Émile Zola, Bob Mercer & the Day Glo Abortions
Thursday, December 14, 2017
|Left Émile Zola - Right Bob Mercer - December 14 - 2017|
While I have known many photographers in my career as a
magazine photographer in Vancouver I cannot generalize about “our” habits. I
can only assert about myself and those reading this can take it from there and
decide if other photographers have the same habits.
As a photographer I believe I have mostly been set in my
ways for periods of time. I have been through the print in high contrast, print
in split contrast, shoot only with Kodak b+w Infrared Film, use one light, use
many lights, use available light and so on.
I think that as a photographer I am a paradox of being
conservative while also taking chances.
Laziness or an inability to go further in my methods of
shooting made me early one to say I did not want to shoot with a 4x5 camera (I
did once) as I did not want to see the world upside down. Laziness made me
loose total interest in a pre-digital technique (very complicated it was)
I was never interested in true techniques of the 19th
century. I did not want to lose my hair (lots of mercury vapour) with
Daguerreotypes nor was I interested in glass plates or Talbot Types (paper
negatives sandwiched further to make paper positives).
I was curious enough to use primitive box cameras (never the
lousy modern Holga) or swivel-lens panoramics. I have all three that were the
most popular, the Widelux, the Horizont and the huge Noblex.
If anything, any diversity I ever showed was in lighting. I
even shot the strangely named Day-Glo Abortions
with black lighting.
|Day Glo Abortions|
Because I am aware of those ancient 10th century
photographic methods I have a memory to what they looked like. I can imitate
some of them and purists can scoff all they want.
The reason that I don’t care is that all the time that I
have been taking photographs with whatever lights and equipment I had at my
disposal I was also attempting to achieve the better portrait. I am not
interested in a still life or in landscapes.
This past two weeks showed me a couple of items that told me
I have been on the right track. In a brand new book Avedon-Something Personal
by Norma Stevens [Avedon’s studio manager] and Steven M.L. Aronson I read this:
…until the end Avedon
was pavonine and recessive, autocratic and inhibited, everyone’s best friend
and utterly inscrutable. It doesn’t add up. It can’t. It’s a portrait, and as
Avedon’s most famous saying goes, “All photographs are accurate. None of them
is the truth.”
When I pursue a portrait I am looking for what I consider
(most subjective this is) the essence of the person my camera is pointed at. I
am aware that the person posing is only showing what I am allowed to see and
only in rare occasions will my subject remove all veils and walls. I attempt to
portray in a portrait (a single one) the essence in Platonic terms.
This portrait of Bob Mercer that I took today (with my iPhone3G is my take on what makes him be Bob
Mercer. He would probably laugh at this.
The second interesting revelation was finding this article
in the Guardian where I found out that Émile Zola was a prolific photographer.
One of the portraits, a self-portrait that caught my eye was one called a
cyanotype. This method of printing photographs extended well into the 20th
century and there may be still some artistes who do it.
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a
cyan-blue print. Engineers used the process well into the 20th century as a
simple and low-cost process to produce copies of drawings, referred to as
blueprints. The process uses two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and
I wrote about the process here.
Now with a little bit of useful Photoshop knowledge and the
use of my $50 Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 photo program I can make and prints
(inkjets) that are close copies.
And why not? After although I am a conservative on this
stuff I am not a purist.
Bellingham, A Repaired Sony Turntable & the Vivaldi Gloria
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
|The Bellingham Fotomat|
Rosemary and I today drove to Bellingham very early in the
morning (to avoid that Richmond tunnel problem that begins around 3pm). The
purpose of our trip was to buy very sweet, junk breakfast cereals for our
son-in-law and younger granddaughter (they should know better).
But we also take advantage that Bellingham has La Gloria
that stocks, not only daily made tortillas but all kinds of Mexican groceries
not available in Vancouver. And of course my frugal wife insists I fill-up with
gasoline at the Costco gas station.
I must plainly write here that in previous years it was fun
to drive to the United States. The fact that the Canadian Dollar is low in
comparison to the American Dollar is not the reason. I simply do not want to
buy anything be it electronic, photographic or clothes at Macy’s. I buy now
very few books and check out the books I really want to read from our Vancouver
I wrote about the thrill of the first time I went to the UShere
. At one time Rosemary and I loved going to Seattle and spending the night
and driving back. We always managed to listen to Marion McPartland’s Piano Bar
on the radio. All those pleasures have faded.
Driving home Rosemary reminded that my Sony linear tracking turntable
had been repaired. We picked it up. The pleasant gentleman at the repair shop
asked me if I wanted to buy a new Stanton stylus as the one in my present
cartridge while good might not be so good in a few years. Since I bought the
turntable (used) at a Sony Store around 1990 I figured that when I go to where
my ears will no longer be functioning, one of my daughters might want to play
records. I bought the stylus.
We arrived home where we were greeted by Casi-Casi. I
connected my turntable and immediately plaid my circa 1970 Turnabout TVS-34029 Vivaldi
Gloria in D major, RV 589
It felt good to be back in Canada and to listen to a preview
of the glorious Gloria we are going to listen to live at the Chan with an
all-female cast of singers and musicians on the 23d.
David Macgillivray Meets My Sword Excalibur
Sunday, December 10, 2017
|David Macgillivray - December 10 20176|
My friend David Macgillivray came for a visit today and I
showed him my new Sword Excalibur, a repaired iPhone3G
that is no longer a phone
but a camera.
Working within its limitations it takes pictures with a
style that I like.
For these pictures of Macgillivray I used two hot lights
(the modeling lights of my Dynalites. One had a focusing spotlight with a
venetian blinds gobo projected on his face and on my studio (small it is) gray
wall. The other was a grid spot with an extension to make it narrower which I
directed towards his eyes. Working on the intensity of the lights (not very
bright as the 3G blows out the highlights) I obtained the picture you see on the left.
From there I went to Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 to Photo Effects – Time Machine
and picked Cyanotype at about an intensity of 65%. Presto!
I took only two photographs as Macgillivray closed his eyes for the first attempt.
Friday, December 08, 2017
Baroque pearls are
pearls with an irregular non-spherical shape. Shapes can range from minor
aberrations to distinctly ovoid, curved, pinch, or lumpy shapes. Most cultured
freshwater pearls are baroque because freshwater pearls are mantle-tissue
nucleated instead of bead nucleated. Cultured saltwater pearls can also be
baroque, but tend to be more teardrop-shaped due to the use of a spherical
Baroque pearl, pearl
that is irregularly or oddly shaped. Pearl formation does not always occur in
soft-tissue areas, where the expanding pearl sac grows regularly because it
encounters no appreciable resistance. Pearl cysts are sometimes lodged in
muscular tissue, for example, where, unable to overcome the resistance of tough
muscle fibres, they assume irregular or unusual shapes.
Baroque pearls were
highly prized by Renaissance jewelers, who saw them not as misshapen products
of sea mollusks but rather as unique and exquisite natural forms. They were
often used in pieces of jewelry to form the bodies of figures. A superb example
is a piece from the 16th century known as the Canning Jewel (Victoria and
Albert Museum, London), in which a large baroque pearl is used for the torso of
a sea figure having the body of a man and the tail of a fish, the whole mounted
in enameled gold set with pearls, rubies, and diamonds.
Ever Since I was a little boy I would watch my mother and
grandmother open a big black metal box that contained the jewels they had
inherited or purchased through the years. There was one item that I always
wanted to hold in my hand. It was string of pearls that my mother called her
baroque pearls. She pronounced it the English way, barock. My Scottish friend
Graham Walker with whom I attend many of the Early Music Vancouver concerts
also pronounces it as barock,
I told Rosemary that for the all-woman performance of many
of our favourite Vivaldi works this December 23 at the Chan (including the
magnificent Gloria in D major, RV 589) I wanted her to wear my mother’s pearls.
We looked and we looked. They were gone! I suggested that perhaps we had
forgotten that we may have left them in our bank box. Rosemary’s text from the
bank, “They are here,” was a relief and most satisfying.
My wife and two daughters Ale and Hilary (in their 40s) and
our 15-year-old granddaughter will be sitting all on a row on the 23 savouring
the Gloria which has been part of our family tradition for our Nochebuena
(Christmas Eve) dinner since 1971.
In fact we first heard the Pacific Baroque Orchestra for the
first time in 1996 at Ryerson United Church when they performed that work with
the Elektra Women’s Choir. This time around it will not only be the chorus and
soloists but the orchestra, too will all be women!
Since Rosemary and I lived in Mexico City from 1968 to 1975 (and I had lived there off and on since 1955) we knew all about baroque churches with their elaborate gold leafed retablos (altars and altar pieces).
In Mexico we learned of an even more intricate and elaborate form of the baroque and this was in the difficult to spell word Churrigueresqe named after Spanish architect architect and sculptor, José Benito de Churriguera (1665-1725). The style was important in Spain until the 1750s but was copied and elaborated with even more complication by Mexican architects.
You can bet that on December 23 while we listen to "the women" our memories will be of flickering lights in complex gold leafed Mexican retablos.
Leonard George Did Not Make It To Spring
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Sometime in the 90s I met up with Tsleil-Waututh leader Leonard
George at the North Vancouver aboriginal burial ground. It was a very cold
early December afternoon.
Vancouver Magazine at the time had a last page feature where
they answered readers’ questions. Someone had asked why so many of the
tombstones in the North Vancouver cemetery (perhaps they were not aware that it
was a First Nations one) had the surname George or John. I was dispatched to photograph a tombstone.
I could have easily answered that question as in my first
Vancouver job in 1975 was at Tilden-Rent-a-Car. I was told never to rent a car
to anybody with the surname John or George. Since I did not know what this was
all about I persisted and asked why. The manager angrily answered, “Because
they are Indians. Never rent to Indians!”
Within a week a gentleman by the name of Moving Rock came in
and wanted to rent a station wagon. I looked at him and at that point I knew I
was going to give him a car no matter what. The man and car disappeared weeks
later. The station wagon was found somewhere in Arizona. I was almost fired.
Len George was there at the burial ground to make sure I
took my pictures with respect to the buried. He explained as it began to snow
that there was a belief that people lived winter with the anticipation of
spring. If they were alive when spring came then they would survive another
I find it interesting that George died this past December 6
at age 71. I am 75 and I will keep in mind the gentle man’s belief.
Jonas - Good Joby!
Wednesday, December 06, 2017
|Jonas - iPhone3G properly clamped to the Joby|
My new camera, the dedicated, no longer a phone, iPhone3G has
left me excited at all its possibilities. Its one failure is that when I use it
in my small Kitsilano studio with the hot lights that are built into my studio flash
system the exposure used is a slow shutter I cannot control.
Because the iPhone is heavy it feels firm in my hand. But
some of the resulting pictures have been a tad soft because of “camera” shake.
I went to Leo’s on Granville
and friendly Jonas showed me
four clamps with which I can attach my iPhone3G to my heavy Manfrotto tripod.
We decided on the more expensive Joby as it can easily be switched from iPhone
vertical to iPhone horizontal.
I love the service of Leo’s because it is a real camera
store. The smell (heavenly) when I enter the shop is of camera metal. Their
back-up to everything I have bought through the years has been excellent.
A few years ago in a magazine shoot in my Kerrisdale home my
Fuji X-E1 would not fire my studio flash. In desperation I called up Leo’s and
asked for Jeff Gin my point man there. Because it was Wednesday (Gin’s day off)
he was not there to help. They put on Jonas who immediately asked me, “Alex do you have your Fuji on silent mode?”
Modern cameras exercise free will and, sure enough, they do
stuff without their human masters telling them. It was on silent mode (and why
would a camera not fire a flash on silent mode? Don’t ask me). The problem was