This is one of my oldest photographs, that I still like today. It was taken in 1983 when I went to Vancouver on my own for 3 weeks. I travelled to Vancouver and hung out with Brian for a week and then south to SF where I stayed with my friend Harvey. At that time i was feeling that my life was almost over. My marriage was crumbling, my job sucked, and I was feeling completely drained. In fact, it turned out quite the opposite—I was starting anew—although I did not know it at the time, my second life was about to begin. This photograph was taken on the BC ferry as i travelled to Gibsons to see an old friend from my youth.
Oh, did I ever mention that the Cuban people were some of the most wonderful people on the planet? When I visited, I expected to find dour miserable humorless folk,the same one would find in any other Communist country. Wrong again! They welcome you into their homes, they offer you coffees, show you their place of work, and try to talk to you even though they speak no English. It was impossible to walk down a street without some guy/woman coming up to you an asking where you are from. Every now and then someone would not want their photograph taken, but they politely asked you not to and always smiled. I think might be nice for a return soon—perhaps to on elf the many jazz festivals that are held each year.
One thing I liked about Havana was that there was always something happening on the street. Probably their homes were simple, crowded, or too hot—so thy liked to hang out on the street. I was fascinated by this woman just sitting on a chair reading her book, while the world walked by. She was oblivious to it all.
I miss Portugal. It is one of my favorite places in Europe. It is different from the other countries because it is simpler, a bit poorer and far more real. Sometimes I go to places in Italy and France and I think I am walking onto a movie set. Not this place though—its real, very real. The people are wonderful, the food is great and there are always places to visit. I do not remember the name of this town at all. It was somewhere north of Lisbon and we ended up here just before sunset. A long walk on the beach, a glass of wine in a small bar and a relaxing drive back to the hotel—what more is there to life?
Westmount Swimming Pool, Montreal, 1983
30 years ago, my photo opportunities were slim. I had a miserable job, a shaky marriage, and probably smoked too much dope. But I persevered, and tried to form my picture-taking to suit my lifestyle. My youngest daughter, Megan, would take swimming classes at the Westmount pool every Saturday morning, and I would take her there and wait, and then return home with her. It was a perfect opportunity to have an hour or so to myself and take a few pictures around Westmount Park. I actually became very familiar with the place and some of my favorite shots from that period were taken there. When my hour was up, I would return to the pool and take Megan home. I liked those Saturdays—they were very peaceful tranquil moments for me. Sometimes I would just hang around the pool and shoot but that was then. Now if I did that I would be classified as a pervert, squads of SWAT cops would surround me, take me down and spend the rest of the day interrogating me, checking my computer, and questioning my neighbors about my “suspicious” behavior. Sometimes progress can be a bit unnerving.
Every photographer has their own way of working. It doesn’t matter what discipline you practice, you will, over time develop a method and routine getting the best picture possible. I am no different. As a documentary photographer, I have, over the past 40 years developed a way of seeking out and making photographs that bring out the best in my abilities. It all begins with looking. In order to see, one must look. Some photographers like to wander, and as they do they observe scenes or people and then shoot. Others like to hang out—stay in one spot and wait for the picture to come to them. It’s a matter of personal preference. I like to do both. When I leave my house/car/hotel, I walk—I like to get a feeling of the place where I am, the rhythm of the street, the pace , the mood—all of it. So I spend the first hour or so walking and looking. I usually do not see much but every now and then I can get lucky. I usually will just snap a few shots of mostly boring situations—not that I expect anything good, but just to “warm up” so to speak. As I am doing this, I do not look straight ahead. I look up. I look down. During that hour or so, I know there are certain places that have some sort of attraction for me so I go back and then enter my “hang out” period. I just wait and see if anything is happening for me. This can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Then I move on to my next place and do it all over again. All the time I am looking sideways, up and down.
When people walk, they are always looking straight ahead at eye level. It is a very limited field of view. I look sideways, I look up and I look down. I even turn around and look back because the scene that you just walked past looks completely different when you look back. A lot of time I walk over the same streets back and forth many times because the scene is never static. If fact most street scenes change continuously on a regular basis. For instance, a few years ago I was in Austin TX taking pictures at the university near the main library. In front of the building was a beautiful grass square where people were reading, playing, chatting etc. I decided to walk around the square and see what was happening and the results were quite interesting. It took about twenty minutes to make a complete circuit, and after every complete turn, the scene in front of me changed completely. People got up, people sat down. other joined groups, some left, lovers caressed, people argued, children played—life goes on. I walked around that square for about 2 hours—round and round, and every time I came to where I started, the scene was different. I took many pictures. Some were good, some were just OK but I felt good about it, I was getting somewhere. As I mentioned, after about two hours I thought I was done and started looking on the outside of the square. At one end was a wall and across from the wall was a fountain and beyond was downtown Austin. I looked over the wall and saw this kid playing in the distance. He was running around and eventually would make his way closer to me so I waited. After about 10 minutes he was “in range” and I started shooting. This is one of my favorites! As I said you have to do everything because that gets you where you ought to be.
It’s often funny what one sees when walking about. Sometimes I walk out the door and think about what I want to see and as always I am disapointed because I will never find it. I know expectations can be fatal but I slip into it much too often. The best times are when I leave with no expectations in mind and my subjects mysteriously appear in front of me as if by magic. I love those moments. Last week along a walk in Venice Beach CA, I had reached a “dead zone” where there was not much going on and I was getting a bit restless. Just as I was about to head back, I noticed these small towers that were used for shade and saw this guy checking his cell phone (What else is new?). It did not look interesting until I noticed people on the bike path behind him and patiently waited until my shot showed up. They usually do.