#1061. Backyard Gems #4 – Steve’s Garage

By John Wilson | Art & Creativity

Nov 16

For several years I lived in North Vancouver at the eastern end of the north shore of Vancouver Harbour. It is a beautiful area at the foot of Mount Seymour, replete with forests, plenty of wildlife, salmon spawning streams and rivers and a little gem called Deep Cove.

To get to North Vancouver you must cross one of the two bridges across the harbour. The closest one to home was the Second Narrows Bridge which enters the north shore next to a large deep sea dock and a marina on the west side and a marine and light industrial area on the east. Each time I crossed the bridge the inevitable question would go through my mind … “I wonder what’s down there?”. It was only 10 minutes from home. After 3 years of that almost daily process, the explorer and street photographer finally asserted dominance and sent me exploring. There wasn’t much to see really, warehouses marine repair shops with large KEEP OUT signs etc. But tucked away on Orwell Street was a row of nameless mini workshop spaces all shuttered up … except one, with this staring out the doorway looking all to much like a hungry monster awaiting its next meal.

Too good to pass up I wondered in to find a fellow sorting some tools and asked if he minded if I took some pictures of the monster in his doorway. “Picture away to your hearts content” he replied, and I did. After a few shots of the car, we talked for a while; his name was Steve and he was actually a custom paint specialist, but too many years of inhaling fumes had made him medically sensitive to paint, so he’d gone into custom restoration body work. His reputation as a custom body man had gotten around to the extent that there were students from the local Polytechnical College volunteering to work with him just for the learning experience. I wasn’t hard to see why; he was a friendly, easy going, gregarious guy who would happily and lovingly explain what he was doing.

Partway through the conversation he commented “I’m going to be doing some welding in a few minutes if you want some pictures of that”.


Over the next several months I made many trips to see what he was up to next. What follows is a collection of my favourite images from those visits. And yes, I made him an album in appreciation for his kindness and generosity for letting me hang out in his workspace and shoot pictures.

On my last visit he was no longer there. The space was actually on loan from a friend of his who needed it back to store his vintage Mustang sports car. I tried his cell number but got no answer. At least I got the album to him before he left and always wonder what’s he working on now and what gems the camera’s not capturing.


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:


    At least you managed to capture it all.

    When I was doing renovations on this house, at one stage one of the tradies was fooling around with one of those welding machines – standing astride the job, bent over it, with sparks flying out behind him as if his bum was on fire – pure theatre, but unfortunately my camera was upstairs and this took place downstairs, so I missed the shot.

    Lovely to see the work of someone who didn’t miss! Thanks for sharing it, John. I hope you also got some colour shots – but mixing them with these wouldn’t really work – better to keep to B&W, for DS.

    • JohnW says:

      Than You JP. The originals are all in colour but everything was shot by available light and the ambient light had an ugly green cast. Never intended the final images to be colour anyway.

  • Peter says:

    A lovely series and a lesson in using what’s available as a subject. I wonder how much we pass by everyday in our haste to get “there” 🙂

    • JohnW says:

      Thank You Peter. We can all take a lesson from “Ferdinand the Bull”; slow down and smell the roses … when we have the time.

  • pascaljappy says:

    John, one of my neighbours runs a cable company. His hangars are full of huge reels of thick, colourful metal cables. We met there once, and I didn’t have my camera with me, not expecting that Gursky-like experience. Your wonderful post have given me the idea to correct that mistake as soon as the law makes that possible. Thanks for the great post 🙂

  • Frank Field says:

    Fascinating images and testament to the value of approaching strangers with camera in hand. We await the days when we can do so again. Stay healthy.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    You’ve managed to capture all the grime and grit and sparks and, and….in other words, you’ve given us everything we’d want to know about Steve’s garage in your wonderfully artistic way. I can’t imagine these images in color; black & white was the only way to go. Kudos!

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Stunning series John , would grace any gallery as an exhibition work – Kudos

  • Jean-Claude Louis says:

    Nice storytelling John. The stark, high contrast BW treatment fits the subject extremely well. Bravo!

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    John, I concur with the comments above. You capture garage life in this set–or at least, one person’s garage work. But also the character of the man in your portraits–nice work there! Your processing of the photos foregrounds the grunge, and also the atmosphere of the place. Your post exemplifies how photography can bring people together, even for just moments in time, and teaches us all a bit more about humanity. Lastly, as Ian Varkevisser above writes, this series is exhibition worthy. I hope you mount a show of them one day. Well done, Sir!

  • Lani says:

    Damn John!
    These are just plain black and white pornography.
    Nuff said.

    • John W says:

      AHA!! Now I know your weakness!!

      I’ve seen your BW work so I’ll take that as a high complement

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