Seriously - Jay Leno
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Sometime in 1987 writer Les Wiseman and I went to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to interview and photograph Jay Leno. While until then Les had done his best to Americanize me, as a Latin American I have never been able to understand the concept of a stand-up comedian. The idea of going to a place and paying to get in to listen to someone tell jokes is alien to me. Almost as alien is that concept of the suave midnight host like Johnny Carson. I don't think I ever saw more than one complete Johny Carson.
It was for this reason that I did not know what do to do with this serious large-jawed man when he faced my camera. I asked him, "Can you do something funny with your face?" He looked at me and then at Les Wiseman and said, " Is this guy for real?" He then looked at me (I wanted to shrink and disappear) and he did this.
My failure with Jay Leno was further compounded by having not set my lens to the correct apperture. It should have been f-11 but I left it at f-16. The results were badly underexposed negatives. In those years Kodak made a product called Chromium Intensifier (released heavy metals into our drain water?). It did the job. I remember this because when I was about to scan Leno's negative I noticed an overall yellow cast. Could it have been a badly fixed negative doing its thing with time? Then I remembered. Those of us who shoot film (me) have to be a tad more careful these days with underexposure as Chromium Intensifier was retired some time ago.
Curiously on the second page of the New York Times's Week In Review
they have the pick of that week's best jokes by Jay Leno. I go there with relish first thing when the thick Sunday bundle comes crashing to my front door around 9 on Saturday night.
Scottish Lap Dancers & Earl Grey Tea
Friday, August 17, 2007
Not too long ago I was taking pictures of Vancouver sculptor Alan Storey by an outdoor sculpture of his near the new condo complexes of Pacific Blvd. We stopped when we say a majestic Aston Martin driven by a young man stop at the metal gate on the side of a condo. The gate went up and he was gone. He was gone to a shiny new apartment with all the conveniences of the wireless era. It struck both of us that this sort of living was even different from that of a forestry executive driving up the sinuous driveway of his Shaughnessy home. It was more hermetic. It was more alien.
Last night I was given an invitation I could not refuse by a friend. It brought us to a place that is far from the hermetic world of the Aston Martin driver. But it is a hermetic world to those who live in Vancouver and do not know the existence of these places and of the men (usually men) who run them. They are not quite in the league of 30s Chicago but they are not squeaky clean by any measure. I know a few of these men and one of them is a friend of mine. Having a hood as a friend has saved me from a few touchy situations in my past. Having a hood as a friend helps me think that I just might have a better grasp of my adopted city of Vancouver.
On the other side of the spectrum I have a friend with whom I have the occasional Earl Grey tea. He is handsome. He wears long Holt Renfrew camel haired coats and wine coloured tasseled Bostonians. His slacks are razor creased and he wears black turtle neck sweaters. He once went into his jacket and pulled out a little canister. “This is my gun now.” It was a can of pepper spray. My friend is a homicide cop. I suspect that I have no idea of the world he deals with and I am perhaps as far away from it as I felt last night sitting at a table of an almost empty Penthouse.
I had previously been at the Penthouse
, a sometime notorious Vancouver strip bar on Seymour Street known as the Eagle Time Athletic Bar back in 1947, twice since coming to Vancouver in 1975. Both times were in the 80s. Once my writer friend Les Wiseman invited me to have a steak while watching a big-breasted stripper (from Iowa she was). Gary Taylor had gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to give us that lunchtime privilege. The second time was sometime in 1982 when I photographed owner Joe Philliponi who was murdered in his house next door the night of September 15, 1983. I have no memory of the man that I can remember except that in his presence I felt like a grandson who at any moment would be on the receiving end of a wad of cash and be told to go to the corner to buy some candy. Soon after, I photographed him riding shotgun on Robson during a promotion ploy by baseball streaker Annie Ample.
It was Philliponi’s nephew, Danny who pointed at my friend who was being ignored by the surly staff. He was served immediately. Next to Danny, an older man was chain smoking cigars. I told my friend that perhaps I should tell the man that it was against the law to smoke in the premises. I was advised to the contrary. There were a couple of Latin looking women walking around in small bikinis who seemed like they had come out of Cartier-Bresson’s picture of prostitutes in a Tijuana “prostíbulo”. They had jet black hair, large eyebrows and looked as uncomfortable as I felt.
I had not always felt so. In the 80s I gloried at the exotic dancer craze that hit Vancouver. The establishments (like the Drake and the Marr Hotel) were clean and were run like tight ships of the line. The owners greeted me with free drinks and I photographed the dancers for posters and Globe& Mail articles by John Lekich or Vancouver Magazine essays by Les Wiseman. I once shot a fashion spread for the magazine on expensive eyewear. Art director Rick Staehling wondered where I had found “all those unusual looking models.” I was tight lipped.
But then the dancers seemed to forget about dancing and the some of the owners became born-again. One switched to driving the number 10 trolley. Just like that the excitement wore off and my discomfort set in.
We were approached by two women wearing the smallest kilts I have ever seen in my life. My friend asked me, “Are they going commando?” My friend’s friend (who was sitting with us) and was not wearing much herself said, “No, they are not sitting on a towel.”
The two women were from Scotland and were on a whirlwind tour of the Americas. They were planning on going on to Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Their expenses would be covered by the private lap dances that they performed in clubs such as the Penthouse and others on the way. Of the two, Heather was the most talkative. I set her straight from the beginning that I would not be investing in her talents but she lingered and she told me of her travels. The other was more centered. She told me “Unless I see a good possibility I just don’t bother,” and she moved away.
On the first night that the Eagle Time Athletic Club opened in 1947 it was raided by the police for a liquor infraction. The Vancouver Sun headline read, "Police Raid Penthouse". Joe Philliponi re-named his club. Through the years the club has been frequented by politicians, judges, lawyers, actors including Gary Cooper, singer Frank Sinatra, hoods, crooks, cops and gamblers. And prostitutes, too.
But I will not be returning any time soon for Earl Grey with a friend.
Catherine Regehr - Doug Coupland - Assistant For A Day
Thursday, August 16, 2007
To survive in Vancouver as a photographer one has to cast off any ideas of a beautiful nicely appointed studio, of assistants and lovely hangers on of the female kind. One has to eliminate the idea of keeping a model kitchen with lots of Champagne and beer in the fridge. And loud heavy metal and drugs, while models remove their tiny bikinis to the camera are visions of complete fiction. The reality is different. It is less exciting and far more stressful. For most of those 32 years in Vancouver I avoided fashion photography. In Vancouver it is the kiss of death. The very key to fashion photography is to be in Vogue. In Spanish we say "estar en boga" or to be in style. I have seen many fashion photographers(one or two-month wonders) pass through Vancouver and leave without trace. One in particular who was going to do a shoot for Vancouver Magazine in Italy, dissapeared as did thousands of dollars of the latest underwear.
I have rarely used an assistant. But in 1988 I did use one. I was assigned by Vancouver Magazine to photograph the then emerging fashion designer Catherine Regehr
. At the time there was a young man who showed up at the magazine every day and seemed to be under editor Malcolm Parry's wing. Nobody seemed to figure his out. He was slightly geeky but quite friendly. He spoke so quickly that sometimes I discerned a stutter. He got very excited when he found out I was going to shoot Regher. "She is my good friend. Please, Alex can I assist you? I can style the photo for you." My new assistant said he had a talent for predicting trends and one of them was that people would display framed art by leaning it on their home walls. This he did for my shot.
And that is how Doug Coupland was my assistant for a day.
Buxtehude, Three Men & One Violonist
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
"Vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea, sponsa."
"Thou Hast wounded me to the heart, my sister my bride."
Cantate VI Ad cor
Membra Jesu Nostri
My friend Graham Walker
not only keeps his shoes shined immaculately but he also has an exquisite taste for music. Only the very best is good enough for him. We attend many local concerts of baroque music (with Abraham Rogatnick and my granddaughter Rebecca) and new music. Graham has very good pitch and any note that is not quite what it should be elicits painful glances from him in my direction. His taste for selecting the best CDs is such that I look forward to that Christmas present (one CD ) from him. This year the CD was the remarkable and fairly rare recording of Dietrich Buxtehude's (1637-1707) Membra Jesu Nostri
performed by Cantus Cölln and conducted by Konrad Junghanel.
Buxtehude is not a household word. But just about anybody keen on baroque music knows that in 1705 Bach walked 200 miles to Lübeck to listen to Buxtehude (then 70) play his virtuoso organ music.
Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri
are 7 cantatas with words in Latin dedicated to the feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and face of Jesus Christ on the cross. They are a one on one relationship beween the worshiper (represented by the singers) and Jesus Christ. This music, which may have been performed on a Good Friday, was most un-Lutheran and very Catholic - very strange for the very Lutheran city of Lübeck.
Graham Walker's gift CD is, of course superb. But I never would have suspected back in December that last night, Graham, Abraham and I (alas Rebecca is in Parksville) would listen to a live performance, which by an unlikely turn of events, was performed in UBC's old and crumbling (but beautiful, and almost baroque and acoustically alive)Old Auditorium. There we were on the first row and a gentle breeze came in from a side door. The concert came via Early Music Vancouver
and Festival Vancouver
There were 5 vocalists: sopranos Suzie LeBlanc and Shannon Mercer, alto Matthew White (top, left), tenor Colin Baltzer(top, right) and baritone Tyler Duncan (left). These last three (I call them Los Tres Caballeros
) have sung together so many times (many with Suzie LeBlanc) that the relationship between them is quiet but electric.
The best aspect of this concert was listening to Matthew White's countertenor voice sandwiched between the two sopranos and the tenor and baritone. A mezzo soprano simply would not have sounded as brilliant. My favourite Cantata was Cantate V Ad Pectus that just featured the Los Tres Caballeros.
From where we were, front row and stage left, we could listen to the excellent musical group headed by organist Alexander Weimann and in particular, our very own Nan Mackie (Pacific Baroque Orchestra
) play on her violon. Nan from the very biginning some years ago set me straight on this instrument. It is not a counterbass or string bass, it is a a member of the viola da gamba family. She also played a (smaller) viola da gamba. Her instrument is similar in shape and size to a cello but it has an extra string and she holds her bow underhanded. She was superb.
The chances that we will listen to another live performance of Membra Jesu Nostri again are close to zero. But Rebecca has a whole lifetime to wait for this rare privilege. And a rare privilege it was.
Driving home in Abraham's car Graham said, "There is no reason why what we heard tonight is not on par with Bach." If Graham says that I think I must agree.
Lou Henley's Smile
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
In 2004 I was hired by the Vancouver Arts Awards
to photograph all of that year's recipients. One of them was Martha Lou Henley. My friend Doug Tuck
from the Vancouver Opera spoke highly of Louie as everybody who knows her calls her. There would be a few reasons to speak highly of Louie as she is quietly friendly and has a fantastic and warm smile. But perhaps the biggest reason for the Vancouver Opera to appreciate her is that Louie has managed to give away two million dollars to them. She is a rare breed in our parts. She is a philanthropist. Her Vancouver Arts Awards bio
does not tell the side of Lou that I have learned to appreciate.
Last Friday I was invited to a celebration on the life of architect Ian Davidson
at the Elliot Louis Gallery at Arthur Erickson's
Waterfall Building. The photograph of Erickson in this link happens to be the one I took that same year as Henley as he, too was a recipient of the Vancouver Arts Awards.
At this celebration all the key players of Vancouver's art scene were there. I was introduced to them by my companion and friend (also a philanthropist) architect Abraham Rogatnick
. I felt like a duck out of water. But then I saw her smile and Louie came up to me and I felt right at home.
Since my photograph of Ian Davidson was used for that evening's events. Davidson had died July 22. I told Louie, "Please live long. Live at least -- years. I don't want to come to one of these and see my photograph of you up." "Well, let's see," she said, "In -- years I will be 93. It is unlikely that I will be around."
I hope she is. I would miss that smile.
Monday, August 13, 2007
In my family the expression, "The time has come to go to Sears," is a rite of passage of sorts. I took my eldest daughter Ale to Sears when she was around 13. I found a solid looking woman in the bra department and asked her, "Can you please help my daughter with her first bra?"
As a little boy I always wanted an electric train. But my parents were never able to afford one. When we first arrived in Vancouver I thought that buying my daughters a slot car set would help me get the electric train out of my system. Within hours the dust in the shag carpet made the cars useless and both my daughters showed no interest. As a father there was not much else I could do with my daughters that could be deemed a rite of passage. The closest was going to the York House Father & Daughter Dinner Dance with Ale. I went two years in a row and had to listen to Mr. Murchie (that Mr Murchie) talk about the communist plots, all headed by Alderman Rankin, that were festering in our city.
In Argentina I never ate fish except an un-fishy pejerrey
on Fridays. I never developed a taste for fish or fishing. In Vancouver I learned from writer Ben Metcalf that fishing was the manly thing to do, it was one of the last remnants of male chauvinism. One never made any jokes about it.
Vancouver Magazine art director Rick Staehling talked about fly fishing and fly tying. I felt left out even though I had no interest in fishing.
To my amazement Rebecca got excited about fishing when we arrived at my friend Howard Houston's Lake Buchanan property in Texas a few weeks back. Rebecca asked Howard to teach her to fish.
We first tried by going out on the lake in Howard's pontoon boat. There were no bites. From the dock Rebecca was more lucky and she bagged five carp. She felt sorry for the fish so she let them go. This was a sacrifice as Rebecca, unlike her meat eating grandfather, is keen on fish, be it cooked or raw.
From Howard's living room window I watched Howard bond with Rebecca and then for hours on end Rebecca fished on her own, never losing her confidence and interest.
I am most grateful to Howard for the moments of pleasure as I gazed out of the window. It was far more fun than going to Sears. I wonder what Rebecca would think about playing with an electric train. And Hilary, her mother, whom I didn't take to Sears (Rosemary did) I am sure will handle future rites of passage.
And I cannot stop from thinking of being in Mr
Forrest Wright's civics course at St. Ed's in Austin, sometime in 1960 with Howard sitting nearby. How was I to know that someday Howard would teach my granddaughter to fish?
Sugar Corn Pops At The Piggly Wiggly
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Rebecca asked me, "Why is my milk turning orange?" She is almost 10. When that happened to me (my milk turned orange) I was 11.
I was living on Sierra Madre, Colonia Lomas de Chapultepec in Mexico City with my mother, grandmother and a Siberian Husky called Rusty
. Because my grandmother was a a diplomat in the Filipino Embassy she had a living allowance that enabled us to live in a house and an area of the city that normally would have been out of bounds. Across the street, the Rincón Gallardos paraded the latest cars, motorcycles (one, I remember was a Puch) and the occasional horse. Their father, a general, had been from a family of generals in the Mexican Revolution. They had a 24 hour guard so nobody ever stole anything in our neighbourhood.
My grandmother had bought me a black Raleigh bicycle for my birthday so I would cycle up (it was downhill coming back) to the nearby shopping area where there were two stores that I particularly frequented. One was a bookstore that had a lending library. It was there where I became hooked on the Grosset & Dunlap's Hardy Boys
and Tom Corbet -Space Cadet
books. And at the Piggly Wiggly I was able to find American goods, candies and cereals that were not sold in regular Mexican supermarkets. It was there where I discovered Kellog's Sugar Frosted Flakes
and Kellog's Sugar Corn Pops
. It is astounding for me to now realize that Sugar
has been dropped from both cereals. Our cereal of choice (particularly when Rosemary raids the refrigerator late at night is Kellog's Honey Crunch Corn Flakes.
Rosemary only buys it when it is on sale for $3.50 as opposed to its expensive regular price of $7.00. A few weeks ago when we went to Safeway I noticed that while Honey Crunch was not on sale, Corn Pops
and Frosted Flakes
were attractively priced. I bought a box of each. Trying the Frosted Flakes brought sad memories of the Piggly Wiggly closing down but soon Zucaritas de Maiz
, the Mexican nade Kellog version of Frosted Flakes were available. But Sugar Corn Pops faded from my memory until now.
After our lunch of paprika chicken I announced to Rebecca and Lauren that I was going to have Corn Pops for dessert. They looked at me quizzically. It seems that Hilary had never bought them any. They watched me eat my cereal with gusto and they soon had their own bowls with Corn Pops.
And Rebecca asked me, "Why is my milk turning orange?" And Lauren asked, "May I be excused? I want to brush my teeth."
Rebecca, Lauren, Hilary and Bruce are going to Parksville on Monday on vacation. Rebecca will be reading her first Grosset & Dunlap Nancy Drew
one of the volumes from her Aunt Carolyn's childhood collection.