Katia Moskvitch

“Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read.” Frank Zappa.

Monday, March 27, 2006

One great Canadian photographer

- by Katia Moskvitch -

When Lynn Ball, 62, an accomplished Canadian photographer and the first ever staff photographer for Canadian Press, arrived in London, Ontario in November 2005 with his younger brother Doug, they came to present their new book, Life on a Press Pass.

(Photo courtesy of www.presspass.ca)

The book features photos the brothers took throughout their careers. Although the presentation took place at University of Western Ontario, it didn’t just attract the attention of students and faculty; Ball’s relatives and friends came as well. Even his high school English teacher Bob Mann showed up. Mann said he hasn’t seen his former pupil for 40 years.

“Except for some facial hair, he hasn’t changed a bit! I always knew he was going to do something that was going to be different, and strange, and it was going to be good,” said Mann with a smile.

And Ball has done something good.

Most people don’t know Ball’s name, but they probably know his pictures. He took pictures of the Beatles, of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ royal wedding, of the Maple Leafs winning the Stanly Cup and of Pope John Paul II during his 1984 Canadian tour, to name a few.

But, there was more to this visit to London than just promoting the book. It was an occasion for Ball to visit his hometown.

Ball was born in Edmonton, Alberta, on January 9, 1943, but grew up in London. His father served in the Second World War, and at the time of Ball’s birth, was stationed in Edmonton with his wife. After the war, the family moved to London.

Ball’s mother was an office worker in London, and she also specialized in applying color to black-and-white photos. But she wasn’t the only one in the family who had something to do with photography. During the war, Ball’s father was an aerial photographer, taking pictures while flying over sites to be bombed.

It was his father who got young Ball into photography. Their house had a darkroom to develop film, and Ball thought every house had one as well.

“When I went into other kids’ houses to play, I’d look around and ask them where their darkroom was, and they’d all look at me like I was crazy,” said Ball, while driving around London a few hours before the presentation of his book. He couldn’t find a parking spot and ended up doing the interview in the moving car. Ever since Ball left his home in London, he has spent most of his career moving around at a frantic pace.

(George Harrison in 1964. By Lynn Ball. Photo from http://www.lfpress.com/)

He attributes some of his success to his father, who taught Ball the basics of good photography when the he was only a boy.
“ The first time I made eight-by-ten prints, I must’ve been 10 or 11 years old. My father wanted to see them, and I knew they weren’t the best. He ripped them up and told me to get back into the darkroom until I could make the best of those negatives. So I learned pretty fast that you had to do a good job and you never showed anyone anything unless it was the best that was possible,” said Ball.

Ball won his first photography award when he was 13, for a picture of a baby bird that fell out of its nest.

“I put it back in the nest, but I took some pictures on the ground, with its mouth open and closed,” recalled Ball. “I entered them in the hobby fair at the YMCA and I won first prize.”

Photography is not Ball’s only passion; he also enjoys watching car races. Once, when he was 22 and was working as a copy boy at the London Free Press, he went to see a race, and one of the cars suddenly stopped.

“A radiator hose sprayed the driver with hot water, and he jumped out and took his pants off,” he said. “With my camera, I clicked away!”

Those pictures ran on the front page of the Free Press, CP became interested in them, and eventually they were used all over the world. That was how Ball started working for CP, and later he became their first staff photographer.

CP’s salary was enough for Ball to buy his first Corvette when he was 23. Besides watching car races, he loves driving racecars and competing.

He went to many car races with his Corvette, and won several. He said it was fun racing his brother Doug, who also has a Corvette, through the UWO campus at night, when both were in their 20s.

“We could only do it once every night, because after that, police would come,” Ball said with a laugh.

Ball spent 45 years of his life as a photographer, and 32 of them as chief photographer of The Ottawa Citizen, where he worked after he left CP, until his retirement in 2003.

He said he doesn’t have a favorite picture. But one of the most memorable photos, he mentioned, was one with a heron on a riverbank in the morning fog, which he snapped while going to work. He was working at The Ottawa Citizen at the time, and so many people wanted reprints that the newspaper made over $40,000 from the suddenly famous heron. Ball received a $1,000 bonus.

Photo by Lynn Ball

That was the picture Ball’s aunt Eileen Coulson got for Christmas. She has known Ball since he was born, and said he was always into taking pictures.

“He was always energetic and on the go, and it’s been a joy to know him all his life,” said Coulson, after the presentation at UWO.

Now retired, Ball still enjoys taking pictures, driving his two Corvettes and living on a farm with his long-time partner. He also has a 26-year-old daughter Fiona.

Even though he couldn’t get Fiona into photography, his brother’s children are quite keen on clicking away. Ball just hopes they will continue the family’s legacy of looking at life through the camera lens.

(Leonard Cohen on a park bench in Montreal. By Lynn Ball. Photo courtesy www.presspass.com)