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


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

This morning I walked on the "Cambied" area of Granville Street, between Drake and West Georgia. I entered Leo's Camera Supply and thought about a column, written by Pete McMartin, that I had read earlier in the Vancouver Sun. It was about Granville Street, but further south by 16th Avenue.

Pete McMartin wrote a passionate protest against the B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein's ruling that Falung Gong must remove a shack and a row of billboards the group has maintained in front of the Chinese consulate since 2001.

Mr. Mc Martin wrote:

Now I would not dare to fault the judge's decision. She was just doing her job and interpreting the law as she saw it. But what do I find fault with?

Here, in the city of Bob Hunter and Greenpeace, of Harry Rankin, of the country's most vibrant social activism, there has been a disturbing silence. The most disturbing silence of all can be found at city hall

As it has increasingly become more difficult for me to find my way to one of my two favourite camera supply stores in town, (the other is Beau Photo on 6th and Granville) because of constant construction and blocking of streets I have thought that my difficulty is nothing compared to the problem of running a camera supply store in the 21st century with the added injury of curtailed access.

Vancouver is blessed in having several photo labs. Those legions who shoot digital and do not need film to be processed might explore the beautiful light jet prints (only available in these labs) that can transform a digital file into a work of art. Vancouver is blessed in having several photo stores that compete with the best that New York has to offer. These are Leo' and Beau Photo. Leo's in particular has that smell, an exciting smell that comes from the metal of some of those film cameras that were indeed made of metal and not of policarbonates It is a smell that an oldie like me would say is the smell of a real camera store.

What makes these stores a Vancouver treasure is that they stock stuff that you would have to look at length to find on line. Walking into Leo's you see state-of-the-art Canons (the ones you need car loans to buy) but you also see Leicas and beefy dangerous looking motor driven Nikon F3s. The young men who work at Leo's know their stuff and some more.

What do you need to pack in your camera bag to take pictures at Machu Picchu? Ask David Donaldson. Peter Foweraker will tell you the subtle differences in using developer HC-110 in Dilution B or C and throw a really good used camera bag in the bargain. If your DSLR card is noted as corrupted on you computer, after your trip back from the Antarctic, you can bet that Chris Screech will somehow retrieve those valuable pictures.

But it is Jeff Jin whom I usually consult the most. He will explain that the LCD's of a flat screen monitor glow when they are turned off so that it is difficult to get a real black with some of them. You are having problems with your PC's mating with Photoshop? Jin who is an expert with his Mac will not tell you how sorry (and stupid you are) in that you don't also have a Mac, but will actually help you solve the problem.

For years I have more or less had a successful photographic business. I always like to point out that the necessary ingredient for success in Vancouver is a good support staff. You need a good repairman ( Horst Wenzel), someone to keep your flashes going (Viktor) a good lab (George King, The Lab, ABC Photocolour) a good drum scanner and giclée printer (that's Grant Simmons at DISC). And of course a good store. Besides Leo's and Beau Photo I have found stuff at Lens and Shutter and used bargains at Kerrisdale Camera Supply.

I am sure that you might just get that DSLR you want cheaper by mail order or by going to the Future Shop. But it is a Leo's where they will patiently tell you how it works. They are part of that necessary support staff.

To keep these treasures in Vancouver thriving one has to do business with them. Instead of clicking on that computer I would rather hop on my B-Line Bus and go to Leo's or to be wowed by the incredible variety of film stock at Beau. I like to linger, talk to the boys (there are girls at Beau, too!) and perhaps run into photographers that I know.

In 1999 I had a sweet job to take pictures for a magazine published by the BC Central Credit Union. The art director, Chris Dahl insisted I photograph one of my subjects, a film director, with a movie camera. That seemed easy. It wasn't. It was a busy film weekend. I could not find a camera at Panavision. Nobody would rent me an Arriflex.

In desperation I went to Leo's. I asked Jef Lin, "Can you help?" He answered, "We have three. Which model do you want?" I left minutes later with a beautiful Arriflex (seen in the picture above with director Rick Stevenson. Incredibly, Gin took a chance and I walked with the simple signing of a paper. When you do business with good people the trust is mutual.

Returning to the Pete McMartin column he writes about Bob Hunter and Harry Rankin. He is absolutely right. But I think that if McMartin went out to the street he would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would know who those fine and dead gentleman were.

That is our tragedy. In Vancouver we not only miss that which we no longer have but we sometimes compound it by forgetting we had it at all.


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