A Conversation with Simeon Posen at Toronto’s Liss Gallery

Simeon Posen at Toronto’s Liss Gallery in the heart of Yorkville; photo — Ryan Emberley

Simeon Posen, the famed Canadian architectural and landscape photographer, needs little introduction. With works spanning over four decades, two grants from Canada Council for the Arts, and the recent inclusion of The Iran Collection into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, Posen’s consolidated his position as one of Canada’s most respected photographers.

Posen is easy to talk to; the type of man one says of afterwards, He looks at you right in your eye. When I met him briefly at Liss Gallery in Yorkville — where you can see a selection of works from the Iran Collection — to discuss the exhibit, Posen was preparing for the opening night in the midst of his associates and admirers. We sat down among the hubbub of the preparation, surrounded by images of mosques, faraway lands, and markets.

Hoon: How did the Iran Collection come to be a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection?

Simeon Posen: We were at the MET, visiting, and my partner said that we should contact the museum and show them the work. So after a number of phone calls, I eventually got to the right person, and he came down with one of his associates who was one of the associate curators. And they saw the photos and said, These are beautiful photographs and we want them. It was as simple as that.

Persepolis by Simeon Posen

H: Could you tell us a bit about your time spent in Iran in the ’70s?

S: I was there for two and a half months — there’s actually a map there where you can see how I went around. I went from North to South and from East to West. I was visiting to look at the extraordinary architecture of the country. Iran’s one of those countries where pretty much you can go anywhere and see something phenomenal. It’s not like northern Ontario where you can drive for three days and only see trees [laughs].

H: It’s interesting that you mention Northern Ontario. You’ve also photographed farmhouses, which aren’t necessarily buildings we look at as architectural feats.

S: As an architect, I look for simplicity, rhythm, patterns, lines. They’re not that unrelated. When photographing something like the Persepolis, it’s pretty hard not to take a beautiful photo. With something a little simpler and basic, you may need to work a little harder to find a composition you like. I’m not really interested in city buildings or new buildings — not that there aren’t some wonderful ones.

Isfahan – Friday Mosque by Simeon Posen

H: Part of the reason why the exhibit seems timely is because it feels, in regards to the turmoil in the Middle East, in part like an act of preservation. Did you have that in mind when you were photographing in Iran? 

S: No. I photographed them because they were beautiful buildings and because I’m interested in them as such and extraordinary structures. That dome there [points to the above photograph], if you look at it, you’ll see that it starts at the top as an octagon and it spreads out until it hits 32 points or so at the bottom. It’s phenomenal design. Phenomenal construction, apparently built without scaffolding. It’s incredible feats of ingenuity and design — that’s what I’m interested in. The fact that they are universal expressions is wonderful and I’m glad to know that. But that wasn’t what I was there for.

Firuzabad Highway by Simeon Posen

H: One of your influences is Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer. Could you describe to us his influence on your work? 

S: The beauty of the world expressed in architecture or landscape is fantastic. His landscapes are unbelievable and beautifully done, of course. But he was an inspiration because I was having trouble developing prints at that time. I was getting prints of very high contrast and…I just…basically, I gave up. I was at a school in the States and one of my friends there said, You should read one of Ansel Adam’s books on how to make an exposure called the Zone System. So I went into Phoenix and bought the book. The Zone System is a brilliant observation on how highlight and shadow work in relation to film. So I was reading along one particular page, scratching my head, and got to the bottom of it where there was a little asterisk that said, Don’t give up, go back [laughs]. So I went back, about twenty times, until I finally understood what he was talking about, which was the relationship of highlight to shadow; and the nine steps most film have between the darkest dark and the brightest bright. When you have that knowledge, you can start designing your negatives.

Isfahan — Friday Mosque by Simeon Posen

H: Could you take us through your creative process?

S: It’s simpler than you think. I taught a course a number of years ago at Toronto Image Works and all I said to people was — and this may sound corny — when you’re out someplace, if something catches your eye, that’s where you put the lens and make the photograph. It’s no more complicated than that. That changes as you change, but the best and the hard thing to do is to not think about it. If there’s something you want to explore, do so, but try not to think about it so much; instead, try to be intuitive about it. That’s the approach: put your lens right where your eye is.

H: So don’t think about compositions and whatnot?

S: Don’t think about it. Don’t look for the s curve and the rule of thirds and all those horrible things they teach you at camera class. I remember, many years ago when I was a kid, I showed a collection of the things that you do for composition to an artistic cousin — there was the s curve, the crosses, all the things that make a “good photograph.” And my cousin, he closed the book and said, Just go out and take pictures [laughs]. So that’s my advice. Stop thinking about and just enjoy it.

Damavand by Simeon Posen

H: You photograph in black and white. Is there a reason for your preference? 

S: Black and white has a way of abstracting things. There are wonderful color photographers whose works I admire, but I don’t know if I particularly think like that. But the uninspiring answer is that thirty or forty years ago, color was really hard to do; you needed perfect temperature control, all kinds of stuff. So even if I wanted to get into it, it was very difficult. It’s the difference between watercolor and oil painting — you have to know and look for different things.

Soltanieh — House Interior by Simeon Posen

H: Do you have any photograph in the collection you like in particular?

S: The answer is no. I once asked a friend of mind who has two kids, Which kid do you prefer? The answer was, It depends on the day [laughs]. Yes, there may be some days when I look at a photo and think, I really like that one. But on the next day, I’d really like another. I guess, maybe, I’d lean toward certain ones to a certain degree, but they are all like children. The attitude toward making the photograph in one location to another isn’t that much different.

H: I’ve heard that you developed the Iran photographs in the hotel bathroom made into a makeshift darkroom. Why the sense of urgency?

S: It’s a fair question. I was concerned, and in those days, security wasn’t like now — though it may be worse now. It was very erratic. I was worried that somebody was going to say, What’s in the box? Open it up. Nobody did as it turned it out. A box of developed films isn’t going to care if you open it, but a box of undeveloped ones… your whole trip is ruined. Or even when traveling around, if the box opens up, the films are ruined. There was a lot of anxiety about it.

Simeon Posen’s The Iran Collection will be on view at Yorkville’s Liss Gallery at 112 Cumberland Street until May 27th.

A Visit to the new Yorkville restaurant, Figures!

There are two sides to my personality that, for a long time, I figured would stay separate, never the ‘twain shall meet. There is the side that’s always on the lookout for a new restaurant that offers an interesting twist or a perspective on something I’ve already had before, thereby making it refreshingly different; a menu that incorporates multiple tastes, layers, and textures into a complex and delicious whole.

And then there’s the other side of me — a massive sci-fi and comic book geek, developed from very early on when I was growing up. Over time those interests have somewhat subsided. But I have found that I have become quite sentimental about that earlier period of my life, those memories that may seem insignificant to others yet played a large role in making me the person I am today. And remembering such memories or icons with a certain fondness perhaps acts as a reminder not too take oneself too seriously as one ages, and to retain a more positive and care-free attitude. It is that sentiment that clearly comes across when you enter the new Yorkville restaurant Figures, at 137 Avenue Road. The owners Nader and Patrick Marzouk have created an environment that brings a sense of laid-back and vibrant fun to the neighbourhood, — which, frankly, they note that Yorkville is in some need of — while also retaining the refined dining that the neighbourhood residents have surely come to expect. It is the interesting marriage of these sensibilities that will most likely make Figures stand out.

The concept of Figures is simple yet seems exciting and fresh. The idea behind the name points to the importance of remembering the figures in our lives that make us who we are. At Figures, they are most clearly various pop-cultural ones.

Very few images of the interior currently exist either on the main website or on their social media accounts — perhaps a calculated marketing ploy to create an air of mystery surrounding the establishment. This certainly worked for me, for when I entered the restaurant, knowing next-to-nothing as to what to expect, I was immediately overwhelmed by the creativity and intricate details of the décor. The front of the restaurant is made to look like a small comic book or a collectible shop. On various shelves sit original concept art sketches of Star Wars characters and golden and silver age comic books amongst other rare and nerdy oddities — certainly appealing to that older collector with some money to burn, as everything in this area is for sale (during my visit, I was told an original sketch of Darth Vader had sold for five thousand dollars a couple of days prior). A hostess greets you in this area, pushes a button — a Captain America Shield —, revealing the wall behind her to be a hidden, Batcave-like entrance to the main dining and bar areas, which are also quite impressive. Entering the dining area, you are met by paintings of Star Wars and DC Comic characters, a large Pac Man maze on the ceiling that also acts as mood lighting, and a large mural of various pop-cultural icons meant to evoke the stories and personalities of the owners and chef. Basically, imagine if someone hired a big pop-culture nerd to create the ultimate high-end VIP dining experience, and you will likely get something close to this. I don’t think it is a stretch of my imagination to think this will quickly become a popular destination for people wanting to check out the space. They will likely not be disappointed by that, nor from the food and drinks offered.

Currently, Figures has a two-page cocktail list, some of the names and concepts of which have a delightfully silly sense of humour to them. To start, I went for The Rarely on Target ($20). Visually speaking, this is going to be a slam-dunk crowd-pleaser. This cocktail is made with Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro De Ron and Dillon’s Absinthe. Combined, this creates an initial spicy taste, similar to a Negroni, but slightly sweeter and with a smooth, clean finish, which makes it not too boozy and quite easy to drink. A very nice way to start the meal. Egg whites give the Rarely on Target a frothy head, which the bartenders take advantage of by stenciling an image of a stormtrooper on top with various spices. As far as I’m concerned, this drink is the perfect representation of the meticulous presentation, refined tastes, and the don’t-take-yourself-so-seriously sense of humour that Figures will hopefully be known for. A definite recommendation.

The dishes offered create a blend of casual sensibilities that nevertheless can be appreciated with by an experienced palette. There can be some slight drawbacks to that, but otherwise the menu, which is made with seasonal ingredients and is set to change on a near-weekly basis, offers dishes that from my experience are still rich in flavour. The first dish I tried was one that I was told had become a favourite over their initial first weeks of business: the Lump Crab ($24), a medium grilled crab cake sitting atop a small crab salad. The crab cake is very nice, as it has a delightfully crispy exterior, but the interior is still juicy and melts in your mouth. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, a slight criticism would be that there is not much that distinguishes the crab cake from the crab salad. Some more variation between these two components would have been appreciated but, as it stands, it is still a small dish that packs a wallop of hardiness from the crab, and will surely appease those looking some good no-nonsense seafood.

The second dish I went for was an absolute winner. The Lamb Shank ($28) did not disappoint. In keeping with the blend of casual sensibilities with rich tastes, this dish is the restaurant’s own version of a shepherd’s pie — with lamb, gravy, peas, and corn sitting atop a warm bed of mashed potatoes, which has a perfect soft and milky texture. I was told that the lamb had been braised for upwards of five hours, making it incredibly flavourful and tender as well. This is a great balance of different tastes and is incredibly filling given the relatively small portion size. Given everything I tried during this visit, future rotating menu options will likely be promising as well.

Along with the food menu, there are also plans to change the cocktail options on a seasonal basis, some of which are currently being experimented with right now focusing on some ideas inspired by literary figures, according to bar manager and mixologist James Bailey. As such, there are plenty of reasons to be enticed to check out Figures, and given it’s unique atmosphere and unpretentious fine dining options, it will hopefully spark much curiosity in the coming weeks, putting the establishment on a path for prolonged success.

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Dyeing Art in Toronto by French Patina Artisan Emmanuel Farré

Emmanuel Farré. Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Emmanuel Farré. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Before Emmanuel Farré came to Toronto from France, most Torontonians didn’t know about the art of patina or dyeing art.

This self-taught artist paints leather goods to give them a unique and subtle elegant look. He transforms natural leather with a tan, light coloured base into made-to-order, one-of-a-kind pieces, which Canadian luxury brand Maison Patina uses to create handbags, travel accessories, shoes, and bags. Originally exclusively available at the Paris-based menswear boutique, Loding — 133 Avenue Road, Sherway Gardens, and First Canadian place —, Farré’s collection of patina bags and cigar cases will now be available at Betty Hemmings Leathergoods.

I met Farré at the Maison Patina’s launch at Betty Hemmings Leathergoods in Yorkville.

In his lavender shirt and gold vest with a paint-stained apron, a yellow tie, and a retro cap, he looked exactly like the man from Maison Patina website. He was drawing on a piece of leather in front of guests taking pictures of him and holding glasses of champagne.

As both his hands were stained with paints, Farré didn’t shake mine. But when he stood up, I was able to examine his shoes — dyed with gold paint.

Farré told me about his inspiration and experience of working in Toronto.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: Hi Emmanuel, thank you for demonstrating your art. Do you always do it by yourself or do you have someone who helps?

Emmanuel: The dyeing process is done by myself. And I’m working here in Toronto with Loding shop who’s doing the assembly (shoes, bags, passport holders, etc.). So they give me the piece of leather, the templates. I do my dyeing process and after that it’s going to the Loding shop for assembly. And you know we don’t have many people who are doing it in the world… maybe 60 or 80.

S: You’ve showed your art in France and the U.S. Do you remember your first impressions of Toronto?

E: The difference is, in France and Europe the patina art is a part of their culture. The people who came to me in France already knew what they wanted. Here, it was really confusing for me in the beginning when people were asking me all the time what my feeling was, my advice. So I like to say I’m acting a little bit like a doctor. I need to talk to my customers to understand what they are looking for and why they want to go inside the patina process. So it’s more like an intimate conversation between me and my customer.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

S: So there was no such a thing as patina in Toronto before you?

E: No.

S: Do you dye only brand new shoes or do you paint customers’ shoes too?

E: I expand my services to many things. A lot of customers bring me their own shoes and I change their colour. Also I do something that I call ‘scratch service’.

S:Scratch service’? What is that?

E: Every day you can scratch your shoes or damage them. And I can match and fix them. But you have to keep in mind that the leather has life. Every leather is different because it’s coming from the beast actually. So if you are asking me for the same colour it won’t be the same colour. When the leather is dyed, you will always have some difference.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

S: What inspires you?

E: I would like to say, just open your eyes. One of my last patina was inspired by autumn leaves. That crazy red, yellow that you have inside the leaves. I can also get inspired by metal roofs with bricks. Nature is inspiring to me. For example, an insect on a flower has a mix of colours you can’t imagine.

S: And what is your inspiration behind the new collection?

E: Right now the main colour that you can see here is more like a blue and, with the starchings, orange-yellow. I like to use the wood effect with a combo of yellow and dark. And you can see on the brush that it really looks like the wood. And I play with some red. It’s like antique Chinese furniture.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

S: Those colours look so bright! How do your customers choose them?

E: Here, you can see the main 12 colours that I like to work with, and they can give inspiration to the customer. You have some pink, you have some orange, some gold, bronze, green….(Farré goes through the templates). So everyone can find the colour they like.

S: What is the main element in your products? Style? Comfort?

E: It’s a balance. Work that I’m doing is like cooking, so it’s always a matter of proportions. It’s not burning too much, dark dye to this point… (Farré explains with a shoe in his hand)

Emmanuel Farré. Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Emmanuel Farré. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

S: I like your shoes. Did you paint them too?

E: Yes, of course. I paint all of my shoes.

S: What are your plans for the future?

E: I would like to expand my business. Leather is everywhere. It’s endless. Right now, I’ve just finished the bag and I’m already thinking about the next idea and where I can produce my work. A dream of mine that I’ve never realized is doing the seat inside a car.

S: Thank you for that amazing conversation and showing me your art.

E: Thank you for sharing my passion.

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ICYMI: Beautylicious Bloor-Yorkville

Need some last minute pampering this weekend? Beautylicious welcomes you to participate in Toronto’s 8th annual premier beauty and wellness event. Presented by Bloor-Yorkville, Beautylicious presents you with the opportunity to indulge in a variety of specially priced beauty, spa, health, and wellness treatments in Toronto’s leading destination for spas, salons, and wellness centers.

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Inspired by Toronto’s annual Winterlicious and Summerlicious dining events, Beautylicious is the best beauty deal in the city. The annual event offers beauty packages from over 50 participating businesses in the Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood. Women and men can experience an array of hair, spa, skin and health and wellness packages priced at $30, $50, $75 and $125 and are only available from October 20th to 30th. Packages are categorized as Salon, Spa/Medi and Health and Wellness and can be found on the Bloor-Yorkville Beautylicious website.

Beautylicious is a great way to pamper and indulge yourself with one-of-a-kind deals on premier beauty treatments. It is the perfect time for the people of Toronto to relax and enjoy some pampering and grooming, and for businesses to attract new clientele, while also showing their love and appreciation for their already loyal customers.

So if you need some well-deserved pampering after a long, hard week at work, start making some calls for because this is the last weekend to indulge yourself in Canada’s one of a kind beauty and wellness event!

What I Wear To Work: Yannick Bigourdan, Entrepreneur

YB 2

Name

Yannick Bigourdan

Occupation

Entrepreneur

Wardrobe Essentials

I love sports jackets; I have about 40 in different colours and fabrics. I often end up wearing Hugo Boss, as their 42 regular seems to always fit me perfectly. I also have a great collection of denim – I tend to buy every brand but always in blue!

Uniform

I would call my work uniform smart casual. It consists of a clean, crisp shirt by Loding, sport jacket, denim jeans or chinos, leather belt (preferably by Loding), coloured socks, and of course – a beautiful pair of Loding shoes. My shoes are always the most dressed up part of my outfit, and l love wearing stylish dress shoes with a casual look.

Favourite item in your closet

My favourite thing about my closet would be my shoe collection of over 70 pairs – all with cedar shore trees inside. I also love my cedar shakes. I use it to keep a nice fresh odour in the closet, as well as help take the moisture away after wearing the shoe to ensure the leather stays in perfect shape and condition.

Yannick Bigourdan is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and family man. Bigourdan, one of the most business savvy men in Toronto and also recognized for his style, is behind some of the most popular dining destinations in Toronto – previously Splendido and Nota Bene; currently The Carbon Bar; and coming soon Union Chicken!

On top of Toronto’s restaurant scene, he has also brought LODING to Canada – a Parisian menswear boutique retailing men’s shoes and accessories at a fixed price with three locations in Toronto (Yorkville, First Canadian Place and Sherway Gardens), and more to come!