Epimedium x rubrum - A Cinderellla Plant
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Our garden is a May to end of August garden. This is because that's when the roses bloom and hostas flower in June/July. There are some gardeners who want a 12-month garden. The work that entailes is really beyond the capability of two of us. Besides we want to rest from the garden and we are sure the garden wants to rest from us. As the garden decays in late fall I even enjoy the decay and the falling leaves. There is beauty in death.
We are about to enter May and that is when the fresh shoots of my hosta emerge in their pristine green or light yellow. They are wonderful, and as wonderful as the unfurling ferns.
But there are some plants which I call the Cinderella plants. Nobody notices them. This is because they bloom quietly about now when I am not looking for flowers. One of the Cinderella plants is the Epimedium. This Epimedium, Epimedium x rubrum
caught my eye today. It blooms before the new leaves are out. In a few weeks when the leaves emerge the flowers will be invisible, covered by the hostas and the ferns. The flowers are no bigger than the nail of my smallest finger. They look like little stars or little space fighters in a science fiction film. Perhaps epimedium has been damned by being considered a ground cover. Can any other name condemn such a plant? Perhaps I will notice it a bit more from now on.
Kelly Tough - Not So
Friday, April 25, 2008
In the mid 80s Vancouver had a reputation for beautiful women who had been discovered and then posed for Playboy Magazine
. In 1983 Vancouver Magazine
decided to do a story on four of them. I was assigned to photograph them and Les Wiseman wrote the story. They editor and art director felt that if the local photographer and Playboy talent scout Ken Honey photographed them the material would be too racy for a city magazine.
I had watched Ken Honey in action at Wreck Beach. To be fair he was nude, too while he walked around with his camera. His favourite mode of operation was to approach large breasted women who owned dogs. He would pet the dog and start a conversation. While he did this he checked for droop. I talked to a few who had told me, "Ken chatted with me but then he suddenly went away. I knew it had to do with the droop of my breasts!"
Of all the Playboy Playmates I got to meet and photograph for the article (some refused to be photographed) the most interesting was Kelly Tough. She was friendly and really seemed like the girl next door until you noticed her chest. I took photographs of her at home and used her flowery wallpaper as a background. The art director, Rick Staehling sent me back for a re-shoot. It seems my pictures weren't glamorous enough. I don't recall what he said to me but it was something like, "You have some good material do work from. I am sure you can do better."
At the time I used umbrellas instead of soft boxes. I really had no clue how to shoot glamour and I made the mistake of positioning my umbrellas a bit too far so that the lighting was a bit flat. But my flat lighting made the playmates' complexion look extra smooth in that pre-Photoshop era. We didn't really have to resort to air brushing.
Looking back at those 1983 photographs I see in them an innocence of an age and my own. I remember asking Les Wiseman (certainly more worldly than this Catholic educated photographer) about pornography here
. I remember looking at Kelly Tough strangely but she quickly set me straight. She was kind and easygoing and most cooperative in spite of this stumbling photographer.
She looked at my Polaroids (left) and gave me constructive criticism. She made me relax. I became a fan and felt most jealous when a legion of photographers snapped her picture at the PNE!
Self-Portrait In Burnaby
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I first met Yuliya at Focal Point a few years ago. She was the model in one of my classes. She has been our favourite model since because unlike other models she shows up on time and never fails to appear. I have written here
before about the relationship between a photographer and a model. I have a similar longish photographic relationship with Yuliya (she is from Ukraine, and is visibly annoyed if you happen to say, "the Ukraine"). She shows up at my studio every 6 months and we shoot for fun. But it isn't too much fun as she is demanding, critical and doesn't like any of the pictures I take of her. I wonder why she keeps coming back for more?
But she did like the combined self-portrait you see here. I have taken some before and of them Yuliya has said, "You were nervous and stressed out in my proximity and the picture is no good." How is one supposed to feel in the presence of a beautiful woman who is not wearing anything, particularly when I know that one of the most sacrosanct of my shooting rules is that I never touch? She insisted on this last one and posed me for it. It was at her Burnaby basement suite and she had a curvy mirror on the wall.
She did not like any of the pictures that I took that day a few months ago but of this self-portrait she said, "It is perfect."
Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche - A Classy Cinderella Revisited
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Yesterday Rosemary and I sat down to watch Mitchell Leisen's 1939 film Midnight
(it first opened at the Paramount on Broadway in April 1939).
While Rosemary set up our clandestine TV trays I boiled gnocchi and mixed it with green peas, chopped raw onion, butter and Maldon Kerala pepper. On this I sprinkled just grated Parmesan cheese and crumbled three pieces of thick bacon. We sat down for what I knew was going to be an extremely pleasant experience. Can you imagine a film with Don Ameche, Claudette Colbert, John Barrymore (who played the fairy godmother) and Mary Astor (her usual devious self)? And consider that one of the script writers was Billy Wilder.
This film had all the class and comic touches of another director of the period, Ernst Lubitsch whose 1939 Ninotchka
, with Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas is another favourite of mine. I despair that if I watched this with Rebecca she might not understand the communist commissar aspect of it and not appreciate how Garbo breaks down and softens up. Does a 10-year-old know about the Soviet Union, communism and the bourgeoisie?
It is perhaps an obsession of mine that when I watch a film I always wonder if it would be one that Rebecca would enjoy and appreciate. With so many "crass" remakes of Cinderella in a modern world urban setting this one, Midnight
, is set in Paris and the Ritz (populated by people who played bridge, drank Champagne and had no visible means of earning an income)and with a dashing prince (Don Ameche) who is a hungarian cab driver just might teach Rebecca what class is. And I will have to introduce her slowly to the real reason why Midnight
is such a hit. Claudette Colbert plays an American small town gold digger who wears satin with panache and oozes the experience of woman who has seen the world, known her men and how they affect her and become all the wiser.
And how can I teach Rebecca to appreciate films in which:
1. There are no special effects.
2. There are no real villains.
3. Nobody is shot, killed, maimed or blown up.
4. And, principally, that the fairy story ending is far more believable than the special effects of contemporary films.
I was unable to explain to Rebecca last Saturday that going to Ballet BC's Peter Pan
was a special occasion that warranted getting dressed up. Her parents did not seem to understand either. I explained to Rebecca that many of the girls who had dressed up rarely went to the ballet. The ballet is expensive and we just happen to have friends in higher places and thanks to photographic trades I am able to go to these events more frequently. Dressing up for the ballet is like drinking Coke from a Champagne glass. It tastes better.
Watching Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche spar in a taxi (with wonderful headlights esconced inside the grille. What car was it?) is very much like drinking that Coke in a Champagne glass. It is so much better than anything that is attempted now.
The original film review in the NY Times by Frank S. Nugent can be found here
. It is my hope that this lovely review will open to all of you who might try. The review itself has that class, that dressup class that has all but disappeared.
The Perceived Paleness Of It All
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
For some time I have had the suspicion that all was not well with the appearance of this blog. Since I am stubborn, I dismissed the fact that my pictures always looked pale on someone else's monitor simply as the result of improper monitor calibration on their part. I insisted, to those few who pointed it out the paleness, that my monitor was properly calibrated and the pictures of my blog looked just right.
But I should have suspected from the beginning that my aging cathode ray tube monitor (a used Dell) could not really be properly calibrated.
For those who might be confused by the above let me give an explanation. When a photographer uses film, for better or for worse, the hard copy result (slide, colour negative or b+w negative) is an accurate record of what the photographer saw if the photographer strived for photographic accuracy. Transparency material (larger slides, and slides in general) tend to make shade blue. My Ektachrome has been rendering the gray background of my studio portraits to various shades of "Ektachrome blue". High saturation colour film makes greens (lawns for example) greener. In short colour film, even when properly exposed, is not accurate in the display of colour. One very important reason is that film (all kinds) have an extra sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Film and the human eye perceive light and colour differently.
Accurate or not, when I handed in a slide to a magazine art director, the slide served as a standard for the magazine printer to go by. The art director could have either cooled or warmed up that image for personal preference. Sometimes art directors will do that to balance the look of a two-page spread (as an example) where two pictures, one cool in colour and one warm might clash seen together on the page. Our perception of colour is subjective.
Photographs can be light or dark. Some are shot dark on purpose, perhaps for drama, or dark by mistake because of underexposure. The portrait of a baby might be rendered slightly lighter and in a pastel colour to convey the idea of innocence. In pornography the colour of "bits and pieces" might be darkened for effect. When I print my b+w negatives in my traditional darkroom I have perceived periods where I tend to make my prints dark and contrasty. These periods have alternated randomly with times when I have printed paler.
But always the slide or the photograph (colour or b+w) is the ultimate record and standard of the photographer who has taken it.
With the advent of the digital age all this has changed. The photographer who shoots with an expensive DSLR (digital sinle lens reflex camera) has no hard copy original. The original is a series of zeros and ones captured by a sensor and stored in the camera's memory. In a wonderful way this stored image, particularly when the photographer does not "cheat" and does not look at the image on the back of the camera right after an exposure (this practice of looking is called chimping) displays all the potential of that wonderful world that came into being with photography in the 19th century. This is the latent image
. The image that is there in our imagination and in the unprocessed film stock (if we are lucky!). The image that we think we have captured but that has to be "developed out" or processed before we can see it. A roll of exposed b+w film (as an example) when held in your hand it is pure potential. It is the potential of latent images waiting to see the light of day.
When a digital camera photographer finally "opens up" the taken images the "original" is an infinitesimally thin image that sits on a monitor screen or on the LCD screen in the back of the camera. When the photographer (let's suppose the photographer is a magazine photographer) sends images to a magazine art director by email, the original image that can be used as a standard has to be (there is no other) the image sent. This image can vary if the photographer and the art director's monitors are not calibrated equally. And if the monitor used by the magazine printer is different, that will also stretch the problem of reproducing an original as the photographer saw it, or thinks he or she saw it, or as he or she thinks it should have been by introducing modifications with PhotoShop (in itself just a super flexible version of darkroom manimpulation).
The above is to explain that until yesterday most of the images of my blog have been too pale for most who have perused my blog. Last night I darkened a couple of week's blogs. It was labourious particularly in the multi picture blogs with 5 or 6 pictures. I have to remove and re-insert each one, one at a time.
For close to a year my monitor display has been the above picture of Rebecca and Lauren taken in the summer of 2006. For that year the picture looked just right on my monitor. This is what it would have looked to all of you had I inserted it into my blog.
Magnolia stellata - Stella Maris?
Monday, April 21, 2008
grows wild in certain parts of the Ise Bay area of central Honshū, Japan’s largest island, at elevations between 50m and 600m. It grows by streamsides and in moist, boggy areas.
Our Magnolia stellata
(Star Magnolia) came from a nearby garden. The house was being torn down. I asked the crane operator if I could help myself. With a smile he nodded in the affirmative. The magnolia replaced a dead Lawson cypress by our kitchen bed that had died of root rot. Our garden when we purchased the house in 1986 had at least 8 of these cypresses that have succumbed to root rot. We have been replacing them as they die with other trees. The magnolia for me has been a tree of fascination because of its great botanical age. There are fossilized specimens of Magnolia accuminata
that date back 20 million years. Magnolias were flourishing before bees so the flowers are designed to be pollinated by beetles.
Our stellata is in bloom right now and it has never looked better. The reason is that it has not rained. Rain makes the stellata blooms look like sickly droopy mess.
I associate our stellata with the name of an Argentine navy chapel in Buenos Aires called Stella Maris. It took a while before I figured out the name. Stella Maris (or Star of the Sea) was the name sailors gave the Virgin Mary. Of all the armed forces of Argentina, it is the navy that is the most Catholic. When Perón started burning churches in 1955 the Argentine Navy began the rebellion that ultimately toppled the dictator.
Edmond Kilpatrick - The Man Who Loved Women
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Yesterday Rebecca, Lauren, Rosemary and I saw Edmond Kilpatrick's last dance performance, as Captain Hook in Ballet BC's Peter Pan
. He is leaving Ballet BC.
It seems that since I first started taking photographs of Ballet BC dancer Emdond Kilpatrick back in 2000 he always posed for me with a woman. Paradoxically it was when I took his picture in my studio with dancer Connor Gnam (then with Arts Umbrella) that I realized his ease in fitting in not only with ballerinas but with male dancers, too.
It was Kilpatrick
who started in Vancouver a program to entice young boys into ballet and dance while at the same time showing them the respect that a male dancer deserves in this day and age. And it was watching Kilpatrick teach a class at Arts Umbrella (my Rebecca was in that class) that I noted his blend of gentleness (he never raised his voice) and his absolute demand for perfection. Rebecca complained he was too demanding. I smiled when she said this as I know that if a 9 or 10 year-old is not pushed she will do nothing and just get by.
In the 8 years that I have observed Kilpatrick I noted that he was one of the few (besides Jones Henry) who was able to pick up the almost as tall Emily Molnar. It was Kilpatrick that enabled Alleyne to choreograph for that stupendous dancer that Molnar is. At first I was turned off by Kilpatrick coolness. His dance seemed to lack passion. But then I noted how this coolness made the women react with passion as they danced with him. His Don José in Alleyne's Carmen
was just right to Sandrine Cassini's Carmen (third photograph from top). When he eventually sticks the knife into her it was believeable. The cool man had snapped. When I photographed Kilpatrick with Cassini and Acacia Schachte for Carmina Burana
it was Rebecca, who was present at the shoot, who noted to me the attraction that women had for him.
If anything Kilpatrick has represented to me the cool jazz performer who smoulders on the inside. This coolness has not prevented me from finally realizing that part of it is due to a shyness that he has somewhat not shed yet. Yet when he does smile (something that seems to not do often) it is an easy and warm smile.
I remember that when Kilpatrick emerged on to the dance scene in the late 80s every female publicist, every female dance critic or arts writer/editor fell for his charms even to the point of swooning is his presence! I know because many of them confessed this to me. So when I had my first chance to photograph Kilpatrick for the Georgia Straight
, I asked him to bring his Russian ballerina wife Victoria(the first two photographs above) to our studio session. I am sure that many women will miss the strong, tall and cool presence of Edmond Kilpatrick in Ballet BC. I can add that this man will miss him, too.
Ballet BC's Peter Pan, John Alleyne's Right Hook
Of late, trying to take Rebecca to dance, to concerts or to theatre has been a hard sell. With slight encouragement from home and the stressing that I am a tad too agressive on taking her to cultural events she has rebelled. To show her rebellion she chewed bubble gum and blew bubbles during Michale Jarvis's exquisite harpsichord solo in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 5 some weeks back.
The only reason Rebecca came along with Rosemary and Lauren to yesterday's matinee performance of Ballet BC's Peter Pan (choreographed by Septime Webre) was that her mother insisted on it. We attended the pre-ballet talk and Rebecca was the only person to ask a question. I was proud of her poise and unshyness.
A few weeks back I might have muttered (perhaps Rebecca is right and I am on my high cultural horse) on how could John Alleyne offer Peter Pan when the Alberta Ballet was working on a second ballet involving Joni Mitchell. I read in the New York Times how the Kirov was featuring ballets by the noted American choreographer William Forsythe. Why Ballet BC had performed various Forsythe ballets before the Kirov knew who the man was.
Now I can see Alleyne's wisdom. At least from the point of view of not only delighting Rosemary and Lauren (and this recalcitrant high culture guy) but Rebecca, too. Rebecca insisted on spending $10 (a bribe from Rosemary for her reading and finishing two books last week) and buying a stuffed ballet bunny ("So that I can remember that I came with you to see Peter Pan."
We had a delightful time, we laughed at the ticking crocodile and laughed even more when the crocodile (Peter Smida) danced a Hollywood style tango with Captain Hook played by Edmond Kilpatrick.
Thanks to John Alleyne and Ballet BC I have been given enough cultural amunition to fight another day!