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.
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.
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!