Stupidity, Theatre Conspiracy & The Toothbrush
Saturday, October 13, 2007
The idea of going to a play called Stupidity
with my snooty wife Rosemary (she tends to not like anything) was a daring one on my part. The play was originally la estupidez
and was written by Argentine playwright Rafael
Spregelburd. Theatre Conspiracy's production was the world premiere of the play in English. Before going into the theatre I asked Theatre Conspiracy
director (who directed this play) Richard Wolfe why an Argentine writer would write a play set in Las Vegas. He told me that Argentina was broke in 2000 and playwrights were daring and desperate.
Having not seen the part on the toothbrush I wondered if my porteña
godmother and first cousin, Inesita O'Reilly Kuker (86) might have attended las estupidez. When the toothbrush scene happened Rosemary whispered, "I don't think Inecita saw this play."
But I am happy to report that Rosemary laughed as much as I did, as five actors played more parts than I could possibly count, putting on and removing (back stage) outfits faster than I ever thought non-strippers ever could. There were parts in this extremely funny play where I felt I was watching a fast tennis match as my head switched from one side of the set to another as two simultaneous scenes unfolded.
In the cast of five ( Jahann Helf, Nicole Leroux, Allan Morgan, Naomi wright and Alex Zahara), Allan Morgan (seen here with Sarah Rodgers in a photo I took last year, Angels in America, Part 1 and Part 2) and Nicole Leroux, who played the funniest wheel-chair-bound "creature", stood out for me. The sign language communication by the blue-band cop Morgan and Leroux had Rosemary and I almost slapping our knees like Americans.
I have therefore two recommendations:
1. Go and see this play at Studio 16, 1555 West 7th Avenue, which runs until October 21st.
2. Never brush your teeth without making sure you hold the brush with a rubber glove.
3. Allan Morgan should consider branching out into stand-up comedy. His Japanese businessman, Lee Okazu was as funny as things can get. Theatre Conspiracy
Hypars, Leibniz, Newton, Félix Candela & Arthur Erickson
Friday, October 12, 2007
(b. Madrid, Spain 1910; d. 1997)
Felix Candela was born in Madrid in 1910. He entered Madrid's Escuela Superior de Arquitectura in 1927 and graduated in 1935. Sidetracked by his political struggle against Franco, he did not practice architecture until he emigrated to Mexico in 1939.
Candela believed that strength should come from form not mass. This belief led to an extensive exploration of tensile shell structures. His nickname became "The Shell Builder" because of this structural favoritism.
Frequently forced to act as architect, structural engineer and contractor in order to further his work, Candela sees architects as engineers who possess the ability to design both great cathedrals and low cost housing.
Dennis Sharp. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Quatro Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0-8230-2539-X. NA40.I45. p35.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Sir Isaac Newton co-discovered the calculus in the 17th century and unleashed on the world the destructive power of ballistics. Before the limits, derivatives, integrals, and infinite series of the calculus, ballistics was all guess work. With Newton's discovery of gravity this meant that military engineers could predict with a fair amount of accuracy where a canon shell would fall. And of course the calculus in combination with the German V-2 rocket presaged the cold war and the accurate delivery of a mutually assured atomic destruction.
But the calculus enabled mathematicians to discover the formulas for calculating the volume of cylinders, cones, spheres and of irregular three dimensional shapes. Along the way curves like parabolas and hyperbolas could be studied under the concept of infinitesimals. Somebody, perhaps in the late 19th century, may have found a practical application of studying these curves in three dimensions and noting the shape that was subsequently made in that space. That person may have held four or five pencils in one hand (with the points touching on one end while fanning out the pencils, not only in relation to their length and width but also in depth) and been amazed at the shape. This shape is called a hyperbolic paraboloid or hypar. That shape can be constructed by using perfectly straight metal or wooden beams.
In Mexico architect/structural engineer/contractor Felix Candela popularized the thin concrete shell. To this day even some of the old Pemex gas stations built in the 50s and 60s (and perhaps inspired by Candela) still stand with their wonderful swooping concrete shells.
Around 1962 I first found out about the Capilla (chapel) de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad
in the Mexico City suburb of Churubusco. This chapel, affectionately called El Altillo
(small hill) was built by architect Enrique de la Mora y Palomar in collaboration with Fernadez López Carmona and Félix Candela (the structural engineer). The beautiful stained glass windows were designed by Kitzia Hoffman. My initial interest had nothing to do with this chapel that was built in the middle of a 17th century monastery. Those that knew went to Sunday Mass at 10am to hear the monks sing in a spectacular Gregorian chant. But when I noted the architecture and saw the deceptively complex (or simple depending from which side you saw it) I knew I wanted to return with my Pentacon-F 35mm camera and its one 50mm lens.
It was around 1964 that I learned integral and differential calculus and was able to see how the volume of a cone was calculated (there are two wonderful ways). It was a small "Road to Damascus" sort of thing for me as was the discovery of the concept of a straight line with an infinitely varying slope in three dimensional space. I then came to understand Candela's obsession with hypars.
Now there is this new building designed by Arthur Erickson that is being built on Georgia Street. The building has a twist and.........
A Vampire Visits My Robson Street Studio
Thursday, October 11, 2007
A few days back in Intimacy On The Net - Not
there was quite a reaction to the image of the young lady posing with my Smith Corona PWP-40. Quite a few sent me queries on who she was. I first photographed Katheryn Petersen around 1990 and the first pictures were for Vancouver Magazine. After that she was frequent subject of mine in my studio and in outdoor shoots in Lighthouse Park. The best pictures I ever took of her came from her own ideas.
She would come into the studio and pretty well ask me, "Are you ready?" I always had that distinct impression I was not to ask questions and just shoot. And this I did. This is the other side of the coin of the idea that you cannot take pictures of someone unless you have some idea of what you are going to do. I tell my students that the worse thing a photographer can do is hire a model and then tell her/him to do something. This will guarantee failure in the session. But Katheryn is one of those rare persons who has a rich imagination and is not afraid to draw from it.
She arrived and we took some pictures with flowers that were happy - not in the least memorable. Then she put on the white camisole, opened a jar of theatrical blood and put some on her neck. I began to take pictures and she was oblivious to my camera, her eyes got glassy eyed as she drifted away into the role of the vampire, first sad, then ecstatic and finally she looked she turned into my camera and scared me almost to death.
Parking Enforcement & Other Absurdities Part II
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Few who ever visit the Vancouver Art Gallery
look outside it. On the Howe side there is a flower bed of New Guinea Impatiens that is about as ugly as a flower bed can be. There are traffic circles with grasses, care of the Vancouver Parks Board, that are beautiful and in comparison even more so. On the Hornby side of the gallery, whatever grass used to grow there has been trampled to non existence by movie personnel and their heavy lights. On Georgia Street the gallery is defaced by a hideous Olympic clock. The clock and the nearby rock fountain, in combination would be enough to kill architect Arthur Erickson on the spot if you happen to mention them. He has long suffered because of that fountain. Don't even mention the seasonal coloured lights!
In the mid 90s, J. Brooks Joyner (left), the director of the Vancouver Art Gallery
was my friend. We often had tea in my garden or at the Vancouver Hotel. I complained to him about the New Guinea Impatiens and he would laugh. He told me he was doing his best to try to install outdoor sculpture to dress up the exterior of the gallery. He told me that keeping the grass in good shape was difficult as the gallery received good annual revenue from movie and TV crews who liked to use the interior when they needed a realistic court room. Once over tea at the Vancouver Hotel he confirmed what my friend, art collector Samuel Frid had told me about a Frida Kahlo show that had flown to Japan, via Vancouver by Japan Airlines. It had been Willard Holmes, one of Joyner's predecessors who had nixed a kind offer from the Mexican government to stop the show in Vancouver on its way to Japan. It seems that there was no way to get the insurance money in time. In 1996 somehow Joyner (top left) was unable to fit into the city art establishment. There was a little palace coup and he was let go.
It is only recently that I lost another friend to intelligent head hunters. James Delgado, the former head of the Vancouver Maritime Museum
was under appreciated here. This man had lots of energy, lots of ideas and connections and like Joyner he is an American. There is nothing like an American to know how to market and how to sell.
In the 90s Joyner and Delgado would meet for lunch or dinner and discuss ideas minus all the red tape that gallery and museum bureaucracies often have. The made plans and plotted joint shows. One of them would have been a show of maritime art that would have made the public want to go from the gallery to the museum, back and forth. There was a new director at the Museum of Anthropology
so they were planning on inviting her to the meetings. With Joyner gone in 1996 Delgado was left alone and he almost languished while trying to coax us into looking out towards the sea.
Only once did I really see a concerted and extremely successful effort in combining the resources of more that one city cultural institution. Sometime in the 80s Presentation House
in North Vancouver had a show of the Swiss photographer Robert Frank who forced Americans to look at themselves in his famous 1958 book The Americans.
From photography Frank had switched to making avant garde films. These films were shown at the Pacific Cinematheque
on Howe Street.
The icing to the cake was the showing of Frank's Cocksucker Blues
on a video loop at Presentation House Gallery
. This famous documentary that followed the traveling Rolling Stones influenced MTV and music videos.
A prime example of a total lack of interaction is to look at our municipal(you have to pay to get in) gardens. These are UBC Botanical Garden And Centre For Plant Research
(top, middle), its associate garden the Japanese Nitobe Memorial Garden
(below in colour), VanDusen Botanical Garden
(top,left) and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Because you have to pay it means that they need the public's entry fees. Only one is really part of the city in the sense that the Vancouver Parks Board runs VanDusen. None of these gardens ever join forces and try to create a path of garden visitors that would want to make them visit all four gardens.
VanDusen and the Vancouver Art Gallery are a prime example of what happens during a city wide strike. The former has been closed for 82 days and it has lost all the summer tourist revenue plus the revenue of all those film companies that rent the gardens to shoot. Somehow the arrangement at the Vancouver Art Gallery makes it impervious to the current strike.
Perhaps now is when the city should consider getting these four gardens under one administrative roof and use them to attract more tourism. Joyner and Delgado would be figuring out how to bring in those gardens into their fold, too.
It is a scandal that a beautiful city like Vancouver cannot have a viable yearly plant and garden show to compete with Seattle and others around the world. Since the VanDusen version (successful on sunny years) is so dependant on public funding it is time the city step in so that this yearly show could make our city a botanical tourist Mecca.
Parking Enforcement & Other Absurdities
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Not only do I not understand parliamentary democracy, crossing the floor, and no confidence votes I don't understand some of the other salient features of living in a democracy. An example is the strike. Why must so many people surround buildings and then march around with signs hanging from their neck? Prior arrangements could be made between the unions and the management to the effect that, "We won't be outside if you don't try to get in." Then those on strike could go on strike-pay holidays.
It was in the early 60s that I first read Albert Camus's El Extranjero
( I read it in Spanish) while living in Mexico City. I was deeply affected in reading how Meursault complained of the heat during his mother's wake and then how he went to see a comic movie after her funeral. This sort of thing made sense in a city (Mexico City) where bus drivers were paid per round-trip routes taken in one shift. The faster the drivers went, the fewer people to stop to pick up, the more routes they would finish and the more money they would make. It made perfect sense to me. And these bus drivers were told that if they ran over anybody they were to go in reverse and run them over again to make sure they were dead. Law suits were a pain in the neck. It was easier to pay off the widow or the widower, the mother or the father.
From living with the absurd I learned to live with the military logic of Buenos Aires under a general called Juan Carlos Onganía. On the day after the military coup, June 28, 1966, that sent our country doctor president Arturo Ilía
(above in Time/Life photo) home in a cab, the first decrees passed by the junta (Onganía plus the heads of the Argentine air force and the navy) dissolved congress, eliminated all parties and the constitution was deemed a worthless piece of paper. Months before the coup, a local nespaper, El Mundo
had published editorial cartoons in a Sunday magazine called Tía Vicenta
in which Ilía was drawn as a turtle (slow democracy) and the general as a walrus because of his mustache. The general banned Tía Vicenta.
After these decrees the milicos
decided that Argentine youth was being corrupted in dark night clubs. They decreed a minimum watts-per-square-meter in ceiling lights so that Argentine youths could count their money before paying their bill. This seemed entirely logical. It was also logical that my sailor's pay (equivalent to one US Dollar a month, since the pay rate had not changed since the 1920s) would be a crisp new bill in an IBM perforated envelope. Argentina was most modern!
Buenos Aires has an excellent, subway system, urban and interurban rail and many buses. You don't really need a car to go anywhere, except when you have transit strikes or general strikes. In general strikes the city stops except for the post office inside workers who must first throw all the mail that is inside, out the window, including the pay cheques of the retired. I saw this many times and when the strike was in the summer (as they often are) it was like a rare summer snowfall. With no transit, Buenos Aires becomes a knot of cars. But generals are logical and they often decide that public transit is an "essential" service. It was then that I first became aware of this word with so many meanings. So when the buses and trains went on strike, the petty officers of the navy ran the trains and we sailors checked for tickets, kept the train cars clean, etc. The air force petty officers drove buses and the army dealt with the subways. It was perfectly logical. Even Meursault would have nodded his head in agreement. And those sailors and soldiers of low rank had to pick up the garbage during general strikes. That was logical, too, since I was never singled out to do it.
I thought that upon coming to Vancouver that kind of logic would no longer come into play. That was not to be. I find that being on this side of the equator hasn't changed things much. Consider that our present city council and mayor (or whoever is in charge) stated (decreed?), when our city strike began some 81 days ago, that parking enforcement was an essential service but garbage collection wasn't.
I would not want the generals to come back, but if some retired old military guy with some semblance of logic would suggest we switch the definition of essential from parking enforcement to garbage collection, about now, that would suit me fine.
And as for Doctor Arturo Ilía I met him in 1972 when he was on a lecture tour through Latin America. He came to the Jesuit university, Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City where I was teaching spanish to foreign students. I was introduced to him. I told him I had seen him leave the Casa Rosada in a cab. With a little, but forgiving smile on his face, he looked at me and said, "It could have been worse, I could have been shot. And you were only obeying orders."
Intimacy On The Net - Not
Monday, October 08, 2007
Here’s the thing: the Net’s killer app has always been other people. There are side benefits, like access to all the world’s information. But the links that matter aren't between pages but people, and they’re strong and rich and subtle. Multiply the infinite flavors in human relationships by a thickening bundle of means-to-connect; that product is what’s new and what’s good and what’s exciting. People who are looking for the Next Big Thing are mostly looking in the wrong places. And anyway, you don’t need to look, it’ll find you.
From a fragment in Tim Bray's ongoing
The above statement and what followed hit me hard. The idea that a self-defined computer programmer (Tim Bray of Sun Microsystems
) would be at all interested and aware of intimacy in human relationships, instantly removes him from my obviously misguided idea that computer programmers are people who are extremely shy, avoid all human contact and hide behind impenetrable technical methods and terms.
In my life I have achieved a relative amount of intimacy through writing. At first (and almost all of my life) it was frustrating. I had learned the qwerty
keyboard but my dyslexia made typing a chore. Writing long hand became a problem after age 30 when, for reasons I cannot understand, my handwriting rapidly deteriorated and became illegible not only to me but to those I wrote to.
I was liberated around 1990 by a Smith Corona PWP (personal word processor, see above photograph) which enabled me to correct on a small screen without having to violently tear out the sheet of foolscap, rumpling it into a ball and throwing it into the waste basket. I avoided computers and computer attached word processors even when I hooked up to the internet in January 1995. At the time I was writing quite a few freelance stories for the Vancouver Sun and I wrote them all in Eudora and sent my finished copy as a Eudora document.
Since 1995 I have seen a familiar pattern of sudden intimacy that generally breaks down quite quickly. Friends or relatives of mine get hooked up to the net and I suddenly get requests for detailed accounts of my life until the very minute I press-and-send. These emails are followed by jokes with hundreds of disclosed recipients and if my friend or relative is from Argentina I get inundated by the best (read worst) SPAM in the world, Argentine Spam. I think I understand.
These people who are new in the net suddenly feel that those that they communicate with are part of an "intimate" and personal community. They don't stop to think that it is a virtual community and we cannot visit them for tea. My relationship with these friends and relatives soon sours when I reply to them and all their disclosed recipients with an email that has an attached nude of questionable taste. I cannot abide by this forced sense of intimacy that I am supposed to feel by being reachable by email.
When I first started this blog I had the idea (for exactly one day) that I wanted feedback. I quickly came to realize that I was not interested in the opinions of people I did not know and I could do without comments here. I have seen to many photography forums, plant forums and otherwise excellent on line magazines like BC's The Tyee
fall prey to nasty ranters who live (many do) in bleak parts of BC's interior.
While I direct the personal intimacy of my blog towards myself, my immediate family and a few friends, I have become aware that writing on a monitor screen can often be dangerous in ways that haunt us (sooner) or later. In the first election that Stephen Harper was running for prime minister I was genuinely afraid he would win. As someone who has always voted NDP I was in a moral quandary. I decided to post my decision the evening of elections in the The Tyee's, Election Night Forum. I wrote that I had photographed and taken the posters for the electoral campaigns of both Jack Layton and Ujjal Dosanjh. I liked and admired both. But with my fears that Harper could win I had decided not to vote with my heart (the NDP) but with my brain (the Federal Liberals). This was then posted by CBC National on to their TV screens that evening and I have never heard from the NDP for photography work since.
I still do not understand the intimacy of being part of Flickr or facebook. They seem to be larger versions of my friends's communities.
But there is one attribute of the web and email that I still enjoy. I am able to have good written communication (be it intimate or not) with my friends (I never send them jokes or any other type of junk) and especially with my first cousins in Buenos Aires. One of them is also my godmother
and she is 85. Until we began to write via email she was a remote relative. That, she is no longer.
Raymond Burr, A Main Spring & Other Failures
Sunday, October 07, 2007
I photographed Raymond Burr twice. The first time it was 1986 (seen here in colour) and the second time a few years later. In the first sitting I worked with writer Les Wiseman and Vancouver Magazine and in the second with John Lekich for the Georgia Straight. I remember the second session better because of my two camera failures.
New Westminster born (1917) Burr was a very large man. In order to take the best portrait I used a longish Mamiya lens (140mm, the lens in the bottom of the picture). With this lens I could focus on his face (while being not too close) so that all of Burr's features were in a proper proportion.
That second session Burr was much larger and spoke about restaurants with Lekich. I took a Polaroid with the 140mm which pleased Burr and me. When I put on the b+w film back and took my first exposure, nothing happened. The main spring of the lens's shutter had failed. I was then forced in using that not-as-long 90mm lens (the upper lens in the picture) which if used at the distance I had used the 140mm would have made Burr's nose look extra large. I had no choice except to use that 90 but pulled back to get more of the body (something I did not want to do) with the idea of then cropping in for the magazine. And that's how it was.
When I processed that roll I noticed that one exposure was a double one. This rarely happened or happens with my Mamiya RB Pro-S or the newer model I now have the Pro-SD. These cameras have an excellent double exposure prevention mechanism. It is only for today's blog that I ventured to see what that double exposure looks like.
Burr was one of the warmest and most charming men I ever met. His role as the would-be wife murderer in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window
scared the hell out of me the first time I ever saw it. It always troubled me to reconcile the actor acting that with the person I photographed twice. Yet I think that this double exposure somehow shows that duality of the charmer and the man capable of cutting up his dead wife with a saw and stuffing the parts in a suitcase.
Shortly after I took that second picture I decided I would never take my chances again and I purchased a second 140mm. I never leave home without both of them in my camera bag.