions, and the anthers, stigma and ovary are fully exposed.

Aoi Yamaguchi, “Kun-puh”

This is a kind of photo I’ve been trying to take for years now – since (like so many other people) I became interested in Japanese art in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and in particular shodo calligraphic art. Back when I was looking for a way to clean up and simplify my compositions, I found inspiration in these kanji characters, quickly and economically rendered with brushes and even mops. I’m always looking for a way to reduce a photo to just a few, or perhaps even just one, simple line.

Rose, Toronto, April 2020

Finally, I thought it was time to start experimenting with colour. I began with red and green gels on LED lights aimed in a crossfire – a classic setup that used to be big back in the days of pre-grunge indie rock and cross-processed film. On a red rose, however, this is hardly a complex lighting equation – the petals absorb the red light while the green only renders on highlights before it plunges into black in the shadows. I might need to play around with other colour combinations – or get my hands on other colours of flowers.

Roses, Toronto, April 2020

In the meantime, the roses are drying out, in anticipation of at least a couple more weeks in lockdown and their next moment in the spotlight in the kitchen studio.

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Skull

Skull and onions, Toronto, April 2020

THIS ISN’T MEANT TO BE MORBID OR PROVOCATIVE. Or maybe it is and I’m just unable to acknowledge it for myself. The truth is that I’ve had a list of still life subjects pending for a long time now, and with the pandemic lockdown in effect, that list has suddenly been given priority, along with subjects like this one – a human skull I have had in my possession for at least twenty-five years now.

I bought it from an antique and interior decor store across from my favorite record shop on Queen West. I had wanted a skull for many years, ever since I became fascinated with vanitas still life paintings and the whole idea of the memento mori. I had a bit of extra money and, to be blunt, the price was right. It came home, wrapped in newspaper and carried in a shopping bag and it’s sat on my desk since then.

Skull #1, Toronto, April 2020
Skull #2, Toronto, April 2020

Shooting happened, as usual, in the kitchen – my lockdown studio for the duration. I worked late at night, over the course of two days when everyone was asleep, not because I thought the subject matter was disturbing but because I didn’t want any stray light from the kitchen windows to interfere with the very controlled setups I planned on using. One night was devoted to a more painterly lighting setup, the other to a brighter “high key” look. Over the course of the two nights I used every LED light I had along with all the gear I could find or build.

I’m a portrait photographer who has no subjects, so I felt obliged to get up close with the thing that’s always there, just underneath the skin of everyone I photograph. The skull has enormous resonance, as a symbol and an icon, but it’s a remarkably generic object at first glance – it’s hard to tell them apart without special knowledge of anatomy and forensics. I ended up concentrating on the peculiar textures of this skull – the cracks and seams and sutures. And I ended up with one shot that reminded me of the cover of Isaac Hayes’ 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul.

Skull close-up, Toronto, April 2020
Skull dome, Toronto, April 2020
Coronal and Sagittal sutures, Skull, Toronto, April 2020

I’m not superstitious about the skull. I’m aware that it was once part of a person, and I’m sure the supply chain that delivered it to my was probably pretty dubious, but if you believe in a soul it’s hard to imbue much to the bits and pieces we leave behind. I try to treat it with appropriate respect. (Though I haven’t given it a name – I’m not that much of a ghoul.) But it’s hard to resist the temptation to create my own simple vanitas, albeit with the scant supplies in the larder during this lockdown.

Skull and onions #2, Toronto, April 2020

There’s no great implied meaning to these photos. Of course people are dying – this week has been notable in my own circles for the passing of John Prine and Hal Willner due to Covid-19. So it’s inevitable that this choice of subject will have some inescapable resonance. If I was a medieval painter or a monk illuminating a book the message would be clear enough. And it occurs to me that this post is going up on Good Friday; as a churchgoing Catholic I guess I just have to say “Golgotha” and let that hang in the air. But I can’t control what meaning someone might read into an image, so here’s this week’s contribution to this brief, uncomfortable but vivid moment in history.

Skull #3, Toronto, April 2020
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Victorian Scrapbook #1

THEY SAY THIS THING COULD GO ON FOR ANOTHER TWO MONTHS, MAYBE THREE. I can’t say we’re suffering here – I’m one of those insufferable Gen-X types who can brag about social distancing since I was a kid. (Being a misanthrope also helps.) But my big worry is running out of things to shoot. That’s the one thing that could end up making me long for a “return to normalcy.” I don’t miss people, but I sure miss doing portraits.

I started collecting old scrapbooks and other paper ephemera a while back, when the potential of Mrs. Edward Cross’ address book became obvious. I found this one at an old paper show; they’re harder to find than you think – most people just throw them out when going through the hoarded belongings of dead relations and estate sale job lots. Photo albums have been hot for a while now, but as a photographer I don’t get much spark from shooting other people’s photos. Scrapbooks are another thing altogether.

(click on any image to enlarge)

I’m assuming it was put together by a young lady – probably unmarried, but I could be wrong. The book itself started life as a Province of Ontario geography textbook, and part of its charm is how the old maps and text peek through behind the pasted-in poems and newspaper clippings, engravings and scraps of colour product packaging, all carefully cut out and assembled according to a logic only the original owner could explain.

(click on any image to enlarge)

What always draws me into these old scrapbooks are the accidental juxtapositions, left stranded on the page long after context was obvious. It’s the sort of material that artists like Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell would refashion into surrealism, using the same sort of paper ephemera, back when the pre-WW1 world still resonated in living memory – past, but not distant past.

(click on any image to enlarge)

Now, of course, this is the very distant past – as far back from our world today as the French Revolution was from the person who put this together. It’s tempting to try to understand a scrapbook made when mass media was mostly printed matter as a sort of proto-Pinterest. My wife pointed out that this is also the sort of project that would get started during not-infrequent periods of isolation and quarantine – slow-moving summers away at a cottage or relative’s house by the seashore or in some distant rural enclave, or when an infection was suddenly raging away either locally or nationally, in an age before widespread vaccination and herd immunity. Which makes this all feel at least a little timely.

(click on any image to enlarge)

It’s hard to ignore the feminine preoccupations throughout this scrapbook – the sentimental poems and illustrations, the pictures of babies, kittens and puppies, the recurring interest in fashion, courtship, marriage, faith and family. It’s not fashionable to talk about gender stereotypes these days, but they’re hard to ignore as you go through these pages looking for some particular clue to help make the person who assembled all these scraps and clippings come into focus.

The only glimpse of an actual person appears just once – a pencil doodle of a shifty, skulking figure in the margin of a page. It might not have been put there by the owner of the scrapbook – it’s probably an artifact of one of the original users of the volume when it was still a geography textbook. Apart from that, the only other evidence of the book’s provenance or past is near the front, where bookworms or some other bugs have made a meal of the corners of several pages, creating another accidental juxtaposition in this ragged cross section of pages.

The book looks and feels undeniably late Victorian. There’s almost nothing to give it a specific date except for the inclusion of an anti-Boer poem, “Kruger and the Lion,” on the last page before the back cover – a little sliver of Imperial jingoism aimed at Afrikaaner politician Paul Kruger, “Slippery as a wiggling eel” and a “cowardly lion” according to the poet, one Linton West, himself now utterly obscured by history. It could, of course, have been made later, from piles of already-yellowing newspapers, magazines and catalogues pulled down from an attic by a bored young woman staring down many endless days with little to occupy herself.

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Roses

Rose, Toronto, March 2020

PRETTY SURE MOST OF US DIDN’T SEE THIS COMING. By which I mean being voluntarily locked down at home, testing the technical limitations of telecommuting and the strength of the emotional tether connecting us to our loved ones. We had to cancel a family trip to NYC at the last minute and go to earth with everyone else. I am not, by temperament, a people person, so the emotional hardships have been marginal for me. The challenge, of course, is staying creatively occupied.

Which for me means still life photography. If I could have predicted self-quarantining lasting weeks, even months, I might have laid in a supply of subjects for the duration – a quick trip to a florist, or to the bone and taxidermy shop downtown. In any case, there was a vase of roses drying on a shelf in the kitchen – the Valentine’s Day bouquet for my wife, ready and waiting to become the focus of so much pent-up energy.

Roses, Toronto, March 2020

Before the social distancing got serious I managed a trip to the craft store for black foamcore and Home Depot for plywood and hinges. The foamcore was intended to build a selection of light baffles; since the kitchen table had to become my studio, I needed walls and bounce panels and modifiers to shape the rather broad light coming from my Westcott LED heads. I’d had an idea for an adjustable baffle for months, sketched on a desk notepad – time to build the thing.

With all my previous kitchen floral still life sessions, I’d been working up the complexity of my lighting – from natural light, to single soft sources to spotlighting with LED flashlights. At this point I’m treating each dried flower like a portrait subject, working to find that point where their best side meets the nicest light. In a portrait session that means manipulating light and shade and backdrops over a whole room; at home it’s a matter of moving panels on a tabletop a few inches, and shifting my light behind a thin slit cut into a board until it falls on the right bit.

Roses, Toronto, March 2020

I spread these shots over two separate sessions a week apart. At the end of the second session I ran upstairs to grab a new toy – a Thingyfy Pinhole Pro X that I ordered from Kickstarter last year and only received in the mail from China a couple of weeks before the lockdown hit. I fitted it to my Fuji X-T2, pulled the light in as close as possible to the rose I had on the table and calculated an exposure of about 30 seconds.

The results are … intriguing. Not what anyone would call sharp, but technically in focus, which is the peculiar quality of pinhole photography as I understand it. I never went to photo school, so I didn’t get to build a shoebox pinhole film camera in first year or any of those elementary exercises. Thirty-five years later I get to play with the most basic kind of camera of all, and I have all the time in the world to see where this leads.

Rose, Toronto, March 2020
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Flowers

Rose, Feb. 2020

THESE ARE THE SAME FLOWERS as the ones I was shooting two months ago, even drier and more sun-bleached. Valentine’s Day is coming up so I needed to clear out the vase for the next bouquet. It’s winter – I’d rather do this than shiver on some hiking trail by the bluffs or windswept street down by the harbour. And frankly a day will doubtless come when I’d rather do this than anything else. Stay tuned.

My tabletop studio was mostly built from old clothespins and about twenty-five bucks worth of foamcore and construction paper from Michael’s. That’s the dirty secret of still life work – unless your subject is a car you can do it for pennies. The light sources were also low budget – a pair of LED flashlights. Work is slow right now so I’m experimenting on a very modest scale; let’s see where this leads.

Rose, Feb. 2020
Baby’s breath, Feb. 2020
Rose, Feb. 2020
Carnation, Feb. 2020
Rose, Feb. 2020
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Flowers

Rose, Toronto, Dec. 2019

WINTER’S ARRIVED EARLY SO I’M NOT LEAVING THE HOUSE MUCH. Which is perfectly fine – as long as there’s a vase of flowers in whatever state of freshness I’ll have something to put in front of my camera. This particular mix of roses and carnations was left over from my wife’s birthday – sitting on a shelf in the sun, they were finally ready to become still life subjects.

At work in the kitchen

This was also a chance to test out my new toy – a Kamlan 50mm f1.1 Mk.2 I’d bought on Kickstarter as a portrait lens. Fitted with my macro ring, it turned out to work very nicely for close-up shooting, though I never opened it up to its lowest f-stop and unleashed the “Bokeh monster” that Kamlan dubbed it for the campaign. I’m feeling inspired, but Valentine’s Day is nearly two months away, so it looks like I’ll need an excuse for more flowers.

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Mrs. Edward Cross’ address book

THIS IS A PROJECT I’VE BEEN PLANNING FOR MANY YEARS. A long time ago – at least a decade, probably more – I bought this little address book at an old paper show. I don’t know why I picked it up, but as soon as I began leafing through the pages inspiration struck, and I knew what I wanted to do.

Any other photographer would have gone straight home and set about shooting. If I still had a studio I might have done just that, but things weren’t so simple. I was still working full-time at the free daily, unsure whether I was a writer taking pictures or a photographer who wrote, and the Some Old Pictures blog was still years in the future. I was also a new father, with precious extra energy to set about a new project. And so the little address book sat in a box on my desk through at least two moves.

Without picking apart the scraps of paper and newspaper clippings folded and stacked and paper-clipped into the pages of the address book, I can only make an educated guess at who Mrs. Edward Cross might have been. By all available evidence she was a widow old enough to have a son who was married in 1928, which makes her a Victorian by birth, someone whose life so far had seen a horse drawn world give way to a motorized one; the sort of woman who needed to keep glove sizes handy.

She was an educated Anglophone whose circle of acquaintance spread itself from Canada to New York City to England and the Bahamas. It’s easy to imagine someone who lived in at least the mid-to-upper strata of the middle class, a woman who was happy to take her husband’s name, and who didn’t keep house as much as run a household, with the aid of a little, well-used book like this, which moved from handbag to writing desk to dining room table. The evidence left behind in her address book evokes a genteel, WASPy world of summer linen, talcum powder, kid leather and polished silver.

The poetry copied by Mrs. Cross across two pages of the fourth picture is Rudyard Kipling – “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted“, a poem from 1892. For Mrs. Cross, Kipling was a celebrity as much as a writer, a literary luminary of the British Empire who might still have been alive when she copied these lines, probably remembered from her youth, for significant and now wholly obscure reasons.

The sentiments in his poetry would have been unquestionable to someone with the background and social position of Mrs. Edward Cross. Why they were transcribed adjacent to a reference to the Otis Elevator Company of Cleveland, OH is just one of the mysteries of Mrs. Cross’ address book.

I have had a long time to plan these photos. Originally I might have shot them on film, but the digital revolution intervened and I’ve used several makes and models of digital cameras while the address book sat in an old wooden box full of ink bottles and dip pens and other assorted office supplies on my desk.

It was clear from the start that I’d need a macro lens to take really tight shots of details of Mrs. Cross’ book, to capture the scrollwork of her cursive handwriting in different inks, the slivers of yellowing newsprint held in place with rusting metal paper clips.

The gift card I got as an honorarium from B&H Camera for doing their podcast last year paid for a macro ring for my Fuji, and I built a little shooting stand out of scrap wood from Home Depot’s lumber department at the same time. (Off-cuts of wood that they were happy to give away, so that the only cost was a few hinges and screws and a sheet of glass.)

The Globe & Mail is still around today, one of the country’s major dailies though – like all newsprint – much diminished in importance, as is The Ontario Intelligencer, now just the Intelligencer and still based out of Belleville, part of the Postmedia chain. I can only guess the significance of the clippings collected by Mrs. Cross in her little book, or the reasons for the many crossed-out names and addresses.

It’s the thick collection of information that Mrs. Cross pressed between its pages that caught my eye, so dense and frequently consulted that they broke its spine in several places, and rendered many of the pages nearly illegible with corrections and crossings-out and the cacophony of entries in pencil and different colours of ink, written in every direction across the lined pages. Up close it’s even more abstract – a quiet blare of data and notes cut loose from meaning and usefulness.

Since I bought Mrs. Edward Cross’ address book for just $5 all those years ago, I’ve picked up a few scrapbooks at other old paper shows, while keeping an eye out for more little books like these. Since I’ve finally put together what I need for this project, I’m hoping to post new additions to this series every few months, especially now that winter’s moved in early and leaving the house is even less appealing.

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Jane Bunnett & Maqueque – On Firm Ground

IT HAD BEEN OVER TWENTY YEARS SINCE I’D SHOT AN ALBUM COVER FOR MY FRIEND JANE when she contacted me late last year and asked if I’d take the photos for her next CD. A lot had happened since then. I’d moved out of my loft around the corner from her house, got married, had kids and left the business – twice – while Jane had gone from strength to strength, with an Order of Canada, a whole bunch of other awards and four Grammy nominations.

Of course I said yes.

Brainstorming for the look of the record started with the title – Tierra Firme and/or On Firm Ground. Ideas started with a photo of Sonny Rollins in a stark studio setting, but moved on to the idea of superimposing pictures of lush greenery on the band. I sent a bunch of images back at Jane, including an old Lou Donaldson record and bunch of others that evoked a pastoral take on psychedelia that was popular on LP sleeves in the late ’60s.

I began making sketches and collages in my notebook after we visited a shooting space that was both competitively priced and conveniently up the street from Jane and her husband Larry’s Parkdale house. It was a gallery and performance venue that had a very useful white wall and another big wall of windows. We booked a time, canceled once, Jane found a makeup person, we booked again and were ready to roll.

I arrived with my “studio in a bag”, the standby kit I’d put together after I’d seriously returned to shooting, with two new additions – a pair of Westcott LED lights to replace the household bulbs I’d been using and a Tiltall tripod that was once a stalwart in my old studio. The band arrived and I occupied my time waiting for them to finish with hair and makeup by obsessively moving my light stands a few inches forward and backward for an hour. This is what it all looked like from my perspective by halfway through the session:

Roxanne DeNobrega, the hair and makeup artist, brought along her friend Sonia Blayde, a photographer, to document her work. She helpfully took shots of the session and graciously let me share some of them here.

At work, Gallery 345 (photos by Sonia Blayde)

The group shots were done but I knew I wasn’t even halfway finished. Using stock photos for the superimpositions was briefly discussed, but I pushed for doing the “nature shots” myself. The problem was that the record was Latin Jazz, and it was winter in Toronto – hardly the time or place to shoot equatorial lush greenery.

The closest big patch of nature was High Park, where I’d been a few months previous and posted a few nice Instagram shots of bare trees and autumn leaves. I had to wait a few days for a warm spell to melt as much of the snow cover as possible before I could head back and try to get those shots again, this time with my Fuji X-T2 instead of my cell phone. The photos I came home with were a bit bleak and monochromatic, but the miracle of Photoshop allowed me to boost the saturation to the edge of cartoonish hues.

At work in Allan Gardens, March 2019 (photo by Cordelia McGinnis)

More shots of greenery – preferable the lush, green kind – had to be collected. This meant a trip to the greenhouses at Allan Gardens, where I knew I’d be able to get at least some close-ups of foliage that might be useful somehow. It turned into a family outing that I spent most of bent double, focusing on plants or shooting through the canopy of palms in the big main room.

With hundreds of shots to work with, I could finally get to work. Once upon a time this would mean providing a graphic artist with my raw shots, which would be re-shot and mechanically married and re-shot again. Photoshop put all this work back in my hands, and I spent a week tidying up the shots of the band and then another couple of weeks trying out a variety of double and triple exposures, sending them along to Jane and Larry via Facebook Messenger for approval.

What I was doing was as much graphic arts as photography, which was fine by me – I had wanted to be an illustrator when I was young, years before I bought a camera. Over four decades later and with the miracle of cheap computers and digital technology, I’m able to realize an old dream I thought I’d given up on years ago.

Once we’d agreed on a shot, I put together a mock-up of the cover as a sort of proof of concept for Simon Evers, the designer who put the whole package together for the record company. I also provided a bunch of raw shots from my trips to High Park and Allan Gardens to use as graphic elements, and the headshots I’d taken of the band at the end of the shoot, also treated as double exposures with bits of lush greenery, to push the whole graphic conceit of the record a bit further.

It all came together in a quadruple gatefold package that hit the stores a few weeks ago.

Reviews have been fantastic, which is great. As for myself, I’m proud of pushing myself to do something a bit outside my comfort zone, with the encouragement of Jane and Larry.

Mostly, though, it’s nice to be working again, and especially with old friends.

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