Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Six Months, Four Days: Evolution

The "Disney Couture" series were
likely Calista's selection as her "masterpieces"
They were the pictures she personally chose
to display at her only photo show.
The composition and the treatment of the
metal in these photos made these ready-for-market
professional product marketing photos.

One of the adjudicators of her final
portfolio commented she wanted a copy
 of this photo for herself.

Calista's birthday was last week.  We celebrated her birthday by ourselves in our own way. I won't tell you that it was a joyous affair because that would be a lie. She would have been 21 years 
old; the magical age of worldwide emancipation.  Still, the life of a beautiful soul blessed with talent and ambition cannot go uncelebrated... and it never will as long as those that knew her live bigger and better from having enjoyed her.

Roni and I bought four mylar helium balloons down at the local Quality Foods and wrote some love notes on them with purple felt marker.  We then drove down to Roni's favourite little park at Grief Point, here in Powell River, and turned them loose for the winds of fate take them where they willed. There were lots of bitter tears shed between the two of us, but still, watching the balloons climb high into the sun, flashing ever more faintly as they travelled south and west, there was a sense of connection with Calista. No matter how crazy it sounds, there was a sense between the two of us that those messages would find their way to our girl.  The irony that we were releasing our four helium filled "messages in a bottle" at Grief Point was lost on me until the evening.

The idea for the balloons came to Roni as she looked at a photograph of Calista given to us by Amanda. The photograph was an artistic portrait showing a fashionably dressed Calista, standing at the ocean's edge, holding some colourful traditional latex balloons bouncing at the end of their tethers as the sea winds grab them. The photograph sits in our kitchen and Roni looks at it every meal.  That link with Amanda and the rest of Calista's core of close friends goes beyond just that simple picture.

The evening of the fourteenth Roni and I tried to honor our Calista by drinking her favourite drink and eating her favourite sweet.  While at North Island College Calista had developed a love for a sickly sweet vodka concoction called "Purple Rain". It had an ounce of vodka, and ounce of some Godawful blue liquor, a touch of grenadine, all mixed with 7Up.  To me it tasted like fruit syrup with an alcohol bite but then I prefer expensive single malt Scotch straight up. Roni and I toasted our Calista as we cut the chocolate Black Forest Cake that Calista would have loved. Our only problem is that properly we should have had an ice-cream cake because Calista never could pass up an ice-cream cake. There are some things you just can't get in Powell River on short notice.

We found out later that Calista's college posse all met at Boston Pizza in Courtenay, killed a few "Purple Rains" and downed some chocolate cake in her honor. They wore tiaras as is only proper on what will be henceforth known as "National Tiara Day",November 14th. Perhaps somebody will market a pink tiara just to be worn on that day, proceeds to benefit aspiring photographers everywhere. There had been no communication between the girls and us: their choice of food and drink to celebrate Calista's short life was completely spontaneous.

The six month mark since her death, surprisingly, passed practically unmarked. It was just another rainy day in Powell River. That might be because both Roni and I were exhausted from the day before which can only be described as a waking nightmare for me: racing to get somewhere important and encountering obstacle after obstacle. On the fifteenth, having survived her birthday with only a couple of scars, we crossed the straights and travelled south down the Island highway to Nanaimo. Calista's little Smart Car had been making some funky sounds and, since that car is so much an embodiment of our daughter we have to keep it in top condition. The closest certified Smart Car service centre for us was the Three Points car dealership in Nanaimo.

I had hoped to have the service done in one day, race north to Comox and catch the last ferry home that evening.  That was not going to happen; parts needed replacing, censors needed reprogramming and there are only so many hours in a work day. We had to stay in Nanaimo.

Friday morning we rose late, grabbed a quick breakfast at a local coffee bar in the very cool rejuvenated old town section of downtown Nanaimo and raced to the dealership to collect Calista's Smart Car. We then sprinted north to Courtenay, hoping to catch the 3 pm ferry.  I should have known something was up when I found myself fighting the cross-winds as they tossed the little car around as we drove up the Island Highway. It should have registered that the wind was roaring and the Georgia Straights were going to be even wider than they normally are when we reached the ferry docks at Little River. On that particular day the straights were actually nine hours, three ferries, and over 200 kilometres wide: no ferry was likely to leave Comox for at least 20 hours or until the wind died down. We could have stayed in Comox, but there was no guaranteed passage off the island until the winds died. The only sure way home was to return south to Nanaimo and grab the larger, more ocean-worthy ferries that cross to Horseshoe Bay on the mainland.  I had to be in my own home for the six month mark of her death.

The drive was agonising since my back, always sure to hurt like hell when I am stressed, was aching as bad as it ever has and spending untold hours in a driver's seat was not improving anything. Getting out of that Smart Car was pure agony; I must have looked one hundred years old (PS. I ended up in Powell River Emergency two days later completely unable to walk. I was unable to work for a week. That was one expensive tune-up). We barely made the ferry in Nanaimo, then basically played aggressive bumper-car at Horseshoe Bay to make the Langdale connection. Once we made the Langdale ferry we could relax since there was nothing stopping us from catching the last ferry out of Earl's Cove, except the 90 kilometres of narrow winding coastal road, the driving rain and the impenetrable obsidian black night. By the time I crawled out of the car at Earl's Cove I was beyond tired and could barely stand upright. The only bright light at the end of my tunnel was that nothing short of the ferry running aground or sinking was going to stop us from making it home that night.

The joke was on me though: the horrid storm that had forced me to go so far out of my way to get home had also trapped my relief doctor in Powell River. There was no need to return to run my business since the good doctor had every intention of filling in for me for the Saturday appointments. I could have stayed in Comox, relaxed and read a good book rather than making the great circle drive along the edge of the inland Salish Sea as they now call the Georgia Straights.

For this journal entry I want to give everyone a taste of photographs from throughout Calista's life.  I actually only have a select few from her early days; most of her earliest pictures have disappeared (I think she "disappeared" them rather than leaving them for posterity). Fortunately there is still a wealth of worthy photographs to select from that I hope will show a progression of her mastery of her art-form. I hope I do honor to her memory. Please do keep in mind that the selection is all mine and does not likely represent the choices a trained photographer would make.

In was 2002 or 2003 and we were at the Vancouver Aquarium.
She got easily the best photo of the day despite the fact she
had a camera worth ten percent of my Canon, no long lens, and
was too short to see over most of the safety rails.


Taken at the Calgary zoo with a cheap 35mm point-n-shoot on
400 speed all purpose Fuji film. I have a picture of her taking this
picture in 2005 or 2006.
Calgary Zoo on a Panasonic Lumix TZ1. Playing with patterns and

Yeah, I know she took this picture 'cause
there is no way I am standing in front
of a six foot tall aggressive Cassowary with razor
sharp talons. Bad dad for turning away
when this bird caught her eye.
One of her first portraits. If you met the
boy you would know this caught his soul.

From Vegas in 2007. It was a gift to her
mother for Mother's Day that year. Photographs
as gifts became an important part of their relationship
with this simple gesture. Note how she is
learning to play with light and prospective here.

Blood Alley in Vancouver in
2007. An enlargement sits over
my bed today.
Macro: quintessential photography: the beauty that lays right in
front of our nose but we overlook in our rush through life.

Macro photos are a simple example of the essence of photography. Those detailed studies of flowers, spiders, and pebbles on the beach allow us to see the  everyday beauty that we overlook in our rush through life. This journal, written over these last horrible six months is like a macro: its a detailed study that allows us to see the beauty we missed while dealing with the trivialities of day to day life.
Typical Macro shot by Calista. She would go out on
a landscape shoot and get distracted by flower macro shots.
Boomer, her instructor thought it was hilarious. Landscape
photography was definitely not her thing.

Years ago I was walking back to my sister's apartment while attending a conference in Vancouver. I stopped to admire some roses, something we rarely enjoyed in Regina. An elderly lady passed by and loudly commented to me, "Just take some roses, Son. They only are in full bloom for a few days and so few people really appreciate them".  We should all appreciate the transience of beauty in life; don't just stop for a moment to smell your own roses.  Love them as long as you can.

A panorama she entered in a small contest in Regina in 2007.
It was more of a nod at how homesick her old dad was for Vancouver.
Its funny how trivial places seem when the people are missing.


A portrait she entered in the same contest,
Neither Roni nor I can remember what
prize this photo earned. I want to say
best in class, but I'm not sure.
She painted this photo in
acrylic in neon colours. She
claimed to never care for portraits.
Not liking something and not being good
at it are two different things.

Included only because it involved 4
things Calista loved: Jude her car, a friend,
a photo, and fun (Called "Godzilla Attacks")

A portrait for her high school
photography course. It
catches the beauty of this young
woman, a friend.

A study for her first photography
course in high school. It was a study in

I believe these are my car headlights. A study in geometric shapes
for her photography course. Note that she barely appears in the
reflections; the most important point of photographing reflective
surfaces is that the photographer should be invisible.

Prospective. Playing with the camera.

"Charity".Her final in photography was a photo-essay called "The
Nature of Good and Evil". Pretty heady for a fifteen
year old. I do keep in mind that it was a Catholic School.




"temptation" Right out of Genesis.
Was she just playing to her Catholic
school system?
"Lust": Did she catch the feeling?

Its a Basswood tree, but with a little
fine fishing line and a dozen red applies
from Safeway it becomes the forbidden
tree of Eden. Her idea, my fishing line. I
ate the applies happily.
"Gluttony".  A classic still-life in the spirit of
the Dutch renaissance. Still-life art celebrates the
brevity of life. Compare that to the Japanese
celebration of the brevity of youth and how sudden
death can end that youth. 

One of her shots from Italy. I loved this shot with all the
layers of trees, buildings, bridges and water. Calista
thought it was too touristy.

She took this just for me. Its the classic shot of the Pantheon in
Rome. I love this shot even though it has been done and done
again by everyone who visits the classic building of ancient Rome.
Thank-you Calista, my love.

The Roman Coliseum. A traditional shot.

The Coliseum: very Calista: seeing
 the unique angle in the tourist trap.

Slightly Photo shopped. She turned-up the
contrast to increase the edginess.
In the centre of Rome. She juiced it up
a bit with Picasa.

The original Olympia. The pink colour is what grabbed her eye
most likely. That and the multiple levels.

The Greek Parthenon. It is a typical picture
but done very well. Great depth of field and

Delphi. She loved the green of the rock
wall contrasting the white stone ruins.

sometimes she got a Landscape just right. To me the key to
landscape is to draw out the explorer in every viewer. This picture
makes you dream of taking the fishing boat to explore the far islands.

One of her first product shots. Nike
sneakers for Jack.
I might be wrong, but I believe the goal of the art of photography is to make the viewer feel the photo rather than just see the photo. A landscape should pull out the explorer as it asks the viewer to see not just the scene but dream of what is just beyond the horizon. A portrait should try to reflect both the personality of the subject as well as the appearance. A marketing photo should sell the product as well as show the product.  I always told Calista to remember that photographs have a feel to them as well as a look. I think she got my point. Even before she attended NIC.

From the same series. I
wish we had saved more
of Jack's assignments,
but I we just can't find them.

Again, a "Jack" assignment. He really did see her gift for
marketing photography. Others saw she had potential
for portraits. I say they are the same thing except one of
your products is breathing.

Jack shot again. Taken as we drove down
the road. Note the speedometer says 70 kph.

Taken from a photo series Calista did for an article I had
published in Shotokan Karate Magazine. Calista was
internationally published. How many amateur photographers
can claim that?  I am so glad I took that chance to get
published. The publisher loved the candid shots.

This is out of sequence. It is from 2007.
Still, for a 16 year old untrained artist
to see this shot in the pedestrian atmosphere
of a swimming pool is really something.

This old stone farm house sits over Craven in the Qu'Appelle
Valley. A different sort of landscape; it makes you wonder about the
back story on the house rather than what lies behind it.

This picture was taken in 2009. The bear
contemplated her for lunch while she snapped
away oblivious. This photo graces my clinic's
waiting room.

Not quite macro but look at that detail.
2009 in Comox with the 40D. It hangs
in my veterinary clinic today.

Taken with the Canon 40D in 2009. At the Vancouver
Aquarium.  I had hoped she could get her dive ticket
eventually and repeat this picture in the wild. My
vision for her was an adventure photography service.
A mate of this hangs in my waiting room.

An HDR photo of her favourite tattoo parlour. Obviously
heavily modified to give the impressionist feel. Remember
photography is about "feel" as it is about "photo". I am playing with
the idea of marketing a limited number of prints of this to
support her scholarship program.


HDR Motorcycle Engine
Another photo I would like to market.

I already discussed this photo elsewhere.
It remains a masterpiece and a labour
of love. I am so sorry that only the large
format original does this work full justice.
It's the hand-painting that really makes it.

This is the one photo that will never be marketed. There is only
a single print: it was her last Mother's Day gift to Roni. There will
be only one print of this as long as we two live. I would love to tell
you how this was made: very labour intensive.

Thanks for the memories honey. We all can only wonder where the final destination
of all this really was destined to be. It ended far too soon, but your mom and I
will try to make it up for you.