Barry William Glass was born in North Vancouver in 1933 to William Glass and Winnifred Marr. He went to Britannia High School, where he was a member of the MacMillan Club of Fine Arts. During his years at Britannia, the school staged Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance; he played the sargeant of police. His post-secondary education was at the Vancouver School of Art, from which he graduated in 1958.
He married Audrey Jean Reimer in 1960 and together they had two children: Wendy Lynn and Brenda Janet. (Wendy, sadly, died in 1979 at the age of 19 in an automobile accident). Audrey took a bachelor’s degree from UBC and was a member of the Vancouver Bach Choir and also of her church choir for a number of years.
Glass’s job was Assistant City Planner with the City of Vancouver. His choice of career was a bit peculiar, given his interest in the arts in high school and at VSA. His career choice was probably motivated by a desire to eat regularly.
But his hobby, as a photographer, became a sort of second job. He got his start with his hobby in 1957 during a recital by Jan Peerce held at the Georgia Auditorium. Glass practiced on this occasion what would become his trademark when shooting opera singers; he would use just available light; no flash. He took the photo of Peerce on the sly — without the subject’s permission or awareness.
Glass sent the best of his prints to Peerce in New York City. He responded to Glass with a letter in which the singer invited Glass to look him up next time he was in NYC. Glass did just that and Peerce connected him with Lily Pons, who wanted him to do her photographic portrait in character for what would be her last time playing Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
The first Vancouver International Festival was on at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in 1958. Glass was at the Vancouver School of Art just across the street from QET. He would skip afternoon classes to take in rehearsals at the theatre. This is Glass speaking for a profile in the Sun:
’Since the Festival was new then and there were all kinds of new faces, one more didn’t seem to matter so I wasn’t thrown out. When I showed people what I had taken at the rehearsals, they all seemed impressed so I decided to show Festival director Nicholas Goldschmidt too. From then on I had no trouble. I got a pass and permission to do what I wanted, provided I wasn’t on the stage when the curtain went up.’Vancouver Sun 7 January 1966
Glass’s involvement with the Opera Association (with which he became the official photographer) consumed a great deal of his time. So much so that his wife joined the association in order to see Glass more often. She had a good singing voice and began to get prominent parts in VOA productions. “‘I would like to do this photography full-time . . . but Vancouver isn’t big enough,’” said Glass. (Vancouver Sun, 7 January 1966). (Audrey, who died in 2006, would have a very full career as an opera singer, performing in most opera houses in Canada).
When he saw Joan Sutherland at QET in 1963 in Norma, wearing an orange cloak, Glass knew that a photo of her in the cloak would make a great image for the cover of her forthcoming album. That image by Glass of Sutherland has been re-used many times since it appeared on that album.
Marlene Dietrich was more of a challenge, as she had a strict “no photographs” policy. But he snuck a few shots of her during encores while she was singing in Vancouver, and hoped for the best. She threatened to sue Glass when she learned of his sneaky photos; but she changed her tune when she saw them. Not only did she drop the lawsuit — she personally interceded with Columbia Records to ensure that the photo appeared on the cover of her next album, Dietrich in London (Vancouver Sun, 23 December 1965).
Barry Glass’ life was cut short by a perforated ulcer in 1968 when he was just 34. There is no telling to what heights his photographic portraiture hobby might have taken him had he lived longer.