Diary (archives) - Claude Lavoie Photo

Photographic chit-chat

Photographic chit-chat (image unavailable)

Wednesday 2007-06-20 :

Spring has been rainy and dusky, followed by a string of hot and humid days. Foliage has exploded and, in the wink of an eye, reached full maturity. And it is barely mid-June!

Young birds have already fledged and relentlessly chirp after their bewildered parents, exhausted from fetching food for their progeny.

Nature wasted no time in preambles. It has just rushed ahead, rapidly and efficiently. Thus so that it is now ready for a few weeks of torpid indolence.

I however intend, in order to better appreciate the fair weather, to enliven idleness with a sprinkle of photography.

The warm season lends itself amiably to outdoor portraiture : a few square metres in a public place and a touch of background foliage suffice. No bulky equipment, only the minimum : two camera bodies, some lenses, and a light snack that the model and I will share after the shoot, sitting on the grass, our appetites emboldened by the contentment derived from the work just accomplished.

It will be as pleasurable as a picnic in the countryside, but without mosquitoes!

Tuesday 2007-06-12 :

I did little photography lately, save a few far apart shoots last winter. Then winter became summer, and no one could set their mind on anything but the approaching vacations.

It is an uphill battle to elicit enthusiasm for an activity as exerting as photography when the sun entices to slothfulness. I proposed to my usual accomplices, who all politely declined. And to make things worse, the whole dance milieu has disbanded until the fall!

Time passes on models just as it does on me : their interests shift, some move away, others found a family or take too demanding jobs.

But I am not put off this easily! I seize every opportunity, during a conversation, to extol the pleasures and benefits of photography, and to propose collaborations to models-to-be, in the hope the idea might appeal to them : "Say, do you have a few minutes to spare for taking pictures?"

Now you will have to excuse me. I have to rush back home to tend the phone, in case one of them calls to accept my proposal.

Monday 2007-06-11 :

Outside a café on rue St-Denis. Since all the tables in the shady area of the terrace were taken, I sit in full sunlight, shrouded in the cloud exhaled by smokers whom the non-smoking regulation confines to the outskirts of the place.

The late afternoon coffee, a blissful transition between the frenzy at work and the peacefulness of an evening at home. A respite to assess how much the world has changed in a single day (without me!). A brief moment during which suspended time is all mine, to calm down and daydream out of the reach of contingencies.

Tuesday 2007-05-22 :

My route back and forth to work goes, on a few hundred metres, along the railway that crosses, from east to west, the northern part of the island of Montréal. In this industrial neighborhood, the railway has been elevated so as to cross the busy streets on overpasses; between the streets, it runs atop an embankment that raises it to more than five metres above the surrounding ground.

In time, the rocky slopes of the embankment have become covered with shrubs and trees forming, on either side, a ribbon of forest in an otherwise urban setting. A small forest, indeed, but big enough to attract the occasional kestrel, pileated wookpecker, mockingbird and, needless to say, countless groundhogs.

I rarely meet anybody along this track. However, three years ago, in May, I passed by a girl and two boys sitting on one of the rails. I have come to equate the presence of teenagers in an isolated place with wrongdoing and illegal consumption. But they obviously were not hiding anything from anyone. They just sat and kept to themselves in a dignified silence.

They were there on the following days. First we greeted; then we started talking. I asked what brought them to this place. They told me a friend of theirs had recentley been hit by a freight train, while walking along the track, alone at night. His body had been found at the very spot where they sat.

This stretch of track is straight and level for more than two kilometres, and the train usually travels at reduced speed. Although possible, such an accident seemed unlikely and brought to mind suspicions of a deliberate and desperate deed. I inquired. No one answered, but all stared at me.

They told me that the four of them had been close friends since their school years, that their gone companion was the father of a two-year old girl, and hinted at worries of his own he seemed preoccupied with lately . . .

After a few weeks, I did not meet them anymore, but a small wooden cross had been planted, close to the place where they used to sit. Day in, day out, the cross kept falling to its side, blown by the draft of air the trains displaced as they passed, almost touching it. But it kept coming back up, and the cycle went on : down, then up, then down, then up, . . .

The cross was nowhere to be seen for the whole of the following winter. It had fallen and been covered with snow. But when spring returned, it pertly came back up, a crown of stones piled up around its foot. In early May, one year after the accident, a bunch of flowers was tied to its arm, with a little card reading : "We love and miss you."

Two more years have passed. From its original location along the rail, the cross has now been moved halfway down the embankment, to a place where the gravelly slope gentles off into a little plateau a few metres wide, surrounded by shrubs and small trees, a peaceful site amid the rumour of the city. The wooden cross is now flanked by a taller aluminum cross, as bright in the sun as the youth it commemorates.

On the latter is attached the photograph of a young man with thick black curly hair. He is handsome, his eyes sparkle, and he grins the smile of the young, a smile that speaks of confidence in life and enjoyment of it. Underneath the photograph is inscribed, in French, "F . . . G . . ., dead accidentally May 2nd 2004, aged 27."

I pass near the cross almost every day, and sometimes walk up to it. I did today, just a little more than three years after the death. The short path is easy to find and follow and, although not well-trodden, witnesses that the site gets an occasional visitor. The cross gleamed in the sun, fresh-cut flowers neatly arranged at its foot.

I touched the metal, paused and wondered, as I do every time, why should life cease at an age when all dreams are permitted and all hopes still possible. I will never know why, of course, just as I will never know the deceased. But the snuffing out and loss of so promising possibilities deeply saddens me.

Friday 2007-04-27 :

Friday, 6 PM, riding the subway back home.

On boards a woman of about thirty-five, humbly clothed. Locks have broken loose from the knot tying her hair. She carries a large bag from which the rounded tip of a baguette juts out. Two playful boys, elbowing one another, follow on her heels.

She lets herself fall heavily onto the double bench across the aisle from mine, sighing. The older boy sits down by her side. The younger one climbs on her lap and settles roughly. She wraps her arms around his waist and buries her nose into his hair.

The boys then rummage, with both eyes and hands, through the food in the bag, commenting animatedly on what they discover. She smiles and replies in a language I cannot recognise.

A factory worker, I presume, who, after her day, has just fetched her children from school or day care. They are on their way home, glad to be reunited, blissful in the anticipated joy of spending the next two days together.

Saturday 2007-04-07 :

Short list of minor personal mournings :

To be continued . . .

Sunday 2007-03-25 :

Sunday is darkroom day.

Formerly, I did it in three or four-hour stints. In order to get more done I worked rapidly, guessing from experience how to adjust settings and parameters, combining several changes from one test print to the next. At the end of a session, I would have printed two shots, three when lucky.

However, I remained separate and disconnected from the image being worked on. Moreover, the brisk pace kept me from appreciating fully the pleasure inherent in darkroom work.

I therefore changed my approach. The print, rather than a destination to be reached, has become a journey to be enjoyed. And the image has been promoted from mere material to the status of a mentor to listen to and learn from.

I now set aside the whole of Sunday for the darkroom. I work slowly, printing one sheet at a time, drying it thoroughly before examining it at length in full daylight (artificial lighting no longer suffices), trying to capture the message beyond the image. When I feel I have gained a better understanding, I print a new sheet and write extensive notes on the operation.

When the result is pleasant enough, I make a few prints illustrating the progress achieved, then file all prints and notes. But I never consider any print definitive : I may, in the near or distant future, resume the quest to try to better render it.

A photograph may be revisited and considered from a different angle, resulting in a new interpretation. More than simple matter to be wrought into shape, it is a companion to travel with.

Monday 2007-02-26 :

At long last, it is online. A brand new site ... about my photography, might I humbly add.

Its purpose is twofold : make some of my photographs available for viewing, and provide a channel to reach to others interested in photography. I will strive to achieve these by keeping the contents of the thematic portfolios abreast of the projects, and by adding regularly to this diary (naturally, I expect to get feedback from visitors). I know how daunting a task it may be. Still, I look forward to it.

Structure and layout are simple and optimised for easy maintenance, thereby allowing more time and effort to be devoted to the renewal and expansion of the photographic and textual contents.

It has been nearly two years in the making, much longer than originally planned. This time span has however been a precious opportunity to reflect upon my photographic interest and activities (not mentioning other beneficial side effects like reviewing the archives and tidying up all the negatives, prints, digital files, and writing scattered around and since long awaiting sorting and filing).

I am in the aggregate satisfied with this maiden version, optimistic about its evolution, and eager to know what the response will be.

And as for anything else in life, future will tell!

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