Age Before Beauty
Albert Venters or simply Al, as he prefers, was born in Lindsay, Ontario in 1923.
During World War II, he served in the RCAF as an aircraft mechanic with the rank of LAC (Leading Air Craftsman). As with any true veteran, he holds onto his medals which are the physical embodiment of promises, sacrifices and duties he fulfilled when our planet was in turmoil and was threatened with certain destruction by Hitler. Al was assigned to the 427th (Lion) and 429th (Bison) Squadrons from June 1944 to January 17, 1946 and serviced Mk-I and Mk-III Avro Lancaster Bombers while stationed at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, England. Those birds would not have flown and did the jobs they did without guys like Al. He’s told me some airfield horror stories that I can see still shake him.
It was in England where Al met his future wife Jess.
After the war he did various construction and labour jobs, eventually becoming a Stelco steelworker in Hamilton, and brought Jess to Canada from Scotland. He and Jess lived in the city of Burlington near Oakville for many years before finally selling their house and moving to the Ainslie Wood West neighbourhood. These are people who have seen many changes in the world.
Al is a joker. He can drop one-liners, and tell believable but completely foolhardy stories like a precision machine operating on automatic. He’s got an infectious laugh and a big grin. As he got on in years, he progressively became deaf and legally blind. For the former he has hearing aids but there’s nothing that can be done for his severely diminished vision. He has never been able to come to terms with his blindness. Its hell being a man who has a lot of living to do while his body is slowly shutting down on him but when in the right company he can still muster up a good and completely original wisecrack.
Conversations with Al can also be thought provoking. I’ve known him to often recall memories of birding, enjoying nature photography, cherished experiences and lessons learned through military service, witnessing steel workers, union reps and their bosses abusing each other with impunity, raising two dearly loved children and drinking with old pals.
I’m very impressed with this everyman. He’s a real Hamiltonian. He never became famous or acquired the daily exercised power to affect the fates of many. He just tried to get the most out of life while being careful to not step on anyone in the process. It’s a privilege to have photographed him like this.
Al allowed me to shoot him before this picture but I was never satisfied with those images. He deliberately and patiently posed for me in those, even when he was in McMaster hospital dealing with trouble from his aged heart, but as much as I like posed images, I prefer candids the most. I composed this honest character revealing portrait when he was just being his relaxed self in his den one week before Christmas of 2009. He looks like a tough old guy revealing his rarely seen graceful side.