Noam Gagnon-Bullfighters & Wondrous PolaroidsSaturday, September 29, 2007
In recent years I have simplified my photographic technique and kept it simple. I remember once in actually bragging that I had used 8 different lights for one shoot. At the same time I have kept in mind that we live in a one star system. This means that at any given time when we are outside we will cast only one shadow. If there are any inhabitants in the triple star Centauri System they would cast more than one shadow.
In the last few years I have come to like using a 3x4 ft softbox (a rectangular nylon box with a flash on one end and an opaque nylon cloth through which the flash shoots through). You can see part of it on the right hand side of this first photo which is a scanned b+w Polaroid of dancer/choreographer Noam Gagnon who is one half of the two-person dance group Holy Body Tattoo. The other half is Dana Gingras.
I like to position my subject not too far from my medium gray wall and then I get my 3x4 softbox as close as I can to my subject. Depending on how far from the wall and how near my softbox is, that gray wall can go from almost black to a light gray. If you look carefully at that Polaroid you can see that on Gagnon's right hand side of his face there is a little Rembrandt upside down triangle of light. I like to play with that triangle. I can make it more intense if I ask Gagnon to ever so slightly rotate his nose towards the light on his left hand side. I like the mystery and the drama of this lighting. But it is important that the dark side of the face have a slight light or an indication of it in the eye.
This is my present style. But it clashes completely with the needs of the Georgia Straight which uses cheap newsprint and an economical printer. This means that true blacks usually reproduce as muddy dark grays and so on. They would reject this original Polaroid as they would the 10th exposure (it did not fit into the contact sheet of 9 exposures). I also rejected it as I did not think the portrait was strong enough with the smile. Gagnon recently spent some time in Spain and he told me that there was something of the bullfighter in his three pieces. Of all the shots I took of him the one that I picked is the one that to me looked the most had I photographed a bullfighter and not the dancer. Only in that frame was Gagnon's neck stretched out to look like that elegant bullfighter Paco Camino I so admired in the 60s.
I took one Polaroid for each of the two setups you see here in the original contact sheet of only 9 shots (the 10th exposure did not fit on it). Gagnon and I decided we liked the second setup with the softbox as opposed to avant-gardish ring flash one.
In the contact sheet the x marks the photograph that is running in this week's Georgia Straight. You can see what it looks like by comparing the dark x one with this one which is the one I sent to the Straight.
But with all my recent fiddling with my new Epson V700 scanner that gives me more of the inherent sharpness of my original Polaroid (as opposed to my older Epson 1640SU) I have come to see the Polaroids as objects of beauty.
As you lighten them the background gets an interesting mottling that I like. And when I scan these original b+w Polaroids as four colour they develop a slight cool blue tint that I find charming. This picture on the left is the original Polaroid from the top scanned to my satisfaction. My camera enables me to either use Polaroid (on a Polaroid back) and or film on a film back. Before any portrait session I take a Polaroid first before switching to negative b+w film or colour transparency. More and more, of late, that first Polaroid is becoming my favourite and I don't even shoot straight film anymore.
Noam Gagnon will be appearing next week at the Vancouver Cultural Centre beginning October 2.
An Original, A Facsimile & The Three Miracles At The Wedding at Cana
You see here a scanned b+w negative of Rebecca Stewart my granddaughter posing in my garden while holding the English Rose, Rosa 'William Shakespeare'. When I saw this picture on a contact sheet I thought of the portraits of Alice Liddell by the Reverend Dogson. I sepia toned it with Photo Shop to give it that 19th century look. Then I found under my darkroom enlarger (it sits on an old and massive oak library table), an envelope with five 16x20 inch sheets of Agfa Portriga paper. Before Agfa disappeared a few years ago they had already discontinued this premium paper loved by most of us who printed portraits or landscapes. When you immersed this paper in concentrated solutions of selenium toner, you got what is called split toning. In some areas of the photograph you would get warm tones. These warm tones would be next to cool tones. The overall effect was one that almost looked like three dimensions. You can see the effect in this scan of a smaller Portriga print of a view in VanDusen Botanical Garden. Click on it to see it in more detail.
Because the paper was old my three prints of this picture (and two of another negative) were even more special. The whites were no longer white. They were a dirty white that added something that I could never or will ever be able to duplicate. Those three prints of this negative are originals. But there is one possible solution. Read on.
I have reluctantly signed over the rights to particular photographs of mine only for considerable money or when I have been desperate for it. I remember that the National Film Board called me about 7 years ago and wanted me to take stills for a project of theirs. I was delighted until they asked me if I were willing to hand over my original negatives. I told them that with the digital revolution a scan of an original was as good as the original. They did not buy this. So I did not work for the National Film Board.
I routinely photograph lawyers, writers, artists and I may give them high resolution scans of the photographs. They are happy and I am happy to keep my original slide or negative in my files. To me that negative or slide is the only original.
Today I read about Veronese's The Wedding at Cana which was removed from Venice and taken to France by the victorious Napoleon, who also ended the Venetian Republic. The French have "returned" an exact facsimile, even to the bumps and imperfections of the original. To me this article buried in today's New York Times's arts section is a harbinger of things to come. As it becomes increasingly impossible for art galleries of impoverished nations to pay for the necessary travel insurance to transfer works of arts from one museum to another we are increasingly seeing shows of lesser known masters or lesser known works of those masters. Perhaps only the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York could persuade and pay the insurance so that the Louvre might sent Leonardo da Vinci's La Gioconda.
But all that could change. We in Vancouver will some day gaze on an "exact copy" of La Joconde while not being surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of eager tourists. We will rationalize that this will be better than spending the money (which we might not have) to go to Paris to get a three minute (if we are lucky) glance at the original. As increasingly more people gaze upon "originals" such as the on line versions from the Tate Gallery, as an example, could this be a good thing?
The Real Thing
The Real Thing again
Linda Goes To School & So Do WeFriday, September 28, 2007
Shortly before my mother died in 1973 (she was 62) I remember her telling me, "Alex I have been in school all my life." This is because she had been a teacher until 1970 when her Meniere's Disease completely took away her sense of balance and she became deaf. Her mother Lolita had been a teacher and so was I until I came to Canada in 1975.
Rosemary and I met teaching and we taught in Mexico until we left. In our present family our eldest daughter Ale is now is keeping with the family tradition. She has always wanted to teach native children. She has her wish as half her 10 student kindergarten class, in her new job in a school in Lillooet is native. She moved there in July. I bequeathed to her my hardcover copy of Teaching As A Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner.
On Monday, since both of Lauren and Rebecca's parents were at work, Rosemary and I went to parents-meet-teachers day at L’École Bilingue. We sat on tiny little chairs in Lauren's kindergarten class and both of us experienced a special little thrill to see Lauren's name taped on the floor which marked where she sat. We were amazed at the amount of paper work her teacher has to go through. But we also found out that all the paper stuff that Lauren and Rebecca have to take home is now available by email. In Rebecca's split 5/6 class (Rebecca is in grade 5) we were barely able to comprehend how one teacher went twice a week, another three times a week and that a third taught the class mathematics. I was amazed to find out that these teachers welcomed email communication with parents. I am not sure that as a teacher I would want a meddling parent communicating with me daily (were she that meddling of a parent).
Being in Lauren's class shot me with nostalgia. I remember just about everything I did not only in kindergarten but in pre-kinder in Buenos Aires. In kinder, the famous Diligenti quintuplets (three girls, two boys) were all in my class. I may have been precocious before my time as I distinctly remember lifting the girls' skirts up on a few occasions. I remember fighting to be able to play the sandpaper blocks and being humiliated in having to play the triangle. It was the sissy instrument par exellence. It was in segundo superior (a sort of second grade for somewhat super achievers) were a photographer took our class picture and used a metal pan with phosphorus or magnesium powder. We would line up in lines before entering class and we had to extend our right arm and touch the person in front on the right shoulder and maintain that distance. It was called making distancia. In kidergarten we were given a little bottle of milk and cookies. I do not recall anybody ever having an allergy attack. After our meal we would rest our head on our desk for descanso. Very special to Argentines is the almost universal uniform which is a white smock (much like a nurse's or a doctor's) and it is called a guardapolvo (it literally means, it keeps the dust away). I wore one.
But what I remember the most is the smell of my classrooms. It was combination of the scent of real chalk dust (when blackboards were black and made of slate and not the easy-on-the-eyes green) and the pungent smell of the ink from the inkwells in our desks. And, yes we used papel secante (blotting paper) which had a particular smell of its one. I have some Kodak blotting paper still with which I sometimes dry my photographs. I remember the fear of having the yearly dyptheria vaccine. It was an injection that was on one's spinal column. To this day I will take a pill when given the choice over an injection.
A few years ago my Argentine friends and artists Juan Manuel Sanchez, Nora Patrich and I decided to have a show called Nostalgia. In this show with one model, the lovely Argentine Linda Lorenzo, we dressed her (and undressed her) and modified her looks to suit our fancy. We made her fit our rosy ideas of our past in Buenos Aires and Argentina. It was Nora who suggested the school girl. She found her old school girl guardapolvo (Nora never threw out anything) and we dressed up Linda. We didn't do this in the spirit of that Japanese fetish for schoolgirl uniforms. We genuinely tried to evoke our days in school.
Somehow the extremely curvaceous Linda understood our purpose and managed to look all proper in the uniform and I was delighted to take the shot. I am including a couple more of Linda to show that her talents surpassed our skills.
Carole Taylor -Vancouver Mayor ?Thursday, September 27, 2007
My first direct involvement with politics happened in 1966 when with a Mauser on my shoulder I watched President Arturo Illía go home in a cab. Since then I have taken democracy very seriously. As soon as I became a Canadian citizen I began to vote municipally, provincially and federally. I don't quite understand Canada's parliamentary system. Nor do I understand how the Prime Minister has so much authority to appoint such positions as the Supreme Court Justices without any form of parliamentary check or approval. During an assignment for a local business magazine to cover a Socred convention in Whistler some years past, I was flabbergasted to see how politicians who were not getting the votes that they expected, would "cross the floor" (they had to do this physically and it was patently humiliating) to give support to someone they had loathed and spoken ill of in their speeches.
But I have admired and enjoyed the freedom that our politicians have to move around at will in our city. In his worst moments of unpopularity I waited for Premier Bill Vander Zalm to photograph him with a buddy from Holland (who was into trains) as they inspected CP's rail yard behind the old CP Train Station. Vander Zalm arrived, parked his Volvo across the street on Cordova and before he crossed the street to meet me he put coins into the meter. He was dressed in a smart black leather jacket. There was not one security man in sight.
I enjoy discussing politics with my friends Mark Budgen, Ian Bateson, Abraham Rogatnick and Sean Rossiter. Occasionally my right-wing friend, ex Fraser Institute David Hanley surfaces and he adds to my mix. The first thing I do in the morning when I pick up my Vancouver Sun is to look for Section B to read about Vancouver politics. In Wednesday's Sun I did not find one reference in Section B on the fact that we are living through a long city strike.
To my amazement I read in Allen Garrs'column, titled, Ladner Courted for provincial run, in my Wednesday Vancouver Courier, that there is a big chance that our next mayor will be Carole Taylor. She would not run provincially and her provincial seat would go to the miffed and ignored (Garr was precise in saying that any reference he made to our lofty loonie was not a reference to ",....His Worship") NPA Councillor, Peter Ladner.
This sort of news would make banner headlines in any other big city daily in any part of the world, (It is becoming hard here not to break my rule of never ranting in this blog!) or it would have been mentioned on CBC Radio.
So with Courier in hand I went to get a haircut with my local Kerrisdale hairdresser. I told Richard Jeha what I had read in the paper. He was astounded. Could it be that only in Vancouver would the hairdresser be the last person to hear such news? And, even after this badly uninformed citizen of Vancouver?
Thankfully I could be worse informed. My friend Mark Budgen is a shrewd observer and knows much more than meets the eye. When I called him one day to ask why it was that Allen Garr, an avid bloodhound at the heels of the NPA, had only marginally slapped Ladner's wrist for writing a column about the city strike for the Vancouver Sun (and the Sun should have at least featured a column my a union member to counter Ladner's) he explained to me about the relationships that reporters have with their sources. It sounded like spook speak to me. Budgen said that a reporter's duty is to protect his or her sources, but at any given moment a reporter should be able to let go and burn his or her source when absolutely necessary, if editorial independence is to be maintained. This is why reporters on a city beat (like the Vancouver Sun's Frances Bula) should be re-assigned. If they linger in their beat they lose their independence and become PR pipe lines for their sources. It is Budgen's theory that Ladner is Garr's source at City Hall. Garr was then unwilling to burn Ladner when Ladner wrote that Sun column.
Lisa - The Kitchen Goddess Of The ArchWednesday, September 26, 2007
In the mid 90s and even into the first year of the 21st century a group of four architects (not quite, as one was close to being one but wasn't), one freelance journalist and one Vancouver Sun writer would meet on Thursday early evenings for beer at the Marble Arch. Without getting into trouble I think I can name Sean Rossiter as being the freelance scribe in question. I would occasionally attend these gatherings, bracing myself to tobacco fumigation as a couple of the architects smoked lots. They would order pitchers of beer and talk about golf, sports and comment on the salient attributes of the women on stage. I never did drink and I abandoned pipe and cigar smoking about 15 years ago. But this is the closest I ever got to the idea of male bonding. For me it has been always difficult as I don't fish, golf or do any sports or care for hockey. I felt like an interloper but I was made welcome. I marvelled at how these guys would suddenly know they had had enough to drink and no matter how interesting the conversation or the sizable beauty of the dancer's attributes these guys would stand up and go home. I felt like a wimp as I only drank soda water. If Tony Ricci, the guy who ran the joint, happened to be there we would be unable to pay for any of our drinks. I received unlimited soda waters. Even when Tony wasn't there, Danny the Greek would send a tray of flaming Sambucas our way. We would toast in his direction and down the hatch the concoction went.
Since we were all Canadians, we exercised our male right to eat a hamburger while watching a woman undrape (as they say at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design). We had gained this right by going all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada via our proxy, Gary Taylor, God bless him! The menu was brought by a variety of employees who were in that Never-never land of not being exotics or sassy waitresses. Tony Ricci would have thrown us out if we had ever called any of them servers. After all he had literally hand picked them. So the persons emerging we gave several nicknames and our favorite of all was Lisa The Kitchen Goddess.
She was intelligent, slim and tall. She served us well and when I requested she pose for me in my studio she did. For this photograph I used the unlikely combination of a very sharp and fine grain film called Kodak Technical Pan Film with a terrible, unsharp, single focus box camera called a Bessa with a 6x9 cm format.
Little by little the architects went their separate way. The Arch closed and I have never seen Lisa the Kitchen Goddess again. If Danny is no longer with us I am sure he is serving flaming Sambucas somewhere up there.
Louis de Bernières's Mandolin & The BMW's Advance/Retard LeverTuesday, September 25, 2007
Driving past the Stanley Park rose garden last week on my way to West Vancouver I noticed that some of the roses had not given up yet. Some of them had buds but they will ball up with the recent rain and cooler nights. I saddened at the thought. My melancholy dissipated as I thought of a happier time that happened this week but back in 1995.
I was driving to Horseshoe Bay in a maroon Maserati Bi-turbo and my passenger, the English writer Louis de Bernières, turned from looking at the roses, fingered the single mandolin string we had purchased at Ward Music (then on Hastings) and said through some unspoken chain of connections, "My grandfather, my father, and I all had a bad right leg because of our fascination with motorcycles."
He was speaking to me in the tangential magic realism of his early books (The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, 1990, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord, 1991, Cardinal Guzman, 1992) and has what seems to be a symbolist's fascination for motorcycles, Lee Enfield rifles, his grandfather's life story, and mandolins.
Earlier that day, when I had entered his room at the Holiday Inn on Howe Street, I was surprised to see a case for a flat-bottomed mandolin. De Bernières said: "Yes, there's a mandolin inside it. I have three. I have a nice round-backed Italian one, the sort that slips about. It's a fake Italian one from Czechoslovakia. I have an absolutely exquisite one from Portugal. It's a flat-back and it really sings. Even the bass sings, unusual for mandolins, which are quite trebly. And this is my traveling mandolin. It's a Portuguese imitation from Spain. It has no volume, so it's ideal for hotel rooms." Removing it from the case, he sat down to play Vivaldi's Concerto for Mandolin in C major.
De Bernières was in town to promote his then latest novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin. But at the same time he was taking advantage of this North American leg of his tour to search Nanaimo for traces of his grandfather, who disappeared from England in the 1920s and surfaced in British Columbia in the 1950s. "People ask me if I am going to write about him. He was 96 when he died. He had a long and picaresque life which ranged from Ceylon, Africa, the Northwest frontier, First World War, the RAF in the Second, and so on. I would love to turn it into a novel but my father and my aunt are still alive. I could cause some hurt and upset. Mario Vargas Llosa (the above listed trilogy by de Berniéres reads like translated Vargas Llosa on acid) upset his relatives with Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. So did Isabel Allende. Maybe they think that art is more important. I don't."
He explains in obscure fragments, how his grandfather ended up in B.C. "My grandfather had a misunderstanding with his daughter, my aunt. He thought she was going to get married in New Zealand. He waited and waited to hear from her and didn't. As it happened she had not married and had stayed where she was in England. It was a futile misfortune." Searching for his daughter, whom he never heard from again, de Bernières's grandfather came to Canada.
Quiet and self-effacing, de Bernières rarely volunteered information. His remark on his family's fascination with motorcycles came only when I asked him why he had so painstakingly described a BMW motorcycle's advance/retard lever in Captain Corelli's Mandolin. When I asked him if he played the mandolin because he was a failed violinist, he replied, "I did play the violin for a while and my cat would howl, but no. I played classical and flamenco guitar until I damaged the ligaments of my hands." While talking about Spanish Guitars, de Bernières confided: "The three members of the military junta in Don Emanuel are named after the three most famous guitar-makers in Spain. And that Canadian poet living on a Greek Island in Captain Corelli's Mandolin is your Leonard Cohen."
As I dropped off de Bernières at the ferry terminal I wondered (and still wonder) whether I'd ever find out how his grandfather(not to mention his father and himself) hurt his leg with a motorcycle. I hoped then and hope now, that he might risk offending his father and aunt. We would be richer for it.
Jim Cummins - Avant-garde ForeverMonday, September 24, 2007
When I took this picture of artist and musician Jim Cummins a.k.a. Braineater in October 1983 I may have taken my first photograph where I was aware that a single photograph sometimes could not tell a story or paint a true picture. Cummins posed for me and when he raised his hands I saw the most beautiful hands I had ever seen on anybody. Cummins's studio (he moved as often as his studio's frozen rents were unfrozen) on Water Street, where it intersects with Cordova, had white brick walls. I had an idea. I asked him if I were to make an 11x14 inch print if he would finish it for me. He accepted the challenge while I convinced Vancouver Magazine art director Rick Staehling that this photo would need a joint photo credit. Soon after this photo illustration appeared I hired Cummins to paint both my daughters (Ale and Hilary, seen here)individually. He demanded that I give him some snapshots.
I counter demanded that he at least photograph them if he were going to work from photographs. This he did. I have both paintings (very large) home on the wall and when I look at them I think of the man with the beautiful hands. I think of the man that I run into on Robson Street quite frequently. He is always generous, polite, warm and as friendly as can be. Can it be that the avant-garde can also be defined as generous, polite, warm and friendly? My guess is that it can. Cummins has stuck to his principles of what his music and art should be. He has fun doing it.
If you happen to recognize him on Robson, look at his hands.
The 11x14 finished print of Jim Cummins hangs in the darkest corner of my basement. I don't want too much light to hit it. Without realizing the worth of an archival image I gave Cummins an early Ilford Multigrade resin coated photographic print to work on. While I have always properly washed all my photographs the archival state of this print is in doubt. It looks perfect today. Tomorrow (or soon) I will have the image drum scanned and saved as a digital file.
Safe & Sound In CelestúnSunday, September 23, 2007
As summer wanes and we think about turning on the furnace I gaze upon this picture of Rebecca and think of the warm (hot, why not?) days we had in our July vacation in Texas and Yucatán. I long for them.
When Rosemary, Rebecca and I were in Mérida, Yucatán we had been forewarned by Hilary (my daughter and Rebecca's mother) not to even think about going to a beach. She particularly pointed out Can Cun. Hilary had read too many newspaper reports of Canadians being murdered there. Rosemary had indicated we might have taken a bus from Mérida (facing the Gulf of Mexico with its port of Puerto Progreso) to the seaside resort of Cancun, west in the state of Quintana Roo on the Caribbean. Foreign tourists avoid the placid and extremely shallow beaches of Puerto Progreso. There is no surf and one has to wade in luke warm waters for a long stretch before hitting the deep end.
Luckily our hotel, Casa del Balam had an excellent little pool that Rebecca enjoyed several times a day and helped cool her down from the near 40 degree temperatures and a relative humidity that always exceeded 90%. But we did manage to hit a beach once. We visited the Biósfera de Celestún not too far from Puerto Progreso and facing what is the fuzzy demarcation between the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. These biospheres are areas that the Mexican government has set aside to protect the flora and fauna of the region. This particular one in Celestún featured thousands of flamingos. Rebecca enjoyed the flamingos. Not far from the site was the small town of Celestún with a long beach of white sand. Just like in Puerto Progreso the waters were shallow. It was horribly hot and there was not one palm tree to be seen or a beach umbrella to be rented. I enquired as to the why. A fisherman pointed at a nearby lighthouse. It looked like a miniature version of the Tower of Pisa. Unwilling to fight the elements but unwilling to move to safer grounds the inhabitants of Celestún live and survive through all those hurricanes we in Vancouver read about with the detachment that comes from geographic distance.
I took the above picture of Rebecca in one of the few places I found that had some shade. I used my swivel lens panoramic camera, a frequently under performing peace of equipment. This time around it surprised me with clarity and drama (a yellow filter helped) and I don't have to wonder how Celestún braved the hurricanes that followed. I am sure the inhabitants simply shrugged their shoulders and hunkered down.
Pannekoeks, John Dys & His Wooden ShoeSaturday, September 22, 2007
My Rebecca will eat sushi anywhere and anytime. The same applies to pancakes, specially the thin Dutch variety called pannekoeks. Rosemary and I take her and Lauren to the Dutch Wooden Shoe Cafe on Cambie. Rebecca and Lauren frequently go with their parents. Besides the delicious pannekoeks (Rebecca has a fondness for the cinammon and confectionery topping) she enjoys the warm bantering of owner John Dys who is in the kitchen but is always there to greet patrons. It was John Dys who founded the De Dutch Pannekoek franchise.
By a convenient coincidence we in Argentina have our own version of Dutch pancakes. We like them big and we like them thin. We call them panqueques. We slather them with butter and dulce de leche. Sometimes we layer them with apples and burnt sugar, German style. Whenever Lauren and Rebecca sleep over I must (I need not be nagged on this) make panqueques for breakfast. When possible we have a jar of Argentine San Ignacio Dulce de Leche handy. But both Lauren and Rebecca opt for the confectionery sugar and cinnamon. It's hard to break that Dutch Wooden Shoe combination of John's.
Dickens, Phiz, My Father & Ronald ColmanFriday, September 21, 2007
A tired Rosemary arrived a bit late yesterday. It was 6:30. I told her I didn't have time to cook because there was a good movie starting that minute. We each poured some milk on cereal (her unhealthy variety was Kellog's Frosted Flakes and mine was Kellog's Corn Pops) and sat down to watch the wonderful tear jerker Random Harvest (1942) with Ronald Colman and Grier Garson. This was the second time for me as I saw it in my youth with my father and mother in BA. But I wasn't old enough to appreciate the supporting acting of Susan Peters. She would have been a star had it not been for a hunting rifle accident that pierced her spine in 1945. She starved herself pourposely to death in 1952.
The film cried to be in colour as various references are made by Coleman on Grier Garson's red hair. As I watched the film with Rosemary I was hit by a tremendous nostalgia for my father who sported a Ronald Colman moustache and had a voice that was almost as good.
The only object that I inherited from my father and has some of his presence, is his copy of the King James Bible which has half his signature, the other half somehow was torn out. But I did inherit, too, a quarto Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities with illustrations by "Phiz". On the front page I can see my father's name and date 1939.
But I have never been fooled. I can spot my mother's Manila nun's school handwriting every time.
I cannot remember how many times Hilary and I have watched Ronald Colman and listened to him say the last lines in, A Tale of Two Cities.
"It is far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done: it is a far better rest that I go than I have ever known." And both of us cry every time.
I have never told Hilary that I remember my father reading those lines to me. He often read to me in bed. And I remember the line that precedes them in the book:
...and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.
In spite of all that I have never heard Colman read the complete sonnets of William Shakespeare (all 154 of them) from my two-cassette set. Once I listened to them in bed making believe it was my father. By the time Colman said, matter-a-factly, "Ten, (pause) For shame deny that thou bear'st love to any,
Who for thy self art so unprovident." I fell asleep.
Sweet Juliet & A Burden To BearThursday, September 20, 2007
Waking up to a cool rainy day has a way of cooling off one's enthusiasm. I went into the garden and noticed that the English Rose, Rosa 'Sweet Juliet' was telling me, in few words, that she liked her new location in the garden. She had flowered well in the past inside a large pot by the pond. This year I moved her nearby, but into the ground. She has grown tall, and even as fall beckons she is in bloom with many buds promising even more to come. The flowers are not as large as they are in the summer but the sweet smell (similar to Rosa 'Maiden's Blush') is all there. Her fragrance dissipated my melancholy.
As I looked at Sweet Juliet I thought into the future (a near one, perhaps?) when we will have to leave our house and move into a smaller one. Surely one of my daughters will want my roses. The hostas I will give to VanDusen as a collection. Rosemary will have to handle her perennials. Perhaps I will not be around for this sad occasion if my wish to make a quick exit via a clean and residue-less vaporization is realized.
The fleeting presence of Sweet Juliet made me think of all those watch ads I have noticed in the New York Times of late. They advertise $3000 watches with all sorts of complications. My 20 year-old Filipino Timex keeps ticking (whirring?) on and I need a loupe to check the date but the time is accurate and visible. Even though there is something of the Argentine left in me I have no desire for a Rolex on my wrist. Sweet Juliet made me think of all the belongings we have amassed in our years on Athlone Street and the difficulty of having to move without them. The burden of possession is a burden that is hard to bear.
I think of Brother Edwin Reggio C.S.C., who in his youth would have been sent from here to there at a moment's notice. It would all have been easy. A couple of pairs of shoes, a bible, some shirts, trousers and a shaving kit, would all have fit in a suitcase and he would have been ready to go. There was (for me it was only a passing fancy, even though I considered it) an attraction to that calling. I would have been reaping the benefits now had I answered it. The burden of possessions would certainly have been a lighter one.
But then I think of Rebecca and (now) Lauren as I take in the fragrance of Sweet Juliet. I think of what Dag Hammarskjöld wrote in his autobiographical Markings
What makes loneliness an anguish
Is not that I have no one to share my burden,
I have only my burden to bear.
And I consider myself fortunate.
Ray Spaxman, Bill Yee & All Those Other Fine MenWednesday, September 19, 2007
Between 1973 and 1989 Ray Spaxman, a practicing architect and planner in England before moving to Toronto (where he was a city planner) was Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver. He is credited with changing the direction of development of our city and bringing more public participation and community engagement into the planning process.
Starting in 1977 I started contributing photographs to Sean Rossiter's civic affairs column 12th & Cambie which appeared monthly in Malcolm Parry's Vancouver Magazine. On any given day that I might go to the old office on Hornby Street (a third of a block on the south east side and south of Nelson Street I remember one day seeing a most elegantly handsome man posing for photographer James La Bounty in Mac Parry's office. Behind the man, architect Arthur Erickson, were some buildings that soon would make way for his vision of Robson Square and the Law Courts. That day Erickson could have easily played either Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett in a film. On other days I might find Max Wyman or Daniel Gutstein, who with Rossiter wrote on city development and housing. Or I might find a theatre actor or writer Ben Metcalf. It seemed that Vancouver Magazine's door was open to those who cared for our city and worked for making it what it has become today. And Parry never was that much of an elitist. For one memorable Christmas party in the 80s (by then the magazine had moved to Davie and Richards he had personally invited as many prostitutes as he could find on the street that evening. It was at that Christmas party where I saw my first ever punch bowl fountain and realized that the Playboy Magazine cartoons, of their Christmas issue, were based on fact.
Some of us made jokes about Rossiter's obsession in writing about Spaxman. No matter the subject I was assigned to photograph the man. After a few sessions with Spaxman I understood Rossiter's enthusiasm. I am including here only four of the many more that I took of the man. The b+w was the last one and the gentle (but extremely tall) Spaxman posed by my side garden gate.
I thought he needed some texture so I lent him my electric blue knit sweater that Rosemary had given me for my birthday.
I remember one special day in the middle 80s when I had photographed Alderman Bill Yee in the morning. In the 80s aldermen were aldermen. We had hit it off and he invited me to attend to the opening of a new Chinese restaurant that evening. I did not know what the evening had in store for me. When I arrived, with my illustrator friend Ian Bateson, there was a large round table. There were a few more aldermen, besides Yee, and the city clerk. And there was not only Ray Spaxman but also Vancouver City Engineer Fritz Bower who instantly reminded me of Wernher von Braun.
I had lived too many years in Latin American countries where we considered that all in politics were corrupt. Sitting at the table with these men (they were all men) who seemed to be philosopher kings had me in awe. The conversation was stimulating even though the 13th or 14 course was a most difficult to eat sea cucumber.
As I look back on those years I know I received a rare glimpse into the formation and planning of Vancouver. I saw Ray Spaxman a few weeks back. He was still the gentle man and he had the look of enthusiasm and love for the polis. A few months before I ran into Bill Yee at the Floata Restaurant in Chinatown. He is now an immigration judge. Vancouver has been blessed with these men but then there was May Brown and Darlene Marzari, and Shirley Chan, and Carole Taylor.....
After I had photographed Bill Yee I had returned to Vancouver Magazine. Equity Magazine was publishing out of the same location.
I went into editor Harvey Southam's office and told him, "Today I photographed a man who could be Vancouver's first ethnic mayor." Southam looked at me, and with a smile on his face he replied, "Not while we are around."
The Hose, The Fence & The ChainMonday, September 17, 2007
The bars of chapultepec are good for you. But only for you.
Are they painted red? No, no.
Are they painted blue? No, no.
Are they painted green? Yes, yes.
My poet/novelist/environmental friend Homero Aridjis in his novel ¿En quién piensas cuando haces el amor? The title of this untranslated book would be "In whom do you think of when you make love?") writes of a not too distant future in which Mexico City's most famous park, Chapultepec Park, is mentioned by one of the protagonists as "el ex-Bosque de Chapultepec.
Rosemary and I had picnics in this park in the late 60s. We marvelled at the old ancient Taxodium mucronatum called ahuehuetes or simply cypresses by Mexicans. These trees were around during the conquest of Tenochtitlan by Cortés and his hordes. Now they are dying (note colour photograph) because Mexico City's high pollution levels.There is one famous song that mentions the ornate wrought iron bars that surround sections of the park. It is called Las Rejas de Chapultepec.
Las rejas de chapultepec
son buenas son buenas
Nomas para usted
Las rejas de chapultepec
Las rejas de chapultepec
Son buenas son buenas
Nomas para usted
Estan pintadas de rojo? No no
Estan pintadas de azul? No no
Estan pintadas de verde? Si si
Sometime in 1974 I posed by them with Ale and Hilary. I think Rosemary snapped the picture. At night the police would close all entry to the park with heavy chains. The chains have not prevented the Mexico City smog from all but killing those cypresses to Aridjis's dismay.
My first question when I arrived in Vancouver and drove through Stanley Park was, "When does it close?" The question was lost to most of the Canadians I asked. Most thought I was joking. They, being Canadian, had no concept of a chained public park. My wife Rosemary has helped me appreciate the varied splendor of our parks, specially the botanical ones of VanDusen, Nitobe Memorial Garden and the UBC Botanical Garden. We have gone on many a walk. One of our favourites is going through the huge collection of rhododendrons of the UBC Botanical Garden. Since this is a true botanical garden it does have gates and a fence, something I am familiar with. But there are places inside where you lose sight of the city and you feel you are surrounded by wilderness. I took the above Widelux (a 35mm swivel lens panoramic camera) picture with Kodak Infrared film. It was only when I was getting ready to print it that I noticed the hose.
To me it is a fine Canadian touch. You don't tame a wilderness with metal chains. A hose will suffice. Strange as it may seem, my Brockville, Ontario born wife saw her first totem pole in Chapultepec Park.
Note: To those why may have not noticed the maximum width of photographs in this blog cannot exceed five inches. But if you click on the image and wait, just a bit, the image will be larger. While keeping your mouse cursor on the image a button on the bottom appears with arrows, click on them and the image will enlarge further.
More Homero Aridjis
And Even More Homero Aridjis
The Great Gatsby, Tim Bray & The Mayan Long Count
Saturday night Rebecca and I went to EDAM and enjoyed an intimate combination of avant-garde dance, contact improvisational dance and some modern ballet. We had (she did as I had miso) some sushi at Kishu Island Japanese Restaurant on Main and Broadway and then we came home. She was sleeping over as was her sister Lauren. When we arrived I picked up the New York Times that was at the door (it was 10:30) and I told Rebecca (not for the first time), "I am going to read tomorrow's newspaper today." I showed her the date which was yesterday's. She looked perplexed and said nothing.
There is a memorable scene in Jack Clayton's 1974 film The Great Gatsby where an immaculately dressed Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford) walks with someone else (I don't remember) down the side of a swimming pool in a late and sunny afternoon. One of them says to the other, "It was a great summer." When I saw this movie that statement affected me with a shock of emotion. It was sometime in 1975 and we had just arrived in Vancouver.
In my formative years in Buenos Aires I lived through four distinct seasons. Most memorable in my memory was spring. In September the city's jacarandás would all be that rare and brilliant blue. Once we moved to Mexico City the four seasons faded into two. One was a rainy season and the other the dry one. The mountains of the Mexico City valley were either green or brown to mark the seasonal difference. The zompantle (sometimes called a colorín) or Erythrina americana 'Miller', which we planted in our garden to enjoy its bright red flowers, would bloom sporadically all year, undecided and probably confused when spring would arrive.
It was finally in Vancouver, 32 years ago where the four seasons defined themselves to me in complete distinction, one from the other.
When people ask me, "How was your summer?" I usually reply simply with a, "Just fine." What I really want to say is far more complicated and it might upset them. I would say that as a freelancer and a person who does not go to school the seasons mean little to me as does the concept of the weekend. I work when there is work. And when I don't work I don't rest as I worry about getting work.
With the advent of Sunday shopping and 24 hour stores, for me the idea of a seven day week has completely erroded. My concept of time, 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week and 30 days in a month, has changed.
One person who seems to have adjusted is my friend Tim Bray. Don't ask me what he does. He says he works for Sun Microsystems. He was involved in the making of a computer language called XML. He travels the world and sometimes talks to the spooks in Langley, Virginia. Bray has a web log (he would never call it a blog) ongoing. Its content is usually over my head in complexity but every once in a while nice photographs appear and I understand some of the subjects. Bray's web log reflects the activity of a man who gets more text messaging than emails and whose sense of time, in relation to mine is even more radical. The idea of writing a diary with multiple entries during the day would be alien to a Victorian diarist. I might extend one of my blogs with an addendum (usually when I have made a mistake and someone fires off an indignant correction) but Bray has it all figured out. His blog is one long fragment of fragments. He calls each entry a fragment. His web log has no beginning that I can figure out. Could it be that Bray has figured the Mayan long count?
The Epson V700 & Charlie The Guardian AngelSunday, September 16, 2007
Four years ago my business as a photographer was floundering a tad. My wife Rosemary wanted me to scrap my film cameras and buy digital. I was thinking of the learning curve, the stiff investment in money I didn't have to buy the new equipment, and I was afraid of the unknown. My friend Paul suggested I buy a new computer and perhaps a scanner. Even that was a scary unknown. At the time I had a simple computer and I wrote articles for magazines and newspapers on Eudora, an email program. I was afraid of Word. Nick Rebalski at the Vancouver Sun thought it all very funny but he managed to edit my Eudora files.
With Paul I went to a little shop on Bridgeport Road in Richmond and we ordered a computer by components. It was a stripped down computer designed to be used with a scanner. I bought a scanner, an Epson Perfection 1640 SU. One of my students from Focal Point came over and within a few minutes I was scanning film. It took a while for me to figure it out. It was a long time before I could remove dust specs from my scans. While the scanner was a good one, its soon evident limitations goaded me to find roundabout ways for solutions. These solutions became new techniques. I discovered that the combination of film/prints with the scanner (representing the digital world) gave me results that were unique. They were unique in that they could not be replicated in the darkroom or with Photoshop and a digital camera. They represented a third way. That $400 scanner liberated me and made me competitive. That $400 scanner made me adventurous. In recent months I have been taking one Polaroid (and not other film, just one shot) of my photographic subjects and gone home to scan it. In the past I would have rarely shot one exposure of film and retired the session. Now I am willing to do the same with film. My subject arrives at the studio. We converse and then we take that one shot. It is exhilarating! Perhaps because it is scary.
But to remain competitive one has to be ahead of the times (in my retro film/scanner way). The 1640 with its 1200 dpi rating was more that sufficient to satisfy my editorial needs. But I needed a scanner with a more acute tolerance for film flatness. I have found it in my new Epson V700 that arrived a couple of days ago courtesy of a guardian angel by the name of Charlie.
Rosa 'Chapeau de Napoleón' & Celia Duthie On ElbaSaturday, September 15, 2007
This old moss rose reminds me of my friend Celia Duthie. The rose is sometimes called Chapeau de Napoleón because it resembles his tri cornered hat. It reminds me of Celia because I feel that she is in exile on Saltspring Island. She is away from Vancouver where she was one of the women that made our city a vibrant one. We need women like Celia I think of her as being in exile on Elba. She is bound to return.
When you rub your fingers on the "moss" of this rose your fingers smell, startibly of pine resin.
Shay Kuebler - Tap Shoe & A PolaroidFriday, September 14, 2007
Dancer Shay Kuebler walked into my studio last week and with much excitement he pulled a couple of shoes from a bag. "I want to show some of the many things I do, he said. "I dance with my street shoes and I love my tap shoes." I had never seen a tap shoe except during a performance. I wasn't aware there was so much metal in one. I thought that dancers nailed old Coke caps to their shoes.
What you see here is the first photo I took. It is a Polaroid test. I use Polaroids before I switch to "real" film. But a scanned Polaroid is a thing of beauty. At least I think so.
Daisy Duck On Lougheed Highway & Willingdon AvenueThursday, September 13, 2007
In late October 1979, stopped at a light on Lougheed Highway and Willingdon Avenue, I could feel the stares from other cars. The reason was my passenger, Daisy Duck. Vancouver's 9th Empress was applying lipstick on his lips. The idea of two men with moustaches holding hands on Davie Street (pretty common then) was completely alien to we who lived in Burnaby, so the sight of an orange-wigged drag queen was even more startling.
Yet the burgeoning gay scene of Vancouver had been kind to my photographic career. Earlier that month, I had come to the realization that I needed a studio flash system. So I went to my local Bank of Montreal, on Willingdon and Hastings, and explained to the dour, gray-haired, Scottish loan officer that I wanted $2000. "What do you propose to offer as collateral?" she asked. I placed on her desk a thick pile of Bi-Lines , a gay tabloid published by Ron Langen in Vancouver between 1978 and 1979. She eyed the centrefolds. With a barely perceptible smile she said: "I see you sometimes used a fine Scottish name as a nom de plume." In the earlier issues of Bi-Line, my photos had been credited to Strut McPherson.
My first use of the new flash system was to photograph Daisy Duck and the Halloween show at BJ's, the gay basement club at 339 West Pender (the building, a heritage site was purchased years later by Mark James) that operated between Dec. 4, 1970 to Oct. 17, 1982. For some years my pre-teen daughter, Ale, would show the pictures, such as the one here, to her friends with the challenge to guess which one was the only woman.
During the late '70s and early '80s, before the AIDS plague changed it all, it was fashionable for straights to go on gay club/pub crawls. These included the Shaggy Horse, the Luv-a-Fair and the Gandy Dancer. The more daring would attend the mid-afternoon tea parties at the venerable Faces on the corner of Seymour and Robson. But for real fun, the reviews at BJ's couldn't be topped. My faves were the elaborately staged and lip-synced versions of Blondie songs like Heart of Glass.
Until BJ's closed, I would often go to co-owner Brian to borrow costumes for my shoots. In 1982, I photographed Art Bergmann and his band Poisoned at BJ's. Art was going through a gay/glam period. I remember Sam Feldman (Art's music agent in Vancouver at the time.) being shocked at my pictures. "They look like fags," he said.
I last saw Brian at a photography course I taught for Emily Carr's outreach program in B.C.'s interior in 1989. Brian was one of my students. He winked at me and in a whisper told me: "This is a quiet community, so I would appreciate your discretion." Sometime in 1999 showing my pictures to Jim the former DJ at BJ's he informed me that Daisy was no longer with us as we looked back on what to both of us were far rosier times.
And when Ale's friends would give up, she would say, "The woman is at the bottom row, right."
Balthus, Helen & A Hole In The GroundWednesday, September 12, 2007
On Tuesday, February 20, 2001 I was profoundly affected by a little picture on the top right of the Living Arts section of the New York Times. I discovered a man the day he died.
In the early 60s I was studying engineering at the University of the Americas in Mexico City. I was having problems diferentiating among resistance, capacitance and inductance. I was no better at strength of materials. Engineering was not to be my career. I spent most of my time drinking strong coffee with my painter (very bohemian) friend Robert Hijar whose parents worked for the CIA. Robert had loads of girlfriends who seemed to spend days (and nights) with him in studios and lofts. They were not interested in my talk of slide rules and Brownian movement. I could not ride Robert's artistic coat tails. I was completely ignorant on all things art. A friend of Robert's asked me once, "Have you heard Carmina Burana?" I innocently and stupidly replied, "No, who's she?" With Robert we went to baroque concerts in old Mexico City churches and museums or we listened to avant-garde music or jazz at the Benjamin Franklin Library. I learned to love the smell of paint at the large studio at the university where Robert painted. I began to appreciate art. I even met his teacher Gunther Gerzso. It was Robert who taught me to develop and print film. I owe him my artistic life as well as my profession.
But in spite of Robert my comprehension of art history has been spotty in many places. On that Tuesday, February 20, 2001 Balthus struck deep in my brain and became an inspiration. I had no previous knowledge of him but I made up for lost time.
I cut out the article called Giuliani, Meet Balthus: Trying to Root Out 'Obscenity'. From that point on I have read everything I could get my hands on about the mysterious count who was no count. I bought his books, when I could find them, as many bookstores refused to carry them. I read about his infamous 1934 painting The Guitar Lesson which had not been exhibited or seen by anyone for years. As you can see here the internet cut to the chase and made it instantly viewable.
I told my model friend Helen and she was interested in doing some b+w approximations of some of Balthus's paintings. We chose the Marble Arch Hotel as our headquarters for the session.
Much has been said about Balthus's choice of models. Fortunately Helen was over 30 so there were no young girl undertones in our photo sessions. Of these undertones I am reading with interest. Yesterday I found Vanished Splendors - A Memoir - Balthus As told to Alain Vircondelet as a used but pristine first edition at Tanglewood Books. For a couple of years before Balthus died in 2001 his friend had chats with him which were painstakinly recorded. The book is a long (made up of short little chapters) look into the mind of this remarkable painter. Here is Chapter 10
No one thinks about what painting really is, a skill like that of a laborer or farmer. It's like makaing a hole in the ground. A certain physical effort is needed in relation to the goal one sets for oneself. It is a discernment of secrets and illegible, deep, and distant paths that are timeless.
In this sense modern painting has failed. I knew Mondrian well, and miss what he depicted early on, some fine trees for example. He looked at nature and knew how to paint it. And then one day he fell into abstraction. On a lovely day toward evening, when the light was barely starting to fade, I went to see him with Giacometti. Alberto and I looked at the magnificence happening outside the window, a setting of twilight glow. Mondrian pulled the shades, saying he didn't want to see it anymore. I always regretted his transformation and upheaval.
Later Compositions of modern art were assembled by pseudo-intellectuals who neglected nature, and became blind to it. That's why I always fiercely relied on my own resources and the notion that painting is, above all, a technique, like sawing wood, or making a hole somewhere, in a wall or the ground.
Marble Arch 2
Marble Arch 3
Marble Arch 4
Marble Arch 5
And One More
Sean Rossiter - Model CitizenTuesday, September 11, 2007
Sixty-year old Halifax native Sean Rossiter's interests are varied. From July 1975's Spartacus on the Fairview Slopes Rossiter wrote 110 monthly "12th & Cambie" columns on civic affairs for Vancouver Magazine until his last in August 1991: Fire & Speed about Russian MIG test pilot Valery Menitzki. City Politicians in the know automatically went to Vancouver's last page to read Rossiter's column. Fire & Speed revealed an interest close to his heart: airplanes. In 1996 Rossiter published his first airplane book, The Immortal Beaver- The World's Greatest Bushplane and another Otter & Twin Otter. Rossiter (an old time goalie since he was 35) has written books on hockey and, Douglas & McIntyre has just published City Making In Paradise - Nine Decisions That Saved Vancouver by Mike Harcourt and Ken Cameron with Sean Rossiter. When he is not writing, Rossiter builds model airplanes. Here he is with his favourite. ("For many years the Hasegawa 2-scale Boeing P-26 was the best that I had ever assembled. It is the epitome of colourful interwar Air Corps paint schemes.") He built his first model, a Lindberg Line Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Ottawa in 1955.
The above has appeared in the September issue of VLM.
Nelson Skalbania & My Radeon 9550Monday, September 10, 2007
The Radeon™ 9550 delivers an exceptional visual experience for the value minded gamer and PC enthusiast. With 128 bit and DDR memory and impressive processor speed of its innovative .13micron visual processing unit (GPU), the Radeon™ 9550 takes you to a world of lush graphics with a stutter free experience. Its 4 pixel rendering pipelines with a fill rate of 1.0 giga-pixels per second combine to deliver dramatic image detail which adds to great 3D game play and a immersive video playback experience!
The device on the left, a Radeon 9550, is called a video card. Neither a video card nor the substantially more important mother board of my computer resemble either a card or a board as much as resembling each other. My video card looks like a small mother board. Those of us who don't know would probably call them circuit boards.
This particular video card is the one that made my computer fail more than a week ago. For months I had suspicion that something was wrong as I had fine, pale vertical yellow lines going through my screen on anything that was completely white. When the card finally failed (but not completely) my computer only worked on safe mode. I quickly realized that my business of photography was at a standstill. On safe mode the scanner and printer did not work. Without a scanner I could not send by email pictures to my clients. Without the printer I could not print out my invoices on letterhead which I then sign, scan and send by email for usually quick payment. But most obvious was setting up appointments to photograph people who were either very busy and or out of town. A phone will do in some cases but I had the difficult task of nailing down three very busy persons, ex premier Mike Harcourt, Darlene Marzari and Shirley Chan to show up at the same place, at the same time and on the same day. Fortunately my email worked. Years ago when I had to do these multiple persons in one single photograph the most difficult task was never the taking of the photograph as getting the people to show up.
Before email (I did not log on until January 1995 and my email was the whimsical email@example.com)on July 30, 1990 I had to resort to the then state of the art fax to communicate with busy politicians, actors, actresses and businessmen. One in particular I had been told I had a slim chance of getting to pose. Nelson Skalbania was aware that an unflattering article was being written for a Toronto business paper called the Financial Times.
I faxed (typed on and printed by a Smith Corona PWP 3000 word processor/typewriter) this letter to Skalbania. He promptly granted me a sitting
Charles Campbell, Schwannomas & An Elopement Garden PartySunday, September 09, 2007
When Rebecca asked me, "Why does Charles have that scar on his face?" I was hit by a barrage of emotion as I remembered a photograph I had taken of Charles Campbell in my living room in April of 1997.
Rebecca asked me this at the tail end of a lovely garden party at the house of Maja Grip and Jack MacDermot which celebrated their recent elopement. Many of our mutual friends were there including a "very tall and fit man with a bald head and a funny name you are going to like Rebecca, his name is Oraf." Paul and Audrey Grescoe were there and I always love to chat with them. The blood in their veins is a fifty fifty blend of blood and pressed magazine juice. We talked magazines, books, editors (specially Mac Parry).
The food was as good as home made food can get. Rebecca thinks Maja is a gourmet cook and I would not disagree with her. This was most evident in the end when Maja handed us little cones of lavender/honey and black pepper/lime ice cream. Jack and Maja's invite announced their party as a champagne tea (I would argue with Maja that Champagne had to be capitalized). Jack offered me some Spanish bubbly but I informed him that was not Champagne. He immediately corrected his error (those frugal Scots) and poured me some of the real thing.
But the best part of the party was seeing my granddaughters playing with Charles and Lainé's daughter Calla. There is something idyllic in seeing children (particularly little girls) play in a garden while oblivious of the presence of adults conversing amongst them with drinks in hand. It was what a late summer party should be. But I thought of Rebecca's question.
I would assert that half the photographs of artists, dancers, singers, politicians, environmentalists that are the bulk of my very large photo files came from Georgia Straight assignments when Charles Campbell was editor. Campbell went to political rallies, PR movie functions, theatre, ballet, etc. He was an editor (unique in our city) who had a real perception of the pulse of our city. Vancouver needs somebody like him. While he was editor I remember conversing with a depressed John Lekich. I told John, "Let's find a blond for you to write about and that I can photograph and you will feel better." We went to Campbell who looked at us a dubiously and then said, "Do it." We did.
Sometime in early 1997 Campbell noticed a loss of feeling in his face. He became worried and saw a doctor. After many tests they determined that he had a schwannoma , which is a tumor (almost always benign) afflicting the Schwann cells that make up the nerve sheath. This tumor was lodged behind Campbell's upper nose and between his eyes. To remove the tumor a surgeon had to enter Campbell's mouth and "scoop" the tumor out. This was an extremely dangerous operation.
Campbell showed up at my door wanting me to photograph his face before surgeons took it appart and, besides,(left unsaid but I understood) my pictures could be his last. After the successful operation the tumor was found to be cancerous. To date Campbell is just fine and able to smile at life even though his father recently died at age 96.
Perhaps it all has to do with seeing your daughter play in a garden party while surrounded by friends. Photograph of Calla, Lauren and Rebecca by Charles Campbell.
Addendum by Charles Campbell:
To remove the tumour the surgeon had to cleave his face open from his eye to his mouth, poke a hole in his cheekbone, go through his sinuses and scoop the tumour out of the middle of his head." They didn't do that in the first surgery, even though I was told they would; they went in under my lip so I wouldn't have a scar, but they did the full-on scar-leaving thing the second time.
Dad died last Sunday at 93.
And a further correction: Jack MacDermot states that as an Irishman he is not frugal about his Champagne. He further stated that he bought one real bottle of Champagne for me and that on the question of Scots and the Irish we Bolivians should know our geography better.
Tara Jean Wilkin, An Actor Not An AviatrixSaturday, September 08, 2007
Some 28 years ago I was sunning myself on Wreck Beach when I met a lovely young woman who introduced herself, "Hi, I am Jill and I am an actor." I found it most strange that a woman would call herself and actor and stranger still that Jill Daum (soon to be a prominent local actress some years ago) would consider being an actress with a very thick lisp. Jill persevered, went for speech therapy and corrected her lisp. Looking back I can see that she was one of the first to want to eliminate the gender bias of her profession. Through Jill I went on to meet her friend Maurice Depas of Maurice and the Cliches fame.
Now all sorts of actors and actors (of the female kind) come to my studio for photography sessions. One of my recent favourites was Tara Jean Wilkin who arrived in my studio with this dress and a charming smile.
But I still don't like this thing about actors, after all, if the trend persists I shall never be able to use one of my favourite words of the English language, aviatrix.
Aja In Mark Budgen's TubFriday, September 07, 2007
This picture of Aja (pronounced asia)taken in Mark Budgen's Strathcona home was the very first where I explored the photographic possibilities of the tub. The tub has been a very important part of my life specially since my wife Rosemary would not think of living a day without one. If I ever had money I would build a house which centered around a bathtub. Rosemary would perhaps smile more than she does now. The tub would be large enough and long enough so that Rosemary would be able to read the Vancouver Sun on her end while I tackled the New York Times on my end. There would be some sort of nearby platform where we would place our breakfast which would consist of 3 minute and 45 second soft boiled eggs, toast (hers with margarine and mine with European cultured and unsalted butter), her cup of coffee and mine of extra strong Strathspey Ceylon and our juices. Rosemary favours mango juice and I like the new blended V-8.
The picture of Aja reminds me of my former intense and excruciating migraines which I somehow outgrew some 5 or 6 years ago. That is a palpable benefit of old age. When my pain got to be unbearable I would wait for the Gravegol (super downers) to take its effect. I would immerse myself, as Aja did here, until only my nostrils were outside the water. It sometimes helped.
As I consider action on my ailing computer (currently in a Safe Networking mode) I am ambivalent as to which (the computer ) or I should seek treatment in that tub.
María de Lurdes
Death By PowerPoint & One Of Jason BrydenThursday, September 06, 2007
Thanks to a dead computer I started and finished a couple of nights ago Argentine writer Guillermo Orsi's Buscadores de Oro. It would seem that my former heavy reading habits had been affected by too much time with the computer, or scanning or, in the case of the blog, going through my hard copy (filing cabinets) of negatives and slides to find suitable material. With a dead computer (ditto the scanner) I can only continue here with photographs that are lodged within the innards of my "decaying orbit" hard drive. My only satisfaction is that Arthur C. Clarke must experience the same problem, a just punishment of sorts for his far-reaching invention (the geosynchronous satellite).
Which brings me to one of William Safire's NY Times On Language columns where a couple of years ago he was describing his terrible ordeal of being in a darkened room while a lecturer read out loud everything on his projected PowerPoint presentation. Death by PowerPoint Safire called it. About as perfect a description of that ordeal that I, too, have lived (and almost died) through.
High technology does not guarantee excitement. I remember (so fondly) being on board a Pan American Airways Lockheed Constellation (not the Super, natch) eating a rare roast beef with delicate dishware, metal silverware and crisp linen napkins while having white wine poured by a beautiful (and young) stewardess. No amount of drop down TV monitors or the availability of individual screens with 378 cable channels can make flying feel anything more than being on a crowded bus with wings. And more so when the stewardess is a flight attendant that looks like the about-to-retire production manager at a Warner's Bra factory.
The above should be enough explanation for the relevance of today's picture. Actor, playwright, comedian, etc, Jason Bryden walked exhausted into my studio one late Tuesday night. He had been making a film all day. He looked gone. But the Georgia Straight had indicated that I needed to snap his portrait on that evening to be immediately scanned and sent the next day for that week's paper. I resolved that Bryden would leave quickly and so would I. I got my camera ready, gave him some instructions and took this one Polaroid. "Do you like it?" I asked him. "I do,"he replied. We locked up and we left.
That the relatively old technology (Edwin Land would chastise me or would he for this?) of a lowly b+w Polaroid combined with the wonders of PhotoShop and a scanner could produce this result, a thing of beauty and wonder for me, is amazing. Even if Jason Bryden looks like he's gone.
A Charming Erwitt, A Greasy Karsh & A Commercial LeibovitzWednesday, September 05, 2007
I hate having my photograph taken. As a little boy I would peer into my uncle Tony's box camera and squint. He is now getting his revenge through my granddaughter Lauren who squints and then blinks when I point my camera at her. She is getting a tad better at it but I don't blame her. Perhaps she might choose that liberating relief (as I did) of being behind a camera. If this is the case, I look forward to at long last finding someone I can will all my cameras to!
One photographer who did not mind being photographed some 15 years ago was Elliott Erwitt who had come to Vancouver to open a show of his photographs at the Presentation House in North Vancouver. I asked him a couple of questions to which he lost a bit of his cool detached and so polite demeanor. I asked him about Annie Leibovitz and he replied with very special emphasis on the word commercial, "She is a very commercial photographer. She is a very good commercial photographer." When I asked him about Karsh he let go of all stops and answered me very angrily, "That man made most of his subjects look greasy. He took their humanity away from them." A few years later I had the opportunity to photograph Annie Leibovitz. It was a pleasant experience, the more so since I kept Erwitt out of it.
I forgot all that when he posed for me and charmed me all over again as did Leibovitz. Unlike me they know how to pose for the camera.
The Real Molly ParkerTuesday, September 04, 2007
In William Gibson's novel Idoru two women face a webcam of the future while chatting, one in the Orient and the other in America. As far as we know both are absolutely naked yet as each look at each other in whatever large monitor the future will bring us they are exquisitely dressed in designer clothing. Behind them (in actual fact, probably an empty room) is designer furniture. Special effect fractals coat the tables with authentic dust. The room looks lived in. The women are wearing virtual designer clothing purchased on line. We no longer are what we seem to be. A huge on line company can in actual fact be one person. This is the 2007 version of the rock and roll impresario/artist/manager/roadie/fan/merchandiser being any one of them by using a different voice on a different phone line.
And if you have a look at the covers of the Magazines on a London Drugs magazine stand you will note that the young women on them have skin with no pores or one defect. They shine with the glow of Photoshop.
Perhaps you might notice one magazine tha is slightly different. It features Molly Parker. You would note her freckles and her skin is not smooth as I cannot possibly be. To me she looks even more beautiful because this is how she is. The magazine?
Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine
Plata, Tobillo & A Waning GardenMonday, September 03, 2007
As Rosemary and I get older a lot is said unsaid as we work in the garden. I am sure we mutually wonder what the other will do when one is either too old to help or crippled in some way. When I broke my left elbow in May I made it a point to mow with one hand (pushing the mower with my chest)before surgery as I did not know in what state I would be after surgery. And you certainly cannot tell your lawn or your plants to wait for you.
Three years ago when we brought both Plata and Toby from the SPCA we knew that soon we would have the problem of Toby's age. Twice I saw the cute Toby at the SPCA and twice I thought better about bringing him home. He was 13 or 14. I made the mistake of going a third time with Rebecca who said, "Papi we have to bring him home now. Nobody is going to adopt him. They are going to euthanize him." I was caught completely by surprise that Rebecca understood the concept. I could not but go along and we brought Toby home. Toby (behind Plata in the picture of both on the fridge) became Rosemary's cat and he has given her extreme cariño. I love to watch them cuddle.
But not all is well as Toby is losing weight in spite of two daily pills to control his thyroid. Blood tests were performed. We might have to increase the daily intake. In a half hearted way I told Rosemary that we are not going to put Toby in to some life support system. He will stay with us and slowly nature will take its course. He has had (I tell myself) a relaxed and comforting stay with us.
As I look at our waning garden the same thought goes through Rosemary's mind. At what point to we stop manicuring it and begin to prepare it for autumn? I look at Toby, peacefully sleeping on the foot of our bed and I wonder what will go through my head or Rosemary's as we, too, begin to wane, as we surely must. Toby and our garden might just prepare us to decide some day.
Self-Sufficiency, A Spark Plug Gap Adjusting Tool & DiscontinuanceSunday, September 02, 2007
It wasn't too long ago that I noticed our similarity to refrigerators and our equivalent dependence on power to survive. By simply unplugging them everything inside begins to spoil within hours if not minutes. Our bodies maintain that same fussy equilibrium between existence and decay - life.
But unlike refrigerators, we are much more complex and dependence is inherent to our existence. It was most evident when I returned home on Friday to find that my computer had crashed. I wondered how I was going to receive the emails from people who I had contacted for photographic shoots this coming week. Paul Leisz, my computer guru friend (and perhaps friend no longer if I keep calling him for help) was unavailable. My son in law, Bruce Stewart filled in for Paul, long enough to get my Windows XP to work on the Safe Networking mode which meant I could send and receive emails plus do such things as this you read here.
It wasn't too long ago (my memory compresses those 31 years) when I remember driving our VW beetle up Springer Ave to test the timing of the car's distributor. I had brought from Mexico a nice and shiny spark plug gapping tool. I had gapped the plugs and flooring the car up the hill was the best way to test the timing. Back in Mexico City I had removed the car's gasoline tank, once a year, to clean the inside sludge (Mexican gasoline came with unwanted additives). My neighbours pointed at my car with the now cavernous front trunk and thought I was crazy. I loved feeling independent and self-sufficient.
Those days are over. Our family Audi A-4 lease dictates that all we do is fill it with gas. Even changing the burned tail light bulbs is done at the dealer. I would not even try or want to look for our car's sparkplugs.
Those days of independence and self-sufficiency were all an illusion particularly in my photography except for the curious fact (in this day and age) that I can go to my darkroom and print a negative on to photographic paper. This task is in the same league of discontinuance as adjusting the gaps of our VW's plugs. I totalled it in a 23-car pile-up on an icy hill of Rupert Street at Grandview Highway a few months after I raced it up Springer. As for that word discontinuance it is in large type on a label of a box Kodak Kodalith Ortho Film 2556, Type 3 that I keep in my darkroom. In its effort to get rid of money losing products Kodak used this little used word that was often used to mark the elimination of train routes in the past.
I meant to scan that gap tool but I was unable to find it in my shop. This scan of my Pentax S-3 and its owner will do just as well to show you how time has me by and my equipment, too. This Pentax was already used when I purchased it at Foto Rudiger on Venustiano Carranza Street in downtown Mexico City in 1963. It is mechanically sound. Unlike its modern counterparts it has no dependence to batteries except for that meter that sits on top. I never used the meter, it just looked good sitting on top. And should this relic fail, this "relic" would simply take it to my "relic" friend Horst. Without him, without Paul, Bruce, Viktor (he repairs my flash equipment) my Rosemary (who pays my taxes) I would be no better than our unplugged Kenmore Special Edition.
Nina Davies - Rebecca At 15?Saturday, September 01, 2007
In May I wrote and photographed an article for Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine, The Manly Art of Ballet that featured six young and talented maled dancers from Arts Umbrella. I chose to photograph four of them (here, clockwise from upper left, Michel Issa, Jeremiah Kennedy, Jed Difhuis and Scott Fowler). The fifth and sixth boys, Alex Burton and Conner Gnam I photographed elsewwhere with their teachers.
The unifying theme for those four boys became a page in the magazine where they all appeared with Nina Davies. After years of seeing the dancers at Arts Umbrella (where my Rebecca learns dance) I was always drawn to this young woman who has grace and poise in spades plus a flexibility that astounds. It is not surprising that at this moment Nina would like to someday perform with the Cirque de Solei!
Her mother Kitty contacted me for copies of the photographs and I met with her and Nina, over coffee, this week to give her my photographs.
As I watched and listened to them, as I admired Nina's adult behaviour (while noticing the freckles on her nose) I thought to myself, "What fun it must be to be Kitty and to have such a daughter. Could Rebecca at 15 be such a girl/woman, someday?"
As soon as I got home I called Hilary and told her of that morning's event with Kitty and Nina. "I would like Rebecca to be like Nina when she is 15." Hilary understandably answered, "Rebecca has to first be herself."
I hope anybody reading this understands what I meant.
It seems that when Rebecca was in first grade at École Bilingue, Nina was also there. Nina told me, "I used to talk to Rebecca and she would never talk about anything else except dance." I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.