Diary (archives) - Claude Lavoie Photo

Photographic chit-chat

Photographic chit-chat (image unavailable)

Thursday 2009-12-17 :

It is a small nook on a windy cross street that leads to Windsor Station, in the older section of the business district; the part of it left untouched by the renewal of the last half-century, during which most of the dignified Victorian buildings were tore down to make way for garish skyscrapers.

A few weeks ago, as a power outage paralysed the subway line I usually ride to work, I took an alternative route that led me through this street. I almost overlooked the small neon sign reading Café at the front of a sooty brown brick building across the street. I kept the pace for a few more steps, stopped, hesitated, then crossed the street towards it.

The place, longer than wide, is soberly decorated. Except for the one at the far back, which has been painted an earthy red and against which a cosy leather couch entices to sloth, all the walls are white. No tables, just a few stools lining a side wall along which runs an elbow-high shelf. An old coffee maker and a seasoned espresso machine are placed side by side on the counter beyond which the top of decade-old wooden cabinets serves as a kitchen area.

Although set back only a few streets from the busy downtown core, the house does not draw a heavy patronage. A customer every now and then, regulars with ample time in-between; sometimes a couple of visitors venturing out of the tourists' path. No line-up as in the bustling high street franchises, no arrays of pre-packaged pastries ready to go, no clinking sounds of trays, ustensils and coffee mugs in the background. Here, time is in no short supply : you order and stand patiently before the counter while your items are being prepared by the only waitress.

Her relaxed ways seem to rub off on to the atmosphere of the place : she is soft spoken and demure, half smiling all the time. She greets the regulars with a nod, prepares their orders with slow and deliberate gestures, disposes the items on a tray that she finally hands over the counter, often without a single word being exchanged.

She gets frequent pauses between customers, of which I am often the only one in the place. In time, we got to converse : the usual smalltalk to start with, then moving on to our interests and experiences. She mentioned studying fine arts, practising sculpture for a few years, then giving up because she felt weighed down and hampered by the growing number of her works that laid scattered around her.

She has a passion for the Sahara, where she has lived for some time in the past and will be returning to shortly. Fond of the desert people, she is quite knowledgeable about their lifestyle and culture. When she talks about them, her eyes glaze over slightly, as though she was turning inwards. She frequently pauses in mid-sentence, as though reconsidering her thoughts or pondering what to say next; then she might conclude with a giggle or resume where she had left. She speaks slowly, her voice so soft that one can almost hear the zephyr blow over the dunes.

Much like a caravaneer pausing in a shady oasis before proceeding further, I often stop by for a morning coffee, on my way to work.

Thursday 2009-11-12 :

Obviously, the café manager did not think much of my pictures. He was cursorily leafing through the portfolio I had laid in front of him, barely pausing on one page before turning over to the next.

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I had walked past this café the day before and, glancing at its posh interior, had noticed framed photographs on the far end wall : cityscapes and blurred traffic shot from street corners; a tag with its caption and price accompanied each photograph.

I had entered and inquired about the selection of the exhibitors, then had proposed my work. The waitress had phoned the manager, who suggested to meet on the premises at 5 PM the following day, to look at my portfolio.

I have exhibited my work on different occasions and in a variety of places, but had ceased to do so several years before. The preparation of an exhibition (printing, mounting, framing, labelling, publicity, transportation, hanging, attendance, etc.) requires a considerable effort, but yields little in return : an occasional comment from a visitor, or an even rarer sale. So, after a few times and an especially sad experience when two of my pictures disappeared, I stopped altogether.

But this time, considering that the place was classy and located in a busy sector of the downtown area, but mostly because I already had at home a complete set of large scale dance photographs framed and ready to hang, I thought I might give it another try. I had therefore assembled a portfolio of the proposed exhibition and was now sitting opposite the owner.

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He finally closed the cover and said that before he could answer, he first had to check with the landlord whether he was allowed to put on display photographs on which people were identifiable. I replied that I had a signed written release from all the dancers who had posed, but still . . . he had to make sure. I gave him my business card, we shook hands and parted. I knew all too well his answer was a pretext amounting to an unequivocal no.

I have not heard from him thereafter. I have not called back either.

Wednesday 2009-10-14 :

Come September, and suddenly there is nothing more to be said; one feels as bare and trite as a leafless tree.

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Would Aphrodite of Milos be more beautiful if she still had her arms?

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Upon hearing a cynic, overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change, deplore that "everything gets lost", I jokingly added that "everything gets created". My friend Vincent, until then silent, concluded with much apropos that "nothing gets tranformed".

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Satie is to music as a butterfly to gravity.

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The circle of days, endlessly repeating itself : the morning we greet with a naive enthusiasm tinted with boredom, the night we take leave from with a weak farewell. All that will finally amount to a life, if not by its significance, at least by its sheer mass.

Thursday 2009-09-24 :

A café terrace along a busy downtown boulevard : a row of tables strung along the front of the building, barely clearing the crowded sidewalk. I like to come here after work to watch the stream of workers pour out from the office towers and flow into the subway station.

At the table next to mine, a couple of youth barely out of their teens. Sitting straight on the tip of her chair, she is crying; elbows on the table, he stares straight ahead, a gloomy expression on his face. They remain silent, chain-smoking. Lovers breaking up, or soon bound to be.

I fell sympathy for them, but no pity. Not out of cruelty, but because this is how one learns how moody love can be. How its company, then inducing pleasure, now induces pain. Unsubmissive love that knows no rule other than the one it imposes, nor measure; love that gives profusely and takes back ruthlessly; love that can be as dear as it is precious, turning around to exact a hefty price from one it used to be benevolent to.

Their grief has been inscribed in the fineprint of this agreement they entered into; no foreknowledge of their predicament could have deterred them. At the height of pain, their wounds are healing already; they will soon resume the pursuit of love, each on their separate way.

Saturday 2009-08-08 :

An outdoor photo shoot with a ballet dancer in the financial district of the city. Although we had met beforehand to discuss some of the specifics, I had never seen her dance; I did not know what to expect.

It was clear from the very beginning that she was outstanding, among the best dancers I had the privilege to work with : perfectly poised on pointes, her movements were precise, confident and vivid, yet without brusquerie. Ever graceful. Although the light from the blazing midday sun was harsh, the session was going to be exceptional.

As usual, I was shooting both digital and film, the latter with an old medium-format camera. After exposing one roll, I fished into the one pocket where I had stashed my very last three rolls of Agfa APX 100 120 film. For some time, I had been saving them for a shoot that would stand out among others; in light of the remarkable talent of my model, now was clearly the time.

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For nearly three decades, I have used Agfa APX 100 film, in all its sizes (35mm, 2 1/4 inch, or 4 x 5 inch) and formats (roll cartridge, sheet, or bulk roll). I preferred it to all other film types, forever marvelling at its high contrast, the beauty of its grain, and its subtle grey tones when developed in Rodinal.

In 2005, when Agfa ceased its production, I was shocked, much like a child whose favourite toy is taken away; I had then bought all the stocks I could lay my hands upon : several hundred rolls of film as well as a few dozen bottles of Rodinal. I stored the film into a freezer, the developer in a cool corner of the basement, and kept shooting as though nothing would ever change.

But the reserve was now depleted and this morning, upon gathering the gear for the shoot, intending to use them only if the occasion proved to be worthy of them, I had put the last three rolls in a pocket separate from the one into which went the new film type I was switching to.

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I soon had shot two rolls out of three. When I paused to reload, I turned my back to the sun, fished the last roll out of the pocket, tore the foil envelope at one end and pulled the cartridge out; I ran my forefinger over its whole length, closed my eyes for a few seconds in acknowledgement of the solemnity of the moment, and loaded it into the film chamber of the camera.

The remainder of the session was smooth and pleasurable, some of the pictures we did very good; a memorable shoot in more than one way.

I keep a fond memory of this film; I cannot believe it is definitively gone. To fellow photographers I sometimes say, half-jokingly, that its demise brought an abrupt end to a love story that had been going on for almost thirty years.

Wednesday 2009-07-22 :

The sleep of weekday nights, fragile and predictable as a routine carried out unenthusiastically, wedged between two workdays : the ending one it repairs the weariness of; the one to come it is already troubled by, and to which it ill disposes.

The weekend sleep, striving to make up for the too short preceding nights, alongside which one lies with contentment but no abandon : for the weekend also imposes rules that tolerate but little sloth; and one had better get ready to go back to work on Monday.

The sleep of summer vacations, a lofty pleasure no schedule nor other proprieties can subject, catching unawares the reader lying in a chaise longue as well as the guest leaving the midday meal table. In the company of which one likes to linger, but which one takes leave of in the middle of the night to listen, eyes wide open, to the sounds of the surrounding nature : the hoots of the night birds, the whisper of the wind through the leaves or the subdued rapping of the rain drops on them, the calls of the weary loons on the nearby pond; and to whom one soon returns, closing their eyes, lying on the back, for in this position does one dream most and best.

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