white lightning


After seeing David Saxes’s stunning portraits and having posed for a few I had to get a strobe light. He said the key was lots of light and the only way to get it without blinding your subjects was with a strobe. I believe David’s given up the strobe for the subtler natural light and as a matter of fact his portraits are even better – deeper. I think people’s true nature is in the shadows. But in 1985 I wanted a strobe and eventually I had enough money for a relatively inexpensive White Lightning. Around the same time I bought a used Bronica from a friend at work. The Bronica produces big 2 1/4 inch square negatives which I love.

Then I ran into Jamie at a jazz concert at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. I hadn’t seen her in about eight years. She’d taken music classes at Langara College, did some lounge singing in suburban bars that I never managed to get to, and took off for Europe where she’s lived pretty much ever since. When I knew her she was about eighteen or nineteen. She waited tables at Oil Can Harry’s, one of the best jazz clubs in the world, and she loved the music. I was at Oil Can’s probably five nights out of seven and many nights after closing I’d either give Jamie a ride home or drive her to my place and we stayed up all night listening to music, talking, smoking, dozing off as birds chirped outside in the morning light.

Then those years went by and I’m standing out in front of the hall after the concert having a smoke a talking to friends when Jamie shows up in a white dress looking more beautiful than ever. Big hug, talk a while, and I tell her I’m going to take pictures of her. She hesitates a second but I go on, “No, nothing weird. I just got some new gear, haven’t even used any of it, yet. I’m getting into portraits and I’d love to do some of you before you head back to Europe.” “Great,” she says. “It’ll be fun.” The next night she shows up with a bottle of wine, which is brilliant. Taking pictures, I have a tendency to rush it a bit. A little vino is just the camera accessory I need. Besides, we’ve got all night. We drink the wine, relax, talk, catch up. Then we get started.

I shot the three rolls I had and finished off the few frames of colour film in my 35mm Olympus. Jamie and I witnessed yet another dawn and then she drove off. I caught about four hours sleep and couldn’t wait to get into the darkroom.

Every roll was blank. Totally, death-defyingly blank. My heart sank. Long story short, I never bothered to read the Bronica manual or figure out the flash synching. I won’t bore you with the technical explanations. A week later I got the colour prints of which the photo up top is one.

When I showed this photo to photographer Chris Cameron he said,

“Wow. What a great photo . . . and you only had to take 40 shots to get it!”

I love you, Chris.

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