Scrotums, Ravens and Alexis MacDonald
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology has always been a special place for me. Many things have happened to me there and not all of them good. It was last year that I was taking pictures of the Borealis Quartet in the main hall and a light stand came crashing down on the one spot in the carpet where I had left my $500 Minolta IV-F flash meter. It was destroyed. It was here in 1984 where I first photographed Arthur Erickson (who designed the museum). Erickson chose to pose where Bill Reid's carving Raven and the First Men
was placed under a dome. The angle I had picked made the carving disappear from sight and Architect and building were alone without the "competition" of any aboriginal artifacts. It was at this very carving where my granddaughter Rebecca, two years ago when she was 7, first observed an item of the male genetalia that made her very curious. I had to explain to her that it was called a scrotum. Months later I took Rebecca to the Seattle Art Museum to see a show of ancient Greek artifacts including some lovely vases. Upon seeing a vase Rebecca loudly said, "Look, you can see their scrotums!" The hall was full and everybody stared at us.
But it was in 1978, before Bill Reid had carved his Raven, that I first took a picture in the museum under the dome. I asked the guard what the restrictions were. He said, " No flash and no tripod." With me, I had Blanche MacDonald's beautiful daughter, Alexis. She removed her dress and I was able to take two photographs before we were thrown out. I remember telling the irate guard, "But I used no tripod or flash."
The Dame, The Two Gentlemen & A Cat
Friday, July 07, 2006
In September 1990 when Hungarian-born Illona Staller came to Vancouver to strip at the Marble Arch, I knew I had to take her photograph. She was better known as Cicciolina (cuddly in Italian and at 5 foot 7 inches she was). She had risen in Italian politics from pornodiva, to pornocandidata to pornodeputata. I went to Charles Campbell, editor of the Georgia Straight, and pitched the story. Amazingly he was interested. There was more humour in our publications in those years. Or at least, Charles didn't take his job as seriously as editors do now. I asked Tony Ricci, the owner of the Arch, if he could arrange for an interview. I remember exactly what he told me, "For you, Alex, anything. You will interview her first and I will make the Province
and the Vancouver Sun
reporters and photographers wait for you to finish. You willinterview her in our best room, the one that has the butterfly bed cover." And so it was. The day of the interview I was shown into room 315 while the Sun and Province writers and photographers waited outside. My piece ran with this picture.
What I remember fondly is our intimate dinner at Umberto's. Cicciolina invited me. The folks at Umberto's refused to accept her money. Everybody stared at us. Cicciolina was dressed like Queen Guinevere. Our waiter may have suspected that while Cicciolina was an expert at baring her breasts in public, she was no wine expert. So when he poured the wine and Cicciolina immediately said, "Ordinario," he returned with the good stuff. I had pasta and Cicciolina ordered the rabbit. Umberto came to us and asked us if we had liked our meal. We looked at each other and came up with the same idea. We put our hands by our ears, with the index fingers up, and we meowed in unison.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
A couple of years ago I photographed architect Arthur Erickson in my studio. He is always a delight. I love his urbanity. But this time I had him stumped with my question. I asked him which was the most famous building in Vancouver by an internationally known (but not Canadian) architect. Arthur did not know. I pointed out my window to the white building across the street which is Simpson Sears. Tucumán (Argentina) born Cesar Pelli designed it (formerly Eaton's) and the Toronto Dominion Tower which faces West Georgia. Both were built in 1973.
When I first came to my present studio some 15 year ago I fell for the special light reflected into it by Pelli's one-city-block-long white wall. In a recent review of my show of roof gardens at the Pendulum Gallery, a block from the TD Tower, Vancouver Sun columnist Malcolm Parry somehow connected it with undraped women to my wife's chagrin (I was delighted). This is what he wrote:
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's photographic exhibition, Secret Gardens: Vancouver's Hidden Rooftops, is worth a visit to the Georgia-at-Hornby-Pendulum Gallery. As you'd guess, it pictures luxuriant stretches of greenery usually seen only by the occupants of even higher buildings.
Utterly unknown to downtowners was the Robson-off-Granville studio in which Waterhouse-Hayward long photographed female models as undraped as the second-floor facility's windows. No one could look in because the Sears (earlier Eaton's) department store facade across the street has no windows at all. But the blank, south facing wall perfectly reflected sunlight to give the photographer the softly diffused glow - and privacy - he cherished.
Mac erred in that I am still in that studio and I do have curtains. I ignored Pelli's light (much to Arthur's delight)and I used my own for this portrait of Erickson. But my granddaughter Rebecca got the full white wall treatment in August 2005.
The Essence Of A Woman
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sánchez and I are pals. This painting is from his Wind Series.
I don't always photograph women. I have been known to have shot sewing machines for the CBC movie critic Rick Staehling in my past. This is why I admire and love Juan. He is obsessed with the idea of woman. That's about all he paints from about noon to late at night. Every one of his paintings is a problem to be solved. It's as if each painting of a woman is a woman to be discovered, studied, learned and understood. Every painting is a Platonic essence. Juan discards everything he can much like a Phileas Fogg desparately burning all available furniture on board his ship home. I asked him once if some day he will draw a line on a canvas and say, "That is woman." His answer was, "Perhaps." The woman illustrated here he first saw on a street on windy Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires. The wind, a hot wind from the pampas is called a pampero
or a sudestada
. The striking woman got off a colectivo
(bus) when the wind picked up and her skirt flew. Juan (photo on right) poses with one of his muses (mine, too), Linda Lorenzo.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
As a magazine photographer in Vancouver for 30 years I have taken pictures of interesting people from actors like Vincent Price and Helena Bonham Carter to politicians like John Turner and writer William F. Buckley. But in 1995 I got to photograph ballerina Evelyn Hart. While I had attended dance performances before, I had never been exposed to a ballerina like this one. At the end of two special days I fell in love with dance and with Hart.
I first saw Evelyn Hart in December 1995 at Vancouver's Metropolitan Hotel, in what had been the billiard room of the old Mandarin Hotel. She was like an origami swan, all straight lines. When I saw her dance the next day in the Nutcracker, she reminded me of Claire Bloom in Limelight, playing the suicidal ballerina who is saved by the washed-up clown played by Charlie Chaplin. I had marveled at other ballerinas and been wowed by their technique, but here was a ballerina whose brilliant technique played second fiddle to her ability to act. I have seen quite a few performances of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet
but after seeing Hart’s version I cannot imagine any other dancer in the part.
For two days, I was privy to a remarkable and extended interview with Hart by dance journalist Shannon Rupp. I felt I was hiding behind a priest hearing a confession. On the second day, in her Queen Elizabeth Theatre dressing room, the then-39-year-old ballerina expressed anxiety about her career and the ticking clock. It was amazing to see Hart open up and reveal this not only to Ms Rupp but to also to me. It was at that point that I decided to take my portraits. Because of Hart's generosity I was rewarded with one of the best portraits I have ever taken. Everything in it, including the hammer with which Hart pounds her shoes into softness was as it was.
I cry when Hart is on stage. I don’t notice the other dancers. I only have eyes for her. I make a point of getting a seat in at least the fourth row (binoculars just won't do), and from there Hart is the ultimate Juliet - especially in the scene where she is to take the good friar's potion that will put her in a catatonic sleep. Hart dances en pointe bourree forwards and backwards, oh so exquisitely as she agonizes over her decision. Having taken Hart's portrait at rest I realize that no matter how good a picture of her I might take of her dancing it would pale in comparison to what it is when a ballerina opens up her heart, just for me, in her dressing room.
Spaniards have a word, fenómeno
, for talent that has no rational explanation. Manolete, Casals, Evelyn Hart.
Monday, July 03, 2006
When our neighbour Jim McGivillray died (in his 80s) 8 years ago while playing golf, his wife Barbara stayed on for a while tending her garden. But she decided to sell and offered a couple of folding Adirondack chairs to us for $15 each. They had been stored in their garage since the 60s. Rosemary particularly liked the peach colour of one and the greenish blue of the other. They seemed to blend in our garden. But she has been nagging me to re-paint them for years in the exact same colour. The time came a couple of weeks ago when my painter friend Juan Manuel Sanchez almost fell from one of the chairs when rusting screws loosened. I sanded the chairs and used stainless steel screws. I went to our local lumber store where they matched Jim's paint job. That colour will not show here since this picture that I took of Rebecca yesterday is a scanned Polaroid peel and colours are never predictable.
Death Does Not Take A Holiday (Canada Day)
Sunday, July 02, 2006
I am cheating as today's blog I wrote yesterday. And I am writing it today (yesterday) so I can justify the headline title above. In March, 1994. Vancouver Magazine art director Tom Brown asked me to photograph the city morgue at the Vancouver General Hospital. I decided I was going to avoid the big toe peaking from a body on a slab with the attached tag and the impersonal number that death brings to a human being that was. I decided, instead, to treat the place as a clean, sterile room that would suggest the surgical tools of the trade. They asked me what I needed. I told them I wanted them to wet the floor. This they did. And I snapped this picture using the sharpest film known to man (and woman), Kodak Technical Pan that resolves in excess of 200 lines per millimeter.