April 18, 2012

Every good story is made better by clean layout and great graphics

Posted by WARREN PERLEY – Editor, BestStory.ca
Writing from Montreal

Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), the British novelist, short-story writer and playwright, once said that "the trouble with young writers is that they are all in their 60s."

Being an astute critic of literary style and structure, Maugham was keenly aware that true artists never stop growing and striving to perfect their craft. We blink an eye and discover that a lifetime has passed in pursuit of that elusive goal of artistic fulfillment coupled with public recognition, hopefully accompanied by financial remuneration. Most artists never reach all their goals due to a confluence of factors,including the difficulty of translating artistic excellence into commercial success. Being a diligent, dedicated journalist does not always guarantee access to the infrastructure needed to showcase your talent.

With those thoughts in mind, I am pleased to be part of a new business model intended to give all serious and competent freelance journalists - those who are young in years and those who are young only in spirit - a chance to follow their dreams and to write well-researched, meaningful stories for sale directly to readers across Canada and around the world.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to pay homage to all the artists - writers, photographers and illustrators - involved in the first stories which appeared on our site when we launched today. You can read about them in our Contributors' Profile section. I also want to thank our programming team, which worked so hard to build the computer code for our system.

But first and foremost, special kudos to my partners in this massive journalism effort - graphic designers Rodney Hall and Karen Boor. Rodney, who has worked with me since my days as editor at The Weekly Herald (a Montreal community newspaper) starting in 1988, designed the look, graphic interface and functionality for the entire site based on our mandate to create a sublime literary experience for our readers. He also created our logo, with its retro-50s look intended to convey the joy so many of us feel when reading in a relaxed atmosphere.

Karen - creative, experienced and diligent - works with me on every article to select the best graphics and layout to make the stories come alive. Most of our freelance contributors have not met her, but they can rest assured that she is behind the scenes, making sure that their stories, photos and illustrations are displayed in the most visually attractive manner possible.

As a writer and editor, I feel strongly about the importance of the graphic look of a story because it is an integral part of an enjoyable literary experience. So in addition to those who are listed in our Contributors' Profiles, I want to give a call-out to two photographers in particular whose contributions are part of one of our first stories which compares Barack Obama with Pierre Elliott Trudeau. During their lifetimes, Yousuf Karsh and Rod MacIvor created impressive bodies of work dedicated to visual artistry.

Let me start first with the one who is young in spirit and enjoying his winters in Florida: Rod MacIvor retired in 2007 after 42 years as a photographer based in Ottawa. Rod, who worked at various times for United Press International, the Ottawa Citizen and freelance, is best known for his collection of photos of the family of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Margaret (Sinclair) Trudeau chose him as her first photography instructor and said of his photos of her husband: "Rod captured the intimate side of Pierre Trudeau, without sensationalism - the reality, not the weakness; the best, not the worst." Seven of Rod's Trudeau photos are included in our story.

His many Trudeau images - including one of Trudeau carrying his young son, Justin, under his arm which was a National Newspaper Award winner - have attracted a total of 20,000 people at various exhibits across Canada over the years and raised $20,000 for prostate cancer research. Rod now specializes in bird, nature, environmental and street photography (including documentary style wedding photos). An annual exhibit of his works is held through the Phillip K. Wood Gallery in Almonte Ontario, about 10 miles from Ottawa.

Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) was a giant of 20th century portrait photography, documenting intimate and poignant views of some of the best known politicians, actors and athletes of our time. A small sampling of his subjects: Sir Winston Churchill, Mackenzie King, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, René Levesque, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandella, Henry Kissinger, Martin Luther King, Queen Elizabeth II, Lionel Barrymore, Humphrey Bogart , Yul Brynner, Robertson Davies, Lord Beaverbrook and Muhammad Ali.

Born on December 23, 1908 in Mardin, an Armenian city in southeastern Turkey, Karsh escaped the Turkish massacre of Armenians in that region in 1915 and ended up 10 years later booking a trans-Atlantic freighter passage from Beirut to Halifax, where he was met on the stormy New Year's Eve of 1925 by his mother's brother, George Nakash, who had migrated earlier to Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Karsh recalled his first impression upon arriving in Halifax: "The sparkling decorations on the windows of the shops and houses, the laughing crowds - for me it was an unbelievable fantasy come true. On the two-day journey to my uncle's home, I marveled at the vast distances."

The teachers at his Sherbrooke high school had quite a challenge teaching a 17-year-old Armenian boy who spoke no English or French, but one who was ever so well behaved. Karsh, who had witnessed stonings of Armenians in his native Turkey, recalled the kindness of his new Canadian friends. He later recounted, tongue in cheek, that not only did his new buddies not stone him, but they even allowed him to keep the marbles that he won. "The warmth of my reception made me love my adopted land," Karsh said.

Uncle Nakash, a bachelor, was an established photographer who took Yousuf under his wing before sending him to Boston in 1928 to serve an apprenticeship with portrait photographer John Garo. Karsh returned to Canada four years later and established a studio in Ottawa close to Parliament Hill, where he came to the attention of Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

King was so pleased with Karsh's portrait of him that he arranged for the young photographer to meet visiting dignitaries, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who had his photograph taken after addressing the House of Commons on December 30, 1941.

That portrait of Churchill is said to be the most reproduced portrait photograph in history. Karsh, named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967 and a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1990, was on his way to international acclaim. You can read his entire story and see his magnificent work at www.karsh.org

We at beststory.ca are thrilled to have two of Karsh's photos - one of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and one of Quebec Premier René Levesque - in our story comparing Obama and Trudeau. It's "living" proof of the immortality of great art!

[See teaser below]

Published: APRIL 2012
Barack Obama is the natural heir to liberalism of Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Writing from Montreal

With his re-election to a second term in the White House, Barack Obama continues to defy pundits who may now be questioning whether he is more a pragmatist than the raving socialist his opponents have made him out to be. It’s the same kind of conundrum Pierre Elliott Trudeau presented for critics who attempted to typecast the former Canadian prime minister as a communist. An analysis of issues ranging from health care, abortion and birth control to gay rights, cannabis and foreign policy proves that Obama and Trudeau, born two generations apart in neighbouring countries, have more in common than you might think.

13,487 Words | 36 Photos | 3 Illustrations

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