Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Rosemary and I came back from the opening night performance of 4000 Miles, an
Arts Club Theatre production at the Stanley Theatre. I will write about this
play in the next few days.
I am in a state of
turmoil because I have lost a file called Family 2014. I believe I will
eventually find these valuable photographs (half of which I must admit are not
lost as I took them with my Fuji X-E1). They will be found probably slipped with
another file somewhere inside one, of the 14, four-drawer filing cabinets
that I keep in the basement. The room is amply heated so there is no humidity
to damage the slides, negatives and prints.
For the last few days,
I have also been reflecting (appropriate choice of word, you will see) on my
obsession with mirrors and taking pictures with them.
Last Week I had the
cover for the Georgia Straight in its yearly Fall Arts Preview. I believe,
since Janet Smith, the Arts Editor, calls me every year for this (am I the
oldest photographer on the Straight masthead?) that she must be anticipating
the day (soon now) when my widow will answer the phone.
The inside pictures,
five of them, include two which I took of two dancers and of two actresses in
front of a mirror. Smith has noted that this kind of shot has become my
signature shot (as former Fuji
employee and now photographer and father Gerry Schallie would say). I thought
Yesterday with only my
memory (faulty at times) I compiled into a holding file 72 such pictures. I
plan to put all of them into one big blog but I will also insert two or three
Jorge Luís Borges poems on mirrors. It seems that both these Argentines had a
fondness, preoccupation, repulsion, and attraction to the mirror.
For this much shorter
blog I will use pictures I took last week of Caitlin Legault in my guest
bathroom and one this week of my granddaughter Lauren in which the rear windshield
of my Malibu is the all important mirror.
I like the word, espejo, mirror
in Spanish. It has music when you say it. Espejo comes from the Latin, to see
or mirror, speculum but it still sounds like a Moorish (Arab) word like our
ojalá (I hope) which comes from the Arabic and is a variation of Allah wills. It
is further interesting to me that a variation of espejo is the verb espejar (no
longer used) and the more modern despejar which means to clear but also take
off. An airplane takes off, or despeja. Perhaps the labyrinthian back and
forths of meanings associated with espejo is the Borges attraction.
The Seville Mantilla & Mary Surratt
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
It is my belief that
what makes us human and not dogs, cats or whales is
our ability to associate apparently disparate things with each other. Rorschach tests would fail with dog, cats
or whales. When human fail such a test it involves a failure of the psyche not
of their humanity.
I would like to be clear that even though I
have an uncommon interest in anything relating to the American Civil War I have
yet to see Robert Redford’s 2010 film The Conspirator. The film is about the trial
and guilty verdict of the housekeeper Mary Surratt who was then hanged, the first
woman to be hanged by a federal court in the United States. There are some
pictures of the hanging where Surratt and thee other co-conspirators are seen
in far away.
My new and exciting photographic subject is
the marvelous Caitlin Legault. She is a professional life drawing and figure
model. She is used to keeping a pose for a long time. Of late she has been
posing for video makers who expect her to make rapid movement.
In my many years as a photographer I have
only met one person who can match Legault’s talent. This was Carole Taylor.
I remember taking her picture (this I did
many times) in one of the basement corridors of the CBC when she was working
there on TV. I had my big camera and lights. She looked wonderful in my
viewfinder. I would think, “If she nods a bit to the left this will look even
better.” Like magic Taylor
would then do just that without instruction.
Legault poses for me and like Taylor I don’t have to
tell her much. The poses happen. They seem to be instinctive. The image here is
one of only one where she did the blindfold (using my Grandmother's Seville mantilla which she wore to Mass). I took the picture and I then told
“ This reminds me of the blindfolding of
Mary Surratt before she was hanged. She was a woman at the end of the American
Civil war that…”
I found this which will keep me busy for a few more days. I have the film The Conspirator so I will watch that too.
President Andrew Johnson's Last Words on Mary Surratt
The following is an excerpt from The
Greeneville-Democrat-Sun, Wednesday, May 30, 1923 (p.1). The article contains
information regarding Johnson's thoughts on Mary Surratt just three days before
he died at his daughter's home near present day Elizabethton, then Carter's
Station, TN. A Mr. McElwee of the American Steel Association accompanied
Johnson on the train ride to Johnson City, and then on to Carter's Station in a
carriage, during which time Johnson talked openly and freely of his time in
office. Mr. McElwee later submitted a manuscript of the conversation to the
Note: The misspellings are part of the
original article and have been left as printed. They will be identified by
"While Mr. McElwee, explained that he
was not attempting to quote the exact words of Mr. Johnson, he gives the
substance of the political conversation.
'The execution of Mrs. Surrat [sic] was a
crime of passion without justice or reason. She knew no more about the
intentions of Booth and his associates than any other preson [sic] who chanced
to know Booth or Asterot. They had simply boarded as others had done, at her
boarding house. She was entitled to trial in open court and the record of that
trial preserved, but her executioners knew the records would condemn them if
they kept till passion had subsided and they were estroyed' [sic].
'Is there no record of the condemnation and
execution of Mrs. Surratt?'
'No Sir, the records were immediately
destroyed. They were not even kept until John was arrested and tried.'
'If she was not guilty, why did you not
interpose executive clemency?'
'If I had interfered with the execution it
would have meant my death and a riot that would have probably ended in war.'
'Was there any appeal made to you for
mitigating the sentence as reported after the execution.'
'No appeal reached me. Her daughter forwarded
one, but it was suppressed by Secretary Stanton. I heard of it afterward but
never saw it. It was murder founded on perjury and executed to gratif pyassion
[sic]. The chief witness afterwards confessed to his perjury.'"
Rose O'Neal Greenhow & Marie Antoinette's Bosom
Monday, September 15, 2014
|Rose O'Neal Greenhow - Mathew B. Brady - 1861|
Rose O’Neal Greenhow,
daughter of an aristocratic Maryland
family, kin of the Lees, Randolphs and Calverts,
was the Washington widow of Dr. Robert
Greenhow, a scholarly Virginia
lawyer and State Department official. Through him - and her own irresistible
charms – she gained many friends, the overwhelming majority of them male and of
considerable consequence in the government of the United States. “I am a Southern
woman,” she later wrote, “born with revolutionary blood in my veins.” A protégé
of John C. Calhoun, she became an astoundingly active Confederate spy during
the opening months of the war, exploiting her highly placed friends and
seducing government and Army officials, ranging from War Department clerks to a
United States senator, extracting from them a wealth of military secrets.
In a published memoir, she claims to have
supplied Southern military leaders with nothing less than a steady stream of “verbatim”
cabinet reports. Whether this is an exaggeration or not, the information Rose
Greenhow communicated on the eve of the First Manassas, which included reports
on Federal troop moments and strength, was useful enough to merit a note from
Confederate spymaster Thomas Jordan on July 23, 1861: “Our President and our
General direct me to thank you. The Confederacy owes you a debt.”
Soon after First Manassas, Rose was apprehended
by private detective turned Federal agent, Allan J. Pinkerton. At first she was
placed under house arrest, and, in a “most bravely indelicate” letter she sent
to friends in South Carolina
(which diarist Mary Chesnut read on December 5, 1861), she lavishly detailed
the treatment to which she was subjected:
She wants us to know how her delicacy was
shocked and outraged [Chesnut wrote in her diary]. That could be done only by
most plain-spoken revelations. For eight days she was kept in full sight of men
– her rooms wide open – and sleepless sentinels watching by day and night. Soldiers
tramping – looking in at her leisurely by way of amusement.
Beautiful as she is, at her time of life
few women like all they mysteries of their toilette laid bare to the public
She says she was worse used than Marie
Antoinette when they snatched a letter from the poor queen’s bosom.
Later, she was moved, with her youngest
daughter, called Little Rose, to Old Capitol Prison, where Mathew B. Brady or
an assistant took this daguerreotype. Even after her incarceration, Rose
continued to pass messages through her window – until her jailer boarded it up.
Rose Greenhow was later “paroled” to the South and traveled to Europe, where she published a best-selling memoir. On her
return to the Confederacy, while running a Union blockade, she was drowned at
the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
My Brother's Face - Portraits of the Civil War
In Photographs, Diaries, and Letters
Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod
Foreward by Brian C. Pohanka
The excerpt and picture above come from one of my favourite books. I have been interested in the American Civil War since sometime around 1951 I saw an American Heritage book at the Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires. The book had photographs by Mathew B. Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan and Alexander Gardner. It struck me that these men, who looked contemporary had long ago died. It was my first awareness of death.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
She’s a witch. Born in
Roumania. She worked for the KGB, the FBI, you name it. A slut. I was crazy
about her. That’s my weakness. I’ll do anything for a woman. Even now when I
can’t get it up. Well this Margaret kills a man of mine. My captain, Eddie
Stefano. Then she runs down to New
Orleans, seduces the Leonardo brothers for some
Justice Department hotshot. Both dummies wanted to marry Margaret…and that’s
where I come in. I mean, Margaret is in her 50s. She’s not right for these
boys. And we are preparing to ice the lady, give her some permanent grief...
Maria's Girls, Jerome Charyn 1992
The Wonders Of Image Degradation
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Yesterday I took my
venerable Dresden-made (when Dresden
was in the Russian Occupied Zone) Pentacon-F to be repaired by Horst Wenzel. He
looked at the camera tested the functions of the 50mm Zeiss Tessar lens and
informed me that the shutter just needed to be cleaned and re-lubricated.
As I wrote here,
repairing the camera, a waste of money in Wenzel’s opinion, has something to do
with my allegiance to inanimate objects that have served me well. I felt guilty
looking at it on my den bookshelf knowing that it had a faulty shutter and that
unlike in other countries here we have in Vancouver
a stellar repairman.
Its beautiful Zeiss
Tessar f-2.8 lens probably could not compete in sharpness with my new Fuji
X-E1s exotic aspherical zoom lens. Nor could it compete with a early 80s
vintage Pentax M 20mm wide angle that I have kept because of its remarkable
lack of apparent distortion. It is as rectilinear as a wide angle gets.
Since the early 80s
the main lens in my working collection has been a floating element 140mm Mamiya
lens for my Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD. I have two of them. Some years ago when I was
about to take pictures of Raymond Burr the mainspring went. I was forced to use
a less sharp 90mm that made Burr look fatter than he was. I vowed never again
to have this happen to me so I purchased a second 140 lens. Wenzel has a spare
main spring spirited away in his repair shop.
For years I have
maintained that all photographs (and particularly portraits) have to be sharp. If
you cannot see individual eyelashes, throw the negative or slide away. The
exception of course is when the photographer intends for the picture not to be
sharp for some particular motive. Another fine exception is the look of old optics, even optics that were sharp in their time. I used a 1953 Leica IIIF for these pictures that have a look unmatched and different from anything that I might use now.
To this day I question
autofocus lenses and the idea of an automatic follow focus lens does not apply
to me as I never shoot basketball, hockey or football.
I know that the
sharpest f-stop of almost any lens is somewhere (usually halfway) between its
minimum and maximum aperture. I know that bracing the camera with a tripod is a
sure way of maintaining the inherent sharpness of a good lens. I know that the
flutter of a reflex camera’s mirror can degrade the image at a slow shutter. With
my Mamiya I always use its lens mirror lock mechanism.
So much for sharpness
via the camera.
In my fridge I have 30
rolls of the sharpest most detailed film ever made. This is Kodak Technical Pan
in 120 format. So much for sharpness via film.
I also know, and this
is increasingly a decreasing factor for
most photographers that the best test for sharpness is the detail of an actual
print be it a darkroom printed photograph or a well executed digital giclée or
light-jet print. Looking at pictures on a monitor (to me) is a waste of time.
How fast will that car
go? Don’t give me numbers. Drive it. I think that applies to photography, too.
It was a few days ago
that a tweet by my friend Tim Bray caught my eye. In his tweet he linked it to
a man who writes about the wonders of a medium format camera that has an aftermarket
digital sensor attached. There are even more expensive dedicated digital Hasselblads.
I read the article,
obsessive, by a man (Zack Arias is his name) obsessed with detail, sharpness, colour
saturation and the ability to crop minute parts of an image and still render it
all in close perfection.
I read the article and
I smiled as I seem to be headed into the opposite direction with my Mamiya
RB-67 Pro-SD described as a tank by someone in the comments section of the
essay. He further says that at the end of the world only cockroaches and RB-67s
will survive it!
Case in point in my contrary ways is the
story behind the image here and its almost identical but not as dramatic
companion negative which was shot one click before.
My goal was to attempt
to imitate the wonderful (paradoxically very sharp) wet plate portraits taken
by Mathew Brady in his New York City
studio in the early 1860s. His lighting consisted of a very large skylight.
Having some idea of the fact that sensitized plates (like all film, video tape,
and even modern digital sensors) were more sensitive to the blue light coming
from skylight, Brady tinted his skylight glass blue.
Since I no longer have
a studio with a high ceiling I mounted a large softbox light that is five ft by
6 ft on a boom light stand. This meant that I could suspend the light high and
pointing down on my subject (Caitlin Legault) to give the feel of skylight. Generally
I use a 3 by 4 softbox very close to my subject’s face so half the face is
always in some shadow. Behind Legault I put up a red backdrop (the colour
unimportant as I was going to shoot it all in b+w). I had all this in a shady
part of the garden and I set my camera shutters to expose the existing light to
one stop under the correct exposure. The flash was set at f-16 both with two
rolls of Ilford FP-4 Plus IS0 100 and two rolls of Kodak T-Max 400 (the images
you see here are the T-Max).
I was able to keep the
f-16 exposure with the two different rolls by controlling the output of my
stable Visatek monolight flash.
The less dramatic
image is almost a straight scan (an Epson Perfection V700 Photo scanner). I
scanned it dark and in the warmish tone on purpose.
For the second image, I
placed the negative emulsion down on the glass with no holder. This means that
the negative curled on the sides and it was not completely flat. On top of the negative
I placed a sheet of my letterhead stationery. I left the scanner top open and I
scanned the negative from the bottom as I would scanning a 8x10 print. The
resulting image I then reversed (as it appeared as a negative) in Photoshop.
The paper adds to
measures of degradation. Because the paper was in close contact with the
negative, the scanner “sees” some of the flaws and texture of the paper. The
light of the scanner, instead of penetrating the negative fully it bounces off
the paper and back to the scan. That reduces the contrast.
It seems to me that so
mush emphasis this day in photography lies with the technical aspects of the
gear used and there is less on the wonder of an image and how it affects us
when we see it without having to delve on all those pixels and MOS sensors,
Helena Brandon de González-Crussi
Friday, September 12, 2014
|Helena Brandon de González-Crussi - Archivo Casasola 1915|
One of my favourite
essayists is Mexican-born Federico González-Crussi. He is a retired pathologist.
He began his
career in 1967 in academic medicine in Canada,
at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario), and moved to the United States in 1973. He was a
Professor of Pathology at Indiana University until 1978, when he relocated to Chicago; there to become Professor of Pathology at
Northwestern University School of Medicine and Head of Laboratories of
Hospital until his
retirement in 2001.
Gonzalez-Crussi, writes in precise English
(his books are then translated into Spanish) and I have three of them: The Day
of the Dead and Other Mortal Reflections, On Being Born and Other Difficulties,
and On the Nature of Things Erotic.
González-Crussi was born in 1938. His father
was friends with pioneering Mexican photographer Agustín Ignacio Casasola (1874-1938).
Casasola started what really was the first ever photo agency and recorded and
catalogued the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Perhaps since one of Casasola’s
sons was called, Federico (Casasola Zapata) González-Crussi was named Federico.
Last year when I visited Mexico I ventured to Pachuca
in the state of Hidalgo
to the Fototeca Nacional at the Exconvento de San Francisco. While pouring through the Archivo Casasola I spotted this strange
photograph of a woman who did not look Mexican. Her name in the files was
Helena Brandon de González-Crussi. Attached to the photograph was the date 1915 and nothing more.
I have in my memory that wonderful
photograph taken by Mathew Brady in the 1860s called Mrs. Brandon. There is no
other information on who she was or why she would have posed for Brady in his New York City studio. It would be too much of a coincidence to
connect her to Helena Brandon González-Crussi. I am also curious as to how Helena
was related to the retired pathologist/author. Perhaps I will never know. In
the museum of the Fototeca I was able to purchase a nice sepia-toned print of
the woman and here she is. Note the eyebrows on both women.
|Mrs. Brandon - Mathew Brady circa 1860-1865|
Arthur, Arthur, Art & Arturito
Thursday, September 11, 2014
The idea for what
promises to be a long blog came to me last Sunday. Both
Randy Rampage and
Zippy Pinhead kept calling Art Bergmann, Arthur.
It struck me that his real friends call him that and for the rest of us Art is enough.
I then wondered how many Arthurs had gone
through my life, who I not only photographed but somehow had left something of
themselves in me.
Arturito Durazo Díaz (33) showed up in Vancouver in 1982. At the
time I had some dealings with the unofficial Mexican Tourism Director in
Vancouver, Carlos Hampe. I visited Hampe and noticed Durazo sitting behind a
desk that had nothing on it in a room that was virtually empty of furniture and
decoration. I was introduced to him. He was affable, friendly and interested in
the fact that I was a photographer and that I spoke Spanish.
During his stay in Vancouver which was around two years he often
came to my house for dinner. He had a passion for jig-saw puzzles. He often stayed
for hours with my daughters fitting the pieces to 1000 plus puzzles. Durazo
told me he had helicopter pilot’s license and wanted to learn to hang glide. I
accompanied him to many of these lessons in Langley. He was brave and he tried to convince me to
try. I told him I had no life insurance and since I was a free lancer, any
accident would leave my family with no financial support.
My daughters liked him as did my wife
Rosemary. One day he showed up with a box full of beautiful Florsheim shoes. He
told me that inmates of several Mexican prisons made them and he was starting a
business to import them to Canada.
|Arturito's 2005 police mug shot|
Any questions I directed to Hampe about his
“assistant”, who seemed to do nothing at the office, only resulted in the rolling
of his eyes and silence.
All I knew was that Durazo’s father, Arturo
Durazo Moreno had been the chief of police in Mexico City, between 1976 and 1982 during the
6-year rule of President López Portillo.
During those 6 years Durazo Moreno’s
underlings had to pay their quota of contributions. There was an organization
that arrested promising thieves who were protected and of course had to pay
their quotas. In some cases these trained thieves and the policemen robbed
banks. One of the biggest scandals was the appearance of 13 Colombians in the
city’s main sewer. Some had their heads missing; others had been mutilated and
López Portillo’s successor, President
Miguel de La Madrid initiated an investigation and the murders were linked to
Durazo who fled the country.
That would explain why his son, also left
the country and why Carlos Hampe could do nothing about having the man appear
in his office and get a salary for doing nothing. I remember that Arturito had
a better car than Hampe. It was a very large Pontiac.
Arturito was a handsome young man. His
father was quite ugly and because he was dark-skinned he was called El Negro
Durazo. Durazo died in 2000 after having served 6 years (he had been extradited from Puerto Rico, and given a 16 years sentence
but because of “good behaviour” and delicate health he served those 6 for drug
trafficking, corruption and extortion). At his funeral a police mariachi played
a famous song about El Negro Durazo.
As soon as Durazo Moreno died the army
generals rescinded his lofty rank of General de División. They had been furious when
President López Portillo had
celebrated the man with the rank.
But what perhaps riled
the usually patient Mexican populace were the many mansions that the Police
Chief built. The most famous one La Partenón in Zihuatanejo was said to have
gates that had been stolen from the storied Chapultepec Castle
(where young Mexican cadets had fought back with heroism but in futility by
well equipped American Army). You might know that U.S. Marine Corps song "From the halls of Montezuma..."
In the late 80s a
Mexican cumbia band, La Sonora Dinamita recorded a song by its then singer
Juliette called El Africano (The African) in which one of the lines “Hey mom,
what does El Negro want?” to which then Juliette answers, “Could it be another
Parthenon?” Of interest to readers here is the fact that Ray Conniff did an
instrumental version of the song called African Safari.
This was my Arturito’s
father. In 2005 Arturito was imprisoned for unlawfully taking over a large
property. He is now probably out and is on Facebook.
If you look for images
of Arturito you will only find one through Google. The Mexican newspapers
announcing his arrest have blank squares where his picture should be.
I was never allowed by
Arturito to take his picture but he did ask me to photograph his lovely Mexican
girl friend who had brilliant bleached blonde hair. I have lost the colour
pictures and I have forgotten her name but I did find some negatives which I took
with Kodak b+w infrared film.
If I were to run into
Arturito I would invite him for dinner and I would take out a box with a 1000
plus piece puzzle.