Shelley Berman's Buttermilk & Tom Fox's Wagner
Saturday, September 13, 2008
In 1959 one of my more sophisticated roomates, Dan Sherrod at St. Edward's High School in Austin Texas was into European sportscars (his father was the Aston Martin dealer in Midland, Texas), and esoteric stuff that was always in good taste. It was Dan who bought a record by a then almost unknown comedian Shelley Berman. The album was called Inside Shelly Berman
Nobody should go through life without hearing his views on buttermilk (particularly what a glass of the stuff looks like after you have emptied it). Thanks to Shelley Berman I have never tried this particular lactic product.
Luckily Berman never spoke on yogurt or I would have never tried it. But it was not until I was 21 and in the Argentine Navy that I tried it. My secretary Edna Gahan
came in one day with a jar of peach yogurt from a then renowned purveyor of milk products called La Vascongada
. She was so obviously relishing it and she noticed that I had noticed. She offered me some but I refused telling her that I would never partake of rotten milk. She smiled and insisted. I have loved yogurt since.
At about that time I would be invited for high tea on weekends to my Uncle Freddy and Aunt Iris's. I never missed these even though I had to share the table with my boring first cousin (about my age) John Hayward. Aunt Iris made the best deviled ham on earth. I could stomach John's comments on his love of opera and in particular Wagner's operas as long as I had that deviled ham on the side.
By 1991 I had found that opera was not only not boring but fantastic. But I drew the line with Wagner. Then the Georgia Straight assigned me to photograph baritone Tom Fox who had come to town to sing Wagner's The Flying Dutchman
I called up my friend James Delgado
(right) who was then the Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum. He told me he had a ship's wheel. I now had to find some sort of sunset backdrop for my concept shot of the Flying Dutchman. I went to Flashpoint
and asked owner Berndt if he had such a thing. He looked at me and as if everybody asked for these particular backdrops every day he answered, "Do you want it with cumulus or stratus clouds?" I managed to stick the huge canvas roll in my wife's Audi 5000 (it was a big car) and took it to the Maritime Museum. Tom Fox looked the part and I was charmed.
, then publicist for Vancouver Opera was so happy with my pictures that he offered to trade some for good tickets. Rosemary and I went with a bit of trepidation. We loved the Flying Dutchman.
Cousin John Hayward died in Toronto a few years after we saw that opera. I had a chance to visit him in Toronto. I found that he was urbane, interesting and certainly not boring. We had a lovely time together. John sent me a letter shortly after telling me how pleased he was that we had finally hit it off. My only regret is that I should have given him and that peach yogurt an earlier try. I would have been a better person for it.
Cousin John should I try buttermilk?
James Parkinson's Paralysis Agitans
Friday, September 12, 2008
Last night, while preparing my projected lecture (I talk and project jpgs from a CD through a lap top connected to a digital projector) I found a devastatingly disturbing portrait of great American photographer Margaret Bourke-White. The portrait was taken by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898 - 1995) in March 1959. Bourke-White who had taken the first cover for Life Magazine in September 1936 and flown in bombing mission (the first woman) in January 23, 1943 over Tunis she was previously and dashingly photographed by Eisenstaedt. The difference between the pictures made me think on not only how Bourke-White's career ended quite suddenly around 1953 when she learned she had Parkinson's but also how many of my friends (6) here in Vancouver have that terrible disease. I also know that Edward Weston, ultimately stopped taking photographs because of the crippling disease.
A couple of years back I had a student, Alan Jacques in my class at Focal Point. He had Parkinson's and he told me once, "I have my good days and my bad days. And today is a good one." This cheerful and talented photographer had mastered a special technique. He used wide angle lenses (they tend to minimize shake) and he opted for Nikon FM or FM-2s. He held these cameras firmly on his forhead and would use a wide stance with his legs and get close to his subjects. He shot beautiuful nudes in my nude photography class. A few months back I ran into Jacques whose photography business is going strong. I would suspect that this is one instance where digital photography has become a distinct asset.
I have heard of various photographers in the past who have been so in spite of being clinically blind. It seems to me that Parkinson's must then be the cruelest of all diseases to hit a photographer. Every morning when I wake up (more and more I do this) I check my hands.
In 1978 I took still photographs for the Vancouver CBC. One of my jobs was to photograph drama. The particular drama that took me to studio 40 one day was a show called Leo and Me
. It featured Brent Carver (Leo) and a young boy (the me
of Leo and Me) called Michael J. Fox. Years after I would go into my files and look at Leo and Me and go to throw them away. And then for who knows what reason I kept them. Here is one of the very young Michael J. Fox. He was a cheerful kind of kid and everybody on the set loved him. How were we to know?
In 2002, an investigation was launched into Leo and Me after an unusual cluster of Parkinson's disease cases was noted among former cast and crew members of the show. Fox and director Don Williams were among the four with the disease, along with a writer and a cameraman
Mr. Rampage, Mr. Pinhead And A Backseat Bombshell
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Guest Blog by John Lekich
The story below is a story that needs the personal experience, wit and style of John Lekich. So I cede today's blog to him. Lekich has previously written two other guest blogs here
Perhaps you think that punk rockers have no heart – that they are simply serial-puking cynics with safety pins stuck in all the wrong places. Thanks to a consummate gentleman known as Randy Rampage, I know better. His generous role in my sputtering love life all came back to me when Alex innocently asked: “Who was in Randy’s Cadillac with you anyway?”
I should explain that, many years ago, I had a fierce crush on a gorgeous blonde who has since attained an august reputation in local journalism circles. (For reasons of discretion, she will henceforth be referred to as Betty Bombshell.) My well-known adoration earned me little more than pitying looks from my fellow freelancers and the occasional medicinal glass of scotch from a sympathetic editor. All this changed when I made the acquaintance of Mr. Rampage who encouraged me to confront Betty with my feelings. When I explained that I was clearly out of Betty’s league, Randy related his own story about a seemingly unattainable blonde. “I worked up enough courage to ask her if she liked red wine,” he said. The gleam in his eye told the rest of the story, which he finished off with: “You just never know.”
I thought nothing more about it until – thanks to Alex’s vast social network - I found myself sharing a table at The Railway Club with Rampage, his fellow musician Zippy Pinhead, and none other than Betty herself. I recall stammering quite a bit. Mr. Rampage grasped the situation and – toward the end of lunch - asked Betty and me if we’d ever ridden in the backseat of a Cadillac. When we both responded negatively, he said: “Well, you’re going to now.” I recall that Mr. Pinhead also wanted to sit in the backseat, which had more space than my living room couch. Nevertheless, Mr. Rampage continually repeated that there was no room. When Zippy persisted, Randy barked: “You’re sitting in front!”
While I was unable to conquer my shyness, my proximity to the lovely Betty made for a cherished memory. After all these years, I continue to regard Mr. Rampage as alternative music’s answer to Miss Lonely Hearts. And – when I finally took his advice to become a little bolder with women - I discovered he was right. You just never know.
The Portuguese Bombshell In Red
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
When I photographed Ana in my studio around 8 years ago in my studio she wore my mother's red rebozo. This red rebozo was given to my mother in 1952 when she visited Mexico in preparation for us moving there from Buenos Aires. The rebozo is of very rough and raspy cotton and the vegetable dye is of the purest red I have ever seen. I store it in our wooden chest from Olinalá, Guerrero, Mexico. It has a sweet smell not unlike sandalwood but with more fruit in the scent. I have used it to photograph many beautiful women and I take it to my Focal Point photography classes and make my students use it as a prop in our life figure classes.
I do think that Ana, the Portuguese Bombshell's white skin has a particular affinity to the red of my mother's rebozo.
Rebecca, Che Guevara & My Pyrolytic Carbon Pipe
Monday, September 08, 2008
Today's blog really had its origins sometime in 1964 when I started smoking a pipe. My friend Robert Hijar was studying to get a fine arts degree at the University of the Americas in Mexico City and I admired his bohemian ways. While I was not a skirt chaser (I was much too shy for that sort of thing) I was jealous of Robert's many women. This attraction that women had for him had to do (I thought) because of his bohemian ways and that pipe. I began to smoke a pipe and wherever Robert and I went we always had a pipe attached to our mouth. I started with the usual aromatic blends like Cherry Blend and Sugar Barrel but settled on Edgeworth and in my later years on Three Nuns.
In 1967 I visited Robert in San Francisco. He was living in the Haight Ashbury area. He was surrounded by hippies and Robert still had many of the females after him. In spite of my pipe I was ignored by them. Robert convinced me to buy a new-fangled pipe made of pyrolytic carbon and hard rubber. This was a pipe you could wash in soap and water if you wanted to. I never did warm up to it as the smoke that entered my mouth seemed to be hotter that that of a briar pipe. While the pipe did not need to broken in it always tasted harsh.
I gave up the pipe and cigars sometime around 1992. My daughter Ale sent me an image from Lillooet that made me recall the pipe and a beret I had worn when I first came to Vancouver in 1975. I had thought that for me to stand out as a photographer in Vancouver I had to look different so I purchased a French beret like the one my Basque ancestors wore. My friend John Lekich asserts that not only did I wear a beret and smoked a pipe but I also wore a cape. He must be wrong as I have never owned one.
Ale in her email with the photograph of me with the beret and pipe told me it was her favourite self portrait of her father. I had to correct her and tell her that sometime in 1977 Rosemary had taken this photograph and I had printed it with an oval cutout to make it look old.
A few weeks ago Rebecca said she loved berets and that she wanted a red one. I knew I had this black one and gave it to her on Saturday. It was a hit and she kept going to the bathroom to look at herself in the mirror. Yesterday, Sunday when she arrived in the afternoon she said to me (while wearing the beret), "I am Che," and she brought up her right hand to her face and formed a fist.
I took some snaps of Rebecca with the beret in the TV room and then with two frames left we went out to the garden where there was more light. She insisted, "Who shaves the barber?
I have to take your picture." I took one frame and then she took the next. Here you see the results.
I wonder if I should have done what I did in the end. Rebecca seemed to have shaky knowledge on who Che Guevara was so I told her, "Let me show you my favourite photograph of him." And I did. I showed her the picture of Che dead on that slab taken in the laundry area in Vallegrande, Bolivia. She looked at it and was repelled. Previously to that she wanted me to photograph her with a pipe. She put the pipe in her mouth and almost spit it out, "It tastes of tobacco!" she shouted. At least I got that one right.
The Women - My Women - A Stray Man
Sunday, September 07, 2008
|Hilary, Lauren, Ale & Rebecca|
There is no way that George Cukor's wonderful 1938 film The Women
can possibly work in its 2008 incarnation. I won't bother to see it. How could anybody top this cast: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine and the unflappable, scary but ultimately kind Marjorie Main?
I recall that no men are ever seen and the only walk on male is a dog.
I feel the same about my very own women. Yesterday was a perfect day with all the women of my life present and accounted for and all at home.
Hilary's husband, Bruce Stewart has a new schedule which means we no longer get Lauren and Rebecca on Saturdays but on Sundays. This will probably mean no Sunday night film as the girls will have to go home early because of Monday school. We will also miss the lazy Saturday afternoon dinners with Hilary arriving from work. Since Bruce was always working I was the only man around besides Rosemary's male cat Toby. My exclusive isolation might be over.
There is one benefit to the change if we can somehow convince the Stewart family that Saturday evening dinners at our place will be welcomed. What made our family dinner even better yesterday was the presence of my other daughter Ale who was in Vancouver for the weekend. Our family was complete and I took advantage and took some pictures of the girls and then one with Bruce.
Alas even though I had thought the film in my camera was ISO 400 and I exposed it as such I was shocked to find out that the film in question was Plus-X ISO 100. I processed the film at double the processing time (from almost 5 to almost 11 minutes). While the negatives had a higher contrast they are not bad.
The menu last night was:
1. Barbecued pork loin (Stubb's Pork Marinade from Austin, Texas) served with Keen's mustard.
2. Cucumber salad.
3. Sliced tomatoes brought by Ale from her Lillooet garden.
4. Fresh corn on the cob
5. Mashed potatoes mixed with mashed carrots with lots of butter and cream.
We accompanied it all with my special iced tea (made with Russian Caravan tea) and Rosemary made a Pavlova with fresh peaches, strawberries and cream. Hilary insisted in adding Argentine dulce de leche. An almost perfect evening made perfect when I salvaged the grossly underexposed film.
Recipe for Iced Tea
1. 14 heaping teaspoons of loose Russian Caravan tea.
2. 6 cloves
3. 1 large tablespoon cinnamon
4. 1 teaspoon nutmeg
5. A large handufl of fresh mint
Pour just boiling water into large teapot (2 litre) and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain into large pot. Boil more water and re-fill teapot without adding any more ingredients. Steep for 10 minutes.
To the pot add the juice of 8 to 9 lemons and 8 oranges (strained). Sweeten to taste. The smoky Russian Caravan cuts the sweetness so more sugar might be needed. The secret to this tea is to score the pressed lemons with a knife and to throw them into the mixture for at least half a day in the fridge. When your guests arrive pour tea into a large pitcher and add ice to dilute the strong mixture to taste.