The Latent Image, Magic & Cris Derksen
Saturday, March 17, 2007
One of Arthur C Clarke's "laws" of prediction states: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Much has been written of intrepid explorers venturing into dark corners of the Amazon jungle and "conquering" hitherto fierce natives by handing them a Polaroid. For me photography has always been magic. The gradual emergence of an image on photographic paper that has been immersed in developer is a rabbit out of a top hat every time. The choice of word, develop, is interesting. At one time photographic plates or rolls of film were not developed but "images were developed out".
At left you see a roll of exposed Kodak Plus X 120 film with which I took 10 exposures of half-Cree cellist Cris Derksen yesterday at 3pm. She told me:I like your pics... but i also like pics a bit edgy, not so lovely, ya know?
So we took 10 pictures that were a bit edgy but lovely (I think) nonetheless.
I will never be able to resolve (not that I would want to) my sense of wonder at the fact that the above roll has ten latent images of Cris. Somehow the exciting, lovely, intelligent, warm young girl who came into my studio and left a sort of "latent" image of herself in my mind's memory is also captured in that roll of film. I will have to go into my darkroom over the weekend and "develop her out".
Latent is from the Latin latens
which means 'hidden' or as applied to photogaphy, the state where something exists but where it is not (not yet) visible. It is the potential aspect of latency that brings in that extra measure of excitement and uncertainty. In my past people would ask me, "Did the pictures come out?"
The more I think of it, that a human being can be parsed into zeros and ones in a digital camera is as much magic as the latent image of film.
Since I have been assigned by the Georgia Straight to photograph Cris Derksen I cannot show you her developed out picture until next Thursday. The blank (or is that latent?) space you see at right will be filled by the image come Thursday.
And since it is now Thursday here it is.
Neil Jordan & Joseph Cotten
Friday, March 16, 2007
Globalization is homogenizing just about everything. But there are some people who manage to live in isolation and they appear upon us as a complete surprise. I felt this when I listened to my first recording of Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. His brand of jazz was, as Americans are fond to say, "out in left field". I believe that Irish director Neil Jordan's early films had this same flavour. In particular I would cite his adult fairy story In the Company of Wolves
, 1984. I was able to photograph him in 1989 at the Meridien Hotel in Vancouver and I forgot to ask him if he played the guitar as his fingernails were cut long. He was interviewed for the Georgia Straight by John Armstrong who was also "out there..."!
I haven't heard much of Jordan of late and that made me think of movie actors who seem to disappear without a trace such as Joseph Cotten who died in 1994 but had faded many years before. I sometimes think that my mother took up smoking so she could do it in the effortless style of Cotten. It was my mother who first took me to see The Third Man
and I too fell for the charms of this actor. Many years later I lined up with Les Wiseman outside the Bottom Line in New York City (waiting to get in to see Lou Reed), I remember smoking (the idea was to keep warm as it was a very cold Manhattan winter evening) those awful Mexican Delicados (oval-shaped) and trying to close my eyes just enough to look like Joseph Cotten.
Neil Jordan- Tell me a story
Bullfighters & Male Ballet Dancers, Paco Camino & Miroslav Zydowicz
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Of late I have been thinking a lot about male ballet dancers and of male contemporary dancers. Besides modern dance there seems to be another category called modern ballet and even sometimes that is modified to contemporary dance. In short, dance that is, strictly speaking, not of the 19th century traditional ballet where the man lifted the woman while she showed off her skills. It is strange that there really is no English counterpart for the female ballerina. One has to say male ballet dancer. In Spanish this difference is not so pronounced. You have bailarina de ballet
, bailarina de flamenco
and the male equivalent bailarín
can be bailarín de ballet
o bailarín de flamenco
. But as in English the term bailarín
for male dancer includes a trumped up idea that the man in question is lacking in manliness.
What is strange is that classical ballet as we know it had its origins in France with Louis XIV and Jean-Baptiste Lully. In the 1650s and 1660s Lully composed ballets for which both he and the king danced. Across the border in Spain there was already a tradition of la lidia
or bullfighting. It is this latter English translation that includes the word fight
that has made so many who do not understand the bullfight, think it is some sort of sport. These taurophobes will then complain that the bull has no chance.
But if you look at a bullfight as dance, in which a man has to be graceful at all times in the presence of some danger from an animal who is not always predictable, then you must see it with a different perspective.
The movements of very good bullfighters are very stylized and graceful, almost feminine. My favourite was Paco Camino, right, photo by D'Lynn Waldron, who dominated bullfighting in Mexico in 1964. I never liked the crassly brave Cordobés who was much too brave but not graceful enough for my concept of the classic matador. I can think of nobody, of whatever sex, who can be more graceful than Camino, Manolete or a Dominguín. Yet both Tyrone Power ( he played a bullfighter in Blood and Sand
, 1941) or Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon
, would assure us that bullfighting was and is a most manly endeavour which will guarantee a legion of female admirers.
I made this connection not too long ago and I have really, of late come to appreciate the talents of the male dancer in both ballet and modern dance. I have many favourites in Vancouver, such as Peter Bingham of Edam and Ballet BC's Edmond Kilpatrick. I am particularly thrilled that the latter teaches Rebecca jazz dance at Arts Umbrella.
But my all-time favourite was (he now dances in Europe) Mirososlav Zydowicz seen here in the best room of the Marble Arch Hotel with Andrea Hodge (behind them in the frame is my photograph of that most manly poet, Michael Turner taken in the same room). To watch these two dance was pure electricity. Miroslav conveyed an extreme passion (that I have yet to see again in Vancouver) while Andrea with her classic profile and classic ballet style managed to make my blood both freeze and boil when I watched them dance together.
Emily Molnar once explained to me how a dancer moves through space and cuts invisible swaths of space-time that remain long after the dancer has moved to a different part of a stage. I would like to further stretch Molnar's idea in that I can still see in my mind's eye those wonderful collaborations of Miroslav Zydowicz and Andrea Hodge as ghosts when I watch Ballet BC perform.
Iggy Pop and Joseph Goebbels
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
In 1989 I had the good fortune to photograph a drug free and sober Iggy Pop at the Fours Seasons Hotel. I decided to use a dramatice spotlight low on him for my picture and when I looked at him through my viewfinder I recalled a photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1939 in Geneva when he was covering the League of Nations Assembly. His subject was Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. In retrospect that photograph of the man with an annoyed and malign expression proved all too prophetic of horrors to come.
I mentioned this to Iggy (it sounds odd to write Mr. Pop or even Pop) who immediately became very excited and told me he had been to the very house in Geneva.
He then posed for me and gave me the closest malign expression he could muster. For a gentleman like Iggy Pop this was hard to do but I appreciated his gesture.
Rebecca Raids Rosemary's Closet
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Every time Rebecca and Lauren come to stay with us on Saturdays with the usual sleep over, I am ostracized to what used to be Hilary's (Rebecca and Lauren's mother) room for the night. It is a sacrifice that has its rewards. It is during the day that the two girls make a mess of our bedroom when they raid Rosemary's closet. They take out her shoe boxes and within minutes there are shoes everywhere. Rebecca, in particular, looks to see what she can find hanging in Rosemary's racks. One of her favourite items is an aqua coloured satin nightie I bought Rosemary at Eaton's some 28 years ago. Rosemary unromantically pointed out to Rebecca that it was 100% polyester.
This time Rebecca combined clothing in the same time era as she also found a dress our Mexican housekeeper, Clemen, had made for Hilary an equal amount of years ago. Saturday was a dreary day so I marched Rebecca to our entrance for some photographs. She protested that it was too cold. Every time a car passed by she would run into the house. She did not want to be seen. I managed a few glum photos that I still happen to like.
That evening I watched The Saboteur, Code Name Marituri
(1965) with Yul Brynner and Marlon Brando speaking a German accent as unconvincing as his bleach-blonde SS officer role in The Young Lions
(1958). It was around 10:30 when Rebecca came down to watch the movie with me and by then it had been going on for almost an hour. It was difficult to explain to her who were the good Germans and the bad Germans. But she persisted a stayed until the end.
I think that the time for watching Beau Geste is coming up on us.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Marc Destrubé and the Axelrod Quartet will be playing Beethoven's Op 132 (5 movements): March 15, 2007, 8:pm, Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie Street with Peter Hannan, Kenton Lowen and Pissed Of Wild (in no particular order). “Peugeot 505s are solid cars. They are used as taxis in Buenos Aires and all over Africa.”
I always notice people who drive Peugeots or any other French cars. They are few. Most of these drivers are stubborn individuals. One of them to me looks like Antonio Vivaldi or Nicolo Paganini. I think I make this connection because I know he is Vancouver violinist Marc Destrubé.
Goethe likened listening to a string quartet to "eavesdropping on a conversation among four intelligent people." Perhaps that's why listening to one can seem like a such an intimidating experience, unlike, say, listening to an orchestra. Vancouver musician Marc Destrubé, first violinist of the Smithsonian's Axelrod Quartet, one of the world's best, thinks the experience should be anything but intimidating. "Our repertoire is immensely warm and inviting," Destrubé says. "Yes, I'm in the middle of it. But you have the chance to listen in on a private conversation among four individuals. Whereas a concert by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, which Destrubé founded and has directed since 1991, is like going to a pop concert, the music being thrown at you. You are not looking into someone else's activity. The activity is there to please you."
I disagree with Destrubé's pop concert comparison. His violin playing adds that extra brilliance to the PBO concerts. But he may be right when he tells me, "Baroque music is a door into the appreciation of the music that followed it." After years of being enthused with baroque music I now have a nascent interest in the music of the 19th century as represented by quartets and other small orchestras. And I may be one of many others. It is only recently that I have also been interested in what in Vancouver is called New Music and often is presented by the society of that name, The Vancouver New Music Society. Being able to listen to this new music by Marc Destrubé, who has always made music warm and inviting makes this concert a hard one to miss.
In 1998 the Smithsonian's Smithson String Quartet changed its name to its present one after it received a gift from the self-taught ichthyologist and tropical fish expert Herbert Axelrod. The gift was a quartet (two violins, one viola and cello) of exquisitely decorated Antonio Stradivari instruments. Destrubé's instrument of choice, the 1709 "Greffuhle" Stradivari, is inlaid with gryphons and spotted leopards. Those leopards and gryphons must have their influence. Of playing on the Greffuhle, Destrubé says, "It has an intimate sound but a strong personality as if it were alive and you are going to battle with it." A seemingly out-of-the- blue offer, in April 2002, to be the first violinist of the Axelrod Quartet came at the right time for Destrubé.
Until 2002, as concertmaster of the CBC Radio Orchestra, he had such a gruelling playing and teaching schedule that it became impossible to juggle his concertmaster tasks with his international commitments. Diversity is another reason for Destrubé's success. He is a soloist, a director, a concertmaster for various orchestras, a teacher, and plays baroque, 19th- and 20th-century music. He has a soft spot for Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934 - 1998). As a director of the PBO he has commissioned works from contemporary Canadian composers, including Thursday night's performer/composer Peter Hannan.
And somehow he finds the time to take his wife and two children on camping holidays. The Victoria-raised Destrubé has an interesting background that may explain his attraction to diversity. His father, while a French Second World War prisoner of war in a camp in Austria in 1944, became sick and was transferred to a hospital in Villach. There he met his soon-to-be wife, a young German doctor. Such were the mechanical skills of the senior Destrubé that he soon was repairing hospital equipment and taking the pre-operation x-rays. Fudging on his health status, while being careful not to cross the Nazi hospital administrators, Destrubé never returned to his camp and married the doctor at the end of the war. An uncle who had moved from London to start a general store in Northern Alberta at the turn of the 20th century had retired in Victoria. The Destrube's moved there. To this day, Marc Destrubé drives French cars because, "My father always drove one." Destrubé's achievement at 52 is extraordinary, when you consider he became a musician later in life than normal. "I wasn't a prodigy. I made the decision to be a musician when I was 17 after I had started my pre-med studies. I then just worked hard [beginning at the Victoria Conservatory of Music]." By 1987 he was the first violinist for the Purcell String Quartet and was a founding member of Tafelmusik. Destrubé explained the challenge in quartet playing. "It involves skills that have to do with one's imagination as a musician. One must not only get along but also work with three people in an intense situation. It is the ability, as a first violinist, to stand out as a greater amongst equals and to be willing to discuss musical points on an equal level."
I have watched Destrubé at PBO rehearsals and I can confirm that he has a soft-spoken authority that must serve him well in the quartet.
Adendum by Marc Destrubé
I thought you might like to at least know about this most unusual concert. The Axelrod Quartet will be playing Beethoven Op. 132 (5 movements), Kenton Loewen (amazing drummer) and I will be playing Peter Hannan's new piece (5 parts), with live electronics, and Pissed Off Wild (Kenton's band - the name says it all) will play (5 songs), all this in no particular order, and we'll all do something together at the end.
Marc Vancouver New Music
Sunday, March 11, 2007
I love taking portraits and quite a long time ago I came to realize that hands could be almost as expressive as a face. But hands are difficult to photograph as they can be as big as the face. And when they are closer to the camera they can appear much bigger or when closer to a light they can overexpose. A hand in tension (or little fingers in tension) will be noticed before the face. A case in point is the little finger of Rebecca's right hand here. It detracts from what is one of my favourite pictures ever of her. It has the charm of being a Polaroid and so is one of a kind.
Fortunately Rebecca is taking ballet so she knows how to hold her hands with grace. With her help I have learned to take better pictures (even lawyers) as I always notice what the hands are doing.
Now that Lauren can take instructions when I photograph her I have been able to photograph her with Rebecca with some ease. I took this one last summer in the garden and Lauren is holding Rosa 'Sexy Rexy'.
In this next one Rebecca is in our back lane during a downpour. She is holding (but her hand barely shows) Rosa 'Charles de Mills'.
Feet can complicate things sometimes. Usually they are too far from the face to be noticed in a portrait. When Rebecca posed for me behind our gazebo with the hydrangea she asked me if she could place her leg thus. It looked very adult-like and I liked it. Rosemary didn't at first and now has begun to appreciate Rebecca's attempt at looking like an adult.
But it was only recently that I finally nailed a portrait of Rebecca and Lauren where to my mind the hands are perfect.