Walk off West First Street into the North Shore News offices and – just to your left – there’s a moment.
The photo shows a baseball player in mid-stride after smacking the winning homerun. His teammate is holding the game hero’s jersey like a cowboy gripping the scruff of a jittery thoroughbred. And in that moment, with everyone’s face full of fireworks, a shutter winked.
The moment after was good. The moment before was fine too. But that crack-of-light click captured by Paul McGrath ... that was THE moment.
For more than 30 years a team of three photographers – McGrath, Mike Wakefield and Cindy Goodman – documented triumph, heartbreak, and beauty on the North Shore a split-second at a time.
“If everything worked out and all the gods were with you and you captured that moment, it’s the best feeling,” Goodman reflects.
With camera around her neck, Goodman would coax, cajole, and chip away at who you’re trying to be until she found out who you are.
She photographed six ballerinas with their slippers dangling off the edge of a bench at Anna Wyman’s dance school. But more than that, she caught six kids full of tranquility, impatience, innocence, humour, distraction, consternation, and a hefty dollop of sass.
An Emily Carr graduate, Wakefield had no intention of wasting his photographic talent.
“I’m an artist,” he remembers saying. “I’m not working at the North Shore News.”
Two days later, after some persuasion from his mother and girlfriend, he got hired as a darkroom tech.
He’d take the job, he decided – but only until he got bored or found something better.
“And I never did,” he muses without a ghost of regret.
Listening to Wakefield tell stories is like trying to chart the flight of a moth. His anecdotes are random and roundabout but somehow full of light.
There was the time he cruised to the old Shipyards site in his Dodge Dart Swinger. There was a half-soused woman who asked if he could, “hic,” fix her washing machine, Wakefield recalls, winking suggestively. And there was a 101-year-old man.
Wakefield’s snapshots of Bob Hope, Sophia Loren, and Charles and Diana were fine, he says. But James Burton is the one he still thinks about.
“The best photo I’ve ever taken,” Wakefield says. “And I probably had the least to do with it.”
Burton, 101, was being awarded France’s Legion of Honour for his service in the First World War when Wakefield met him.
Wakefield – as he always does – got chatting. There would be a grip-and-grin photo later but maybe, he suggested to Burton, they could get an “insurance shot” first.
Burton asked if Susan, his wife of 70 years, could be in the photo. Susan had Alzheimer’s, so they would have to go to the care unit, Burton explained.
Burton eased Susan into a chair, adjusted her collar, and combed her hair.
“I never said a word to them,” Wakefield recalls.
Susan gripped her husband’s hand. She smiled. Burton kissed his wife’s hair.
Then he looked up at Wakefield. “We are ready for our photo,” he said.
He’d already taken it.
Following layoffs earlier this year, Wakefield is the only full-time photographer left.
“We got along pretty well, the three of us,” Wakefield says.
“Working with Mike and Paul is the most fun I ever had in my life,” she says. “Of everybody in my life, you two are the ones that I am the most myself with.”
“We’re the last photographers you’re ever going to meet,” Wakefield says. “You don’t realize until it’s finished, or close to finished, how good it really was.”
And then a reporter walks into the room and says something about a photo assignment this afternoon.
“I gotta get back to work.”
This story was included in our 50th Anniversary Issue, published Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. Click here for more stories from this special edition of the North Shore News.