In Praise Of The Ketchup Sandwich
Thursday, May 23, 2013
My friend Les Wiseman told me many years ago that any food you consumed before you went to bed in the evening would be with you in the morning. What he was saying was that if you ate before bedtime you would gain weight.
Because I have an intermittent sleeping problem I often go to bed with a little plate of Gruyere since they say that a milk product will induce sleep. With a German Gruyere I get at Safeway I may accompany it with a few bread and butter pickles. Because of encroaching plumbing problems I have curtailed that large mug of tea.
There are times when you are hungry for something salty. Rosemary will reluctantly buy Planter’s Dry Roasted Peanuts because it is difficult for both of us to stop, when you open the jar. We like saltines (with sesame seeds) but these produce itchy backs when sleeping. We do not agree with our son-in-law's dictum of never eating in bed. You must consider that we have had daily breakfast in bed for at least 15 years which we enjoy with our New York Times
and Vancouver Sun.
But there are some evenings when I am really hungry and the best thing in the world is a ketchup sandwich in which the bread slices (must be white) are generously buttered (European, unsalted cultural butter, natch). Should the ghost of my friend Les Wiseman suddenly appear I would shoo him away.
The ketchup sandwich just got better. A few days ago while shopping with Rosemary at Save-On I spotted this bottle of Heinz Red Thai (no matter what it says on the label this is indeed ketchup). I must report that Red Thai is excellent. As for my English friend Ian Bateson who opts for HP sauce on his sandwich I can only hope he sees the light soon.
Metamorphosis Of A Breath
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Sometime in 1962 while living in Mexico City I went to a supermarket and purchased Countdown – Time in Outer Space – The Dave Brubeck Quartet
. The album (a mono recording as I did not have a stereo phonograph in 1962) is dedicated to Lieut. Col. John Glenn, Jr.
Amazing, to this 70 year-old, I listened to the 52 year-old record last night which I played on my Sony (linear tracking) PS–X555-ES turntable. I have a Stanton cartridge on the pickup. The sound of the record was superb and I felt that same thrill I had experienced felt back in 1952.
As I listened to the record (I have some very nice JBL speaker monitors and an Acoustic Research stereo amplifier) I was scanning the pictures of the very beautiful Caroline Matthews which I posted yesterday
In 1988 when I took the pictures I used an optical spotlight, Ilford FP-4 b+w film and a 140mm lens on my Mamiya RB-67 Pro-S. At the time I was concerned and interested with contrast. Extreme contrast helped iron out the minor imperfections that even perfect woman somehow had. If you note the contact sheet seen here you will see that I exposed the contact sheet to show the face and ignored the fact that detail around her was obscured.
In order to get shadow detail, something that I understood in 1988 for one very big reason. Reproduction of photographs to magazines and newspapers did not include the modern day scanners. This meant that to reproduce a true black the photograph had to be a shiny glossy. The glossy side of photographs (we might think that glossy looks cheap now) was the only way to ensure a good black. Matte prints might have looked nice then but the matte finish produced muddy grays in magazines and newspapers.
If you happened to send a photograph of a person with black hair next to a black wall with no separation (the purpose of hair lights in those days) to a magazine you were probably sacrificing a career in business with that magazine. It was virtually impossible to get details in the shadows.
Our digital age with good scanners (matte or glossy makes no difference) and digital printers (and no scanner needed if the images are digital to begin with) has produced a situation where almost any kind of photograph can be “saved” for publication.
|Modified with Shadow/Highlight|
The new is in many cases better than the old. But I would defy many of my friends with smart phones, MP-3 files and ear buds to tell me without any shadow of doubt that their sound, is better than the sound I routinely listen to in my living room.
Paradoxically sound these days can be glorious but people opt for convenience over quality. The same might apply (as seen by this old-stuff guy) to how people approach photography now.
|Further work with Shadow/Highlight and with Levels|
Going back to the original topic of how to get shadow detail I must now confess that it has never been easier (only if the detail is there as it is in my negatives shown here) than with a decent scanner (an Epson Perfection V700 Photo) and a good monitor (in my case an obsolete Dell Cathode Ray Tube Monitor). To ease in the operation I have Photoshop CS Version 8.0 which is about 8 years old). This Photoshop has a tool called Shadow/Highlight which helps diminish the tendency of scanners to add contrast to a picture. Shadow/Highlight can bring in details easily for which I might have to use every trick in the book (including premium variable contrast photographic paper) to almost mimic (but not quite!) the results of a good scan and a giclée printed by my good friend and expert on this sort of thing, Grant Simmons at DISC
Until now I have despaired at the disappearance of Agfa and of its very good photographic paper Portriga. This paper had an almost uncanny (other papers could do this to some extent but not as well) in being able to split tone. This meant that when the finished print was immersed in a very strong solution of Kodak Selenium Toner, the photograph would go warm in the shadows (magenta/sepia but cold, cyan in the highlights. Recently I found a box of 100 sheets of 8x10 Portriga in my darkroom. The box must be at least 13 years old. But it is still good.
And yet, the pictures of Caroline Matthews in which I “abused” the Photoshop Shadow/Highlight tool do show a startling and to me attractive split toning.
Paradoxically few who might learn this trick will go as far as having the picture printed as hard copy. What a pity, that we live in a world where flat design, a movement perhaps fomented by monitor viewing, is paramount.
Waltz Limp- Dave Brubeck Quartet
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
As my Facebook friend, Page Turner has told me, I should feel very lucky to have photographed so many beautiful women in my life. I have been giving the idea of beautiful women much thought today and I am not in the least inclined to write a deep essay on the subject. I have spent most of my day moving plants in the garden with my spade and every joint in my body is in pain. I originally had the idea of posting one photograph here with no words and to let the photograph speak for itself. But after looking at the file called Caroline Matthews, one of the most beautiful of all the women I have ever photographed I feel that some sort of explanation is needed.
Caroline Matthews used to work at the Railway Club some 25 years ago which is when I took these photographs of her. Photographer, illustrator and writer friends of mine would meet for lunch on Thursdays. I always looked forward to going into the club and loosing my breath just looking at Matthews. Some of us with twisted tastes would complain to Matthews that the curtains weren’t just right on the windows on the hopes that she would get up on a stool to adjust them. I believe she knew our game and was game to show, she wore mini skirts, some thigh for us.
Perhaps some 6 years ago I ran into her on Granville Island and she was as beautiful as ever. She is a schoolteacher in Surrey.
I begin the series with the upside-down picture of her. I have made this sort of thing one of the better tools of my trade as upside-down photos are not easy. But I also enjoy the idea that some of you reading this or just looking at the pictures will twist your face in order to see the picture right side up. This is definitely not kosher. But then that’s your choice.
Curtains From Thanatos
Monday, May 20, 2013
Passed on March 20, 2013. He is survived by his wife Hilda, son Dustin, sister Monica, brothers Stephen (Kirsty), Ian and relatives in Canada and the UK. Service will be held Monday, April 1, 2013 from 11 am to 2 pm at St. George's School Chapel (3851 West 29th Avenue, Van., V6S 1T6). In lieu of flowers, donations to BC Cancer Foundation
Published in the Vancouver Sun on March 29, 2013
|Our living room window to the front garden|
When I arrived to Vancouver in 1975 it took me a while before I could become a photographer. I began to struggle as one around 1977 and Phil Hersee was well established with a nice studio in Gastown. He soon was a pioneer in the new business of shooting stills for the growing film industry of Vancouver.
Because we were in different fields, I was shooting for magazines, I never dealt with Hersee nor did I ever get to know him. I remember him as a handsome man with a neat moustache and a clipped British accent. More often than not he had a smile on his face. About 18 years ago he self-published a book about Vancouver with his beautiful colour takes.
Rosemary, our daughters Ale and Hilary moved to our present location on Athlone Street in 1986. The living room has two huge windows on either end and windows on the side. The dining room also has a very large window overlooking the front garden. Next to the living room is our den which has a window that faces our back garden. At certain times in the afternoon watching TV in the den or sitting to type at my computer in the living room becomes impossible. The sun glares.
The reason is that we never bothered to get curtains. We toyed with venetian blinds, roller blinds and conventional drapes but we never got to it. The views into our living room and dining room are somewhat partially obscured by the dense vegetation of our garden. Perhaps some of my neighbours while walking their dogs might have spied me sitting at this monitor in the evenings while not wearing a stitch.
During the early spring and throughout the hot summer days Rosemary places old sheets on the wooden floors of the living room and dining room. She indicates that our carpets have faded.
At age 70 if I work all day in the garden, I regret it the next day and I can not move without feeling arthritic pain. It is obvious that our big garden with its two full-time gardeners (Rosemary and her husband) is a job that soon will be an impossible one. Finances make it tough to paint the house, repair the bathrooms and do the other pressing things that any old house needs.
It is obvious, and everybody tells us to (damn that word!) downsize into a condo to free ourselves from the stress of our big house and garden.
Thinking of downgrading (a much nastier version of downsizing) can be, in itself, most stressful. There are all those books, all the Mexican memorabilia, the antique furniture, the 14, four-drawer metal cabinets with slides and negatives, the pictures on the wall, the 85 roses, the over 400 hostas, the records, the tapes the CDs and the list continues. Our two cats?
In the past I have seen buildings that are to be torn down in a near future. Nobody sees to repairs. Having had many cars with a slipping clutch, I have shelled out thousands in repairs even after my repairman would tell me, “Your clutch might go next week, or it might last for another month or, who knows, even a year. I have nursed these clutches by not gunning the accelerator and I have discovered that indeed the clutch will last up to a year and gas savings are another positive factor of lessening the pressure on the gas pedal.
The slipping clutch has taught me that life in general is driving to a destination where if one is extra careful the car will become inoperable only when one reaches it. In a model for efficiency one has arrived with no clutch to spare.
For some years the clutch (a slipping one) has been my mantra for my life.
I began to have doubts three years ago before my friend Abraham Rogatnick died of untreated (he decided to let go a year before) prostate cancer. A month before his death he was pretty well in a wheelchair. Access to his house, and exit, was impossible. He had a carpenter build him an elaborate winding ramp from his kitchen to the back garden and his garage. His friend, wheelchair bound Mayor Sam Sullivan was going to retrofit Rogatnick's car so that he could enter his car and drive it.
The ramp was a sight to behold. It was beautiful, simply because the designer, Rogatnick was a graduate of Harvard Architecture School.
When Rogatnick died, his house was sold and eventually torn down I thought of the waste of talent and money to build that elaborate ramp that was never used.
Sometime last November my friend and camera repairman, Horst Wenzel told me, “Alex, your colleague Phil Hersee was here the other day to have some cameras repaired. He is looking pretty good even though he is not well.” I enquired about Hersee’s health at Beau Photo and I was told he had a serious and terminal case of colon cancer, but that it did not prevent him from visiting Beau to purchase or rent camera supplies. It seemed that for Hersee, business was as usual.
I have been giving Hersee’s approach to life (and death) some thought. I watch Rosemary buy plants for our garden. Aren’t we going to sell our house with garden soon? Who cares if the floors fade? The house will become a teardown as soon as we sell it, besides the floors are already faded after 27 years of uncurtained windows.
I have seen the light. One cannot live thinking that one must protract one’s activities because death is just around the corner. Hersee knew this and from that other side I can almost imagine him smiling with that neat moustache of his in approval that I have seen the light, before it is too late.
The better part about all this is that my wife Rosemary has known all along. I have ordered a roller blind for the den and if Rosemary likes it I will order some for the rest of the windows. Rogatnick would have approved.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Rain By Jorge Luis Borges
The afternoon has brightened suddenly
Because it already rains minutely
Falling or fallen. Rain is one thing
Which undoubtedly happens only in the past.
Who hears it fall retrieves a recovered
Time that a venturesome luck
Revealed to him a flower by the name of rose
And the curious color of red.
This rain that clouds the windows
Will gladden in those lost suburbs
The black grapes of a vine in certain
Patio that is no more. The sodden
Afternoon brings me a much wanted voice, the desired voice,
Of my father who returns and who has not died.
La Lluvia de Jorge Luis Borges
Bruscamente la tarde se ha aclarado
Porque ya cae la lluvia minuciosa.
Cae o cayó. La lluvia es una cosa
Que sin duda sucede en el pasado.
Quien la oye caer ha recobrado
El tiempo en que la suerte venturosa
Le reveló una flor llamada rosa
Y el curioso color del colorado.
Esta lluvia que ciega los cristales
Alegrará en perdidos arrabales
Las negras uvas de una parra en cierto
Patio que ya no existe. La mojada
Tarde me trae la voz, la voz deseada,
De mi padre que vuelve y que no ha muerto.
Who Will Be First?
Saturday, May 18, 2013
A year before my friend Abraham Rogatnick
died he knew he was going to. He had decided at the time not to prolong his treatment for prostate cancer. He didn’t tell his friends and soldiered on with his life. It was a year before he died when he gave me the almost life size Mexican papier-mâché skeleton. Attached to Pancho (the name I gave it) was and is a hangman’s noose. Rogatnick would display Pancho on his front porch every Halloween.
Pancho sits prominently in a beautiful antique Windsor arm chair in our dining room and he is frequently a subject of my portraits as the three you see here.
|Rebecca Stewart & Pancho|
Rosemary has been away in Lillooet now for almost a week and today (Friday) she called to say that she might not take the Pemberton to Vancouver bus until Sunday.
Meanwhile the cats are in an uproar as their status quo (as well as mine) has been disrupted. They seem to want to eat more often. Plata’s situation may be due to her old age as she is 14. She could either have worms or probably the more likely thyroid/kidney issue that affects cat of her age. I am taking Plata to see her vet Peter Lekkas
at the SPCA. He told me to prevent her from going to her litter box today. I fed her in the morning and put her outside. She has been meowing since to come in. I will eventually have to subject her to putting her into our cat cage to take her for her
appointment at two. I cringe with the stress she will be subjected.
The weather is coldish and semi cloudy. I look out into our beautiful garden with an unsettled sense of loneliness.
It is obvious that like Rogatnick both Rosemary and I have a date with death. Am I being most selfish in wishing to go first so that I will not have to experience the kind of loneliness I feel now because she is not here? Should I be a gentleman and wish her death first so that she will not experience this?
|Ivette Hernandez & Pancho|
|Rebecca & Lauren Stewart & Pancho|
The Photographer Photographed
Friday, May 17, 2013
As a photographer I used to dislike being photographed because I felt I was not in control. I have also been quite self-conscious about my crooked smile which I inherited from my mother and passed on to my youngest daughter Hilary. But in the last 10 years, I have welcomed (or at least tolerated) having my picture taken because I am not in control. This means that I can sit or stand to pose without contributing anything unless I am instructed. I find comfort in letting go and not worrying.
Some years ago I photographed photographer Yukiko Onley upon the request of a European admirer. I have no idea if he ever liked my photographs. I took pictures of Onley in my garden. I remember her putting her hand into her handbag and bringing out a tightly rumpled little piece of material. She unfastened it and it became the wonderful dress you see here. I believe Onley purchased it in Venice and it was made of raw silk.