Red Umbrella

I haven’t been to busy lately. For the past 3 months I have been sort of inactive as a photographer. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “creative block” because I don’t really believe in it. It’s just that I am busy with other things (moving in to a new house) and thought I needed a break. This is not the first time this has happened to me. 5 or 6 years ago the same thing happened and it was at the same time of year. I just sort of stopped for a few month but when it was over—it was really over and I probably did some of my best work. It goes like this.

There comes a time when I feel I have to shoot just because I have to, not because I want to. So, I grab my camera and hit the streets with no particular ideas in mind. I might grab and interesting shot or two nothing really gels. I get no feeling of  excitement or creativity when I am out there. You might say that whatever passion I may feel as a photographer has dried up. I suppose the good thing about self-assigning is that there is no pressure to produce, I can simply step back and wait until the energy is back—and it always returns. As I mentioned, I do not really believe in “creative block” and if it exists, it’s not a negative thing—its exactly the opposite. I come back stronger. So, every 5 or 6 years I go through this 3 month hiatus and concentrate on other pursuits without the guilt associated with not taking any pictures.

This time, it is almost over for me now. We had purchased a new home and it was being renovated for the past three months. At my age and given my temperament, having to deal with that and shooting in the street would have been a bit stressful so I laid back. Next week it will be over, we will have moved in and I can have my life back. In a few weeks it will be as it always was and this period will be over.

There was a time in my life when I did not take a picture for 7 years. That happened after a divorce and subsequent meeting of my second wife and the passion of taking pictures was absent. Then, one day, I woke up and decided to begin again. That was in 1996 and my photographs, in my opinion, became better—much better. In fact there are only 1 or 2 pictures from before this period that I consider any good at all. That’s how it goes. What I am saying is that taking a break is not a bad thing because you always come back—come back stronger.

bike06 bike21

In the summer of 1968, I purchased a Triumph 650cc Trophy motorcycle and was introduced to the passion, joys, and freedom of biking. That year, hanging out with my biker friends, I came to appreciate and understand the “biker culture”. In September, I drove my bike from Montreal to Vancouver, which was my first great adventures as a young man. I later sold my bike, began to settle down, but I never forgot that glorious year I spent on the roads.

Recently I went to Daytona Beach, Florida to the annual Bike Week 2012 rally—however this time it was not as a biker but as a photographer. I was not looking for old friends but only their ghosts—the symbols and relics from my wonderful experience of 45 years ago. Bike Week is where bikers go to have fun, to shock, to misbehave, and to exhibit themselves. It is a week of butts, boobs, bellies, bikes and lots of beer. It is as American as apple pie.

Its a world that I left a long time ago but still look back on with certain nostalgia and a touch of affection.

NYC_redsquare NY_street scene

It has been a while since I put anything up. I have been thinking about New York lately. Usually when I get this way, it is because I am feeling a bit restless. I am considering going to a photo workshop in Europe, My new iMac fell apart after 6 days and I am now waiting for a new one, Its cold (for Florida) outside, My old cat has started to drool, and a few other things that always seem to get me in this mood. So, when things are down, dream_and dream about far off places where you may think (only think) that you will be better off if you were there. Of course that is not it. You are never better off somewhere else because you take your shit with you. I know that. At least I think I do—because whenever it starts, I keep falling for it over and over again. It usually takes a week or so and then I catch up with reality again. In the meantime I wait it out—I eat, drink, get some work done and get my life in sync with boredom. It works every time.

I am still thinking about a workshop in Europe but its because its what I want, not what I think I need.

storm&don

A few years ago, I was in Houston attending a portfolio review. Things were not going well at the time. Some reviewers were too honest, some were right on, others were full of shit.It was sort of depressing so I took an afternoon off and headed for a bar. I stumbled into this place, somewhere in the downtown area, picked out a stool and ordered a beer. Within a few moments I was talking to these two guys. Storm (on the right) was homeless but he got a check from somewhere every month and spent it in a bar while they let him charge his phone. I guess he added a new dimension to homelessness. Donald (on the left) worked in a shelter. He had been homeless, but settled down and now devoted his time helping people. In their spare time they both drank.

Bars are interesting places. Everybody is friendly and happy but I think down under there is something missing. Most people live very lonely lives in “quiet desperation” — without contact, without hope and without passion. They are just drifting from one woman/man to another, from one job to another and from one bar to another. They never really get passionate about things. They never feel they have to get inside anything, to understand it, to get better at it, to master it. Instead they drink.

I feel fortunate that I can get into things and try to understand them better. Although I was a fuck-up in school, I managed to get into worthwhile activities as I matured, that opened up my “curiosities”. Whether it was as a photographer, a golfer, a designer, there was always something to stir me up and I am grateful for it.

Who knows about people like Storm and Donald. Perhaps I am completely wrong about them. I hope so.

Sometimes pictures just look good together. Two days, two places, two thoughts, made two photographs. One day (today), one thought… and it comes together. interesting. Once upon a time about a year or two ago, I was speaking to this curator at a portfolio review and he opened up a bit and confessed how he just loved looking at photographs. It was a very honest sincere statement, and refreshingly so un-academic. Looking is everything and when one looks enough, one can see more than what is apparent after a quick glance.

I have no idea where or when the photograph on the right was made. The one on the left was last year in Salzburg. They are totally unconnected except in my head. Its nice to travel that way.

I think New York has to be one of my favorite cities. There is nothing like it. This photo is 14th Street in Chelsea. The streets are alive, bustling with energy, in motion. There is a certain pulse about it that is unique. Paris, Rome, London, all have their distinct charms but this town is different. Probably because, depending on where you are in this city, there is a bit of Paris, Rome, London, or any other place on earth. This is where all the world meets and it is streets like 14th Street where they sell their goods. I love the merchandise displayed on the sidewalks, the peddlers yelling at you to come in, the whole beat of the place —its like so Jazzy.

This was my second visit to NYC this year. We try to make it an annual event but this year, I wanted to hang out below 26th Street and that is what I did. If someone were to ask me what my favorite activity is these days it would be hanging out. When I was younger I had other desires and yearnings but as an old fart, its just hanging out. Come to think of it, that is how I started out as a youth. Hanging out on Stanley Street in Montreal was where  I started out as a young, met most of my friends, grew up, acted out and most of all found an ever-loving appreciation of just hanging out and watching what was going on in the street. The birth of a voyeur!

John Max 2008

I got to know John Max as a young teenager growing up in Montreal. He was a friend of my older brother Henry and I would see him from time to time at my home, at gallery openings, and around the streets, downtown in the early 1960’s. Since I was only 17 or 18 at the time, most of my brother’s friend’s barely acknowledged me but John was different. He always took time to chat, ask my about what I thought —he was really interested in me. My recollections of John from those days were a bald head, a green canvas coat with lots of pockets, and a Nikon rangefinder camera dangling from the strap around his neck.

As I grew older and started hanging around downtown, I would occasionally run into him on the street, taking photographs or in used bookstores where he liked to browse. At that time, I was always surprised that he would take the time to talk to “Henry’s kid brother” but that’s the way he was. He was truly a gentle soul.

One year, I think it was in 1967 or around there, I was subletting an apartment from my brother who was in England for a year and John rang the door bell. He did not know Henry was away but he came in anyways and we spent a couple of hours drinking coffee and talking. At that time I wasn’t sure about being a photographer and was into it in a sort of half-assed way. I showed him some prints, but in his direct blunt manner he told me that they were uninteresting, poorly printed, and I had a long way to go. He then told me that he was going to be preparing for an upcoming show  and he could use some help and would I be interested in helping him print his contact sheets. For the next week, I would show up at his place in Ville St. Michele at 9:00 PM. We would have drink some tea, and then descend into his basement darkroom for the remainder of the night. Twenty pots of coffee later, I would emerge at 5:00AM into the early morning summer first light and take the bus back to my place. This went on for a week and we must have printed well over 500 contact sheets. I think my passion for taking photographs originated in John’s basement that summer.

At some point a few years later he went to Japan and I did not see him for a while but one night I ran into him as I was visiting my friend Sam. There he was, in the living room talking to some people in a very intense way. We said hello briefly and then he went back to talking to those people for a few hours. Sam and I lit up a joint a chatted about our stuff and the night went on. Eventually the people John was talking to left and he joined us. We talked—he asked about my brother, my parents etc. and told us about his adventures in Japan. At some point I told him that I was taking a lot of photographs but I felt I was never getting anywhere and that I was really disappointed in my work. He replied that he had just been hired to teach a class at The Saidye Bronfman Center and I was welcome to sit in. I jumped at the chance and the next week I attended my first “class”. His class consisted of making individual appointments with his students in one of the hallways of the building where we would sit on two metal chairs in the corner and he would go over contact sheets and criticize their work. Then we would all meet together and do story boards which consisted of taking pictures from magazines and posters and combining them into collages on a 30×40 inch board. We would then show our work to the class and we would discuss it. He rarely spoke at these sessions but I loved it. The class would end with John reading a page or two from some obscure philosophical text and that would be the theme for our next storyboard. This went on for three years.

This was the only “formal” education I ever had as a photographer but it changed the way I make, and look at photographs to this day. I have always been grateful to him for the countless hours he spent with me during those years. Since I was not an official student, I offered to pay him but he always gently refused. All he asked was the I keep a fish in our freezer, just in case he wanted to drop by for dinner but he never did.

Since I moved to the US twenty years ago, we rarely saw each other—perhaps about once every year or two but every now and then, the phone would ring and there would be his voice—“David? How are you. Its John”, and we would catch up for an hour or two.

I will miss him