Street art by Byron Cameraman and Rich S

 The streets and walls of Vancouver’s downtown eastside have effectively been my notebooks during the writing of The Blue Light Project, my new novel coming out next year with Knopf Canada and Soft Skull in the US. I’ll post pictures of various artists here. But if there were a single image that started the book going, it was this one. I watched Byron Cameraman and Rich S put up this poster in January of last year.

It was around midnight, and very cold. I took this photograph the next day. The fact that the neighborhood instantly owns its street art, is illustrated by all the ammendments and annotations made to the poster. But when it went up, and you could finally read the Orwell quote at the bottom, people cheered. It was amazing.

From my journals the day after:

Talked to Byron Cameraman. He was going out with Rich S putting up work. Wanted to know if I’d come with them. I met them over at Rich’s studio in Strathcona at 10 last night. We were out until about 1 in the morning. It was wet and absolutely freezing. Cameraman brought rum which they sipped from time to time as they worked. I watched, taking notes. We put up near Hawks at Hastings Street first, one of Rich’s massive eye posters. It’s just this enormous eye, with eyelashes, blown up very large and postered in 8.5 by 11 panels that they carry in their knapsacks, carefully arranged so they don’t go up out of order. The final image is so blown up from original size that it’s pixilated and granular. But at 50 yards, all that smoothes out and it’s really impressive. A massive black and white eye peering at you out of a construction site, or down from the back of a billboard.

We went west on Hastings after that. Main, then Columbia. It’s pretty intense down there at midnight. People drifting around. People shooting up in the alleys. Byron and Rich put up one of their big pieces here – one of the Orwell inspired ones with toy figurines – on the hoarding in front of what must have been a crack house or a shooting gallery. People were walking in and out of this plywood door just to the right of where they were putting up the poster, and there was this one presiding dude managing the door who accepted the rest of the mickey of rum as payment and then called out comments as they worked. There was a woman sleeping in a sleeping bag at his feet. People hanging around, asking questions. And then, right near the end, this other woman approached, glassy eyed, very messed up. She was yelling: carry on you young beautiful artists! Carry on! And dancing in the street. Sad and beautiful. And then the climax ,when the last panels of the poster finally jigsawed into place so we could all see what was written across the bottom. The Orwellian dictum: Freedom is Slavery. And there was a huge cheer of recognition. An ecstatic shout of satisfaction at the final piece slotting into place. The man with the rum was shouting: that is right!  Brother, that is black and white!

Other smaller pieces too. These photos of horses. Then another big eye on Cordova, while this fight raged up and down the street behind us. Two drunk guys in very bad shape. Last stop Pigeon Park. Bit nervy here. People standing around instructed us not to take photos, like it would be a serious mistake to disobey. Then that kid on the bike in the hoodie and sunglasses. 15 years old, out at 1 in the morning in sunglasses, staring at us, not saying a word, checking out my shoes.

Anyway. Byron Cameraman and Rich both earn my complete respect for these moments. They’re completely calm in the middle of each of these scenes. I was an obviou outsider, but that’s what a notebook and a pencil does to you.