He started and ended a prolific photojournalism career on the front page of the Montreal Gazette.Gordon Beck, a familiar name to so many Montrealers, has died at his home in Brockville, Ont., with his wife, Ewa Bujnicka, by his side. He was 78.“It was a ‘cold and dark’ January night in 1960 that produced my first published photo,” Beck wrote in 2007. “A propane depot caught fire, and in a sense so did my determination. I came away with two shots that made the front page of The Gazette. It was a connection that has lasted 47 years.”Except for two stints out west, Beck spent nearly five decades chronicling Montreal’s history — for the Montreal Star and then for the Montreal Gazette — immortalizing Expo ’67, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace, the 1976 Olympics and other major news events.While many Montrealers will recognize his iconic shots, friends and former colleagues say they best remember Beck’s passion — bordering on obsession — for the art of photography.
After his retirement as a news photographer, Gordon Beck spent much of his time photographing heritage architecture and other subjects in rural Ontario.
Chris Mikula /
“He was tough competition; I can’t say enough about how much I admired his work,” said former Montreal Gazette photographer Len Sidaway, who was Beck’s competitor before they became colleagues.“When you appeared on a job with Gordie, you knew you had to come up with a comparable photo in value or a far better one, but you had a hard job doing that. He was a very creative guy.”Current Gazette chief photographer John Mahoney, who worked with Beck throughout his career, said he most admired Beck’s passion for the art.“Even in his 70s, he never lost that youthful enthusiasm we all start out with,” Mahoney said.Last fall, Beck told the local Brockville newspaper he felt lucky to have been able to pursue his passion, and the paycheque was a bonus.“I was paid by newspapers but I never worked for them,” he said. “They paid me to enjoy a hobby.”
Gordon Beck in 2011 pursuing his passion. When he became too ill to drive, volunteers would take him through the countryside in search of more subjects to photograph.
Chris Mikula /
The Ottawa Citizen
Former colleagues said Beck would take his time to set up his shot and find a way to tell a compelling story.“He had this eye for the subtle little details,” said longtime Gazette photographer and friend Allen McInnis. “You had to look at his pictures for a couple of minutes and digest them.“There would always be this little thing in the corner, that would reference something in the other corner, and it all ties in together and there’s a secondary story within the photograph.”“Gordon had a great eye and great curiosity,” Gazette editor in chief Lucinda Chodan said. “Those qualities made him a remarkable photographer.”Among the photographs that he is best known for is a shot from the top of the Sun Life Building looking down on Place du Canada during the unity rally prior to the 1995 referendum.“He went up on the roof and took a beautiful picture,” McInnis said. “You think, ‘OK, well that’s easy. You sit on the roof and lean over and take a picture.’ Really? There were probably 10 guys up there and his was by far the best. If you want to call something iconic, his is the best frame and it’s in the subtleties and the composition.”
Gordon Beck’s iconic photograph of the unity rally in Place du Canada days before the 1995 Quebec referendum.
Gordon Beck /
His career started in 1960, with a correspondence diploma from the New York Institute of Photography. Beck headed out west in an old 1953 Crown Victoria, and spent two years working at the Edmonton Journal, two at the Hamilton Spectator, and then two years as a freelancer in London, Ont.He returned to Montreal to work as an official photographer for Expo ’67 and was hired by the Montreal Star, where he spent several years, including covering the 1970 October Crisis.“I was there the night in October 1970 when they discovered the body of Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, and quickly learned to abhor the violence wrought by extremism,” Beck wrote.He spent two years in a bus driving through 50 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa before returning to the Star.After another brief stint out west, he was hired at the Montreal Gazette, where he ended his professional career — or, as he put it, took a “pause to refocus.”Beck’s passion for photography endured until the end, and friends said he took more pictures in retirement then he did when he was earning a steady paycheque.In the last decade, Beck opened up a photo studio and used book shop called From Here To Infinity, and he travelled the countryside in rural Ontario and photographed old barns and other rural heritage.When his health was failing him and he could no longer drive, a group of five volunteers would take turns driving him to scour the countryside for more subjects to photograph.Among those volunteers was Phil Norton. A former photographer at the Gazette, Norton said Beck was less concerned with dying than he was about leaving some of his projects unfinished.“He said, ‘I’m not thinking about dying,’ Instead, there was a frustration that he couldn’t be out there doing what he always did.,” Norton said. “There are so many projects, and he wanted to get back at them, despite the fact his body was failing him.”Gazette reporter Marian Scott, a close friend of Beck, said they would go on numerous work trips through the countryside, or even in the heart of the city, to find evidence of historical heritage — a passion they both shared.“He was a chronicler. He had a deep knowledge of history and a deep passion for uncovering it,” she said.“His images are so beautiful. It’s art — it’s not just news photography.”Beck is survived by his longtime mate, Ewa Bujnicka, whom he married on his firstname.lastname@example.org/jasonmagderfacebook.com/jasonmagderjournalistRelated