Frances Bula, Miro Cernetig, David Baines, Ian Mulgrew & Malcolm Parry
Saturday, August 30, 2008
It was in August 1978 that I had my first real (I had others but this one counts for me) cover in Vancouver. It was most fun to work with Valerie Gibson who with a few nudges from then Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry, pioneered gossip writing in our city. Gibson truly believed in the importance of what she did and she called the people she wrote about "my people". For a few years she would drag me to upper crust parties to photograph her people. "I like having you along because I don't have to tell you whom to photograph. You know." And of course Malcolm Parry (and a host of imitators) now do double-duty as gossipers and photographers. I would state that Parry is a cut above the others in stature, both figuratively and literally. It was Parry and art director Rick Staehling that really helped me launch my career as a magazine photographer. While I may have had covers in international publications I will never forget this one which is closest to my heart. And it was not only Parry, Sean Rossiter, Vancouver Magazine political and architecture writer Sean Rossiter also nurtured my interest in civic affairs.
But coincidentally it is this cover, shot so many years ago this month, that has been in my mind as I notice how I react to magazines, internationally, nationally and locally. More than anything I have been noticing how my circle of friends (going the way of entropy
) has lost interest in discussions with me on local media.
None seemed to be interested in trying to figure out why Vancouver Sun political columnist, Frances Bula, bolted to Vancouver Magazine. Is there a way that magazine could possibly pay her and give her all the social services she got as a Sun writer? Will she be able to do her investigative reporting with those much longer magazine lead times?
I have often wondered why one of my favourite Vancouver Sun columnists, Ian Mulgrew is wasted (my opinion) reporting on crime when he would do a better job in reporting about our true criminals, the politicians. In the same way David Baines's untouchable sense of ethics would also be excitingly used in politics. The latter example would be what CBC movie reviewer Rick Staehling would call cross casting.
Few of my friends noticed the Vancouver Sun Miro Cernetic column a few months back where he stated (most accurately) that Premier Gordon Campbell was our de facto Mayor.
Years back Malcolm Parry often ran incisive articles on how things were at the local newspapers. I enjoyed them. I even remember Sun writer, Rick Ouston somehow writing some of those. I always admired Ouston's equally (like Baines) unimpeachable ethics and honesty.
I wonder these days if the people on the street even care who writes what in what column in whatever paper or magazine you might cite. Many will mention the ascendance of local blogs. Yet if you go to some of the mayor local blog aggregators
the bulk of the blogs are extremely boring rehashing of stuff you can read by the local reporters of our Vancouver Sun, Province, Georgia Straight and the Courier. And these articles are infinitely better written. A great majority of the blogs are about popular music and food. Is this the stuff that makes our city the city it is? Perhaps. But isn't there more?
And as fewer and fewer of my friends have any interest in our city's civic affairs I wonder if there is something wrong with me.
If only I could go back in time and pinch Mac Parry (as he was then called) and bring him to 2008 (minus a digital camera) and tell him, "Start something that will tell me a bit more about the city we live in. And as you once said to me, "I don't want to see more perfect pictures of perfect houses without people in them. ""
I cite the above Vancouver Sun columnists and ex-columnists for a reason. In spite of the recent articles predicting the diminishing influence and the shaky financial status of the Vancouver Sun I believe that its forthcoming demise may be greatly exaggerated. If they could only find their way.
VLM, Crystal Pite & Her Hugo Boss Shoes
Friday, August 29, 2008
The two pictures that you see here happened because of the perseverance of stylist Maureen Willick. I was given the assignment by VLM Editor/Publisher/Art Director (take that all you local Editors-in-Chief!) to pick about 9 people in Vancouver related to the arts. The article was to be called Who's running the show?
To justify 8 pages of editorial the article was also to be a fashion spread. So that's where Maureen Willick came in. Mercer knows I call her "my secret weapon" so he indicated she be brought on board for the project.
Willick insisted I photograph modern dancer Crystal Pite, Director of the local dance company Kidd Pivot
with a pair of Hugo Boss
shoes and to take the picture from head to toe. I am loathe to this sort of thing. I am a portrait photographer. A head to toe photograph makes the face smaller. It is simply not my style. But she insisted and insisted until I gave up. The temperature in my studio was around 28. I had a couple of small fans going to circulate the air. But I noticed that Pite's silk Obaki
dress was fluttering and in some cases the dress was sticking to her extremely fit and shapely body. Something which was later observed by Mercer.
By some sort of coincidence Pite had commented on the wonderful light coming in through the windows of my Robson Street studio. The light is reflected from Cesar Pelli's
. Eaton's turned Sears. I have made it a rule to ignore that wonderful light when I can control my own artificial light. But I listened to Pite and tried to please her as much as I finally tried to please Willick.
Because I was using existing light and an inherently slow film (Kodak Plus-X ISO 100) I calculated that my exposure was f-11 at 1/2 second. That meant that the slow shutter was sure to blur the dress. I placed my medium format Mamiya RB-67ProSD on a very low tripod so that there would be no camera shake. I knew that Pite, the professional dancer that she is could stand without moving a limb while her dress fluttered. The result was a pair of photographs that Mercer so loved that he used both for the opening spread of this month's VLM.
I must not take any credit for this. Mercer saw the photos for what they were, extremely appealing and elegant images of a multi talented Vancouver prodigy. A real person, she is, too. He should be thankful to Maureen Willick (my secret weapon) for insisting on the shoes and to Pite for recognizing the quality of my studio's window light.
I will not take any credit except to point out that at the very least I was smart enough to ask her in the end why she liked the shoes. She said it and I recorded it. I forgot it. Then I transcribed the conversation. This was her answer. I think it is as perfect a sentence as a sentence can be.I love wearing these shoes because they are impossible and I have to find stillness in order to remain upright."
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Yesterday Ms Hernandez and Cordelia placed themselves in front of my Ikea mirror and I told them, "One of you is a flapper and you have the body of one. The other will have to be bound in certain places to look like one. Go at it." This they did. Here is one of the initial pictures before the final transformation. The picture has it flaws. You can see my metal table on wheels with some of my equipment. I was not noticing the details. But then I was shooting this with my large camera while also using the smaller and more maneouverable Nikon FM-2. No matter how careful I placed my light over the mirror I got flare in my lens. I don't have assistants who could have flagged my camera. I should have clamped a flag near my camera to avoid it.
But this picture still has its charms. Somehow the light bent a bit and spilled over the darkened Cordelia so that there are two almost clear images of her. In a world full of pornography the three of us decided that we would find some way of showing two women together with class and good taste. I hate that word, tasteful. But here class and good taste come courtesy of Ms Hernandez and Cordelia who have it in spades.
In days to come I might post some more from this series or perhaps from another that we worked on in the same day. It involved dressing up one of them in my Puerto de Liverpool suit. The pants fit Cordelia much better than they ever did me. And Ms Hernandes, El Evangelista
supreme looked wonderful again in that Fraser Institute
The above mention or link to the Fraser Institute does not in any way mean I happen to endorse the institute's policies, it is much to the contrary.
Clemen From Tierra Blanca, Guanajuato & Now On Bowen
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
In 1973 Rosemary and I were so busy teaching (in Mexico City) that we had no way of taking care of our daughters Ale (5) and Hilary (2). My mother had died and we had no baby sitter. So we hired Clemen Valdez to be our housekeeper and baby sitter. She was especially sweet and patient with Hilary who was a terrible baby. The only way she would drink her milk was with Chocomilk (a very sweet instant chocolate powder). Clemen was from the interior of Mexico, from the state of Guanajuato. Her town's name was Tierra Blanca.
By 1975 we had made the decision to leave an uncertain Mexico (both politically and economically). We told Clemen that we were going to do our best to bring her with us. Somehow that did not work out but by some miracle Clemen appeared in Vancouver in 1976 and Rosemary does not rembember the paper work that had been involved.
The situation in Vancouver was no different from Mexico City. Dave Barrett and the NDP lost and we soon had no baby sitting facilities in Burnaby. Clemen was our babysitting ticket and our cook while Rosemary and I worked. By 1979 Clemen was gone to better wages in West Vancouver.
But during her stay with us she managed to keep Spanish in our household alive. To this day both Ale and Hilary speak Spanish fluently. We also got used to the best Mexican food anywhere in Vancouver. It was at home as Clemen made tortillas from scratch. We especially liked her sopes ("deep dish" shaped tortillas) with beans and chicken or meat. My friends were always curious about the woman who answered our phone with an accent, "Bueno!"
Clemen had two other remarkable talents. Anything she planted in our small garden plot grew. And, unlike Rosemary, she could make me a decent cup of tea. I kept telling Rosemary that she could learn from Clemen to brew tea. One day I caught her re-heating (and boiling) that morning's tea. But somehow she could even do this and I had not known.
Rosemary decided that Clemen had to go home to see her family so she dispatched her with Hilary who was 7 and Ale who was 10. They flew to Mexico City and took a bus to Querétaro. From Querétaro they took a second class bus to a small town where Clemen hired a burro and the three went for a half-day treck to her home. Ale had eaten a sticky sweet Gansito (a sort of sweet confection wrapped in cellophane) before the treck and was quite sick. She could not walk so Clemen put her on the burro. this made it worse as it seems that riding a burro is no different from riding a camel and Ale got seasick. At Clemen's home, Clemen's father whispered into her ear, "You must take care of these two girls as if they were our own and then some."
Our story winds down to note that Clemen got married to man, Mike, from Bowen Island and she lives in a large property adjacent to a lake in the middle of the island. She has two grown-up sons Kirk and Todd. Both are avid mountainbikers. One of them was suspended for many days from school for cycling off the school's roof and then maneuvering down the front steps of the school.
Clemen has goats, turkeys, chickens (that lay eggs of every imaginable colour) exotic geese. She sells to the islanders her produce, fruit and it seems that Greek restaurants like her goats.
We visit her every now and then as we did a few weeks ago. Ale, who lives in Lillooet was not able to go. But in this picture here you can see Clemen with Lauren on her lap, Hilary (on the left) and Rebecca (on the right). Clemen says that Lauren is exactly like her mother Hilary and has a special affinity for her. Both Lauren and Rebecca watch Clemen make tortillas and love to get some right out of the comal (the hot flat skillet on which she cooks and heats her tortillas). They love staring at the goats.
Clemen can now speak English quite well (with an accent) but I believe it must be a special treat for her to talk to us in her language. It is something I will never take for granted the fact that 34 years later here we all are under a tree in Bowen Island. Who would have known back then in Arboledas, Estado de México?
The Solid Aluminum Presence Of Robert L. Grassby
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Robert L. Grassby came into Tilden Rent-a-Car on Alberni Street in 1975 and asked for a Ford station wagon. When he returned the car a few days later he gave me his card and told me, "If you ever need my help give me a call." I have no idea why the man had been so pleasant with me. I do recall he was tall and he looked both intelligent and prosperous. He seemed the epitome of the modern upwardly mobile executive. I never saw him again but I kept his card because I thought it unusual. It was made of solid aluminum.
Since Rosemary is now at home she is trying to keep our unnecessary costs down. She wants me to get into a cheaper plan with my cellular phone. The phone is efficient but ancient and I use it purely as a phone. I have no call forwarding or caller ID and I would not think of using it for text messaging. "Surely, " Rosemary told me, "You can pay less if you don't have any extra features. A pleasant French Canadian from Telus (after being on hold in a priority mode for about an hour) told me the easiest way to save money was to register the numbers I used the most into a plan that would make calls to those numbers unlimited and or free. Rosemary checked and told me what I already knew. I call home, Hillary (Rebecca and Lauren's mother) and my friend Paul's cellular number. My calls to friend Ian Bateson and John Lekich I make from home so I don't go into expensive extra minutes with them.
It dawned on me today(I had the suspicion) that my world, my social and business world is shrinking. My friend Ian McGuffie would simply say it is entropy at work and soon my life as well as that of my friends' will grind to a halt.
It wasn't always like this. Back in 2002 the year began with such a bang of work and activity that I never transfered my contacts and phone numbers from the old 2001 Graphic Image
agenda to the new one. So for most of 2002 I went around with two of them. I used the old one for the phone numbers and the new one to write down my appointments. Rosemary has told me that soon enough the year 2002 will be identical to a future date and I will be able to use the agenda again. I don't think so.
Looking into the phone number section of my 2008 Graphic Image agenda I noticed that I have fewer phone numbers listed and many that are I no longer call. My friends Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez have gone to Argentina. The design firms I used to have a work relationship with no longer call me and mainly use stock imagery. Vancouver Magazine will not give me work as the art director holds some grudge. And the list of diminishing contacts diminishes!
My friend Grant Simmons shocked me this morning. I was complaining to him about the increasing mediocrity of my working relationships with magazines and how it was getting me down. He said, "You stay here because of your daughters and your grandchildren. When Rebecca no longer wants to visit you, when her boyfriends become important, what will keep you in the city? Does not Mexico beckon?"
I am currently working on my personal project called Mexican nostalgia. I find that there is nobody I know who would be remotely interested in my nostalgia of Lady Windermere's Fan (an Oscar Wilde play). I saw the play in Spanish in Mexico City in 1959 and Lady Windermere was the great Mexican actress Dolores Del Río. I will be taking pictures of Ms Hernandez with her hair up while holding my great grandmother's fan. Most of the people I know don't have a clue as to who Dolores Del Río is.
I asked Rosemary, "Do you feel we are isolated?" While Rosemary is a lot less social than I am she still answered that indeed she did feel we were isolated.
As entropy takes control of my life and I remember emptying my rolodex into our fireplace a few years ago, I find it somehow comforting that something of my former life remains, and that is the modern and dynamic Robert L. Grassby's solid aluminum card.
I'm Not August In August But I Try
Monday, August 25, 2008
(Del lat. retractus).
1. m. Pintura o efigie principalmente de una persona.
2. m. Descripción de la figura o carácter, o sea, de las cualidades físicas o morales de una persona.
3. m. Aquello que se asemeja mucho a una persona o cosa.
Real Academia Española © Todos los derechos reservados
A cat retracts its claws. That verb retract
comes from the Latin retractus
and it means to pull back, to retreat, to disavow and to take back. I have often wondered how the Spanish word for portrait, retrato
, can come from that Latin word retractus
. The aspect of retreat or pull back could have something to do with the peeling of layers from a person's barriers until one is able to look at the person as the person is. Or as I sometimes say with the usual cliché, look into that person's soul.
I have always prided myself in my ability to take portraits. I rarely justify portraits with no eye contact
. I get away with it when I photograph a dreamer. A dreamer can be a poet and sometimes a musician, actor or playwright. But I would never photograph a politician as a dreamer. We want to trust a politician. We want to look into a politician's eyes. The same "rule" applies to business folk although in the 60s and 70s BC Hydro CEO's could dream away in profile when we saw the rosy future of energy and technology.
Since I started taking serious pictures of Rebecca some 7 years ago I have been lambasted by my relatives who cannot understand why I don't take her picture smiling. As soon as I ask Rebecca to pose for my camera she gets this look that has fascinated me for so long. Why would I want her to smile? Why is it so important that people smile for the camera?
My favourite portrait photographer of all time (if I forget Philippe Halsman for a while) has always been the German August Sander
who from the beginning of the 20th century until the early 60s took photographs of people mostly staring at the camera. He captured his subject's inherent humanity. Sander portrayed his respect for his subjects while at the same time drawing out of them a self respect for what they did and were, even if they were beggars. Sander's subjects almost never smiled and they never did things for the camera.
When I showed Rosemary my latest photograph of Rebecca by the fern (a fern that we have kept alive for 15 years) she said nothing. I insisted she say something and she explained that there was no expression on Rebecca's face. My daughter Ale (in Vancouver over the weekend) was kinder, "You are the artist, you understand, you see something which we perhaps cannot see."
Besides the very Mexican Ms Hernandez I have a new model whose salient features include a stare that can make you feel instant guilt, fear and even for this old man a rustling in the loins as Frank G. Slaughter would have written in one of his medical novels. Her name is Cordelia and you can see some pictures of her stare here. The staring gentleman is Irish film director Neil Jordan.
The Leonardo From León
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Sometime in the early 1920s my grandmother and mother were riding on the elevated train in NY City. They were sitting on either side of a man who had refused to move in the seat for three. My mother got the window seat. She asked my grandmother if she could see (in Spanish) and she answered (in Spanish), "I cannot because the man has a very large nose." The man looked at my grandmother and twisting his nose to one side said (in perfect Spanish), "Is this better?" They got off on the next stop.
My grandmother was a product of an 18th century Spanish education so she was antisemitic in what was the norm of the day for the Spaniards. People with big noses had "the map of Jerusalem on their face" my grandmother often said in my presence. She never did make any comment on my Hayward nose which if the Spaniards are right would indicate that my Manchester ancestors might at one time have celebrated the Sabbath.
For those who might have lingered at the face of Ms. Hernandez, the Mexican lass who hails from León, Guanajuato they might have noticed that she has a nose. It is a nose that must be noticed as it is here in this profile that I took with the window lighting of my studio.