John Max: A Portrait now on DVD

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Apr 28, 2012.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

    Apr 2, 2005
    Montréal (QC
    Multi Format
    John Max (1936–2011) was one of those one-of-a-kind photographers in Canada.

    Mostly remembered for his sweeping series Open Passport (1972), a set of 160 photographs put together in an intimate, powerful narrative, John Max was also for a long time a successful editorial and reportage photographer in the 1950s and 1960s. Supported by the National Film Board of Canada Still Photography Division, he did many photo-stories that found their ways in large circulation magazines such as Maclean's or Weekend. As the decade turned, he had a growing opportunity to exhibit more intimate, experimental images as the institutions supporting him were operating a turn away from documentary photography and toward artistic work.

    A friend of Robert Frank, the latter considered Max the greatest Canadian photographer, an admission worth pondering since Frank moved to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in the early 1970s.

    On the heels of his success, he left for Japan and photographed there during five years, having taken what he considers the best photographs of his life. Yet upon his return, a very different country and a life hard to put back together halted his career for the following decades. In Montreal, he became a sort of myth, a recluse genius, and a perpetual problem for the fire department inspecting his increasingly cluttered flat, living on top of a Winogrand-sized trove of undeveloped, unproofed exposed negatives.

    He died last year just as I was admitted to the Ph.D. with the intention to work on his photographs.

    In the years prior to his departure, photographer and cinematographer Michel Lamothe interviewed him on many aspects of his life, his photographs, his family, and his travels, and had a rare access to Max's own personal archives. Lamothe's film is a message in a bottle for Max's unpublished work, until his personal archive becomes publicly accessible.

    The movie, like every independent film on artists, has been hard to find for a while, but now that it is available on DVD, for 20$, is worth watching. A harsh spectacle—Max's later life conditions were nothing short of squalor—it is however required viewing for anyone who appreciates expressive, almost convulsive photography.

    Distributor link:

    Amazon link:


    Bio & Photos:

    If you have access to a library that does Interlibrary Loans with Canadian libraries, you can order a loan copy of Open Passport (1973). There might be one at the Library of Congress as well.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 28, 2012