If A Canvas Could Speak
Saturday, December 10, 2016
|Juan Manuel Sánchez & Julia I|
What if we could find some sort of technology that when
pointed at a painting like da Vinci’s La Gioconda, or at Van Gogh’s self-portrait
could tell us the circumstances from the point of view of the subject of the
painting? Not a chance! That would be speculative/fantasy science fiction and no
But there is a variant that is possible but most rare.
Consider the following: What if I told you that some canvases can speak of
their experience of being painted?
Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sánchez
and his former wife
Nora Patrich did not body paint as such. They used canvasses, paper and
sculpture as their principal artistic medium. But in a few occasions (and
luckily I was present to record it all) the two painted their visions on an
undraped human being. No, not body painting. They transformed the real flesh
and blood into a canvas of their imagination that could walk and speak. They
imposed (gently) this vision on a naked body and the results were spectacular.
I am hoping that I might convince some of these living
paintings to tell us of their own account on how it felt to be transformed into
someone else’s vision – a superimposition willingly executed.
The First Time - Again
Friday, December 09, 2016
It’s a cliché, “There is a first time for everything.” The
problem with that is the possible variation on each individual everything.
As an example are early infatuations lesser versions of
falling in love? I can remember all the women I was infatuated with beginning
in my Buenos Aires kindergarten. Was my miss-a-heartbeat-every-second in the 8th
grade infatuation with the delicious almond-eyed Anna María Ramos (7th
grade) only that? Is falling in love (and I have done so four times since Miss
Ramos) spectacular only on that first occasion?
vividly that day sometime in 1962 when my friend Robert Hijar at Mexico City
College put a record on a turntable. It was Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd Jazz Samba.
It was like nothing I had ever heard. Shortly after I discovered Zoot Sims’ New
Beat – Bossa Nova and Bud Shank/Clare Fischer Bossa Nova Jazz Samba. Bossa nova
has not been the same or as good (mostly insipid) since those first times and particularly that
Getz/Byrd Jazz Samba.
in first times of the sonic kind really began in Austin, Texas in 1960 at St.
Ed’s High School. I was a boarder but a day student, William B. Schieffer (who
drove a blue/green and white Nash Metropolitan and everybody made fun of it) told
me, “Alex the best jazz quartet around is the Dave Brubeck Quartet. I suggest
you go to their concert at the University of Texas next week.” I went and I was
completely infatuated (?) with the sound which was a sound unlike any I had
ever heard. I played the alto sax in the school band and even though I was a
middle-of-the-road musician my sound with the horn was smooth and sweet. I was
dully impressed by Paul Desmond. So after buying Shelly Manne’s Oodles ofNoodles (my first jazz albume in the 9th grade) my second one was Time Out in the 11th.
back to Mexico in 1961 and in my Downbeat Magazine I read about the quartet’s
Jazz Impressions of Eurasia. I wrote to a friend (who was in Austin but was
returning to Mexico City) called Milton Hernandez to buy me the record.
If I can
discount my Gerry Mulligans, my Piazzollas, my Kind of Blue, then Jazz
Impressions of Eurasia has to be my desert island album with Brandenburg Gate
my favourite Dave Brubeck Quartet tune.
for the first times.
last week I go to my Kerrisdale London Drugs (we live in Kitsilano but we still
like some of our old digs) and find Bennett/Brubeck – The White House Sessions,
extensive notes, written by Ted Gioia begin:
Few things get music fans more
excited than the discovery of long-lost recordings from the past – especially if
they present unique meetings between legendary artists. Too often, we lament
projects that almost happened, but never took place, such as Jimi Hendrix’s
planned collaboration with Miles Davis or Charlie Parker’s cancelled session
with Art Tatum at Carnegie Hall. Or we speculate about recordings that may have
been made- so we imagine- but never survived, such as the perhaps mythical
Edison cylinder that captured the sound of the first great New Orleans jazz
band, led by cornetist Buddy Bolden, circa 1900.
every once in a while, an unexpected gift comes to us from the past. A long-distant
event brought two great musical minds together on the same stage – and someone
was wise enough to capture it for posterity.
recording presents just that kind of rare serendipitous moment. On Tuesday,
August 29, 1962, two stars came together at the base of the Washington
Monument. There at the Sylvan Theater, Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck each
performed separately, and then took a chance on a spontaneous, unrehearsed set –
the only occasion, to my knowledge, when these two artists made music together,
until they reunited at the 2009 newport Jazz Festival.
that my friend John Lekich, a Tony Bennett fan extraordinaire will have a heart
seizure when he reads it. I will not write about Bennet singing with his own
band or with the Brubeck Quartet. I am going to write about the fact that
sometimes you can hear something for the first time the second time around!
post below the Take Five version from my new CD. It and Nomad (from Jazz
Impressions of Eurasia) are played super-fast as if there were no tomorrow. To
me they sounded as fresh as new. Then there is the Chopinesque Thank You (Djiekuje)
from Jazz Impressions of Eurasia which was originally a piano solo. Here they
whole quartet plays it.
saw the long panoramic with President Kennedy on the right I was magically
taken back to 1962, when all was possible in the world, when I could read Ian
Flemings for the first time and a whole future of my youth was in front of me
and more with one CD.
Take Five - The White Sessions - Live 1962
88883718042 — Columbia/RPM Records/ Legacy
Curiously there is a record by the quartet called Dave Brubeck - We're All Together Again For The First Time. The whole record can be heard here
A Winter Surprise
Thursday, December 08, 2016
|Hydrangea macrophylla 'Ayesha' December 6, 2016|
Sometime in the late 80s my wife Rosemary took me to a
meeting of the Vancouver Rose Society. We sat on uncomfortable chairs and after
some boring announcements re-memberships, etc we watched over 100 badly taken
slide of roses. I told Rosemary, “You brought me for this?”
Rosemary wasn’t entirely wrong as I soon developed a strong
interest in roses and in particular old roses and English Roses. But I swore at
that first meeting that I would never ever photograph roses or any other plants
Unfortunately I was hired by garden magazines to shoot
gardens. This I did and I enjoyed using my 6x7cm format Mamiya RB-67 loaded
with Kodak Ektachrome.
|Rosa ' Reine Victoria'|
It may have been 15 years ago when I happened to think
about cutting a rose from my garden (Rosa
‘Reine Victoria’). It must have been beginner’s luck because the result after I
scanned it on my flatbed scanner the results were breathtaking. Since then I
have scanned most of the roses (over 90) of our garden plus just about every
other flower of note. In many cases I will do scans of a rose through its
flowering season and I can observe how size and colour varies with the season,
sunlight or Vancouver rain.
Today, December 6, 2016, I happened to look at our deck garden, (we left our
large corner not garden 8 months ago. I brought two hydrangeas. One of them Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’ like most
other hydrangeas bloom in the summer. I leave the old spent flowers (they look
pretty nice anyway) and I don’t cut them off until spring. The surprise is that
on one little branch there was a brand new flower which will certainly not
develop in size or colour as it snowed yesterday and there is more coming.
And yet there is beauty in this scan. It is the beauty of
a possibility not to be attained until next year. Meanwhile I will put the
bloom in a vase inside. Hydrangea flowers last a long time in water.
Cheating My Stomach
Wednesday, December 07, 2016
In 1928, Walter
Diemer, an accountant for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Philadelphia, was
experimenting with new gum recipes. One recipe was found to be less sticky than
regular chewing gum, and stretched more easily. This gum became highly
successful and was eventually named by the president of Fleer as Dubble Bubble
because of its stretchy texture. The original bubble gum was pink in color
because that was the only dye Diemer had on hand at the time and it was his
In modern chewing
gum, if natural rubber such as chicle is used, it must pass several purity and
cleanliness tests. However, most modern types of chewing gum use synthetic gum
based materials. These materials allow for longer-lasting flavor, a better texture,
and a reduction in tackiness.
To the above I can only add that it was in Mexico where
the Aztecs and the Mayans simultaneously discovered that the sap of a tree Manilkara zapota, commonly called the
chicozapote was chewable,flexible and when thrown on a hard surface it bounced.
These natives of Mexico used the sap to make the balls with which they played
their game of pelota which used both the hands and the feet. Strictly speaking
they invented chewing gum. It is only the chap at Fleer’s who may have
discovered a more viscous version with which you could blow bubbles.
My adventure with chewing gum began in 1951 when a
distant cousin of mine Robby Miranda arrived in Buenos Aires with his family
from Manila via New York City. It was cousin Robby who told me about the NY
Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers when he proudly showed me his valuable
pennants. He complained that Argentine chewing gum was defective as you could
not blow bubbles. I did not understand.
Soon after, my mother who worked at the American School
in Belgrano R brought me some square little packages of gum called Fleer’s
Double Bubble. I proudly showed Robby my find who then showed me a little
package of gum called Bazooka.
My mother told me that chewing gum was a useless pastime as
our stomachs waited in anticipation for the food to come. Gastric juices were prepared
and when nothing came down we would be subject to stomach troubles. She said I was cheating my stomach. I have not
liked bubble gum since.
When me moved from Buenos Aires to Mexico City in 1954 my new Mexican friends taught me to chew chapopote, the tar used between large squares of concrete on streets. They told me that chapopote helped to keep my teeth white.
But I must admit that when Salem blew bubbles from her
bed at the old Marble Arch (I was taking photographs, nothing more) I was
A Kindred Inspiration No More
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
When my Argentine painter friend, Juan Manuel Sánchez died a
month ago in Buenos Aires I mourned not only the loss of a very good friend but
also of a kindred spirit with whom I shared an obsession with the image of the
undraped female. His advantage over me is that he could paint from memory. A
photographer needs a real subject. When Sánchez and his wife Nora Patrich were
living in Vancouver, BC (I still live here) I found many a woman who would pose
for the three of us. We had a huge output of work.
Now pretty well alone in a Vancouver that does not seem to
appreciate the unfettered female figure and cites that often used word (here)
of inappropriate I find that I too must live from my imagination. Unfortunately
I cannot work with a canvas and brush as Sánchez did.
Because of my age of 74 I find that my interest in women
lies in women who are closer to my age, or at least over 40. The problem is
finding a free spirit willing to pose in this age of perfection. The Fuji 3200 Instant b+w Print Film, its scanned negative peel, is now alas discontinued.
Whales, Bitumen, Fidel Castro, Pragmatism & the Death of Philosophy
Monday, December 05, 2016
|Alex, April 20 1961, Austin, Texas - Photograph Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C.|
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the
United States around 1870. Charles Sanders Peirce, generally considered to be
its founder, later described it in his pragmatic maxim:
Consider the practical effects of the objects of your
conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your
conception of the object.
Pragmatism rejects the idea that the function of thought
is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Instead, pragmatists consider
thought an instrument or tool for prediction, problem solving and action.
Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics—such as the nature of
knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science—are all best viewed
in terms of their practical uses and successes. The philosophy of pragmatism
“emphasizes the practical application of ideas by acting on them to actually
test them in human experiences”. Pragmatism focuses on a “changing universe
rather than an unchanging one as the Idealists, Realists and Thomists had
|Nora Patrich & Justin Trudeau, Buenos Aires November 2016|
I look at social media (Facebook and Twitter) and notice
how people go at each other’s throats over politics, environmental issues and
These people are either on one side or the other. There
seems to be no middle ground. It would seem that US political polarization
happens in other countries and in all things.
I remember exactly what I was doing during the
Kennedy/Nixon debates and I remember, too the day after the ill-fated Bay of
Pigs. I wrote about it here
It was at St. Edward’s High School that I learned first
about Thomism (read the above excerpt on pragmatism from Wikipedia). St. Thomas
Aquinas and St. Augustine were the two most important scholars not only of
doctrine but of philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church.
Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C.
(MAs in music and
mathematics) taught us religion (better if I use the more formal and wider term
theology). Reggio taught us ethics (mentioning the Greeks in the process) logic
(also the Greeks) and taught us stuff that I now recognize as philosophy.
Even though he knew we were wasting time on purpose he
played along when we would ask him when a venial sin became a mortal sin or
delving into civics when a misdemeanour became a felony. We asked him if dogs
had souls and at what point could an animal think. Our favourite time-waster
was how much money you had to steal from an old lady before the venial sin
became a mortal sin.
Because of his math background he would explain to us the
concept of (without us knowing that it was basic calculus) of infinitesimals
and that at one point something became something else entirely somewhere in a mathematical infinity.
You might at this point reject the idea of my having had
a Roman Catholic education. But the fact is that Brother Edwin taught us how to
It was when I was 21 that I so much enjoyed a basic
philosophy class with professor Ramón Xirau
at Mexico City College that I took
many more courses. From Xirau I learned the philosophy of the Pre-Socratics to
the man now ignored or reviled as he backed Hitler, Martin Heidegger. Xirau put
special emphasis on the philosophy of Hegel and Kierkegaard so that a few years
later I read more Hegel while in a Buenos Aires Argentine Navy brig (for insubordination).
On my trip back after the navy to Mexico I read some Spengler.
No I am no expert on philosophy. Most of it went in one
side of me and out the other. But if anything it taught me to be pragmatic.
Consider the people who justifiably (in Vancouver) do not
want our Vancouver Aquarium to keep any more whales. It would be difficult to
be against this. But there is something that I might call (others have coined
it I am sure) Creeping Ethics.
I broke my rule of not ranting or participating in a
discussion on animal rights. I simply said (using our Brother Edwin waste/time
tactics) if whales are seen as sentient beings we must first agree on what that
definition is. Is an octopus (not as pretty as a beluga or a killer whale) a
sentient being? It is very intelligent. How about those cute sea otters? Are
they sentient? And I could go on and on with this silly logic. I was
immediately rebuffed as those who read my points did not understand the purpose
And let’s now go to Castro. Some as my very good
Argentine artist friend Nora Patrich,(who uses the very strong Spanish word
militante to describe her left-wing philosophy which she has had for many years)
thinks that Fidel Castro Rus (we in Argentina like to use Castro’s mother’s
name too. Are we early feminists?) is next to God. She mentions Cuba’s
excellent health system and boasts how Cuban children are all in school and
never in the street.
And then there are the folks on the other side who stress
Fidel’s authoritarian methods and the fact that he was a very (very) rich man.
And they also point out his jailing and systematic elimination (death perhaps?)
of any who disagreed with his policies.
We Canadians (many of us, anyway) have been lambasting
Justin Trudeu for his eulogy on Fidel Castro.
Any Argentine would recognize the post-Tito style and
method of being a gadfly to the horse that is the United States of America.
I would never post here my political views or opinions on
the above but I would draw the line when my friend Patrich posts a photograph
of Fidel Castro facing the then President of Argentina Néstor Kirchner as two
great men of the century. As far as I could tell the only resemblance is that
one of them was richer than the other.
But enough of this and on to the other topic that could
do well with a pragmatic approach. And this is oil.
Few know that unless a bottle of vanilla has a label that
says it is 100% vanilla that most vanilla (particularly in ice cream) is a
petroleum bi-product. The amount of plastic in a green Prius or Volt is
alarmingly high and that too is a petroleum bi-product. The same can be said
for many of the synthetic clothing materials and the plastic shoes so popular
in third world countries.
The very panels to convert solar energy into electricity
contain a lot of plastic.
There must be a middle ground somewhere. And it is called
pragmatism. But pragmatism now is a bidproduct of the death of philosophy in this 21st century.
And how many people either pro or against Castro know of the delights of Ernesto Lecuona, Nicolás Guillén & Alejo Carpentier? The latter, is one of the formost novelists of Latin America in the past century a music critic who coined the term magic realism and was the Cuban Cultural Minister in Paris for you know who’s regime. And thanks to the loosening of relations between the US and Cuba (we in Canada got to see him live first) there is that tremendous jazz pianist Ernesto Rubalcava, who perhaps due to the isolation of his country from the world developed a style as original as that of Thelonious Monk.
'T were blessed to have seen
Sunday, December 04, 2016
When my 14 year-old-granddaughter was a very little girl,
then, as now she would sit opposite me at the dinner table. She would scream at
me crying, “Don’t see me!”
tables are turned and she stares at me unwaveringly with a poker face. Today (I
am writing this on November 30 2016) I asked her why she stared at me. Her
answer was an unsatisfying, “Well to look
(my Rosemary) I have to glance
to the right
When I began to photograph Rebecca, my older granddaughter
who is now 19) I never asked her to smile or laugh and to always look into the
lens of my camera. Other members of the family, particularly her other
grandparents wanted to know why in my portraits of the girls they never smiled
or laughed. I tried to explain (to no avail) that the girls never volunteered
to smile or laugh so that’s what I thought they wanted. I also explained that
in the first photographs of children in the 19th
century and particularly
those of Julia Margaret Cameron
they were serious for the camera. I further
mentioned that children in Victorian times were treated as adults (to their
detriment in their abuse in terrible working environments).
|Alice Liddell by Julia Margaret Cameron, Rebecca Stewart & Isabell d'Medici by Bronzino|
To delve into Lewis Carol and his relationship with Alice
Liddell would have complicated matters even more. I simply stuck to my purpose
and photographed my granddaughters staring into my camera with a serious
With rare exceptions most of my editorial portraits have
been taken in the same way as I rarely shoot profiles or make my subjects
laugh. My usual instruction is to tell them, “Think about a smile but don’t.”
I believe that to look into a person’s eyes is to get at a
hint (life force, soul, spark) that makes them individuals and different from
me. I know that looking into a mirror confirms my individuality and existence
and that I am even alive.
|From Sleeping Beauty - Memorial Photography in America by Stanley Burns, M.D.|
With the discovery of photography in the early 19th century
photographers (unable to apply what they knew about math with
infinitesimals and asymptotes) thought that if they pointed their camera
at a person about to die they might catch that moment between life and
death. Of course they failed. Both my granddaugthers, Rebecca and Lauren often look at the pictures of my Sleeping Beauty-Memoria Photography in America
by Stanley Burns, M.D.
|Jorge Luís Borges - Diane Arbus|
My confusion troubles me when I approach the idea of a blind
man like my favourite Argentine poet Jorge Luís Borges who became blind at a
young middle age. My confusion troubles me when I stare into the eyes of
Rosemary’s cat, Casi-Casi. Can he think? Is he aware of his existence? At other
times like many cats he does not want to be started at and looks away or closes
This is a similar reaction (looking away) when I would stare
at my early attempts into finding if a girl liked me. If they were to stare
back I would immediately act like Casi-Casi.
There are many stories and superstitions in Latin America
about a “mal hojo” and how such a
person with an evil eye can cause you to experience unfortunate events.
I have wanted for years to test a belief I have about how we
look at people and how they do it in return. The experiment is to place a young
person (20s) in a room and have the person facing a camera on a tripod with a
simple light to one side that cannot be moved. Then one by one the person’s
father, mother, dentist, brother or sister, boyfriend or girlfriend, teacher,
etc would individually take one snap. I maintain that with some judicious examination
of the photographs one would be able who took each picture if thrown to the
floor in a jumble.
|Rebecca & the agave|
A further thought for me in taking portraits is that no
matter how objective we might be about a person we have met or not met we will
have pre-conceived ideas on who and what they are like. Furthermore the person
sitting for my portrait will hide what must be hidden and only show me what
they think I should see in what and who they are. A good portrait has to be a
blend, a collaboration between photographer and subject.
|Lauren in my sailor whites|
I ’VE seen a dying eye - Emily Dickinson
|Run round and round a room|
|In search of something, as it seemed,|
|Then cloudier become;|
|And then, obscure with fog,|| |
|And then be soldered down,|
|Without disclosing what it be,|
|’T were blessed to have seen.|
More Emily Dickinson