111 West Coast Literary Portraits

If a picture’s worth a thou­sand words, 111 West Coast Literary Portraits is invalu­able. Fifteen years in the mak­ing, it con­tains more than 100 pho­to­graphs of B.C. authors, as well as extracts from their work or per­son­al notes writ­ten spe­cific­ally for the book.

The book is an import­ant doc­u­ment­ary of B.C. lit­er­at­ure. It includes emer­ging, fam­ous, as well as infam­ous authors and speaks to the diversity of lit­er­at­ure, cul­ture and the unique voice of Canada’s most west­ern province. A work of art in its own right, the 8 x 10 heavy stock, glossy paper gives a depth and lumin­os­ity to each por­trait. And the use of black and white film provides a clas­sic, time­less qual­ity to the images.

When Barry began pho­to­graph­ing writers he didn’t real­ize he was start­ing a book pro­ject. He and his wife at the time, Blaise Enright, were new to the West Coast and wanted a pro­ject they could work on togeth­er while explor­ing their new envir­on­ment. By a quirk of fate, authors became the focal point. But it wasn’t always easy.

R.W. Gray wanted to be pho­to­graphed par­tially sub­merged in water. Rick and I wanted to include our dog but Bailey thought pos­ing meant run­ning around in circles. Stephen Reid wanted to wear a cop cos­tume and have a gun and some money on the table in front of him. Little did Barry and Blaise know that Reid’s props would later be used in a real life drama.

But per­haps the most dif­fi­cult photo shoot was of poet Al Purdy. The ini­tial images didn’t turn out well. Soon after Purdy received the proofs Barry answered the phone to find someone scream­ing at him. Purdy, a char­ac­ter with an occa­sion­al crusty edge, deman­ded the pho­tos be retaken the next day or he’d black list the pho­to­graph­ers with every writer in B.C.

It was a scramble for Barry and Blaise to get to Victoria from Vancouver on time but they made it. Along the way, Blaise bought an assort­ment of squeaky toys hop­ing to light­en up the situ­ation. After the shoot, Purdy said he hadn’t known wheth­er to smile or be offen­ded. The photo on page 158 tells it all.

As the col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs grew, it was titled Lit Happens and exhib­ited in a vari­ety of ven­ues to pro­mote lit­er­acy in B.C. A couple of years ago, Mona Fertig of Mother Tongue Publishing approached Barry about turn­ing the pho­to­graphs and accom­pa­ny­ing text by authors into a book.

This fall, Barry has exhib­ited prints from the book, atten­ded sign­ings and par­ti­cip­ated on pan­els of pho­to­graph­ers through­out the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands.

Barry’s always been pas­sion­ate about black and white film. “It helps the view­er focus on the sub­ject,” he explains. “There’s no con­fus­ing palette of col­ours and it seems to really high­light the sub­ject. Also, film pho­to­graphs have a depth to them that digit­al can’t duplic­ate.” As well as tak­ing the pho­to­graphs, Barry developed all the film, mat­ted and framed the prints and even made the card­board boxes to trans­port them in.

Through 2009 and 2010, Barry and I col­lab­or­ated on a photo-journ­al­ism pro­ject called On the Edge, Putting a Face on Homelessness. Time and time again, I wit­nessed Barry’s easy-going man­ner help nervous folks relax, watched him guide people into nat­ur­al-look­ing poses and admired the metic­u­lous detail that went into the print­ing of film and fram­ing of photo and text.

He’s brought the same atten­tion to detail to 111 West Coast Literary Portraits. For more inform­a­tion vis­it www​.barry​peterson​pho​to​graphy​.com or  www​.mother​tongue​pub​lish​ing​.com.

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2 Responses to 111 West Coast Literary Portraits

  1. I am a friend of Yvonne Maximchuk, and shared a show with her in Feb. at the Pearl Ellis Gallery. I am cur­rently read­ing her new book, “Drawn to Sea” and noted that she cred­its you with help­ing her to get her writ­ing off the ground. I decided to go to your site and just read in your blog about “West Coast Literary Portraits” which I happened to see in the lib­rary recently and took it out on a whim. I am only a third of the way through it but abso­lutely. Loving it! It is very inter­est­ing read­ing about how that pro­ject got star­ted. Thanks so much.

    • Paula says:

      Hi Karen,

      I remem­ber you from our inter­view about your art show with Yvonne. Small world, isn’t it? As soon as I met Yvonne, I knew her story had prom­ise. And I also knew she’d prob­ably get pub­lished. That’s because, as an artist, she has the cre­at­ive urge and dis­cip­line to actu­ally spend time work­ing to accom­plish some­thing instead of just think­ing or talk­ing about it.

      And how inter­est­ing that you’re also read­ing anoth­er book I’m peri­pher­ally involved with. Barry did the writ­ing and read­ing world a huge ser­vice with 111 West Coast Literary Portraits. I don’t know of any oth­er book that presents authors to the pub­lic in that way. So glad you’re enjoy­ing it!

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