Little Red Riding Hood - Vancouver Daybook
Friday, March 07, 2008
Every once in a while I read the Daybooks of Edward Weston, particularly the one on Mexico and I am jealous at the descriptions of the women that posed for him in the roof of his Mexico City home. I long for those hot days of Mexico with the long shadows and I long for the women that Weston describes. They were earthy, women of a time before we tried to make them our equals and somehow failed in the process.
But in actual fact I should not feel at all jealous of Weston. I have "had" my women in the photographic sense and one of the best was South American born C Valparaiso. I photographed her while my Argentine artists friends Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez sketched her. We had many sessions. Some were in my studio the others at the Patrich home. Few of those pictures can I show here. In particular I am fond of a series I did with C and her husband who played the wolf to C Little Red Riding Hood. In the sequence (alas you can only view two of them) the surprised Caperucita Roja turns the tables on the wolf and takes charge of the situation.
C and husband are back in South America and I long for them coming back. Perhaps I, too would start my Daybook and title it Vancouver II.
Addendum: An email from C on March 9, 2008
Que alegría recibir al menos una línea de ti.
Claro q no me molesto. Al contrario, me alaga. Y ojalá más sesiones vengan pronto. Nosotros estamos esperando respuesta de la Embajada por la residencia.
Te mando un abrazo y muchos cariños
Utopia - Sointula B.C. - Faraway So Close!
Thursday, March 06, 2008
In the 15 years I lived in Mexico I never bothered to find out who Vasco de Quiroga was. I thought he was some old Spanish priest involved in the conquest of Mexico and I left it at that.
Some 12 years ago I visited Mexico City and in a shopping mall in the San Angel Inn area of the city I ran into a most unlikely event. In the mall cinema they were having a festival of the films of German director Wim Wenders. His two angel films, Wings of Desire
and Faraway, So Close!
are favourites of mine. While I did not have time to catch a film I bought what is now one of my most prized T-shirts, one about Faraway, So Close! but in Spanish, Tan Lejos y Tan Cerca
. Reflecting on the T-shirt (I wore it last week) I thought of a place that seems remote in time and location and yet is relatively close. I thought of Sointula and utopias. Let me explain.
Two years ago Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to the state of Michoacán in Mexico and the presence of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga was everywhere. I found out that this priest, who came to New Spain in 1530, somehow had read a copy of Thomas More's Utopia
and seeing the plight of the Mexican Indians he decided to communize them. Vasco de Quiroga staked not only his reputation but his money in this project. His communes somehow survived into the 1850s.
When I returned to Vancouver I found the most delightful biography on Quiroga called Thomas More's Magician - A Novel Of Utopia In Mexico
. Writer Toby Green follows the footsteps of Quiroga from his birthplace in Spain all the way to Mexico. The biography is a novel in that Green injects conversations that Quiroga may have had in this account that suddenly made our trip to Michoacán and the cities of Morelia, Pátzcuaro and Uruapan make all the sense in the world.
Looking back I remember two other indications of utopia. One was my visit to Thomas More's Chelsea Old Church
in London where I photographed the reflections of gothic windows on an illustration of Thomas More that was on the wall. The other connection with utopia was an assignment in December 1994 to illustrate an essay by Taras Grescoe on the utopian Finnish settlement of Sointula on Malcolm Island, B.C. for the Georgia Straight
. Photograph, above left is of the graveyard in Sointula.
The founder of the settlement in the beginning of the 19th century was Matti Kurrica (below). Like all utopias this one failed. Its failure was hastened by a terrible fire in 1903.
I look at my picture of the two youngsters, Finnish descendants Jess Willims and Alysha Turner on the 3:40 pm school ferry from Port MacNeil (in 1994 there was no high school in Sointula) and I wonder if they are still on the island or if they have left to search for utopia elsewhere.
Why did Sointula fail? Taras Grescoe, concludes his story with this:
In British Columbia, there has never been much middle ground, no countryside between wilderness and the city. As the frontier shifted westward across North America in the 19th century, the province seemed to be one of the few places left where the remaining territory was commensurate with man's capacity to imagine a completely different social order.
Kurrika's utopia failed - as did thousands of other communes across the continent - because his dreams had something in common with the clearcutting and strip-mining of the most ruthless venture capitalist: they turned the "wilderness" into an abstraction, transforming it into a terrain for ideologies, an enemy to conquer rather than an entity to learn from. Utopia has always been the fragile, pastoral dream of city dwellers. As a site for transforming human nature, it demands a denatured environment. But utopia has a flip side: it is the blank space that appears on the map whenever an equals sign is scrawled between the words "resources" and "nature".
Unlike B.C.'s idealistic utopias this dystopia thrives by creating barren land.
Left a view of Malcolm Island and right, Mauno Ahola, a son of one of the original settlers.
Addendum, February 24, 2008
name: Nicole Laughlin
comments: Every now and then I like to return home and to do
that from Abbotsford it is always easiest to do so by
logging on to the net and typing in Sointula and
waiting to see what loads up. This is how I came to
your site. I am actually Jess' and Alyshas' cousin and
when I read your comment on wondering if they were
still on the Island I thought I would drop a line to
say... no, both have moved away and both now have
families of their own but no matter what, no matter
where you live... home is always Sointula and you
are drawn back for holidays and summer vacations.
The Little Sister
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
A, S and M are the three most interesting and fascinating sisters in Vancouver. I know all three and I have photographed A and S. After much consideration and without disrespect to the glamourous and sexy A, the ethereal and graceful S I think that I would consider M the most interesting as her charms and talents are hidden beneath tailored suits and a lawyer's demeanor.
When S (the youngest of the three) approached me for photographs some years ago she was a model who had just returned from Europe. I have never considered myself a fashion photographer
but I gave it a try. S, If I remember well said, "I don't mean disrespect to your photography but I really did not like any of the pictures you took of me." And that was the end of that. I looked at them today and I find that some do charm me. The last picture is one of S making up her sister A in my studio for a shoot that was a bit more recent, October 2002.
S is involved in town in many art projects.
Jurgen Gothe, Good To The Last Drop, Eric Friesen Stammers
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
When I first came to Vancouver from Mexico some 38 years ago my knowledge of Canada was limited to having seen the totem pole in Retiro Station in Buenos Aires and the one in Chapultepec Park
in Mexico City. From my New Dublin, Ontario wife Rosemary I knew all about an exciting man called Pierre Trudeau. According to her the most beautiful city in Canada was Quebec City. She didn't think I could cope with the snow in those parts so we (she) decided on Vancouver for our family.
I was soon made welcome by the CBC in that my first job as a photographer was there. In that first year in Canada I had been a counter agent for Tilden Rent-Car on Alberni Street. Interesting men with longish hair and or beards came to rent blue Ford station wagons. They said they were from the CBC. They would rent them for months and money seemed to be no problem. They would stuff the wagons with all kinds of sound and TV camera equipment. I wanted a piece of that action so I made my enquiries and finally landed a job taking station ID slides for the new French TV station. From there I crossed that border that still seems to exist at the CBC from the French side to the English side. Through the years I have made lasting friends and I have been proud of whatever I did there. I am particularly thankful for having learned a lot about Canada by listening to CBC Radio or watching (not so much now as I watch very little TV) CBC TV. I was a fan of Wayne & Shuster. One of the most thrilling moments of my life was when cameraman Mike Varga took me to the trailer outside the Coliseum where a man directed all the cameras of Hockey Night In Canada. He sat in front of multiple screens and directed the show. In many ways I almost feel like I have always lived in Canada. The CBC helped me feel at home.
Part of it came from meeting the people of the CBC. I remember one day when I was driving down town and I was listening to Bob Kerr's program Off The Record
. He was playing a version of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Vocalise
. It featured many cellos. I stopped the car. Kerr said, "That was Rachmaninoff's Vocalise played by the Yale Cellos with Aldo Parisot conductor." I wrote it all down madly. I parked my car in a back alley (I had and have municipal plates) and bought the record at A&B Sound. I was thrilled to meet and photograph Kerr in his studio. I loved his fussy ways and his attention to detail.
I first met Jurgen Gothe in 1985 when he had just started with Disc Drive
. We were in a train going to Whistler, I believe. He entertained me going and coming. I was charmed. I have been lucky to photograph him many times through the years. I have photographed him at home and met his wife and his dog. I have seen his CD collection. Gothe's address is...
I understand that his show is going to end in September. While I don't listen to him every day it is comforting to know he is there and that when I switch him on I will hear a voice with no speech impediment, lisp or mannerism. I will listen to intelligence and good English. This is rare in radio today.
For a long time I suffered a bit (but I liked the music he played and in particular the live concerts he hosted) listening to Eric Friesen. He has an attractive booming voice and perfect diction. Unfortunately he sounds a bit too serious sometimes. I remember listening to one of his former In Performance
broadcasts and he was talking to a female string quartet backstage. Friesen made the mistake of asking one of them what it was like in the dressing room. The woman answered that they didn't wear much. Friesen stammered, uncharacteristically he had lost his cool! At that point I understood and began to appreciate the man and I have been a fan since. He came to Vancouver to MC a show and I met him. He did not look at all like the stuffed shirt I pictured him to be. He was tall, blonde and handsome and charming in a quiet way. I will miss him when he departs on December 31st. His "seriousness" had me fooled for a while.
CBC, here is a hint. Show the faces of those radio people more often. We will grow to like them even more.
The above photograph of Gothe ran in the Georgia Straigh
t on March 18, 1999. Gothe wrote about his almost lifelong obsession with wine. His little essay is exactly like his radio show. It relaxes you. The world is just fine and here a sample:
...The best wine ever? I hope I haven't had it yet. The worst? Something pale and pink, made from nectarines, in a non-wine friendly area of Oregon.
And when the wine's all gone? Green tea, Red Zinger, expresso, a shot of cognac, some Aqua Libra, lots of bubbly water. And so to bed.
Once, I was driving over a mountain pass in Montana and stopped for lunch in a tiny town. Main-street bar, limited lunch menu, smell of grease, George Jones on the jukebox. I ordered the burger'n'fries and then asked - it is an obsession - "Have you got any wine?"
She said: "Yeah, but it ain't open."
So all's not all that bad in the world.
Monday, March 03, 2008
When Buck Cherry, a.k.a. John Armstrong called me in late 1985 to ask me if I wanted to take a band photograph, "No," came up immediately. Band photographs for the then popular album covers (before they were done in by the small image on a CD cover) could be classified as follows:
1. A one member band was relatively easy. You only had to cope with one ego.
2. A two-member band. Not so easy but easy enough.
3. A three-member band. This setup was one of my favourites it was nicely symetrical for a square album shot.
4. A four-member or more band became a boring group shot. One could imitate (usually on the request of the band!) a Rolling Stones or Beatles album. I hated these jobs with a passion. They all wanted to look different but yet be recognizable by their mother. They never had a decent budget and would trash my studio.
When Armstrong told me it was five member band I simply said, "No." He insisted and I finally gave in when he told me the band had a star female singer.
The band (The Lost Durangos) called the album Evil Town and it included one of those quintessential Vancouver rain songs, I've Seen The Rain
. Someone should compile Vancouver rain songs. Another would have to be The Young Canadians's
Inga Vollmer did her wonderful makeup and with some complex 40s lighting we made the band look like film noir stars. Lead singer Kelly Brock
reminded me of a combination queen bee and Scarlet O'Hara.
When the five clustered for my group shot I felt it was magical. It was. As I see the record cover today and look at the individual pictures, I feel the sadness of lost youth. They were so young.
That C Word - A Tefal Frying Pan & A Useful AMEX Card
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Robby Miranda entered my life just a bit before these pictures were taken in Buenos Aires in 1950. He is on the far right, just next to me (my shirt has a central stripe). In the second picture (his birthday) he is in the top row on the far left and I am the gaucho. He and I were distantly related through his father Luís Miranda
who was my grandfather Tirso's
first cousin. Through most of my life until Luís died he was my favourite uncle and his wife Fermina
was my favourite aunt until she died last year in Houston at age 95.
Robby is singly responsible that I am a photographer today. In the late 60s in Mexico City I was flaundering at university not being sure what I wanted to do with my life. In 1967 I had gone to San Francisco for a month and I lived with a friend Robert Hijar in the Haight-Ashbury area and times. One day I took the cable car to the waterfront and watched some young students get off before the cable car went downhill. They went to a quaint place that was called the San Francisco Art Institute. I also got off. I was curious. I asked one of the young men what he was studying there. I remember his reply which was like a lightning bolt, "I am studying photography. I want to be a photographer." Until that moment I did not know one could study photography or that it could be a profession. At that moment I considered all I had done in my life until then to have been a waste.
Robby in the late 60s was making lots of money distributing a new item for the kitchen called a Tefal Frying Pan. I kept telling him that I could never be a photographer now that I wanted to be one. He asked me, "What do you need? I have an American Express Card. Let's go and get what you need." Robby was true to his word and we purchased a Durst enlarger, a darkroom timer, trays, a thermometer and a safelight. I realized when we went home that I was in trouble. I no longer had an excuse for failure.
In 1950 Robby had recently arrived to Buenos Aires via New York. Their sumptuous home in Manila had been taken over by the Japanese High Command during the duration of the war. Robby who was three years older than I was seemed to be a strange boy. If you pointed a toy gun at him he would cry and hide under a table. I knew nothing of real war. It was Robby who told me of WWII and Hitler and the Japanese. He told me stories of how Hitler had survived the war and was living in an oasis (there were pockets of warm air) near the South Pole. In his Belgrano home I was fascinated by his father's (my Uncle Luis) complete collection of Life magazine from Pearl Harbour until Victory in the Pacific Day. I stared at Sherman tank ads by Buick (they had Dynaflow transmissions) and saw some of my first photographs of real dead people.
The Mirandas and Robby moved to Mexico City and we followed in 1955. It was there that I would have sleepovers at Robbys and we would go for walks on Balderas Street and he would tell me of Aristotle and his Unmovable Mover who was God. He knew of these things because he was going to a private school of Catholic Marista Brothers. From Robby I learned to be interested in being interested. We went to many movies and somehow since he was older and bigger they never stopped us when the content of the film was not for children. But it wasn't all just Aristotle, Hitler and films. Robby took me to my first American football game (University of Mexico versus Mexico City College) and my first baseball game (a double A match between the Diablos Rojos and the Mexico City Tigers). After 14 long innings the game was postponed for the next day and we were given rain cheques. We did not return.
Last night I thought about Robby as I had a tremendous confrontation with Rebecca in the mornign. I had the intention of taking her and Lauren to see Roughhouse at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. The show was to begin at 2pm. It was 1pm. I had seen this brilliantly funny piece of one-hour pantomime on Tuesday. It was perfect for them. But Rebecca said, "I don't want culture (that C word). I want to be a kid." And she called her father to say she didn't want to go. I was shocked, angry and aghast. I could not take Lauren as Lauren will not go anywhere without her sister.
Another plan for the day was to buy a one year membership to the Vancouver Art Gallery. We were going to look at the exhibition of photographs from the Eastman House Collection. In my fury I acted like another child and refused to go anywhere. Rosemary suggested we walk in VanDusen. I shook my head. She said, "Alex, you are acting like a child." I just answered, "I like acting like one, perhaps because I am still one." For the rest of the day I felt guilty as hell.
The morning had not begun well. Rebecca had come in, and after a perfunctory, "Que tal, Papi," she had turned on the TV. At age 10 my parents had taught me what in Spanish we call educación (sort of like manners). Would I in Rebecca's place have made some conversation, asked if I was still sick, offer a hug, something?
If there is any despair in all this it is in the realization on how lucky I was to have Robby and his challenging brand of friendship. Will Rebecca ever have such a friend? A friend that will interest her to be interested?
And Robby, thank you.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
A few months ago Abraham Rogatnick and I went to a preview performance of sections of the new opera Dream Healer
based on Timothy Findley's 1999 novel Pilgrim.
We were both pleased and looked forward to the premiere. That premiere is upon us as we will be attending that premiere on Sunday
at the Chan at UBC.
Rogatnick introduced me to the composer Lloyd Burritt (below, right) an affable man with a catchy smile. I asked him if he thought his opera (The original adaptation and libretto were by Christopher Allan. The revised libretto and additional material are by Don Mowat) would have legs. With that smile of his he responded, "It is the only opera that I know in which one of the characters is a practising psychiatrist, and he is no other than Carl Jung."
In Findley's novel Pilgrim
Jung is fascinated by a man called Pilgrim who is obsessed with the idea that he cannot die and has many failed suicide attempts. He recounts in details meetings with da Vinci, Teresa de Ávila and Oscar Wilde.
With singers Judith Forst, Mezzo-soprano as Lady Sybil, John Avey, Baritone as Carl Jung and, Roelof Oostwoud, Tenor as Pilgrim this promises to be the opera premiere of the season.
But there is more!
In 1988 writer Peter Buitenhuis interviewed Timothy Findley and I photographed him in a suite at the Hotel Vancouver for Books In Canada
. Both Findley and his friend, William Whitehead, while not being able to penetrate the serious and studious professorial demeanor of Buitenhuis, charmed me. It was easy to photograph Findley. Whitehead became my de facto art director.
Buitenhuis made up for his seriousness with his research of the man. He asked Findley some interesting questions. These questions surely were in the Burritt's mind when he composed this opera.
Buitenhuis: I want to turn from questions of influence to subject. Your first novel, The Last of the Crazy People , might in fact be said to be the first of the crazy people you've dealt with in almost all your fiction. You certainly have a concern for the mentally obsessed and the unbalanced. Is this largely for dramatic effect, or is it because you yourself have a fascination with the world of the mentally excessive and unbalanced?
Findley: I think the latter. It's a conception of what other people call crazy. It is the ultimate simplicity. It may be focused on one gesture or one passion, but the way in which it is focused, with the mentally troubled, tells me so much about the human spirit and mind and the obsession with perfection
Buitenhuis: Is there any other comment you'd like to make abou this collection (Stones) of stories?
Findley: No, except that I enjoyed writing it. It was a deliberate attempt to put a book of stories together rather than to collect stories that I had been writing randomly over time. I am not a short story writer, in the sense that Alice Munro is -a writer, by the way that I admire immensly. It was a new kind of writing, a new way of organizing a book. I set them all in Toronto, deliberately, and kept discovering that they were about brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, and parents and children, deeply committed relationships and the crises they provoke - the whole book had that. The copy editor giggled at the end of her work and said to me: "I don't think you realize this, but are you aware that the Queen Street Mental Health Centre is a character in every single one of these stories?" And by God it is!
Buitinhuis": And a very powerful character too.
Findley: And I literally didn't know that
Buitinhuis: Back to the Crazy People!
Findley: Yes, back to the Crazy People.