My Father, Epicene Names - No Saint At Luján
Saturday, June 14, 2008
I was with my father for 11 years. I remember few of them as he left home when I was 9 and I only saw him on some weekends. Then when I was 20 I returned to Buenos Aires from Mexico. I had told my mother that I felt patriotic and that I had to serve my country. That's how I ended up as a conscript for the Argentine navy for two years. I never told her that the real reason was that I wanted to find my father. It took a while and I found him. We spent about five month's worth of Sundays before he died. Of these conversations I remember next to nothing. I have always thought I had a good memory but somehow the sinapses here have failed me. Answers to questions which I should have asked have remained unanswered because I never asked them. There is nobody alive now that could answer them for me.
Sometime in 1951, when I was 9 I asked my father, "Your favorite books on your book shelf are by Leslie Charteris. Why do you read books written by a woman?" "Sit down, Alex,""he said, "I will explain. Leslie Charteris is a man and his hero is called Simon Templar otherwise known as The Saint. Leslie is an epicene name. This means that it is a name that can be both a girl's or a boy's. If you were called Leslie it would be up to you to make sure everybody knew it was a man's name."
When my second daughter was born I insisted that she have an epicene name. So we named her Hilary.
Today Rebecca made an apple pie from scratch. I called her up from Safeway and asked her to call me back with the ingredients to buy. Hilary thought this was a project that would be perhaps too tough to handle. Hilary did not count on the fact that Rebecca had observed her make apple pies many times (Hilary's apple pies are famous in our family.) so she knew what to do. We had both Mike Varga
(visible in last picture) and Abraham Rogatnick
for dinner. The pie was excellent.
When I was 8 I distinctly remember helping my father with the making and the cooking of candied (they were green, not red!) apples. I felt so proud and told everybody I had made them. Could this have been the reason why I called Rebecca from Safeway on the apple pie?
In the picture above I am with my father and mother outside the neo-Gothic church in Luján in the Province of Buenos Aires. It was taken in 1947 when I was 5.
Friday, June 13, 2008
It was sometime around 1977 that I met a beautiful and tiny French Canadian soprano, Ginette Duplessis. I had met her through the Vancouver French CBC Radio station. I wrote about her famous pair and Pernod recipe here
Ginette again was in my memory today. In spite of the cloudy and rainy days a rose that all these years has been most reluctant to do anything except get downy mildew on it leaves finally is blooming as if there were no tomorrow. The rose is extremely rare in our parts. It is Rosa
'Splendens'. It is sometimes called 'Ayrshire Splendens'. This is because these are rambler roses (they bloom once but spread in all directions quite agressively) from a county in south-western Scotland (until the 1890's). This rose has the distinction of being the only rose with a peculiar scent that the English call myrrh. I have written extensively about my fondness for this scent. Here
is one occasion. And all the subsequent roses that smell of myrrh somehow must have Splendens in their past. Rosa
'Splendens' came into my garden via Robin Denning and his excellent nursery on Vancouver Island Brentwood Bay Nursery
which is not far from the Victoria Ferry terminal. Denning grows roses that only picky people would buy. It was at Brentwood Bay that I found a de-listed (the rose was supposed to get all kinds of diseases) David Austin rose called 'Immortal Juno'. She grows well in my garden and, naturally, is also myrrh scented.
It took 10 years for Rosa
'Fantin Latour' to finally bloom as she is supposed to do. She did this last year. It would seem that many roses have an exended childhood and or a long juvenile period. But this year Rosa 'Splendens'is out and when I placed my nose into one of the roses I could smell Ginette Duplessis's pairs!
Not Throwing Up On The Way To An Apollo's Banquet in Lillooet
Thursday, June 12, 2008
On our way to Lillooet to visit Ale, a couple of weeks ago I got ourselves lost by going straight at Mt Currie instead of turning right at the white church. We arrived at a native Canadian reservation called Darcy and soon a sign said, "road ends in 300 meters". That was exactly the case so by the time we drove back to the white church and then took the right turn we arrived late at Ale's house. The latter part of the journey was not pleasant as Lauren got very sea sick and in complete character decided not to throw up into a plastic bag because, "There is a smell in this bag. And I don't like it."
In typical random Ale fashion, ignoring the fact that Rosemary (her mother) likes to arrive and then relax, Ale decided to invite her four musicians friends to greet us with a concert. This was the last possible situation that Rosemary would want. We arrived and the musicians were there. To make it worse Ale told us that everybody was staying for dinner. She was going to make quesadillas. But Rosemary noted Ale had no cheese but happily we had brought tortillas the smaller Don Pancho corn tortillas we all really like). The musicians were playing in the unlikely combinatin of a tenor sax, violin (or banjo), two guitars and electric (yes electric) percussion.
Greg Mahaits, violin and banjo, had his chair right at the exit from Ale's porch to her back yard. He had the commanding presence of someone who has worked for the railroad for most of his life. I decided then an there to be civil. I was and my reward was a good time of music being played surrounded by the silence of the countryside and a sunset right there by the mountains I could almost touch. Lauren and Rebecca were running around and I understood Ale's inspired decision to have her musician friends over (even if they had to wait because of our two hour late arrival).
The music I heard included sounds I had heard an hour before. It was the 17th century music collection from the English Publications of John Playford. The back of the CD (Apollo's Banquet - John Playford
- with David Douglass, violin, Paul O'Dette, theorbo, Andrew Lawrence-King, harp. The CD is one of Rebecca's favourite, specially since she has met
Paul Duglass and his soprano wife Ellen Hargis.
The back of the CD reads: A 17th century jam session. The ability to improvise was as important to the 17th century musicians as it is to contemporary jazz players
Not only did that remind me of what I was listening to but the music itself sounded very much like some of the "grounds" (variations on a theme) in the CD. I sat down and I had soon forgotten our detour to Darcy. I purposely went out to the back garden to listen to the sounds and then I noticed the glow in the sky. I knew I had to take a picture. In the picture, from left to right:
Paul Dickinson, guitar, Kerry Coast, tenor saxophone and guitar, Greg Mahaits,banjo and violin, Lauren Stewart, Alexandra Waterhouse-Hayward, guitar, Rebecca Stewart and Catherine Neumann, guitar and drums.
We had ground meat tacos and I made a spicy salsa with tomatoes, serrano peppers, lime, salt and cilantro. It was simply a feast for all the senses, an Apollo's banquet.
Addendum: When Kerry Coast (who plays beautifully by ear) tried to accompany the CD, Apollo's Banquet she was unable to. I have since found out from Glenys Webster
who told me, "The CD is probably in the pitch A 415Hz while modern pitch is A 440Hz."
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
In early 1985 Vancouver Magazine
was working on a story on the new but most uncertain coach of the Vancouver Canucks, Bill LaForge. I used to terrorize associate editor, Don Stanley by telling him, "LaForge was fired today, didn't you know?" Since the Vancouver Magazine story had not yet gone to press he would worry about what to do with the story. But it was my joke. As punishment I was dispatched to go to Edmonton to photograph LaForge. The Canucks were playing there one weekend and it would promise to be an interesting game as LaForge was a hometown boy while the Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky would surely give him a very hot homecoming. And that is exactly what happened.
When I showed up at the game my friend CBC sports cameraman Mike Varga
whisked me by all the red tape and had me share his booth by the ice. The man sitting on the bench on the other side of my glass was Wayne Gretzky
. During one of the intervals (the Canucks were losing miserably) Varga took me to the huge van were one man directed all the cameramen of Hockey Night In Canada
. A wall of the van contained multiple TV screens. When the game was renewed (Varga left me in the van) I watched one of the most difficult and perhaps exciting jobs I have ever seen. The director would go from one screen to another and he always seemed to know who had the puck. The job seemed more stressful than being a air traffic controller. I was never able to see a hockey game again without appreciating the difficulty and the resulting expertise of the CBC sports staff. Mike Varga proudly told me, when I mentioned this, "We are the best in the world." I was not yet a Canadian citizen but I was proud.
In 1983 I had photographed an extremely beautiful singer, Madeleine Morris in her home on 16th and Granville. I had convinced Les Wiseman who hated synth-pop bands, to write about Morris's band Moev. Morris had a style, a presence and the juiciest mouth
I had ever seen. She was tiny and with her short hair and dark but Jewish profile she resembled Nefertiti hooked on cigarettes. I photographed her (above) with her pet rat. Of the rat she told us, "The ordinary rat, the ordinary bubonic plague rat
, makes a great pet because you don't have to take them out for walkies."
Before I left I was introduced to Morris's charming mother. She was lively and I could see where Madeleine had inherited her feisty talent. Since I have never really been a hockey fan it meant nothing when Morris explained that her mother, Dolores had composed the theme music for Hockey Night In Canada. I am a Canadian citizen now but I can affirm (boast perhaps?) that I never saw an entire episode of the Beachcombers
and I would not recognize Dolores's composition if you played it with others.
But I am upset on how the CBC bungled their relationship with Dolores Claman. Without knowing all the details perhaps the CBC was right. But I was happy to hear that CTV has settled with Claman and that the theme song will not be lost.
The CBC from its headquarters in Toronto is using the Vancouver technique called slow irrelevance
. Witness how the Dal Grauer Substation on Burrard (next to what used to be called the BC Electric, then the BC Hydro and now the Electra building) is being slowly abandoned so that it will become invisible. When the wrecking balls come nobody will notice or care about this Vancouver architectural gem. The same happend to the Georgia Medical Dental Building, the original Eatons, and the second Vancouver Hotel. They all went down with almost no protest.
First take away the name of Vancouver from the CBC Vancouver Orchestra
. Make it the national CBC Radio Orchestra. Then as a fate accompli inform us, the taxpayers, that the orchestra will be no more after November. For me many of the oldsters on CBC Radio 1 and 2 sounded a bit old, tired and bored. But at least they had attractive and gentle or calming voices. In spite of Shelagh Rogers's loudish laugh she does have a wonderful voice. Even her voice (or her mothers' who had an even better voice) could do no justice or impart any poetry to her replacement's name.
These oldsters have been replaced by people with fairly unattractive voices and I find it impossible to spell or pronounce their names. I suspect this is a conservative-getting-old rant on my part!
But I used to listen to Katherine Duncan's late night program on Radio 2,
"This is Katherine Duncan from Calgary," she would say with a magical voice that almost wanted me to inform wife Rosemary, "I divorce you, here and now, and I am off to romantic and exotic Calgary." Such was the power of Duncan's voice that she made Calgary seem like that exotic destination.
Another voice (erudite, too) was Peter Tonye's. While these two will be back on the radio I see the Vancouver irrelevance technique well at play. We oldsters (I am 65) just simply turn of the radio and listen to CDs in the car. I am not sure if the younger generation is all that excited about Grant Lawrence's podcasts or banal programs about what women will be wearing in the street next season. As the CBC sounds more and more like commercial radio, it will fade with the fortunes of other commercial radio stations. Commercial radio has ads. CBC Radio 1 has constant Jian Gomeshi ads. Is there a difference?
For me CBC radio has stood out with its uniqueness and not being part of the crowd. When the CBC finally goes off the air I will not care. Will others? Just this once I wish that Toronto had not learned Vancouver's irrelevance trick so quickly and so well.The other side of the story?
Previsualizing The Unpredictable - Minor White
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
There is a neat little book in my library (printed in 1968) that I look at and read in sections every once in a while. It is a book about a vanishing era of photography. The subject is and was called the Zone System
. The man who pioneered most of it was Ansel Adams but the man who wrote about it in a Zen kind of way was the American Photographer and teacher Minor White. Minor White's little book is called Zone System Manual
- Previsualization - Exposure - Development - Printing
Minor White's idea was that you could approach a scene and take a photograph with your mind's eye. If you were really good at it and you had the technical practice then the image in your mind would be realized with camera and film. This was the photographic equivalent of the architect who sees an empty space and can already see the finished building before the cornerstone is laid.
This act of previsualization comes to me infrequently. When it happens it is sheer joy. Sometimes my subject will pose. I will shoot a Polaroid and then a couple of pictures with film and stop. At one time I would take rolls and rolls of film. But in these rare moments one exposure is all I need. I know that the image in my head will be exactly the one on film. Of course the chances of this happening are greater when I reduce the variables such as doing it in my studio, using a specific light I am comfortable with and using a tried and true technique.
You would think that this predictability could be boring in the end. Consider what Minor White says in his introduction:
The ultimate objective is to be able to previsualize as one wishes, spontaneously or leisurely whichever best serves the purposes at hand. There is a difference in the penetrating power of an image made in a burst of naive enthusiasm and those made in a flash of trained intuition. The first is adolescent, the latter mature and sometimes wise.
Minor White then eloquently writes on the subject of previsualization and the development of intuition:
Photography serves all kinds of image-making talent in mankind wiht an equality that almost amounts to an holy indifference. It does not distinguish the sleeper from the trancendentalist; it serves the first with its automatic mechanicalness, the second with its power to evoke th sense of light in images. It gives the spark of creativity in anyone a fine chance to grow. And from those people who have grown to love photography and master it have come three psychological concepts: Equivalence (Alfred Stieglitz), Previsualization (Edward Weston and Ansel Adams) and Response. )( The latter sometimes goes under the name of "reading photographs".) These concepts give affirmation to individuals who pursue consciousness and wakefulness by way of photography
Forty years ago a Mexican chemical engineer, radio station owner and amateur photographer, Ingeniero Luis de la Rosa took me under his wing and revealed to me The Zone System. We photographers who have at the very least a minimum understanding of it (that's me) will always capitalize it (The Zone System!) on principle. It was de la Rosa who taught me to use a hand held light meter in the incidence mode (measuring the light that falls on the scene) as opposed to the usually inaccurate reflected mode (it measures light bouncing off from our scene).
One day, I remember it so vividly that I know we were having coffee in the Sanborns on Calle Amberes in Mexico City, de la Rosa handed me a yellow box of Kodak b+w infrared film. His instructions were as follows:
1. Don't open the container except in absolute darkness.
2. Load it into your camera in absolute darkness.
3. Expose it using a No 25 deep red filter.
4. Infra red light focuses at a different wave length so when you focus with your lens then "unfocus" to the little red mark on your lens's focusing ring.
5. Remove the film only in darkness.
6. Develop it in Kodak HC-110. If this developer was good enough for Ansel Adams it should be good enough for you.
Of course I didn't follow the man's advice and I opened the container during the day. Light slipped in and fogged the film. I had to start again. But once I had gotten the hang of it I was rewarded by exposures that were not always predictable. And every once in a while serendipity gave me completely unplanned yet wonderful shots. Infra red film is a grainy film which reacts to objects, plants and people in how much infrared light they reflect. Deciduous tree leaves will photograph a startling white. Blue skies and white clouds will look like a b+w Randolph Scott western, nuit américaine, day for night
But it is in shooting nudes
that infrared film becomes a constant and almost unpredictable surprise. I am sure that Minor White might have modified his little book to include infrared film. He had that mystical connections. We mortals simply have to adjust to its randomness. It was infrared film that made Lauri Stallings
look like she was jumping in the air when she was really sitting on a stool.
One predictable result of using infrared film is that anything red always appears much lighter or white. This means that lips in portraits appear white and my subjects might look dead, or worse, undead. The solution is to use purple lipstick. Since purple is in the opposite end of colour spectrum it renders dark. I have been looked at strangely at London Drugs the times I have gone to the makeup counter to ask for purple lipstick.
The single most unpredictable variable in using infrared film is the way that my flash's catch-lights might not appear reflected on my subject's eyes. It seems to depend on certain angles (the angle between the light and the elevation of the eyes) that only de la Rosa might have explained to me. As example I show here one exposure of Lauri Stallings scanned in three different ways. The images range from angel to witch. Of course infrared film renders Stallings's hair as near white. In this third version I colourized to increase the idea of the witch and to remove it as far from the first image of the angel.
Kodak recently discontinued its infrared film. I have a few boxes in my freezer. Then I discovered that my Corel Paint Shop Pro X photo program has an uncanny conversion of b+w to b+w infrared. It is so good that it manages to look more like infrared film than authentic infrared film. You are now able to previsualize a scene or portrait and get what's in your mind every time.
At least that's what I thought. But notice in the above three photographs the curious look in Stallings's eyes. Then look at the picture below (left) which is standard b+w and then a Corel Paint Shop Pro X modified to look like infrared (below, right). There is something missing in the eyes.
Compare those two (I am satisfied with the normal b+w version on the left) with the true infrared below. I think that while previsualization is a good thing it is so much fun to be surprised!
Lauri Stallings - A Swan Song - Perhaps
Monday, June 09, 2008
When we arrived to Vancouver so long ago I told Rosemary I was going to teach myself to print colour negatives. I procrastinated for so long a time that one day Rosemary said, "Alex I have taken the libery of enrolling you at Ampro Photo Workshops for a course in colour printing. You begin this Monday." And so I learned to print colour negatives, sort of. I thought I was pretty good until I photographed a red haired stewardess (in 1976 this was the only accepted term for the profession) who wanted pleasant portraits of herself. I photographed her in her garden. That's when the problem began. The grass and the nearby trees reflected green on her face.
When I tried to remove green from her face in my darkroom the resulting prints were too magenta. If I removed magenta (by adding magenta, colour printing can be confusing!) the resulting prints were too green. After four days and lots of wasted paper I gave up. I made the best prints I could. She was happy.
I was too "green" in the profession of colour photography to understand what few perhaps even understand today. The skin of a redhaired person reflects UV light differently from the skin of most other people. That whiteness (which I find so appealing) of their skin can really only be "captured" (to use the modern parlance of digital photography) with a good digital camera. The photographer, a competent one, is able to achieve through something called a custom white or proper white balance a skin tone that is as accurate as one's memory of what a person's skin should look like. And this specially applies to redheads.
I have been most jealous of the skin colour that my students achive in my classes (in the studio sessions) of our models. It looks accurate. It has the look of skin that only one photographer of the past was able to secure. It was, Paul Outerbridge
an American photographer of the 30s (through the 50s) who using an elaborate process called the colour carbro achieved prints of nude women in which their skin looked real.
I had a further opportunity to excercise my futility with redheads. The resulting problem was an Ekatchrome transparency problem. When I photograph people in my studio I usually do it with my middle gray painted wall. Ektachrome has always rendered the gray wall with anything from a slightly blue to a very blue tone of gray. When I scan these transparencies and remove the blueness it adds yellow. Yellow makes the skin of a red head innacurate. Only a digital camera will properly render that gray background gray and the skin as it is.
While I may have failed at achieving the true skin colour of the readhead (perhaps one of the Holy Grails of photography!) I did take some photographs of Lauri Stallings that I think are stunning. Not stunning because of any special talent that I might have. Stunning because Stallings truly delivered when I asked her to pose for me and give me her take on the dancer with an edge. The scans you see here are from Ektachromes. I also shot them with colour negative but I don't think I will ever go into my darkroom to print those. That stewardess would come back to haunt me.
But then when I scanned these yesterday I was haunted again by the formidable presence of Lauri Stallings. Will I ever meet anybody like her again? And if I did would she pose for me?
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
The second law of thermodynamics (the entropy law or law of entropy) was formulated in the middle of the last century by Clausius and Thomson following Carnot's earlier observation that, like the fall or flow of a stream that turns a mill wheel, it is the "fall" or flow of heat from higher to lower temperatures that motivates a steam engine. The key insight was that the world is inherently active, and that whenever an energy distribution is out of equilibrium a potential or thermodynamic "force" (the gradient of a potential) exists that the world acts spontaneously to dissipate or minimize. All real-world change or dynamics is seen to follow, or be motivated, by this law.
My friend Ian McGuffie often talks about entropy and how everything dissipates, slows down and comes to a grinding halt. Perhaps he is right on all of it but most recently in the science section
of the NY Times in an article called Dark, Perhaps Forever I learn that at the outer reaches of our universe everything is expanding at an ever increasing rate. There seems to be no chance that entropy is involved.
Entropy affects us all, particularly when we factor age and how our body forces us to slow down. Then there is laziness and the ease of sitting down at a computer and how much for fun it is than to jog around the block 37 times. My friend Les Wiseman used to advise me, " Drink, and when in doubt do so heavily." In youth quantity is quality. In our declining age we (or at least this blogger) believe quality is doing something well in moderation. By now some of you must be wondering (perhaps its your youth!), "Get on with it and show us more of Lauri Stallings. What does entropy have to do with her?"
Those who have no idea of digital cameras can skip this paragraph. A digital camera gives you the choice of shooting RAW or jpgs. Both are formats for storing and reproducing digital captures. A negative or slide is exposed to light. A latent image is then embedded and has to be process or developed to see it. With digital cameras the operation of light falling on the sensor (not film) is called digital capture. Very fancy DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras) give their owners not only the choice of shooting RAW or in the much smaller digital file called the jpg but also in modes such as infrared, b+w, etc. Cautious photographers tend to shoot with huge files called RAW. Everything the camera does is recorded and stored in these files. In some cases even the exact spot on earth using GPS (global positioning systems by satellite use). If the photographer makes exposure mistakes RAW files allow more leeway for correction than the more limited jpg. Few photographers will commit themselves to shooting in a dedicated b+w mode. Suppose the client wants the images in colour? What then? So they cover all the bases and shoot RAW. Then they spend long hours sifting, correcting, editing.
My solution in the stone age of film was to shoot with everything I had. And here comes the connection with Lauri Stallings.
I so loved shooting Stallings that I persuaded to explore the theme of the ballerina that is not a swan but a real woman. Dancing was supposed to be effortless and ethereal. We were out to show that there was lots of eros, too.
With my Mamiya RB-67 which shoots film in the 6x7cm format I had the option of using several film backs. This meant that I loaded one back with Ektachrome transparency, one with Kodacolour negative film and the third with b+w negative film. If this was not enough I also shot with a Nikon FM-2 loaded with Kodak b+w infrared film which alas, has now been discontinued.
Every picture I took of Stallings I have reproduced in all four methods. Perhaps when she looked at my camera with Ektachrome, her expression was better than with the colour negative. It did not matter because Stallings was very good at keeping her expressions, or perhaps in remembering them and being able to repeat them.
For a show, so many years ago at Ian McGuffie's Exposure Gallery I dedicated my entries to Stallings. The transparencies were converted to digital files and then some low resolution Canon Fiery transparencies (they had a curious varnish-like finish) were generated by my friend Grant Simmons at DISC. These I mounted on silver card. In the gallery, with overhead lighting, they shimmered like colour Daguerreotypes.
The colour negatives I had converted to a see-through Kodak material called Duratrans and I also mounted these on silver card. They shimmered, too and the detail was astounding. The Canon Fieries were more interesting.
The first image here is an example of a Canon Fiery. It does not shimmer because I could only reproduce it by laying it on my scanner. The second one, also in colour, is Grant's original jpg file (on a floppy!) that he used to make the four different images of Stallings acting out a not quite so pristine and innocent ballerina.
The images in yesterday's blog are each an example of b+w. The one of Stallings jumping (She is not! She was sitting on a stool) I used infrared film. The other is the 6x7 format b+w. The b+w contact sheet shows some pictures (one the left side of the contact sheet, more tomorrow) of a curious choreographed performance that Stallings did for my camera. It was her version of the ballerina exploring and inner self I had no idea of. Since then I have found out that the extremely original Stallings is in high demand in the US as a choreographer. Who would have known that the pristine ballerina in the long white dress, backstage at the Queen Elizabeth was the same woman?
Recently I told Rebecca that we did not have to leave so early to go to a performance of Peter Bingham and Emily Molnar at EDAM. I told her that EDAM is very small and every seat is a good one. Rebecca repeated what she has often heard from me, "I want to go early because I want to sit on the front row and listen to the dancers breathe." It was from Stallings that I first caught a glimpse of this humanity. I have been enthralled since, even if entropy has made me slow down, somewhat. Perhaps what I need is another (could that be possible?) Lauri Stallings to push me to the edges of my known universe where entropy has no domain and excitement is everything speeded up.