Perry Mah, Perry Mah



Let the record show that I once shared a bed with Perry Mah.

It was April 1992. I was a young reporter with The Edmonton Sun. Perry and I were assigned to cover the flood in Peace River. The Sun was not a lavish outfit. The newspaper paid you in experience. Part of that experience was a tiny hotel room between us and nothing between us as far as sleeping infrastructure went. Good night, Kub, he said from the left side. Good night, Perry Mah, Perry Mah, I said from the right.

That trip was important to me. I learned how to talk my way into a flooded mall. I learned how to anticipate the next angle, to see where the story was going—and then how to make it go that way. The water everywhere today was so obvious, but tomorrow people will start asking if there is disease in the everywhere water. Ask that question today. I learned how photographers work themselves into position to see the world that people will see in time. I learned how to sleep still.

Perry took one picture of me. This is how he saw me on July 27, 1991:


I cherish this pic. The chaos captured—the legs going this way, the eyes that way, the ball down, the hair up. How it confirms the decision of every junior high and high school basketball coach who cut me from the team. Sharing the front page with Gord. But, above all, those four words below all in the agate-size font after the hyphen: - Photo by Perry Mah.

After all, I wasn't his only main art.
I read this yesterday about Perry Mah:
He's a born observer and photography allowed him to document what he saw and ultimately it was about storytelling. His ability to share what he saw and learned was his way of teaching you. 
I was struck by the battle of the tenses in that tribute, how the is of the born observer slid into the was of what Perry saw. That's exactly how it happens, I thought.

Perry Mah died on March 12. Yesterday, family and friends gathered at Connelly-McKinley on 114 St. to celebrate his life. It was an hour of stories of the road and the accompanying photographs. Always, the cameras and the photographs. Perry Mah was a father, son, uncle, brother. Perry Mah was a photographer. A gentle man with a laser for an eye and a maestro's timing for the note to hit now. He saw life and he captured it in frames so it wouldn't get away so easily. I think that is what a photographer is: someone alive to how outrageous it is that this all slips away.

"Perry Mah, Perry Mah, come in..."

That's how, back in the newsroom, Tom, Gorm, Robert, Gary and other Sun photogs would raise Perry over the two-way radio. I listened from the police desk for the calm, quiet reply.

"Go ahead."

That double moniker for him—Perry Mah, Perry Mah—stuck in me. Whenever over the years our paths crossed, I would greet him with "Perry Mah, Perry Mah!"

With Perry's death, his doubled name has revealed a new meaning. Perry Mah the man is gone. Perry Mah the photographer isn't. I am so lucky to have met both of them.









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