Category Archives: Books

Body of Work

I was killing time, while waiting for someone I’d made a coffee date with, and as I am inclined to do, wondered into an Indigo bookstore. As I walked in, I headed for the discount bins and glanced over the many covers in the hope of discovering something, from one of a few authors that I particularly enjoy. Nothing there, head over to the Best Sellers displays. We all know better than to judge a book by it’s cover, but often, it’s still a good place to start. The titles and the cover art, typically indicate something about the content. If either of those catches my fancy, I flip the book over and read the brief synopsis on the back of the dust cover. I’m always left feeling that “if only I had two lives to live and could spend more time reading”. Finally, I head into the stacks and pick a section at random.

The purpose behind entering the store may have been to while away a bit of time, and it certainly wasn’t to purchase a book, although, that may be the end result, but rather to feel embraced by the ideas and experiences of hundreds of authors from around the world. As an artist, I am sensitive to the creative process and in awe with the apparent ease that, especially fiction writers, can string together words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into worlds that are not subject to the same place and time restrictions that burden our mortal lives.

As a photographer, I am inspired by the deliberate plotting and disciplined exercise with which a good writer researches their subject matter, lays out a rough sketch of the story, real or not, and draws the reader in to the journey which they have invited us on. My actual reading habits, and this is a deliberate approach, is to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. I recognized, long ago, that there is much to learn from the facts, if not truths in historical accounts, as from the imagination, which can take complicated human emotions and shine a light that forces the reader to reflect on the parallels with their own daily grind.

Not always, but often, I am inspired to translate the story telling ability of the writer into producing Photo Essays. My Photo Essays, tend to be short stories and, although, I continue to grapple with the insecurity that I may bore the viewer or come off sounding pompous, I am inching forward toward something more revealing. More on this in future posts.

You’d never know it from what you’ve read this far, but my motivation for writing this piece, was to lament the prediction that, in the not so distant future, we will soon see the last of our wonderful brick and mortar bookstores. I don’t pretend to know where it all began, although the loss of the small, independent, local bookstore was certainly a canary in the coalmine. Nothing too revealing in my gut wrenching belief that the advent of the tablet reader is one more, if not the final nail in that coffin.

Now don’t misunderstand me, as a working commercial photographer I too work in a digital environment and appreciate all the storage, sharing and chemical free advantages of a digital file. My concern, and this goes for records stores too, is the loss of the physical space.

When walking in to a record store I am exposed to artists, musical styles and genres, that I would not, if my only option was to cue up, pass a piece of paper through a narrow slot in a wall and collect my purchase in exchange. I remember making an event of spending hours flipping through record albums at Record World, looking at the cover art, reading the liner notes, and sometimes because of this, discovering a new artist.

The same, of course goes for the countless authors, ideas and subjects of interest that would remain forever lost to me, had I not the opportunity to slowly browse physical shelves. No logarithm has yet been designed that will suggest to me what I don’t know, or sense my mood, since they are designed to return similar searches. It was Socrates who said “You don’t know, what you don’t know.” and that, I think, is the greatest loss in the disappearance of the physical record and bookstore.

Here in Ontario, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), our government run Liquor Store, use to keep the entire inventory of product behind a solid wall. The only way to purchase a bottle of alcohol, was to flip through a sort of upright, hinged binder, locate the product, alphabetically, note a code on an order slip and pass it to an attendant over the counter. They would disappear through a door and return a few minutes later, with the bottle and quickly slide it in to a brown paper bag, lest anyone see what it was.

In fairness, and as backwards as it was even then, the LCBO pulled the curtain back on the evil spirits, in the early 1970’s. The vast majority of Ontarian’s agreed that doing so was a step forward and we haven’t looked back since. I can’t say with certainty, but allowing people to see and hold the vast selection, and exposing them to the choices available, has not resulted in a permanently, alcohol intoxicated society, but rather introduced the world to our palates and widened our appreciation for that art.

The risk in loosing our bookstores may just be the complete opposite. It’s difficult enough to encourage reading in our society, as it is. Relegating all forms of text to a digital platform may result in ever narrowing points of view. How can it be otherwise if one only reads what one is comfortable or familiar with. Don’t even get me started on converting our libraries into digital depositories or simple meeting places.

So, the title of this piece was A Body Of Work, and I ask, what do you really know about an artist, be they an author, composer, painter, photographer etc. if all you ever hear, read, see or experience of their work are the Greatest Hits? If all you ever hear on the radio is what someone else has decided you will enjoy, then where is the appreciation for the art form, let alone the artist? Let’s face it, in most cases the Hits are just the icing and without the underlying cake, one quickly becomes bored. What gets played on the radio or makes its way into your playlist, often suggested by someone else, is not necessarily the best. The Hits may be highlights that more closely represent the disposable, lost leader, which in the past would’ve encouraged one to go into the record store, purchase the album and return home in anticipation of gently placing the needle on to the spinning vinyl disc, plugging in the headphones and soaking in the artists mood or point of view.

It’s important to ask ourselves if we want our artists to continue to produce more work, ’cause if we do, then we better nurture their creativity and encourage them to expand their repertoire. What better way to do that than to familiarize yourself with their entire Body of Work, ’cause you’ll never know what you don’t know, unless you’re willing to pull back the curtain and take in the entire vista.

The Alchemist

It must’ve been around five years ago that my eldest daughter presented me with The Alchemist for Christmas. Little did I know at the time what a profound impact that small, rather short book, would have on my life. I know that that may sound a bit cliche, and if I were hamming it up for an infommertial, perhaps it would be, but I’m not, and the sentiment is profoundly sincere.

Let me pause here for a minute to say, that if you haven’t yet read The Alchemist, and you’re the type of person that doesn’t presume to be all-knowing, that questions fate more often than submits to it and that suffers from an unquenchable drive to follow their dreams, then do yourself a favour. Find a quiet corner of the universe to hole up in, and allow yourself to be drawn in to an allegory that will challenge your perceptions of freedom of choice.

Ironically, that The Alchemist has gained such worldwide recognition is in itself, inspiring. Paulo Coelho first published the book in 1988, in Brazil in his native Portuguese, where it received little notice. After an initial print run of only 900 copies the publisher decided not to reprint, and It wasn’t until it was published in Spanish, that word-of-mouth began to spread like the sands of the Sahara, and has now been translated into 67 languages and sold over 65 million copies in more than 150 countries.

The story revolves around a young shepherd boy named Santiago, who believing in a recurring dream, sets out from Andalucia in southern Spain, across the Sahara to Egypt, in search of a treasure. Despite a series of setbacks, his persistence and open-minded outlook, push him towards his final destination, or so he thinks.

Although I read The Alchemist long after my formative years, not only did I read it with gusto, but Santiago rekindled my sense of hope and forced me to re-examine my own attitudes with regard to that which is inevitable or simply a lapse of focus. I remember wishing I’d had this book to read while in my teens, and after putting it down thinking that it should be compulsory reading, for every high-school student. On the other hand, maybe teenagers lack the life experience and humility to recognize that life doesn’t just happen, that you need to step way outside your comfort zone to where the real opportunities lie, and that the path to your dreams may not be as straight or free of obstacles as you expect it to be.

This much I can say, The Alchemist can and will speak to you regardless of your age, regardless of your gender and regardless of your station in life. All that is required is a free spirit and a willingness to believe in yourself.

Las Alpujarras en Southern Spain