Sunday, December 04, 2016

Listening carefully for great pictures

Today's post is about using more than my vision to find great pictures. On this particular day in October of 1980 I was on my way to a photo assignment in the Bramalea Civic Centre in Brampton Ontario. When I finished that job, I used the sound of music to guide me to a children's ballet class being being held in one of the classrooms. I was sent there by the newspaper I worked for at the time, The Brampton Times where I had been working for the past yea and a half.

So there I was walking through the foyer of the large building and I could hear the distinct sound of some lovely piano music being played as it echoed throughout the building, I used my ears to guide me and I soon found the sound was emanating from a children's ballet class. I knocked on the door and asked the instructor if it would be okay to photograph the class for the Times newspaper, I noticed that there was wonderful light spilling in from the floor to ceiling windows that was along one side of the large room, perfect for natural light photography with no flash which is what I like best.

With the instructor's okay, I spent next 1/2 an hour or more photographing the dozen or so children, it was a class for pre-ballet class for 4 and 5-years-olds. Their black and white ballet outfits were perfect for black and white film that I was shooting at the time in my Nikon cameras. After I got back to the office, my editor must have been quite pleased with my pictures because the paper ended up running a full page of pictures. What is noteworthy about this picture in particular is that this photo of the little ballerina girl, ( shot with a 85mm lens ) touching her nose to her toes won me my very first photography awards. I received two awards for the same picture, first runner-up award for Feature Photography and the other, also first runner-up for Excellence in Photography ( under 35,000 circ. ) by the Western Ontario Newspaper Awards, the 27th annual at the time when it was held in April of 1981 in Kitchner Ontario. The Western Ontario Newspaper Awards ( now the Ontario Newspaper Awards ) had a lot of very strong competition by some of the top papers in Ontario. That year Dick Wallace of the London Free Press took the top feature photo award and Willy Waterton of the Owen Sound Sun Times took the top Excellence in Photography award. As with much of my work I was pleased that I won for my feature photography which has always been my strong point. I was grinning ear to ear.

Winning that award and a strong portfolio landed me on the short-list for a staff photographer's job at the very prestigious Kitchener Waterloo Record in the fall of 1981, I believe I was one of two photographers that they were seriously looking at. I went through a challenging interview, one of the toughest I have ever gone through, the two photo editors of the Record sat opposite of me in the photo department, and they would rattle off questions one after another with hardly time for me to catch my breath. In the end I didn't get the job, I believe it went to Philip Walker, had I got the job it would have been a big step up from the Thompson owned Brampton Times, the Record at the time had state of the art color and black processing film darkrooms, seamless walled studios and pretty well the best of everything. I was in awe.

After that a recession hit Ontario and other parts of Canada in 1982, photography openings a papers were few and hard to come by, I applied for one position at the Kingston Whig Standard and was told that my resume was somewhere in a stack of 200 that had applied so far applied. I never did get called for an interview with the Whig. I cooled my heels for a while and gave some deep thought as to where I wanted to go with my life, stay in Ontario or perhaps head back west to my beloved British Columbia. So in 1983 like I did in coming out to Ontario I made up a number of applications with a portfolio and sent them off via Canada Post to a number of B.C. papers including the Kelowna Daily Courier.

 Later in the summer of that year, I was asked to step into the publisher's office at the Brampton Times, the man in charge at the time was Victor Mlodecki, a tall man with a generous smile who was well respected and liked by the staff. He said to me "So I hear that you are looking for work?" Ah yes I said somewhat cautiously, as I had not said too much around the newsroom about seeking new employment. With that he said there is a staff photographer's job waiting for me at the Kelowna Daily Courier, I think it took me a couple seconds to answer, I just had to talk with the managing editor of the Courier at the time, Dave Henshaw to finalize the job, a much easier interview by far! While in Victor's office I was a bit speechless as it happened so quick and unexpectedly, within days after submitting my two weeks notice for the Times I was packing up my belongings preparing to move. So like I did heading out to Brampton 4 1/2 years earlier, I loaded up my bright orange Volvo in mid September with all my worldly goods and struck out east along the Trans-Canada Highway for Kelowna, B.C, it was a very good deal for me, as I was able to keep my start date and holidays owed with the Brampton paper, it actually was more of a transfer as the Courier and Times were both owned by Thompson Newspapers Inc which a the time owned dozens of papers across the country.

For my new home I would be living in the heart of the beautiful Okanagan Valley one of the most desirable places to live in all of Canada. I started my new job at the Kelowna Daily Courier on October 3, 1983. My first photo assignment for the Courier was to photograph the then federal agriculture minister, Eugene Whelan who held a press conference outside of the BC Tree Fruits offices on Water Street.

A new adventure was about to begin.

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