Famous people, Photographs, Portraits

Edward Gajdel – the Artist at Work

Edward Gajdel is regarded as one of the world’s best portrait photographers.  

He has photographed the great, the famous and the powerful, from artists such as singer-poet Leonard Cohen and novelist Margaret Atwood to world leaders such as former Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

So when I reached out to Edward to make my portrait for the back cover of my new book, A Good Home, I was thrilled he chose to do so. He and his producer, wife Djanka, pulled out all the stops to get me a spot in Edward’s schedule.

Blog Photo Edward Gajdel

But, on the day of the shoot, I’m hiding a secret: I’m in terrible pain. It’s one of those days when nothing helps and I can barely cope. Standing, sitting, walking – all are very difficult right now.

Still, come hell or high water – as my grandmother would have said – I’m going to Edward Gajdel’s studio on Queen St. West in Toronto to get my portrait taken today.

I arrive at his spacious, modern studio and Edward offers me a cappuccino and ensures I’m comfortable. The man is often described as a genius, but there is no big ego in evidence here.

On the tall walls are images of some of the famous people he’s photographed – Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer and the great jazz pianist Dr. Oscar Peterson.  The many prizes and awards Edward has won for his art, however, are nowhere in sight.

Blog phot Oscar Peterson

Edward knows about the long-term impacts of my car accident. But when he asks how I’m feeling, I lie through my teeth. “Great, just great,” I say.

Perhaps he notices that I’m gripping my cane tightly. That I’m not standing straight.  He doesn’t mention it. He hands me a drink and introduces makeup artist Victoria, a friendly woman who’s a great storyteller. The coffee and the storytelling, I suspect, are meant to help put me at ease, make me feel cared for. I’m grateful.

Soon it will be time for the shoot. I’m vaguely aware of Edward moving lights and tripod around on the white studio floor. Victoria keeps talking to me. Edward continues with his preparations, occasionally looking up to crack a joke.

It’s time for the shoot. I take a deep breath. Today I’m determined to look like an author. I will not look vulnerable. After all, Edward Gajdel is taking my photograph and it’s a wonderful privilege.

I remove my glasses. I put the cane away. It means shifting most of my weight to my left leg, and I pray I can keep standing. Falling would not help matters today.

Edward Gajdel is famous for his gentle, respectful manner. It’s obvious in the polite way he asks me to turn slightly this way or that. As if I might say ‘no’. As if I were someone very important: a prime minister, a famous novelist or jazz pianist.

My right side is ablaze with pain. But I’m doing my best impression of my strongest, calmest self.

Edward takes photos. He looks at them. He looks at me.

“Cynthia,” he says gently, and pauses, sending me a smile of encouragement. “Would you mind using your cane? It won’t be in the photograph. But I think you’ll feel more supported.”

It’s then I remember: Edward Gajdel, the famous photographer, is known for being deeply perceptive. Some people have said they felt he was looking into their souls, seeing part of them that others don’t. It’s one of the reasons his portraits are unique.

Edward has seen right through me, to the pain and the vulnerability. But he sees something even more powerful:  my great need to not be overwhelmed by them on this important day of my life.

Victoria hands me the cane. I accept it. Then she hands me my glasses. I put them on. I turn to look at Edward, and he smiles gently.  I smile back.

And pose for my picture.

Thank you, Edward!

Book Portrait

56 thoughts on “Edward Gajdel – the Artist at Work”

  1. What a lovely story of bringing together a community of talent and caring professionals … that includes you by the way 🙂 And, the photo is beautiful.

  2. It’s a lovely story…and a GREAT picture. IF you need any really good pictures of Tim I can go search the basement. Good luck with the book Cynthia. Bob C.

    1. Thanks, Bob, for your gracious reply. Unlike Mr. Knight, who is claiming that his Gajdel portrait is nicer than my Gajdel portrait. If I were in better shape – and in an earlier century – I’d have to challenge him to a duel.

  3. I was referring, of course, to the two pics of YOU I took and sent you after that tumultuous book launch last week where you stirred the audience to a foot-stomping, clothes-tearing, crazed frenzy of adulation as it fought to buy your book.

    Forget the duel. Duels are for chaps. Here’s the challenge. Publish the Gajdel portrait of you and the two pics I took of you and sent you. Put them on this website and let your multitude of readers decide which is best!

    As to Gajdel’s portrait of Bob Culbert I remember it well from the Innoversity Angel ceremony. It was, of course, unlike Bob himself, exquisitely beautiful.

    1. Update: Cynthia has confessed that she doesn’t know how to publish my beautiful pics of her on this blog so we can judge if my portraits of her are better than Gajdel’s.

      I now confess that I don’t either.

      Does anyone have a six-year-old who can guide us in this pictorial duel:
      the great Gajdel vs. the upstart Knight?

      1. So Cynthia, where are the pics of you I sent as challenge?

        Confused by my Karshlike talent?

        Tim of Toronto

      2. Tim, I am truly astonished by your artistry.
        And by your utter confidence in these photos of yours.
        You seem to think the best portraits of me are those that don’t show my face at all!

        As soon as I get myself off the floor, I will post them.

  4. Your words draw wonderful images. I can almost ‘see’ you, the great photographer, the shoot and feel the ‘mood’.

  5. I notice that Cynthia hasn’t taken up my photography challenge. The reason, I can now reveal, is that she doesn’t know how to upload the pics I sent her and is too embarrassed to confess publicly. The trick, of course, is to find some six-year-old, bribe it with candy, and Voila! — there would be the pics.

  6. There’s a guy who LOOKS to be the very definition of intense and who is extraordinarily gifted, but yet he sounds very kind. What beautiful portraits both of the session and of you!

  7. Looking at the portrait one would never know how much pain you were in. It is a beautiful portrait. What a thoughtful and kind man Edward Gajdel is – and so talented!

    1. Isn’t that something? I look at my eyes and see the pain in them very clearly, but also my determination to not give in to it. But I’m sure that’s because I know how I was feeling!

  8. I imagine most writers to have mad hair and dishevelled clothing! You are beautiful Cynthia, a woman with courage and grace. Edward has captured some of your many qualities so well and I can’t ever imagine you look like scruffy. 🙂

    1. Hey, Julie my blogger-friend: you should see me in my threadbare old ivory robe — yes, the one with the big holes under the arms! And my wild hair. On bad days, I stay in that robe for far too long!

  9. A picture tells a thousand words and a few (well-chosen) hundred tell a picture. Thank you for sharing this personal backstory–your courage and resilience shine through as always!

  10. That’s a great photo, you look serene and calm. The pain does show in your eyes a tiny bit but only so as to make you look arty and deep as if your mind elsewhere, dealing with complex and meaningful things. 🙂 great shot.



  11. What a fine person that photographer is! Your story makes it so evident that his talent goes way beyond the technical skills of shooting a picture!

  12. A warm and gracious story about the gifts of others, Cynthia, as you humbly demonstrate your incredible courage, tenacity, and grace. And a beautiful photo to celebrate the cover of work completed despite challenges and pain…

  13. Edward Gajdel’s work is wonderful; I had the privilege of going to his studio when he helped me with an art show I was working on, and took beautiful pictures of my paintings to make prints from. As you said, he is a kind and perceptive man, and his work is amazing. It shows in the picture of beautiful you.

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