Ron Basford, Prime Minister John Turner, Audrey Hepburn & John Bishop
Saturday, March 31, 2007
More than perhaps any other date in my life I remember exactly where I was at 1:00 pm on Tuesday September 4, 1984.
This story could be a visual shaggy dog story as I have photographs to illustrate every aspect of it. It began sometime in October 1982 when I was taking photographs of Liberal MP, Ron Basford in his Vancouver office for the November cover of Vancouver Magazine
. While attempting to take his portrait our session was interrupted by two phone calls. One was from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the other from Vancouver Mayor Mike Harcourt. To complicate my shoot, Basford had glasses that reflected my lighting umbrella, he had a shiny bald head and no eyelashes or eyebrows. I asked the receptionist if anybody in the office had face powder. Nobody had face powder and my short 30 mintute photo appointment was about to run out. I had an inkling on how to solve the problem. "If you think it will work, use it,"
Basford told me. The Coffee-Mate worked very well and the shine was off.
John Turner was Prime Minister from June 30, 1984 to September 17, 1984. Elections were to be on September 4, 1984. Vancouver Magazine editor, Mac Parry was planning an issue of Vancouver's top citizens for September. I told Parry that since Turner's riding was in BC he should be one of the citizens and perhaps even on the cover. Parry told me, "Get him for the cover."
The problem was that Turner's campaign manager rudely informed me, "Mr. Turner does not have the time to pose for your city magazine. He is too busy mingling and addressing his constituency.
" I pointed out that many in Vancouver thought Turner had parachuted into Vancouver and that his face on a Vancouver city magazine that would come out a few days before the federal election would certainly guarantee him a few more votes. My argument went nowhere.
So I called Ron Basford's Ottawa office and asked to speak to him. On the line Basford said, "I hope you have bought genuine face powder by now (I had). What's the problem?"
I explained. "Leave it to me, "
he said. That evening I received a call from Turner's campaign manager. "Mr. Turner will be waiting for you in his room at the Vancouver Hotel tomorrow morning at 8:15."
On the morning of the federal election, writer John Lekich and I were at the Four Seasons Hotel. We were there to interview and photograph Audrey Hepburn who was in town as a representative of UNESCO. Lekich warned me, "Don't ask her about any of her former husbands. Movie stars don't like that."
Hepburn was wearing a black mock turtle neck top, a black skirt and black flat shoes. She had no jewelry and no makeup. She was only 55 but she looked older. I was shocked to see her alternate between cigarettes and cups of coffee. But she was tall ( I calculate she was 5 ft 10 inches). I asked her if she had ever not appeared with an actor because of her height. "Not true, she asserted, I made Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart."
And then I had to ask her about the famous Bert Stern photograph of her as a bride with her bridegroom Mel Ferrer in a Paris hotel room. She looked at me as if she had had one too many bitter coffees. John had warned me.
To celebrate the occasion I invited Lekich for lunch at John Bishop's Bishop's. I knew that this expensive restaurant wouldn't be so expensive as we would not be able to purchase any liquor. It was federal election day.
While dining I pointed out to Lekich that there were a couple of men at a table who had wires coming out of their ears. We wondered if they were security guys or spies. We soon found out. From our window seat we saw a large car stop. From it emgerged John Turner. He sat down at a table with some men I could not identify. When he saw me he said, "Hi, Alex."
I wished him good luck. But of course on that day he lost.
Lekich and I will never forget that day. I have an extra reason.
I was so in awe of Hepburn that my photographic instincts were in shambles and I realized that I could not make Hepburn look as she had in Roman Holiday
. I could not possibly get close with my mercilessly sharp portrait lens. So I chose to step back and photograph her at a distance. I can assert that my subsequent takes were failures. I should have gotten close, Roman Holiday be damned.
Friday, March 30, 2007
I married Rosemary when both of us were young so I was certainly never a man of the world. Since I had lived most of my life in Latin countries (until we moved to Vancouver 30 years ago) I had lived in sexually repressed Catholic societies. It all changed with a couple of beautiful jazz dancers at the CBC.
My first real break in photography happened around 28 years ago when I was called to shoot stills for the Wolfman Jack Show
at the CBC on Hamilton Street. I could not peel my eyes away from the dancers that all CBC variety shows featured. There were a couple that I favoured. I asked cameraman Mike Varga for their names. "They are Jackie Coleman and the one with the legs, that's Viktoria Langton." My mother had a handsome pair of legs as did Rosemary but Langton's were spectacular. During the break the cast and crew went to the CBC cafeteria and I chose to follow the dancers. In spite of being a tad shy I managed to raise enough gumption to sit opposite Coleman and another dancer. Both dancers were sweaty and exhausted. Coleman turned to the dancer and loudly said, "I want a hamburger and a fuck and in that order." In all my years before and since I have never been so shocked and startled by a woman as I was then.
After a few years of working at the CBC doing the variety shows I got to not only know the dancers but I found myself conversing with some of them. My favourite shows were the ones where the dancers were made to wear nylons with seams. Viktoria stood out.
I don't remember the exact circumstances. I don't know if Viktoria asked me or I asked her but the fact is that I photographed her twice.
Once in my Burnaby home basement studio (sitting in our Mexican hanging egg chair) and at her home. In both situations my wordly education (nonexistent at the time) was furthered.
Sitting on the egg chair (Viktoria had wet her hair so she looked like she had just stepped out of the shower) she offered, "Do you want me to bare my breasts?" I was too flabergasted by the offer so I muttered a, "It's not necessary." What and idiot I was! Here I had a woman with a face and a pair of cheekbones that Cinemascope was invented for and cold feet were all I could muster.
By the time I photographed Viktoria again the offer had more or less closed. While taking her pictures in her bedroom I noticed a device on her bed that suggested that she was quite happy on her own. Perhaps it was only then that I realized that women were as human as I was, even the ones with special legs.
Of those legs I can tell you that I could go into my files and search for pictures of the CBC dancers. Viktoria's legs would stand out. But that will have to wait for another day. Recently Viktoria visited me in my garden and here you can see a couple of excellently turned ankles. You will have to imagine the rest.
While I am usually polite with most women I have been uncommonly crass in repeatedly asking Miss Langton to undrape for my camera. Her negative replies have been resolute but I have not yet lost all hope.
Viktoria Langton has a beautiful smile and a throaty voice with a special South African accent. She was born there.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Bob Mercer's takeover as both editor and art director of Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine
(until recently a magazine with no visible redeeming qualities) has given me the opportunity to explore areas of photography that I discovered with the introduction of an Epson 1640 SU flatbed scanner into my photographic equation about 4 years ago. The scanner has enabled me to work on what I call a hybrid photographic system. I can merge some of the features of film with computer manipulation. But many of my solutions and discoveries, while they could possibly be executed with an all digital sytem including a digital camera, are due to still thinking of the capabilities of film. With the proliferation of digital cameras and the mentality that all you need is the camera in your hand (no need to connect either by wire or by radio a good lighting system!) to make (capture is the going word) a good image, uniformity is the apparent rule. For me the results all seem to look like most, if not all, the photographs posted on Flickr
The scanner has made me realize that at age 64 I am shooting what I think are some of my best photographs but also I have the idea that better ones are still to come.
In the lastest issue of VLM I have a photograph of young Vancouver jazz pianist Amanda Tosoff. Last week, on Wednesday at 8, I wanted to listen to her with her trio at her regular gig at the Libra Room on Commercial. I wanted to take my piano student granddaughter, Rebecca who was on spring break. Alas I was too sick to go so we will have to wait for another opportunity. I am particularly intrigued in that she plays some jazz standards by Horace Silver, a jazz pianist that both Rebecca and I like.
I took this photograph with a plain white background and I then scanned the b+w negative as a colour negative. By doing this I am able to tint the result with whatever colour I wish. I then placed the negative on my flatbed scanner. On top of the negative I lay a sheet of white letter paper. I scanned it. The result was a negative that I reversed to make a positive. The positive showed the textures and deffects that the scanner read in the paper.
I then chose a suitable colour. The second version seen here is the one Mercer chose to run.
A Photograph Revisited
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Sometimes I feel justified to use a photograph from a past blog
I took this picture in 1979 when Hilary (now Hilary Stewart) was 7 and Alexandra (always Ale) was 11. The framed picture hangs on one of our stair walls and I see it every time I go down in the morning or when I visit the kitchen in the evening for a snack.
For me the photo is memorable on many levels. At the time I had given Rosemary a state-of-the-art automatic camera, a Pentax ME. I brought along all my cameras for that 1979 trip on the Royal Hudson but it was with Rosemary's ME and Kodacolor film that I snapped this photograph. It is one, of a very few group of iconic pictures that I ever took of my daughters together.
I was younger and I had no experience in being a father, in knowing what to tell them or how to help educate them. It seemed that both Rosemary and I were doing it on the fly. And we did a lot of driving.
I remember that we would pick up the girls at their French Immersion schools in Coquitlam and then drive them to their ballet and guitar (Ale) classes at the Vancouver School of Music by the Planetarium. We drove them to Burnaby's (we lived there) CG Brown Pool for swimming classes. Finally Rosemary insisted that the girls learn to ice skate and to ski. During many weekends we drove to Mt Seymour or deposited the girls at the Grouse Mountain gondola. Yet their childhood seems one big blur for me. Somehow this picture distills some of the happy moments and also suggests that we may have been on the right track.
I cannot bring those memories back. But I have happily discovered that I can relive them through my grandchildren Rebecca and Lauren. I have more patience, and this time around, I know I will not have the luxury to write here that it all, too, has become a blur in my memory. Somehow that is not only reassuring but also extremely exciting.
Here they all are although I took this in August 2003.
One Of The Three Milnes
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
My relationship with the three Milne sisters came about as an addendum to my friendship with fellow photographer Ian McGuffie. I first met C. Milne when she worked at Lens & Shutter in the early 80s. I remember her as a glamourous woman who had a penchant for wearing magnolias in her hair. In subsequent gatherings with her at the Railway Club she came to the conclusion I was a chauvinist pig and all shields were up. The fact that I indicated I wanted to photograph her lovely cleavage might have been part of the problem. A second sister, whose name I have forgotten, was a bus driver when I first met her. Our conversations were pleasant. The third sister, A. was much more elusive, glamourous and mysterious. She would appear at parties at Carol's house with a young man she mostly igored. She moved exactly like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Sometime in the early 90s Ian suggested we photograph A. together. This was an odd request. I never chose to ask Ian if in his past he had a relationship with either C. A. but there was something there. In the early 90s I was exploring photographic sensuality in my version of Helmut Newton. Since I could not find luxurious Paris hotels for my experiments I made Tony Ricci's Marble Arch my headquarters and in particular one of the better rooms that featured a sitting room, a separate bathroom and an ominous chain lock on the door.
With my shoot with A. I further tried out an extremely sharp film, Technical Pan and I used both my conventional medium format camera and a 6x9 inch German Gevabox. The latter was a fixed focus and most primitive box camera. The first picture, top left, is an example of the Gevabox.
Tony gave me access to two rooms and the procedure was that one of us would wait in one room while the other would take photographs of A. I never saw Ian's pictures and he indicated that A. hated mine. I quickly buried the negatives in my files. Looking at them now I don't think they are all that bad. I did learn one thing and that was to appreciate torn nylons.
Perhaps I simply never got past a perfunctory knowledge of what the Milne sisters were all about.
One More For John
|Anastasia at the Arch|
Monday, March 26, 2007
In my CD collection I have some Alban Berg piano sonatas and a 3 CD set called The Glenn Gould Legacy - Scriabin - Schoenberg - Berg - Prokofief - Hindemith - Krenek
. After having tried many times I have retired these CDs. I find them unlistenable. Many have said that this kind of music is remote. I would not entirely agree. I have enjoyed Vancouver New Music Recitals without any problem. The difference must lie in seeing
the performances.The same can be said about contact improvisational dance and Butoh. They have to be seen.
Rebecca (my 9-year-old granddaughter) and I went to a somewhat difficult program on Saturday.
It was particularly hard on me as I had a terrible cough which I controlled with A Shopper's Drug Mart codeine cough syrup and Fishermen's Friends lemon-flavoured drops. The program was two-and-a-half hours long. I am sure that at least 30 minutes could have been cut.
Both Rebecca and I had seen Kokoro's brand of Butoh before. It is a form of modern Japanese dance that emerged after WWII. Depending on how you look at it I got the impression, as did Rebecca, that I was watching a couple of ghouls from The Night of the Living Dead
(even if both Jay Hirabayashi and wife Barbara Bourget had their white makeup). Then some of the ungraceful hand positions would shift and their movements became exquisitely graceful, all enhanced by a slowness that looked easy only at first glance. For these Butoh dancers to keep some of the positions, in which their spinal columns are bent for long periods of time, must force a tremendous control and a need for great strength.
I must admit that the more I see Butoh the more it grows on me. In this last performance I was particularly delighted that Bourget did not colour her lovely red hair. And after having seen Hirabayashi a week back in Karen James's Sisyphus
I know that this 60-year-old man can "conventionally" out perform just about any other man in town.
All in all I would say that Rebecca must have been very proud of her grandfather. After all, he was able to survive such a "difficult" program without demanding to go home early.
Indian Chants & A Seductive Cello
Sunday, March 25, 2007
When I first started working at Tilden-Rent-A-Car on Alberni Street some 30 years ago I was told not to rent cars to anybody whose last name was John or George. When I pressed the manager for details he said, "Just don't rent cars to Indians." I could not understand why, so when a large man with long hair, called Moving Rock showed up for a station wagon I gave it to him I gave it to him even though his driver's licence was suspicious. The vehicle appeared in Arizona a couple of months later and I was almost fired. One of my better clients was a black pimp from Seattle called Johnny Stone who never gave me any trouble. The manager told me to stop renting to rocks, boulders and stones.
I am from a generation that remembers the map of Africa being full of countries that had red borders as they were British territories. In that youth of mine maps showed men in conical hats planting rice in China, a Mexican would be sleeping under a cactus and Germans would be wearing short leather pants with a feather in a cap. All was hermetic and logical. Mexicans lived in Mexico and Argentines in Argentina.
After having read so much about "red Indians" I was astounded to see my first "Indians" in Vancouver. I found them odd as they were Mexicans who did not understand my Spanish. My wife Rosemary had never seen an Indian in her native New Dublin, Ontario. Her first sighting of a totem pole had been the one in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City.
After Moving Rock I rarely ever had a contact with an Indian. In the years that I worked as a stills photographer at the local CBC I never spotted an Indian. I asked around and was told, "They are not interested in working here." In fact the only Indian I then saw at the CBC was the one who was a character in the Beachcombers
It was about 25 years ago when people seemed to give parties and Rosemary and I would drive to them on Saturday nights. More often than not the program on CBC was Our Native Land
. This radio program featured native Canadian culture, songs and news. I enjoyed listening to it except Rosemary was not tolerant of anything that sounded like chanting and she would demand I turn the radio off.
Through the years I have had a few situations where I have photographed such people as Chief Dan George and his son Chief Len George. I photographed several members of the Sparrow family but I have never managed to connect past the photograph.
Last week I was fascinated by the Native Canadian influence in Karen Jamieson.
Last night Rebecca and I went to an evening at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre that featured assorted groups of which only Kokoro Dance was familiar. Rebecca and I were blown away by half-Cree cellist Cris Derksen and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
During my session in my studio with Cris Derksen
, Derksen had asserted, "Tanya Tagaq is pure sex." She was right. I was exhausted by Tagaq's performance and Rebecca told me, "My throat hurts from just listening to her."
In the end both Rebecca and I enjoyed Cris Derksen, best. She did a little singing which was a blend of the avant-garde and what sounded like traditional Native Canadian chanting. Dersken started with an amplified version of Bach's Suite No 1 for cello. From there she degenerated beautifully into sounds we had never heard before.
We were both seduced.