Saturday, December 20, 2008
"At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled shows;
But like of each thing that in season grows."
William Shakespeare from Love's Labour's Lost
I picked this particular portrait of Christopher Gaze because it is somber. In these times even Christmas seems a tad somber as is Shakespeare's quote on it. While this Christmas blog (there will be others) isn't as happy as it could be it does cheer up in the end.
I a not an actor and I was not born in England but I do think I may have some nice things in common with my friend Christopher Gaze. Both of us are married to beautiful women. Both of us read the morning paper, with breakfast in bed
with our wives. Both of us keep Harold Bloom's Shakespeare - The Invention of the Human
handy by the bedside table.
But I would like to brag about one thing that I cannot share with my Shakespearean actor/director friend. And this is that for two years in Mexico I lived on Calle William Shakespeare. When I took cabs home I had to pronounce the name
My interest in Shakespeare began there. My mother would explain to me the significance of the man and even quoted the bard in her melodious mezzo-soprano. I remember seeing Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in Romeo and Juliet back in Buenos Aires when I was 9. In 1966, again in Buenos Aires I took my girlfriend Susy to see the film and she found the acting stilted and the actors too old. Even though I enjoyed seeing Franco Zeffireli's version (with much younger actors) with my mother in Mexico City in 1968 Romeo will always be Leslie Howard. In the same way that Bard On The Beach will always be Christopher Gaze.
Every year Rosemary and I attend at least two Bard on the Beach plays and our companion is Harold Bloom's book. At the theatre lineup we wise up to what we are going to see.
Success is not seen well in Vancouver. Only those organizations which are struggling are admired. If they happen to declare financial problems they are derided and ignored. Success is confusing to Vancouverites. Christopher Gaze and Bard on the Beach have done their fair share of struggling. I view their success as one of the features that makes our city the liveable city it is supposed to be. Rain or shine we can count on our Shakespeare every year. We can depend on having our minds and eyes challenged and like Harold Bloom says, we become better humans for it. That Christopher Gaze married a fine woman who keeps him running (no more Sir John Falstaff!) and that they are happy together bodes well for our city's Shakespearean future. Christopher Gaze, Jennifer Gaze, Bard on the Beach, more success in the coming years and a Merry Christmas. Not that they need any wishing for success. As that famous Spaniard wrote:
A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Henri Cartier-Bresson Befriends Fred Herzog & Lifts My Ennui
Friday, December 19, 2008
I have never been able to find the wonderful story (in a Penthouse Magazine) that I read some 25 or more years ago about Domenico Scarlatti being time machined into a modern times Los Angeles and how he abandoned his harpsichord and became a member of a rock band. My search into Google today to find that story only got me this
which is my own blog from March 17 where I mentioned it
Yesterday I was invited to a pre-Christmas gathering in the studio of Van Arts on West Hastings. I arrived a few hours late but early enough to watch projections of the digital images taken by many of my students. The photographs were sharp, had good composition, and some were most interesting. But in the end I became bored, and not necessarily, because the photographs were boring but perhaps simply due to the cynicism of an old man who has seen too many pictures and taken too many in his time. I heard another teacher near me say, "I just cannot get excited over photographs that don't elicit an emotional response in me."
I am not going to label my excellent students as boring or state that they take pictures devoid of feeling. That would be unfair. I felt confused but I wanted to keep silent in their presence. They were cheerful and excited. I explained that I was a tad bored and within a few minutes one of my students, Patrick Young told me, "Alex you should lighten up." I countered with a, "Telling me to lighten up is like telling a nervous person to relax. It just doesn't work." But the smile on his face was almost catching.
I had a chat with a much older photographer, Alan Jacques, whom I taught some years ago at Focal Point. He is a very good street photographer. He showed me some of his work which had appeared in a reputable photographic book. I looked at him in the eye and thinking of Domenico Scarlatti in Los Angeles going bonkers over a Moog synthethizer I asked him, "Do you think that if Henri Cartier-Bresson were brought back from the dead and brought to our present world that he be able to sell his photographs? Would anybody notice them?" I was afraid of Jacques's answer. I was right. He replied, "He would be ignored."
As remarkable as Cartier-Bresson's photographs are and if you add to that the knowledge that to my generation (the pre-digital camera generation) his photographs are embedded in our memory, the fact is that when he was taking his photographs few had cameras and took pictures in the street.
From my vantage point I divide photographers into two types. There are those who with camera in hand go out and look for pictures. They walk, they fly, they ride bicycles and when they see something that strikes their fancy (it could be funny, serious, whimsical, scary, ugly, beautiful, graphically arresting, etc) they take the picture. These photographers react to a situation that can either be an accident or one that they think will happen if they wait. In a border-line of this category would be the great landscape photographers like Ansel Adams who waited for the perfect light and discovered and or adapted methods of improving that light through negative processing control and master photo printing.
In the other category are the photographers who don't wait for decisive moments. They create them and more often they create them in a studio where they can control the light and their subjects. I am a minor member of this second category. But all photographers dabble in both categories. Some do both well others choose one or the other and then specialize.
The advent of the all-in-one digital single lens reflex has changed the playing field. You can take some pictures at 100 ISO and then, at will, shoot others at 3200. You can take all photographs in colour and convert any into b+w if you want. You can further get b+w infrared results(with relatively inexpensive programs like Paint Shop Pro, that mimic it to perfection. Pre-digital age the photographer wanting to do all that would have needed several cameras and lenses and facing the impossibility of reacting to a situation with more than one of them!
The ability of the DSLR to react to any situation, with ample help from the human holding it, gives the photographer a sense of comfort and control even if it is a reaction, after the fact, of what has been noticed that has to be recorded or "captured" by the sensor.
What that means is that we are getting tons of bad, good and even excellent Cartier-Bresson "decisive moment" pictures that are in bold and sharp colour. After seeing a few of these projected, ennui sets in.
Vancouver's Fred Herzog has at long last received recognition (before his death, and yes he is still alive, and he went on record to point that out!) for his work in capturing a Vancouver long gone, with the Kodachrome. Those colours, the neon the places that Herzog photographed are gone and the same thing can be said, almost, about that Kodachrome. There is no way that modern digital cameras can take anything that remotely looks like Herzog's photographs. Perhaps Cartier-Bresson in our contemporary Vancouver would admire and become Herzog's friend. Perhaps both would go out and shoot in colour.
In 1963 I roamed the streets of Mexico City alone or with friends. We had cameras. They were early SLRs, Pentacon-Fs, Edixas, Pentax S-3 and Exaktas. The lenses we used were of questionable optics. Our light meters if dropped became innacurate. They had springs and moving parts. We took pictures of anything that we thought was interesting. Most of our pictures were boring or were badly taken and or cropped with no sense. The picture that leads this blog is version 3 of a negative I took in 1963. I have scanned it three ways here. It replicates what I originally did in the darkroom. Back in 1963 I had yet to discover the pleasure and discipline
of cropping inside my viewfinder. I opted for cropping the negative with my enlarger. You see here how that image progressed. In this last, at the bottom, is the roof of the car on the other side of the street. I must have been behind it. I did not have zoom lens and was stuck with the lens on my camera.
I am almost sure that had I run into someone like me now, then, I would have been told how my work was sloppy, unsharp, unimaginative and plain boring. My students now have far more challenges to face than I did then. Film technology was hit or miss and when pictures turned out we said just that, "They turned out!" as if it were a miracle. Now images are captured routinely and unless there is some digital malfunction they turn out every time. The pressure is on originality. It is this pursuit, originality, with competition from so many that makes 2008 and 2009 so much more difficult than 1963.
My inability to give any sound advice to my students makes me sad and helpless. It makes me jealous of that Penthouse Scarlatti who did just fine with that Moog synthethizer in LA and never looked back at his crude harpsichord and the music of his past. Perhaps my students as they look at their future with a smile on their face know something I don't know. If they are right this is indeed a good thing.
Maggie Langrick At The Helm Of The Artistic Ship
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Recently the Vancouver Sun announced the hiring of Maggie Langrick as the new Arts Editor.
In July 1987 I photographed a 16-year-old Margaret Langrick (above) for a profile by John Lekich for the Georgia Straight. Lekich had already written about her two years before for the Globe & Mail when the actress had appeared in director Sandy Wilson's (below right) debut and BC smash hit film My American Cousin
. I photographed Langrick in the garden of her mother's house somewhere in the Westside. For years I have been asking Lekich, "Whatever happed to Margaret Langrick. A couple of days ago I found out that the Vancouver Sun had hired a new Arts Editor called Maggie Langrick. I wondered. But this time around I didn't ask Lekich. I asked that infallible oracle of modernity, Google the question. The reply was instant:
From: WikiAnswers Q&A the wiki way
Q: What ever happened to Margaret Langrick?
In: Authors Poets and Playwrights
Margaret is now known as Maggie Sansom, and she writes for "Echo Memoirs".
I gather that Maggie Langrick, Margaret Langrick and Margaret Sansom are all the same person. I guess that Langrick has had extensive experience in public relations. This bodes well for the Vancouver Sun as they need all the positive public relations they can get these days with the declining opinion that people over 25 have of these hard copy web pages we used to call newspapers.
In the 35 years I have lived in Vancouver I can recall two arts editors who were effective even if one of them was not, strictly speaking, and arts editor. Whenever Max Wyman
was at the helm as either and arts editor or a Saturday Magazine editor things were hopping. When Charles Campbell created Queue
after having had a difference of opinion with the powers at the Straight his creation was instantly called "a real magazine" by my wife Rosemary who knows everything. The rest of the arts editors are a blur in my mind. To be fair perhaps they may not have obtained the backing or authority from above or "management" as Campbell called them. The Tyee's
David Beers did the same as Campbell did for Queue
for the interesting, challenging and appealing Saturday Mix
which disappeared as soon as Beers left via his boss's exit to the Chewing Gum Capital of the US.
Since Langrick took the helm as Arts Editor I have already noticed that a piece on Ballet BC's trouble with their roommate, the Scotia Bank, that was prominently covered by the Globe, was ignored by the Vancouver Sun.
If you only stop to think and notice that organizations like:
Ballet BC, the VSO, the Vancouver Opera, the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, the Vancouver Recital Society, the Playhouse, the Arts Club Theatre Company, the Vancouver East Cultural Institute, Gateway Theatre, Theatre Conspiracy, Arts Umbrella, Kidd Pivot, Lola Dance, Karen Jamieson, the Museum of Anthropology, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Bill Reid Gallery, the Equinox Gallery, Diane Farris Gallery, Bau-Xi Gallery, the New Music Society, the Kay Meek Centre, the Turning Point Ensemble, the UBC School of Music, the Electric Theatre Company, Early Music Vancouver, Goh Ballet, EDAM, Brief Encounters/Solo Collective, Movent/Dances for the Small Stage, Bard on the Beach , Coastal Jazz & Blues Society, and many more galleries, theatre companies, musical organizations, dance companies and all sorts of yearly festivals like the Vancouver Festival or art crawls... and many more that I may have forgotten all advertise in the Vancouver Sun you would think of a situation similar to that of the rhinoceros and the oxpecker or askari wa kifaru
. One needs the other. If one is healthy so will the other be healthy.
The same can be said of author and book reviews. Publishers and book festivals also buy ad space. Why is it that we cannot have at least one book review per day insted of a paltry few on a Saturday?
I cannot understand why it is that our Vancouver newspapers seem to:
1. Categorize the arts with food (turkeys for newbies), fitness and style/fashion.
2. Consider reviews important in a city where the lack of real review competition makes a review close to useless particularly when the review is that of a last performance. Its been years since I would read of the rivalry between Les Bewley and Alan Fotheringham. Now that was fun!
3. There is rarely that-in-depth preview explaining for example that if Ballet BC wants to mount a ballet by the famous American choreographer William Forsythe (something Ballet BC did many years ago when cutting edge Forsythe wasn't so famous but our very own John Alleyne knew what was good for us as he indeed did) a sum of upwards of $85,000 in royalty fees has to be paid plus an assistant choreographer has to be brought to Vancouver for supervision (air fare, hotel, etc!). A good pre-view prepares a performance for a viewer. It can inform, educate, inspire and even sometimes persuade a person to turn off the TV and purchase a ticket for a performance.
On a lark I went to a Turning Point Ensemble
concert featuring Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time
. I had not liked Messiaen's choral works in the past and even though this was not one I was reluctant. The performance was one of the most satisfying of the year for me. Like Vancouver Opera's recent production of Eugene Onegin
this sort of stuff does not happen often in Vancouver. I talked with Vancouver Sun's musical critic Lloyd Dykk today about the Messiaen and his one word comment was, "Sublime." Dykk did not go to the concert. Perhaps he did not know about it. Probably the reason is that one critic cannot go to everything. It is my feeling that in a "one newspaper town" the newspaper should have more than one music critic, several dance critics and theatre critics and at least one critic who specializes in painting and sculpture.
One solution to the lack of sufficient critics and reviewers is to hire freelancers. The newspaper does not have to spend on health plans, dental plans, etc. In a city where architecture plays such a large part of our life I believe that the only architecture writer is The Tyee's
Adele Weder. If true, that is an outstandingly embarrassing fact.
I wish Maggie Langrick all the best in what is going to be a tough job. It is my hope that she will help make our city newspaper into a viable one that promotes, explains, educates and reports on its rich artistic milieu. If the newspaper fails, both it and our art organizations will flounder and perhap sink. Sandy Wilson's floating deck chair will not help the sinking of the cultural ship.
What would be the first priority on a possible arts agenda? I would convene a meeting/party with all the publicists and marketing directors of the arts organizations of our city and suburbs (consider that excellent Surrey Art Gallery and North Vancouver's Presentation House) to discuss ways of promoting the arts. The Vancouver Sun could stipulate deadlines for press releases and requirements for handed in images and art. The Sun should consider that if several newspapers in town use the same images to promote the opera (as an example) this will diminish interest. Original art, while more expensive can be more effective. I would also invite all the public, city, provincial and private funding organizations that give money to the arts to also discuss possible strategy.
In the time of Brooks Joyner at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Jim Delgado at the Maritime Museum I remember that they had lunch every month (sometimes with the then director of the Museum of Anthropology) to discuss joint shows. It was not too long ago that the Presentation House had a show of the photographs of Robert Frank (The Americans) while the Pacific Cinemateque projected Franks avant-garde films. With the cross referencing boon of computers, arts organizations have to organize and work together.
We still don't have a detailed schedule or plan as to what local talent the Vancouver Olympic Committe is planning for 2010. I saw a fabulous Chinese fan dance at the Goh Ballet. I am thinking that the Vancouver Opera's Native Canadian slant on Mozart's The Magic Flute would be an obvious pick. Anosh Irani's Indian plays shown at the Arts Club, the Playhouse production of Kevin Loring's Blood Mixes Inside My Heart
should be a must. Many of the brief but funny and interesting dance sketches of Brief Encounters or Dances for the Small Stage would be economical to perform and they would be popular to children, too. BC based plays like the Ruby Slippers production of Trout Stanley would show how good theatre is here. Another option would be the Electric Theatre Company's play Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge
by our young playwright Kevin Kerr.
We have an active new music society and performers like Peggy Lee that get recognition in the NY Times but are all but invisible in Vancouver. We have the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the Vancouver Symphony that comission work to local and Canadian contemporary composers.
Is VANOC considering these options? Is the Vancouver Sun investigating this?
Julia Margaret Cameron - I Was In Transport Of Delight
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This stunning modern looking portrait of Annie Philpot, which reminds me of photographs of Anne Frank, was taken by the Victorian lady Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) in 1864. Cameron was perhaps the most famous and influential portrait photographer of the 19th century. She was criticized by the males of her profession (and interesting, too, so were the abominable canvases produced by the young Impressionists in France) for being smudgy or out of focus. The fact is that Cameron had very sharp eyes and she chose to rack her lens into focus and then unfocus it to her tastes even after her son Harding taught her how. She settled on the Isle of Wight in 1859 when she visited Lord Tennyson and fell in love with the island. She bought two properties (her husband Charles Cameron had coffee and rubber plantations in Ceylon) and named one of them Dimbola Lodge.
It was at Dimbola in December 1863, that Cameron, then aged 48, was given a camera by her eldest daughter, Julia, and husband, Charles Norman. Before actually owning what was an expensive and cumbersome piece of equipment, Cameron had been involved in various aspects of the photographic process - printing negatives and photograms, compiling albums as gifts, posing for photographs and helping to stage compositions. The gift marks the beginning of what would quickly become her all-encompassing application to the 'art' of photography. Setting up the coal store as a darkroom and the glass-enclosed chicken house as a studio, she began her single-handed photographic investigations fervently, annotating a portrait study of Annie Philpot as 'My first success' (the picture above right) which she took in January 1864. Of this first success Cameron wrote about it in her unfinished autobiographical manuscript (1874) which was not published until 1927:
Having succeeded with one farmer, I next tried two children, my son Harding, being on his Oxford vacation, helped me in the difficulty of focusing. I was halfway through a beautiful picture when a splutter of laughter from one of the children lost me that picture, and less ambtious now, I took one child alone, appealing to her feelings and telling her of the waste of poor Mrs Cameron's chemicals and strength if she moved. The appeal had its effect and I now produced a picture which I called My First Success. I was in transport of delight. I ran all over the house to search for gifts for the child. I felt as if she entirely had made the picture. I printed, toned, fixed and framed it, and presented it to her father that same day: size 11 by 19 inches. Sweet, sunny haired little Annie! No later prize has effaced the memory of this joy, and now that this same Annie is 18, how much I long to meet her and try my master hand upon her.
albumen print, oval, April 1867
Julia Prinsep Stephen, née Jackson; formerly Mrs Duckworth (1846-1895), Wife of Sir Leslie Stephen and mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. She sat for Cameron 8 times. This woman is the niece and goddaughter of Julia Margaret Cameron and, like her, a member of the artistic circle which gathered at Little Holland House. She was a renowned beauty and a favourite of the Pre-Raphaelites and sat for Burne-Jones, as well as G. F. Watts and her godmother. From her second marriage to the historian, Leslie Stephen, she was the mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.
|Max von Sydow - A W-H|
The Cameron print, above, left, has a complicated explanation and the sitter a long pedigree. My photograph of Swedish actor, Max von Sydow, above, right, does not carry such a lengthy explanation. While I photographed him later with my lights I took this one with a long, 250mm lens with my Mamiya on a tripod in the Sun Room of the Hotel Vancouver.
Nuts ( & Schlossed) Over Melted Cheese
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Sunday night was Hilary's birthday. She is Rebecca and Lauren's mother and my youngest daughter. We had a cheese fondue. For dessert Rosemary prepared a Mexican flan served with whipped cream. Our drink was fresh-squeezed mandarin orange juice. The event brought to mind another years before.
The Swiss gentleman and his son sat at my table in Burnaby some 29 years ago to partake of my Swiss fondue. Rosemary thought I was crazy and predicted a disaster. I did point out to her that when my father had moonlighted as a translator for the Indian Embassy in Buenos Aires he had invited the embassy staff to our home for curry.
I was 8 or 9 and I had never seen Bombays
before as my mother, and Filipinos, call all Hindus. Hindu with a t at the end is a terrible four letter word in Tagalog so that's why Indians from India are Bombays
in the Philippines.
The Swiss gentleman, Mr. Broennimann had been the CEO of Nestlé in Mexico when both my wife and I had taught his son André at an American private school around 1970. Andre (Andy) had decided to study at UBC and his father was visiting.
For once I was able to prove my wife wrong as Broennimann père
and Broenniman fils
argued on only one of the ingredients. It seemed that the father objected to my use of nutmeg while his son argued that in some Swiss cantons nutmeg was the norm!
My adventure and taste for cheese fondue had begun in 1970 when my daughter Ale's godfather, Andrew Taylor gave us a fondue set for Christmas. In Mexico I was hampered by the strict Mexican prohibition on imported cheeses. I had to make do with whatever I could find. At first I had several disasters where the mixture would curdle until I started mixing a tablespoon of corn starch with the white wine and poured the mixture into the aluminum caquelon
(my pot was not an authentic Swiss earthenware pot).
Only once did we try the other variety of fondue, a meat one. We accidentally knocked over the pot on our dining room table and we were lucky not to have been burned.
Andrew's fondue set was made in Mexico and it is a combination of copper and brass. There is no insulation between the alcohol burner and the fondue frame so the whole setup gets incredibly hot. Every once in a while I forget. I touch to move it at the table and suffer from the experience with temporary loss of the finger prints of my right or left hand. Every time this happens I swear to throw the set away and buy a modern one. I remember Andrew and his kind gift, and I renege.
For many years we had pleasant fondues in our Burnaby home. My eldest daughter Ale and I had a routine. The routine was that I was going to everything possible to prevent her from putting out the flame at the end of our meal with the special damper (seen here). Sometimes my daughter would smarten up and she would hide the damper. I would send her off to the kitchen to fetch something and when she returned I would pull out a soup spoon from my back pocket and would do the honours to her dismay. Strangely, Rebecca has not been interested in extending this tradition even though she and Lauren love my fondue.
By the time we moved to Athlone in 1986 Rosemary started cutting carrots, green onions, red peppers, mushrooms and even brocoli for the fondue. We also enjoyed poppy seed bagels instead of a cut up French baguette. Our favorite bread for fondue, besides those bagels is a Georgian baguette we get at Stongs.
Recipe for Swiss Fondue
350 grams Emmenthaler
350 grams Gruyère
222 grams Appenzeller
1 clove garlic
dry white wine
fresh ground black pepper
I rub my pot with a garlic clove and then I add a bit more than half a glass of dry white wine mixed with a tablespoon of corn starch into the pot at a middle to low heat. Once the mixture thickens I begin to add, little by little, the finely chopped cheese (I used to shred it). I add a lot of freshly ground black pepper and half a couple of pinches of nutmeg. When I am ready to take the pot to the table I add a couple of shots of kirsch. The only brand I have been able to find in Vancouver is the Austrian SchlossKirsch. There are some who say that this is the product singly responsible for the term to be schlossed. This recipe serves four to five guests.
I generally don't reduce the alcohol flame for two reasons. The first is that Andrew's fondue set gets so hot I cannot regulate the flame much. The second is that at the end of the meal there a delicious brown crust on the bottom called la religieuse
(a none nicer nun?) which Rebecca and I fight to not share.
A Post-Literate Moment With A Ghost
Monday, December 15, 2008
At about this time the NY Times Book Review chooses the 10 best books of 2008. I was happy to notice that one of the books was Julian Barnes's Nothing to Be Frightened Of.
I was so moved by the reading of this book that I wrote about it here
. My happiness was short lived. Buried in the little Up Front
introduction by the editors, who chose the 10 books, was this startling paragraph. Once again we have followed up our compilation of 100 Notable Books of 2008 with our list of the 10 Best. In keeping with the "tradition" the Book Review established in 2004, the final choices divide equally between fiction and non-fiction. The fiction list, compressed though it is, conveys the continuing vitality of imaginative prose in this supposedly post-literate moment.
Can that be true that we are living in a post-literate moment, or even worse, post-literate times?
What does one talk about in cocktail parties these days? I have always noticed that when I travel to the US, bars usually have a neon sign that reads cocktails
. Have we superseded the term cocktail
to the less glamorous drink
in Canada? When you go to a party "where they serve drinks" you cannot ask, "What are you reading at the moment?" can you? The right question would have to be something like this, "Do you Twitter?" And if you really want to be the focus of the party you would answer, "Not only do I Twitter but I also vlog (video based blogging)."
I would be banished (pronounced in three syllables with a mock Christopher Gaze Shakespearian English) since I do not know the difference between a Rob Roy and a gimlet nor do I Twitter (I tried it for a day and became bored), Facebook, Flickr or MySpace. It is amazing how verbs so suddenly transitive can be so close to the concept of the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover. They are impacting
our language for the worse.
Vancouver Poet Laureate, George McWhirter is in the process of translating Homero Aridjis's Los Poemas Solares
which is the latest (2005) book of poetry by that favourite Mexican author of mine. Until McWhirter finishes you will have to live with my poor translation of this poem that has been much in my thoughts as I think of Julian Barnes's Nothing to be Frightened Of
. As I have mentioned before Aridjis is probably as agnostic as Barnes but because he (Arijdis) is a poet and Barnes is not he (Aridjis) has license to believe in ghosts.Recommendations for a Ghostly Existence
When you walk on the street, don't kiss your loved one,
besides not seeing you, you might scare her.
When you are run over by a car in traffic,
don't worry, it will have driven over air.
In a room with a nude young woman, don't be anxious,
your desire will be the beating of an empty heart.
If at daybreak the cat is staring at you, don't pet her,
her flashing eyes are seeing nothing.
If your dog crosses you without knowing that you are there, you don't
It will have seen a ghost calling it from the other side of the light.
Recomendaciones para la vida fantasmal
Cuando vayas por la calle, no beses a tu amada,
porque además de no verte, la puedes espantar.
Cuando en el tráfico un coche te atropelle,
no te preocupes, habrá aplastado aire.
En el cuarto con una joven desnuda, no te inquietes,
tu deseo será un pálpito en un saco vacío.
Si al amanecer la gata está mirándote, no la acaricies,
sus ojos fulgurantes estará viendo nada.
Si tu perro te atraviesa sin saber que estás allí, no te
habrá visto a un fantasma llamándolo desde el otro lado
de la luz.
Los poemas Solares, Homero Aridjis, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005 Mexico
My lovely ghost is dancer/choreographer Lauri Stallings
Banging My Own Drum With One Light
Sunday, December 14, 2008
As my job (formerly a profession) as a magazine photographer fades away asymptote-like
, I find some small comfort that unlike General Douglas MacArthur I cannot be fired. I am a free lancer. But like him I am fading away as quickly as a poorly fixed photograph. It is a photograph that will become plain dust and not a random dissolution of pixels. Meanwhile I must feed my wife her hot cream-of-wheat with brown sugar in the morning so I need funds. Some of them come from my teaching endeavours. I teach at two places. One is Focal Point
and the other is Van Arts
. The former has a full-times students program like the latter but it also has photo workshops and 10-week courses. That's where I come in. In the last The Contemporary Portrait Nude class (mentioned here
I had 6 students. This was an especially fun and intimate class but not one that will make money for the school. I offered to write an essay promoting my next class The One Light Portrait Photography Course for their Christmas brochure as the class begins in January. Perhaps if enough people read that essay we may get that sweet sum of 12 students, not too big, not too small. The school has two studios joined by doors. I divide my class in two so that in the three-hour shooting sessions there is plenty of time to take pictures. The essay is accompanied by my photograph of Vancouver actor/director Paul Terns which I shot with one ring light. The One Light Portrait Photography Course
Those who work at Focal Point have a standing joke on the two classes that I teach there. They say one is One Light, No Clothes and the other One Light With Clothes. Joke aside they are completely right. As a magazine photographer in Vancouver for 35 years a great majority of my photographs have been one light photographs. And most recently I have further fine tuned my choice to a 2x3 ft soft box placed very close to my subject while standing near a middle gray wall.
In most situations with the exception of my frequent use of a powerful ring flash, that light has never been an on-camera flash. And therein is the problem as to why so many photographs on the internet in such social sites like Flickr and myspace all tend to look the same. The pictures were either taken with existing light or with an on camera pop-up flash.
The Holy Grail of photography for any photographer with gumption should be to find a personal style. Tethering a camera to a modified light (via either a flash cord or a radio slave) such as a soft box or an umbrella mostly happens in the professional photographer’s studio. These kinds of photographs are becoming less frequent. Learning how to use a modified one light is one way, I believe, of rapidly increasing one’s chances of successfully pursuing that elusive personal style.
The 19th century was limited until almost its end, with photography that depended on existing natural light. As soon as electric lights came in photographers and cinematographers were hampered by slow film emulsion. The bright focused lights they used produced the glamorous and mysterious film noir films of the 30 to the 50s. Then this kind of light went out of fashion and a more uniform natural light (still with powerful light units) came into use. Only recently, as digital still camera and digital cinematography cameras have been developed with ultra sensitive sensors, has it been possible to use them in low light situations without additional lighting. In fact Vancouver Sun film critic, Katherine Monk while reviewing Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married notes that the film is “Shot on high-definition digital video with little or no apparent artificial light…” To me this means that this will be a gritty film with no lighting style. And that is fine. But when you pay good money to escape financial depression and working angst is this what you need? Is it coincidence that the age of Hollywood glamour films occurred during the Great Depression? Is Rachel Getting Married a trend in more unlit digital films? Will movies soon resemble the images of Flickr?
Choosing to take photographs with no additional lighting should be a choice based on purpose while knowing what the other possibilities are. Learning to use one light, be it a soft box, an open flash, a ring flash, a spotlight or a grid spot light should be part of any photographer’s recipe book towards photographic diversity and the achievement of a personal style.
The class runs Tuesdays from 2-5pm beginning January 13