Category Archives: Events and scenes

Biography turns lens on famed photojournalist

Photo credit: Kevin Doyle

Review by Liz Snell

“They say real men don’t cry – that’s crap.” Photographer Ted Grant, 84, wasn’t afraid to get emotional in front of a packed auditorium during the launch of his life’s biography.

Grant’s biographer, UVic graduate Thelma Fayle, met Grant as his student at Camosun College. Years later, she hesitantly emailed him to ask his help in photographing someone for an article. Since then Fayle has conducted over 50 interviews with Grant. She saw the necessity in honouring his legacy: “Everyone knew his work but nobody knew his name,” she said. “My goal in writing this book was to honour a hardworking Canadian artist.”

Recognized by many as “the father of Canadian photojournalism,” Grant’s contribution to Canadian culture was a particular emphasis during the launch. Whether through his story about his famous photograph of Pierre Trudeau sliding down a l banister in the Chateau Laurier, or his experience organizing photographers at Victoria’s 1994 Commonwealth Games, Grant’s connection to national history was evident. Grant had intimate access to famous lives and was even on a first-name basis with prime ministers.

Yet Grant’s presence conveys humility. He called much of modern concern with technique “garbage” and downplayed his own skill by emphasizing timing: “I’m a photographer, not a technician.” He advised photographers to “shoot someone when they’re listening” to capture the intense focus in their eyes, and to be “first to arrive and last to leave” to capture candid moments. His work exhibits a striking ability to portray someone’s unguarded essence.

His vibrant, wry sense of humour had the crowd laughing through most of the presentation, but he was also moved to tears multiple times during his talk, particularly when discussing a photo of his wife, who passed away last year. He noted, “I’ve shot over 100 babies being born, and I’ve cried at every one.”

His passion for photography was evident when, during a question period, a young photography student asked him for advice. At first he joked, “Go over to the medical building and become a doctor.” Then he said, “If it’s totally consuming and you love it, it doesn’t matter what you do, what hours you put in.”

He described photography as a “magical career” in which he’s been “constantly alive.”

Many recounted Grant’s popularity as a photography instructor. One of Grant’s former students told how Grant had staged his own in-classroom arrest, to test whether students would respond by pulling out their cameras, as a photographer should.

For Grant’s 76th birthday he photographed himself flying upside down in a fighter plane. He discussed plans for his 100th birthday, and joked that he’ll have the undertakers present so that when the news person announces his birthday, he can “drop dead” and the party will start.

While his photographs may be more recognized than his name, Grant emphasized the photographer’s duty take a backstage role. “If you’re unseen but you’re in the same room, that’s when you get to be appreciated.”

Fayle’s biography (published by Heritage Group in Victoria) finally turns the lens on Ted Grant to capture his own light.

Liz Snell is a freelance writer in Victoria

Poet argues against simple readings

Poetry and Meaninglessness

At Gibson Auditorium, Camosun College, Lansdowne Campus

The Carol Shields Lecture

Delivered by Jan Zwicky

October 19th, 2013

Reviewed by Senica Maltese

As a writing student focusing on fiction and poetry, I had high expectations going into Jan Zwicky’s Carol Shields Lecture entitled “Poetry and Meaninglessness.” The lecture did not disappoint; however, it was not at all what I expected it to be.

The Victoria Writers Festival brochure stated that the lecture would explore how some contemporary poetry strikes us as meaningless and to what degree this assessment is correct. For this reason, I went into the lecture expecting to look at specific contemporary poems and to explore how they could be regarded as meaningless and how, perhaps, they nevertheless retained meaning. As I should have anticipated, this discussion resisted the simplicity that I predicted.

I firmly believe that we readers should engage with material that is “out of our league” and, for the most part, that’s what this lecture was for me. Jan Zwicky’s presentation, though clear, articulate and mind-blowingly intelligent, left me more dazed than enlightened. Her use of mathematical examples to explain our perception of our surroundings left me confused and grasping for the safe ground of the literature and poetry. As I was sitting in the auditorium at Camosun College listening to her speak, I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only person under 30 in the room, which may have explained why others in the audience were nodding and laughing while I sat paralyzed in the stands. However, toward the end of the lecture I began to get a more solid footing on the material.

I particularly enjoyed Zwicky’s segment about the joy that we derive from obtaining meaning, and how a harder struggle can result in greater joy.  The lecture genuinely impressed me when Zwicky insightfully remarked that we have become too satisfied with the “sugar rush” of understanding simple things. Zwicky insisted that meaning needs to advance and evolve into insight into realty, and that we should forgo “superficial pops” of understanding in favour of more durable insights. Zwicky concluded by asserting that writers, particularly poets, have a great responsibility to allow readers to experience their insights—in other words, that they must show the path to their insights in order that readers experience the insight for themselves. She stressed the importance of this evolution and cultivation of meaning in our modern day world, which is rooted in ecological and economic strife. Though this seemed a rather heavy note to end on, the lecture was still deeply inspiring and received a standing ovation.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to engage with Zwicky’s insights into poetry, philosophy and human understanding in general. I suggest that anyone passionate about or interested in poetry attend one of her lectures, even if they think it may be “out of their league.”

Senica Maltese is a BA student focusing on Honours English and Writing.

Cleese kept crowd engaged

By Curran Dobbs

A master of black humour and vocal critic of “mindless good taste,” British actor John Cleese was nonetheless a class act in his one-man show, “Last Time to See Before I Die” at the McPherson Playhouse recently.

The show, while continuously infused with Cleesian wit, wasn’t strictly comedic. Regaling the audience with his life story, starting with how his parents met, walking the audience through his childhood and his pre-Python days, and movie career, Cleese offered bittersweet moments as he remembered with fondness friends and family who had passed on.  When Cleese recalled David Frost,  he started to tear up, infusing the show with some pathos and creating a humanizing element that would have been absent had the show been strictly comedic (or strictly dramatic).

Admittedly, throughout the show, Cleese didn’t seem too energetic, but after all, he is 73. Nevertheless, the time flew by;  when he announced that he had kept us for about an hour and it was time for an intermission, it came as a surprise. Considering my tendency to fidget and check my watch constantly when sitting for long periods of time, I was impressed.

The second half of the show was mainly a discussion of offensive or black humour.  Cleese talked about it being passed down from his mother, and explored reactions from audience members, mainly to Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda. Cleese reported that during the test screen for A Fish Called Wanda, the three bits the audience identified as the funniest bits were also the  bits that were identified as most offensive.  He also made much more use of video clips in his second act.  Many of the clips were familiar to Cleese fans, from the previously mentioned shows as well as Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Showing the clips took some of the strain and effort out of filling up the second half while entertaining the audience. Again, I sat through the second half without checking my watch.

The show ended with a standing ovation, with members of the audience eventually clapping in rhythm to The Liberty Bell song from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The man hasn’t lost a thing at 73 – except the usual, youth, original hair colour . . . I would certainly recommend this show for anyone who appreciates dry humour.


Curran Dobbs is a local reviewer and comedian.  

“Everything” worth writing about, poet says

By Liz Snell

Emily McGiffin’s bright-eyed, earnest face contained no pretension. She spoke her poems with confident resonance, but also vulnerability, as if they were letters written to a close friend, not intended for everyone else in the room. She seems like the kind of person you’d meet in a small town or on a farm; when she speaks, you feel she’s not just wasting words to impress you, but is sharing a homespun and heartfelt wisdom.

Her poetry is full of solitude’s topography: one person leading the blind speaker through a fog, someone living in a car and playing solitaire. Wild mountain landscapes butt against domestic acts like woodcutting and carding wool. Her writing, both on the page and spoken aloud, conveys a tension between closeness and distance.

Victoria poet Carla Funk, who conducted the evening’s Q & A at the Open Space event, asked McGiffin which three dead poets she’d invite to dinner. McGiffin bowed out of the question, saying she knows little of classic poetry, and instead cited her favourite “dead poet” poems: “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, “Ode to Autumn” by John Keats, and “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. These poems encapsulate both the joy in and loss of an Eden-like, harmonious world, a theme close to McGiffin’s own writing. One gets the sense that she’s attempting to write her way into the feeling of home, struggling to trust in a tenuous place: “And when, walking through the enormous and solitary land,/you grow hungry for company, you will find it underfoot…”

McGiffin began “fiddling with lines” of poetry in high school. She took writing courses at UVic as a side to her focus on geography and biology. Of studying writing she says, “It might have had an impact in that I never really did anything with my biology degree.”

Now pursuing a PhD in environmental studies at York University, McGiffin seems to still be searching for ways to explore the relationship between her scientific studies and her poetry. “I’d like to find a way that they can talk to each other a bit more.”

McGiffin initially struggled to see her creative writing as a worthwhile pursuit: “Poetry’s kind of a marginalized art form… It took a long time to feel it wasn’t something I was just doing on the side.”

To an audience member who asked, “How do you know what’s worth writing about?” McGiffin replied,  “Once I decided anything was worth writing about, it became less of a question of what was worth writing about – everything is.”

McGiffin recently moved to Toronto from Smithers, B.C., where her writing was often influenced by the Skeena River, which has been threatened by coal mining. She spoke of her concerns about conservation, and how we view the world in terms of “resource management.” In response to such environmental destruction, does McGiffin’s writing take a stance of hope, or despair? She’s not sure. “The question is, is there hope for humans? I don’t know.”

Liz Snell is a Victoria writer

Open Word: Readings and Ideas: Emily McGiffin

First reading: Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at 12:30 p.m., University of Victoria, Fine Arts Building, Room 209
Second reading followed by interview with Carla Funk: 
Wednesday, October 9, at 7:30 p.m., Open Space
Admission by donation, books available for purchase, cash bar.

Toronto writer Emily McGiffin will read from her new book Between Dusk and Night as part of the literary series Open Word: Readings and Ideas. The event is hosted by the University of Victoria Department of Writing and Open Space. Her book of poems considers the human relationship with the earth during the current environmental crisis, and the intimate relationship between humans themselves. Local poet Carla Funk will interview McGiffin after the 7:30 p.m. reading at Open Space.


Recycled Shakespeare is a Riot

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)

A play by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Directed by Ron Jenkins

The Belfry

Sept 17 – Oct 20

Reviewed by Leah Callen

Constance Ledbelly, the unrecognized Queen of Academe, is a slave in inky chains at her desk at Queen’s.  While falling for a plagiarizing prof and trying to prove that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally comedies, she tips head-first into the recycling box – and into Shakespeareland.  Goodnight Desdemona is a playful, magical adventure in the theatre of the self, pitting real life against the stage

As the audience flowed into their seats, I couldn’t help feeling wowed by the visual detail of the set.  The staging is spectacular, with swordfights that get the blood going to ingenious trips through time and space.  If the Bard ever wandered into an episode of the Twilight Zone, this would be it.  Everything gets turned on its head, from a bloodthirsty Desdemona to a slutty Juliet – bloodlust and physical lust out of control.  The moment Romeo stops a sword with his long-stemmed rose like a Renaissance flower child, you have a feeling this star-crossed hero may take to cross- dressing.  Sexual orientation is up in the air as characters swoon for both sexes in their quest for satisfaction.

The physicality of the actors is a blast as they swing from the rafters and balance atop bookcases.  The contrast between cynical, awkward Constance and her melodramatic Shakespearean counterparts is a riot.  Lighting is literally striking in this production, as are the trippy sound effects and music.  In fact, this play milks as much out of the stage as possible with props and surprises.  Though the heroine is endlessly philosophizing with wonderful wordplay, you  never get bored, thanks to the theatrical action.

Daniela Vlaskalic is charismatic as the romantically challenged bookworm Constance Ledbelly, cloistered in her intelligence.  Her nerdy character borders on caricature, but she also has charming quirks, such as her parakeet pen, long johns and open-minded attractions.  Nicola Elbro is a punchy Desdemona who roars her way gloriously through the story.  Most of the actors here multi-act.  Jameson Matthew Parker brandishes a double-edged sword as both the lovesick Romeo and the bitter Iago.  Michael Dufays fumes as Othello, but also delights us as Juliet’s nurse – more Irish than Roman Catholic in this tale.

MacDonald’s parody of Shakespeare is hilarious.  The night I attended, I heard  non-stop laughter through Pippa Mackie’s upside down antics as desperate Juliet.  But some of the story struck me as over-the-top chaos:  as pieces of Constance show up scattered in this parallel world, I just couldn’t wrap my head around Tybalt balancing her appendix on a sword.   It stretches the limits of belief.  Costume-wise, the cross-dressing was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t sure I bought Desdemona’s hot pants.  They left me wondering why.

Still, this a joyful journey that celebrates the magic of theatre, as the mousy yet brilliant heroine struggles to grow a spine and appreciate her own value while giving the boot to the bad guys.  You’ll thank your lucky stars you saw it.


Leah Callen is an MFA student at the University of Victoria.  

Montreal band ignites Rifflandia audience

By Nadia Grutter

“Finally, someone saying something worthwhile,” said the guy encroaching on my umbrella space.

Stars’ co-lead singer Torquil Campbell had just thanked the audience for “helping create culture” when the band took the main stage during Victoria’s Rifflandia Music Festival’s final hours. Playing Rifflandia was a first for the Montreal-based indie band, but they worked the crowd like veterans.

“This is perfect!” yelled Campbell when a sudden downpour invoked frantic backpack searches for plastic ponchos. He stood at the edge of the stage, raised his arms and commanded the park with one of the band’s newer releases, “The North.”

“It’s so cold in this country…”

All eyes turned back on Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, Chris Seligman, Pat McGee and, of course, Campbell. Someone even shushed me.

Despite the melancholic nature of Stars’ music, lead singers Millan and Campbell warmed up the crowd with energy comparable only to the distant lightning. This is the fourth time I have seen Stars live, and the fourth time I have been charmed by the pair’s hilarious onstage antics. During the sexually suggestive chorus of “We Don’t Want Your Body,” Campbell chased Millan around the stage, mischievously wiggling the microphone wire behind him like a tail. The two sang to each other with such authenticity that it felt like watching a real conversation.

The band’s love for sharing the stage translated to the audience, whose dismay at the weather quickly turned into shared excitement (and shared umbrellas). When Campbell held out the microphone during the 2004 hit “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” the crowd sang back the lyrics cohesively.  Everyone smiled at the pride with which Campbell brandished his melodica and swooned over Millan’s short dress. And people can blame the rain all they want, but tears were definitely shed.

After a short set of songs back from the Set Yourself on Fire days to their 2012 album The North, Torquil made one request before their last song.

“Dance! There is nothing else to do but dance.”

At this, most people in the audience threw up their hands and did just that. Campbell disappeared from the stage, reappearing moments later with a handful of children who danced the hardest of all of us. He and Millan twirled around the kids, igniting their last moments onstage with the wonder and freedom good music should stir in us.

I left the show with wrecked Converse and an insatiable urge to hug everyone I passed. It’s rare to see such a down-to-earth show from a successful band and leave having experienced the music, not just watched it. Stars’ first performance at Rifflandia confirmed the significance of simplicity and truth—not just in music but in everyday life.


University of Victoria student Nadia Grutter listens to music and writes when she’s out of classes

Japanese fashion worth trip to Seattle

Future Beauty: Thirty Years of Japanese Fashion

Until September 8 at Seattle Art Museum Simonyi Special Exhibition Galleries

Wednesday: 10 am–5 pm
Thursday: 10 am–9 pm
Friday–Sunday: 10 am–5

Tickets: 17$, includes admission to special exhibit and rest of gallery

More Information:


Reviewed by Candace Fertile


Anyone contemplating an end-of-summer dash to Seattle should consider the current special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), Future Beauty: Thirty Years of Japanese Fashion, in which thirty-one designers and almost 100 dresses are included.

The exhibit features clothes that work as sculpture or architecture. Many of the pieces are more about what is possible with various materials rather than what is wearable, but the development of the shapes over the last few decades by Japanese designers has had a huge impact on what women do wear.

The big names are represented, in particular the seismic game changers of  Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, whose 1983 summer launch in Paris shifted gown design form the fitted to garments that skimmed the female body, often with asymmetric lines. And colour was reduced to black and white, which ironically opened up the visual field.

The exhibit is from the Kyoto Costume Institute and is curated by its director, Akiko Fukai. While many of the pieces look like something to hang on a wall or perhaps on Lady Gaga, the idea of the playful shapes is intriguing for clothing in general. And some of the pieces, while art, are definitely elegant and flattering to the female form. Others, such as a plastic tent dress or the insanely high heelless platform shoes (making the foot look like a hoof) appear to mock themselves.

The rooms of SAM are spacious enough so that even when full of people, sufficient space exits to view the dresses. Accompanying the clothes are numerous videos of fashion shows, and they are as extreme as the exhibits. One has Orff’s Carmina Burana as the background music;  watching models sidle down the runway to “O Fortuna” gives a sense of the hype surrounding this often magical and often equally pretentious world of fashion.

The most amazing pieces for are those that use the tradition of origami. The ethereal gowns are shown twice—once on mannequins and once folded into exquisite flat patterns. Either way they are marvels of precision.  Such beauty contrasts with the excesses of Hello Kitty kitsch and dresses that look as if they have sprouted massive tumours.

Clothing is not neutral. It always announces something:  this exhibit says  that there’s a wide range of possibility in human garb, from the ridiculous to the sublime.



Candace Fertile is a local art-loving writer and reviewer