Robert Bringhurst On A TreeThursday, October 12, 2006
I first met poet and typographer Robert Bringhurst in 1995. My wife and I had been invited to Eve Johnson and her husband's (architect Alan James) house for dinner. At the time Eve Johnson was a food writer for the Vancouver Sun. She liked to test her new recipes. These recipes were invariably very interesting as Eve Johnson is a vegetarian. In a dark corner of the kitchen table, where we sat for dinner, I spotted a quiet man wearing glasses. He was introduced to us as Robert Bringhurst who has an interest in native issues and has written beautifully about native Canadian culture. For many of my designer friends Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographical Style is a bible. During the meal Bringhurst talked little except to tell us that he was moving out of a house on a nearby island and that he had purchased an artist's loft near the Grunt Gallery in Vancouver. Bringhurst became very vocal only after I stated my concern that if at some point in Canada's future Quebec should declare its independence from Canada would the native people of Northern Quebec seek the protection of the federal government? How would the French Canadian generals of our armed forces react?
A few months later I was assigned by the Globe & Mail to photograph Bringhurst in his new loft. Bringhurst was not all that more talkative but he did acknowledge feeling a bit alienated in his new digs. I decided to "take" him to the forest which was and is the inspiration for much of his poetry ( The Calling: Selected Poems 1970–1995. I snapped a few shots and a few days later I went to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver and "push pinned" his portrait to a tree. This photograph marked the beginning of a new phase in my photography that I have called conceptual portraiture. I was late at coming to this term as fellow American (Bringhurst is an American) photographer James La Bounty (who lives on Saltspring Island) was shooting this kind of stuff long before I started.