the man's enthusiasm and curiosity had always been contagious. i learned more from him on guts alone than i ever would from a text book or a conversation with a well-meaning, over-intentioned instructor. he led from beside, and sometimes from behind, but he was a companion with whom you could learn a lesson, any lesson, the hard way, and still feel like you had come out on top. when it was rock climbing, he went all-in. when it was cameras, he spent paper like it was tissue, and learned faster and better than anyone else how to process and print his own film. he read books that didn't come easy to him. he made acquaintances and awed them with his prowess in black and white and every zone in between. the whole time, i learned and listened and listened and yearned. there was always a frame to be exposed. there was always a point of interest. no one was uninteresting. curiosity could make anything cool enough. and perhaps his greatest gift of all: when you were the object of his curiosity, you felt like you were something worth knowing. few people in the world can make everyone they meet, let alone a few people they know and love, feel just this way. and inevitably, you would see yourself anew, and get fascinated by the potential only picked up by nicky's light meter, and then you could maybe start to risk being better.
being flamboyant had come naturally to me for some time. although i was naturally shy, i had learned that being 'a good kid' meant getting myself largely ignored, so i built up a persona of some kind of artsyness, and every now and again, it would come out. by the time high school rolled around, i had lost much of my flamboyance, opting instead to fly only on stage, or on trip, or when i just couldn't help it anymore. turns out, nicky taught me how to be a little more quiet. it was always his fantasy to be discovered, doing his own hardcore thing in his own hardcore way, by accident, in secret, by one person (probably a really hot girl) who would recognize, and subsequently admire, just what it took and who he was to be doing what he was doing, unbeknownst to anyone. i wanted to tell everyone. i never felt like anything i was doing was good enough or loud enough to get noticed, i still don't, and i wasn't tall or good-looking or long-haired or guitar-playing enough to be cool, in secret or out loud. and when people said, 'hey nick!', i learned to stop looking up, because they were always addressing him. flamboyance was over, so i saved it for the stage, or for words, for places where it could roam and jingle and not look as ridiculous as it was.
nicky taught me to be quiet. he taught me to contain my desires, to use them to drive my actions. he taught me to expose film, to shoot two frames in the quest for one good one, to print the hell out of that one until i got a good enough print, and to crop before i shot. he taught me about zones, about grain, about focus, about what is important and what to let go. the sharp end of a lens. the reason to push two stops. how many fruit gummies one should not eat in the middle of the night when it's minus forty in algonquin park. and even when we were walking down carlaw, wondering how the hell we would ever 'make it', ever get paid to do what we thought we were genius at (he was the only photo genius), when we were shooting completely different things and chasing different realities, he was leading from beside. we were complementing each other, tempering the drive with two different heats.
that night ended up with nicky happy and asleep in a big green tent, and me happy and sleepless in a big blue suburban. it was the end of an era, and i missed so much of it so terribly, and couldn't wait for the next one to begin in earnest. i find myself hearing nicky in my head these days, exposing my shots, meeting new people, maintaining curiosity. there will always be something fascinating. thanks, nicky.