Sarah Strange Starlet - Not
Saturday, November 24, 2007
In 1999 the National Post
was actively trying to compete and even bury the Globe & Mail
. This meant they spent money trying to get original photographs in their paper and specifically in their Saturday paper. I was dispatched by National Post art director Antonio De Luca to photograph Sarah Strange who at the time had a not so big part in Da Vinci's Inquest
. When she entered my studio and looked at me directly I was stupified.
And I can see why so many see her as a starlet or a TV actor. She has a presence that trancends all that but it is a quality that our Flickr, You Tube and review-movies-ad-nauseum society can never understand or appreciate.
The newspapers, even when they may have a week's lead time will dispatch their stringer or city photographer who in a few seconds will take the shots and leave for the next job. Other papers with more interest in profits, than quality, will simply demand that the star, starlet, dancer, actor, director provide their own picture. The result is that you see the same photograph everywhere. In some cases the overworked "art" directors try to crop them to make them look different.
As the use of good lighting is in decline more and more photographs have that Flickr look. And since everybody is shooting like that, a trend is seen, and untrained/computer course art directors or photo editors send photographers and command them to get that look.
The paradox is that as our ability to understand and appreciate quality imagery (consider the prices that vintage photographs fetch these days) rises, the overall quality of our everyday imagery is in decline.
Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Pico Iyer & Me
Friday, November 23, 2007
I have often written here how my father was a writer, an expert tango dancer, a graceful swimmer and a very good cook. Of his four talents I can only vouch for the fourth one as we often cooked together. I never saw him swim or dance the tango nor do I ever recall seeing him write or see anything he ever wrote. In fact the only record of his writing that I have is half his signature in his copy of the King James Bible.
The last time I was in Argentina, four years ago, I made it a point to go to the Buenos Aires Herald
where he had worked in the 40s and early 50s. I met up with a very sad British expat editor who reminded me of Graham Greene's
Charlie Fortnum in his The Honorary Consul
. The melancholic editor, smoking Player's (just like my fathe had) told me how he was about to go back "home" after so many years in "BA". He stuck out as a Brit in that Herald newsroom and if he ever sobered up to make it to the airport he would have been branded as a colonial in Britain. The man told me that I could help myself to look at the paper's microfiche library but he warned me that reporters in those days had never used a byline. He was right and I found no record and no article that my father might have written. He had simply never existed.
As I look back on my father's life I realize that if I compare his five talents (the extra one was that he could drink) with my own, I can assert I cannot drink, swim gracefully or dance the tango beyond being efficient at it. I can cook fairly well and I have managed to write, like I dance the tango, efficiently.
But I have written lots.
One of the places I have enjoyed writing for is the web-based arts magazine from Montreal Arts & Opinion
. I can write about anything I want and I rarely get more than a perfunctory editing. The essays I have written up to now are these 1 2 3 4 5 6
Another is appearing shortly that is an extended variation of this
But I have another one in the works tentatively called The Danc
er where I will collaborate with a very good local modern dancer to produce images where we will attempt to picture her as a string of dance essences.
There is one more think I would like to mention about Arts & Opinion
. I share the masthead with a few contributors including:
I wonder what my father would have thought of that?
More Graham Greene, Sort of.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Tomorrow evening Rebecca (dressed to the teeth) and I will be ensconced in our seats at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre watching every move that Simone Orlando
makes. For Rebecca and for this cynical old timer, Orlando is a super star. She is a super star of elegant movement. Both Rebecca and I will be doubly enjoying the prospect of seeing Orlando while listening to our very favourite Dave Brubeck in choreographer Lar Lubovitch's Elemental Brubeck
. Of late Rebecca has been requesting I play Dave Brubeck's Jazz Impressions of Eurasia
on her Saturday visits to our house. I am pleased. After all I first heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet play in Austin in 1958 and as soon as they released Time Out
in 1959I had purchased the record. While some may have heard of its sequel, Time Further Out
few might know that there is another (and in my collection) Time In Outer Space
Rebecca is intrigued by Brubeck's experiments and adventures in odd time signatures. My favourite has always been 5/4 time. With Rebecca we have been experimenting with this beat. She is even teaching Lauren in their Saturday afternoon sock hops in our long living room floor.
Tomorrow night not only will we enjoy, Simone Orlando, Ballet BC and Brubeck but we will certainly not miss the opportunity to visit this superstar of grace back stage. I wonder why other little girls don't do this?
The Boeing 727, Home - Straight Up
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
It is not always that I know without doubt where I was when something happened so many years ago. But the banner in this picture says April 10, 1980. At the time I had a very nice contract to take PR photographs for Canadian Pacific Limited so I photographed trains, trucks, transports, etc. I also had an equivalent situation with Air Canada for the same sort of thing and PR manager Harry Atterton dispatched me to Boeing in Seattle to photograph the 1600th Boeing 727 which happened to be the last Air Canada purchased. In all Boeing made 1832 of these airplanes but kept the last one for its museum. I remember making a PR boo-boo by asking the pilot to kick the tire. As soon as I said it and he looked at me sternly I realized what I had done.
In 1979, it was during the rainy season and I was in a humid and hot Palenque in the state of Chiapas. I had been chain smoking Veracruzan Flor de la Costa cigars all day to ward off the mosquitos. I felt like a miniature version of Indiana Jones as Palenque in those years was a hard to get to Mayan ruin. I was pretty well alone in the ruins and I could go anywhere and snap pictures to my heart's content. That night I spent it in a nearby cheap hotel and asked the man at the front desk to wake me up early as I had to catch a early plane in the Villahermosa airport. This involved first catching a third class bus on the road outside the hotel. The man at the desk told me he had no clock so he could not really wake me up. I realized I was going to have to depend on my alarm wrist watch. I did not sleep.
I almost died with stress as the bus to the airport seemed to stop everywhere for peasants getting on with turkeys and chickens. The bus had many forward gears. Every time it stopped it took forerver for it to reach its very slow cruising speed.
But I managed to get to the airport just in time. On the tarmac there was this all-white Mexicana Boeing 727. I was sweaty and tired but the pristine appearance of the airplane invigorated me. That plane felt like civilization. It felt like home.
Anybody who has ever flown in a 727 will know the thrill of taking off and landing in an airplane that has three engines in its tail-end. The 727 needs a high angle of attack. This means that for a neophyte like me it feels like the airplane is taking off almost in a vertical position. There is nothing like taking off in a 727. Even though the 727 was the first jet airplane considered quiet enough to use LaGuardia Airport in New York City, June 1, 1964 the take off noise and the almost vertical position combined to making it for me the most exciting airplane I have ever flown in.
Harry Atterton had told me that the 727 was the first ever airplane to have been awarded a gold medal for valour. I checked on this and sure enough in 1972 Morocco's King Hassan II awarded the 727 a medal of honour for surviving a fighter strafing attack. And for more info on the 727 look here
. I can understand why the 727 is considered the most successful commercial airliner of all time.
When I spot a 727 in some airport (usually a FedEx cargo version) I look at it longingly as I sit comfortably in what really is a flying bus. The thrill of flying has faded away for me. I can only feel glad that I have the memory of those vertical takeoffs - thrilling yet comforting. I was home.
Flying without flying
Death by Powerpoint and Constellations
Addendum: My Texan friend Howard Houston flew a Boeing KC-135 tanker over Vietnam and he had this to say of the 727's steep climb.
I am sure that I flew in a 727 once or twice, commercially, a long time ago. I don't think that the USAF had any in their inventory when I flew for them. I do seem to recall the steep climbout, although I think that was a capability rather than a requirement.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur C. Clarke
When I told an intelligent friend that I was researching Tim Bray, the Distinguished Engineer and Director of Web Technologies at Sun Microsystems, publisher of a popular weblog, ongoing
, and co-chair of the IETF AtomPub Working Group, he countered:
“I’ve listened to an on-line interview
of Bray done by another geek - lots of acronyms. It’s like they are speaking another language. Sort of like Portuguese might sound to a Spaniard. I can’t understand it. The best I can do is figure out they are talking about computer languages and systems. Your argument will be in the line of 'Tim Bray is a modern day deus ex machina. He makes things happen and no one (or almost no one) knows why.'”
My friend is right. After failing to understand the first chapter of Learning XML
, by Erik T. Ray, even after repeated attempts, I concluded that computer programming is no different in complexity from a mason’s know-how for building a Gothic cathedral. While Bray pioneered search engines in the 90s, besides being the principal innovator of XML (extended markup language), he told me recently at my studio, “I haven’t done any work on XML in a few years. The other things I work on are important and interesting, too. Chances are, XML will lead my obituary.”
Tim Bray, who lives in Vancouver, defined XML for me in one sentence, “It is a method for packing up electronic data and documents so that having been packed up on one computer anywhere in the world, they can be reliably unpacked on any other computer (running any combination of software and hardware) anywhere else in the world, then or many years later, and used for whatever purpose desired, without regard to the originator’s intent.”
His answer to the question of what he did was clearer, “I help Sun by being aware of what the people who build the internet are thinking and doing (I have to help build the internet to do this.), and ensuring that those people and Sun know about each other.”
Through Wikipedia I found out that markup language is just a computer specific language, much more complex but no less useful that the original markups on handwritten or typed manuscripts by editors, and line editors for books and magazines.
XML, and most of Bray’s accomplishments, began after he went for a double major in mathematics and computer science at the University of Guelph in 1981. Bray added computer science when he realized that math teachers weren’t being hired. “In math I had worked like a dog to get Cs and all of a sudden I was getting As in the computer courses. God was reaching behind my shoulder; telling me, ‘Kiddo, this is what you ought to be doing.’ And I did.”
Bray’s road to Damascus experience happened while working at the University of Waterloo (1989-1990) with the Oxford University Press, computerizing the second edition of the OED. “We had a specially constructed search engine. In an early web publishing conference in 1994 one of the speakers stood up and said, ‘Search is going to be a good application for the new web “thing”.’ He set a bomb in my head. All of a sudden I could see how to build a web search engine. I went to live in Yaletown and worked on the engine for 6 months (I ate and drank beer at the Yaletown Brewing Company downstairs. I started the Open Text Corporation and Open Text, was a commercialized and early search engine based on the high-performance engine we employed in the OED project. We were (1995) one of the top ones and partnered with Yahoo. The way search engines are now was invented by many people inserting little contributions and Google put in the big one of link counting to rankings. I think I was the first person to number the results, 1. 2. 3….. There are little bits of everybody’s handiwork in there.”
Bray, who studied the cello for 20 years, is urbane and well read. He is a populist of sorts. He has a smile on his face when he talks about the web and especially about Wikipedia. Bray does not agree with the opinions of Silicon Valley insider Andrew Keen who in his recent book The Cult of the Amateur – How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture
has this to say about Wikipedia,
“Wikipedia has become the third most visited site for information and current events; a more trusted source for news than the CNN or the BBC web sites, even though Wikipedia has no reporters, no editorial staff and no experience in newsgathering. It’s the blind leading the blind – infinite monkeys providing infinite information for infinite readers, perpetuating the cycle of misinformation and ignorance.”
Bray sees it differently. “By and large Wikipedia results are quite good and when errors creep in they tend to be self correcting on a fairly quick basis. There are errors in Wikipedia and there are errors in the Britannica, the difference is that the errors in Wikipedia get fixed. The reason it works well is that there is a community of engaged people who have found they have a passion for being amateur encyclopedists. It is a good thing because it should teach the really important lesson that you cannot believe what you read. If Wikipedia says something that is true, that is indicative, it’s not definitive. You need to look at the primary sources, but Wikipedia will take you there.”
After reading in the December New York Times Magazine the story Rewiring the Spy
by Clive Thompson on how the American intelligence agencies are banding together with a proprietary weblog and wiki I asked Bray why he often goes to Washington DC. He said, “I have done a lot of work for the intelligence community, principally for the NSA (National Security Agency). I am a search expert. The NSA is a distinctly odd place. I love it. If I were to start my career again I just might well plunge headlong into intelligence.”
In trying to figure out the smiling man with the hat I remember that Bray once told me this, “I’m kind of an open book, my soul is there to read in my blog”
The above piece appeared originally here
in the Georgia Straight
in their third person style. The editors gave it the header Father of XML - Uncle of Search Engines.
Mr. Tim Bray would like to clarify what he thinks is an error:I'm really uncomfortable with the term "Father of XML". In fact, there were two other people whose contributions were larger. I'm happy with "co-inventor" or "promoter" or a bunch of other things
VanDusen Botanical Garden On A Sunny Sunday Afternoon
Monday, November 19, 2007
Yesterday Rosemary and I strolled in VanDusen Botanical Garden
during the sunny afternoon. I had a half-used roll of Kodak b+w infrared film in my Nikon FM. The pictures you see here I took with the 35mm wide angle lens and a deep red, No 25 filter. The colour tint effect is the result of scanning the negatives while telling the Epson V700 that they are colour negatives.
We usually like to do this walking with Rebecca and Lauren, but on Sundays they are with their other grandmother. Rebecca and Lauren have the garden memorized and they have their favourite plants, trees and places. Lauren likes to say, "Let's get lost in the maze." We have problems steering Rebecca away from the plush toys in the VanDusen shop. The girls like to smell the fragrant magnolias. More often than not I have to pick them up to do this as the Vandusen magnolias (the fragrant ones) like to flower on the tops.
Like the under used and under appreciated cultural events of Vancouver, this smack in-the-centre-of-the-city botanical garden is really an undiscovered gem. Even on rainy days it is a delight to walk with an umbrella. In mid November it is particularly nice to see the dried up but still standing miscanthus and other ornamental grasses. The hollies in the holly garden have their berries and those living fossils, the dawn cypresses (Metasequoia glyptostroboides
) have bright red needles before these decidious conifers shed them.
There are many parts of the garden where you cannot see any city buildings or hear any of the cars on nearby Oak Street. You could be in the middle of a carefully manicured wilderness.
Except, of course, that the sporadic whine of ambulances on their way to the children's hospital jostles one into an awareness that winter, death and decay not only affects gardens. A quick retreat home and a large mug of strong tea usually helps me to suppress all that!
Byron Chief-Moon, Devo, J.J. Johnson & A Baroque Violin
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Last year I first saw Byron Chief-Moon dance with the Karen Jamieson Dance Company
. I photographed him with Karen Jamieson in my studio for a one page profile for VLM Magazine. Of Chief-Moon I wrote:
He is of the Blackfoot Confederacy. "I am not a chief, " he told me, "That was my mother's name." I started dancing at age 2. "Space is a special connection to landscape. Even when I work in my studio I am in the landscape in spirit."
Yesterday afternoon Rebecca, Lauren (5) and I went to the Scotia Dance Centre for a performance of Rosario Ancer's Flamenco Rosario, Jay Hirabayashi's Kokoro Dance
and Byron Chief-Moon's Coyote Percussive Performing Arts.
Rosario Ancer had an interesting flamenco crossover, while staying true to her own art. She had both Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget contributing their butoh with Ancer herself dressed as a raven in a flamenco interpretaion of the meaning of that bird in ancestor stories of the Western Canadian Native Peoples. Listening to Antonio de Jerez sing his soleá
while seeing Ancer's raven was disturbing and satisfying at the same time. While Lauren had never seen butoh before she did not squirm in her seat. She calmly watched the 6 female Kokoro dancers do their excercise in apparent slow motion.
In an after performance talk I finally saw the light on at least one aspect of butoh when Hirabayashi explained the butoh concept of time. A dancer's slow movement to the eye of the bystander is plenty quick in the head of the dancer. Butoh challenges our perception of time in much the same way as Einstein's relativistic clock on moving trains. And to top it all, dancer Caroline Farquhar gave Rebecca, Lauren and me a quick lesson in butoh butterfly eyes!
But it was the solo performance of Byron Chief-Moon in Blood Alley
that had Rebecca and I nodding at each other with a smile on our face. A smile on our face, in spite of a bleak prognosis on the state of man, at least as seen by Byron Chief-Moon in his interpretation of an urban aboriginal who has lost his way. He began as man/ape learning to walk, to dance, to dream and then to forget. And when the addiction set in, it was heart wrenching to see Byron Chief-Moon do a drunken interpretation of what I would call the common Indian stomp. His second piece, a projected colour video called Butte
, cheered us up as Byron Chief-Moon danced in it and became one with the beautiful landscape of Southern Alberta.
Driving home I thought of other occasions where I was as affected. It began with sound.
Sound in all its glory first entered my consciousness in 1951 or 1952 when my grandmother Lolita took me to see Randolph Scott
in Colt 45
Scott plays a Colt 45 salesman and it is the sound of the gun, as it echoed (effective even before stereo and surround sound) in the movie theatre on Lavalle Street that woke me up to the wonders of pure sound. I remember seeing DEVO at the Commodore in 1979 and hearing the pure, loud sounds of new wave guitars. The sound was primal in the same way as ten years later when I heard J.J. Johnson
play his trombone at the Vancouver Playhouse. During a solo, he stopped and said, "The acoustics here are very good," and he bypassed the microphone. The sound was much as the sound of those DEVO guitars. It was a piercing sound that beckoned me to some past that may have been in my genes if not in my memory. That sound again appeared for me when John Eliot Gardiner
played for us a modern violin and then a baroque violin.
I cannot explain except that Byron Chief-Moon's dance went through my eyes and into my brain directly and as quickly as Keen's Mustard or those sounds of DEVO, J.J. Johnson's trombone, Randolph Scott's Colt 45 and John Eliot Gardiner's baroque violin.