Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Great Party, Eh?

Headed to Pearson Airport this morning at the crack of dawn, and if you have to check your Google airport lists, you’ll eventually find that this is the airport for Toronto. My first trip here in over twenty years, was to be a presentor at the News Photographers Assn. of Canada’s annual awards weekend. They make quite the little program – two days of presentations by photographers, both domestic and foreign, plus some tech tips (always handy) and a quite fun awards presentation, this year done in a large funky gallery space in on of those districts that is morphing from warehouse to art. One of the real surprises to me was the fervent cosmopolitan flavor of the city. I’d taken an airport bus to town when – having presented myself at the customs clearance hall to the assembled waiting multitudes, no one jumped up and down and said “Hey Dave! Welcome to Toronto.” The bus dropped me off near that giant CT tower (correct me if I’m wrong but I think it’s the tallest structure in North America) with the hint that my hotel was 3 or 4 blocks away. I started to walk north, and the walk turned into something more like 2 miles, but it was absolutely welcoming as a way of getting to see the place. Broad avenues, at which NO ONE jaywalked (shades of Beverly Hills), with cops briskly whistling at traffic to keep moving, and expansive green spaces with stately old colonial buildings. Then, I walked a couple of blocks east, in search of a bite to eat, and plunk! found myself on Yonge street. Apparently it’s regarded as being one of ‘the longest streets in the world’ and what a treat it was. Almost set apart from the neighborhood around it, it is one of the funkiest, most delightful collections of Asian restaurants, and odd ball shops, that I’ve ever seen. The Korean/Vietnamese/Chinese/Sushi eateries were literally endless (I regard a sight such as that as a fantastic and wonderful challenge…) and, finding a Noodlery, took a little break from my walk. It’s hard to think of yourself as being in a ‘foreign’ country, but I was reminded by the good people (yes, I’m being facetious) at Verizon Wireless – that calling whilst in the Dominion would cost me an additional $1 a minute roaming plus .25 per text message. I’m still befuddled as to why our cell fones cost so damn much, while every peasant in Bolivia and Lebanon spends the whole day chattering up friends on their mobiles. Making it to the hotel, I jumped right into the opening ceremonies: a soirée of portfolio reviews sustained by bottles of Sheelan (sp?) cream ale. The pictures were as good as the beer, and frankly, it’s kind of fun to return to a culture where grownups just enjoy their brewskis in the manner that Ben Franklin did (“Beer is proof that God loves us…”) There were several very good, young photographers in the mix. Sometimes doing portfolio reviews can be really difficult: when the work isn’t very good, what do you say? I’ve never been good at tearing up someone’s prize prints, tossing them on the ground and saying “try getting work as a beautician!” like some infamous editors of the 1960s. But I have to say that most of the young photographers had something worth seeing in what they were showing. One in particular, Christopher Pike, is someone we’ll be seeing things from going forward.

Of course the real issue is …see WHERE? What will be the vehicles, the organs, the manifestations of still photography that will take the place of the magazine / newspaper world which has driven the “press” for so many decades. As the downward spiral of media companies continue, the real issue remains how to find a suitable path for sharing the work which isn’t based on some spurious “free” model of today. Even well turned out (over 100 photographers) events such as this will be in peril going forward if there is no way for the companies who use these images to actually pay their photographers.

One of the most gratifying moments for me came with the reuniting of old friends. Bob Lindberg, who has lived for three decades in Toronto, came with his wife Sylvia to my presentation Saturday morning. He was a year ahead of me at Colorado College, having been an All American hockey player in high school in Minneapolis, and one of the stalwarts of the CC team. We were fraternity brothers (Kappa Sigma, if you must know!) and since school our lives have diverted in very different directions. I pursued my photography all over the place, while Bob played in Switzerland as a pro for ten years before retiring, marrying, and getting into the rug trade in Toronto as in importer. His travels took him to many of the same places I went to, though for different pursuits – his rugs, mine mugs, and remains today a very international guy with a very aw shucks attitude (hmmm reminds me of me!) His kids have gone walkabout, one living in Jersey (Channel Island) as a banker, the other in Australia. Talk about expense issues for a family reunion! We nipped out for breakfast after my early morning (8:30 really IS too early to speak and certainly to listen) talk, and were joined by Devyana Saltzman, whose uncle Dilip Mehta has been a long time colleague and photographer at Contact – though now he is producing feature films – and whose mom is Deepa Mehta, the film director. Devyana is a writer very much on her own, buoyed no doubt by the summer she interned at Contact a dozen years ago. It was really fun to connect all these dots at the same table. Back at the Seminar I FINALLY met Michael Harding, Harding and Burnett, a scary combo
an absolutely brilliantly funny chap whose writings to this blog are legendary. After so many online notes and comments, it was great fun to actually meet Mr. Harding, the genius behind so many devious and amusing postings.

The speakers ensemble included Andrea Bruce (formerly staff at the Wash. Post), Shihoh Fukoda, now freelancing from Beijing, Andrea and Shiho
and the irrepressibe Philip Blenkinsop of NOOR Images, an absolutely madcap freelancer who now calls Bangkok home. It was a wonderfully energetic and volatile mix of talent (the three of them are really amazing photographers - check their sites out), and I am pleased beyond words that we got to hang out a bit. The thing is, let’s face it, most of the time as a photographer, unless your beat is the White House or the Hill, or Paris Hilton at a night club, you’re on your own. You work a story, a photographic situation, but seldom in the company of others in your trade (ah, thats actually a good thing.) We all know each other by reputation and by published work, but it’s rare enough that you just get to hang with folks and catch up in an unhurried way. I guess I am at least a generation older than these folk, but I have to confess, that I for one, never stop learning, and I think I got as much out of their presentations -- and more importantly having a beer, as I have anything I’ve seen of late. I’m headed back home, mindful of the fact that short weekend hops like this, whether to see friends or do a workshop, can be enormously satisfying and meaningful. You don’t need a week, or even five days. And I have to confess our Canadian brethren are lucky enough to have countless brands and types of beer available. Even the “stock” stuff was first rate. When you come from a place like DC or NYC most of the time the best they can do is Heineken( Gimme a break!) So carry on, my friends to the North. Can’t wait till next year. We’re just sayin’… David


m_harding said...

Beer? It was Sleemans. In your deffense, after five of them, one doe's finally pronounce it as Sheelan.

It was good to see you. Too short a time,for sure.

You did deserve a better welcome to Canada. Had I known, I would have been at the airport with bells on (literally).

The funniest,heartbreaking, and inspirational presentation I've witnessed in recent memory. Not a soul in the seminar room left unaffected by your generosity.

Thank you David.


Jack Simpson said...

I was there, but by your description and Mr. Hardings response, I think I should be flogged for
not attending ;)


Jack Simpson