Instrument Portraits


Instruments have a character of their own. Some of that comes from what we project onto them, the histories they develop and the memories we grow with them, but some is unique and special even without knowing where they came from. This comes from their sound—wooden instruments especially change and settle with time and use, but it also comes from how they play, what they feel like in your hands and respond as they are played. Even if they aren't truly alive, they have a sense of personality and self. Here are a couple of portraits that tell the stories of instruments that I know.

This series is, and will always be, a work in progress. I wouldn't have it any other way.


Is my own electric bass, a birthday gift from my parents when I was in high school. It was love at first sight in a shop in Nepean, Ontario near my grandmother's house, and ended up having a bit of an adventure getting it home with us to Calgary. It was the first instrument to ever feel like "my" guitar, and it was what made me really feel like I'd found my musical niche. It's the kind of instrument that makes you feel powerful to play it, with a warm rumbly sort of growl that I can still feel when it isn't plugged in and a punchy set of active pickups that will shake the house down even with my amp turned down. I've made amazing lifelong friends through playing music together, experimenting with other instruments but always coming back to my bass guitar happy place. I have lost count of the stories that have started with Gimli's slightly dented hard case in one hand and a practice amp in the other, standing on the doorstep of whoever's parents will let them make a racket in their basement and anxiously awaiting the next adventure.

Some of my earliest memories are of listening to my dad play this classical guitar - made by a Canadian luthier, he found it second-hand in Toronto and brought it with him when he moved. There are surely other better classical guitars in the world, but none of them sound quite right to me because to my ear, every guitar should sound like this one. From 'Greensleeves' to Bach to The Beatles, this guitar sounds like home.


originally belonged to my Great-Aunt Blair. She had an incredibly interesting and varied life that eventually settled down in Salmon Arm, and a passion for music and the arts. She doted on me endlessly, and delighted in being a 'Grauntie'. A 3/4-size classical guitar of unknown origin, I inherited it when I was still quite young. and it became equal parts hobby and security blanket as I grew up. The smaller neck is a bit cramped for me to try to play now, but I still take it off the wall whenever I'm feeling nostalgic. I don't have all that many memories of Blair, but I wonder what she would think of me, and her guitar, if she could see us today?


and the charming flock of glass birds that accompany it made their way into the series by the grace of my friend Leia Guo, who is a brilliant photographer and glass artist as well as a fellow musician. She took up her guitar in part as a way of training the hand dexterity needed to do what she does with hot glass. When she offered to let me borrow it for this project, I wanted to photograph a tribute to the joy of having a friend who loves doing the same things you do, and everything we have learned from one another. Here is to impromptu jam sessions in the photo studio, knowing who to text when you need an assistant/model/printer troubleshooter, hot takeout magically appearing at my feet halfway through painting a gallery wall, and friendly company when we've both been at it for ten hours and just want to go home. Thank you for everything, Leia.

You can find Leia's work here