This blog promises to be very long. I had been thinking about it all last night. I read the extensive and fine obituary in my NY Times of Stephen Reid. Today, Sunday, Fathers’s Day I called up Celia Duthie, a former Vancouver book seller, to tell her of my concerns re writing this. I told her that many years ago Fred Schiffer a noted photographer of this city and now gone was called by Business Week for a photograph of Sam Belzberg. Schiffer knew that the pictures he had taken of the man were family portraits. He also knew that Belzberg had been involved in some questionable business dealings. So he told the magazine that since his photographs were taken privately and commissioned by Belzberg he was not going to send them anything.
On February 1986 I took some photographs for a Vancouver Magazine cover article, called Sequels, that involved literary parents and their children. One of them was Susan Musgrave and her daughter Charlotte.
In 1985 I had gone to Musgrave readings and I was astounded by her presence in red. I believe it must be her favourite colour. She stood on one side of her lectern in a tight red dress and wearing exquisite red pumps. She read her poetry (it was erotic to begin with) but her presentation, diction and that little smile made it more so.
And so I rang the bell at her house in Sidney. A woman wearing a tight red sweater opened the door and I was let in. I had this idea that I wanted to photograph her and daughter in her back garden showing the water and the rocky terrain. She took me to her kitchen where we discussed the picture we were going to take. It was pleasantly warm. It was very cold outside.
The Laughter in the Kitchen
From: Things that Keep and Do Not Change. McClelland & Stewart, 1999
All day my daughter and her best friend
have been playing marriage, destroying
the house to make it the way they need it
to be. They’ve shoved the loveseat
across the bedroom door to form a barricade,
overturned the armchairs to give themselves
temporary shelters. They’ve even rolled
the carpet back, “so the carpet won’t get
beer spilled on it,” my daughter, pretending
to be Dad, explains, when I complain:
the house doesn’t feel like my own anymore
but still I have to live in it. “We can
build a new house when I make lots of good
money,” my daughter says, butting out
the Popeye candy cigarette she won
from the neighbour boy for showing him
her vagina through a slit in the split
cedar fence. I wept, told her next time,
baby, hold out for a whole pack,
trying to be brave, the way only a mother
could. “We can’t build anything if you
keep drinking drugs,” the tiny wife bursts
as my daughter keels into the woodstove
and pretends to catch fire, the laughter
in the kitchen filling the house
where we tried to live. What has become
of my young life, the man who once pressed
a fistful of crocuses between my breasts
and made love to me on the kitchen floor
while beyond, on the river,
a loudspeaker-toting paddleboat carried
honeymooners to the mouth. Later we took
the same cruise, pretending to be newlyweds
ourselves, holding hands on the tipping deck
with others who took photographs to prove
they had truly been there, they had
loved each other — once. The laughter
in the kitchen reminds me: grief
is a burden, something to be shaken
like the foxgloves in our garden, stooping
under the weight of their seeds. I’ve learned
the lessons of pain, now wait for the same
light that makes my daughter’s face so
luminous and wise as she says to her small friend,
“Now you be Dad. You’ve got no body so you can’t
get away. I’ll be the mother this time.”
I was too worried about my photograph to take note of our conversation. I watched her and saw that she was ravishingly beautiful in her red sweater. I heard myself saying, “Susan I want to photograph you outside.” Because it was in the middle of winter I heard her saying (in my imagination), “This means I will have to put on a coat.” This is exactly what she told me and gave me the option of taking pictures inside first. I was a professional (in 1986 what did I know?) so I insisted I would only photograph her outside. This I did. I have regretted that professionalism since.
A few months later Vancouver Magazine editor Malcolm (Mac) Parry said, “Alex you are going to photograph a wedding.” I immediately talked back, “I don’t do weddings.” He countered, “If you don’t do this one I will no longer give you more work.”
Vancouver Sun, June 17 1999
And so I photographed Susan Musgrave’s wedding in the maximum security prison in Agassiz to inmate and ex bank robber Stephen Reid.
Not only did I shoot the wedding but I also photographed Musgrave in her makeup and wardrobe preparations in a house that was not too far from the prison.
The reason for the colour is that was a new film called Ilford XP-1. It was a b+w colour negative film with reddish cast
Entering the prison was something about silence followed by short noises. I was searched and so was my camera bag. Every time I wanted to go from one room to another I had to nod at a guard. A metal gate would open and then close in a loud thunk behind me. There was another man recording the proceedings. This was the legendary CBC cameraman John Seale who was 68. He was doing everything, carrying his lights, sound boom and camera. He was working for the Fifth Estate.
We both recorded Reid behind bars in the Armani suit that Musgrave had purchased for him. After the religious ceremony a cake was cut. After that I overheard the warden ask Reveremd Armoe, “Did you put away the knife?” Looking again at my slides I see that I was wrong and Reid had yet to put on his suit when I photographed him behind the bars.
Parry liked my photographs. But until last night when I went to my files I spotted a letter from Stephen Reid. It seems he liked my photos.
Of and on for some years after different newspapers including the Globe and Mail would request my photos. It seems that Parry was right about me shooting the wedding. Looking back there was only one other wedding ever photographed. This was D.O.A.’s Joey Shithead’s. I could not refuse. The man had come to my Burnaby house a few years before to ask me,”How would you like to have a photograph I Andy Warhol’s Interview?” And he was as good as his word and indeed I had full page bleed picture in Interview of D.O.A.
I found that the Globe and Mail has used my pictures again for the obituary. And they have not offered to pay me. At one time they were beyond reproach. It is simply the slide of journalism and I am not going to bother to complain.
But as the century wore off I felt guilty about making money from a misfortune considering that Reid had reverted to his former profession of robbing banks.
But in March of 1999 I received a request for the wedding pictures from the New York publication Men’s Journal. I immediately sent the pictures because I was told that they were to illustrate an article by Susan Musgrave.
Now after having talked to Celia Duthie (she is a good friend of Musgrave’s) I am writing this blog. Duthie told me, “Why not write the blog and insert your pictures? They were young then and looked their best. Do it.” Until I went to a reading of Gerry Gilbert in the early 80s and then with listening to Susan Musgrave my adventure into appreciating poetry began.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.