1988 opened with the largest concert I have photographed to date - The Wailers
(as in Bob Marley and the) live at Dalhousie University. It was
an incredible experience (apart from the marijuana haze which hung over
the room) and during it I made what I consider to be my best concert
photos - Peter Tosh reaching for the sky. One of the joys of working at
the McInnis Room at Dalhousie was the amount to lighting they had;
concert lighting would become the biggest technical issue I'd have to
overcome in the coming years.
Shortly after I photographed the Wailers, I turned 19, and began to photograph in Halifax's only alternative bar, Pub Flamingo. This was almost a let-down. Note I said almost. By this time I was quickly becoming hooked on concert photography, and even a mediocre band were seen as a challenge, and being able to see different bands three nights a week seemed like heaven, even if some of them were terrible. The lighting at the Flamingo was better than at most bars, which was fortunate as there's little more frustrating than trying to photograph a band with insufficient lighting - failure is inevitable, and very disheartening.
I said in the 1987 page that one of the subjects I most wanted to photograph was concerts. The other was the nude. Even before I began using a camera, I was interested in the nude as a visual plane. The incredible variation possible with the body, and its undeniable ability to speak to each and every viewer in a personal manner drew me to the body as I have never been drawn to a subject since.
My first explorations of the nude were self-portraits; I didn't feel it was fair to ask a model to do something I had not tried myself. A friend helped me with the camera operations, and in the studio during a cool winter morning, I created my first images of the body. The experience was good, giving me insight into being on the other side of the camera, but frustrating - as I wanted to be the one making the images, and as pleased I was with the results, I knew I could do better being on the other side of the camera.
A week later, I created my first images of the Nude working with a model. I made only two negatives during the session, which was also my first time using a 4"x5" view camera. The image is not terribly inventive, nor even challenging, and I certainly would never claim it was among my best, but it was the starting point, and as is extremely important to my work as a whole. That day I began to work towards where I am today in a fully conscious and deliberate way. I knew I wanted to photograph the nude, and had begun.
About a week after my session with L_, I had to carry out a technical assignment, copying a magazine advertisement in the lighting studio. I arranged for a model, M_, and she and I went into the studio to reproduce the image. After that was done, we continued, and M_ asked if I'd be interested in some lingerie images. I'd never been too interested in glamour photo as such, but gave it a go - again not too many images were made, and many of them were just straight out failures, but the one to the left wasn't half-bad. The thing I realized quickly was that photographing glamour was about teasing, where as photographing the Nude was about revealing.
My second session with a nude was far different from the first. S_ and I worked together in her apartment, by candlelight. The images were all made with large apertures and times approaching 1 second. There is a softness and delicacy to the images that would be hard to reproduce in a studio with flash.
|6x6 cm film|
Once school was through in April, I continued photographing bands at the Pub Flamingo. By this time, I'd become the "house photographer" and had a good report with the management. Over the summer I photographed between two and four bands a week, and while I certainly never made any money from the process, I enjoyed every minute of it, and learned loads about lighting and working quickly with unpredictable subjects.
The fall of 1988 was the beginning of my second year at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design
. I finally was able to enroll into the regular photo course stream, and begin working towards acquiring the skills I knew I lacked. In January I had mistakenly shown up for registration exactly when it began, not four hours beforehand when the students had begun lining up. The beginning of the regular photo stream was Intro Photo, which mainly consisted of polishing the skills acquired in Foundation Photo, and introducing students to fibre paper. Over the term, I did a lot of image making, though most of it was for my personal projects, as opposed to for class. All through my attendance at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design I found it difficult to integrate my own vision with those required by my courses, and inevitably split the two into distinct areas - work I believed in, and work I produced for class.
This division of my photography was the beginning of an inner tension I would not resolve for over five years - producing work for school that was meaningless to me, and work for me which did function within the confines of the college. The fall of 1988 was the last time I managed to incorporate elements of myself into my projects for the college with any success. After this date, for over five years, the only work that mattered to me at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design was that which was created in a context outside of the demands of the classroom. The irony of this still is poignant today; I was attending art college to learn how to express myself visually, but I had to divide my vision between that which would be acceptable in school, and what which I wanted to explore.
One of the high points of 1989 was a winter trip to Toronto. It was an opportunity to do street-style photography in an area new to me, without the outside pressure of school or deadlines - I could shoot all I wanted, for as long as it took. The one thing about Toronto in the winter is it is dark - and often wet (it was a mild winter in Ontario, and what little precipitation that did make appearances was in the form of rain); this wasn't a problem however, as the previous years work doing concert photography had made me comfortable with low-light photography and pushing film. Many of the most successful images of the trip to Toronto were on pushed film, taken well after sundown. The mannequin to the left was a bemused soul, looking out of a ritzy store display.
|6x4.5 cm film|
The most important thing to my work in 1989 was impact - I wanted images that were powerful, and often printed very dramatically, exaggerating contrast and cropping tightly for a very confrontational result. I spent much of my time wandering with a camera, finding images as they came to me. It wasn't very satisfying without a unifying motivator behind the images, but I was still enamoured with the process itself, and meaning was secondary to simple success.