We Are Highfalutin Snobs
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Right off the bat you must know that my
computer monitor is a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor. It is a Dell. I calibrate
it every once in a while by making the gray background of my blog gray without
any bits of blue, yellow, magenta, green or cyan. When I send my digital files
to Grant Simmons at DISC so he can make some of those wonderful giclées, my prints are exactly as I expected them. And
furthermore when I see my files on his super calibrated Mac monitor my pictures
look exactly as the do on my CRT.
Next to the living
room, where I have my monitor, computer and scanner is a small den with an
excellent fireplace. In a corner is a medium sized Sony Trinitron (yes it also
has a bulky cathode ray tube protuberance on the back.
Rosemary and I have no
way of connecting the computer to our TV should we want to watch what is on the
computer or if we would download from Netflix. We are happy as we are.
And we are happy as we
are because thanks to our excellent Vancouver Public Library and Limelight
Video we get to see all that wonderful stuff that is not mainstream.
|Yuliya at my Dell CRT monitor|
You see, Rosemary and
I keep our noses very high because we are highfalutin snobs.
We have never watched
Law & Order or any other American made TV program. I saw one Breaking Bad
and one Mad Men a long time ago and that satisfied me that I was not missing
Rosemary and I like
foreign films and in particular films that never have animated characters with
the voices of famous Hollywood actors.
We do watch police
procedurals. We like our policemen to have lots of existential angst. We have
seen, now, 18 episodes of the Italian series Montalbano. As I write this
Rosemary is reading her 8th Andrea Camilleri, Montalbano novel.
We like existential
angst and we saw the few in the British series (that made only a few) that
featured Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen and Robert Wilson’s Seville cop Falcón.
What is next? Rosemary
was not keen on having our dear Inspector Brunetti (Dona Leon’s detective based in Venice) speak German as the series is made by
So we tried Wallander.
But I did not think Rosemary would approve of the original Swedish series in
We have seen two
Wallanders with Kenneth Branagh. And we like Branagh’s Wallander because he is
full of existential angst, suffers from a horrific and enervated work-related-stress
and by the second episode he is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Rosemary and I have
come to the conclusion that Branagh’s tired look cannot be just makeup. We
imagine him going days without sleep and he perhaps smokes a few tokes to get
those bloodshot eyes. The man looks like he is about to collapse. We love him
and we love the slow pace (so unlike the quicken-it-up-time-is-money American
method) of the show. Better still that first episode featured my very favourite
British actor, David Warner, as Wallander’s father, a painter suffering the
early stages of Alzheimer’s.
I met and photographed
Kenneth Branagh some years ago. The perennial question that most people ask me
is, “What was he like?” My usual answer is that I have never been able to
penetrate, as far as I know, the mask of the actor, except once.
The man in question
was a young Christopher Gaze who played Richard III in an early version of Bard
on the Beach in 1984. Gaze played the hunchback with a withered arm Richard. It
was amazing to watch him. I wondered how this man could possibly woo the very
women whose husbands he had sent to their death. At the end of the play (there
was no curtain bowing as there was no curtain) Gaze would bow to our applause
and he would then straighten up and shift from Richard III to a man I would
soon get to know as Christopher Gaze.
I can assert that
Branagh made only one mistake in his life and that was to leave his wife Emma
Thompson. When I photographed the man (he was courteous, warm and low key) he
was having an affair with Helena Bonham Carter. Since I had photograph Bonham
Carter a year before I shopped for a Pugwash, Nova Scotia pewter locket and inserted one
of my snapshots. He was most grateful.
As Rosemary and watch
Wallander we marvel as how the man can make a scene without saying anything. He
uses his eyes. He might think of a smile without smiling quite. He is to
Wallander what Lucca Zingaretti is to the Montalbano series.
And we formally thank
here the VPL and Limelight Video for making accessible to us the good stuff.
I Am Abraham - Which One?
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
|Abraham Lincoln - William Shaw -Spring/Summer 1860|
At this moment I am putting my copy of
Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham, aside. I am doing with the novel what my Rosemary does with
Mars bars (a Canadian chocolate bar similar to the Milky Way). I am half way
through but like Rosemary, who sneaks into the kitchen to slice thin slivers the bar on the cutting board, a sliver at a time, and by evening it is all gone. We both now how to savour and prolong the pleasure of good things.
hrilling as I Am Abraham is
(particularly if you are a Lincoln fan as I am) I have to let it go to peruse
in my head the information that Charyn throws at me in what would seem is a
mask of novelized facts. But between reading an official biography rich in
detail or reading a real memoir like U.S. Grant’s I will take the second and if
a memoir is not available a novelized one will be my choice if I know the
author. Two of the best novelized memoirs I have read in the last four months
have been Tomás Eloy Martínez’s
Santa Evita and Marcos Aguinis’s La Furia de Evita. And of course it wasn’t too
long ago that I read with pleasure Charyn’s The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.
|Jacket design Tal Goretsky|
I will not write here
one of those silly art critic comments on why Charyn would pick Dickinson and
Lincoln as his subjects. He is clear in the Author’s Note to I Am Abraham as to
why he chose the latter and I will write about that below.
First I will put
forward an observation not based on any facts or scholarship but by someone who
is primarily a portrait photographer, and that’s me.
|Lisa Gherardini, Leonardo da Vinci|
Of the four only one
has given us the sound of his voice and we have also seen him in news films. He
exists in our minds as someone we think we know. In my case I can even smell in
my head the aroma of his Romeo y Julieta’s.
But the other three
are enigmas. There is one known photograph of Dickinson. What we know of her is through her
poetry and a few observations by people who knew her.
Of the Mona Lisa we
know absolutely nothing except that little known fact that her family, once a
patrician one, were exiled to several countries including Ireland where
they adopted the name of Fitzgerald. You can connect then the possibility that
she and John Fitzgerald Kennedy might have been related.
While there are a few
extant Daguerreotypes of President Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln had provided
history with over 100 likenesses. Of those I have counted (purely subjectively)
one almost smile and two half smiles.
So I believe that our
attraction to Mona Lisa, Emily Dickinson (particularly after we have seen her
one image) and of Lincoln
has to do with our inability to know who the person behind the mask is.
|Andrew Jackson - Mathew Brady - between 1844-1845|
And with Lincoln (those three
almost smiles) you see a gaunt, sad, troubled man who sometimes seems to be at
peace, in spite of the turmoil of his life.
It is the enigma of
those three faces, Lincoln, the Mona Lisa and Emily Dickinson that makes it
compulsory for us to return to them to see them and read about them.
Both Lincoln and
Dickinson look absolutely contemporary in their portraits specially when you realize that they were alive when they faced the camera.
We know that the
exposure times for these 19th century portraits could be one minute
or more. This forced a photographer’s subject to sit still (a framework of
metal contraptions held them in place but not seen by the camera) but even then
one cannot avoid seeing the patient melancholy behind Lincoln’s eyes.
In his Author’s Notes
Charyn begins: I never liked Lincoln.
He then retracts and
writes: Then several winters ago, I happened upon a book about Lincoln’s
lifelong depression – or hypos, as nineteenth-century metaphysicians described
acute melancholia, and suddenly that image of the backwoods saint vanished, and
now I had a new entry point into Lincoln’s life and language – my own crippling
bouts of depression, where I would plunge in the same damp, drizzly November of
the soul that Melville describes in Moby-Dick. But I was no Ishmael. I couldn’t
take my hypos with me aboard some whaler. I had to lie abed for a month until
my psyche began to knit and mend, while some hired gunslinger of a novelist
taught my classes in creative writing at the City College.
Jerome Charyn’s novel
I Am Abraham is of a man whose pictures you see here. But consider this; the
last photograph of Lincoln
taken by Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865 was, as far as we know the last portrait
of the man before his date at Ford’s Theatre for the production of Our American
Cousin on April 14.
And in this photograph,
a glass plate, (it was originally thrown away and is all that remains of Lincoln’s session with Gardner)
giving the best smile he ever gave to a camera. That image is what the cover
illustration of Charyn’s novel is based on.
Let us hope that
Charyn’s hypos will have receded as we await his next book which will surely be
about some other person whose face is or was an enigma.
The pictures of Lincoln below are in chronological order and they begin in 1846/47 and end February 5, 1865.
|Portrait by Brady taken after Lincoln made his Cooper Union Speech on Feb 27 1860 |
|Jerome Charyn, 1995 Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
|Hair cut to facilitate the making of life mask|
|Photograph by Alexander Gardner, illustration on Charyn's book based on this.|
|Lincoln's second inauguration March 4 1865. Lincoln under black dot, John Wilkes Booth under black dot|
|Lincoln and son Tad|