Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Saturday, July 07, 2007
When I first came to Vancouver some 32 years ago I was full of the wrong information of race. I was from a generation of the red man, the Chinaman, and thought the Japanese had yellow skin. I was astounded to find out that native Canadians looked exactly like the natives of Mexico except they did not understand my Spanish.
You are seeing tomorrow's blog today because I will be in Lillooet today and tomorrow Saturday. My daughter Ale has no internet connection yet. One of her ambitions in Lillooet is to be able to teach native Canadians. My Mexican born daughter has such a connection with her country that I think she will do fine.
I wrote in the past of my excitement in watching Karen Jamieson
and her rare but exciting blend of modern dance with Native Canadian dance. I want to happily report that Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas seems to be doing the same thing with the visual arts. I photographed him last week (in preparation for this coming Tuesday's opening at the Museum of Anthropology) with one piece from a series called Coppers from the Hood
. This particular one (a beautifully painted and with a copper leaf inlay) is a car hood that tells the story of two sisters. I chose, on purpose not to show any totem poles or any other Native Canadian artifacts.
I enjoyed Michael's personality and I think his work will help to bring some humour and lift some of the formality that so many of us seem to want to feel when exposed to this art. My b+w photograph does not do justice to the lovely tones of the copper leaf but the false colour does give an idea of what it would be like.
The Other Side Of Two Dimensions
Friday, July 06, 2007
Sometime in 1985 I read A.K. Dewdney's The Planiverse
, a strange novel about a two-dimensional world. Whenever I run into Dewdney Trunk Road (it seems to start and stop and meander through much of the Lower Mainland) I think of the Planiverse
. Just like the inhabitants of The Planiverse
would never think to look up and discover the third dimension, somehow it would be just as impossible to drive the length of Dewdney Trunk Road without getting lost, or would it?
Five years ago Rosemary and I took Rebecca (then 5) to our first vacation trip together. We went to Washington DC
. We saw a few paintings at the National Gallery but I left the best for last. I took Rebecca to the special room and she stared at the 16 13/16 x 14 9/16 oil on panel and said, "Papi, she looks like the Mona Lisa. This must be a painting by da Vinci." Was I really proud of her! What is not generally known about Ginevra de' Benci
is that the painting has two sides, an obverse one.
I have never tried to tell my Scottish heritage son-in-law, Bruce Stewart, my Scottish joke about the one-sided pancakes which cost less than the two-sided variety!
The "rules" of composition in photography are artificial tricks that are supposed to induce the movement of a viewer's eyes when the viewer looks at a photograph. Photographs that work will have at least one diagonal line or the horizon line will not be equidistant from top and bottom as that would create, instantaneously, two equally boring photographs. These "rules" try to overcome the limitation that a photograph compresses (supress is perhaps better here) our three dimensional reality into two.
Since so many of the professional digital cameras (DSLRs) as well as the professional film ones (SLRs) have focal plane shutters, they create photographs in which one section of the photograph (where the shutter starts) will be earlier in time than the last part of the photograph. Without going into more confusing details, few of us realize that these photographs, while supressing that third dimension, depth, do include the fourth one, time! In brief in a portrait of yourself the top of your head will be "younger" than your feet.
But I would disagree that a photograph has only two dimensions (if we eliminate time). Da Vinci's portrait at the National Gallery is a good example. A photograph, a good photograph printed on heavy art photographic paper, will have an edge and heft. Vintage photographs (printed at about the time that they were taken) by such photographers as Edward Weston or Manuel Alvarez Bravo, will be signed in pencil on the back. It might have a date and or a dealer's stamp. For me these photographs, even mine, have three dimensions. I can hold them, I can cradle them, I can tear them and fold them.
On February 24 I gave a little talk at the Northern Voice Blogging Conference at UBC. As I spoke I had that day's blog
projected behind me. It featured one of my favourite photographs of Rebecca. I had also brought a hard copy (a very large, beautifully framed light jet print) and had placed it behind me. After my talk a woman (there were perhaps a couple of hundred people in the room) came up to me and said, "I don't understand why you brought that (pointing at the framed photograph), after all you had it projected behind you."
That left me shocked and speechless and I have given it much thought all these months. I have come to the conclusion that our visual world (the world of pictures we look at) is in a transition from a two (really three) dimensional world to one of a true two dimensions as seen on a monitor or flat screened TV. Not only is that happening very quickly but it is also a transition from the static layout of a photo album, a magazine or a picture book to one of images that scroll in a rapid sequence.
It would seem that the cutting edge world of web design is being forced to incorporate video. One image is not enough. So we have flash and Flash and other named versions of Flash and flash. I would argue that just as Cinemascope could not in the end compete with the ease of flicking on a TV set our web as we know it will be doomed (will it?) if it attempts to imitate TV.
At my age (64) I must attempt to be objective and not denigrate this transition. I might like to hold a photograph that might even smell of fixer (and thus not be properly washed) but that does not mean that the two-dimensional images with all that contrast and vivid colour of a computer monitor are to be deemed inferior.
Until those monitor images (in those strict two dimensions) incorporate a true third of depth (as in 3D) I will personally enjoy the heft, smell, feel and that other
side of a paper photograph!
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Many erroneously believe that Humberto Eco invented the medieval monk sleuth in his 1980 Il nombre della rosa
. The fact is that Brother Cadfael appeared in Ellis Peters's 1978 A Morbid Taste for Bones.
I have enjoyed all of the books of this series and even met the writer Ellis Peters when I traveled to Shropshire in the late 80s.
Now in a week I will be meeting up with my ex-religion and theology teacher Brother Edwin Reggio C.S.C. at St Edward's University in Austin, Texas. I figured that a man with an artistic bent might enjoy one of my rose giclées (French pseudo art speak for a high quality ink jet print). Of all my roses which one would have a connection (even a tenuous one) with him? I though of the English Rose, St. Swithun
could be a possibility. I finally settled on English Rose Rosa
'Brother Cadfael' (left). I never met St Swithun but after reading all of the Brother Cadfael novels I can see a bit of Brother Edwin. Brother Edwin was compact and powerful. Before becoming a monk Cadfael was a knight in the crusades. I have seen Brother Edwin pick up, with one hand, Byron Todd, the largest fellow student in my class, , push him into a wall (I remember Todd's feet dangling over the floor) and then calmly tell him, "You behave or you are going to be in trouble with me!" I am sure Brother Edwin could have handled a broad sword with ease.
I am particularly excited that Rebecca is going to meet Brother Edwin so I was trying to find another tenuous connection. This was easy. One of Rosemary's favourite perennials is the handsome Aconitum napillus
with its brilliant blue flowers that resemble a monk's hood and the reason this plant is commonly called Monkshood. Every part of this plant is deadly poison so from the beginning we realized we had to grow these tall plants (to 6 ft) in the back of the border where they would be far away from Rebecca who started running around in our garden as soon as she could walk. Monkshood also reminds me of the third installment of the Cadfael mysteries which is called Monk's-Hood!
My copy of The Cadfael Companion - The World of Brother Cadfael
by Robin Whiteman has this to say of the plant:Monk's-Hood (also Wolfsbane or Aconite)(Aconitum Napellus). Poisonous. Novels. Ground root of the plant, mixed with oils, used for rubbing deep into aching joints to relieve pain. Annointing oil of monk's-hood stored in a great jar. Extremely poisonous if swallowed. A small dose killed Gervase Bonel. Reference Monk's-Hood(1-6-9)
Nostalgia & Penguins In The Arctic
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
When I visit my first cousin and godmother Inesita O'Reilly Kuker in Buenos Aires we talk a very proper English but here and there we will pepper it with words in Argentine Spanish or words from the Spanish that conveniently fit some sort of gap in the English. Going to the country may work in England when one thinks of quaint cottages and meandering hedges. In the vastness of the Argentine pampa one goes to the "camp" a word anglicized by the dropping of the final Spanish o. I was 8 or 9 waiting for tram 35 to take me to my grandmother's flat in downtown Buenos Aires when an old man asked me if the "trambuy" (tramway) had passed already. I never saw my father wear un esmoking
This shifting from one language to another, from one way of thought to another, from one bank of shared memories to another is very much like the partition of my computer hard disc into Disc D and Disk C. I wanted my friend Paul to re-distribute the partition into different percentages. The task was harder than we thought and it has yet to be done right. My computer has been protesting meanwhile. It would seem that it is mimicking the state of my brain these days as my Spanish Disc C whithers and sputters.
Juan Manuel Sanchez and wife Nora Patrich are not living together at the moment in Buenos Aires. They are seeking some sort of separation, and each is living with a new partner. This means that my warm friend Juan Manuel will not be returning to Vancouver. We will no longer discuss the merits of the description of wild gentians in the Alps of Thomas Mann's La Montaña Mágica
(Chilean edition). It means that we will not glory together at the cuerpo plástico (Juan's description of a female model's beautiful body that inspires him to sketch and draw and me to photograph). This means that I will no longer share in the lively banter between Juan and the younger Nora as they work on their differences. This means that a whole Argentine experience, its history, its language, its music, its literature, its fauna and flora, its dance are lodged in my head with no way of seeing the light of day. I have nobody to share this with.
My grandmother taught me the glory and the richness of her husband Tirso's Spanish language. Tirso was a member of the Real Academia Españo
la. I no longer consult her gift to me, a dictionary of the Academia. Its on line version The RAE
is superior and at hand. But I remember my grandmother and Tirso every time I log on to the RAE.
I miss Juan Castelao, the Spanish conductor of the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra. It seems he will be staying in his hometown of Oviedo for a while. He was drier and more formal than Juan Manuel Sanchez. But we shared a love for the intricacies of our Spanish language and hot Nando's chicken wings.
We talked about music and I learned lots of the early compositions of Beethoven or such works as Bruckner's Symphony No. 0. I particularly miss his coming on Saturdays for his 35 minute piano class with Rebecca. We would then move to the dining room for lunch for a four-course meal of soup, rice, stew and Spanish. Our formality reinforced the uniqueness of the relationship in Vancouver. It felt as I always told Juan that we were penguins in the arctic. We are out of place (that Spanish side) and the shared experience keeps us together.
Some 35 years ago I met Cuban Jorge Urréchaga at Lomas High School. We were both teachers at the Mexico City school that catered to rich foreigners. Jorge taught English in spite of his slight accent. He and I conversed in formal Spanish with usted
instead of tu
even after we became friends. Jorge would come to the house and keep me up until the middle of the night (Rosemary would retire early and shut our daughter's bed room) as Jorge entertained me with opera arias from his favourite Andrea Chenier. Jorge had a beautiful voice but excelled at other things, too like bridge. He taught me the Schenken Convention. We won a lot at bridge. I soon learned why. Jorge had a prodigious memory for nicks and spots on cards. After ten minutes of play he had memorized a deck of cards. He knew what everybody's hands were by looking at the backs. Jorge took me to Bellas Artes to see and hear a young Plácido Domingo. He first took me to the TV truck to watch an act there. Then with pre-discussed code he would bang on the backstage elevator and we would see the second act from backstage. He knew which seats were used by the press. They were mostly vacant. We would finish our operas from there.
The best of Jorge was an experience that we shared with Rosemary. Jorge would call me in the morning that he had a tip. We would go to the Hipódromo de las Americas (the Mexico City race track) and meet up with his friend Isaac the Jew who had a hairbrush factory. Isaac knew his horses by the appearance of their hair. I suspect Jorge had other friends, too who were either bookies or Puerto Rican jockies of ill repute. We would then watch the races and only bet on the ones he indicated we could. That evening we would dine at the Alsacian food restaurant Sep's with lots of champagne. We could splurge with our winnings. It was wonderful to watch Rosemary laugh. She was as aware as I was of Jorge's darker side. This is what made him fascinating.
It was only many years later that I received a call from Jorge who told me he was in Vancouver for a visit. I picked him up in town and brought him home. It was refreshing to talk to him in formal Spanish. He had been recently married to another man in San Francisco. He had AIDS but he was all right. The "cocktail" was working. And then Jorge disappeared and I never heard from him again.
A copy of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's sixth Capitán Alatriste novel, Corsarios del Levante
is waiting for me at Sophia Books. Perhaps I will pick it up today and read it in bed. It's a queen sized bed but it is big enough to accomodate my fellow readers, Jorge, Juan, Juan Manuel and Tirso himself.
I miss Juan Manuel Sanchez telling me he will not watch Argentina play on the TV. "If I watch them, they will surely lose." Like my father, Juan Manuel Sanchez always kissed me goodbye. I miss that. A lot.
Ona Grauer, Beautiful Design & Why I Am Not A Plumber
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
When I first met Ona Grauer who was working behind the bar at Uphoria
I knew I had to find a way of taking her photographs. Luckily I wasn't a plumber and I didn't have to lure her to watch me fix a sink. I could simply say, "Two photographers, Ian McGuffie, Patrice Bilawka and I are working on a project. Would you like to be part of it?" She quickly replied, "Yes."
She came to my garden and I took a photograph of the four of us. I warned her that if at any moment, during our individual sessions with her, we were to ask her to undrape she was not to object. She told us that she had no problem.
The idea was that the four of us would not be together again until our one evening show at my studio a month later. We were to be abslutely secretive on how we were going to photograph her and she was not to hint to any of us how she was being photographed.
I had a session with her in my studio. The first picture you see here is from it. After that I decided on using Joe Cohen's collection of armour and broad swords.
I had no idea on how to combine the sword with my wish to photograph Ona in my garden. The day of one of subsequent many shoots in my garden she would parade without clothes and I kept telling her that even though the garden was sunken in relation to the street, pedestrians just might see her. Her comment was, "I am naked. So what?"
In my 30 years plus in Vancouver I have photographed many undraped beautiful women. In most cases Rosemary accepted it all with a resignation that I have come to admire and respect in her. But in the case of Ona, Rosemary developed a keen affection for her and understood what I was trying to achieve (even if I didn't).
With Ona I learned my paces on figure photography. Ona was always patient and faced my camera with an almost unsettling equanimity. Sometimes I thought she was the Sphinx. She always smiled and her good mood was constant. Just out of curiousity I asked her if she ever threw dishes at her boyfriend. She answered, "And why would I want to do that?"
A lot has been written of late about intelligent design versus Darwin's evolutionary theory. I would like to offer here a third option which I would call beautiful design.
Elegant Violence & Alison Griffiths Bites The Dust
Monday, July 02, 2007
Sometime in the early 80s freelance writer (now a respected author and sports broadcast journalist)Alison Griffiths joined a Vancouver all-female rugby team and proposed to Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry a story on her experience. I was dispatched to shoot the team playing on various Saturday afternoons, including many rainy ones.
I had never had an opportunity to photograph a rugby game in spite of the fact that my O'Reilly nephews in Argentina were all rugby players (amateurs as the rugby leagues in Argentina are supposed to be so). In fact my nephew Georgito had even been a member of the Zebras.
This was a euphemistic name given to the Argentine National Rugby Team which normally were called the Pumas. Since the Pumas and Georgito played the Springboks in South Africa during the sports embargo, the Zebras played but everybody really knew they were the Pumas!
So I knew about rugby as I had attended many games in Buenos Aires during the mid 60s to watch my nephew play with the extremely snobbish CASI (Club Atlético San Isidro). It was here that I discovered the tercer tiempo
(or the rugby third half).
Winning team and losing team would meet after the game and booze it up. I discovered that the ladies of the Vancouver rugby league honoured this excellent tradition. They even went as far as telling extremely off-color jokes during the drinking. I took pictures in the dressing room and I noticed that alcohol flowed freely. I voluntarily left the dressing room as I realized they were not going to tell me to leave.
By the time I finished shooting, after that month of following the team around, I thought I was almost good enough to shoot rugby.
I had almost gotten the hang of it. Alas the pictures never saw the light of day. Allison was hurt in one of the games (see picture) and when she went to the doctor she was told that she and her husband David Cruise were going to have a baby. And that was the end of the story.
Mexican Armpits - Astrantia major subsp. involucrata 'Shaggy'
Sunday, July 01, 2007
For any reader here who has had enough of my roses today's blog is on a flower that is not part of the Family Rosaceae
but the Family Apiaceae
. The flower is from the Genus Astrantia
Of late I have been thinking about my older daughter (38) Alexandra Elizabeth. She is now four hours away by the not very good highway to Lillooet. This distance has made me think of her objectively. Ale has never suffered fools. But she has always moderated it with a tolerance that I find astounding. I would also say that gullibility is not one Ale's deffects.
This story really began some 34 years ago when we were living in Arboledas, Estado de México ( a suburb north of Mexico City). We owned a Volkswagen beetle and we had it serviced at the dealer (closer to the city on the freeway that Mexicans call El Periférico
). When this happened I would have to take the bus from our house. This bus was a legendary bus of sorts as its route took it past every hospital and military barrack of the city and its environs. It had an identifying blue stripe (for those who could not read) and it was called Circuito Hospitales, Cuarteles, Tlanepantla y Anexas.
One particular summer day, with Ale in tow we rode the bus to pick up our car. The stench of unwashed bodies in a hot summer day in the stuffy bus was almost unbearable.
My wife Rosemay seldom goes into rhapsodies about her individual plants. She makes no comment when I manage to pursuade her to come and gaze on some rose that I cite for being perfect. Curiously it was only a week ago where she pointed at one of her many Astrantia major subsp. involucrata 'Shaggy'
and blew me away with a most uncharacterstic statement of fact, "This is a perfect flower." She has several astrantias including Astrantia major
but the cool white and green variety Shaggy is by far her favourite.
It was five or six years ago that I cut some of her astrantias and put them into a vase to decorate our dining room for dinner. I noticed this unpleasant smell that took me back all those years to the Circuito Hospitales
bus with the blue stripe. When Ale arrived later that day I pointed her to one of Rosemary's astrantias in the garden and I asked her to give me her opinion.
Since Ale has the same fondness for the same plants that Rosemary likes she nodded her approval. I asked her to smell them. "It's called the Mexican Armpit Plant, " I told her. A few days later Ale called me to tell me that she had gone to a local nursery in search of the plant in question and nobody there had ever heard of the plant!
Astrantias grow in our garden in the shade, in the sun and have a long flowering time. They don't have enemies and don't need much care. I tolerate their stench and remember fondly all those Mexico City buses that had names and coloured stripes. They had personality just like Rosemary'a astrantias. The stripes and the names of those buses were eliminated years ago and replaced with impersonal numbers. But Circuito Hospitales, Cuarteles Tlanepantla y Anexas
lives on in our garden.