Rebecca a Ghost Presence in Mérida in 2018
Friday, March 16, 2018
|Cenote de los Sacrificios - Chichen Itza - 2007|
Rosemary and I returned from a trip to Mérida, Yucatán this
I have to admit here that in the beginning of this 2018 I
have been overwhelmed by stuff including a trip in January to New York City. I
have been remiss in writing blogs. I don’t think I have ever had so many holes
to fill. I don’t skip days I have not blogged. I go back and fill them.
But I have been thinking (I am 75) on the futility (I am not
sure of this word) of keeping my stiff upper lip and to soldier on and write
My two granddaughters have been in my thoughts and in
particular Rebecca who is now 20. It was in 2007 that we took her to Mérida and
stayed in the same hotel, Hotel Casa del Balam, that we stayed in this time.
For us she was a melancholic presence, a ghost that accompanied us wherever we
In 2007 my cameras were film cameras. One of them was an
extraordinary German panoramic camera, a Noblex. This camera swept an imge that
was two and a quarter inches wide by seven inches long.
It would seem that back in 2007 I was mostly interested in
printing photographs in my darkroom and I overlooked the potential of the
scanner I had then (a very good one that has since been superseded by a better
As of now I am not sure if I will place here any of the photographs
I took this past week.
I noticed this one from 2007 which is a Noblex sweep of the the
Cenote de los Sacrificios at Chichen Itza. Here the Mayans performed their
human sacrifices and pushed many into the deep cenote to drown. Priceless
artifacts have been since the beginning of the 20th century dredged
up from the muddy bottom.
Two thousand and seven was the second time I had gone to Chichen Itza (this
time in 2018 I skipped it and the crowds and opted for the lovely and less
|Rebecca Stewart in Uxmal 2007|
Whenever I go to these Mayan ruins I am transported in time
and I feel that I am discovering the ruins as if I were a 19th
century explorer. In some cases I go further in time and imagine the Mayans themselves
(no different from the modern Yucatecans who are friendly and who are short and
have round faces. Many still speak the language of their ancestors. Most cities
and towns in Yucatán conserve some variant of their original name. There are
only a few cities like Vallalodid that have a modern Spanish name.
My memory of that cenote from 2007 (in extreme heat and
humid) is an eerie one. I could imagine the screams of those sacrificed
although perhaps they were drugged. This Noblex image I have converted into a
pseudo cyanotype. The photograph of Rebecca in Uxmal is the result of a slow shutter (that is why it is not all that sharp). Rebecca seems to be ghost (read the exraordinary poem, in Spanish and in English by my Mexican poet friend Homero Aridjis below) and that is how I felt when Rosemary and I returned to Uxmal this time around. The other photograph of Rebecca in Uxmal I took with a 35mm Russian swivel-lens panoramic called a Horizont.
|Rebecca Stewart Uxmal 2007|
Carta de México
Por estas callejuelas
caminan con nosotros
ruidos de coches
miradas de niños
y cuerpos de muchachas
Impalpables y vagos
frente a puertas que ya no son
y puentes que son vaciós
mientras con el sol en la cara
nosotros vamos también
hacia la transparencia
Letter From Mexico
walk with us
through these back streets
the stares of children
young girls’ bodies
cross through them
we travel through them
at doorways that no longer are
on bridges that are empty
while with the sun on our faces
move toward transparency
Eyest to See Otherwise - Ojos de otro mirar
Edited by Betty Farber and George McWhirter
A Negative, a Scanner & No Whiskey
Saturday, March 03, 2018
W. (William) Eugene Smith was a famous American
photographer of the 20th century. In a Popular Photography Magazine article about him that I read
in the early 70s I will never forget that he said he adored going into his darkroom (a
very messy one) with some negatives, good music and whiskey.
For many years until about almost two years ago I did that but
minus the whiskey. Until the late 1990s (when I quit the habit) I used to smoke my pipe in that
darkroom (which had no ventilation). The smoke shared time with developer and
fixer fumes and most importantly with the bath of selenium toner that I used to make
my photographs archival. This latter product is a known carcinogen.
I must have a most efficient and charitable guardian
angel. I am pretty healthy for my age.
When my Rosemary and I moved to our current Kitsilano duplex
I had to give up that darkroom. It was a brutal feeling of loss which somehow I
have managed to rationalize by the fact that I shoot a lot with my digital
cameras and my very good Epson scanner does wonders with the b+w negatives and
colour negatives that I load my 35mm and 120 format cameras. These digital could not have been handled in the classic darkroom.
The output of a scanner is digital and with my Canon Pro-1
printer I can print to my heart’s content in a room full of light (no music)
and with fresh clean air.
While W. Eugene Smith might not have agreed with my present
situation, I do like to sit at my computer after picking a negative I have not
done anything with. I then monkey with it with the help of a scanner and my 13
year old Photoshop.
What you see here is a Polaroid Instant b+w negative that is
7x7 cm in size. My subject was a beautiful woman called Belinda Carr who was my
model for a seminar I gave many years ago on figure photography.
I projected on her with an optical spotlight that had a gobo of a
night skyline scene. I gave her the print (which had to be coated!) but
kept the negatives (3 in all).
When I scan anything with my Epson I scan it in three
colours. Since the negative does not lie completely flat on the glass you get
the odd colours.
I enhance those colours by going to Photoshop’s
Shadow/Highlight tool. This tool is the most useful tool as it will bring back
shadow detail (that has always been there!) that old commercial printing papers
could never really handle. When I abuse this tool the pleasant (to me) colour
shifts happen. I up the sharpness and contrast with Corel’s Paint Shop Pro X2
photo program. In my opinion this
program is excellent (and cheap!).
On a nice Saturday afternoon where I can see the sun on my
deck and the birds hanging out in my bird feeder I believe I am as happy as W.
Eugene Smith ever was.
No Attitude But Perhaps Edgy
Thursday, March 01, 2018
|March 1 2018|
My career as a magazine photographer has been a balance of
dealing with some of the best art directors around and with some that insisted
in using words I had no concept for.
When I showed my portraits that were attempts to fashion to
the latter art directors they would use an expression, “Your photos need to
When I showed my well lit portraits to them they often said,
“These are too well lit. You need to be edgy.”
When I showed those portraits in which it was obvious I had
used a stylist and talked at length with my subjects they would say, “You need
to be a fly on the wall and shoot.”
There was no way I could ever satisfy them. Now being 75 and
obsolete, redundant & retired I need not shoot anything where I have to
please any of those guys. I must interject that I did deal with a fantastic
woman magazine art director called Barbara Solowan
. She would send me faxes
with her drawings. Once the instructions were, “Make believe it is a cover for
For many years I have been dealing with a personal interest
in shooting images that are erotic. In my waning life I have found that Eros is
more subtle. This means that fewer private parts (if any) have to show. I have
discovered in shooting that if the message is confusing and difficult to
interpret, it is all for the better. I believe that I have found (finally!) an awareness of what those
guys meant when they said, “Shoot edgy.”
I still don't know what they meant by "attitude".
Jane Rule - The Spider Spins Her Web
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
When I received a Manila envelope from Herizons Magazine
today I knew what I would find. That did not diminish the excitement, enjoyment
of seeing one of my portraits in print. I remember my first one sometime in
1976 for a Vancouver travel magazine that featured my cover of a Mayan ruin in
Yucatán. Since then I may have had at least 300 covers and countless two-page
spreads and full bleed pages. But that excitement always seems new.
This time around it was about a portrait I took of Jane Rule
some years ago for Books In Canada.
I wrote about being scared of facing this
woman and how she won me over here
. I have been told that this portrait became Rule’s
That the envelope containing the magazine, also included a
check (a strange event in this day and age!), was even more thrilling.
But the biggest thrill was reading (yes we photographers do
read) the interview of Rule by writer Keith Louise Fulton in 1993 that had
Keith Louise Fulton: Are there problems writing fiction that
includes lesbians, when literature has left out lesbians’ life experiences? Did
you try to make your own audience, or were you just having to deal with the dilemma
of being understood?
Jane Rule: I wanted to be clear. But I also didn’t want to
be interrupted by being concerned about people misreading my work. I didn’t
want to be distracted. It’s easy to be silenced or to cater in wrong ways, and
I thought my job is to make the worlds I see as clearly as I can. If people
come of good will, they will be welcome. But I am not writing books for my
enemies. I’m not writing books for anybody but me. I mean, it’s the function of
the spider to spin the web, and I had to make a world I could live in. And I
think that’s the basic impetus to write – Because there isn’t a found world. I
don’t know, but I think I was stung into writing and required for life to
write, to make a world I could live in.
Jane Rule's Brownies
Two Grescoes & Dan Rudnicki Dissipate My Inertia
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
|Paul Grescoe & Mark Budgen's hands|
Since Rosemary and I returned from a week’s trip to New York
City almost three weeks ago, I have been plagued by a terrible respiratory
disease that unfortunately never deteriorated to pneumonia (I have had that
twice in my past). Had I had pneumonia an antibiotic would have stopped it. I
have been feeling in what seems for three weeks of not wanting to do
anything, read anything or even write a blog. I wrote about this feeling here
Today I feel a tad better and I am writing this because of a
shot in the arm that came from Paul Grescoe. Who is he? Read here
. But that
entry does not really explain all that Grescoe and wife Audrey did in
Vancouver to make the magazine milieu of the 70s, 80s and 90s in Vancouver to
be as terrific as it was. It was Audrey Grescoe (and Andrew Scott) who transformed Western Living
into to the
success that it has even today in spite of the decline in print.
|Audrey & Paul Grescoe|
But I must also point out that my career as a photographer
had its downs. Often when I was really depressed I would call Paul Grescoe who
would gently (with a voice that could sell thousands of used cars) give me gentle
advice (very good it always was) that mostly involved having patience.
Their son Taras started a career as a free-lance journalist
that at one point when he wrote for the Guardian included my photographs in that
publication for a first and last time. Few in Vancouver would know that many
times Taras Grescoe would step in for William Safire’s column On Language in
the Sunday New York Times Magazine.
Like his parents Taras Grescoe is prolific from his base in Montreal.
I must also record here a little article that Paul Grescoe
wrote for Homemakers in which he wrote about the safety virtues of building
cars that would have their headlights one during the day!
Today he sent me an email after years of having lost touch
perhaps because the Grescoes live in Bowen. It has been another well placed
Grescoe shot in my arm!
It's been years, but I wanted to contact you to say what
And how informative and astute your commentary continues
Audrey and I are still on Bowen (but thinking of moving
this year to be near our daughter Lara). Aud is editing a
book and I'm partway through (finally) a third Dan
where he finds out who killed his wife.
We'll be celebrating our 55th this May, after which we'll
Montreal to be with Taras, Erin and their two sons (6 and
Keep blogging, Alex.
It is in relation to Paul Grescoe’s Dan Rudnicky
mysteries that I photographed him many years ago in an East Vancouver back
alley with the help of our mutual friend Mark Budgen’s