Rod Steiger - Lunch With A Melancholic Old Man
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The photographs in my files have no date and I never kept a copy of the Georgia Straight in which one appeared. My guess is that I took the pictures in the late 80s or early 90s. I can remember vividly everything else. I knocked on the door of one of the rooms in what was then the Pacific Palisades Hotel on Robson Street. It was run by Mel Zajak. He was discrete and liked to play golf so many movie stars (before Vancouver really became Hollywood North) stayed at his hotel. I photographed many of them but the most memorable was the melancholic man who opened the door, and said, "Please come in. I hope you don't mind but we are going to have lunch in together and we shall first drink a white wine." The man, unshaven and wearing a black hat, was actor Rod Steiger. I stared. He explained, "Today is Saturday and on Saturdays I never shave." We shared a club sandwich but I don't recall the wine. I was too fascinated by the charm and the kindness of the man who told me how he had read tons of books on Napoleon and read the headlines of French newspapers of the time in order for him get into the mind of Napoleon whom he played in the 1971 film Waterloo
. But the most remarkable performance I have ever heard from an actor came after the coffee.
Steiger told me that the one part he had always wanted to play was Winston Churchill. He then recited in its entirety, Churchill's June 4, 1940 speech
before the House of Commons:
...We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old. .
I closed my eyes and the man in the room was Winston Churchill. I broke the spell when on a lark I asked him what was the gum he chewed through most of In the Heat of the Night
(1967) as Sparta, Mississippi, police chief Bill Gillespie.
"It was Dentyne cinnamon."
A Christmas Rose Not Is a Christmas Rose Not
Friday, December 21, 2007
The Christmas Rose is not a rose at all but a Helleborus niger
. It blooms about now but it gets unsightly black spots in our garden so we don't grow it. Perhaps this hellebore does not like our rain. Rosemary prefers the Heleborus argutifolious
which flowers later in the winter.
My garden has been put to bed and I try not to look at the last of my decaying perennials and hostas disappear into the ground. Some of them are confused with our warmish weather and I would believe have adapted and become evergreen. An example is my handsomeHypericum androsaemum
'Albury Purple' (right) which looks great and will remain like that unless we have a heavy snowfall which would break off the brittle stems.
But I have my very own Christmas Rose(s), if a bit worse for wear. They managed to open today in my winter garden. The roses are both English Roses bred by Shropshire
rose grower David Austin
. The pink one is Rosa 'St Swithun'
and the white Rosa 'Fair Bianca'
Panoramic Vancouver - A Busman's Holiday
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Even though I recently posted here
some architectural photographs I am not an architectural photographer nor have I ever wanted to be one. The same applies to landscapes and when I see a good one I usually buy the postcard. An architectural photographer more often than not has to abide by rules that stipulate that the parallel lines of buildings have to be rendered so. These photographers have to master the swings and tilts of bellows 4x5 inch cameras so as to control the apparent distortion of wide angle lenses or when they shoot up on a tall building. Another tremendous challenge of the architectural photographer who might specialize in house interiors is that the light of the inside of the house (tungsten) has to be balanced to the usually stronger daylight of the outside.
But I do have some landscape and architectural photographs in my files because I was ordered to take them by former Vancouver Magazine art director Chris Dahl
He could not tolerate photographers who specialized so he forced me to take all kinds of stuff I was not in the least interested in. And, of course, I now appreciate his nagging and the experience.
I have written before about shooting with panoramic cameras that have a swivel lens here
. The pictures in today's blog I took with a precursor to my Russian Horizont. It is a Japanese Widelux which is as unreliable as the Horizont.
The Horizont has better optics than the Widelux while the latter has a slightly more reliable shutter. Both tend to have light leaks. One of the pictures here (it has red streaks on the left side) is the result of such a leak.
I do not remember why it was that Chris Dahl
asked me to shoot the Vancouver skylines of which the most successful had the Marine Building on the right side. The ones on the Cambie Street Bridge I took for Gus Tsetsekas of Signals Design Group
for a design conference poster. My daughter Ale drove my Fiat-X19 roadster while I stood up with the Widelux. We went back and forth on the bridge from near sundown until the sun set.
I remember getting quite dizzy. For he Vancouver skyline shots I took some while holding the camera in as steady a manner as possible. Some of the others I took by jarring the camera slightly while the lens was swiveling. Looking back at them they seem to have been fun. A busman's holiday it was.
Blogger formatting does not permit images to be more than 5 inches wide which makes Widelux panoramics look small. But if you click on the images the image will enlarge.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
"What does it do? Just hang there?"
"It proves the rotation of the earth. Since the point of suspension doesn't move..."
"Why doesn't it move?"
"Well because a point... the central point, I mean, the one right in the middle of all the points you see...it's a geometric point; you can't see it because it has no dimension, and if something has no dimension, it can't move, not right or left, not up or down. So it doesn't rotate with the earth. You understand? It can't even rotate around itself. There is no itself."
Umberto Eco 1988
In June 2002 I finally got to photograph one of my Vancouver heroes- Alan Storey.
I am from a Latin American generation that was raised to the principle that the best of all possible worlds would happen thanks to arquitectos
. While not going to the extreme of Italians who address not only arquitects, engineers and politicians but even police inspectors as Dottore
, with a seriousness that has no reference to commedia dell'arte
, we latinos
respectfully address them as Sr. arquitecto
, Sr. ingeniero
, etc. This is possibly why I am always in awe in the presence of architect Arthur Erickson
or would rather walk by Ned Pratt's
Dal Grauer Substation on Burrard than go to church.
While artist/sculptor Alan Storey is not an architect or a civil engineer he is an artist whose works mirror the best and what's positive of technology and engineering even if our world will never be a better one through chemistry or electricity. His first large local work is my favourite. It is his 1987 Pendulum in the atrium of the HSBC Building on West Georgia. This fabulous work of art has absolutely no practical purpose except to delight the senses while telling us something of the laws of physics. If I am ever in the area I always find time to sit down and contemplate the pendulum. When I have out of town visitors the pendulum is one of my musts.
I photographed Storey by his Coopers Mews sculpture. For more details on it look here
. It is a (again that word) whimsical look at what preceded the area before the condominiums were built. Part of the pathway includes steps that produce steam when one walks on them.
Storey and I had a fun time during our pleasant shoot. But it was partly jarred by an event that I will not forget.
We stopped our picture taking when we saw an extremely beautiful and elegant blue car stop at the gate of one of the condos. It was an Aston Martin being driven by a young man. He glanced in our direction and then the gate went up and he disappeared into his building's garage. We discussed that the kind of luxury that we had previously associated with living in Shaughnessy had a much different counterpart here by his sculpture and that it was a luxury of which we had no inkling. It was a way of life for which we had no understanding.
The "simple" complexity of the physics of the pendulum had and has no equivalent to the possibly dot.com source of the Aston Martin driver's wealth. We live in a much more complex and perplexing world. Thankfully I can observe Storey's pendulum and feel equilibrium.
Klaas From Weimar
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Of late when I photograph someone in my studio I just might shoot a roll of 120 film with all of its 10 exposures. But it is not happening as often. I find myself shooting 5 or 6 and stopping. At one time, when film was king, art directors and photo editors would say, "Shoot lots of film. Film is cheap." With digital cameras (if you don't consider the expense of keeping up with your digital Joneses) it is even cheaper than film as each exposure is free. Film varieties are being discontinued and what remains is expensive. Luckily I still process my own.
But how is it possible to shoot a magazine assignment with 5 or 6 exposures? I have recently found the answer in my photo classes at Focal Point. My students crop their pictures in all possible ways. Some of these crops work, most don't. But you simply have to do this until your brain's memory stores what works and what doesn't. My students practice on models that the school hires. I supervise and give a few pointers. I am patient. I did the same.
It all started when I started printing my negatives in 1962. I would put a negative in an enlarger and perhaps get 20 interpretations of my shot. I would crop it here and there and make horizontal photographs vertical, and the vertical ones horizontal. But when I purchased my Mamiya RB
in 1975, its large viewfinder gave me the impetus to crop in-camera. This is a habit that became obsessive. I never crop. I like the discipline that less freedom gives me in photography. I have to make up my mind before I press the shutter.
Today when I was perusing some of my files I had a hard look at Kimberley Klaas's. I photographed her three or four times about 15 years ago and judging by the amount of negatives I have of her, I shot a lot. I experimented with all sorts of in-camera crops. And just like some of my students's crops don't work neither do mine.
I realize that Klaas had patience as I made her pose in all matter of positions. I also see many photographs that don't look like me idea or are my style. But they work because Klaas was more than a patient subject. She had the gumption to suggest and convince. Thanks to her, and other like her from my past, I can now shoot 5 or 6pictures instead of a whopping 10!
There is a wonderful look to Kimberley Klaas. She looks like a woman that might have hopped on a time machine during the post-war German Weimar Republic and visited me in my studio or might have posed for Man Ray on the way. I don't know where Klaas is now but I am very glad I was able to learn from her when she was around.
More Kimberley Klaas
Monday, December 17, 2007
Who shaves the barber?
From The Barbershop Paradox
as proposed by Lewis Carroll in A Logical Paradox
, July 1894.
When I remember, I photograph myself on my birthday. I took this shot August 31, 2006. I post it here as it has a more flattering view of my Mamiya RB67 Pro-SD. It looks in a lot better shape that the photo that follows.Tim Bray
in his ever popular ongoing
wants to know more about my camera. He asks here
. When I photographed him for my Georgia Straight profile
in my studio he snapped my camera on its tripod with his digital. Here is his picture which shows a lot of the brass, not plastic, that lies beneath the black paint.
While I had taken photographs since I was 15 I did not choose photography as a profession until Rosemary, our two daughters and I decided to move to Vancouver in 1975. We drove to Vancouver in our VW Beetle and on the way I dropped them off in Disneyland and I went to a an LA photo store and bought all the equipment I thought I needed that I could not possibly have been able to afford in Mexico City. Mexico had high import tarifs.
But in Vancouver, with so many working photographers, I decided I needed some sort of competitive edge or calling card. I knew I did not want to see the world upside down as seen by a 4 x 5 inch view camera. I could not afford the medium format (uses 120 or twice as long roll film) Hasselblad. By 1975 so many could afford Nikons and parade in Stanley Park with one of them hanging around he neck that the Hasselblad was the status and macho symbol of the time. I opted for the less expensive but larger format (6x7 cm as oposed to Hasselblad's 6x6). Within a month of buying my first Mamiya RB-67 Pro-S with a 65mm (equivalent to a 35mm in the 35mm film format) I had Rick Staehling
of Vancouver Magazine call me for a job in which he specifically requested, "Alex do you think you could use that monster-sized new-fangled camera you showed me?" A couple of years later that RB fell into Dana Zalko's
hot tub (it was a magazine assignment!) complete with the tripod. The lens had been too heavy for the precarious balance so the whole unit collapsed into the water. Two days later the boys (Bert and Attila) at Precision Camera Repair (on Burrard but long gone) had it in pristine working conditions all over again.
Because I have always believed in the NASA Plan B and C of coping with mechanical glitches I bought a second used one. Except for my first camera and the third one seen here, a Mamiya Pro-SD (it has some slight variations to my other two), every piece of Mamiya equipment I own I have bought used. While the finish, particularly inside the camera and lenses cannot possibly be equal to the standards of a Hasselblad, the camera is sturdy, reliable but heavy.
The lens seen here is the 140mm (equivalent to a 75mm in the 35mm film format). This lens, like all Mamiya RB lenses, has a shutter inside the lens. This shutter will sync with flash at any speed but it has the drawback of a maximum of 1/400 second shutter speed which I have realistically tested at around 1/300, on good days. The ability to make great elargements from 6x7 cm negatives and slides is greatly aided by that 140mm (and the 65mm and 50mm which I also have). Why?
Lenses are designed to be sharp at infinity and the image beging to deteriorate as you focus closely. Close focusing lenses(only very few of the very good ones) and true macro lenses (more on this later) are built to focus closely and the image deteriorates as you focus towards infinity. A true macro lens is defined as a lens (as an example) that will record a 1 inch stamp (as an example) as one inch on the film (or in a digital camera) or sensor plane. The RB has bellows between the lens and the camera body. With these bellows I am able to focus my RB on my thumb nail and record it actual size. In photographic lingo this is called 1 to 1 reproduction. That's how you define a true
The Mamiya 140mm, 65mm and 50mm lenses are floating element macro lenses. These are lenses that combine the best of normal lenses (that are designed to focus at infinity) with macro lenses that are designed for sharp closeups. They do both by having a floating element. Once I adjust my focus (let's say on a head and shoulders portrait), I adjust the floating element ring. When I do this a group of glass elements within the lens adjust for optimum sharpness at that distance.
My 140mm lens is sharp.
Because of its weight I can shoot more comfortably with the camera on my 34-year-old Italian Manfrotto tripod. A tripod is only as good as its head. The head is an Arca Swiss Monoball. I can move my camera in any direction (as in any) by loosening only one knob. The movement is as smooth as silk.
Another spectacular feature of the Mamiya RB is that the back (where the film is) and which can be interchanged at any time
with other backs with other types of film (I have 5 backs) rotates so that the 6x7 format can be in vertical or horizontal position. You can do this without having to rotate the whole camera.
If I were to equal the performance of this camera digitally (in detail and enlargability) I would have to spend in the neighbourhood of $50.000. This would buy me a digital back that would replace the film backs. I would need further equipment like a laptop to which I would have to tether the camera. All that and additional software would be prohibitive for me now. My obsolete Mamiya will have to soldier on.
But the best feature of my Mamiya, its reduced exposures "capability" (10 shots per roll of 120 film) has taught me through the years to really study and concentrate on what I am doing before I press the shutter. I shoot very little on my assignments. The camera has few knobs. I can concentrate on my subjects and my Mamiya fades into the background of my mind and performs with a dependability which for me is a legendary one.
Part of the dependability of my RB which I also call my Sword Excalibur is due to Horst Wenzel
who keeps all my cameras in top shape.
Marc Destrubé - The Intimate Violinist & The Sony Clock Radio
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Some years ago I dined in the wine cellar of Villa Del Lupo
restaurant with violinist Marc Destrubé
. Over ostrich and a Sancerre wine I heard the most fascinating information related to the violin's chin rest. Up until the beginning of the 19th century violinists played in smaller, much more intimate venues. They were the salons of kings, dukes and rich patrons. But with the advent of the 19th century and a rising middle class (and the chopping off of many of those dukes's heads) music halls got bigger as musicians tried to lure the common person. The rich sweet but not too loud sound of the baroque violin (and viola, etc) had to be made louder. The violin's internal structure had to be beefed up to allow for increased string tension. The violin could no longer be held loosely by the neck. It had to be held firmly. A contemporary of Beethoven, Ludwig Spohr came up with the idea of the chin rest.
It was here that Destrubé came up with the startling piece of information that has haunted me since. "Until the advent of the chin rest the intimacy and interpretation of a composer was limited to the playing of the music as written with small variations. But with the chin rest the violinist could hear the music in his head and became moved by it. Now the violinist could interpret the music as he heard it." So the paradox here is that the perhaps less rich and gently sound of the baroque violin could not elicit a personal expression by the musician as much as the modern and louder version. Perhaps I cannot completely accept this, but then I am not a violinist. Destrubé is not only a master of the baroque violin and the composers of the 17th and 18th century but he can also play and masters the composers of the 19th, 20th and 21st century.
But all that reminds me of the connection between Rebecca's Christmas gift this year and my venture into high fidelity around 1970. Until then my idea of high fidelity were Gerrard turtables that permanently scarred the best records of my collection and piddly amplifiers that clipped and distorted all frequencies. It was around 1969 that I saw and ad for Acoustic Research speakers.
It featured a string trio in a New England forrest with a couple of AR-3A speakers on either side. The explanation under the photo said that at moments when the live playing was switched to a recorded version by the same trio, bystanders could not tell the difference.
Acoustic Reseach thus advertised accurate sound, as did the classical recordings of Angel Records. I has hoocked to this idea. I soon got my wish. A Cuban friend in need of money sold me his Acoustic Research amplifier (a transistor amplifier with minimal knobs and at the time a whopping 100 wats RMS per channel). The amplifier came with a AR turntable which was minimal and beautiful. All I needed were speakers. A neighbour worked for the Mexican petroleum company (PEMEX) so my US purchased AR-3A speakers came listed as oil pumps. At the time Mexico had an importation ban on all sound equipment.
So it was that I leaned to appreciate the accuracy of this sort of sound. Not all that accurate as I particularly loved and love such records (and now CDs) by Gerry Mulligan that had a marked separation between stereo channels. Mulligan on the left, Chet Baker on the right. I never adopted quadraphonic and much less the sound of contemporary home theatre sound. The idea of enhanced bass is anathema.
But I do remember seeing 2001 - A Space Odyssey
in 1969 in a very good Mexican theatre and being enthralled by the then primitive idea of surround sound. And as soon as I had my AR amplifier I purchased an Angel recording of Richard Strauss's tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, op. 30
used so memorbly in that film. Any audiophile who had decent equipment at the time would test the system against the reproduction (with the hopes of minimal distortion) of the bass pedal sounds of the organ in the beginning of this music.
Rebecca and I often go to listen to the Pacific Baroque Orchestra with Marc Destrubé (alas not the musical director anymore). We sit on the front row and sometimes opt to sit on the side of the cello and violon so that the violin is balance out. Rebecca understands. The PBO particularly when the younger Paul Luchkow
, right, has a hand in it, every once in while surprises us and delights us with their version of the Gerry Mulligan jazz records. Violins on the left will be often challenged by violas on the right!
All the above will be a long winded explanation as to why Rebecca is getting a Sony clock radio/CD player (it glows blue in the dark) for Christmas. I have found her often listening to her music at her father's computer with earphones.
I never fell for the idea of having music in my head. I never bought earphones. I will never know what it is to listen to music as heard by one playing a violin with a chin rest. The closest will always be some variation of the terrible experience of watching Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde
on board a Continental Airlines Boeing.
I have told Rebecca that without air there is no sound. On the moon we would not hear anything. Sound exists because of air. Air affects and modifies sound. I want her to grow up with an idea of sound one hears with the echoes and reverbation of a living room, or in her case on her night table.
My friend Tim Bray
is a master of all that is new. He listens to music on his i-Pod but he is aware of the defficiency and the sacrifice one makes for the ability to be able to listen from a menu of 25,000 songs. So he uses a tube amplifier to "improve" or bring back some of the sound quality lost in compression.
This loss of quality in sound was beautifully explained by Anthony Tommasini here