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


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I received a polite notification yesterday from VLM/myvancouver editor/art director/publisher Bob Mercer (left) that he was ceasing publication of his magazine just about when the third incarnation of myvancouver was to appear on selected Vancouver doorsteps.

From my initial collaboration with Mercer in March 2007 I grew to like a man who had a vision to dream against all odds. I kept thinking to myself, "What does this man know about magazines that in my 35 years of working for them I don't know?" Had he really asked for my advice I would have told him, "Don't mortgage your house, don't launch this magazine. You will not succeed." I was critical of his efforts, but only marginally so as I wanted to keep my ability to dream. With Mercer's VLM I could dream about anything and somehow find a way of getting his positive nod, my execution of the assignment as both a written and photographic piece, and then anticipate the days until I would see that dream on the cover of VLM or prominently displayed inside with an elegant design and exquisite reproduction of my images.

While I was dreaming I was silently telling myself, "Mercer, you are a fool to hope that Vancouverites will embrace a good magazine in an age of aggregators that compile bad blogs about boring issues that are regurgitated from a declining media base that is replacing professional journalists with amateurs."

Ours is not an age of citizen journalism but one I would better call amateur journalism. The word amateur as used by the British of the 19th century denoted men (mostly men) and women who eschewed profit to embark on causes such as archeology, anthropology, botany, exploration, etc with a deep reverence and passion. These amateurs are a far cry from the amateurs of today who give us opinions on anything just because they can press and send.

"And even if you are a fool, Mercer," I kept thinking, "don't quit now. Give me room to dream. Give me room to think of people I would like to photograph and write about. Give me the opportunity to photograph Vancouver's most beautiful woman, Gloria Macarenko, give me the opportunity to photograph my friend Sean Rossiter with one of his model airplanes, give me the chance to photograph those wondrous ballet boys from Arts Umbrella and explore why they have a passion for dance." Mercer was foolish enough to keep his magazine going while I dreamt and dreamt to my heart's content.

With VLM/myvancouver gone, my capacity to see my dreams as real (the very reason why as fourth kind of fool I chose 35 years ago to become an editorial photographer) has now been diminished to just about zero. My only comfort is that Mercer, in spite of being a fool, had a great capacity to dream.

Mercer may have failed (he vows he will return in the fall) but I wonder if failure in such things is not amply compensated by that long run of dreams?

Three Fools & Gloria Macarenko
Monday, March 05, 2007

I have observed three fools in action over the years and when they finally give up there are many more of the type to occupy their place. These fools have the ambition to:

1. Publish and or edit a magazine, tabloid or newspaper.
2. Start an art gallery.
3. Open a restaurant.

It was quite a few years ago that Urban Peasant, James Barber had to withdraw from his Commercial Drive restaurant venture Arriva. He was losing his shirt. But he went on the record in a magazine article, how the experience had not turned him off. He asserted that when the opportunity rose he would start a restaurant again.

Dianne Farris once told me that she had not only mortgaged her house away to keep her gallery going but that she was also painting herself into a plumbing corner as the bathrooms did not work. But she was going to press on with her dream.

I think it is the dream that keeps these three "fools" going. You have an idea, and reality (with its instant satisfaction) can be quick in coming if you publish a weekly or a daily. I have been privy to conversations between publishers and editors where the former would swear a no inteference policy so as to keep an editorial independence. And I have seen these promises disappear as "service" peaces became the norm for keeping a magazine afloat.

As a photographer I have been promised more times than I can possibly remember, "This is a new magazine and we can only afford this much, but as soon as we become more successful we will pay you what you are really worth." I have seen young photographers, illustrators and freelance writers be given "photo" or "writing" credits instead of hard cash. I have never had the heart or the gumption to tell them that money will never come and photo credits are not proper collateral at the bank.

But would be gallery owners, restauranteurs and publisher/editors keep passing by my horizon and for the latter I am almost never able to say, "No," when asked to help out for little or no money.

Could it be that I am a dreamer, too?

The prospect of seeing a magazine with my cover photo has always been an exciting delight. My latest effort is no less a delight. It was about a month ago that experienced editor/art director Bob Mercer told me he had the project to re-brand the most horrible (my word) magazine in Vancouver.

He said he wanted to turn around Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine (now called VLM)and wanted bold b+w covers. Best of all (this is how he lured me in) he wanted me to suggest who was the person I would want to photograph the most.

My answer was an easy one. I photographed the luminous Gloria Macarenko assisted by my secret weapon of so many years, stylist Maureen Willick.

When the magazine appeared last week I could not believe, that just for once, the spread looked better than I had imagined it.

I can only hope that editor/art director Bob Mercer's dream comes true.


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