After Don Starkell was severely injured in a house fire, Canoe&Kayak magazine called me and wanted a portrait of Don for their paddling legends feature. Don is most famous for his two biggest adventures, Paddling to the Amazon and paddling the NorthWest Passage. His survival through this house fire was a testament to his resilience. The editors wanted a simple portrait of the man, to be used in B&W at the last page of the magazine.
The first challenge was to simply find Don and see if he was up to getting photographed. The burns and smoke inhalation were pretty severe. I talked briefly to him but he didn’t sound good, so we pushed the shoot back a week or so. The other challenge was to figure what to do with him where to shoot him. His suggestion was to shoot at the marker in the park on Henderson Hwy where he started his Amazon adventure, but there was not much to it. In the end his health dictated we would have to shoot at the house of his friend “Chopper”
Chopper was a neat guy, the kind of guy who wears biker type stuff, works on cars, drives a truck. He seemed like the least likely of companions to the image of Don as some hippy canoe freak. But Chopper was doing everything he could to take care of his life long friend, his family was busy rebuilding Don’s house. As you can see here he was pretty protective of Don in his fragile state, pretty much dictating to me that we’d have to do the shoot in the yard. Who am I to argue!?
Chopper’s house was in EK where the houses are tight together. We had some sunshine so I thought use that as my back light and fill in with one head with a beauty dish. I use the dish in times like this cuz it’s rigid and the wind can’t rip it apart. I was shooting by myself, the budget didn’t’ really allow for an assistant. Don shuffled out to the street and sat down. I was told he would be a bit eccentric and he was. Chopper I put to work, holding my lightstand and prompting his old friend to rambled on about his adventures. Chopper was clever enough to bring out the toy canoe Don made as a child, one of the few things saved from the fire. It’s great when the people around the shoot help you out!
We shot a bunch of stuff, Don rambled on, Chopper prompting him, the two of them riffing away. He talked about losing digits to the frostbite in the Arctic
The challenge at this stage to just kinda hem the action in and control the situation rather than let it control you. With out of town editors you have to shoot a lot more that you would normally, else they ask to see the ONE thing you didn’t try. At the same time, with his fragile health I knew I might not have a lot of time. It was really hard to gauge my exposure and the balance between my flash and the ambient, in the bright sun you can’t see the screen on your camera or your laptop. Once in awhile I’d dive under my jacket to check the laptop. The sun was in and out of cloud so I was constantly dialing my shutter up and down to compensate.
We then rolled the whole setup to a corner of the front yard that was bordered with some evergreen trees. It was here where we made the images that were finally selected. The hope was to get something that could look out at the lake. With the help of a old paddle I borrow from Shel Zolkewich, and some more prompting from Chopper, the final image was made. I like this image cuz there is just the right amount of “crazy” in his eyes, you don’t’ see the colostomy bag he had swinging, and if you hadn’t read this post you might believe this is dockside and he’s looking out on the lake, anxious to get back to paddling. The client was extremely happy. The photo editor who is a great shooter himself, said it was “above and beyond” what he expected.