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Film Cinematographer by day, photographer by passion, as seen in a group of old photos

A quality snapshot prevents a moment from slipping away, but what happens when the photographs disappear? Some 20 years ago, dozens of boxes full of negatives belonging to Nova Scotia’s Christopher Porter vanished – stolen or misplaced, nobody’s really sure. Recently, however, they were discovered, sitting in a derelict barn not far from where he lived. Porter hadn’t thought about them when they were gone – “I don’t think about my own work a lot; I just do it” – but sifting through them after so many years was an emotional experience.

Christopher Porter.

Handout

“That’s when it really hit me,” Porter told The Globe and Mail, speaking from his home in Lunenburg, N.S. “That was my whole life.”

Part of Porter’s life is on display at the Lunenburg School of the Arts, where his exhibition Urbania Part 1 is running from Oct. 5 to 15. The collection of recovered black-and-white street shots spans a period in the 1990s when he worked on the crews of such important filmmakers as Jim Jarmusch, Michelangelo Antonioni, Lars von Trier and Wim Wenders, often with cinematographer Robby Muller. Working as a lighting director on set during the week (in such exotic locations as Istanbul, Paris, New York and Casablanca), Porter would head off on weekends by himself, camera in hand. “The film work paid the bills, but my heart was in my photography,” Porter says. “It was serious business.”

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The work of going through his negatives has taken months – it’s not near done yet – but the process has been revelatory. “It’s been an emotional confrontation and discovery of myself again,” says Porter, 60. “Most of all, I recognized that my process was working.”

Paris gargoyle.

Christopher Porter

Porter worked with Wenders on the 1991 film Until the End of the World, which was shot in numerous locations, including Paris, where this picture was taken by Porter on his own time, off set. “This is on the Seine. I would always head toward the water. That’s where things were the most interesting. With Wim and others, we would go to museums. We’d talk about imagery and balance and proportion. I learned a lot.”

Guys digging at construction site in New York.

Christopher Porter

“I shot a film in New York City with Larry Clark, called Kids. It was very important to him that the film didn’t look lit, which is hard to do. The filming was intense. There was a lot of sex and drugs. I think this image, from a construction site, is kind of how I felt working on that film.”

Man and woman with wallet.

Christopher Porter

“I love the narrative of a good photograph, and one’s opinion can shadow the narrative one way or another. It could be this man stole something. People could get that impression. Or they could be friends. She could be giving him some money. I don’t know. His insistence, his direct look at her, is interesting. There’s no protection on her – she’s open to him.”

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Wedding in Italy.

Christopher Porter

Porter believes this shot was taken while working as a lighting director on Beyond the Clouds, Antonioni’s final feature. “I don’t understand this shot. It almost looks like he’s asking her to get in the car. I try to spread the focus of the shots I take, so that your eye can go inside and wander around. I’ve been working on that for 40 years.”

Man with fallen sign in Havana, Cuba.

Christopher Porter/Christopher Porter

“After filming a movie, I would open up a map and go spend a week by myself in a city. This is Havana, 20 or 25 years ago. This street now is polished and packed with tourists. It’s been very interesting going through these images in retrospect. The world I was in is different than the one I’m in now. I can’t take that same picture again.”

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