27 Nov

The Gift of Failure

In Personal,Photography,Pre-production,Production by Perry / November 27, 2015

Earlier this summer I decided to shoot a staged portrait of my friend Ron Proulx. As we both share backgrounds as professional musicians I thought it would be fun to portray him as a busker being robbed by a gang of girls. One of the girls would act as the distraction/decoy while the other 2 emptied the busker hat into their purse, snickering behind his back at his naïveté.

What a clever concept, I said. How difficult could it be? I said. After all, I’m a director who can handle simple scenes like this no problem, I said. I’ll push some HP5 film to make it look all cool and arty, I said.

The result? It bombed. It didn’t read, at all. The image did not properly tell the story. I was humiliated, and had to send out a bunch of “Sorry, I f***** up” emails to all involved.

So what went wrong? I assumed stuff.


Assumption #1: Rehearsal is Unnecessary

In my haste towards creative genius, I unwittingly broke one of my own rules: Rehearse First, Shoot Last. This rule enables me to show up on shoot day organized and confident, knowing which way the story is heading. After all, this was different from other genres of photography, which usually don’t require rehearsal.

With filmmaking, I would never shoot a narrative without rehearsing first. Unless you’re Christopher Guest or shooting improve, it makes little sense exploring character or scene development on set with a ticking clock and the crew wondering about lunch.

I’m not sure what made me think I could shoot a staged portrait with practically zero pre-production, but I discovered how conveying dramatic/comedic tension in one frame is even more challenging than with filmmaking. With filmmaking I have the scene, and multiple frames, to achieve this. Which brings me to…

Assumption #2: Models Can Also Act

In my haste towards creative genius, I unwittingly broke yet another rule (borrowed from Hitchcock and a few other directors): Directing is 75% Casting.

Now I’m going to pause here and carefully qualify this point by saying that the models who participated in my little disaster were awesome. They gave it their all. I would shoot with any one of them again in a heartbeat. They were total pros who took direction and brought with them, as individuals, a fabulous look and vibe.

The problem was not them, it was me. This wasn’t a glamour shoot, and I needed more. What I was looking for was range, and that is actor territory.

Let’s look at an example: coyness. There are a few ways to play coyness: overtly, with forward body language and lots of eye contact. Or held back, not giving too much away while remaining mysteriously engaged. Another example: the girls are robbing poor, hapless Ron. Pretty devious, no? But what is their motivation? Are they doing it for kicks, to see if they can get away with it? Or are they just being mean? Perhaps a combination of these things?

Regardless, these motivations bring potentially disparate emotional elements to the scene, and I needed to see all of them in order to decide the best way to tell the story through my photograph (which loops back to my point about rehearsal). Actors train for this.

Assumption #3: Format Doesn’t Matter

As I mentioned, pushing B&W 35mm film x 2 stops is fun! It’s such a cool look. I’ve recently shot a number of projects using this method, with wonderful results.

Problem is, the detail is not great. The grain is the size of nickels, and pushing film creates considerable contrast. Shadows disappear into murky black smudges for a ‘painterly’ look, which I really love. Except here it wasn’t working, and testing would have revealed this. Really, I needed to shoot either medium format film or digital to get the resolution I was looking for.


Although I was disappointed with the results, I learned a lot. I knew I was heading into tricky territory with this project; I just didn’t know why. Essentially, shooting staged portraits is its own animal, straddling both photography and filmmaking. As a result, my checklist is now much deeper.

Meanwhile, I’ve had to make it OK to have learned such a difficult lesson. And that, dear friends, is the Gift of Failure: next time, I’ll be better.



16 Nov

The Whole Beast serves it up on Oak Bay Ave

In Food,Photography by Perry / November 16, 2015

That Tuesday was a day like any other. A bit overcast, mild, the city humming with promises of the morning ahead. Except on this morning, I was on my way to photograph Cory and I was late. When greeting me is his typically friendly way he added that he ‘…opens in 15 minutes!”

Curse you, time mismanagement! Oh well, I’m working on it.

One of my favorite things about creating art, and photography in particular, is that I’m able to hang out with all manner of artists. And Cory’s art is fine cuisine. This guy is passionate about food (he has pig tattoo for crissakes). He serves on the board of The Island Chefs Collaborative and is a passionate advocate of the sustainable food movement.  I don’t care who you are or where you’re from – if you’re a foodie, I count you as an ally in this journey called life.

The Whole Beast is an artisan salumeria, whose vision is ‘…to produce handmade, traditional, artisan cured meats without unnecessary additives, preservatives or fillers, while utilizing ethically raised, hormone and antibiotic free meats that are locally sourced.’ What this means is walking out of there without one of everything is difficult.

Old world recipes include numerous incarnations of salami, coppa, lonzino, lomo, guanciale, pancetta, mortadella, lardo, bacon, ham, smoked turkey breast, polish ham sausage, garlic coil, pepperoni, andouille, chorizo, smokies, european wieners, coppa di testa, trotter brawn, blood sausage, smoked corned beef, liverwurst, rillettes, chicken liver parfait, black pudding… somebody stop me!

Writing this has reminded me I’m overdue for a visit. If you haven’t been by, you really owe it to yourself. Pick anything, you cannot lose. Check out their lovely new site for more info.

Ok, leaving now…




22 Sep

Quadra Village eats

In Food,Photography by Perry / September 22, 2015

I met Anna and Grant the week of Part & Parcel’s 1 year anniversary. So I stuck a party hat on my skull and proceeded to talk about the why and what of their wonderful establishment.

Shying away from the term ‘foodie’, they instead talked about the dream of one day owning their own spot. Their website bio states “…they got hungry. Then a restaurant happened.” As they were challenged financially during the building phase, much of what we see today came about through clever resourcefulness and contributions from friends. The results are wonderfully simple and very inviting.

So how is the food? So far I’ve had the chicken sandwich – stupid good – and the roasted butternut squash salad – ridiculously good. Come get yer yummy in Quadra Village!


11 Sep

The Tweedsmuir Mansion

In Architecture,Photography by Perry / September 11, 2015

Built in 1936, this building caught my eye on a hot summer evening whilst stomping around Cook St Village. I was completely taken with its graceful lines and beautiful archways. I’ve always been a big fan of these designs, melding art with structure. Streamline Moderne styling stands it apart from pretty much everything else in the neighborhood (in the entire city, actually).

Back in the 30’s this building’s new technologies – advanced soundproofing, refrigerators, electric ranges, washing machines – were featured prominently in its advertising. It was also the first building with a penthouse suite. Today it’s been saved, and is protected from, numerous attempts at ‘unsympathetic development’.

But nevermind all that – it’s Art Deco!