The Smell of Paint in a Studio

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

As a commercial photographer in Vancouver since 1977 until the recent zombie apocalypse that brain-deaded the industry that at one time paid for work I did more than my signature magazine photography. I traveled across Canada and the US for annual reports collecting daily and hefty day rates and when I drove (can you imagine?) I was paid for gasoline consumed.

The folks at Emily Carr, formerly an institute, a college and now an Art University in Vancouver, ( when it was known as ECCAD, Emily Carr College of Art and Design, gainfully employed me even though I had no relevant master’s degree in Art Appreciation. I worked for a program called Emily Car College of Art Outreach Program ( It was Nini Baird’s baby and I was in it for close to 12 years). I (and other artist teachers, as we were called) were sent to communities in the interior on weekends to give instructive seminars. I went to places like Atlin, BC and to a town (twice) that no longer exists called Cassiar.

To fourth year graphics students I taught something called Photographics in which I had to impart to my students what it was like to work in the outside world. I remember, fondly that I brought Art Bergmann as a real rock artist to pose for photographs and my students had to design record covers for Bergmann. To make it more realistic Bergmann gave his opinion on the work presented to him. I remember going to accounting with my expenses which included the purchase of two single malt scotches. I was paid quickly and all I had to do was mention that it was a fee by the artist for services rendered.

The third job I performed (at least twice) for the college was to shoot the pictures for a school brochure.

The man in charge at the time (he wore green boat shoes) had attempted to use photography students to shoot the brochures with disastrous results. Let me explain.

One of the smells that will lure anybody into ecstasy is the smell of paints, oil paints, acrylics, linseed oil, wooden floors and paper of a studio. The activity of many students in that studio is also fascinating. The problem is that little if anything happens if you wait. You must create those decisive moments in advance and put them on paper as a shot list.

Unless you do that the head of the college found out the smells of paint did not transfer to the photographs.

It was at Emily Carr where I first heard the term undraped. They used undraped models in the life drawing classes. When I showed up to shoot these I remember that the models became understandably paranoid. I told then I would only photograph them from the rear.

As I look at these pictures I can remember most fondly the smell of the paint, the rustling of the paper, the scribbling with charcoal and I wonder how brochures are being shot at the University in this 21stcentury.

Link to: The Smell of Paint in a Studio

Originally published at