Posthumous Advice From Fred SchifferTuesday, September 15, 2009
In 1974 Rosemary told me that the future didn’t look too good in our Mexico City. She added that she saw it as a difficult home for our daughters Alexandra and Hilary. She suggested we move to Canada. We put our house for sale and we quit our teaching jobs. We suffered a shock when we could not sell our house. I decided to take portraits of the wealthy Mexicans who lived in the Pedregal area near the University. Business was so good, in spite of my primitive equipment and no lighting. My neighbourhood friends urged me to stay and take the house out of the market. “Alex you are doing so well, change your mind.” We didn’t and we drove to Vancouver in our VW Beettle.
Since I was not able to find work as a photographer immediately (I had no portfolio) I worked for Tilden Rent-A-Car for a year. Meanwhile I would visit Fred Schiffer and his wife Olive at their beautiful photographic studio underneath the Hudson’s Bay skywalk on Seymour Street. I would feast my eyes on the perfect (and very large) framed portraits of Supreme Court justices and other famous people of Vancouver and Canada. Fred and Olive would tell me that I needed patience and that work would eventually come. They were right in the end and I left my job at Tilden and started work for the CBC and for Vancouver Magazine.
Around the end of the 80s or perhaps in the beginning of the 90s Fred saw the writing on the wall and closed his studio. He must have been around 65 (two years younger than I am now). He purchased portable flash equipment and began offering his services to the very wealthy families of our City. He prospered while photographers with studios were struggling. Before the digital revolution finally hit Vancouver and changed everything, Fred was the most expensive wedding photographer in town. And he was in demand.
Today I went to my studio and took it down. I had given notice so I knew I had to be out by September 30. But still I had that little hope that something would change. Just like a home is not a home until there are pictures hanging on the wall my studio was no longer one when I removed my pictures including one of my favourites of Evelyn Hart. Once the pictures were down the rest was easy. After 17 years in that studio I had collected a lot of junk. I got rid of it including 25 assorted phone books I used to control the height of my subjects. I arrive home sweaty and tired but somehow almost relieved and at peace. Could it be that my new leaf is a new chapter or will it be, ominously an afterword? Time will tell. My last kick at the can is a set of four postcards that were designed by my good friend and designer Ian Bateson of Baseline Type & Graphics. These four cards (including the one you see here) feature Arthur Erickson, a Hosta lady and portrait of Rebecca and Lauren. The cards are being printed by Metropolitan Fine Printers. I made a trade with owner George Kallas who is using my pictures of him (which I took for a Toronto based graphics to promote his business. George is a perfectionist so he told me, "If you want me to print your postcards you had better go to your friend Grant Simmons at DISC to have your transparencies drum-scanned.
The cards will have an address alexwaterhousehayward.com/postcard that will directly link to a portrait portal within my web page. The advice and suggestion to this came from Ray Mah of Leap Creative. It is he who designed my identity (see the obverse side of the postcard) 30 years ago. His design has remained fresh all these years. With help from Grant Simmons, Ian Bateson, George Kallas, Ray Mah and some posthumous advice from Fred Schiffer I just might have another career in front of me.