Encore une fois, Monsieur Ignatieff


I let the cat out of the bag Monday evening – filling in my few Twitter followers on what I was up to earlier that day, and what my mysterious and first-ever photo shoot was all about.

Limited photos are on a new gallery on my online photo website for you to enjoy (more will be added in coming days).

So what was the deal? Last week, I was asked by the office of Michael Ignatieff (leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and also the leader of the Official Opposition for the Government of Canada) to volunteer to ride along and take pictures throughout his one-day visit to Calgary. This day, as I would find out, included a number of events at several locales within the downtown area. I was asked to participate after a few of his Alberta organizers saw my photos from the last time he was in Calgary, who thought I was a great combination of free and talented enough. Needless to say, I was flattered. I did, however, make it abundantly clear that I was not a professional and had never done a shoot before (let alone a touring or photojournalistic one).

Monday began in the late morning at the Calgary Petroleum Club. Michael was an invited guest at a closed-door lunch with 20 of Calgary’s top oil industry CEOs and presidents – an incomparably powerful group. This lunch was, in my opinion, a coup. Here were Canada’s most influential corporate and industry power players (aside from the banks) enjoying an engaging session with a leader whose party has been admonished by precisely this community. Were we seeing the beginnings of a paradigm shift? One can only hope that this will eventually lead to leftward movement in Alberta’s political prejudices.

After the Petroleum Club successfully delivered a three-course lunch in just over an hour (bravo!), we quickly departed for Western Canada high school, where Michael entered a town hall event featuring 250 students from Western’s bilingual social studies programs. There, he delivered a ten minute speech and took engaging questions in English and in French from students. Afterwards, he mingled, shook hands and took pictures with every student who asked. Media were invited and were everywhere. I recognized the photographer for Reuters, Canadian Press and the Calgary Herald. Ignatieff was then rushed into a connecting room that had been set up for a media scrum. This visit was Michael’s third to Calgary since the new year, but his first media availability. Local reporters predictably asked half-assed questions, including if he was a dreamer thinking he might get a Liberal elected in Alberta. He replied with expected party messages, but also called out reporters, telling them the students had asked better questions.

From Western, we headed back downtown to the headquarters of the Calgary Police Service. We were met by Ontario Liberal MP Mark Holland, who serves as Public Safety critic, and a wonderful Calgary police officer who recently moved from Liverpool (Calgary initiated an enormous recruiting program in Britain two years ago when local and even Canadian prospects were scarce). He escorted us to a secured floor and boardroom where Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson was waiting with his senior staff and specialists. They gave a presentation to Michael and Mark about Calgary’s ongoing battle against gang violence and organized crime. Michael was shown several seized weapons, including assault rifles and silencers by a senior firearms expert.

After the meeting, we were escorted into an adjacent building for a tour of the police service’s criminal processing and holding facilities, including their CSI set-up. No photos were allowed on the tour (in fact, my lens cap had to be on at all times). Upon completing the tour, Michael took the C-Train (Calgary’s light rail transit system) a block up to his hotel, followed by an hour of down time.

After I devoured a quick and early dinner at a nearby restaurant, I went to the Grand Theatre, which that evening played host to a party fundraiser. About 200 people attended, and he spoke passionately about capturing and focusing the renewed energy of supporters towards winning the next election.

For this assignment  I rented a Canon 50mm F1.2 L lens, which was very nice, but my experience left me a detractor of its focal length. Too narrow. I think if I were purchasing a fast prime, I’d gravitate more towards the 35mm F1.4 L. At 21 megapixels I have a great opportunity to crop in on wide shots, but the reverse isn’t true on tight shots. Another thing I learned is that I need a flash. While F1.2, 1.4 and the like are lovely apertures, depth of field is a real bugger, and balancing tricky light situations without flash is challenging. I pulled it off in most situations, but I would have loved to have been working with greater depths of field.

It was a great day. My legs, feet and even my toes are still sore, but it was a wonderful experience for which I am very grateful. I learned a lot, including how difficult a photographic assignment can be. I hope to be able to do this again.

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