John Loengard Teaches A Brat A Thing Or Two
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
"I don't want people to know that I am a brat even if I am one."
That is what Rebecca told me today when I mentioned that I would write in today's blog what a holy terror she had been when I tried to take her pictures alone and with Lauren in our fall garden on Sunday.
Initially I had told Hilary Stewart (their mother) that I wanted the girls to show up on Sunday with appropriate dresses for the session. I had mentioned to Hilary that I was planning on taking pictures of them by the rich brownish red bark of Acer griseum
(Paperbark Maple) and my large but collapsing Hosta 'Paul's Glory'
. The girls appeared minus dresses so I sent Rosemary to get something for them from Hilary's. Immediately Rebecca informed me she was not going to wear a dress and said she was going to wear my mother's Mexican red rebozo. I pointed out that the red would kill the colour of the tree bark. She reluctantly put on the dress while repeating to me "I hate this dress. I hate all dresses." When I showed her the location for the photo she told me it was cold and she was not going to go barefoot into that wet and dirty ground. I told her to wear shoes. She then complained about the spiders (she had never been afraid of them until Sunday) and flatly refused to pose by the tree until I told her she had to, "Donde manda capitán no manda marinero," or Where the captain orders the sailor obeys. By the time she and the extremely cooperative Lauren were by the tree Rebecca was shouting at Lauren to not step on her or for this or that. Rebecca would cry and then suddenly microseconds later she would hum a tune. I could never get anything but a glum, disgusted or bored look from her. It became worse when I put her in the middle of my rose bed (see yesterday's blog) where she now complained she was going to get scratched by rose thorns. "This is the last picture, "she would tell me. Or she asked, "How many more?" I was reluctant to answer as my inspiration to take pictures was rapidly drying out. But we did take a few and in spite of it all I like some of our photos. But certainly not as much as the glamorous picture I took of her three years ago in my studio.
Perhaps it was all worth it because of the startling but charming statement she made about being a brat. I told her I was going to write about it all and showed her the page, page 58 from Lohn Loengard's Pictures Under Discussion
. I told her to read what Loengard had written about his daughter Jennifer Loengard (1983) which was the name of the beautiful picture (below, left in b+w). I think I might just try a regal profile of Rebecca with b+w film soon. She read it and understood and complained no further. I have a feeling that our next photo session might just be more pleasant. And here are Loengard's words on his daughter Jennifer:If I take a picture of my daughter, our relationship changes and she is not my daughter any more. She could just as easily be the Duchess of Malfi. If she says, "Oh, Dad, not now!" I'll treat her exactly as I woud Georgia O'Keeffe if she said, "Oh, Mr Loengard, please not now!" In my head I think, "There is a beautiful picture here and by God, short of murder, I'm going to get it. So shut up and hold still!" But what I say is : "You look wonderful. I'll just take a minute. It's marvelous. We're doing something very special."
I learned the part about a minute from a dentist. I learned the rest from Carl Mydans. For the magazine's thirtieth birthday, Life photographers were asked to photograph each other. Carl was assigned to me. To see such an intelligent and distinguished man concentrating on the problem of taking my picture was extremely flattering. Still I felt tense. After all I was being scrutinized. Carl kept telling me what wonderful pictures were being made. I believed him, and soon I relaxed. I was a success at being a subject!(You should tell these things to a person as you photograph him - even if it is a lie - which in this case it was. Life photographers as it turned out, could photograph anything in the world except each other.)
John Loengard Puts Up
Monday, October 06, 2008
I think that tomorrow's blog, like today will feature pictures of my granddaughters and something on photographer John Loengard. John Loengard ( 1934) was both photographer and picture editor for Life Magazine during the height of its influence on the world of photography. Alas except for a few people who might know, Loengard is not a household name even though he does have a web presence. These days photographers that may interest those under 30 seem to all be called Chip
. John would then not be good enough.
What separates Loengard from many other photographers is his beautiful writing when he explains his photographs. The black and white photograph you see here is his daughter Anna and the picture is called Anna, 1975. It is from his wonderful book Pictures Under Discussion
(A Bob Adelman book - Amphoto an imprint of Watson-Guptill Publicatioons New York 1987)which I treasure in my photography book library. I will hope that Mr. Leongard does not send lawyers after me for quoting from page 110:
Dinner table conversation about photography changes from year to year, so that what is on everyone's mind now is different from 1973. That was the year I started teaching, when Diane Arbus's work was having its first success and photographic galleries were springing up from nowhere. At the time I wondered if all photography would become not only self-expressive but self-conscious as well. It didn't. Photographers may be concerned, conceptual, confrontational, candid, casual, constructing, but what is important is that they have a point of view.
When I teach a class I often give the assignment: "Photograph someone you love." I ask people to do this so they have a subject about whom they have feelings, a subject that is more than a model, or an object or a shape, or an idea. In this way, they can judge the result not only by its technical success, but also by how well it describes their feelings. Having asked some students to do this in 1975, I thought it was time to put up or shut up. I took on the assignment too, and asked my younger daughter, Anna, to pose quietly in the afternoon light against the dining room-room door, which she did with enthusiasm. She's never been lovelier.
Loengard writes above, "...which she did with enthusiasm." This is something that Rebecca did not show on Sunday afternoon when I took these pictures. But then if you want to know about it read right here, tomorrow.
Cyril Belshaw & The Wondrous Chinese Spoon
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Chinese soup spoon, in japanese "fallen lotus petal" — usually ceramic and of a distinct Chinese soup spoon shape, which can vary in size from normal soup spoon size to near-platter size.
In 1950 when I was 8 years old my mother took me to the house of one of her Chinese students at the American School in Buenos Aires. For someone who had only seen white people and the accasional darkish Bolivian or Argentine aboriginal this was as exciting as things got. Unfortunately I was also an Argentine meat, potato and salad kind of boy and the prospect of being offered exotic food was downright scary. And scary it was. I did a lot of drinking of water to wash down food of uncertain origin. But I was fascinated by my first glimpse of the lovely Chinese spoon. I have been delighted and fascinated by it since. The design of the spoon would blend in with anything from Bauhaus.
Sometime in the early 80s I was dispatched by Vancouver Magazine
to photograph UBC Professor of Anthropology, Cyril Belshaw. Through his friend Don Stanley, associate editor at Vancouver Magazine, Belshaw had granted Vancouver Magazine an exclusive interview right after he had been found innocent in European courts of murdering his wife.
I decided before I got to Belshaw's house (I had been forewarned not to disclose his address to anybody) that I was going to photogrpah his face and hands separately and leave it up to the Vancouver Magazine readers to decide if indeed he was a murderer or not. But when I got there and he opened the door I was met by a quiet spoken man with a tragic expression on his face. He was visibly nervous about the approaching ordeal of being photographed. "Don't tell anybody I live here. If they find out they will stop and point in this direction and say, ""He lives there.""
I had to find a way of making him feel comfortable as this has always been my course of action. He had agreed to be photographed so it was up to me to help him even though I had an ulterior motive up my sleeve in reference to his hands.
To help him relax I decided to ask him a question to which I had never received a satisfactory answer. "Sir, why is it that the Japanese adopted many of the customs of the Chinese, and went as far as copying their writing, and using the Chinese chop sticks, yet they never copied or used the Chinese spoon? We do know that the Japanese slurp their liquids and the spoon they finally adopted was the Western spoon." Belshaw's answer was a simple one but a startling one, "Cultures have always been known to selectively adopt and adapt only what interests them from other cultures. They, the Japanese were not interested in the spoon so they did not use it."
After this explanation I sensed a release and determination and Belshaw faced my camera. I quickly turned off the light that was pointed at his hands and took my portrait. I felt that the lighting of his hands would have overstepped my duty of being as objective as possible. If a court had found the man innocent I had no right to editorialize and cast any suspicion.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
If you really want to stump music freaks ask them to name a couple of Italian composers whose names do not end in i
. If they are good they might begin with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, mention Giovanni Battista Fontana and then point out that French composer Jean-Baptiste de Lully (originally Giovanni Battista di Lulli) are three. After that it's definitely uphill.
At last night's (almost secret pre-concert concert) of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra's
season held at St James Anglican on Cordova (that very same concert will be repeated today at St Augustine's in Kerrisdale and tomorrow at West Vancouver United Church) the interesting program featured 6 Italian baroque composers and one, in this day and age, almost unknown German, Georg Muffat. Fully 50% of the Italian composers had names that did not end in i
! There was Alessandro Scarlatti (father of the better known Domenico), then Arcangelo Corelli and Giuseppe Valentini affectionately known as the Little Ragamuffin. But the other three featured composers were the ones that were unexpected for their definitive lack of that final i
. Consider Alessandro Stradella (murdered at age 37), Francesco Durante (singly responsible for creating the first viola joke and told very well by the soon to be mother, Glenys Webster and fellow jokester Mieka Kohut) and the very Roman Giovanni Zamboni Romano!
Aside from the odd names of mostly unknown composers (but not lacking in originality and or virtuosity) the concert was full of real and most pleasant surprises all improved by the vision of being able to scrape the filling off some Oreos accompanied by tea in the parish hall during the intermission.
The thematic of the concert seemed to be weighted by murder (Scarlati's piece was his introduction to the oratorio Cain
, or The First Murder
), or knowledge that the composer Alessandro Stradella had been brutally murdered, buffered in between, by the soaring music of Arcangelo Corelli who may or may have not levitated
while playing his violin at church.
For me there were two high points. There was an astounding six-voice fugue in the second movement of Giuseppe Valentini's Concerto in a minor for four violins, Op 7 No. 11 that from my vantage point on the first row seat, three feet from violinist Paul Luchkow (seen here) which even made my otherwise blasé wife Rosemary sit up and notice because it was so beautiful. The other peak happened when guest leader, archlute and baroque guitar player, Luca Harris sat down to play his huge (extremely long) archlute which is sort of like a bass lute. It's bass notes stretched towards the church ceiling and every time he played that G string my whole body resonated (might I have levitated just a bit?) at its sound. It is a sound that rivals that of a bass trombone or a beautifully played Guarneri del Gesù. It is not often that one gets to hear an archlute solo (Sonata in G major from Sonate d'intavolatura di leuto, Op 1) by Giovanni Zamboni Romano.St.Jamesmore St. James even more St. Jamesand more St. Jamesmuch more St. James
The History Boys & Fine Teachers Remembered
Friday, October 03, 2008
Harold Pinter wrote his first play, The Room
in 1957. One year later my English teacher at St Edward's High School, in Austin, Texas, Brother Dunstan Bowles C.S.C (Congregation of the Holy Cross) was reading the play to us in class and telling us of this "exciting and new" playwright. I have my doubts that the conventional school sytem of the city and its English teachers even knew of the significance of eventual Nobel Winner (2005) English playwright. The reason we knew is that our school (which just happened to be a Roman Catholic school) had extraordinary teachers and we obtained an extraordinary education.
Many of those teachers linger in my heart and they are a combination of all the talents (and perhaps a few of the faults) of English teacher, Hector ( played so beautifully by Bernard Cuffling) in Bennett's 2005 play The History Boys
. We saw it performed by the Arts Club Theatre Company at the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday. The History Boys
has some of the good points (a few) of the James Bridges 1973 film The Paper Chase
, and even some good ones (very few) from Animal House
. Best of all this cerebral play has in Bernard Cuffling not that stuffy Houseman (John) but one who can freely quote the other Housman, A.E.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
`Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
`The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.
A Shropshire Lad, XIII, A.E. Housman
The 8 likable and fairly well adjusted young boys (almost men) of the Sheffield grammar school in the 80s brought me fond memories of 11 boys I had met and photographed back in November 1983 at St. George's School
in Vancouver. I had been assigned by Vancouver Magazine
editor, Malcolm Parry to accompany writer Don McLellan. I immediately realized that my take of this premier Vancouver private school was going to be in direct oposition to McLellan's. He had never gone to a private school and I had. He saw the boys as rich and privileged (which they were). I determined then that somehow I was not going to attempt my usual objectivity in my approach of the photography and I was going to make all my pictures of the boys, rosy and pleasant to compensate for the expected ( I never read the article because I was afraid to do so). I was most proud of the cover and years later at my eldest daughter's graduation from York House some the boys (now men) approached me with smiles on their faces.
I felt these same emotions of pleasure and excitement of attending a good class with a good teacher in a good school as I watched The History Boys
in action. Every single boy was dead on his part and I immediately gave them the names of some of my ex classmates from school.
All of the boys, but one, are testicularly groped by Hector while riding with him on his motorcycle to some undisclosed destination. In the end Hector is found out (most knew anyway but looked the other way) and the ending incorporates a tidy one that somehow does not punish Hector for his lapse in morality. It is fate that punishes Hector with finality.
As I watched this play I remember a friend whose husband was assassinated (both were very young) during the regime of a dictatorial and military government. My friend has paraded having been the wife of the man and talked about this experience during all her life. She joins organizations that trumpet human rights of the left and close thereof. This is her cause. But she is a modern member of the new left as her credit cards are ready to help her consume. Irwin, Hector's assistant would probably have advised her, "Read about Henry VIII then forget and push on!"
If any one of those boys from Sheffield had been living here and had had their testicles groped I am sure we would be paying still for all kinds of treatment, and having to read all kinds of revealing biographies of having to have lived with the shame.
Surely both the play and the above paragraph are two extremes. The former one is a laissez fair
approach while in the latter it never ends.
In Bennett's play everybody gets his eventual reward even the cynical Irwin (played by Irwin, and oh! so handsome when he removes his glasses). Is is touching? Is it symmetrical? Is it, that only the boy who is not groped Posner (nicely played by Daniel Karasik) somehow does not become the success that all his peers become?
The History Boys had all kinds of comic touches which I am sure are direct injections from Vancouver's funniest director and one of its funniest actors (watch out Donald Adams!), Dean Paul Gibson seen above left.
As I left home I imagined Gibson playing Irwin and wondered if he would have handled handsome and troublesome Dakin (played with gusto by Charlie Carrick) any better?
The History Boys
runs until October 25.
A Thistle In The Fall
Thursday, October 02, 2008
I have written before of Cynara cardunculus
. My procupation in recent weeks has been the preparation of my Friday history of photography
classes where I use no textbook and I must rely on reasearch, my memory and scanning photographs from my large collection of photo books. Many of the photographs are not to be found in the internet. The idea people have is that if it isn't in Google it doesn't exist. But when I find a photo from my memory I know to the contrary.
Today I have been at my computer and scanner all day and my eyes feel rectangular. Yesterday as I prepared for today's scanning agony I decided to scan (!) one of my drying thistles and try to see how I could make the images look 19th century.
The result upper left started with a straight scan (but with a sheet of letterhead paper on top of the thistle. That's the second image seen here. From there I reversed it so that it became an unearthly blue. I desaturated it (took the colour away) and then made it yellow/red again. The bonus image is an "antiqued" Anemone x hibrida.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
My friend C.C. Humphreys
actor, swordsman, historical novel author (and books for young people, too) invited me last night for his book launch. His latest Vlad - The Last Confession
(Mc Arthur & Company) is a historical novel on Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler). He told us a story as we drank a blood infused cocktail and nibbled on things red like skewered meat, sausage and salami of all types, at The Cascade Room on 10th and Main Street. It seems he got drunk with his publisher in London as they lay the strategy for the next book. The publisher did not want Humphreys to write a fourth Jack Absolute novel (alas!). It had to be a novel on something completely different. "Who has not been done before? " he asked Humphreys? The publisher staggered to the bathroom and we came back he said, "I've got it. Vlad The Impaler, the historical Dracula."
If this novel is anything like Humphreys's dashing Jack Absolute novels I will be starting his latest soon. Humphreys insists that my favourite lore on Vlad Tepes (Impaler in Rumanian) is in the novel. I cannot wait.
It seems that sometime around 1459 the Turks demanded that Vlad pay tribute. He refused and waged battle. The Turkish delegation that had been sent to demand the tribute refused to remove their turbans in homage to him saying their religion forbad it. The Impaler had the turbans nailed to the heads of the offending Turks.
I doubt that Vlad Tepes might have ever wielded a modern cavalry sabre (it seems it was invented in the 10th Century by the Hungarians) like the one C.C. Humphreys is posing with here for my photograph. But I do think that the added red wash on my original b+w photograph shows that Humphreys might just volunteer for the lead role as soon as his novel becomes the film it deserves to be! His acting pal Christopher Gaze
would be fair game to play his father.