Diners, Cafes and Quality Conversation with Jamey Levek

Today was one of those rare moments when the photography assignment gets to move from working for to working with the subject. My morning started at 7am, under a bridge, with the musician/songwriter Jamey Levek. Our work for the morning was to produce compelling images for his upcoming CD release and press kit; it is the type of gig that requires real time input on both sides so as to avoid the old Sears Portrait look of headshots on a creepy background. Fortunately, Jamey was willing to give me a whole morning to develop what I think to be some of my best work to date. Frankly, his life story is compelling, and his positive attitude made the seven hours go by like thunder on a warm afternoon.

We met up outside of Vesta Lunch Bar at Dupont and Bathurst. It is the kind of greasy spoon that recalls Hopper’s Nighthawks at the Diner, and would not be where you would want to take a first date…unless she was a trucker. Still, I pass this place every day on my way to school and Vesta is one of those places you always tell yourself that you will go into, but never do. The coffee was smooth, the eggs were over-easy, and Jamey had a great story to tell.

The number one rule for portraits is that smiles are like death masks. We smile when we want to pretend that we are laughing; we smile for the audience. The hardest part of portrait photography is bridging the distance between most people’s last experience with a school photographer shouting for you to repeat whiskey or money on the count of three.

Next stop was the Dark Horse Cafe on Queen Street West. A great place to relax, be cool for a while, and sip on a high grade Americano. With one clothing change, Jamey and I were back on the street and out into the alleyways. The key to urban photography is to find those forceful backgrounds that can blur beautifully behind your portrait. Jamey dragged a gorgeous Gibson Hummingbird guitar along for the ride, and the tobacco sunburst really worked to add a bit of depth to images that would be less interesting with a lesser guitar.

Where did we end up? The Gladstone. One area in Toronto dances between being honestly hip and  just being hipster, and two hotels – The Drake and The Gladstone- hold court for places where you cannot tell if the cool factor outweighs the poses being struck. We had a vintage elevator, a granite bar and a nice end to a six hour session that produced at least ten final photographs. I still have a few rolls of film taken with the Hasselblad and Leica cameras, which I am hoping will yield the best photographs…film is a hard mistress, however, and I have to be prepared for those to always be lost due to off exposure times and blur.

Jamey Levek is looking at an upcoming CD release scheduled for mid-August at Supermarket – a venue whose cool factor is real and not manufactured. From the story, the music and my intuition, it is one show that you should check out.

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