A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Internal Tibial Torsioned Grant Shilling
Thursday, July 10, 2008


Since 1976 I have worked with a variety of magazine and newspaper writers. For magazines, newspapers and books I have photographed many writers from William F. Buckley to one who upon seeing me said, "Call me dog." The latter was James Ellroy. Working with some was dull and with others it was fun. Many were difficult and tried to tell me how to take my photographs. I remember when Sean Rossiter interviewed Canucks coach Roger Nielson he told me, "You have to photograph him watching with some players the practice videos on TV. And get the blue lighting reflecting on his face." I never saw any blue light so I had to rig a little flash to one side of the TV set. I taped a blue gel and it bathed Nielsen and players with that Rossiter blue light!

But the most excentric and fun was the multi-talented Grant Shilling. I worked on a couple of baseball stories with him. One involved an umpire and the other was about the joy of playing on real grass at Nat Bailey Stadium. We watched a game of the Vancouver Canadians and I noted to Shilling that the lingua franca seemed to be Spanish. Many of the players were Mexican, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, etc. There was a lot of swearing in Spanish. I got Shilling all nervous when I started yelling motherly advice in Spanish to the umpire of his story.

Shilling at the time had a precursor of blogs (he faxed it). It was some sort of baseball zine that had been adopted to run, I believe the Wall Street Journal or the Harvard Review. I don't remember which. Shilling's inseparable friend at the time (1987?) was photographer Oraf. Both worked as bouncers in a new wave club on Richards, half a block south from Vancouver Magazine. Somehow Shilling convinced the owners to sponsor an art show of his. I don't think he told them, until it was too late that his show involved the carting of tons of turf. I have forgotten what the show was about but I recall it had something to do with baseball cards. It was called Coach Does My Hair.

It was perhaps 7 or 8 years ago that I ran into Shilling near the Marble Arch. At the time he was traveling back and forth between Vancouver and Tofino. I now know that he was working on his 2003 book The Cedar Surf: An Informal History of Surfing in British Columbia . "Alex,"I remember him telling me, "you photograph many women in the rooms of the Marble Arch. I actually live there. Photograph me." This I did. I noticed that he protected his bike by keeping it in the room. I took the pictures and never saw Shilling again. The roll lay undeveloped in my darkroom. Yesterday I got curious and processed it. Here are two photographs.

Shilling has an unusual blog and in it I read this essay by perhaps one of his students?

Surfing is Surfing - An Essay on Grant Shilling by Clayton Webb - Grade 11 Stellys Secondary, Central Saanich.

As for the internal-tibial-torsioned Grant Shilling I had to pick on his only physical flaw. He always denied it but he was pigeon-toed.

Addendum ( re: another physical flaw):

Grant Shilling is now living in Cumberland BC. He wrote:

Life is great here in Cumberland where I remain stoked have a seven year old boy and live with my sweetie. Life is good!

In his communication Shilling reminded me that we both worked on a profile on Ben Johnson for Vancouver Magazine.

When I found out that sprinter Ben Johnson (before his Olympic run) was coming to town I told editor Mac Parry that I wanted to photograph Ben Johnson. Mac told me, "Impossible, Ben Johnson has been dead for years." I went over to associate editor Don Stanley's office and repeated the question. Stanley answered with a question, "Ben Johnson the actor? " I went back to Mac's office and explained. Mac nodded and said, "Call up that reprobate Grant Shilling and do it."

During the shoot Shilling asked Johnson if he was happy with his body. Johnson looked down on his crotch and said, "I would have been happy with a couple more inches."


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