A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In all my 35 years in Vancouver I have only heard one song that to me represents not only Vancouver but much of the rest of BC. I have been thinking about this because CBC Radio 2 is pushing its Great Canadian Song Quest. It is a contest where the general audience can suggest places in our provinces and then the best Canadian talent will be hired to compose songs for them, 13 original songs in all for all of Canada.

The song that to me is quintessential Vancouver and in just about every area of our province where it rains is Art Bergmann's Hawaii. Today it poured and some streets in the city flooded. It is obvious that summer is over, fall is here and the corresponding rains have arrived. I could not get Bergmann's tune out of my head as I walked in the rain. I had forgotten to pack an umbrella.

Bergmann 1980, SOCAN 1979 Quintessence Records

Let’s go to fuckin’ Hawaii
Get drunk in the sun
I wanna lay on Waikiki
Get a tan on my buns

Runnin’ from the rain
Thousands on the run
Makin’ like the rich
Heading for the fun

Let’s go to fuckin’ Tahiti
Lounge on the beach
Those native girls are so pretty
Swayin’ to the native beats

Runnin’ from the rain
Thousands on the run
Makin’ like the rich
Heading for the fun

2 AM
Economy Air
Drunk to the roof
Worked all summer
Saved my money
So I can warm

Let’s go to fuckin’ Miami
Loungin’ on the beach
I got my neighbour kid, a real cutie
Cheaper than a Georgia peach

Runnin’ from the rain
Thousands on the run
Thinkin’ like the rich
Heading for the fun

Let’s go to fuckin’ Las Vegas
Blow a wad in the Sun
I wanna stop for a party
Before I’m back under the gun

Runnin’ from the rain
Thousands on the run
Makin like the rich
Heading for the fun

2 AM
Economy Air
Drunk to the roof
Worked all summer
Saved my money
So I can be warm

Let’s go to fuckin’ Hawaii
Let’s go to fuckin’ Hawaii

Runnin’ from the rain
Thousands on the run
Makin’ like the rich
Heading for the fun

The tune is fast, furious and catchy. The lyrics represent a lifestyle that has not changed much in the years that I have been here. Those that can, go somewhere in the dark rainy month of January. Those that might not be able to, work hard during the year to save enough money to escape our dreary weather.

I have my doubts that anybody will ever top Hawaii for representing the wet soul of Vancouverites and Lowermainlanders. Why compose a new song for Vancouver when we have the best ever right now?


Robson Street Studio Nevermore

Today is September 30 and it is a special day of reflection and rationalization for this photographer. The last thing I did when I closed the door of my empty and freshly vacuumed studio at 712 Robson, Suite 18 was to peel off the little sign on the door that Darryl Snaychuck made. He was a young up-and-coming Vancouver photographer with whom I shared the studio for the first years some 17 years ago. He did a lot of work painting walls gray and white and making large reflectors out of foam core.

I think that just about every profession must have the concept of having a place to hang one’s shingle that one can call one’s own. This was the case with my Robson Street studio but which in the last couple of years became a case of more money leaving to pay its rent than the money coming in. Today I brought the last of the large paper backdrop rolls. They stuck out of the passenger window of Rosemary’s car. Except for a white one I never used the rest of them which were red, blue and several shades of gray. My backdrop of choice was Darryl’s middle gray wall. I could make that wall black, many shades of gray and almost white depending on how I lit it. I seriously doubt I will ever use the seamless (as we photographers call these rolls) except the gray one which I just might cut in half (its width) and roll it out in my living room to photograph my granddaughters.

The folks at Focal Point have told me that since I teach there I can use their studios (they have three) any time, free of charge, if I give them some notice. This is a good thing and I must admit that my studio location had been getting seedier in the last few years. A pipe shot one floor beneath me wafted pot smoke into my studio in the afternoon. The same pipe shop pumped heavy drum music during most of the day. An Iranian/Lebanese style fast food restaurant on the street level made my studio smell like a kitchen where a horse had died weeks before. The high end tax lawyers from Thorsteinsson’s who thought my studio was funky have moved on to having their pictures taken in their office, perhaps by their office manager.

I reflect on the people who have come to my studio to have their picture taken and I try to decide which were the most memorable. I thought this might be a difficult activity but it has not been. My studio had the best natural lighting in Vancouver as the Sears building (formerly Eaton’s) reflected a whole white city block into my studio which had four very tall and large windows. The light in the afternoon, especially on a summer day was so bright that it sometimes induced migraines. I had to put heavy black curtains to block the light so I could ignore God’s light and use my own controlled lighting.

But there was mid-morning day in 2005 when I was getting ready to take some lit studio pictures of my granddaughter. She was being made up by my daughter Ale. It was then that I noticed the window light coming in and making Rebecca’s face seem like it was the Medusa’s. I put my camera on a tripod and took that rare picture (for me using my large camera without flash is a rare occurrence). In the end the image became the signature image of a show I had that year at a 4th Avenue gallery and I sold a very large giclée version of it to art collector Yoseph Wosk for very good money. His comment to me when he became interested in the picture was, "She looks transformed, almost mystical." I almost replied, "It was God's light."

Not having my own studio now I will perhaps explore God’s light again and see what I can do to attempt to match the picture of Rebecca here.

Junkets, Mary Wilson, Chivas Regal & No Brooke Shields
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pronunciation: \ˈjəŋ-kət\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English ioncate, ultimately from Vulgar Latin *juncata, from Latin juncus rush
Date: 15th century
1 : a dessert of sweetened flavored milk set with rennet
2 a : a festive social affair b : trip, journey: as (1) : a trip made by an official at public expense (2) : a promotional trip made at another's expense, a film's press junket.

It has been a while since I have been in a junket. In the 80s there were wonderful junkets. I went on one to Yugoslavia (Champagne before the airplane took off, Champagne when the airplane was landing) and a most enterataining one to literary England in the Shropshire area sponsored by British Airways. It was the only instance in my life that I slept on a bed on an airplane.

There was a yearly junket to Whistler that took Vancouver Magazine writer Les Wiseman and his photographic sidekick that has its moments even though we never did get what we wanted. Every year the folks of the celebrity skiathon in Whistler promised us the participation of Brooke Shields. She never ever showed up. In 1988 I took portraits of several luminaries of the time including one of the original Supremes, Mary Wilson. I am amazed when I perused her file that I took pictures in b+w negative, colour negative and colour transparency. Not only that I took several lights including two optical spotlights. In one of them I inserted a metal gobo stamped with stars. You can discern part of the stars in the pictures here.

1988 in Whistler was memorable for another reason. I have never been a drinker. In fact I almost never drink. When we got to Whistler, Wiseman said, "As your attorney I suggest we imbibe some Scotch." So we went to the bar of the Château Whistler and we were greeted by a most pleasant blonde waitress who confessed to us that she was new at the job and that she had recently come from Newfoundland. We ordered our Scotch and sodas and as she went away I called her back, “Do you happen to have Chivas Regal?” “What’s that”? She asked me.” It’s just a Scotch. Can you put that in our drinks and bring us the bill?” Les looked at me puzzled. Our drinks arrived and I checked the bill. The bill was for a much cheaper bar scotch.

When I tell my friends this story and how we had Chivas Regal Scotch and sodas for a whole weekend they invariably tell me, “Why would you waste such a good Scotch with soda?” My answer is always the same one, “Because a Chevas Regal Scotch and soda for this non- drinker is almost palatable.” While Brooke Shields never did turn up I am sure that Wiseman felt amply compensated.

The first portrait of Wilson was taken with an enhanced warm colour transparency called Ektachrome EPN. The second one was taken with Kodak colour negative VPS. I really have no idea which is the one that is the "correct" colour. In the case of the colur negative there has been some deterioration which causes what is called a magenta/green shift. I never did listen to Mary Wilson sing live. The closest I ever got to her was one block away from the Cave around 1980 when the Supremes had come to town. I was at Gary Taylor's Rock Room and the all-gril punk band, The Dishrags sang their off-key version of You Can't Hurry Love and dedicated it to the "girls down the block tonight."

Rembrandt & The Art Dealer
Monday, September 28, 2009

It was around 1978 that I photographed art dealer and gallery owner Franz Wynans. I think that I ran into him many times after that and only for my photograph did he ever not smile. He was a cheerful kind of man. His buddy was painter Bill Featherston. They went everywhere together in Wynans's nicely restored Citroën(the one that looked like a shoe and had pneumatic suspension). To me they looked like a couple of scoundrels who were having fun. In fact one of them was and appeared on the front cover of the Sun as such. It was sometime in 1984 that Wynans with some investors convinced Wayne Gretzky to pose for Andy Warhol for an edition of 300 prints.

I haven't seen Wynans or his Citroën for a while. He must be missing his pal Featherston who died early this year. I wonder who eventually bought that Rembrandt etching that Wynans posed with. He told me it was called "The Art Dealer".

The Palest Ink & The Limitless Real Estate Of the Web
Sunday, September 27, 2009

The palest ink is better than the most retentive memory.
Chinese proverb.

That wich the men of old and of modern times conceived in their learned souls is free for the inspection of those who would read.
Ovid, from his Tristia

Eight years ago I did some work for the UBC Trek Magazine and dealt with the most pleasant editor of the time. His name was Chris Petty. They paid photographers well and they paid writers one dollar per word. That was rare then and now it strikes me as literary science fiction. I told him that I had had some pleasant experience using the UBC Library and that I was prepared to write something on the subject for that lofty one dollar per page. I wrote an essay on libraries and their origin and from there went to write about the UBC libraries. Petty was vaguely dismissive and wrote me something like, “This was not what I was expecting.” I left it at that and filed it away. It seems that the article I did write was one in which I used an old Smith Corona word processor, PWP-40 that used a smallish proprietary type of floppy disc that was not compatible with PCs. Only a week ago I threw away the PWP-40.

I have been thinking about libraries again (I will explain below) so I went to my photo files and found Libraries. To my mild horror the manuscript of the piece I wrote for Trek is missing some pages. And the disc that I have of the article cannot be opened now. So I will use what I found to write today’s blog about libraries and my newly re-discovered interest in them.

If this blog is too long ( I read recenty in the NY Times the statement: Space in print is limited, in the web the reale state is limitless.) you could read the first part (why it is libraries are on my mind) and skip the second part which is a brief history of lending libraries with an emphasis on the UBC Library.

At age 67 the full bookcases and the stacks of books I have on my living room floor produce a deep anxiety. Do I need all my books? Will I ever re-read any of them (this I do with frequency)? Where can I find a home for them that will ameliorate the pain of giving them away? I have been very careful when I buy the books that I do buy. Besides their expense (I find bargains in the remainder section of Chapters) I feel guilty about adding to the piles at home.

In the last recent months I have been going to the VPL with frequency searching for the right spoken books to copy so that I can send them to Inesita my godmother and first cousin (she is 86) in Argentina who has poor sight but wants to continue reading in English. She is choosey about what she reads. She has the same highbrowish taste my mother had. There are quite a few people that say that copying a spoken book to send to BA for personal use is no different from lending a library book to a friend (with the stipulation it be returned promptly!) This week I hit pay dirt at both my nearby Kerrisdale Branch and the Oakridge Branch.

I found:

A Certain Justice, P.D. James
Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro
Passion and Artemisia, Susan Vreeland
The Piano Man’s Daughter, Timothy Findley
The Glace Bay Miner’s Museum, Sheldon Currie
The No. 1 Ladies’Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
AND! The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Mu cousin Inesita listens to the books I send her twice and gets much pleasure. I feel very good about doing it. It is perhaps because of this that I have come to understand the value of the library and how we take libraries so much for granted. This awareness hit me almost like a blow in the face when I saw at the Oakridge Branch in their Fast Reads section Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I would not be caught dead spending money to buy this sort of thing. I did read the Da Vinci Code when it first came out and Rosemary, Rebecca and I saw the film in our hotel in Mérida two years ago (to the disapproval of Rebecca’s mother Hilary, my daughter!). So I took out the book and I am enjoying it without too much guilt.

The other book I found helps to remove all that guilt of no longer wishing to buying a book I want to read now. My neighbour Patricia Hutter has borrowed all of my Dona Leon novels featuring a suave and erudite Venetian police inspector called Brunetti. Then she lent me one written by Andrea Camilleri. I was hooked so she lent me the other two she had which are all about Flavio Montalbano a Sicilian police inspector with Epicurean sensibilities. I have done my best to not consider going to Chapters to buy the rest. There, at the Kerridale branch I spotted those telltale pastel colours of the series! I happily brought it home.

I am ready now to buy fewer books and to take advantage of the excellent library system our city has for us.


In January 1998 I hopped on a bus to the University of British Columbia and became a member of the UBC Library. At the Walter C. Koerner I borrowed the complete works of Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier in Spanish and bought a hot dog outside. I managed to get home on the transfer, not before buying for $3.00, from a bargain bin of the UBC Bookstore , a pristine first edition of Andrew Miller’s remarkable novel Ingenious Pain.

I had been at the Koerner two years before. Arthur Erickson, the library’s architect, had posed for my camera on the top floor. He had shown up in a beautiful gray suit that matched the concrete and metal he so intimately knew. Behind him we could se the old Main Library. Erickson had built the Koerner with that view, and another, in mind. Behind me was Howe Sound.

UBC was incorporated in 1908 but the library did not open until 1915 in two rooms of the new tuberculosis wing of the Vancouver General Hospital. The first university library, the Sorbonne, opened in 1250, when the king’s chaplain, Robert de Sorbonne established a residence for theology students of slim resources.

The first university library I ever used was at the University of Texas at Austin during the early 60s. It was then fashionable to sneak a few six-packs of Pearl Beer and a date to the observation deck of the library tower. Nobody had yet thought about bringing up guns.

In spite of having the best codex and manuscript, second only to Seville’s, on the European discovery and conquest of he New World, the library also served another less-learned purpose. During football season it would be brilliantly lit at night to signal a Texas Longhorns victory. This is the case today. While I may have had to sneak in at Austin to the library observation deck, at UBC they had other restrictions. It was only in 196 that first and second year students were finally allowed access to the stacks before 6pm.

My lifelong attraction to libraries began with a bomb. In 1948 the US Information Service Lincoln Library on Calle Florida in Buenos Aires was bombed. On its blackened walls protesters painted, “Imperialistas Yankees Fuera (out) de la Argentina”. When the explosive went off outside I was inside checking out Curious George. I was 7. In spite of the scare, I returned to the library many times and in 1952, when my family moved to Mexico I became a member of the Benjamin Franklin, the Lincoln’s equivalent in Mexico City. It was popular with the engineering students as the library was the only on that hand American technical journals and periodicals. While there were well-founded rumours that these libraries were CIA fronts, I was never approached by any spooks. But a spook may have been involved in the early history of the UBC Library. In 1914 when J.T. Gerould was appointed to buy a basic collection for the library for the newly incorporated UBC he purchased 20,000 books in England and in France. In Leipzig he was locked up for three years, accused of being a British Spy.

The USIS libraries as opposed to most others in Latin America are unique in that you can take books home. The concept of a circulating library is a relatively recent phenomenon. Canadians take for granted a steady 110 voltage, and unwavering 60 cycles. They take for granted being able to bring home a library book. Not only is this normal but it would also seem a God-given right. My Argentine relatives refuse to believe that my Felix the Cat wall clock tells correct time in spite of being plugged in to an outlet. I wouldn’t ever try to explain that here I can not only take out books and spoken books but also films on DVDs from the public library.

The first tax-supported public library opened in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833. Before that there were subscription libraries where members, who not only paid dues but had to buy shares, could take books home. On such library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1732 made the librarian responsible for any lost books. Andrew Carnegie, who gave away more than $65 million for public libraries in the United States alone and not counting the money given to his native Scotland, the British Empire and Vancouver, popularized the concept of stipulating that the money given hinged on the municipality of the city setting aside funds for their upkeep. In 1932 during the Great Depression a Carnegie grant of $15,000 tidied over the UBC Library so that by 1936 it had 100, 000 volumes.

Paradoxically while Juan Perón’s henchmen burned books from Buenos Aires Catholic churches in the early 50s it was also Perón who inculcated in young school children the idea that books were valuable and should be taken care of. We were instructed to never write anything in them besides our name. It is interesting that when Erasmus borrowed two manuscripts in 1443 from the Dominicans at Basle he returned them covered with red pencil marks.

Books have always been valuable and only the cheap pocket editions that US soldiers read during WWII ushered the era of affordable books. When professor Michaelis of Gottingen asked for the use of a Hebrew bible condex form Casse in 1767, the Landgrave, Duke Charles Eugen of Wurttemberg granted him permission but had the manuscript brought to Gottinhen under the protection of hussars.

USIS Library “indoctrination” led me to an early appreciation in reading books in English and in particular those by American authors. It all changed in 1989 when I got to the third chapter of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers and was turned off by the concept of a mass frenzy to buy Tampax at the novel’s small-town drugstore by its female inhabitants. I decided then and there that I would seek out other literature.

Newspaper articles on Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa’s run as a candidate for his country’s presidency awakened an interest in his books. This led to other Latin American and Spanish authors, Gabriel García Marquez, Álvaro Mutis, Jorge Luís Borges, Jorge Amado, Homero Aridjis, Carlos Fuentes, Nicolás Guillén and many more. Some of the books were available in Spanish at the now closed Manhattan Book Store and its present day version, Sophia Books. But hardcover and even paperback books imported from Spain or Mexico command a stiff price so I had come to depend on the Vancouver Public Library’s good but small collection of contemporary Latin American literature in Spanish.

It was sometime around 1998 when my search for Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (in any language) got me nowhere until I tried the UBC Library’s web page. While I have never considered the VPL’s on line stack’s search is that user friendly (it has vastly improved) I was amazed at how good UBC’s was. In short order I located an edition in English and one in Portuguese which were at the Main Library. I keyed in the out-of-print Concierto Barroco by Alejo Carpentier and was rewarded with the information that the library had Carpentier’s entire literary output. When I explored the stacks of Latin American Lit at the Koerner I could sense the hand of UBC professor George McWhirter (the recent Vancouver Poet Laureate) who has translated from Spanish into English the poetry of my favourite Mexican novelist, Homero Aridjis. Most of his works were there and in Spanish.

The UBC Library is made up of 10 libraries on campus and 4 off campus. I recently noted that while the Education Library does not have children’s books in Spanish (unlike the VPL) it does have a nice variety that made my granddaughter Rebecca happy.

On any given day you can be assured that if you trek to the UBC Library that it will be open on schedule unlike the main branch of the VPL which may close on certain Sundays or when movies are being made on location. Ammianus Marchellinus, a Latin historian in 78 A.D. wrote:

Byblothecis sepulchrus ritu in perpetumm clausis.

He would have approved of UBC's library as it certainly is not closed forever like a tomb.

Four - One More Time
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Right after lunch today, Lauren and I decided to try out the psychiatric couch that is now ensconced in the living room. It is facing in the perfect location to listen to music. I wanted to play something that might appeal to Lauren. It was sometime in 1993 that I received a phone call from my alto saxophonist friend Gavin Walker who told me, “You must buy the CD called Paraiso with Gerry Mulligan and with vocals by Jane Duboc. This is the kind of music you like since you were always partial to Stan Getz’s Jazz Samba.” Gavin was right and it has been one of my favourites since. Lauren and I had a nice listen in our comfortable couch. It was special. It made me think of those wonderful Thursday nights at the Classical Joint on Carrall Street in the 80s. I went often to listen to Gavin Walker, usually with his guitarist of choice Michael Wild.

Of course it has all changed and jazz joints are smoke-free (I don’t remember how I added all the smoke to these pictures! I suspect that my subjects added smoke from their own cigarettes.)

When I found out that the Classical Joint was going to close its doors I proposed a little story to then Straight editor Charles Campbell. He said yes and the little piece was one of my first published ones.

Four Play Out Jazz Rituals
By Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
October 27, 1989

Pause outside the window of the Classical Joint on any Thursday night around 10 and you will witness a scene that has not changed for 15 years. People sit at small, candle-lit tables playing chess or sipping their mysterious coffees.

You walk in and pay Jorge, the Argentine owner two dollars. You avoid the hard uncomfortable and look for the cushioned bench by the wall.

In one corner, never quite managing to fade into the darkness of the black walls, sits the sophisticated lady. Like many before her, she made her way in to sit entranced by the man hunched over the alto sax.

The man with the sax is Gavin Walker. Wearing a striped shirt, flapping loosely over tight jeans, he manages to nestle a lit Kool in his right hand while playing. At his feet, two more packs of cigarettes wait – “Just in case.”

Behind Walker, a drummer and a string bass player provide accompaniment. Sitting on the edge of the stool by the upright piano Michael Guild and his guitar wait for Walker’s nod to start their solo.

Gavin Walker’s jazz quartet, in a milestones of sorts, has been playing for 15 years’ worth of Thursdays at the Joint. Thelonius Monk’s “Straight no Chaser”. Miles Davis’s “Four” or “So What”. Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa”. These tunes, as Walker calls the jazz standards in his repertoire, are laced with originals like “Up in Gavin’s Flat” or “The Worm Turns Again”. Played so many times, they have evolved into something intensely personal.

Between numbers, in a deep FM Radio voice, Walker throws little tidbits of jazz trivia at the audience. You may learn that Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” takes its names form Bird’s Catholic roots. Or that bassist Wyatt “Bull” Ruther, who used to frequent the Joint for years before migrating to California, might have shared fame with Dave Brubeck had the former not passed out in a bathtub and missed a crucial recording session.

Regulars will try to stump Walker with the kind of obscure information that has ripened into a bona fide ritual over the years. One patron never fails to inquire about the health of Richard Twardzik, an obscure if brilliant piano player of the late 50’s. Walker’s dry retort, “As far as I know, he’s still dead,” never changes.

Sooner or later, a bearded man will walk in. A cigarette in his mouth and an Oz scarecrow hat on his head he carries a small wooden rectangular case with a violin inside.

Known simply as Ed, he’s a busker who plays Water Street almost every day. “Except when there’s a hockey game on television.” Although he never plays, Ed is at the Joint every Thursday. Between sets he will go out and work his favourite corner by the Town Pump. When the quartet is especially hot you might spy a smile on his face.

At about 1:30 the group begins to wind down. The last #4 Blanca bus passes by. And the rain-like noise of the street flusher blends in with the last notes of “Softly,As in a Morning Sunrise”.

I took the two grainy photographs ten years before in September 1979. The film I used was Ilford FP-5. I pushed the film to something like 3000 ASA and then I used Kodak Chromium Intensifier to nudge out some detail from the shadows.

Emily Molnar, Studebakers & Kodak Technical Pan Film
Friday, September 25, 2009

I consider myself a fortunate man in having had the opportunity to photograph dancer/choreographer (and now interim artistic director of Ballet BC) Emily Molnar six times. Photography has been kind to me in not only giving me the opportunity to photograph such interesting people as Molnar but also the distinct pleasure that comes with repetition over a period of time. Particularly with dancers there is always the excitement (also a stressful problem) of coming up with a concept. In the past I have photographed Molnar on a big red suitcase (she was either going somewhere or coming from somewhere) and on the floor with her foot sticking out in front of my camera. She once danced a solo for me until I found a position I wanted to capture. I photographed her with Crystal Pite (both danced for Ballet BC and Ballet Frankfurt) and then there was the time she posed with young dancer Alex Burton and Arts Umbrella Dance Director, Artemis Gordon.

This last time (two weeks ago) the assignment came from the Georgia Straight with the duty of somehow conveying the idea of Emily Molnar, Interim Artistic Director of Ballet BC and not Emily Molnar the dancer or the choreographer.

When Molnar arrived in my studio (I had a prescient feeling it was going to be my last session in my studio after about 17 years in it. And so it was) I had no clue as to what I was going to do. Molnar made it easy for me as she had her own idea. She had always admired a photograph of her mentor, the former director of Ballet Frankfurt, William Forsythe. The portrait in question had half his face in darkness. I told Molnar that the folks at the Straight (they want everything bright) would frown on this and we would have to compromise a tad.

I photographed Molnar in colour as the Straight likes colour. My belief is that variety would serve them better, but then what do I know, after all I shoot film and I have memory of cars that had the marking Body by Fisher and know that Raymond Loewy designed Studebakers.

On my own I then inserted a roll of the sharpest film (colour or b+w) ever made, Kodak Technical Pan. It is a b+w film with an extended red sensitivity that makes skin glow. Perhaps it was the knowledge of using a roll that I keep in my freezer and use only for special occasions with special people (and Molnar qualifies for that!) that made me pursue that little light on the left side that makes the b+w version of the picture so much better than the pleasant colour one. I have not picked up a Straight but I can bet that the folks there selected the nice colour one. But then what do they know about Studebakers?

Emily Molnar

More Emily Molnar

and even more Emily Molnar

Technical Pan

More Technical Pan

And even more.

Runts & Bananas
Thursday, September 24, 2009

It is strange how we accept that people, individuals that they are, must by necessity be different. Yet we expect (or at least this gardener expects) plants to be all the same in the sense that all roses Rosa ‘Evelyn’ will be good garden plants if the plant has a good reputation. There are reasons for this in that many plants are clones of a mother plant. But gardeners have begun to understand that several generations of cloning can weaken the resulting plant. Many of these plants simply do not perform at all. This was the case for my English Rose, Rosa ‘Evelyn’. It has been doing little with great consistency in my garden.

But it all changed this year and I must give credit to my wife Rosemary. About 6 months ago she insisted I serve her a sliced banana with brown sugar for breakfast. This has been her daily fare since. When I go out (she is unable to drive these days because of her badly fractured ankle) she tends to ask me, “Are there bananas for tomorrow?” And it is not only bananas for breakfast. I like to throw a banana or two into the blender with some ice; a bit of sugar and water (water is Argentine style) for our lunch or dinner beverage. Or I will use yoghurt instead of water. In short I make sure we always have bananas.

Bananas are high in potassium. Potassium is one of the most important needs of a healthy rose bush. Potassium is good for their roots. I have been slicing the banana peels and dropping them around my rose bushes. It has been a banner year for roses. Roses like dry weather (if you water their roots) and obviously they like banana peels, too!

The leaf in the scan is that of Hosta ‘Sun Power’. This is a hosta that I almost gave up on. I purchased it many times and every time after a so-so year it would begin to revert to juvenility. The leaves would become smaller and looked stunted until the plant would simply go away without saying goodbye. Although it has yet to be studied in detail I have shared my experiences with Sun Power and other hostas that decline quickly with no apparent reason. My friend Donald Hodgson (he had a small wholesale hosta nursery in North Vancouver and alas he died last year) called hostas that tended to do this, runts. Runts runted. Donald and I put Sun Power on our runt list.

This year Sun Power rewarded me with huge leaves, thick and healthy and with that sexy twist of the leaves that is one of its best known qualities. Thanks to some afternoon sun the leaves have changed from light green, to chartreuse and then bleached ever so nicely to a beautiful yellow. In the dark corner of the garden where it is, Sun Power is a little botanical beacon.

Who would have suspected that Evelyn and Sun Power would have conspired to please me this year? Another poor grower, Rosa ‘Mary Web’ (right being held by Lauren) is right next to Sun Power. This year this pale yellow rose (almost the colour of whipped cream) that usually blooms once, did so twice. Why? Bananas.

Ostrich Ferns & Autumn Leaves
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I wrote about Nan Fairchild Sherlock & Matteuccia struthiopteris here. I remembered here this afternoon as I was walking in the garden. Rosemary was crawling on her bum with the special boot on her left ankle to keep it in place. We were cutting back stuff and deciding which plants I am going to have to move. I noticed that one of my ostrich ferns (the botanical name is the one above!) had fronds that were dried out and how beautiful they were. I also noticed that like most of my ostrich ferns this one had the handsome almost black fertile fronds (see link above) in the middle that came out at about this time. I cut some of the dried out fronds to scan them and as I was bringing them in I thought of the fall jazz standard Autum Leaves and how Hilary’s godfather, Raúl Guerrero Montemayor would often tell me that this perennial jazz standard was not always so. It had been composed for a film with Yves Montand who introduced the song Les Feuilles Mortes in the 1946 film Les Portes De La Nuit, a gloomy urban drama set in post World War II Paris. Raúl would further tell me that the composer Joseph Kosma was Hungarian and that Jacques Prevert created one of the songs for Les Portes De La Nuit by setting a Prevert poem to music, “Les Feuilles Mortes.” In 1949 Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics for the tune changing the original French title to Autumn Leaves.

I believe that this standard is best played on a keyboard but I have a memory of another recording which has always been my favourite. Here it is. And if you don't believe everything you read on the web you might note that the instrument that Chet Baker is playing here is not a trumpet. It certainly looks like a flugelhorn to me.

Seeping Blood From The Paris Opera Ballet
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some weeks ago I purchased two books for Rebecca in my hopes that I can wean her away from Nancy Drew. One of the books is called Portraits – Dancing Through Fire by Kathryn Lasky. The book is set in the Paris Opera of Degas in the latter part of the 19th century and is about a little ballerina that is a tad too short. When Rebecca saw the book her comment was, “It’s too difficult. And it isn’t a mystery.” I had a suspicion she would place the book in her bookcase in her room where it would languish with many of the other books I have given her.

To be fair this has not always been the case. She has read the rose books I have given her so many times that she knows more about roses at age 12 than I did when I first started gardening in 1986.

Rosemary decided to read Rebecca the first chapter. Now the Saturday afternoon routine is that they read each other a chapter from this book and Rebecca is hooked. The Prussians are at the gates of Paris in this novel so Rosemary has been reading about the Franco/Prussian war and Napoleon III so as to answer Rebecca’s questions.

There are a few people reading to other people in our family. Rosemary has been reading and helping Lauren read her books in French so that she can move up to the level that she is supposed to be. She is not quite there. Last night when Rosemary and I were babysitting at the girls’ house it was awfully quiet. It was 9 pm. Rosemary told me to go upstairs to see what the girls were up to. It was a sight to warm my heart. There was Rebecca reading to Lauren in bed. I asked Rosemary if Ale had ever read to Hilary. She did not remember. I asked Hilary who confirmed my suspicions that this never happened but did mention that I had read to them frequently including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Returning to the book about the ballerina, since Degas is one of the protagonists I suspect that the little novel may be partly based on Degas’ The Little Fourteen-Year-Old-Dancer, Marie Van Goethem who until had faded from history soon after she modeled for Degas. But unfortunately we now know that as soon as she grew up her mother nudged her into prostitution.

The info about the littel ballerina sculpture version at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, very similar to the one at the National Gallery where Rebecca aged 5 posed for me in 2003 is as follows:

The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer; cast in 1922 from a mixed-media sculpture modeled ca. 1879–80
Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Bronze, partly tinted, with cotton skirt and satin hair ribbon, on a wooden base
H. 41 1/4 in. (104.8 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.370)
The model for this essentially realistic work is known to have been Marie Van Goethem. Born on June 7, 1865, she was a student at the École de Danse in Paris, and by 1880 she had been engaged as a dancer at the Opéra. The care with which Degas observed his model is reflected not only in the sculpture itself, but also in the unusual number of surviving sketches of the model in charcoal and pastel, as well as in a preparatory sculptural study of the figure in the nude. The title, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (Petite danseuse de quatorze ans), given to the original mixed-media sculpture when it was exhibited by Degas in the sixth Impressionist exhibition held in Paris in 1881, provides the most solid evidence for the sculpture's date.

I have written before of my interest in the idea of that some of Degas leached into the blood of all the dancers who ever danced at the Paris Opera Ballet. When I went to Paris in the mid 80s I made sure I passed by the old opera house (not knowing that the one that Degas frequented was an ever older one that had since disappeared). I took some satisfying photographs which I tried to make look old by using Kodak b+w Infrared film.

In 2003 I went to watch some rehearsals of Ballet BC and I was transfixed by a dancer who moved like no other. She was slow and languid and darkly beautiful. She had a wonderful French accent when she spoke English. Her name was Sandrine Cassini. I finally was able to photograph her in 2004 in my studio where she posed as an adult Marie Van Goethem. After all Cassini had danced with the Paris Opera Ballet. She had it in the blood.

I took Rebecca and Lauren to any performance that Cassini danced in and we would go backstage so that the girls would meet her. It was a few years later that Cassini (who had left Ballet BC in 2005) returned with the Alberta Ballet as the Sugar Plum Fairy. We went to a performance and then had crepes with Cassini at a creperie on Robson. It was my purpose to transfer a bit of Cassini’s Degas into Rebecca who at the time was keen at dancing at the Arts Umbrella. She has stopped dancing and this has saddened me. Lauren, 7, has started at Arts Umbrella a week back. Perhaps her enthusiasm might rub off on Rebecca.

Or a little of that Degas ballerina blood might have seeped into Lauren at the creperie. Who knows, whichever way I look at it, the ghost of the little ballerina lives on even in the book that Rebecca is so enjoying in sharing with her grandmother.

My only excuse for the poor quality of the last picture is that I used Rebecca's first digital camera. I am sure that if Rebecca had taken it, she would have succeeded in snapping a much better one!

Lots Of Hips & Shakespeare Shows Off
Monday, September 21, 2009

Today I picked up Rebecca and Lauren at school and brought them home for a middle afternoon lunch. I then made dinner for them before we took them home around 8:30. I sat down in my psychiatric couch and told Rebecca that with my Argentine friend Juan Manuel Sanchez gone to Buenos Aires for good and with the recent death of my friend Abraham Rogatnick I need someone with whom I can have an intellectual relationship. I further told her that I needed company to go to dance, theatre and music. “So when I ask you to accompany me to the Friday concerts of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra at St. James Anglican I am not doing this to push culture down your throat but to accompany me as a friend.” I hope this tack works.

The afternoon was a glorious fall afternoon. The little girls played in the garden. Rebecca showed Lauren some of my potted hostas that are in obscure corners. They fed the fish in the pond. I cut some rose hips and scanned them with yesterday’s blooms of Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’. The name may not be as pleasant sounding as Rosa ‘William Shakespeare’ is just as lovely a rose but it is difficult to grow. David Austin removed it from his catalogue. I keep it in my garden and it grows pretty well. It has shut down until next year. The improved one is still going strong so I am now convinced that it is really a very good plant. The hips you see here are from three plants. The single and large light red one, bottom right, is from Rosa ‘Pink Meidiland’. Higher up on the right are the hips from Rosa ‘Complicata’. The bright red ones on the bottom left are from the species rose, Rosa glauca.

On the top right of the scan you can see the handywork of the leaf cutter bee. The leaves are also beginning to lose their colour as the season progresses and the plants wind down. Some rose blooms, particularly the multi-petaled ones like 'St Swithun' and 'Brother Cadfael' will not open. But 'William Shakespeare 2000' seems to be impervious to it all.

Sunday Drolleries
Sunday, September 20, 2009

I must admit now that I have never read any books by either Margaret Drabble or Joyce Carol Oates. Having read a few good reviews of the former’s latest, The Pattern in the Carpet - A Personal History with Jigsaws I might just succumb and correct my omission. But I don’t think I will read anything by Joyce Carol Oates quite yet.

Before the internet and search engines I was flummoxed consistently by people (that it happened more than once is outrageously unique) who asked me the name of Sancho Panza’s donkey. I finally bit the bullet and read the famous work by Miguel Cervantes Saavedra to find out. Not having read Don Quijote was much more grievous an omission than than ignoring Joyce Carol Oates’s works. To my surprise and disappointment I learned that Sancho never gave his ass a name. He called it rucio which is Spanish means dappled gray as he did not want to call him ass.

If there is any purpose in the above it has all to do with the reading of classics and its apparent infrequency as the 21st century “progresses”.

In yesterday’s blog I wrote of the idyllic day it was and how it ended with a terrific film based on a memoir by Gerald Durrell. I must add here that I took out two films. The first one was the Jonathan Miller 1966 film for the BBC, Alice in Wonderland. The BBC had begun a series called The Wednesday Play in 1964 which gave directors lots of latitude and freedom. This film, in stark b+w and a most serious Alice was as strange to my family as was my first viewing of Orson Welles’s 1962 The Trial based on the Kafka story. This Alice in Wonderland was unsettling and when I saw my little girls stare at me I stopped play.

But today I saw it on my own and enjoyed it, although I must agree with the critics who said there were many moments of pure boredom in spite of performances by Peter Sellers, Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern, John Gielgud, Malcolm Muggeridge and Peter Cook as the mad hatter. Rebecca and Hilary argued that the dialogue was not familiar. I checked with my Oxford University Press edition and verified that the film was only condensed but dialogue was not changed.

The film put me into thought for the rest of the afternoon and I gave Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a new read. It was far easier than El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. I came to the conclusion that most film adaptations (and children’s books) of Lewis Carroll’s story have been dumbed down, softened and made into the cartoons they mostly are.

As I read the introduction I thought of Saturday's expedition to VanDusen with Rosemary, Rebecca and Lauren. In that introduction there is is an account by Charles Ludwidge Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll) friend Robinson Duckworth, Fellow of Trinity on their trip up the Thames from Oxford to Godstow with the three Liddell sisters, Edith, 8, Alice, 10 and Lorina, 3.

The story was actually composed and spoken over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell. [He rowed stroke and Dodgson rowed bow]. I remember turning round and saying: ‘Dodgson, is this an extemporary romance of yours?’ And he replied: ‘Yes, I am inventing as we go along.’ I also remember how, when we had conducted the three children back to the Deanery, Alice said, as she bade us good-night, ‘Oh, Mr. Dodgson, I wish you would write out Alice’s Adventures for me! He said he would try, and he afterwards told me the he sat up nearly the whole night, committing to a manuscript his recollections of the drolleries with which he had enlivened the afternoon.

Suddenly while going to VanDusen was certainly not going up the Thames Rebecca and Lauren plus my wife Rosemary became the three girls I entertained.

As I watched the sun go down on our fall garden today I recalled the last two pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

So Alice got up and ran off thinking while she ran, as well as she might, what a wonderful dream it had been. But her sister sat still just as she left her, leaning her head on her hand, watching the setting sun, and thinking of little Alice and all her wonderful Adventures, till she, too began dreaming after a fashion, and this was her dream:-

…Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their
simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

Gerald Durrell & Jell-O Mousse - A Perfect Day
Saturday, September 19, 2009

Theodore Stephanides: Who was it who said, "If you can control your family, you've gone terribly wrong somewhere"?
Mother: Aristotle?
Theodore Stephanides: No.
Mother: Was it me?
Theodore Stephanides: Yes.
From My Family and Other Animals, Masterpiece Theatre 2005

Some days, these days, can be melancholy ones. But today’s was one of those days were Rebecca managed to say, “When I made like I was going to push Aby (my wife Rosemary) into the VanDusen pond in her wheelchair she actually smiled after!” Rebecca and I took turns in pushing (I pushed uphill!) Rosemary during our visit to VanDusen. The girls did cartwheels on the Great Lawn and I took some pictures of them with the big camera on a tripod that I lugged around with pleasure. We had our little fits, our little fights but we arrived home happy.

Lauren waited outside the front gate for her mother to appear at the end of the block as I got the meal ready. Dessert was special as I combined a strawberry Jell-O (one layer) with strawberry mousse on top.

It was last week that Hilary brought Hitchcock’s 1954 film Dial M For Murder with Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. In spite of Grace Kelly the plot was much too convoluted and complex for Lauren to figure out and she became bored. “Papi,” Hilary told me, “If we are going to see a movie get one that Lauren can enjoy.” As difficult as that sounds, if one considers that not only do we want to please the 7 year-old girl but also ourselves, it was a simple task. I went to Videomatica to the Australian/New Zealand/British section and I found many films that would have satisfied us all. I picked the 2005 Masterpiece Theatre production My Family and Other Animals based on the autobiographical work of naturalist Gerald Durrell who happened to be the brother of Lawrence Durrell one of my favourite authors. The film was hilarious and it pleased us all. Lauren laughed a lot.

Traditionally I like to cut roses for Saturday’s dinner table. The scan you see above is of the roses that made up the arrangement of today’s table. For me they represent the perfect end of a perfect day.

Stroke Improvement In Pearls
Friday, September 18, 2009

I left my mostly empty studio yesterday and I have been reflecting on how I got there. It really boils down to two women, Frances and Marlene Cohen.

It was 1975 and I was trudging at my Tilden-Rent-A-Car job. The manager was a sexist pig before they were identified with the animal. I had to listen to his jokes or such questionable comments as wanting to sniff the bicycle seats ridden by beautiful girls (in 1975 girls were girls and not women). I could not sit down and read on virtually dead winter Sunday afternoons. If the manager caught me reading, instead of looking out of the window on Alberni Street to will clients to come in and rent cars he would make me wash windows or file dead files.

In desperation I decided to take stroke improvement classes at the nearby YMCA. It was there that I met a beautiful French Canadian girl who asked me to photograph her as soon as she found out I wanted to be a photographer. I did not know she worked at Holt Renfrew. I did not know she put my colour pictures of her (alas I may have uncharacteristically thrown her pictures away) in the expensive frames of the gift department where she worked.

It seems that Marlene Cohen (of Army & Navy fortune) came in one day and saw the pictures and noticed the likeness to the clerk that was attending her. In short order Marlene called me and I photographed her( picture above). She referred me to her sister-in-law Frances Cohen and I ended up taking pictures of the whole Cohen clan. Frances gave me her card to take to Vancouver Magazine’s Fashion Editor, Gabriel Levy. Levy looked at my portraits and told me I had no fashion sense but that I had possibilities as a portrait photographer. He gave me his card to take to Vancouver Magazine art director Rick Staehling. And that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with a very good magazine and my career as a magazine photographer.

A Boom - From Simplicity To Complexity & Back Again
Thursday, September 17, 2009

One of the last remaining items in my now almost empty studio is a large Manfrotto boom. It is a tall light stand from which one can suspend a light and point it downwards to get a 30/40s Hollywood look when using a precise and controlled light that has as limited dispersal. It was the boom that Marlene Dietrich demanded of her film directors once she liked how she looked in the publicity stills that George Hurrell took of her. I purchased the boom around 1983 from departing (for Toronto) photographer Brent Daniels. The boom has other uses. It makes a very good hair light that can be pointed exactly where you want it because there is a double hand crank system with which you can control the position of the light. Manfrotto booms are expensive. You need a large studio to use them. It would be difficult for me to sell it and get a good price for it. I will keep it.

But the boom, all alone in my studio, made me think of my career as one of simplicity, complexity and back to simplicity. It was simplicity, a couple of 35mm cameras and a little flash unit that started me in business in 1976. By 1980 I had purchased some powerful (for then) Ascor studio flash units and a medium format Mamiya RB-67. Except for buying another couple of Mamiyas (one for parts and one as backup) my equipment is virtually the same today. I did buy a focusing spotlight to supplement my Ascor Fresnel spot. But my three softboxes (a small one, a medium one and a very large one) are 80s vintage. I stopped using umbrellas then. I have always preferred the ability of softboxes in giving me a more directional lighting than the wider spreading umbrellas.

In today’s blog I want to demonstrate how the simplicity of my early years progressed to a complexity of multi lighting and the use of big sets in a big studio. When the magazine industry began to pull back in what they paid, their expectations also declined in what they wanted. The blog will finish with a photograph I took of cello player Cris Dirksen and soprano Melodi Mercredi that I took last week for this week’s Straight. I consider this a very emotionally satisfying photograph in which I used one 2 by 3 ft softbox in close proximity to a gray wall. Yet all the pictures you see here were taken by the same Mamiya and the same lenses.

It was in the photograph of belly dancer Sarita (one of the last that I took with an umbrella around 1982) where in retrospect I see what led me to last week’s double portrait. I took about 30 portraits of the beautiful Sarita in many poses. The one here is the only one I took just like it. It is all about an understanding and a moment of intimacy between photographer and subject that occurs when photographer and subject chat and get to know each other. There are no thoughts of virtuoso lighting in a large set using many lights to achieve a cutting edge look that proves the photographer knows how to use complex equipment.

It must have been around six years ago that I looked back at the Sarita picture and told myself that was the only kind of photography I wanted to do. Many who look at my pictures say I have a straight ahead and conservative style. I don’t mind the epithet even if they mean well. In fact I teach a popular course at Focal Point that is called Contemporary One Light Photography where I stress the use of that one 2x3 softbox and a gray wall.

As photographers close down their expensive studios (and this one is no different) I can see that even the simplicity of my “conservative” style is unusual in its scarcity. The one light (no softbox or umbrella) attached to an expensive digital Canon or Nikon is the style of the day. Marlene Dietrich would refuse to be photographed by this sort of light. If George Hurrell were around, he, too, would close down his studio!

My wife Rosemary urges me to buy a digital single lens reflex camera to become competitive. I am unable to explain that the camera is not the issue. The issue is the lighting and the approach one takes with one’s subjects. My sort of lighting and my approach is not viable now. I jokingly say it is obsolete. I only think that it is in dormancy and it will come back as soon as straight ahead lighting begins to bore.

My wife Rosemary urges me to buy a digital single lens reflex camera so that I can “better” instruct my students at Focal Point and at Van Arts. I try to explain that I teach photography. I teach about my approach to portraiture, editorial and nude photography. I don’t teach how to use cameras. It is not about equipment as such. It is about a simplicity that becomes ever more complex and then it retreats and calms down to a satisfying simplicity. This is where I am now. But I will keep that boom. One never knows what time will bring!

Picture 1: Doug Bennett from the band Doug and the Slugs with Randy Rampage (DOA) up in the air. I cannot remember the name of the ecdysiast now. I took this photograph in 1985. I had no assistants even though I had to monitor two smoke machines. The light on the top right is the boom.

Picture 2: The lead singer of Moev (after Madeleine Morris left the band. Have a look at Morris under a boom in adjacent blog below.) I do not remember her name. I took this picture in 1985 and I would not be able to duplicate it if I tried. I did use a focusing spot light and many gels.

Picture 3: Kate Davitt,model, smoking. I took this in 1984. I used a boom spotlight shootind down and a second spot light across her face. The boom spotlight acted as a back light so that the smoke can be seen. I took this in the huge studio I had on Hamilton Street in the not yet fashionable Yaletown.

Picture 4: Carla Temple, body builder. I used complex lighting and sets that I borrowed from the CBC. They had them in their Burnaby warhouse so I had to manhandle them on to a truck with the help of Vancouver Magazine writer Les Wiseman and editor Malcolm Parry. I took this in 1984. Art Director Chris Dahl, dispatched me with a, "Take some heroic pictures of her." Malcolm Parry added, "Make sure they wear very little."

Picture 5: Sarita. Perhaps 1983. I used an umbrella but this picture is what my style has become now even though I opt for a small 2x3 ft softbox. It was here that I temporarily(!) forgot about wanting to impress people with my complex lighting schemes that never seemed to reach the soul of my subjects.

Picture 6: I took this last week. On the left that's cello player Cris Derksen and on the right opera soprano Melodi Mercredi.

The styles above are all over the map but all taken with the same camer. A camera that has elements that are 35 years old. I exchange parts from the two other identical Mamiyas I have so that the one camera I use operates smoothly. I wonder if anybody will be using their modern cameras beyond a couple of years. The money these photographers save by not buying film is spent upgrading equipment and software that does not last beyond a couple of years. Will it ever get simple again?

Boom Shots

Lady Windermere under the boom

Karen Campbell under the boom

Crystal Pite under the boom

The Boom Shot - Madeleine Morris

The Psychiatric Couch Finds A Home
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sometime in 1994 our Thursday noon lunches at the Railway Club came to an end. It had been going strong for some years. Mutual friends and friends of friends who were in the magazine business would meet to converse over lunch. There were writers, photographers, poets, urbanists, cops, alternative scene punk musicians, literate cooks and ecdysiasts. There were lots of beautiful women. I remembered two of them (Ketheryn and Andrea) today when I went to my studio with somber misgivings. I had mostly emptied my studio yesterday on my own and my son-in-law Bruce Stewart had volunteered to help me move out the larger stuff that might just fit in his old “liftback” Toyota.

One of the beautiful women of the Railway club was Katheryn Petersen. I photographed her often in my studio for several years. It was around 1991 that she told me, “How do you expect women to undrape for you on a hard floor? You need a bed or divan of sorts.” My memory then simply vanishes (as to how I located the item of this blog) except that I know that a retiring psychiatrist sold me his couch for $100 and tacked $25 for its delivery. The couch is a classic mid-century psychiatric couch. It is firm (springs), beautifully upholstered and very heavy. By covering it with rumpled sheets it looked like a bed and I often used satin of several colours for special effects or for a Hollywood look of the 30s and 40s.

What was I going to do with the couch? Would I have to rent a truck? Would I even want it in my house? Would someone want it? Or would I simply put it outside the studio in the hopes that someone would take it away. With the agony of leaving my studio almost behind me the couch became today’s preoccupation. I am happy to report that it has a happy ending.

Bruce and I managed to take the couch down the three floors. Bruce had previously taken measurements and assured me it would fit in his car. He was right. On the way home (what was I going to do with it there? Where would I put it?) I told Bruce, “Why don’t we stop at Cook’s Upholstery on 16th and Oak and ask how much it would cost to re-upholster it?”

The couch has been in my studio all these years and the very strong material is showing wear. We talked to the most friendly Bob Arjun who looked at the couch hanging out of the Toyota and immediately told us, “Good coil springs, original material. It will need 8 yards of material.” “Bob, I know, the owner’s daughter Cathy, she is married to my friend Graham Walker.” To this Bob answered, “I have known Cathy since she was 4.” The labour estimate is $750 plus the 8 yards of material. The material can cost anywhere between $100 and $135 per yard. That is a lot of money so I will not have that couch repaired in the next while.

When we arrived at home, Rosemary directed Bruce and I and after moving some chairs here and there we found a place for the couch next to the piano. Bruce put a cat motif throw rug on it and it looked like it had been there for years. With the couch safely home with its good owner (that’s me!) closing that studio has not been as bad as I expected it to be.

As I thought about the happy ending for the day I pondered on three movies, two of which I never saw (The Red Violin, The Wedding Dress) and The Yellow Rolls Royce. The thread of these films is the story of the subsequent owners of the car, a wedding dress and the violin. Nobody has yet to make a film that follows the story of a psychiatric couch. Nobody will ever know the story of the many people who have lain on the couch, put their hands on their waist and then told their innermost secrets to the doctor. How many were cured?

But I can give you a brief story in pictures of some of the beautiful women who have posed for me in that studio on Robson that is no more.

The first two photographs are Katheryn and the next three are Andrea. The following three are Leslie, the one showing my lights is with VSO violinist Robin Braun and the last little picture is of Tarren the fairest ecdysiast of them all.

One More Upmann On The Couch

Even yesterday I knew I had made a mistake by not adding this picture I took of Leslie on my couch wearing my Puerto de Liverpool (a classy Mexico City department store) pinstripe suit. I recall that for effect (even if you didn't see them) she was also wearing a pair of my socks and my black brogues. Leslie is smoking an H.Upmann cigar.

None Nicer

Posthumous Advice From Fred Schiffer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In 1974 Rosemary told me that the future didn’t look too good in our Mexico City. She added that she saw it as a difficult home for our daughters Alexandra and Hilary. She suggested we move to Canada. We put our house for sale and we quit our teaching jobs. We suffered a shock when we could not sell our house. I decided to take portraits of the wealthy Mexicans who lived in the Pedregal area near the University. Business was so good, in spite of my primitive equipment and no lighting. My neighbourhood friends urged me to stay and take the house out of the market. “Alex you are doing so well, change your mind.” We didn’t and we drove to Vancouver in our VW Beettle.

Since I was not able to find work as a photographer immediately (I had no portfolio) I worked for Tilden Rent-A-Car for a year. Meanwhile I would visit Fred Schiffer and his wife Olive at their beautiful photographic studio underneath the Hudson’s Bay skywalk on Seymour Street. I would feast my eyes on the perfect (and very large) framed portraits of Supreme Court justices and other famous people of Vancouver and Canada. Fred and Olive would tell me that I needed patience and that work would eventually come. They were right in the end and I left my job at Tilden and started work for the CBC and for Vancouver Magazine.

Around the end of the 80s or perhaps in the beginning of the 90s Fred saw the writing on the wall and closed his studio. He must have been around 65 (two years younger than I am now). He purchased portable flash equipment and began offering his services to the very wealthy families of our City. He prospered while photographers with studios were struggling. Before the digital revolution finally hit Vancouver and changed everything, Fred was the most expensive wedding photographer in town. And he was in demand.

Today I went to my studio and took it down. I had given notice so I knew I had to be out by September 30. But still I had that little hope that something would change. Just like a home is not a home until there are pictures hanging on the wall my studio was no longer one when I removed my pictures including one of my favourites of Evelyn Hart. Once the pictures were down the rest was easy. After 17 years in that studio I had collected a lot of junk. I got rid of it including 25 assorted phone books I used to control the height of my subjects. I arrive home sweaty and tired but somehow almost relieved and at peace. Could it be that my new leaf is a new chapter or will it be, ominously an afterword? Time will tell. My last kick at the can is a set of four postcards that were designed by my good friend and designer Ian Bateson of Baseline Type & Graphics. These four cards (including the one you see here) feature Arthur Erickson, a Hosta lady and portrait of Rebecca and Lauren. The cards are being printed by Metropolitan Fine Printers. I made a trade with owner George Kallas who is using my pictures of him (which I took for a Toronto based graphics to promote his business. George is a perfectionist so he told me, "If you want me to print your postcards you had better go to your friend Grant Simmons at DISC to have your transparencies drum-scanned.

The cards will have an address alexwaterhousehayward.com/postcard that will directly link to a portrait portal within my web page. The advice and suggestion to this came from Ray Mah of Leap Creative. It is he who designed my identity (see the obverse side of the postcard) 30 years ago. His design has remained fresh all these years. With help from Grant Simmons, Ian Bateson, George Kallas, Ray Mah and some posthumous advice from Fred Schiffer I just might have another career in front of me.

Finding Stuff
Monday, September 14, 2009

I started shooting as a magazine photographer around 1976 and until the late 90s when magazines began a decline in quantity, quality and editorial space I guarded my sources for finding stuff jealously. Before the advent of Google (have we forgotten about Altavista?) finding stuff in Vancouver was not so easy. Yet I remember that in the early 80s a band called Popular Front (they labeled themselves to be mercenary punks of the avant-garde ) hired me to take their photographs and they asked me if I could find a military halftrack. It took me less than an hour to find one (it was in the pre Granville Island, Granville Island) that had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the roof. Alas I have misfiled Popular Front so I cannot show the neat picture here. But I can show one of a man that is still in business since I first met him at the end of the 70s. He had then, as now, a business called Lever Arms Service. Alan Lever was a buddy of the then editor of Vancouver Magazine, Mac Parry. Every now and then I needed a gun for a prop so I went to Lever to borrow it. As soon as gun laws got stickier I had to take the pictures at Lever Arms since transporting guns without a license was against the law.

That was the case in 1982 during the Falklands War. Mac had asked me to write about my experience in the Argentine Navy during the mid 60s. He insisted in taking my photograph for the cover dressed in an Argentine Navy uniform. All I had kept was the band that went around my navy cap, but not the cap. I had to find everything else. The blue uniform came from a collector who had British Navy uniforms. The navy collar and the cap came from a collector of German U-boat uniforms. The Mauser rifle and the Israeli bayonet, that fit just right, came courtesy of Alan Lever. Mac took the picture (with my camera) at Lever Arms.

The tommy gun with Alan Lever had been fixed to be legal. In the picture you can see that is has a different cartridge holder. The usual round one can be seen in the picture, left. I took the it for a gay tabloid of the 80s called Bi-Line. I shot a series of pictures that made a narrative. This is the safest one that I can show. The location was an antique railroad parlour car that was owned by Harry Atterton. On paper he was the owner of the Sooke Railway Company. I believe the parlour car was the only rolling stock he owned. Atterton is now retired and lives in his restored castle in France.

Lever Arms

Harry Atterton's Castle in France

An Original
Sunday, September 13, 2009

It was on Saturday that I was finally able to take Rebecca and Lauren to see the show Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Rebecca kept asking me, “Is that an original?” I was surprised as Rebecca is a veteran (age 6) of the National Gallery in Washington, DC. There I showed her my favourite American paintings including Winslow Homer’s Left & Right (see, below, centre)and several works by Goya including his portrait of Wellington which at the time was across from David's huge portrait of Napoleon.

Something has transpired in Rebecca’s life (education?) that she now questions the authenticity of what she sees. The first thing that comes to mind is the label on some orange juice containers at Safeway that say, “100% Pure Orange Juice”. Underneath in smaller it says “Reconstituted.”

If I can persue this staccato train of thought, the next thing that comes to mind is a funeral I attended in Buenos Aires when I was 8. My next door neighbour’s son, in the middle of a rainy night, had not seen the barrier (it was down) in a street level railroad crossing. He crashed his Vespa into the train. Our neighbours had the audacity to have an open casket velorio. I snuck in and saw the face in small sections, somehow stitched together, very much like a haphazard jigsaw puzzle. It was the first dead body I ever saw. That’s what comes to mind when I think of reconstituted.

Somehow the image of da Vinci’s La Gioconda when I see it on my monitor, is a reconstituted (all those zeros and ones, all those pixels, all that interpolation) image of the real thing I saw in 1985 at the Louvre.

In at least two of William Gibson’s early novels a boy and his father go to a shopping mall and the boy makes the comment, “Dad look at that stuffed horse!” It seems that Gibson was already thinking of a future were the idea of a horse would be a stuffed one in a shopping mall.

In 1986 when we moved to our present Kerrisdale home on Athlone Street my knowledge of gardening was small. There was a plant on the side of the house (beneath the guest bathroom) that looked like a weed. I wasn’t sure so I let it grow a season. It was sometime in August of 1987 that I saw a swarm of Monarch butterflies while using the bathroom. They were hundreds of them on the purple/blue flowers of the erstwhile weed. The weed was a Buddleia davidii or Butterfly Bush. The swarms disappeared by the end of the mid 90s. I may have seen one or two Monarchs in my garden in the last couple of years.

Thinking back about the boy and his father and the spotting of that horse I have noticed that tourists and gallery goers (when they are permitted) take digital photographs of paintings and sculptures. For years museums allowed cameras without flash and without a tripod into galleries. They figured that very fast b+w film would be useless in copying the nuances of a work of art. The tripod somehow was seen as the mark of a professional so a prohibition against the use of one gave the museum a broad comfort zone that things were all well. All this ended with the ubiquity of the little digital camera held at arm’s length. Museums (except in places like Mexico or Argentina and our very own VAG) gave up enforcing the law.

Probably one of the most photographed objects on earth is the Louvre’s La Gioconda. What is it that makes the tourist photograph the original and reconstitute it in photographic pixels? They think that the “capturing” of the image of the real thing is equivalent to proving that the real thing is the real thing. They are no different from my granddaughter wanting to know if the painting is an original or the boy in the shopping mall wanting to know if the stuffed animal is, indeed, a real horse.

For better (better in my opinion) or for worse my Rebecca is the last of a generation that in its innocence (gently prodded by her grandfather) was lured to sitting next to the glass barrier at the Vancouver Aquarium. Rebecca and I were thoroughly splashed and soaked by the great tail splat of a killer wale. The killer whales are gone and few children (at the expense of the captured and penned animal many will assert) will ever experience that thrill.

It was the thrill that Rebecca, Rosemary and I had in Mexico’s largest zoo (a very large one with great areas for animals to roam) when we saw a couple of giraffes saunter after each other around mesmerized African ostriches. The giraffes looked like stretched horses running underwater. It was a magical moment for the three of us.

This brings me to being 8 or 9, and getting on a horse on the Argentine Pampa. I would gallop through the tall grass in search of that sudden moment when an ostrich (the South American variety called a ñandú) would spring up and run. I would point the horse in pursuit. The ñandú would do this as I approached their nests with the big eggs. The “dumb” bird simply wanted me to go as far as possible from the nest.

And yes the egg in the picture is an original if hollow. I look forward to showing Rebecca more originals.

The Real Thing

Jonathan Richman - No One Was Like Vermeer
Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back in the days of old Rembrandt
Back in the time of Jan Steen
All of them giants of shadow and light
But no one was like Vermeer

Some paintings smell of joy and sweat
Some paintings plain look so fine
And some are sad and passionate
But Vermeer sends a chill up your spine
Yeah Vermeer sends a chill up your spine

Vermeer was eerie
Vermeer was strange
He had his own color range
As if born in a more modern age
They may be oh a hundred or so years ago

What's this a ghost in the gallery
Great Scot the Martians are here
Why are his paintings so unlike the others
Unlike the other ones so near
No one was like Vermeer

Back in the days of Rembrandt
Back in the time of old Jan Steen
All of the masters of shadow and light
But no one was like Vermeer

Today I was finally able to take Rebecca and Lauren to see the show Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art Masterpieces from The Rijksmuseum at the Vancouver Art Gallery. We were in town taking some of the last photographs in my studio (I am leaving it at the end of this month) of Emily Molnar who is the interim artistic director of Ballet BC. Rebecca enjoyed the show (She kept asking, "Is this an original?" while Lauren repeated quite a few times, "I am bored." None of the girls could have guessed that there was a song going in my head, over and over. It was Jonathan Richaman's No One Was Like Vermeer as played with his band the Modern Lovers. I went to see Richman in 1984 at the Railway Club and I managed to take this portrait.

In Defense Of Annie Leibovitz's Commercial Talent
Friday, September 11, 2009

In a separate suit, Art Capital sued Getty Images, claiming the photo agency had negotiated an improper contract with Ms. Leibovitz, which made it difficult for Art Capital to continue its efforts to sell the Leibovitz archive for $50 million. The New York Times, September 11, 2009

Reading about Ms Leibovitz’s financial travails these days has hit home with me. While I am not in default of a 24 million dollar loan my finances aren’t so hot either. In all that I have read about her problems I have not heard or read one word in defense of her talent.

Some years ago when I photographed and interviewed French photographer Elliott Erwitt I asked him about two photographers. Of Karsh he was caustic, “I think that man not only removes all character from his subjects but he then makes them look oily.” He was a bit kinder about Leibovitz when he said, “She is a good commercial photographer.” And then he repeated, “She is a good commercial photographer.”

It was not too long ago that I participated in a group show at the Exposure Gallery that featured photographs taken with either toy or very primitive box cameras. A recent Emily Carr College graduate (a female) with whom some of my pictures were sharing the wall, told me, “I admire you Alex. I could never be a commercial photographer. I could not photograph sewing machines.” I masked my anger and indignity and only the fact that the she was a woman prevented me from punching her in the nose.

There is a concept out there, particularly in Vancouver, that to be an artist there can be only two routes. There is the one of success and there is the one of failure. But either way one must never compromise one’s idea of what it is to be an artist. If anything, to be starving, confirms that one is an artist. One must never sell out.

Few of these successful artists or the starving ones ever stop to think that while there might not be anybody in Vancouver with the stature of an Edward Steichen, he should be seen as example of a photographer who was an artist (in May, 2006 one of his photographs sold for 2.9 million dollars at Sotheby’s ) and yet managed to shoot for magazines (Vogue) and be the director of photography for the US Navy in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.

I consider myself to be an artist (That is certainly most subjective and probably silly, too.) but when I talk to curators of local galleries, most don’t give me the time of day. I can almost hear them thinking, “This commercial hack. How dare he."

When stare at my many full-sized four-drawer filing cabinets stuffed with negatives, prints and transparencies that I have shot in Vancouver since 1975 I wonder what is to become of them. I know that there is a treasure there that encompasses many cultural and political events of our city and region. I keep filing stuff in preparation for making it easy for someone to dispose of them when I die.

During an opening of mine at a gallery a well known local collector told me how much he admired me. I told him that the best way to admire me was to buy some of my work. I then told him of the archive buzzards who haunt the gallery openings of old artists or old commercial photographers like me. I have seen them in action at memorials to dead photographers. They go to the widow and say, sensitively, “How would you like to pay homage to the memory of your husband? Why don’t you donate his archive to us?" The art collector had not heard because when I finished he said, “I would like you to contact this man who is in charge of the archives at Simon Fraser.”

Going back to Annie Leibovitz I must assert that I think that she is a very good photographer. I know because I am a good photographer. But I work alone. In fact I work alone because I cannot afford to pay anybody to help me. If Annie Leibovitz can and has an infinity of helpers that was and is her call and that did and should not diminish the quality of what she does.

Many photographers to whom I have talked to about Leibovitz in Vancouver, more often than not say, “ She is not really a good photographer. I could be as good as she is if I had her access." These photographers forget that because she was good, she obtained that access that, in this day and age, can be the difference between the good portrait and Facebook junk. Few have seen the young upstart sharing dark corners backstage with roadies in Robert Frank’s unreleased 1972 documentary of the Rolling Stones, Cocksucker Blues. Leiboviz has paid her dues in full.

Perhaps some of the lack of sympathy for the woman may have to do with her relationship with Susan Sontag. That anybody could have lured home a woman of such intellectual capacity and genius as Sontag must have many more talents besides that of being a good photographer.

Erwitt might assert in his deprecatory manner that Leibovitz is commercial. As far as I can see, that Leibovitz is good, is good enough for me.

The suit by Art Capital relating to the activities of Getty Images is what really is the news. Getty Images is appropriating and buying most of the images, (be they photographs or paintings) that represent a legacy of our world's culture. If they are allowed to become the monopoly they may one day be, we will have to pay some day to look (on the web) at an image of Leonardo's La Gioconda.

Brother Edwin's Friendship Quotient
Thursday, September 10, 2009

It was two years ago that Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to Mérida via Austin,Texas. We had gone to Austin to visit my old school, St Edward’s up on a hill. And I was particularly keen to meet up with Brother Edwin Reggio CSC who had taught me religion and the alto saxophone back in 1959. Before going to Austin I had called him up to enquire how he was. His answer was almost indignant in tone, “I am just fine, after all I am only 75.” It was only then that I realized that the old man who taught us religion when we were 16 was only 25.

We were driving with our friend Howard Houston and his wife to take Brother Edwin to a famous barbecue restaurant called the County Line when Rebecca sprung a question at Brother Edwin on why it seemed that he and I got along so well. Brother Edwin’s explanation seemed to satisfy Rebecca but it initially went over my head. It went like this:

"When your grandfather was in school and he was 16, I was 25. If you make that into a fraction it is 16/25 which equals 0.64. Ten years later that’s 26/35 or 0.74. When your grandfather was 50 that would be 50/61 or 0.81 and now we stand at 65/74 or 0.87. Rebecca as we both get older that difference in age becomes minimal as that quotient approaches 1 and eventually becomes 1.”

For anybody who knows of calculus and geometry that is an asymptote curve that approaches zero at infinity, sort of. I understood later what Brother Edwin was driving at but Rebecca seemed to absorb the concept on the spot.

I met Abraham Rogatnick, top, left, in 1999 and we became friends. When he died a few weeks ago he was 85. That’s 67/85 or 0.78. I now finally understand why I have developed friendships with people that when I was younger I would not have even considered. This is wonderful and it is exciting to know that I am capable of making many new old friends.

I explained this to Abraham and he simply said, “Of course. Didn’t you know this? ” No, I didn’t. But I am glad that Abraham and I became friends even if my grasp of mathematics was not to the equal of Brother Edwin.

Fragments Of Now
Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I had a Vancouver theatrical actress and director in my studio. Before we began shooting they were looking at some of the framed pictures on my studio wall. I told them, “If you are going to be interested in any of them it’s going to have to be that one on the left.” "Who is she?” they asked, even after they were able to read the name, Liv Ullmann. I decided to be gentle and I did not pursue the issue, “She is an actress from Norway who collaborated with that famous Swedish director.” They did not ask me who the Swedish director was. I stopped right there.

Since I can remember my mother and my father spoke of movies and movie actors. The names remained in my memory because they often repeated their names or told me about them. One in particular stands out because it is a funny name. My mother might say of someone who was funny, “She reminds me of Zasu Pitts.”

Tonight Rosemary and I watched Archie Mayo’s 1946 film Angel on my Shoulder with Paul Muni, Claude Rains and the very sweet-faced Anne Baxter. It was difficult to see this film without remembering my mother telling me how she liked all the films of Claude Rains. Rains could play villains (indeed in Angel on my Shoulder he plays the fallen angel himself) and saints with equal aplomb. I do believe I have seen most of his performances. As I watched Paul Muni and noticed his expressions, his eyes, his eyebrows I could see where Humphrey Bogart might have gotten his inspiration. Muni’s gangster accent was as good if not better than Brando’s. Yet most of these actors and their names are largely forgotten. Still in my memory are my mother's favourites, Herbert Marshall, Ronald Colman, James Mason, Leslie Howard and especially Joseph Cotten. Can anybody who has ever seen Four Fingers ever forget those tense seconds (they seemed like hours) when Mason was trying to open that safe and not be caught?

For me memory is a carpet that is unrolling towards the future as it rolls up from the past. As an example in 1951 when I stared at photographs of dead American Civil War soldiers taken by Timothy O’Sullivan part of the shock of their immediacy may have been that the war was less than 90 years before. In school Waterloo and Napoleon weren’t ancient history. My teachers spoke of Maimonides, Empedocles, Sacco and Vanzetti, Thebes, Pindar, Edmundo Amicis, Clara Petacci and, General Burnside. Brother Hubert, CSC told us what a bitch Xantippe had been and how Socrates had volunteered to fight the Persians, even though he was an old man, so as to get away from her. It was in 1959 that Brother Dunstan, CSC told us of a fabulous English playwright called Harold Pinter. I still know who the man is and I have seen many of his plays.

My carpet from that past has receded and I have forgotten a few names. But I still manage to remember Ingmar Bergman while being aware of the films of Quentin Tarantino. I know and love the looks and acting skills of Scarlett Johansson without forgetting Monica Vitti, Romy Schneider and Claudia Cardinale.

My only conclusion is that we live in an age of carpet-roll remnants so our memories are now just fragments of now.

The Littlest Truck
Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Some people think that the life of a freelance photographer is exciting. After all, the photographer meets and photographs celebrities, politicians and other important people. And when it’s not important people it is beautiful undraped women in the studio or in exotic locations.

Does anybody ever think of freelancers shooting trucks, trains, commercial airplanes, train crews, and the retirement/roasts for the executives of Great Canadian Railroad companies? I did a lot of that for almost 25 years for CP Limited, Air Canada, Shell and many other companies. I worked on brochures for every university and technical institute of the Lower Mainland. Annual reports for many logging and energy companies took me to all parts of BC and several other provinces. In fact one annual report made me so much money that on an impulse (one I will regret for the rest of my life) I purchased a Maserati.

This kind of photography took me to the tops of tall buildings. I climbed bridges and other dangerous structures and I never thought of the consequences of a misstep. I was stupidly young. I took pictures in the Yukon in January at 3500 feet where the minus 55 degrees Celsius froze the metal zipper of my parka to my mouth. Fortunately I never had the ambition of being in a war zone and was never attracted to the thrill that others might have felt at being shot at.

I often wondered how some of the Hell’s Angels earned their keep to buy their expensive hogs. For the CPR I often took pictures of scalers who were engineers that precipitated small avalanches in gullies and banks near railroad tracks. This made it safer for trains. I also photographed the last caboose before it was retired. When I photographed train crews working on track repair and maintenance I ran into very large men who would turn their face when I pointed my camera at them. It was only after talking to their supervisor and clearing it with him as to why I was taking the photographs (the CPR newsletter) that some of the workers remained and posed while the bulk of them made a quick exit. Watching my puzzled look the supervisor explained the extracurricular activities of those that had left the scene.

My finest moment happened in the late 80s at the Siska Bridge crossing over the Fraser River near Lytton, British Columbia. At the Siska Bridge the folks of the CPR went from one side of the Fraser to the other while those of the CN went on the opposite. It was a location that featured mountains, forests, a river, a canyon and two bridges. It was a microcosm, a sort of compact version of “Beautiful British Columbia”. The day in question, sometime in July was the hottest day of the year. The hottest day of the year in those parts (40 degrees Celsius) was always the hottest place in Canada. I positioned my Mamiya RB-67 on a tripod. I had a walkie-talkie. The CP train came. It was a carg train loaded with brand new Toyotas, Nissans and Mazdas. When the Toyotas began to cross the bridge I yelled into my transceiver, “Stop now!” The train stopped and I snapped a few pictures of the Toyotas with the backdrop of the Siska interchange. I yelled, “Move,” until I asked the engineer to stop for the Nissans and then for the Mazdas.

How many people can boast of being able to stop a mile long train, not only once but three times? That was indeed my finest moment. The folks of the CPR after compensating me generously for my efforts made large prints of my pictures which were given to Japanese car executives.

This industrial photograph for a Shell Canada newsletter was lots of fun to take. The truck was only about 6 ft long and the gentleman in the picture drove it (sitting inside the tanker side of the truck) to the location that I picked. It has always been one of my favourites.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Michael Dibdin wrote 11 Aurelio Zen mysteries before he died in 2007. His principal protagonist Aurelio Zen had been born in Venice. Dibdin placed Zen only once in
Venice in what I think is the best crime novel ever set in that city, Dead Lagoon (1994). The story has a melancholy Zen return to Venice in the dead of winter and the resulting novel is an exquisite but doubly melancholy one!

There is a cooking scene in Dead Lagoon that made me get up and buy the ingredients to prepare the simple dish described. It is a good recipe. Here it is as written by Michael Dibdin:

She smiled and turned away. There seemed to be something about her which did not quite fit the crisply professional clothes, some hint of intimacy, some chink in her armour.

‘I’m starving,’ she said. ‘I’ll put the pasta water on.’

Zen followed her out to the kitchen. On the table stood a stoppered litre bottle of red wine, a packet of spaghetti, a fat clove of purple-skinned garlic, a small jar of oil which was the opaque green of bottle glass abraded by the sea, a twist of paper containing three wrinkled chillis the colour of dried blood.

‘Aglio, olio e peperoncino,’ he said.

‘I told you it was nothing fancy.’

As she set the heavy pan on the stove and tossed a hail-flurry of coarse salt into the water, Zen suddenly understood the rogue element in her appearance. Her breasts moved waywardly inside the sheath of silk, belying the brisk message of her formal clothing with their seditious whisper.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Canadians have a special relationship with Americans and Americans have a special one with the British. As an Argentine I find myself saying often that Italians and Argentines are primos hermanos or first cousins.

It would be impossible to remove the influence of the Italians in Argentina without leaving a void that would not only be so but it would affect the rest of what makes an Argentine and Argentine. From the moment I can remember being a person I would listen to the arguments, the singing and the loud talking of my Calabrian neighbours in my Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Coghlan. They seemed to live in the back garden and that is there where they had their noisy meals. The Calabrians included our neighbourhood barber and his son Miguelito who was my friend. Miguelito was el tano (Argentine Spanish nick name for Italians), I was el inglesito and Mario, our other friend was el alemán. We were all these nationalities and we spoke the appropriate language. But we were all proud of Alfredo di Stéfano (La Saeta Rubia or Blond Arrow) who was an Argentine football player (we thought he was the best in the world at the time) who played abroad (Real Madrid) in the 50s. Both he and Juan Manuel Fangio where the Argentines of Italian extraction that made us proud in a world that still confused Brazil with Argentina and did not know which country spoke Portuguese.

Because so many of our football players seemed to go to Spain or Italy I soon knew the meaning of a word used so often do describe them. The word oriundo (from Latin oriundus) was used every time I would check the soccer scores of the Italian league in the 50s. The word means originally coming from country … and it was used every time I checked the international soccer scores. The name for the Argentine Omar Sívori (he played for Juventus) cropped a lot. Sívori even managed to prove how Italian he was by playing for the Italian National Team in the 1962 World Cup.

Miguelito often told me how at his age 8 or 9 he drank wine (watered down with soda water) with his meals. I had no idea what he was talking about but I remembered him fondly five years ago when Rosemary, Rebecca and I were having pizza at midnight in the Buenos Aires. We were sitting at a sidewalk table on Cabildo (in my old neighbourhood) and I was sipping ice-cold moscato. Rebecca was curious and asked me if she could try it. I didn’t think twice and she had a sip. She thought it was delicious. Since she was 6 I told her not to mention the incident to her other grandmother.

To remove all vestiges of Italian cooking in Argentina would leave us only with sides of beef hanging from meat lockers.

While I have no Italian blood by the very fact that I am Argentine I feel a closeness, a fondness and an interest for all things Italian while I also accept that Argentina is where it is now (and economic disaster) because we inherited the bureaucracy of the English, the Spanish and the Italians.

When I read the many crime novels (by Italians (including a Sicilian), Americans and the British I notice that many involve the constant skillful sidestepping of bureaucracy by our Italian investigators or policemen. I feel quite at home reading about an Italy that is so much like Argentina and so alien to my new home of Canada.

By the time Italian crime/noir writer Carlo Lucarelli (first photo, above, left) came to Vancouver (June, 2002) I had read every Aurelio Zen novel written by the British/Irish writer Michael Dibdin, above, right. Both Dibdin and Lucarelli had a connection with the city of Bologna. Lucareli wrote about the city and Dibdin had taught English there. The usual crime novel expert, Robert Blackwood was not well so Alma Lee (the head of the Vancouver Reader’s and Writer’s Festival) called me to introduce them and to moderate a public lecture featuring the two writers.

It was a pleasure to make an appointment with the both of them (Lucarelli and Dibdin) at a Granville Island restaurant so that the writers could meet and we could discuss the possible theme of the lecture. It was then that both Lucarelli (I had not met him before) and I noticed that Dibdin (I had met him twice before and interviewed him once) was into food, coffee, drink and cigarettes. He was no longer the lean man that was my very idea of what his Venetian-born investigator who worked for the Italian Criminalpol based in Rome, looked like. Dibdin liked food and drink.

Paradoxically just about all the writers of Italian crime novels feature food with the exception of the leaner Lucarelli. Dibdin died 5 years later in Seattle and I have not doubt that it was probably some sort of heart attack.

In the course of investigating a disappearance in The Snack Thief ( Book 3 in the series by Andrea Camilleri) Inspector Monalbano interviews a “well-dressed seventy-year-old lady in a wheelchair.” When the interview is over, the woman invites the inspector to lunch:

“Well signora, thank you so much…”the inspector began, standing up.

“Why don’t you stay and eat with me?”

Montalbano felt his stomach blanch. Signora Clementina was sweet and nice but she probably lived on semolina and boiled potatoes. “Actually, I have much to – “

“Pina the housekeeper is an excellent cook, believe me. For today she’s made pasta all Norma, you know, with fried eggplant and ricotta salata.”

“Jesus!” said Montalbano, sitting back down.

“And braised beef for the second course.”

“Jesus!” Repeated Montalbano.

“Why are you surprised?”

“Aren’t those dishes a little heavy for you?”

“Why?” I’ve got a stronger stomach than any of these twenty-year-old girls who can happily go a whole day on half an apple and some carrot juice. Or perhaps you’re of the same opinion as my son Giulio?”

“I don’t have the pleasure of knowing what that is.”

“He says it’s undignified to eat such things at my age. He considers me a bit shameless. He thinks I should live on porridges. So what will it be? Are you staying?

“I’m staying,” the inspector replied decisively.

My favourite writers of crime novels based in Italy are Michael Dibdin (British/Irish with a short residence in Vancouver), Donna Leon (New Jersey), Iain Pears (England), Carlo Lucarelli and of late the Sicilian Andrea Camilleri. This latter writer I have known for some time but I chose to ignore the fact and I had never read a novel of his until most recently.

I finally discovered Andrea Camilleri by two unconnected events that include my bass playing neighbour Patricia Hutter and my friend John Lekich.

The former has borrowed all my Donna Leon and Michael Dibdin books. She has gone crazy for things Italian (a sample of this endearing craziness is the money she must have spent to buy her 17th century Italian bass, Nicolo). A couple of weeks ago, knowing that I share her love for all things Italian she left at my front door The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri.

A few days later I invited my friend John Lekich to attend a screening of an episode of Il Commissario Montalbano which is an extremely successful Italian TV series. There have been 18 of them starting in 1999. The Istituto Italiano di Cultura Vancouver has been screening these series from June to September. I somehow caught on before the last screening last Tuesday that the Montalbano TV series was based on the crime novels of Andrea Camilleri.

Of the TV installment (1 hr, 45 minutes) that John Lekich saw I can only stress that it was better than anything from England including the Inspector Morse series.

Somehow I will have to find a way of acquiring the other 17 in the series and Perhaps Patricia, Nico and I can watch them.


The scan featuring the inside cover page of a book, called Carretera Central – “Vía Emilia” featuring stories by Bologna-based Italian writers (translated into Spanish) including one by Carlo Lucarelli. The book was given to me by Lucarelli who was delighted to know that I spoke and read Spanish. The dedication mentions a refrigerator. Let me explain. For many years when I photograph people I always give them at least one Polaroid. I always tell them to stick it their refrigerator with a fridge magnet. Polaroids are no longer made but I sometimes use a Fuji version which I affectionately call a Fujiroid. Perhaps soon some subject of mine might remember me because of one.

As for The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri (which features Inspector Montalbano) what I can I possibly add to the equivalent pleasure of suddenly discovering Reginald Hill’s (10 plus novels) and having the opportunity to read them all one after another?

And finally it is almost impossible not to be tempted by the almost weekly cultural offering (most often free, too) by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Vancouver. It is preposterous that Great Britain, the US and France all have a much smaller cultural presence in Vancouver. How do these Italians do it? Where do they get their funding? And they have been doing it for a long time. Read the previous post called The Italians Part I

Istituto Italiano di Cultura Vancouver

An Affair To Remember
Saturday, September 05, 2009

Yesterday, Saturday (yes I am posting the Saturday blog today Sunday) was a day with lots of promise. But it did not end too well. It is my only excuse for calling it a night and postponing the posting to Sunday.

Ale helped Rosemary organize her closet and cleaned out her own closet from the days, so long ago, that she lived with us. That morning we had had extra thin pancakes with Ale, Lauren, Rebecca and Rosemary. Rebecca likes, butter, confectionary sugar and cinnamon on hers while the rest of us either used fruit syrups or plain sugar (that’s me). After the late breakfast Ale mentioned she needed new jeans that fit her and that she had not been able to find any. Rebecca pointed out her own purlple ( I question that colour) jeans had come from Urban Planet and that she should try the place. So we all went and I noticed racks and racks of clothing that looked like stuff that might end up at Value Village in a week or so. There was lots of grungy looking plaid stuff that suggests that Seattle Grunge is back. The music was mostly of the drum variety, sort of like disco without music. I was not quite at home. But I was delighted to see that Ale found three pairs of jeans that fit her. I was also happy to note she did not pick any of the purple ones.

Ale left for the memorial of a friend and from there she drove back to Lillooet. I went to Videomatica and chose Splash and Watership Down. When I returned Rebecca informed me loudly that if I had brought Beau Geste she was not going to see it under any circumstances, “I am still too young (12) for that movie and I don’t care if you saw it when you were 8.”

They enjoyed Splash particularly as we devoured a large Brandywine heritage tomato served up with Maldon flaked salt. We had an angel hair pasta dinner with Hilary. Lauren adores angel hair. We watched Watership Down which is still scary after all these years.

It was then that the evening became sour. We should have never brought up the subject of Rebecca quitting everything she has started

1. Ballet
2. Riding
3. Piano
4. Modeling
5. Painting

Not to mention her loss of interest in her digital camera. It seems that I will die with my own personal talent and cameras as company in the coffin.

Rebecca’s family insists that scholastics (school) are the single and most important aspect of her life. I believe that in this day and age high school barely guarantees a job at Macdonald’s. I keep remembering my new friend’s (Simon Ogden) dictum, “The world is not changing. It has changed.” It is a world in which more than ever what we did as children and what our expectations were as children do not apply. If you are 15 and you want to be gymnast, a ballet dancer, a tennis player, a swimmer, you are too old. The profession of journalist, as well as my own, magazine photographer, is obsolete.

Rosemary and I both agonize on what may happen to a little girl’s potential when that potential is not fostered. At the same time we realize that as grandparents we really don’t have much of a say. While I cannot convince my depressed Rosemary I live in the hope that my friend Abraham Rogatnick may be right in the end when he explained that the background and experience of taking Rebecca to Mexico, Argentina, Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas and her exposure to gardening, photography, good films, concerts, etc, will be a base that will remain and one day may serve as a stepping stone to a life of her satisfaction, whatever that might be.

Part of the problem is that Rebecca thinks that committing dance is committing to the life and profession of being a dancer. Committing to the piano is committing to the life and profession of being a pianist. We don’t see it that way. The piano is simply a excuse to learn to read music. Reading music is an exercise that exercises the mind in ways that we may not suspect on how useful they could be. Dance instills grace and an ability to get along with people at close quarters.

When I was 20 I made a list:

1. Doctor
2. Lawyer
3. Teacher
4. Engineer
5. Architect

I did not know that a 6th could have been and ended up being photography. Time was kind to me. Will time be kind to Rebecca?

As I walked around with no clear goal this Sunday morning I happened to turn on the TV to channel 46 and I saw the last 20 minutes of Leo McCarey’s 1958 An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. No matter how many times I have seen this film I am unable to hold back tears during its shameless tear jerking 10 minutes. And every time I see Deborah Kerr, with her red hair, “convalescing” on that sofa on Christmas day (or is it Christmas Eve?) I attempt to juggle with whom I would want to spend life on a desert island, Grace Kelly or Deborah Kerr?

Even when I remember that in 1985 I flew to London with Ale and Hilary and we met up with Rosemary who had gone to Europe on a buying trip for her boss from Mariposa. Rosemary and I went to see Deborah Kerr at the Old Vic. The play was The Corn is Green. It was an awful play. With help of some booze we had had earlier in the day Kerr and The Corn is Green put us to sleep. My image of Kerr was shattered. She looked like a grandmother. That was 1985.

Now it is 2009 and I am now a grandfather twice over. Rosemary is a grandmother, too. Rosemary does not look like the young blonde seen here with a couple of pigeons at Trafalgar Square. I have to be careful not to look down when people take my pictures. There is that double chin!

We had a little argument today. Rosemary thinks that if I bought a digital camera my business would boost up and I would be able to connect better with my students. I am unable to explain to her that I don’t teach the mechanics of taking pictures but something else. I am unable to explain that the initial expense in a digital camera would take perhaps a few years (how long will I be taking pictures? ) before the savings in buying and processing film would be matched by the savings of not using film.

But Rosemary did make an unsettling comment. “Perhaps if you had a digital camera you would go out and take pictures again. You would take more pictures.” Does Rosemary believe that with a new camera in hand I would somehow bring passion to my photography? Is she implying I have lost it?

There is a line, perhaps one of the last lines in An Affair to Remember where Deborah Kerr (she cannot walk as she has had a tragic accident) tells Grant, “If you can paint I can walk.”

As I watched and heard this I remembered that Rosemary was above in bed not being able to walk. In a week she says she is going to try using a cane. “You have to buy me one, Alex.”

Does Rosemary know something I don’t know about photography? But I do know whom I would choose to spend the rest of my life on a desert island. It wouldn't be Grace Kelly or Deborah Kerr. It would be my own grandparenting partner and wife.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Montalbano and Valente seemed not even to have heard him, looking as if their minds where elsewhere. But in fact they were paying very close attention, like cats, keeping their eyes closed as if asleep, are actually counting the stars.
The Snack Thief, Andrea Camilleri 1996

The suave and handsome 6-foot-2 man in a herringbone jacket and striped tie who opened the door of his room at the Meridien Hotel (now the Sutton Place) on January 5, 1991 reacted to my stare by stating, “I played centre in my secondary school team.”

Genoa-born (in 1922) Italian actor Vittorio Gassman faced my camera. I was to wait as he had to create a character for my camera. He bent his head and closed his eyes. Ignoring an experienced film critic (my friend John Lekich) on asking actors about former spouses, I mentioned Shelley Winters. Gassman’s reaction was a scary stare and silence.

On January 6, 1991, the Vancouver Italian Community and a few others braved a snowstorm to attend Vittorio Gassman – In Words – A Recital of Theatre and Poetry at the Vancouver Playhouse. The program consisted of mostly virtuoso monologues of Dante Alighieri, Cesare Pascarela, Franz Kafka, Pablo Neruda and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Also on the bill was Kean, a work by Alexandre Duams adapted by Jean Paul Sartre that was a revelation to those of us who knew only of Gassman’s Hollywood career in such movies as Robert Altman’s A Wedding, Paul Mazursky’s Tempest (with Molly Ringwald in her debut feature film!) and King Vidor’s War and Peace, or even to those movie-goers who might have seen such Italian classics as Big Deal on Madonna Street or Gassman’s 1975 best actor’s performance at Cannes for the original Scent of a Woman. Few would have known that before making movies in Italy in 1946, he had performed in 40 plays since his professional debut in 1943.

While Gassman’s Italian and his French were mostly Greek to me, I found I understood a lot from his eloquent acting. It was appropriate that the man who popularized Shakespeare’s plays in Italy and Pirandello and Dante to the world ended the evening’s performance with Dante’s 31st Canto from the Inferno. Line 75 reads: “His very babbling testifies the wrong he did on earth: he is Nimrod, through whose evil mankind no longer speaks a common tongue.”

Even though Dante placed the Babylonian king in Hell, blaming him for Babel, it was Gassman, through his many films (124) and frequent international tours who championed the universal appeal of good theatre.

Gassman, who suffered chronic emphysema, bronchitis, high blookd pressure and depression, abandoned stage acting in February 2000. He died on June 29 of heart failure in Rome. He told his final audience, “Death does not obsess me – it disgusts me.”

Istituto Italiano di Cultura Vancouver

Lauren & Rebecca's Slipping & Dancing Socks
Thursday, September 03, 2009

It wasn’t too bad a day. I went to the graduation of my DP5 students from Van Arts. I grew quite attached to them and I while I felt proud of them I felt sad I would not have them in class anymore.

Ale came to Vancouver for a few days so tonight Rosemary and I had our four girls for dinner. There was Ale, Hilary and our two daughters Rebecca and Lauren. After dinner the two girls went to the living room to play one of their favourite games. They put big band music on the CD player. The have some special sliding socks. Rebecca’s are Rosemary’s wool Christmas socks and Lauren has some pink and blue socks. The put them on and they are able to slide ever so nice on the wooden floor. After the get tired of sliding, they dance. Today they danced to Doris Day with the Les Brown orchestra.

Before they left for home Rebecca spotted the roses in a vase on the dinner table. She looked at them and smelled them a bit to make sure. She identified them:

1. Rosa ‘Fair Bianca’
2. Rosa ‘Brother Cadfael’
3. Rosa ‘Evelyn’
4. Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’
5. Rosa ‘Eglantyne’
6. Rosa ‘St Swithun’

Hilary pointed out to me that Lauren is precise and likes to know things that are exact. “Teach her about those roses and I am sure that she will soon learn to identify them too. She has a very keen sense of smell.” I, of course know about Lauren’s keen sense of smell as she never eats any new food without first smelling it!

Rebecca Stewart & Old Gardeners
Wednesday, September 02, 2009

In the last few days with the death of my friend Abraham Rogatnick my blogs have been a bit on the gloomy side. On Monday my wife Rosemary and our daughter Hilary returned from a wedding in Maitland, Ontario. That removed a bit of my gloom. Then later in the day I told Rebecca that we needed a picture of the two of us together to illustrate our separate articles for the publication of the American Hosta Society, The Hosta Journal. The purpose of the two articles is to promote the idea that many botanical organizations are dying off and getting few younger members to take their place. In the several American National Hosta Conventions that I have attended I have seen very few younger people and no children. When Rosemary and I took Rebecca to a convention in Washington DC in 2004 she was unique. There were not other children. It was a pleasure to see our 6-year-old granddaughter go bonkers over a tiny and very blue hosta called Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears'. In 2004 it was most rare so I was not able to buy her one. But I did manage to get her another tiny hosta called 'Cat's Eye'. It came in our suitcase between two sheets of moistened newspaper. Now Rebecca has at least 10 different hostas. But her interest in the plant has waned as she has transfered her allegiance and interest to fragrant old roses and the equally fragrant but more modern English Roses. But both of us agree that hostas were our entry into gardening. In the case of Rebecca her transition from hostas to roses was more quick.

In 2004 many of the hosta guru/legends were still alive. On of them was Alex Summers, the founder of the AHS. He died earlier this year. Alex was a notorious mumbler in his old age and many in the society avoided sitting next to him in bus tours to hosta gardens. Somehow Rebecca and Alex got along fine and they talked to each other in the bus. I have no idea if Rebecca understood anything that Alex told her. Alex may have mumbled but what he always said made lots of sense. The other hosta legend that Rebecca met was Mildred Seaver from Needham Heights, Massachusetts. They had lots of fun together and when Rebecca and Mildred parted Mildred gave Rebecca a cute stuffed toy cat that Rebecca called Rosa.

As we walk the garden Rebecca and I can see many hostas and we love to put on them the faces of these hosta people Rebecca met in Washington DC. I have no idea if her interest in gardening will continue. Suffice is to know that she has been touched by many wonderful gardeners and that is one thing she will never forget.

Rebecca took this picture. Note the bulb in her right hand. In front of us is a yellow hosta that is the last in the catalogue as it is called Hosta 'Zounds'. In my hand is a potted hosta that is very difficult to grow as it is chlorophyll deficient. Janet's claim to fame is that no two leaves are ever the same. If you don't give it enough sun she sulks and dies. If you give her too much her leaves burn right through and you get ugly holes. The trick is to find that balance.

Dam Of Wonder
Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Grand Coulee Dam is a hydroelectric gravity dam on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington. In the United States, it is the largest electric power producing facility and the largest concrete structure. It is the seventh largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, as of the year 2008.

The Grand Coulee Dam is almost a mile long at 5223 feet (1586 m). The spillway is 1,650 feet (503 m) wide. At 550 feet (168 m), it is taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza; all the pyramids at Giza could fit within its base. Its hydraulic height of 380feet (115 m) is more than twice that of Niagara Falls. There is enough concrete to build a four-foot wide, four-inch deep sidewalk twice around the equator. It was inaugurated in 1942.

In June 2002 I went to a convention of the American Hosta Society which was held in Spokane. On my way back to Vancouver I made a detour to visit the Grand Coulee dam. The American paranoia of 9/11 had yet to materialize in its extremity and I was given free rein to take pictures anywhere I wanted and nobody questioned my considerable photographic equipment. I would suspect that photography now would be by strict permission.

When I heard the roar of the cascading water and saw the huge concrete structure I felt the marvel of human engineering. It was a marvel from my past when concrete was good. In fact in the late 50s both Bing Crosby and Bob Hope advertised the goodness of concrete highways (the interstate highway system that was begun by President Dwight D. Eisenhower). Wonderful cable suspension bridges had yet to collapse and show the over confidence of that human engineering that had a spell on all of us before cracks began to literally appear on concrete structures.

A young boy, 13, in November 1936 noticed and marveled at the first cover of a large new magazine called Life. On that cover was a monumental image of Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River in Montana. The photograph was taken by Margaret Bourke-White who was to achieve other firsts which I have noted here here and here. In my classes at Focal Point and Van Arts I often tell my students on how kind photography has been to women like Julia Margaret Cameron and Margaret Bourke-White. Other women photographers like Lee Miller and Tina Modotti are now finally getting their due. I have quite a few friends who are suffering Parkinson’s and I noted here that Parkinson’s ended Margaret Bourke-White’s career.

It is for those above reasons that sooner or later Abraham Rogatnick and I came to discuss Margaret Bourke-White’s achievements. When I opened the subject Abraham pounced on me with glee to tell me of his excitement when he had seen that Life cover at age 13. “I have never forgotten that sense of wonder that hit me when I first saw it.”

It was perhaps the same wonder that I felt when I gazed on the waters of the Grand Coulee. I was a tad frustrated as I was alone and I could not tell anybody of my feelings. In fact I felt like shouting them. Leaving the Grand Coulee all I could do was to play Pandolfi’s (a somewhat obscure 17th century composer) violin sonatas. They almost did the trick. Only human company would have fulfilled my feelings.

Talking with Abraham about architecture was like watching the great turbines (I had to imagine them since I did not see them) turn and convert the force of the water into electricity. It was electricity and the chemistry wonders of such innovative companies as Dupont, Kodak, ALCOA and 3M that would make our world a better place for all. Alas (a favourite expression of Abraham and of Shakespeare) chemical spills and nuclear waste and spills took care of our faith in technology and science. And Dupont's non stick pans caused cancer. The wonders of computer chips don’t satisfy as we paradoxically wish for smaller and smaller helpings of them as they are made ever more efficient in performance and in size.

What I miss is the solidity of objects that I can see and almost begin to understand. I may have failed electricity in college but I still have a vague idea of the difference between inductance and capacitance. I comprehend the basics of strength of materials so I know why some bridges collapse. But I cannot fathom XML, Leopard or Apache. I cannot hold them in my hand. I once adjusted the gaps of my VW Beetle spark plugs and tuned the engine using my ears as the standard. All I can do with Rosemary’s Audi is put in gas and windshield washer fluid. The over-complexification of things has left me confused, unsatisfied and melancholy. I long for beautiful buildings, powerful dams and Lockheed Constellations. I get some small comfort when I hold my 1953 Leica IIIF. It is solid, beautiful and almost understandable.

I miss the Ned Pratts, Ron Thoms, Arthur Ericksons and Abraham Rogatnicks of my life. These were solid men much like the structures they designed and built. They spoke of things that made sense. They made us feel that the future, our future, was one of urbanity in all senses of the meaning of that word.

more Grand Coulee and Bob Bose


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