WENT TO A WAKE, just before Christmas. How's that for
Well, it wasn't, obviously. My friend Bob, an old high
school pal along with his brother Mike, lost their father barely a week
before Christmas. They seemed to be holding up fine, though the strain
was obvious, especially on Bob, who doesn't have the distraction of a family
of his own. I don't know what to say to anyone when they lose a family
member, mainly because I've lost so many of my family, and know that nothing
you can say really helps.
And so we struggle through the wakes and the viewings
and the service -- well, maybe not the service -- with a look of drained
nonchalance on our faces, going from one polite conversation to another
after the inevitable "I'm so sorry" and your ritual response: "Thank you
for coming." You struggle to remember names of old family friends whose
memory of your parents might date from a more youthful, vital time than
your own, and thus are forced to glimpse little flashes of a long life,
resembling in no small way the progress of your own.
You might have remembered them being around when you were
very small, and might have gotten some pretty nice toys from them, but
for some reason they came around less and less as you grew up, though the
acquaintance might have been kept segregated from the world in which you
lived, seemingly prime in importance, with your parents.
It's a sobering kind of encounter, when you mull it over
later. Which of my friends will share stories with my children, edited
slightly, of trips and dinners and carefree times before the regimentation
of family responsibility makes us appear, at least to our children, as
disapproving and anxious?
I WORKED NON-STOP up until the last moment on a couple
of features for the free weekly,
and so coasted into the holidays with a remarkable feeling of accomplishment.
It's gone now, of course, and I'm looking at a pretty dark couple of months,
with no particularly lucrative jobs lined up for awhile. This new year
promises to be one where a lot has to get done, now that the wolf seems
to have scratched the finish off the door and has gotten to work on the
The burst of pre-Xmas work cleared out most of the overdue
work, but I've promised my editor a piece on the city's Olympic bid sometime
in the new year, preferably before the winner of the 2008 games is announced
in May. I've also got a travel piece on Spain to finish, and soon, if I
stand a chance of getting another place on a junket there again. Travel
writing isn't a bad way to make a few bucks, if I can just get my leg up
on it, but I've been saying that for years.
In any case, travel junkets mean photos, and the photography
side of my business has been suffering more than a bit, lately. I feel
bad about it, not the least because a shoot -- a few hours of work, including
darkroom time -- pays much better than a feature that can take a month
or more to write, and rarely nets me more than a few hundred bucks. Complain,
I STOPPED DOING MUCH PHOTOGRAPHY, if only to preserve
the enjoyment I get out of taking pictures. Like too much of what I was
doing, it was starting to feel mechanical and uninspired, especially while
I was at the other free
weekly, shooting endless restaurants and local actors. I needed a break,
of sorts, to figure out just what I still liked to shoot and, in any case,
the business was getting on my nerves.
It's not that I didn't like photography any more, though
I have to admit that I'd long since begun to hate other photographers.
It's not a profession filled with dazzling intellects or searching minds,
I'm afraid, especially in a provincial centre like Toronto. Too often,
my acquaintances with other photographers, tinged with an air of competition
at the best of times, degenerated into endless talk about gear,
about the business, about trends and getting ahead of them
before all the art directors in the city were tired of seeing ring-flash
portraits or cross-processing or whatever.
When we moved out of the old loft I lost my studio, which
has forced an inevitable bit of re-evaluation of my work. I used to think
that a studio space was essential to my work, and I still find pushing
aside the living-room furniture to make room for my lights and backdrop
a bit of an unhappy compromise. In any case, most of my work is on location,
anyways, and if somebody wants me to do something that requires a complex
studio set-up, I'd like to think they can afford to pay for the expense
of a day's studio rental time.
To be honest, the work I've been enjoying most of all
has no people in it, from the still-lifes in the garden, to the architectural
work I've done for travel and news features, to these desolate little landscapes
I've been shooting with a $25 plastic camera. Perhaps I'm finally turning
into that thing I've always dreaded -- a fine-art photographer.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE TURN OF THE CALENDAR YEAR that prompts
such flurries of navel-gazing?