Portia Winters & My Head On A Platter No MoreMonday, April 06, 2009
A rare arts assignment to photograph baritone Greer Grimsley who is to appear in the Vancouver Opera’s production of Strauss’ Salome had me thinking. I am to photograph the man in a special effects studio where they are going to make a life mask from which they will then model St John the Baptist’s ( Jokanaan in the opera) severed head. It would seem that since time immemorial man (as in politically incorrect “the male of the species”) has been ready to give up just about anything to see a woman undraped.
That the current play by the Electric Theatre Company and presented by the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, Studies in Motion – The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge has not created any obvious stir of shock or at least a stream of salacious blogs or letters to the editor (and it is a terrific play which I have seen three times) has something to say about the current state of affairs between man (the male of the species) and his forsaking of the enjoyment of the undraped female form. The play has a cast of 11 (about 60% men) and all undrape fully. If you sit on the front row you can dispense with the binoculars.
If anybody had told anybody in Vancouver that our fair city would one day not be known for its excellent strippers, its squeaky clean strip bars and that by 2009 there would only be three strip bars left within city limits they would have not been believed. But that is a fact that strip bars are all but gone and the B-lineup St Regis is now a luxury boutique hotel! Who would have known? I don’t frequent the strip bars. It is not really my sudden shame at liking something that is a bit frowned upon by civilized society.
It is more about being 67 and I am losing interest. The idea of a good book, a large mug of tea and bed in the evening is far more an attractive idea than lounging at a bar looking at women take their clothes off. But what do all those young men do these days? Watch pornography on their computers?
It will always be the same that things were better then than now. Punk music then was real punk music. Now it is derivative and imitation punk music. Strippers then danced. Strippers now take their clothes off, period.
I am sure that I am wrong on all counts and there must be many dancers of note. I know of one who was a ballet dancer before she switched to nude pole dancing. When I last saw her a couple of years ago she was the best pole dancer in the province.
Perhaps my lack of excitement is that the age difference between dancers and this old man becomes a gulf. It was in the late 79s that Vancouver Magazine assigned me to take pictures of women wearing eyewear from boutique frame stores. The art director, Rick Staehling asked me, “The models you used are most unusual. Where did you get them?” I fudged the answer as I did not have the heart to tell him that I had picked my favourite exotic dancers and I had enjoyed giving them their checks for modeling with their clothes all on.
It was at Tony Ricci’s Marble Arch that I could walk in and sit by the bar and talk in Spanish to Jorge the barman. He would offer free drinks but I always had soda water. I felt like Humphrey Bogart walking into a bar. Jorge and Tony made me feel special.
But it was at Tony’s Number 5 Orange in May 1990 that I felt king for a day. I had been assigned by Equity Magazine to take pictures for an article called Sex Sells. Having been convinced through the years by Malcolm Parry to seek the privileged view in all things I knew what I wanted. Parry defines the privileged view more like what you see when you look down as opposed to what you see looking up.
Anybody (of the legal age) can enter a strip club. At the Number 5 Orange Street the tradition has been to see the fully dressed woman step down to the dance floor on a lit Lucite ladder that connects to the roof. As Mac would have said, “Anybody can watch her come down. But to be up there and watch her go down, that would be special.”
I asked Tony if I could take pictures in the dressing room. He smiled, “Anything you want, Alex and I’ll have Daniele accompany you up to make it easier for you.” Daniele was simply one of the most gorgeous women I ever met in my life. Up we went.
I decided I would photograph the whole routine of one dancer. I was in luck because Portia Winters was up there so I took many pictures of the process. I learned one interesting fact about strip bars of those years. There were traveling male hairdressers who did hair for the dancers. One was there to fix up Portia. Remembering Mac Parry I managed to photograph Portia going down the golden stairs.
The best moment of the day came when I finished and Danielle (Kimberly) and I went down to the bar. Daniele had well toned arms and helped me with my heavy lights. My friend Sean Rossiter happened to be in the bar and when he saw me and my assistant and, where we were coming from he just about collapsed with wonder. He has never allowed me to forget the day. Not that I would.