James Parkinson's Paralysis AgitansFriday, September 12, 2008
Last night, while preparing my projected lecture (I talk and project jpgs from a CD through a lap top connected to a digital projector) I found a devastatingly disturbing portrait of great American photographer Margaret Bourke-White. The portrait was taken by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898 - 1995) in March 1959. Bourke-White who had taken the first cover for Life Magazine in September 1936 and flown in bombing mission (the first woman) in January 23, 1943 over Tunis she was previously and dashingly photographed by Eisenstaedt. The difference between the pictures made me think on not only how Bourke-White's career ended quite suddenly around 1953 when she learned she had Parkinson's but also how many of my friends (6) here in Vancouver have that terrible disease. I also know that Edward Weston, ultimately stopped taking photographs because of the crippling disease.
A couple of years back I had a student, Alan Jacques in my class at Focal Point. He had Parkinson's and he told me once, "I have my good days and my bad days. And today is a good one." This cheerful and talented photographer had mastered a special technique. He used wide angle lenses (they tend to minimize shake) and he opted for Nikon FM or FM-2s. He held these cameras firmly on his forhead and would use a wide stance with his legs and get close to his subjects. He shot beautiuful nudes in my nude photography class. A few months back I ran into Jacques whose photography business is going strong. I would suspect that this is one instance where digital photography has become a distinct asset.
I have heard of various photographers in the past who have been so in spite of being clinically blind. It seems to me that Parkinson's must then be the cruelest of all diseases to hit a photographer. Every morning when I wake up (more and more I do this) I check my hands.
In 1978 I took still photographs for the Vancouver CBC. One of my jobs was to photograph drama. The particular drama that took me to studio 40 one day was a show called Leo and Me. It featured Brent Carver (Leo) and a young boy (the me of Leo and Me) called Michael J. Fox. Years after I would go into my files and look at Leo and Me and go to throw them away. And then for who knows what reason I kept them. Here is one of the very young Michael J. Fox. He was a cheerful kind of kid and everybody on the set loved him. How were we to know?
In 2002, an investigation was launched into Leo and Me after an unusual cluster of Parkinson's disease cases was noted among former cast and crew members of the show. Fox and director Don Williams were among the four with the disease, along with a writer and a cameraman