Clicking with classical artists City photographer puts the focus on some of Canada's top musicians

In this magical season of beauty and light, Winnipeg-based photographer Mark Rash’s breathtaking portraits of some of Canada’s top classical musicians illuminates their artistry in often surprising ways, his candid images infused by deep humanity as luminous as a full moon on new fallen snow.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/12/2018 (1500 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In this magical season of beauty and light, Winnipeg-based photographer Mark Rash’s breathtaking portraits of some of Canada’s top classical musicians illuminates their artistry in often surprising ways, his candid images infused by deep humanity as luminous as a full moon on new fallen snow.

Winnipeg photographer Mark Rash

“I am an observer. I borrow the moment, then share it,” the soft-spoken Rash says during an interview at his suburban home. “I try to document the connection between a musician and his or her music. As audience members, we can hear the sensitivity and feel the intensity of that connection. Being allowed to fuse those elements visually helps to further reveal the players’s artistry and commitment,” he explains of his artistic philosophy.

The humble, and intensely private artist, who prefers to let his images do the talking for him, has served as official, full-time photographer for the now 40-year old Festival of the Sound held each July in Parry Sound, Ont., since 2015, as well as Winnipeg’s Agassiz Chamber Music Festival held in June for the last four years.

Winnipeg cellist Yuri Hooker. (Mark Rash photos)

Internationally renowned clarinettist and Festival of the Sound artistic director James Campbell invited his longtime friend and colleague he’s known since the mid-1970s to bring his camera along to the 2015 festival, becoming so taken by Rash’s compelling images that led to his formally inviting Rash to become festival photographer. That in turn led to his Agassiz appointment with the latter week-long event spearheaded by Ottawa-based cellist Paul Marleyn.

Clarinettist James Campbell.

Rash’s own picture gallery unfolds as a who’s who of world-renowned artists, including having photographed such luminaries: Janina Fialkowska, Guy Few, Stewart Goodyear and James Parker, among others, featured in FOTS photo exhibitions, and projected onto in-house screens for festival patrons to enjoy. Rash’s closer-to-home shots also include both former and current Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra musicians: Karl Stobbe, Yuri Hooker, Ken MacDonald and Alex Eastley, as well as internationally renowned chamber groups: the Gryphons, the New Zealand String Quartet and Lafayette String Quartet, to name a few.

The Juno-award winning Campbell, appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1997, is one of Rash’s biggest fans, sharing his perspective during a phone interview from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he has taught since 1988.

“It’s basically because Mark’s photos are so good,” he says when asked what initially drew him to Rash’s pictures. “He anticipates a photo like a musician who knows where a chord is going, or a pattern is going, and somehow senses that in movement. He also has a deep humility and respect for artists, and is able to discover those moments that come out naturally in the performers. What you’re seeing is the actual reality of those interactions either in rehearsal or onstage,” he says, before offering perhaps the ultimate compliment of all: “He becomes one of the players.”

Brandon pianist Alexander Tselyakov.

Marleyn, who likewise has been on both sides of Rash’s lens, echoes those sentiments: “Mark has an uncanny ability to capture artists in vivid moments of spontaneity, emotion and communication,” he says via email. “He is passionate about his art, and the results are both startling and uplifting. He pursues beauty and truth, and he finds it!”

The mostly self-taught Rash, now in his late 60s, hasn’t exactly followed a typical path to the rarified world of fine arts. Born in Toronto, his late father Harry and now 95-year old mother Goldie purchased a dairy farm with 127 Holsteins near Galt, Ont. A teenaged Rash would journey every weekend from the city to ride horses, rope steers — he can still throw a mean lasso — and even learning how to “ride rodeo” in the pastoral setting.

Brandon violinist Kerry DuWors.

However, his artistic proclivities surfaced early. After completing his evening milking chores, the teenager would slip off to the nearby Stratford Festival to catch a Shakespearean or spend countless hours devouring Keats’s poetic odes, or listening to the music he still adores today.

He credits taking a darkroom course at Vancouver Community College that set aflame his passion for photography, with his first gig shooting Ballet BC dancers. A quintessential Renaissance man and entrepreneur, Rash simultaneously taught computer sciences while studying political science at the University of British Columbia.

Since moving to Winnipeg, he now earns his living in a variety of writing, business and software development projects.

Spend a little time with Rash, and the word “family” repeatedly pops up like a leitmotiv laced through eloquent string quartets by Schubert, one of his favourite composers. He considers the musicians whom he shoots regularly both here and in Parry Sound as a second family, which has engendered an even greater — if not at times elusive — trust between artist and muse.

Pianist Janine Fialkowska.

Winnipeg photographer and writer Craig Koshyk, founding president of Winnipeg’s PrairieView School of Photography, offers his own professional perspective on his Rash’s artistry:

“What I look for is ‘frankness,’ when the mask (of a subject) is momentarily taken off, and you see the genuine spirit of the person,” Koshyk says of Rash’s portraits, often shot in black-and-white tones to reinforce the timeless quality of classical players, including their often centuries-old fiddles and gleaming cellos.

“When I look at one of his pictures, I feel like I now know this particular musician. They’ve become sympathetic characters to me. They are deeply passionate, and I want to know more about them,” he elaborates. “But his photos also reflect someone who is absolutely in love with music, with a great sensitivity not only to the music, but an even greater sensitivity to the musician because of the intimate closeness. The musicians are clearly comfortable with him being there so that their uninhibited, natural, and spontaneous expressions are being revealed.”

Winnipeg violinist Karl Stobbe.

An evocative photograph of Rash’s parents looms from a living room bookshelf during this interview. It’s their 1945 wedding portrait, taken at the Ottawa studio of famed photographer Yousuf Karsh (although not by Karsh himself, Rash quickly notes), with their faces shining with hope and promise. The haunting image not only represents the roots and bedrock for Rash’s own artistic expression, but has also inspired him to take his own journey one step further, encouraged also by his friend and mentor, Toronto-based painter and visual artist Judy Singer, who has given him further insight into his own creative process.

“It’s technically magnificent,” Rash says of the image that bears the iconic Karsh imprint, describing it poetically as “an entrée to the imagination.

“That picture is capturing a moment in time that will never happen again. However, when I photograph musicians, it’s ultimately a sharing experience… I am merely documenting a moment in time which is always there, as opposed to something never to be repeated again.”

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