A collection of writers’ portraits that were once part of a touring exhibit have been collected into a new coffee table book.
Released last month, 111 West Coast Literary Portraits features photography by Nelson’s Blaise Enright and Berry Peterson, who lives on Vancouver Island.
The pair were living in Vancouver when they set out to photograph as many writers as they could. They started the project in 1997 and spent six years building up the original collection of photos.
“We both had full-time jobs, so we were working on this on the weekends and during our vacation time,” explained Enright.
While both had studied photography, they were working in unrelated fields and their trips were a chance to embrace their passion. They’d pack up their photo gear and travel to a writer’s home together to create the portraits.
“We always went to their homes, because that’s where people are most comfortable and we could capture their true character,” Enright said.
The project took them around the Lower Mainland, across Vancouver Island and to the Gulf Islands. In addition to being photographed, each author also provided some accompanying words to be displayed with the framed photograph.
“We gave them free reign as far as the writing went,” Enright said. “Most wrote something original — some prose or a poem — others gave us a sample from their work.”
Their collection became part of Lit Happens, a travelling show that supported literacy and was exhibited in many public spaces in Vancouver and on the Coast. Some of the places it was shown include the Vancouver International Writers Festival, the Pendulum Gallery, Word on the Street, and the BC Book Prizes gala.
Their photos were part of that show for nearly a decade, until the two photographers went their separate ways. Enright moved to Nelson and Peterson settled in Comox, located 200 kilometres North of Victoria.
Their collaboration ended and the photos were packed away, and may have stayed that way if it weren’t for the persistence of a book publisher on Salt Spring Island.
“Mona Fertig [of Mother Tongue Publishing] saw the exhibit when it was on display and, I guess because it’s what she does for a living, she immediately thought it would make a great book,” Enright said.
Initially the photographers resisted. They preferred to see their work in frames and on the walls of galleries.
But after the exhibits ended, they gave into the idea of having a book made.
The result is a 264 page coffee table book, which was released in October. Each portrait is reproduced alongside the text submitted by that author.
Flipping through the book, Enright is reminded the many colourful characters she met while working on the project and is glad to have another way to show the collection.
“We met so many interesting people,” Enright said. “Unless you’re a writer yourself, most people read books without really thinking about the person who wrote it — the character behind the characters. Unless an author becomes really famous, you’d hardly ever hear about them.”
Enright will be signing copies of 111 West Coast Literary Portraits at Otter Books on December 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. as part of the “Take a Local Author Home for Christmas” series.