Editor's notebook

Editor's notebook McGill University

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ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
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Home > McGill News > 2000 > Fall 2000 > Editor's notebook

Putting together a magazine is a fairly complicated process of turning ideas into words and pictures. In the case of alumni publications, the added challenge is to do it on a very small budget. The freelance photographers, artists and writers who work with us at the News are usually understanding about our financial constraints and we rely in part on their good will towards McGill.

I do, however, recall hearing from a freelance writer from Toronto who telephoned with a suggestion for a story idea. I was interested, and we got along like a house on fire until the discussion turned to our rates. Enraged, he lectured me about exploitation and hung up in my ear as I uttered the phrase "non-profit."

Then there is someone like photographer John de Visser, whose images of the Canadian landscape are, as one colleague put it, "like Karsh with people." In other words, about the best in the field. We were given his name when we were looking for images to illustrate our story on the Trans Canada Trail.

A few days after we contacted him, he sent us 175 slides, a portion of the several thousand he took for the book Trans Canada Trail: The 16,000 Kilometre Dream, and giving us his consent to use any of the images we chose. All of that took place before any discussion of payment. When the issue came up, he graciously agreed to abide by our pay scale.

Another photo spread in this issue, "Postcards from McGill," is by Nicolas Morin, whose excellent work you have seen before in these pages. We asked Nicolas to spend a few days on campus this summer to show you what happens around here once the last piece of parchment is handed out at convocation. Those who imagine the University resting in a state of suspended animation until Labour Day will be surprised to learn just how busy things get.

Through a variety of day camps, McGill attracts hundreds of children who are busy learning fencing, conducting experiments, or singing their hearts out. Japanese schools send groups of students to McGill to learn English and about Canadian culture on field trips and during home stays with local families. As well, there are wedding parties and film crews about, while residences become hotels for tourists and conference participants.

In fact, one of my favourite summer memories is of visiting the Currie Gym when McGill hosted an international conference of jugglers. I was allowed in during a rehearsal hour and will never forget the sight of hundreds of people juggling everything from feathers to fruit in complete concentration and almost total silence except for the thwaps as Indian clubs met palms -- or the thumps as they didn't.

When Nicolas brought in his photos to show us, he added one or two images he had treated in a special way. Turning transparencies into polaroid prints, he then put the prints into boiling water until the chemical-laden image could be lifted from the paper. The gooey emulsion was transferred onto another piece of paper in a water bath, then removed and allowed to dry.

The way the emulsion falls onto the paper determines the final shape of the image and the amount of distortion. To allow for easier scanning, Nicolas also ironed the final prints. We liked the look so much, we sent him back to "launder" the rest of the pictures.

Graduate Susan Pinker, whose careers combine psychology and freelance writing -- probably an ideal pairing -- suggested our story about conductor Eleanor Stubley. Susan has sung in a community choir under Stubley's direction so knew first hand of the effect on audience and performers of this dynamic woman. Stubley was on the move this summer, so the photos for her story were taken in Edmonton where she was giving workshops. Thanks to a recommendation from a colleague at the University of Alberta, we were able to hire a photographer who works for their alumni magazine. A little more good will.

But now McGill and its faculty and staff are back to their real business of educating students. Those of us not directly engaged in the academic mission are here to support those who are, and the excitement that comes with the influx of students each fall affects everyone.

The classrooms are filled, the first issue of the McGill Daily has been published with the first anti-establishment salvos fired, and Homecoming is only a few weeks away. You can have summer. It's fall again and all's right with the world.

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