March of St. Nicola
by Allan Kliger
“I’ve never actually met David Alan Harvey.
We came to know each other several years back. I had become familiar with his work and the agency he works for, Magnum. He’d been an accomplished National Geographic photographer, leaving them to beat to his own drum. His style of photography engaged me. Different than mine, to be sure, but one can’t argue with his success. He seemed “all in”, even living with a family to truly document and photograph their lives – his “Tell It Like It Is” story. We had planned to meet in Rio de Janeiro where he was going to run a workshop. He and I would shoot together for a few days so I could “see” what he sees, add another arrow to my shooting quiver and push my creative eye.
My bags were packed, camera batteries charged, hotels booked. I was excited about the trip and made my way to the airport. October, 2013, as I recall. As I was checking in and handing the airline counter agent my passport, she asked for my Visa. “Visa”, I replied…”I don’t need a Visa, I’m Canadian and heading to Brazil”. She looked at me, knowing the storm to come which was as yet unseen by me. “As of recently”, she explained, “All Canadians require Visas for travel to Brazil. I’m sorry, but without a Visa, you will be refused entry when you land.
Can you change your travel plans?”. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say, which, if any of you know me, is something that pretty much never happens. I just looked at her, thanked her for her time, picked up my bags and walked away. “C’est la vie”, I thought. Wasn’t meant to be, and so back to the office, I went, stoically trying to process how this could have happened.
Back at my desk, I called David to break the bad news. I was expecting him to feel sorry for me, to commiserate and share my disappointment and surprise at needing a Visa from one of the most civilized and respected countries in the world, to tell me how sorry he was that we wouldn’t be shooting together. No such luck. No sympathy there, I quickly learned…”You should have done your homework first” he said, “should have looked into whether you needed a Visa”. Felt like I was kicked in the head while already on the ground, but he wasn’t wrong. I assumed that I wouldn’t need one, felt ticked off that no travel agent alerted me to the need for one, that even Air Canada hadn’t said anything when I booked my ticket, but, hey, the damage was done. Live and learn for the next time I wanted to head to Rio.
We stayed in touch, emails and texts from time to time. We’ve still never met but seem to have established some kinship. Perhaps it’s the full head of hair that we both sport, or that we’re both mature, at least age wise. Be that as it may, We both share a love of photography, of capturing unique moments and emotions – each in our own way. From time to time, I’ll get a message from David commenting on one of my images. He thinks I shoot too much like Steve McCurry (I’m much better than McCurry) or that I seem to feel that the exotic locales are needed for great images (I do love to travel and the more exotic the better so guilty as charged), but one thing David mentioned recently on one of his Instagram blogs (i.e. not directed to me personally but to aspiring photographers at large) was why he was presently shooting an assignment at home, in his own backyard rather than some exotic locale.
“Follow your passions and interest,”
he wrote. “It will show in your work.
Editors notice these things. They also notice if you go running off to India or Nepal or Cuba to just shoot some exotic pictures because you think that’s what editors want. Wrong…
You need your own voice…What matters is the body of work…the meat of content over form and over time”. And so, David was shooting a story in his own backyard. Nothing exotic to be sure, but images no less striking. Lighting, composition, drama, characters, story. All the same thought, just don’t have to travel far to do it. So, here’s my story. Shot in my own backyard. Thought it would be fitting for this issue to go along with David’s work and message.
March of St. Nicola – Every year, late in June, a very special gathering takes place in Toronto. It’s not on any “Best To Do This Weekend” web site, in fact, if you’re not a member of the local St. Nicola Di Bari Parish in Toronto, chances are you’d never know about it all. I certainly wouldn’t have known about it I had I not been driving along St. Clair Avenue West one Sunday in June a few years ago when something caught my eye. I drive by the church almost every weekday on the way to work, and knew the relatively non-descript building, the church of St. Nicola di Bari, was there but today something was different. There was a large crowd gathered outside, even a band standing around seemingly ready for something, and, local politicians in their Sunday finery, with their medallions and ribbons, festooned all over their chests and shoulders. I pulled over, grabbed my camera, and went to check it out.
A parade was about to begin. Each year, about this time, rain or shine, the local Italian community, many of whom settled here after the Second World War, would gather to have a special mass and celebrate their patron saint, St. Nicola. Celebrate their past; celebrate their roots, their families, their coming to Canada and their great city of Toronto which had given them a place to call home. To give thanks to the present, and to look to the future. And so this community, many of whom were now elderly, were about to begin their celebration. It was a time for catching up, for warm greetings and embraces with their Pastor, perhaps an exchange or two about remembrances forgotten. A time for laughs among friends who had come from the old country so many years ago, and a time to pay homage to their patron saint. Proudly, and with reverence, this small community would each year embark on the tortuous process of removing the large effigy of their saint from their church, place it on a large wagon, and pull it through their streets, band a’playin, for all to see.