The Vampire With Furniture In Storage
Saturday, December 30, 2006
I first met Inga V, one afternoon, 28 years ago when she was working not far from the Main Police Station. She specialized in showing everything without revealing anything. She looked at me in the darkness and I thought my days in this world were over. She looked at me, raised her right eyebrow, and I didn't know where to hide. But as I got to know her I found out there was a rosy side to her if you looked for it.
Inga had some identifiable and odd patterns. She owned valuable furniture. When she had it out of storage it meant she had a good relationship. When it was in storage it meant her emotional life was in state of flux. In one occasion she put her furniture in storage and followed a young man to Halifax who wanted to be a submariner. Inga wrote to me in shock about the trend then in Halifax for wicker toaster cozies. It was there that Inga had to learn to drive a truck. She had until that point never driven anything. I cringe thinking about the hapless driving instructor having to teach a woman who could have easily been channeling Catherine the Great or Elizabeth Bathory-Nadasdy.
It was my tragedy to find out that Inga was an excellent makeup artist and stylist who could make instant dresses with long bolts of satin and safety pins. This meant that she was behind my camera more often than in front. But then she kept talking about this other photographer who could make her even more beautiful and I felt diminished in the comparison. I won magazine awards where my secret weapon for success was my collaboration with Inga.
Inga lent me her very used copy of Interview With A Vampire
when it first came out, so we tried this series. I made several blunders like cropping her head at the wrong place or underexposing her. At the time her paramour was a South African set designer who was very jealous.
Some years later I photographed her (successfully) on her bed with her cat and in her tub (without the cat).
Love At The Arch
Friday, December 29, 2006
For close to 10 years I took photographs of women in the "best" room of the downtown Marble Arch Hotel. The place was never noted for Champagne breakfasts, valet parking and other four-star hotel amenities. But the fact was that I could get a room there whenever I wanted to from my friend Tony Ricci
. And I also knew that when I was at the Marble Arch nobody could find me unless I told Tony I wanted to be found. In the first few days of January 1991 I showed up with Claire Love to take some photos. Guy
gave me the key to the room and we went up. I shot my pictures untethered to any flash. I rarely did this or do this since taking pictures with a small camera with no lights seems to be too easy. Here are a few of Claire who was on her way to get married in Paris.
I never saw her again.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
That was the original title of H.G. Wells' Time Machine
In these days before the end of them for 2006 (and in other years at this time, as well) I, too, am a chronic argonaut and I go back and revisit the past. There are four books that I sometimes re-read about now, or at least think about. In all of them there is a chronic argonaut who goes back in time, unlike Wells' whose visitor goes forward.
In The Dechronization of Sam Magruder
written by that most famous paleontologist of the 20th century, George Gaylord Simpson, our traveler finds himself the only human being, inexorably stuck 80 million years into the Jurassic era. His loneliness in knowing he will never meet a fellow human being nor to ever be able to tell his coleagues of his time (February 30, 2162), that dinosaurs are cold blooded is sobering for the reader. I prize this little book that has a forward by Arthur C. Clark and an afterword by Stephen Jay Gould with the others, my favourite time travel novels.
In L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall
a bolt of lightning transports an American history professor from 1939 Rome into the period before it falls ( 1288 Anno Urbis Conditae). The unusual premise of this book is that the professor does not pre-invent gunpowder or teaches Romans the use of electricity. His sole modern convenience, a wristwatch serves no purpose. But with knowledge of double entry bookeeping and the making of brandy from wine through the distillation process, Dr Padway not only saves Rome from the barabarians, but he rules it and changes history.
In 1989 I had to photograph accountant Dennis Culver who then lived on Eagle Island. It told him about Lest Darkness Fall
. He was so interested I lent him the book. He mailed it back with a pleasant note that read:Dear Alex,
Many thanks for the loan of your book "Lest Darkness Fall" which is returned herewith. I found it both enjoyable and interesting and am now more appreciative of the valud of double entry bookeeping and distillation, especially in the hands of a frenetically exploitive individual.
I was charmed in 1970 when I first read Jack Finney's Time and Again.
Being able to travel back in time (New York City in the 19th century) by ensconcing oneself in the Dakota
and using the imagination and will to transport oneself into the past is more plausible to me than the chemicals used in Daphne Du Maurier's The House on the Strand.
But the latter book is really my favourite of the four, perhaps because, even after repeated readings (my first was in 1970) I have never figured out the twisted ending.
Our time traveler, Dick Young lives in the Cornish setting of so many of Du Maurier's novels. He travels back to the 14th century and invisibly (he cannot be heard nor can he affect anything with his presence) participates in a cloak and dagger soap opera that involves three wealthy families, the Champernounes, the Carminowes and the Bodrugans. Dick Young's travels become addictive until he can barely exist in the 20th century. It ends:The telephone went on ringing, and I crossed the room to answer it, but a silly thing happened as I picked up the receiver, I couldn't hold it properly; my fingers and the palm of my hand went numb, and it slipped out of my grasp and crashed to the floor.
My Mother's Mandarin Coat
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
For years I have seen but not looked into an envelope my mother always had with her. The neat handwriting on the envelope reads: Sita. Filomena de Iruretagoyena. It is dated 19 de abril de 1936.
Since I can remember my mother confessed to me that she had really only loved one man. He was a Filipino doctor called Ramón Andía. The tragedy of all sons (or at least this one) is that we are told almost everything when we are not curious. So we forget. And when we become curious those that can tell us are dead. That was the case with my mother.
I recently received a letter from a gentleman, Paul Kwon, who met her in North Carolina. She had been in Greensboro around 1970 to visit her brother Tony. Paul Kwon and my Uncle Tony flew model airplanes together. Mr Kwong wrote:I remember all the stories he used to tell me about his life. He used to brag about his sister who hated the piano but through sheer determination became an accomplished pianist. He told me the story over and over again to make a point. I met your mother a long time ago when she visited Tony. I remembered Tony telling me that she lived in Mexico city. She had dark hair that was tied back. She was striking
I always knew my mother played the piano very well and that she loved playing it. But this revelation makes me realize how little I knew about her. I never asked.
But she did tell me many times how her heart had been broken in Manila in the mid 30s and how she had gone to Manila Bay and removed a huge opal ring and threw it into the water. From that time she never ever wore opals telling me they were bad luck.
On really elegant parties my mother always wore a blue silk Chinese coat that Dr. Ramón had given her. She called it, my Mandarin coat." It came with a matching pair of blue silk slippers. Around 1962 I photographed her in it. My mother had severe bouts of Meniere's Disease. She had a constant ringing in her ears and suffered from terrible dizzy spells. For the photograph she could barely raise her head from her pillow.
By the end (she died in our house in Mexico in 1972) she suffered the frustration of playing her Beethoven Sonatas without being able to hear them. It was during those Mexico City days when my mother was a constant companion to our eldest daughter Alexandra (Ale).
Rosemary and I taught all day so my mother took care of her (until Ale was 4). There seemed to be a battle of wills. One day when we arrived my mother said, "Ale threw all the books I was reading to her out the window in a tantrum." While Ale has only hazy memories of my mother she has some special affinity for her. She was thrilled when in 1992 I asked her to pose with my mother's Chinese coat.
Last year at a Filipino weddding in North Van I was introduced to a Mr. Daniel Andía. The man was Ramón Andía's nephew. "I cannot believe it," he told me, "You say your mother loved my uncle but did not marry him? He never married". He told us he would never love again."
Until she died my mother wrote painful and depressing poems about her lost love and how he was in her thoughts at all times. Her compiled poems begin with this letter:Mexico, 1969
Most of these poems are written inspired by you. They're not much but they are an expression of repressed feelings. You'll recognize yourself, though perhaps disguised under "blue eyes" or other characteristics.
You always wished to be loved by someone and all these years, thirty in all, maybe a little less, you've been loved dearly and cherishingly with no hope of return. I realized I loved you too late. I couldn't turn back. My course was set to a fallen star.
I hope these get to you when I am gone. I'd like to have the satisfaction, even in the beyond, that you've found me out.
You always had my respect, admiration and love.
I have invited Ale to come for a visit. I want her to read out loud the 12-page letter from Dr. Ramón Andía that begins (my translation from Spanish) :I am going to tell you a story, a long and sad story which I would never be able to tell in its entierety, personally. It is a confession of weaknesses that destroy my apparent strength of character. You thought you knew me but you will find out that you barely got to my second floor. But you must also know that if anybody would ever get that far it could only be you.
I believe that the contents of the letter will reveal why it is my mother cast her ring into Manila Bay. A few years later she moved with her mother, brother and sister to Buenos Aires. In 1941 she married her "fallen star", my father.
The Filipino Timex
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Phileas Fogg, a stickler for the exactitude of time made a mistake: He forgot about crossing the International Date Line. Because he had traveled eastward, he gained the day he had lost and won his bet. Since then, with the invention of ever more accurate Swiss chronometers and those clocks that set their time via satellite to an atomic clock somewhere in the US, time has never been so exact. Yet through Einstein we know that clocks in separate trains going at relativistic velocities will run differently or even stop in relation to each other. As time got more exact it paradoxically became relative.
Any boy, as it was in my native Argentine boyhood, who tried to wish time to flow more quickly between those 12 days of Christmas and Los Tres Reyes Magos
the three wise men of the Epiphany on January 6, when Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar
would fill and overflow our shoes left outside our door, would attest that Einstein was right.
We suffered those sweltering Buenos Aires summer days knowing that time would drag almost to eternity. We never questioned nor challenged the foolishness of those English-style Argentine trains that arrived at Retiro Station at 7:53 am or left my Coghlan station at 7:03 am. Argentines have long since adopted Mexican time and the usual Mexican excuse for being late, "Se me hizo tarde." This short sentence translates approximately to, "I did not notice the passing of time and by the time I did, I was late and it was beyond my control."
Aybody who has been around for at least half a century will know that time flies ever more quickly and those 12 days of Christmas go like a flicker. You decorate the Christmas tree, you sweep the needles to make it all neat for Christmas Eve, and suddenly it's the Epiphany and the tree must come down.
In 1986 I purchased a Timex (made in the Philippines) for $50.00. Its case is made of titanium. Since then I have had a new battery installed only twice. It is a very good watch and the proof is that Timex has not made that model again. It is accurate but it cannot adapt to months with fewer than 31 days. It compensates with a feature I am almost unwilling to reveal. The watch is water-proof so I wear it in the tub. It does not happen with any kind of predictable frequency but I swear that every once in a while, when I stare at the second hand long enough, it stops, just for a bit and I swear it goes backward.
What 64-year-old would not wish that those 12 days of Christmas be an eternity?
Christmas 2006 - Nochebuena
Monday, December 25, 2006
Since I can remember we have celebrated Nochebuena
or Christmas Eve. This is the second year that we have invited someone for dinner who is not part of the family. Abraham Rogatnick was that guest and it delighted Rebecca to have him at the table. In years past Christmas Eve fun has been dampened by my insistance in taking the Christmas group photo. It is difficult, and more so, when we must include Rosemary's cat Toby and my female Plata. Having each person sit for a Polaroid has made it easier. We used the theme of Lauren's teddy bear.
Rebecca was practicing her piano when Abraham arrived. We were amazed at listening to him singing Beethoven's Ode to Joy
in German while Rebecca accompanied.
Our menu (Abraham's, 84, only condition is that there were to be no onions) was as follows:
1. Adalyn Lindley's Chicken a la Barbara (Lauren refused to eat this last time so we told her it was paprika chicken and she ate it with gusto)
2. Steamed rice, snowpeas & carrots.
3. Grilled red peppers.
4. Lettuce and tomato salad.
5. Dessert was a pavlova Rosemary made. We had fruit available but everybody indulged in slathering Argentine San Ignacio dulce de leche on it. Hilary made her famous cookies, we had fudge, Spanish marzipans from Alicante and Filipino polvorones
We drank an Argentine torrontés white wine, and an Argentine Doña Paula Cabernet Sauvignon. The kids had blended pineapple (with ice, sugar, water and orange juice).
All in all it was a pleasant evening in which Rosemary and I anticipated that best day of the year, Christmas Day, when we do nothing except, perhaps, read in bed.
Merry Christmas to all who may read this. Feliz navidad. Maligayan Pasko.
Corey Cerovsek Now (Dec 23) & Then (1987)
Sunday, December 24, 2006
"Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear, thy dial how thy precious minutes waste"
Sonnet 77, William Shakespeare
Sometime around 1985 I saw a series of photographs at the Presentation House in North Vancouver. They were photographs of four sisters taken in a beach in Massachusets by photographer Nicholas Nixon. The photos had the four women (one is Nixon's wife) always in the same order. I was drawn to these photographs and I stared at them for a long time.
In 1954 my mother took me to see The Living Desert
, a Walt Disney documentary directed by James Algar that won the first Oscar ever for a documentary film (1953). The film was about the flora and fauna of the deserts of the American South West. It featured (it was a state of the art novelty in 1954) time lapse cinematography so that desert blooms opened before your eyes. Time seemed to pass by quickly.
We are far more practical in modern times. Why wash your jeans 50 times before wearing them? You can buy aged, stone washed, faded jeans with "the look" of your favourite pair. Buying antiques can be tough as the antique might just be one of those instant antiques. The effect of time on the human face can be a shock if you haven't seen a long lost friend for a while and if Botox or corrective surgery have not had some play. Without being too aware we ourselves can be a shock to others as we remember ourselves as being young. But there are pleasures to be had in documenting the face over time. I might just be around to photograph Rebecca at the point when she ceases to be a child and becomes a woman. Will I know?
I understand Nicholas Nixon's 35 year-and-counting obsession with the Four Sisters
. Besides doing this with my own family I have photographed Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson
for 25 years. But he was full grown the first time I photographed him. In the case of violinist Corey Cerovsek I started when he was 14 (above, right). Yesterday's morning session in my studio was our fourth. And we always use a marking pen to draw a violin's f-hole on his palm. We drew generic f-holes. This time Corey brought his "Milanollo" Stradivarius, of 1728, as reference. I dared not touch it as the instrument was played, among others, by Christian Ferras, Giovanni Battista Viotti, and Nicolò Paganini.
Cerovsek mentioned that his petit amie
said that our former artsy effort (above) was too much of a Hitler pose. I was careful not to repeat it. This time around I decided to make Cerovsek a bit older by using a green filter and dramatic lighting. After seeing his simultaneous performance as soloist and leader/director in Friday night's concert of baroque music at the Chan I thought that the "older" look would be interesting.
Cerovsek says that our next assignment might be in a couple of years or more. I felt sad that it won't be soon but I did manage to get a more playful photograph where we substituted the f-hole with something more seasonal.Corey Cerovsek Corey Cerovsek One More Time