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Moe Koffman’s bulldog and Al Gilbert's timeless portraiture
The National Post
by Vanessa Farquharson, Weekend Post
Friday, May 7, 2010

He’s known amongst Toronto’s Jewish community as the original go-to photographer for weddings and bar mitzvahs, but in his day Al Gilbert was also a renowned portrait photographer.

Although many of Gilbert’s portraits are taken in the classical style -- subject smiling, chin on hand -- some have a more modern feel. This black-and-white photo of Moe Koffman -- the late jazz musician best known for composing Curried Soul, the As It Happens theme song -- for instance, features a stark white background with Koffman gesturing to his cigar-smoking dog.

“Moe had asked me to take his portrait in 1964,” Gilbert says, “but at the time, I was trying to buy a dog for my grandson, and on the day we were supposed to shoot, I was looking in the paper and saw an ad for a free dog. I called Moe and said that I might be late because I wanted this dog, and he said, ‘That’s my dog!’ ”

So Koffman brought it along to the photo shoot and, after Gilbert had finished setting up, stuck a cigar in its mouth.

“The dog looks up at Moe,” Gilbert says, “and Moe says, ‘Now his name is Churchill.’”

Click went the shutter.

It’s just one of many stories that Gilbert has tucked away in his memory -- other anecdotes involve a humble Charles Best, who sat with his hands flopped over the side of a chair; a not-so-humble Robertson Davies, who wanted to dress up in his fanciest clothes; Paul Godfrey, whom Gilbert taught how to play baseball; and the wild-haired David Ben Gurion, who allowed Gilbert to take exactly five photos -- no more and no less.

-Facets of Fame, an exhibition of 67 of Al Gilbert’s portraits, runs until Sept. 11, at the Market Gallery in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.