A man and his cello

The Calgary Herald recently produced a package marking the 100th birthday of Calgary’s Grand Theatre, written by Herald entertainment reporter Stephen Hunt.

For one of the stories I was dispatched to take photos of Don Palmer, an 85 year-old cellist who performed at the theatre as far back as the 1940s.

Upon arriving, the first half hour or so was spent receiving a tour of his southwest Calgary home. Dressed in his best formal attire he pointed out various photographs and programs from his life as a concert cellist. (I’ve included a couple of those images below)

He was noticeably very proud. And well he should be, considering his talent and accomplishments. Don has definitely lived a life. But also has a lot of life left in him, if our short time together is anything to go by. He didn’t hesitate for a second when the thought of us carrying a chair and his cello across the street to a small ridge so we could get some shots outside was presented.

Once we got set up and started with the photos, it didn’t take long for Don to do what comes naturally to him. He started playing his cello, for both the inside and outside sessions.

I don’t usually tell the musicians I’m shooting to play their instruments for portraits.

But who am I to decline when an 85 year-old cellist, who has invited me into their home and been very gracious with my requests, decides to provide some musical accompaniment to the photo gathering process. The photos turned out alright.

It was an all around enjoyable mid-afternoon assignment, for both of us I believe.

Thank you Don. You’re a true gentleman in the purest sense.

On a technical note, the photos taken in his living room were captured with a wide angle lens, a 16-35mm, and were lit with a single off-camera flash fired into a reflecting umbrella aimed from Don’s left.

With the freedom of space outside a longer lens was allowed to be used. The length floated between 110mm and 130mm, allowing me to back off of Don a bit and isolate in him in the frame. Again, an off-camera flash was used on a light stand, but without the use of an umbrella. The outside ambient light forced a larger aperture number to be set – f13 or so. Because of this the basic flash unit wouldn’t have enough power to light Don if bounced into an umbrella. So the light was aimed directly at him – again from the side.

A photo of Don Palmer, with orchestra, at the Grand Theatre taken circa 1949. Palmer is in the very front, left of the conductor.

A program from 1949 for a performance at the Grand Theatre in which Don Palmer (bottom photo) was headlining.

Calgary Herald front page – Wednesday Feb. 1, 2012

Follow Stuart Gradon on Twitter – @StuGradonPhoto

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