Tag Archives: Music

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.

Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus – Flash Mob Performance

Not only is this appropriate as we near Christmas, but you know how some pieces of music can bring on the tears, well for me, this is one of them. I’ll share others with you in the future.

Perhaps not so strangely, but for all are human failings, one of the characteristics that distinguishes us from other members of the animal kingdom is our ability to transcend our daily struggle for food, shelter and clothing and use our imaginations to invent truly inspiring works of art.

Witnessing the selflessness of these artists to bring a few minutes of pure joy into the lives of others, also brings me to tears. What a beautiful moment, and what a privilege to have been one of the unsuspecting members of this audience. Surely, this is one of the upsides to the tools for mass communications that we have available today. Enjoy and please, please be open to the needs of those less fortunate than you, because there is always someone less fortunate than you.

The Imperative To Create Art

Like most teenagers, I was drawn to music, like a pig to… mud. Growing up in Toronto, that meant listening to 1050 CHUM and I can still recall the jingle. The radio station was synonymous with top 40 when top 40 described a variety of music that would span from Frank Sinatra to Deep Purple and everything in between. Now that was a musical education.

To keep track of all our favourite music, it became a ritual to race down to our neighbourhood music store to grab a copy of our very own CHUM Chart, which published for 1,512 consecutive weeks, from 1957 straight through to 1986. From it’s debut until 1975, the chart was printed in a brochure format and became instant collectors items. I still have a few hundred of my own, well worn, little nostalgic gems. In 1975 the individual collectors brochures were discontinued and the chart was instead published in the Entertainment Section of the Toronto Star, until 1986.

The CHUM Chart was the longest-running Top 40 chart in the world produced by an individual radio station, beginning it’s run with its first #1 single by Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up”, and bowing out with it’s final #1 by Madonna’s “Live to Tell”.

My interest in popular music has waned with changing styles, but I’ve been fortunate to be reacquainted at different times by other music lovers. My youngest brother turned me on to much of the “New Wave” bands, both domestic and imports of the 1980’s, and now my children have picked up the baton.

From the time they began listening to music, of all types, I’ve quizzed them on the composers, artists and titles of what they were listening to and regaled them with trivial anecdotes. I guess you could say I was there very own personal CHUM Charts. I like to think that I’ve had a meaningful impact on their wide ranging musical tastes and now I’m reaping the harvest. Last year I attended a Cold Play www.coldplay.com/ concert with my son, where we were also blessed with Elbow www.elbow.co.uk/, an opening act from Scotland, to rival the star attraction. And the beat goes on, when a few days ago, my youngest daughter introduced me to Temper Trap www.thetempertrap.com/, a wonderful band from Melbourne, Australia.

Long live the Imperative to Create art.