Monday, September 19, 2022

Photgraphs and Me

 Stunning sunny days evoke memories of time passed in France, Africa and in my childhood. Sunny brilliant days are profound memory triggers, whereas rainy days, not at all. Yesterday morning’s walk with the big dog walking group was stunning. I tried to walk alone so that memories kept coming to mind. 

I came home for a quick snack, and then I went to our annual Fall Fair. I’d never been before and was very keen to go. I was excited about being part of a long rural tradition in North America at harvest time; I was glad to be a part of my island’s cultural tradition. 

There were a lot of dogs at the fair; I was thrilled to meet as many as I could. There was lots of food and entertainers. Everyone was in a joyous mood; it was such a lovely day. What surprised me most, was seeing so many young people—people in their thirties and forties. And I saw many people whom I knew. It was lovely fun.

Back home again, I did no yard work. There is naught but sunshine in our weather forecast for the next week, so I didn’t feel pressure to do anything yesterday. After all, it was Sunday, my day. I read through the afternoon, had a spa, and then lit a fire before the sun set. It was a great way to end the day warmed by a fire and with a great Thai dinner that I bought at the fair.

I have a long and close relationship with photographs. 

When my mother was in hospital, my father had to look after me. We often went to his office for the day on Saturdays. I would wander through the mostly empty offices and people would ask who I was, and I would tell them I was dad’s son. One day, I met the photography pool. Dan Scott, Deni Eagland, and another person whose name I can’t remember welcomed me warmly. The photo pool was on call seven days a week.

I kept going back to be with them. They would give me a story to read, and I’d have to tell them what photograph to use to go with the story. To do that, the showed me the photograph library they had, all sorted in folders stored in a sea of boxes on shelves. In big print on the wall, was a list of the titles of all the portfolios and their box number. When I’d show them my choice, I’d have to defend it and then they’d critique it. What we did most, though, was critique photographs in other newspapers and in magazines.

I loved the game, and the men. My friends played games, largely sports, all the time. What I was doing with those men was, easily, the best game I ever played.

As I matured and with an expanded social life, I started seeing family photographs in the homes of my friends. After years of having that experience, I realized that we Tyrells didn’t take family photographs. They had professional photographs taken of me once when I was a about eight years old, and they were hung in the house where you’d see them on your way to the bathroom. To my tortured soul, the lack of photographs was proof of the indifference of my parents. The list of proofs would grow.

When I changed to this new computer, it came with less memory. Part of the problem I had in transferring my old data, was that I had too much data. That’s why I decided not to pursue rescuing more files from my old machine. I deleted all applications that I don’t use, and yesterday I finished erasing all my old photographs, and now I don’t keep most of the photographs I take. 

I continued the pattern of my family of three. I kept no visual record of my life. I felt I didn’t need to. I had the memories. I severed my relationship with personal photography when a friend died. He left his entire estate to a charity. I and others of his friends sorted, cleaned, displayed thigs, and priced all his things in advance of an open house sale.

After all the work, I went home to shower and change, then I went back to the sale in my friend’s apartment. When I went in, the television was getting the most attention. It was in the front room. I moved into the kitchen, the sacred room of my friend’s life. His favourite sense was taste after he lost his sight. Once inside, I saw boxes on the floor priced at five bucks per box. 

The boxes were full of kitchen tools and spices, every utensil worth a good price. He had top-of-the-line instruments. Being sold so cheaply made me start to choke up. I felt my friend was being insulted by the low prices. The backdoor lead out to a porch and so I went outside so no one would see me crying. I was quite overwhelmed. 

The porch was small. I turned and took the stairs down into the yard, and at the bottom of the stairs were all his personal photographs in one of the many overflowing garbage bins and bags. That truly flattened me; I was a sobbing wreck. Thank God that I was alone.

The TV that he couldn’t see being the object of most desire, the culinary tools of his passion, diminishing, and the photographs of him, of his life and his loves and his family, garbage. I was crushed. It all seemed backwards.

Then, in my late twenties, I built a theatre for a cultural centre in North Vancouver. It’s ironic: The centre administrator made me operate my theatre project in a separate bank account to protect the centre from the failure he anticipated of me. When the theatre opened, it was a financial success, we were flush with operational profit from the start. The centre ran out of money, so the board fired the administrator, and I took over. 

As the new senior staff person, they charged me with making the gallery as financially successful as the theatre. I told them I could operate it profitably, but I could not predict by how much. I felt the gallery could do best for itself if it specialised, so I declared that photography would be its cultural mandate. And it worked.

My favourite memory is going to the gallery one night to do something in the theatre because the theatre was dark then. I arrived to see an extraordinary lineup of people waiting to get into our photography show. 

I negotiated exhibitions by major photographic masters and structured into the agreement, a purchase of one of their photographs. I auctioned them as the gallery’s primary way of raising funds.  I showed mostly local artists, famous artists infrequently. I charged admission for the big names. The gallery made a profit, and its mandate is in place still.

Sidebar: I programmed the big names to bring public awareness to our gallery’s new mandate—I wanted audiences, patrons, and sponsors. I wrote to LIFE magazine to see if they were touring a show, because two generations grew up seeing the news in that magazine. I wound up in New York, working briefly at TIME/LIFE. Me! Working at the world’s most famous news/photography magazine. I spent a week there, going in nine-to-give and meeting with the heads of different departments. We talked about how museums and galleries worked in Canada, about security of their photographs on tours, and how to identify and contact exhibition appropriate centres for their shows. In return, my gallery was the only foreign site on their first show’s tour. 

Now, I live in a world of too many images. There are too many of them with subjects that estrange me from society. Pictures of lousy politicians, bigots and angry fans, gun advocates, anti-abortionists, people angry about immigration, and leaders of greedy corporations. All the news is about bad people and bad decisions, and the human/social cost of those decisions. I avoid images as much as I can. Images now, illustrate stories that together have killed all hope in me for the future of mankind and the planet.

Here are some photographs of our Fall Fair.

The music stage.

All the following photos, except the last one, are of the various
competitions: Best flower, best food basket, best recycled article,
etcetera. This was the best part!

This is the judging of the best home-grown Marijuana.

The corn on the cob stall.

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