hen I talk about photographing on assignment many people think it’s all glamour and excitement. Now, that I work in the background of making music I know that glamour is the last thing on anybody’s minds. It’s hard work and most of it sucks.
Getting back to strictly photography, I once wrote that I was Lonely Planet Publishing “Mr. Fixit.” I was offered last minute assignments to repair a blown assignment by another photographer. They never told me who, but it was easy to tell from the rest of the pictures in the book.
They sent me to Montreal, Canada in the dead of winter. In fact, I started traveling during the week between Christmas and New Year. I was home for Christmas so I didn’t catch hell. I left New Orleans in our version of winter cold. I arrived in a deep freeze.
I always do my research. I bought an army surplus winter coat. It’s so warm that if we have a winter cold front in New Orleans I just wear a t-shirt and the coat. It has a hood lined with fur and tie strings which meant I didn’t need a hat.
I don’t think the temperature climbed much above zero for the entire time that I was there. At night it dropped even lower. I think we had snow every other day. We also had clear skies and sun, which made it even colder.
I had about 80 places to check out, but not always photograph. That meant moving from place to place. I mostly used public transportation which was great, or using taxis which weren’t.
I did a lot of work in the city center, which is connected by a series of tunnels that contained what amounts to a shopping mall. You could get there by a short and very cold walk from my hotel and descending down on an escalator. Once you were in the tunnels you could go into larger stores and ascend into their upstairs floors.
I worked in Montreal’s version of Vieux Carre. Unlike New Orleans’ old city — The French Quarter — this one is large, urban and very well appointed. The streets are made of cobblestone which freezes in cold weather and gets worse when snow and water gets hard in freezing weather. Talk about slipping and sliding even in good snow boots, which never grip ice.
I spent more time than I should have in the old city because I was looking for a little pocket park that the author described as essential. I looked high and low. I asked baristas and bar tenders. Finally, I went into a dive bar and asked bartender who worked there for about 150 years. He told me that he knew of it, but it hadn’t been there for years. It had been replaced by a new gentrified building about five years previous.
This incident confirmed what I already knew. Travel book authors hang out in bars with other travel writers who pass information back and forth even though they probably have never actually been there. Often, they got the information from other travel writers who had never been there. I thought that reporters who hang out in foreign corespondents clubs were bad, but these guys are worse.
When I sent my images and work notes to my editor I made it clear what happened and just how much time this search wasted.
I even went to an island by bus. The island was basically a huge casino and hotel for gamblers who didn’t want to go into the city except for transiting in and out. See the picture below of the arrival to the island which was underground.
I showed some friends my take. They said I must have been depressed because my work showed it. I told them that I was just cold and that whatever they felt was really about them since every study shows that about 80% of image meaning is made by the viewer.
It was grueling, but it was an adventure. It was one of those assignments that you do partially for the stories you can tell.
Just like I told you.
Leave a Reply