People, Plants & Passion

It’s a retrospective for as long as you are still alive. Bob Mercer

Werner Herzog, Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’ , Bronwen Marsden & her violin

For years when people asked me what I was I always answered, “I am a photographer”. In 1989 I met a pushy, aggressive American photographer, Robert Blake. But in the end he always meant well. He called me up one day (after I had given him a tour of my home and home darkroom) to tell me, “Alex, the Exposure Gallery on Beatty Street is having a show of nude photography. You have some nice ones on your darkroom wall. You should participate.” I must confess that until that moment I had never ever considered my photographs to be beyond technically okay. I never saw them as art. Even now I loathe the over-the-top “artist’s statement” that often accompanies shows of dubious content.

Since 1989 I have had many shows, at least three one-man shows and the end result is always the same. People I have invited do not show up and days later ask me, “How was the show, Alex?” I feel like telling them, “fuck off” but I sit on my temper and answer, “It was all right.”

After a few gallery openings I came to realize that the best moment happened right after the hanging at the show. Except for a few friends you could sit down and think of all the work that went into it. After that it was never that good. Some of us know that Diane Arbus had a show on Friday. Saturday morning she woke up to a world that was no different from the day before. Arbus eased herself into a warm tub and slit her wrists.

I call that “post opening blues”. I soon went one up on Arbus by inventing the pre-post-opening blues. I would get depressed soon after hanging the show. The most obvious result of having an opening is the tremendous expense of framing and matting not to mention the boxes and boxes of photographic paper I use up. Each print must be as perfect as can be. People tell me, every time I am about to open, “It is going to be different this time. You can never tell.” Friend Robert Blake always would tell me (and I was always infuriated by the statement), “You cannot win the lottery unless you buy a ticket.”

After 24 years of on and off gallery shows I am cynical and blasé. You might have an exquisite portrait of Liv Ullmann. Would anybody pay any kind of money to buy it? I have long decided to ignore my wife’s request to have a show of all “my famous people”. As a student recently asked me in a photo class, “Can you show us any portraits of people who are still alive?”

There are these large and stunning giclées (artspeak for well made ink jet prints) of roses and plants from my garden that I scan. Viewers will be amazed but get confused when I tell them that they are scanographs and that I am a scanographer. From Ullmann to Rosa ‘Reine Victoria” they go to the next photograph and shortly leave the gallery leaving me quite empty.

As a young boy my grandmother saved me from all kinds of spankings and punishment by saying, “Alex is an artist. I am an artist. You have to give him room to expand.” But most of my life I have avoided calling myself an artist. I have been a successful portrait and editorial photographer. If you call yourself an art photographer and you fail you really fail. I abhor all those artspeak words like image instead of photograph or people who say, “I am going to make a photograph.” I loathe the modern term capture, “Nice capture, Alex!” and loathe and abhor are not good enough to opine on “Nice pic, Alex!”

With all that out of the way, imagine my surprise when Celia Duthie offered me a show in her Duthie Gallery on Salt Spring Island in BC. My expenses will not be huge as most of the stuff in my basement is either framed or nicely matted.

The problem with that is that you then face the concept of the retrospective. Retrospective in artspeak is the equivalent of the golden rocking chair/gold watch/retirement/roast. “Here is this plaque for your laudable contribution. Now go home and die and give room for the young.” I cannot explain fully the warmth and enthusiasm of Celia Duthie and her husband Nick Hunt have for my upcoming show that will open early May (I do not know the date yet). They keep telling me, “We do not need to sell. You deserve a show so people will understand the breadth of your work. People simply do not know.” I counter with the fact that the show will be open to the inhabitants of Salt Spring, I do not know of anybody in Vancouver willing to brave the ferry schedules and the fact that you cannot go to the island for just one day. You must spend the night. This leaves being able to promote the show via the internet and Celia Duthie has a good website.

Initially Duthie wanted to have a show of my substantial erotic output. She said something like, “I want to shock the inhabitants of the island.” After I sent her some samples she said, “Alex my gallery is a family gallery.” I believe that the portraits of the famous people will be up right next to the scans of my garden plants. It will be a nice show and everybody will leave pleased and the cash register will not ring. I also believe that my erotic photographs and giclées which will be housed in an interior room, guarded by Nick Hunt (in a police uniform and holding an Ak-47, perhaps?) will draw people in. The photographs will not be larger than 8x10 (all custom printed by yours truly in my darkroom) and the giclées will be 5x7. Could it be possible that some might buy these and frame them and put them in hidden sections of their living rooms? There is one aspect of this show for which I am thankful to Duthie. Even though this show is a retrospective (I am alive right now) I am shooting and have been shooting the last six months new erotic material. One ambition is to have something up on the wall on opening night that I may have taken two or three days before. I have always believed that a photographer is as good as his last photograph. If the photographer is supposed to also be an artist I cannot comment. You will have to judge my recent output to make up your mind. I thank Duthie for my recent spasm of passion and enthusiasm. I am excited!

As I place this old blog here in Medium on December 6 2016 I can report that the show was an almost complete failure. But I was never to know until about 8 months ago that we would move to a small house without a darkroom. For that show I printed up a storm. I am glad I did. Somebody will make some money selling these archival photographic prints (printed by me) when I am dead!

Link to: People, Plants & Passion

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