Monday, January 4, 2016

Vancouver II

Look at the pictures in the previous post before you read this one. This post is just about what went into the making of those pictures, so, if you don't care, you can skip this! Nice, huh?

As I mentioned, I was going up to Vancouver, and I decided to make a thing of it. Take some pictures, try to summarize My Vancouver in a little book-like object. So, on the bus ride up (2 hours, including a stop at the border), I made some notes. Here they are, together with a shopping list.

A bus ride can be a surprisingly good place to go over this stuff. You've got some time, some mental space to sit and think, stare out the window. You can write ideas down, take some time out to write a shipping list, go back to your ideas about pictures.

After mulling on it what I got was some layers.

Vancouver is, first and always, the land. The Pacific Northwest Rain Forest. I considered this to be the bones.

Built on that is a pretty straightforward North American City, basically a european/western construct. Architecture like so. Streets this wide, alleys that wide, and so on. This is the flesh.

The topmost layer is a sort of Asian thing, which is wildly amplified in my mind. Vancouver is radically multi-ethnic, and in the last couple of years has actually stopped feeling so relentlessly Asian, with an big influx of Eastern Europeans of various stripes. Public transit is now perhaps half asian, but completely multi ethnic.

Anyways. My Vancouver, as opposed to the real one, has a "top layer" of Asian, that's the most recent layer of what Vancouver is, that's the skin.

Bones. Flesh. Skin.

Three layers, all very different, and yet connected here in this place.

It is always fall in My Vancouver. I don't know why. I had a horrible 8th grade in boarding school there, and that was perhaps formative. School takes place in fall and winter more than summer, and so perhaps that's it.

Granville Street will always be the heart of Vancouver to me. In reality, it rises and falls, but in my mind it is always the center. I saw Star Wars there on its 2nd or 3rd theatrical run, 1978 or 1979, that horrible 8th grade year. Now you know how old I am. Leo's, by the way, still stands. All the nighttime cityscape stuff is on Granville or less than a block off it.

So my plan was to shoot these layers. The rain forest, the city, and the asian. I had limited space and even more limited battery power, so I deployed what Ming describes as Shot Discipline, and what you see is about a 1 in 6 "keeper" rate, which is crazy high for me. The Rain Forest is black and white, classic Ansel Adams, but I painted blur onto it. For dreamyness, or something. The City is b&w or heavily desaturated. The Asian pictures are punchy and bright, for that proper Shibuya feel, although they're all dressed for the pacific northwest.

Then there are the condo towers. Vancouver is a wild forest of glittering condo towers, mostly designed in an style intermediate between west and east. Vancouver's modern architecture looks exactly like what it is, suspended between Chicago and Singapore. I didn't really get the condo towers, but I tried. To be honest, I don't have any idea how to get at them without 100 pages of repetition, because that's what it feels like on the ground. Endless grinding glittering relentless repetition.

And there you have it. I include several frames of not-particularly-asian content shot in what I fancy is a vaguely Asian way, on purpose. These, conceptually, are supposed to help interconnect the layers of material. There are also a couple of graphical references between pictures which are trying to claw stuff together.

Did you catch the crepe shop? That's not a noodle shop. It's a crepe shop. It's the most quintessentially Vancouver photograph I can imagine.

Anyways. That's most of what I put in. Some of it was in hand when I started shooting. Some of it evolved its way in at one stage or another.

I hope you got something good out.


  1. I note that, whether accidentally or on purpose, you followed David Hurn's procedure for tackling a photographic project.

    1. The name doesn't even ring a bell!

      Which probably means I stole it lock, stock, and barrel, and then my subconscious buried the evidence!

    2. David Hurn is the co-author of On Being a Photographer and a member of Magnum. I think you wrote some time ago that you would like to read this book. You can download it from here:

    3. Oh, cool. I did google him and recognized some of the names of the books! So I'm not totally a doofus, I swear ;)

      Thanks for the link!

  2. Nice. For those who've been there, (visited twice), it says, sotto voce, "Vancouver." I guess a clichéd shot of Lions Gate bridge from Stanley Park, or a float plane taking off as seen from the totems, would be shouting. (And reveal me as a tourist, and completely lacking in subtlety.)

  3. Hi Andrew,

    since you didn't ask: This is an interesting body of work. Though I've never been to Vancouver, the common motif of wetness and gloomy weather is easily recognizable for me. The details like the reference to the rainforest and the asian population, however, didn't become apparent to me until I read the explaining follow-up post. Nicely done, in my opinion, is the contrast between the coldly colored city exterior scenes and the pictures of people which are in rich, warm colors. What doesn't work that well for me is the mixture between black and white and color pictures. Sure, it makes sense within your layering concept, but it appears a bit harsh and disrupts the flow of the series. I could imagine that pictures of the forest taken on heavily overcast, rainy days in late autumn (dark, almost devoid of color, slightly greenish/blueish) could work well – then one would have city exterior – cold colors; people – warm colors; forest – almost colorless, slightly greenish/blueish ...

    But: I find it admirable to be able to start out with a concept. It's definitely not for me - I'm too chaotic for that ;^)

    Best, Thomas

  4. I recently discovered your blog via Mike Chisholm’s Idiotic Hat (and recognized your name from your comments on T.O.P.), and have greatly enjoyed your writing. It’s a bonus to see some images, and I’ve enjoyed these, too, though they don’t have me chuckling or inadvertently spitting my beverage onto the keyboard as some of your written posts have ;-). I’ve never been to Vancouver but have at least a little bit of familiarity through one of my favorite color photographers, Fred Herzog.

    You’ve captured a lot of what I would expect from a Vancouver essay —the dark forest and the city scenes that look damp, chilly, often dreary, but punctuated by bright, primary colors and an undercurrent of vitality. The repeating yellows and reds are wonderful; they remind me of Herzog’s use of greens and reds, but with a more modern feel.

    I really like your analogy of bones, flesh and skin, which helps me to look at the photos from a new perspective. With that analogy in mind, though, my brain keeps wanting to view the photos in a somewhat different order—from the inside out, moving generally from B&W to the images with the drab colors and ending with the brighter colors. There are images that seem like obvious transition pictures between layers and I really love the many images that have even more subtle tie-ins to the other layers. For example, there are the ferns in the second image, whose shapes are echoed in the furry collar of the woman’s coat (repeating again in the image of the couple at the airport), and the vertical lines of the forest trees that repeat in the architecture of the city.

    Perhaps that inside-to-outside approach would make the sequence too literal/linear, though? Your current sequence seems like more of a circle, beginning and ending with the forest, and that has a pleasing effect, too. I’m sure the current ordering scheme is deliberate and meaningful, so don’t take my re-sequencing musings as a criticism—it’s probably just the idiosyncratic way my brain works, or I haven’t studied the current sequence long enough. In any case, I’ve enjoyed the process of rearranging the puzzle pieces in my mind, even if only to get a better grasp of the 3-layer analogy you’ve laid out.

    For what it’s worth, in my mind I see the sequence starting with the B&W forest images, working up from the smaller “cellular” scale of the floating leaf, then to the twigs and leaves, and finally to the ferns and larger trees. The transition image to the flesh layer might be the B&W image looking at the city through the chain link fence (love the way the posts and even the chain link repeat the trunk lines and leaf patterns of the forest, and also the fact that there is an actual fence of trees between the viewer and the buildings). Then my mind wants to move to the image of the tree in front of the hi-rise, with its desaturated colors and thematic links to both the bone and flesh layers. From there, I move on to the rest of the muted-color city images and eventually to that wonderful OOF image of the billboard and umbrella (which gives a nice hint of the colors and people to come)—or perhaps, instead, to the red building with the lone twig, which includes themes from the 1st and 3rd layers?? Then it’s on to the color images with people in them, probably ending with the city street scene that includes those fantastic yellow-lighted trees, the rich blacks and primary colors, the umbrella, the vertical lines of the buildings, and the people—so many themes/motifs wrapped up in one image.

    Whew, that was kind of a long comment; my apologies. There’s nothing like a photo essay to spark the comment center of my brain, LOL, especially when the author has given such a nice explanation of his or her thought process to chew on, with enjoyable photos to boot.

    I’m usually much more of a lurker than a commenter, but I’ll be checking daily on your blog, one of the best things I’ve discovered on the internet in a while.

    1. Phew! Thank you!

      I was definitely going for some sort of idea of longevity. The forest was there long before people were, and will remain most likely long after they're gone.

      The city might not endure on that scale, but it will move (indeed, it already *has* moved) on from one wave of newcomer to another, and another.

      In My Vancouver (which, let us keep strictly in mind, is not the Real Vancouver!) the dominance of asian faces in the city is quite new, and still feels superficial, a veneer.

      I wasn't going for circular, but rather a past-present-future timeline, but the circle works just as well.