Monday, December 05, 2016

Charlie's Trail #627

Charlie's Trail, Vancouver Island, October 2015.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Listening carefully for great pictures

Today's post is about using more than my vision to find great pictures. On this particular day in October of 1980 I was on my way to a photo assignment in the Bramalea Civic Centre in Brampton Ontario. When I finished that job, I used the sound of music to guide me to a children's ballet class being being held in one of the classrooms. I was sent there by the newspaper I worked for at the time, The Brampton Times where I had been working for the past yea and a half.

So there I was walking through the foyer of the large building and I could hear the distinct sound of some lovely piano music being played as it echoed throughout the building, I used my ears to guide me and I soon found the sound was emanating from a children's ballet class. I knocked on the door and asked the instructor if it would be okay to photograph the class for the Times newspaper, I noticed that there was wonderful light spilling in from the floor to ceiling windows that was along one side of the large room, perfect for natural light photography with no flash which is what I like best.

With the instructor's okay, I spent next 1/2 an hour or more photographing the dozen or so children, it was a class for pre-ballet class for 4 and 5-years-olds. Their black and white ballet outfits were perfect for black and white film that I was shooting at the time in my Nikon cameras. After I got back to the office, my editor must have been quite pleased with my pictures because the paper ended up running a full page of pictures. What is noteworthy about this picture in particular is that this photo of the little ballerina girl, ( shot with a 85mm lens ) touching her nose to her toes won me my very first photography awards. I received two awards for the same picture, first runner-up award for Feature Photography and the other, also first runner-up for Excellence in Photography ( under 35,000 circ. ) by the Western Ontario Newspaper Awards, the 27th annual at the time when it was held in April of 1981 in Kitchner Ontario. The Western Ontario Newspaper Awards ( now the Ontario Newspaper Awards ) had a lot of very strong competition by some of the top papers in Ontario. That year Dick Wallace of the London Free Press took the top feature photo award and Willy Waterton of the Owen Sound Sun Times took the top Excellence in Photography award. As with much of my work I was pleased that I won for my feature photography which has always been my strong point. I was grinning ear to ear.

Winning that award and a strong portfolio landed me on the short-list for a staff photographer's job at the very prestigious Kitchener Waterloo Record in the fall of 1981, I believe I was one of two photographers that they were seriously looking at. I went through a challenging interview, one of the toughest I have ever gone through, the two photo editors of the Record sat opposite of me in the photo department, and they would rattle off questions one after another with hardly time for me to catch my breath. In the end I didn't get the job, I believe it went to Philip Walker, had I got the job it would have been a big step up from the Thompson owned Brampton Times, the Record at the time had state of the art color and black processing film darkrooms, seamless walled studios and pretty well the best of everything. I was in awe.

After that a recession hit Ontario and other parts of Canada in 1982, photography openings a papers were few and hard to come by, I applied for one position at the Kingston Whig Standard and was told that my resume was somewhere in a stack of 200 that had applied so far applied. I never did get called for an interview with the Whig. I cooled my heels for a while and gave some deep thought as to where I wanted to go with my life, stay in Ontario or perhaps head back west to my beloved British Columbia. So in 1983 like I did in coming out to Ontario I made up a number of applications with a portfolio and sent them off via Canada Post to a number of B.C. papers including the Kelowna Daily Courier.

 Later in the summer of that year, I was asked to step into the publisher's office at the Brampton Times, the man in charge at the time was Victor Mlodecki, a tall man with a generous smile who was well respected and liked by the staff. He said to me "So I hear that you are looking for work?" Ah yes I said somewhat cautiously, as I had not said too much around the newsroom about seeking new employment. With that he said there is a staff photographer's job waiting for me at the Kelowna Daily Courier, I think it took me a couple seconds to answer, I just had to talk with the managing editor of the Courier at the time, Dave Henshaw to finalize the job, a much easier interview by far! While in Victor's office I was a bit speechless as it happened so quick and unexpectedly, within days after submitting my two weeks notice for the Times I was packing up my belongings preparing to move. So like I did heading out to Brampton 4 1/2 years earlier, I loaded up my bright orange Volvo in mid September with all my worldly goods and struck out east along the Trans-Canada Highway for Kelowna, B.C, it was a very good deal for me, as I was able to keep my start date and holidays owed with the Brampton paper, it actually was more of a transfer as the Courier and Times were both owned by Thompson Newspapers Inc which a the time owned dozens of papers across the country.

For my new home I would be living in the heart of the beautiful Okanagan Valley one of the most desirable places to live in all of Canada. I started my new job at the Kelowna Daily Courier on October 3, 1983. My first photo assignment for the Courier was to photograph the then federal agriculture minister, Eugene Whelan who held a press conference outside of the BC Tree Fruits offices on Water Street.

A new adventure was about to begin.

Lake Agnes, Banff National Park, Sept.1989

Lake Agnes, Banff National Park, September 1989( image # 257 ). I had been camping at the Kicking Horse campground in Yoho National Park when I received a few days of inclement weather, the snow level had dropped almost to the valley bottom, I quickly made my way to the Lake Louise parking lot and made my way to Lake Agnes. Lucky for me the snow had not melted much and no one had trampled the snow in the foreground. Photo made with a Tachihara 4 x 5 view camera and a 120mm lens.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Charlie's Trail #624

Charlie's Trail, Vancouver Island, October 2015.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Charlie's Trail #622

Charlie's Trail, Vancouver Island, October 2015.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Star photo assignment

Here is the story of how I paid a visit to the Toronto Star newsroom to have my portfolio reviewed by one the staff photographers, John Mahler and ended up doing a photo assignment which made page A20 of the Tuesday March 4, 1980 edition of the Toronto Star less than a year after I started at the Brampton Daly Times in May of 1979. I met John through Mike Crossman my previous editor at the Gazette who had given me John's name to look up while there I was in the Brampton area. John and Mike had worked together in Vancouver at one time.

 But first some background… After I had left the weekly newspaper the Goldstream Gazette on Vancouver Island in April or 1979, I found myself a job at the Brampton Daily Times in Ontario. It's interesting how I found the job, I sent out a number of letters of application along with 10 to 12 of my original photographic prints to smaller size newspapers across Canada that had a circulation of 10,000 to 15,000. I probably sent out at least a dozen or more of these unsolicited applications and received quite a few letters back saying thanks, but there are no openings for photographers at the time.

 However I did receive one letter from the Brampton Daily Times, a Thompson owned paper not far from Toronto, a bedroom community for the many people who commuted on a daily basis. It was arranged for me to I make my way up to Naniamo, BC on Vancouver Island where I was interviewed by the publisher of the Naniamo Daily Free Press, John Farrington. He wore a big brightly coloured psychedelic tie like out of the 1960's and looked over my portfolio, he must have liked what he saw and said if I wanted the job it was mine. He asked if I had ever been to Ontario? I said, "No" he replied "It's flat".

With that I packed up my bright orange Volvo with my worldly goods and proceeded to drive the entire 4800 km distance starting out from my parent's home in Langford all the way to Brampton, via the Canadian route. I had never been further east than Alberta. About ten days later, I arrived in Brampton. I remember eagerly grabbing a copy of the paper from the paper's vending box only to see a cheque presentation shot as the paper's main front page photo for that day. I was bit disappointed to say the least, I had my work cut out for me in more ways than one. For one thing my work load was much higher instead of producing say maybe 10 photo assignments a week for the the Gazette, I had many days at the Times when when I was producing ten assignments a day, plus I had to process film and make prints, write cutlines etc. Thus began my daily newspaper career.

....So there I am sitting in this very large Toronto Star newsroom, the biggest I had ever been in my life, feeing a little overwhelmed. John was looking over my portfolio, graciously giving me his time some helpful advice on how to improve my portfolio, he said I needed more hard news and sports. True to this day, my strongest work has always been feature type photography which I have always excelled at.

Anyway, John is looking over my bundle of prints, when the phone rings as they usually do in most busy newsrooms across the country, so John picks up the phone and on the other end is one of the Star's readers who thinks that three generations of family playing cards would make for a nice photo in the Star. I could hear John on the other end of the conversation, saying the he would send a photographer over and could he please have the address. John hangs up the phone, hands me the piece of paper with the address on it and say do I want to try this photo assignment? Like any good photographer not only did I have my portfolio with me but I had my cameras with me too. So off I went to this home in the Scarborough area of Toronto, I recall that it seemed to take forever to get there, but I found it okay.

At the home were these two old sweet ladies, May Fuller, 99 and Agnes King, 101 who liked playing gin rummy, so for the family generation photo King's great-grand-daughter 6-month-old Cheryl Reid was positioned between the two. Babies being babies and ones that are teething like to chew on things, it didn't take long for the baby to grab hold of one of the cards she was given to play with and start chewing. I knew I had my shot, shot the picture with a wide 24mm lens on my Nikon camera, so I drive back to the Star office at One Young Street, drop off my film and related cutline info thinking it will never make it into the paper. The next day I'm back at work at the Brampton Times, I go out to the street corner and grab a copy of that day's Star, I'm looking through the paper, not really expecting that my picture would appear, but also realizing that it would be cool if it did. Turning through the various pages of the paper I found my picture nice and big with good play on the the 20th page of the "A" section, ( March 4 1980 ). I never mentioned anything to my Brampton Times editors as I wasn't sure what they would think of my "freelance" job but it was a fun assignment and never did get me a full time job at the Star, but maybe got my little toe in the door.

Charlie's Trail #621

Charlie's Trail, Vancouver Island, October 2015.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Charlie's Trail #619

Charlie's Trail, Vancouver Island, October 2015.

Monday, November 21, 2016


I got very lucky soon after I had graduated from high school in that I met up with a great mentor at the start of my photography career. During the summer of 1976, my father thought I should try and see if there was any photographic work at the weekly newspaper, the Goldstream Gazette, the paper had just started publishing in March of 1976 and was co-owned by two experienced journalists, one of them was Mike Crossman, a photographer with extensive experience in both freelancing and working on at daily newspapers. The Gazette office was not far form the auto body shop that my dad worked at, so one day soon after I walked down to the Gazette office and asked to see Mike.

 I think Mike told me to come back with some prints that I could show him, and return I did with a stack of prints tucked under my arm. As I sat in the Gazette office in a nice oak office chair, Mike sitting opposite from me in a similar oak chair leaning back as he gazed over my prints. I don't remember all the things he said, but I recall he picked up a orange grease marker pencil and started marking up all my prints. I guess I was little surprised but hey they weren't any good anyway! at the end of our meeting he went over to a filing cabinet, pulled out a few rolls of 35mm film, ( Kodak Tri-X ) and told me to go shoot something. Which is what I did, that led to a photo assignment and many more one on one mentorship sessions in the Gazette office. I learned a lot in those years which gave me a solid foundation to build my career in the years ahead. The picture posted was one of the prints where Mike where gave me some helpful advice, on the print he wrote: "Shutter speed 40% important" ( so I wouldn't forget ). The photo was not very sharp because I shot it at too low of a shutter speed.

The picture is of the E & N Railway Dayliner Budd car #9103 that derailed not far from our family home, I think it happened in the early summer of 1976, the picture was never published as I had not started work at the Gazette at that point, but I recall that the train event caused quite a bit of commotion with people going to have a look at the derailed Dayliner and gave me an opportunity to photograph my first "spot" news event.