Mayfair & Memories Of Another
Saturday, May 09, 2009
When Rebecca arrived at noon today for her piano lesson (we have a Chickering baby grand in our living room so her classes are here) she said, “I want to go to Mayfair.” Mayfair in our neck of the woods is the annual fair held at the nearby Catholic private school Vancouver College. There was no way I was not going to please Rebecca and Lauren (she also wanted to go) on this wish. Sometimes I rent a movie but it seemed a shame to stay inside on a beautiful day like the day today was. So Rosemary and I took the kids to Mayfair. I strapped a couple of Nikon FM-2s around my desk. “You look like a tourist!” Rebecca said. I countered, “With these film cameras I don’t look like a tourist, I look like an old man.” I joked with Rebecca that the reason she wanted to go was to ogle the handsome private school boys. This did not seem to be the case. “I want to go on the bungee cord jump.” Lauren said, “And I want to go into the Pirate Ship.” It seemed harmless enough. We walked.
It was a bit of letdown as memories flashed in my head of fairs in the American or English schools in Buenos Aires and in Mexico. They had all kinds of treasures, Mickey Mouse comic books in English (can you imagine that!) and later in the 50s used Tom Corbett Space Cadet or Hardy Boys mystery books.
At the Mayfair they had boring games (the exception was the bungee cord for which Rebecca waited close to 40 minutes on a long queue) and lots of food. The gym was full of junk by the time we got there mid afternoon. But Rebecca enjoyed her three minutes on the bungee cord jump and while she made several back flips she refused to make any front ones. Not having a digital camera I have no idea what my pictures will look like.
Back home I instructed Rebecca to write in a notebook the location and state of every rose in the garden. If the rose was missing a tag, Rebecca printed out its name in her very neat writing. The purpose of the exercise was to prepare her for our joint appearance in the forthcoming World Rose Convention
in Vancouver in late June. Our lecture is called A Rose Through a Child’s Eyes. Rebecca has to learn more about roses. During our work she said, “This is like studying except it is fun.” Part of her job was to assess the condition of the rose bush and to mention if it had scent, how powerful that scent was and if it was fruity or myrrh, not to mention the colour and shape of the flowers. We finished our day with barbecued chicken, white rice and sliced ripe tomatoes. After our meal Hilary surprised us with a DVD called Miss Potter which we all enjoyed. Taking them home I was again hit by waves of memories of those former fairs and of one in particular in 1951.
That year my mother was teaching at the American High School. I was going to the nearby (two blocks) American Grammar School. Only in recent years have I finally come to understand that I never ever went one day to a public school and that my mother always found ways of sending me to private schools. She must have had a deal that by teaching at the high school (she was loved and appreciated and the school annual for 1951, The Southern Star is dedicated to her) I did not pay to go to what must have been an expensive school.
As soon as I got home I went to the family album in search of a picture that I remember was taken that year at the school fair. In Spanish we called it a tombola. In back of the picture here (my mother is in the middle with the funny hat) it says barrel pull. I think it may have been filled with sand or saw dust and the little boys in the picture bought tickets to then take their chances of finding “valuable” prizes.
Perhaps they didn’t have the exciting games they had at Mayfair but through a child’s eyes it must have been every bit as exciting. At Mayfair I noticed lots of 14 year-old girls with great big fronts of metal in their mouths trying not to notice the boys that were trying not to notice them. At age 9 it must have all gone over my head in that fine afternoon at the American School in Buenos Aires.
I noticed that the Southern Star's editorial began like this:The world today is challenged by two great powers, Democracy and Communism. The outcome of present and future conflicts will determine a new phase of history. Which of these is for the best is for each one of us to decide.
When you consider that the modest sized school annual had lots of ads as end pages including this one by General Motors you know in which direction the school was rooting for.
Dieterich Buxtehude & The Boys
Friday, May 08, 2009
The Boys being composers (all living in 17th century Germany, Holland and Denmark) Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Christoph Bernhard, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Franz Tunder, Johann Caspar Kerll, John Jacob Froberger.
I am not ashamed to admit that I have only heard of three of the above men. And I have even listened to some of their music, in particular the pleasantly depressing Lamento sopra la morte Fedinandi III
by Schmelzer (c.1620-80), courtesy of past concerts of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra
and Early Music Vancouver
. I am not ashamed as the Pacific Baroque Orchestra seems to have taken the mandate to boldly go. And this is refreshing. No more chestnuts, most of their concerts are surprises into uncharted territory.
Earlier this evening I atended a concert of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra at St James Anglican on Cordova. I could rant and rave of the surprising Canadian soprano Linda Tsatsanis whose volume filled the church before I could decide that her voice was beautiful and her diction in German flawless. I could rant and rave about our Vancuouver treasure, organist and harpsichordist Michael Jarvis who tackled Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck’s Fantasia chromatica
on the St James 1938 Casavant Frères de St-Hyacinthe pipe organ that was refurbished in 2003. I could rant and rave of enjoying the distinct pleasure of hearing Natalie Mackie play her six- string Violone and know that even though it looks like a double bass it is possibly a member of the guitar family and is sometimes played over handed and sometimes underhanded. I could rant and rave on listening to the violists Jenny Essers and Stephen Creswell and enjoying Ray Nurse’s Theorbo while praying he didn’t hit the long neck with the church’s ceiling.
I won’t rant and rave about the above. I don’t need to. You can see and hear for yourself the same concert tomorrow Saturday at St. Augustine’s in Kitsilano at 8pm or on Sunday at West Vancouver United Church at 2:30. For more info look here
. Not mentioned there is the exciting fact that Organist Michael Jarvis
says the organ (which he is going to play) at the West Vancouver United Church is one of the most exciting organs in town.
But I will rant and rave of the performance of guest leader and violinist (a Master’s degree in Harvard, no less!) Scott Metcalfe, violinist Paul Luchkow, and of Michael Jarvis (top photograph that's Luchkow and Jarvis) on his lovely scrolled harpsichord, of the Sonata in F for two violins and continuo
by Johann Caspar Kerll (1627-93). It is obvious the Metcalfe was taught well on matters of historical performance practice at Harvard as I noticed this succint sentence in the program notes where he describes Bohemian violinist and composer von Biber:
His music imparts something perhaps distinctly Germanic, an earthy delight undergirded by intellectual rigor, conveyed not merely by pyrotechnical figerwork but by captivating virtuosity of rythm, counterpoint and sonority.
I have not had so many shivers going up my spine since I heard Andrew Manze (violin) and Richar Egarr (harpsichord) play the complete violin sonatas of Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli some years ago at the Metropolitan Tabernacle near City Hall. And it is no coincidence as both Pandolfi and Kerll composed and worked north of the Alps and both lived within the 17th century. The latter in the Italianate court of imperial Vienna and the former in the Hapsburg court at Innsbruck.
To the ears of this rank amateur I found similarities in style, I could hear those wonderful odd (so many centuries before Thelonius Monk was to continue with the tradition in the past 20th century) notes that sounded fresh in their oddness.
Without going into details that I cannot elaborate since I am not a musician, I can only mention that the music of the 17th century was sometimes described as of the “fantastic style”. These composers (many were Italians some in Naples composing under Spanish influence like Andrea Falconieri.) did away with many of the textual constraints and predetermined harmonies of earlier music and often called upon the performer to improvise on the written music. It is as if for a while, in that century, there were no tried and true formulas and experiment was the ruling force.
Going to these concerts of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra one has the excitement of listening to music that has been rarely performed or recorded before. It is like opening a time capsule from the past and listening to new music paradoxically from that past, yet so fresh and new that it is as avant garde today as it was the first time it was performed. I could easily go from one of these concerts to a Turning Point Ensemble
concert of new music and the excitement would continue without any necessary rebooting of my brain.
And from my vantage point sitting in the front row I was having a schizophrenic moment trying to decide if I was a Hapsburg prince or a Holy Roman Emperor. These boys and three women were all performing just for me.
Sylvie Desroches - Girl/Woman
Thursday, May 07, 2009
There are many reasons why I am posting pictures of Sylvie Desroches today. There is even a good reason why I posting two similar pictures of Sylvie Desroches today.
I have photographed my daughters all these years with some regularity. But there was a period when I was uncertain. This was when Hilary was 12 and Ale was 15. I told Rosemary, “I think I am going to ask photographer James La Bounty to photograph our daughters.” “Why?” she asked me and continued, “He is going to be expensive and you are a photographer. What for?" I told her that as their father I would see them as little girls for some time to come, and La Bounty, not being related to the girls would be objective and see them as girls approaching womanhood. He would photograph them as such. Rosemary hated the pictures that La Bounty took. It would seem that she was not prepared, also, to see her girls grown up. After a couple of years Rosemary began to tolerate the pictures that were on our living room wall and a bit later she even told me she liked them. Since then the pictures have been put in storage. That moment of uncertainty between girl and woman is gone. Ale is 40 and Hilary is 37.
But now it is about to return as our Rebecca, Hilary's older daughter, will soon be 12. Next year she is going to Quebec on a school student exchange. And a year later a Quebec girl will stay with Rebecca.
It was when Hilary was 16 that her exchange student came to Vancouver to stay with us. Sylvie Desroches was a lively and sophisticated young girl. At the time I was crazy about classic Hollywood lighting so I asked her if she would pose for me on our living room sofa. I have never really made up my mind if exposure 7 or exposure 8 is the better portrait of a 16 year-old going on 20. So I am posting both here.
I wonder if Hilary has made any effort to find Sylvie. Perhaps she will become curious when Rebecca travels next year.
And when Rebecca is around 15 how will I photograph her? I am not her father. But as her grandfather will I still see her as a little girl? Or will I see the woman she is bound to become by then? Just another big reason to want to be alive.
Addendum: Rosemary reminded me of a few facts I had forgotten. Hilary and Rebecca, when Rebecca was 3, went to Quebec City to visit Sylvie. She was divorced and had a daughter called Margarite. Sylvie had a new boyfriend that she adored. Sylvie's mother was very kind to Rebecca but they could not communicate because they had no language in common. Rebecca called to inform me that Sylvie now lives in Alberta.
When Women Were Women & Cars Were Pontiacs
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
I first met Barbara Rycroft in 1983. It was at the cavernous convention room of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. The women dancing on stage were being judged by Tempest Storm. I was taking pictures for McLeans and the Vancouver Province. The women on stage weren’t wearing much. Offstage, Rycroft, dressed to kill, was wearing beautiful slacks, a top with décolletage that would have made the girls on stage blush, and high heel shoes. With kid gloves she was cradling the latest Nikon of the time. Not even all of the Three Graces could have surpassed her style and poise. I felt embarrassed holding my mundane Pentax Spotmatic Fs.
When Barbara Rycroft oozed femininity and sheer elegant sexuality, sexy cars were Pontiacs. Alas we will soon have no more Pontiacs and women like Barbara Hycroft are almost extinct. But the memories remain and somehow that’s comforting.
A Halcyon Irish Spring
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
"Manly yes, but I like it too"
Irish Spring soap commercial 1970s
At about this time, every year I call up the only other person that I know in Vancouver who shares my love and excitement for the Genus Hosta. Donald Hodgson is a retired school teacher who lives in North Vancouver. He has a backyard wholesale hosta business and he grows only the best of the proven hostas that once established will delight the eye for years during the growing season and come back like clockwork every spring. It was at about this time that Donald Hodgson would say, “I love them now when they are emerging from the ground, the leaves are unfurling and they are pristine. My heart aches at their perfection."
Alas Hodgson, my friend died last year. One of the worst moments of my life happened when his widow Joan called me up to pass by her house and pick some plants. Hodgson was gone and there I was walking on his garden picking plants with a ghost in tow. It was sad yet in some way I felt that by taking some of his plants he would somehow live on in my garden. So many of the best hostas in my garden had already traveled from his garden to mine through the years. Every year he would visit and we would look at each individual plant (I have around 400 of them!) and discuss its merits.
I miss Donald Hodgson. I miss the man with whom I shared my passion for hostas.
Here are four leaves looking as pristine as Hodgson would Imagine. The bluish one is Hosta ‘Halcyon’. In a month it will become even bluer. In late June Halcyon has many very showy mauve flowers. The variegated leaf is from Hosta ‘Whirlwind’. It is extremely easy to grow in spite of its bold elegance. The third leaf is a “gold” Hosta ‘Marilyn’. She is albescent. This means that as the season progresses the leaves will fade to almost white. The last greenish leaf is simply the underside of Halcyon. If I had to pick the one hosta in my garden that is my steady favourite it would have to be this one.
"Fresh and clean as a whistle."
Irish Spring soap commercial 1970s
Three Muses & Four Young Men
Monday, May 04, 2009
Since Rebecca started taking ballet and dance lessons at the Arts Umbrella in 2004 I have watched the older girls and boys in other classes grow from one year to another. Then in May 2007 I convinced Editor Bob Mercer to run a piece in his magazine, VLM called The Manly Art of Ballet
. I wrote of the extraordinary boys who were part of the Arts Umbrella dance program. Around October 2008 I again convinced Bob Mercer (his magazine was floundering by then) that what he needed was youth but with some content. This involved me taking pictures of three young and beautiful girls who were in the Senior Company of the Arts Umbrella Dance Program. But the picture never ran nor did my interview with the three as Mercer ceased publication of his magazine (re-named My Vancouver) in March.
Last Saturday I attended the Arts Umbrella Expressions Festival 2009 that featured the Apprentice Company Dancers (one year behind the Seniors) and the Seniors in one extremely long (three hours) but exhilarating string of performances. Rebecca, Lauren and I managed to sit where we wanted at the Vancouver Playhouse. We sat centre, front row. Our purpose was to be able to hear the dancers breathe.
I had seen these dancers grow up as had Rebecca. Rebecca did not receive all the encouragement she should have at home so she decided to abandon both her dance and her piano lessons. I was able to find a way of saving the latter but not the former. It was my hope that Rebecca would get excited at seeing her ertswhile Arts Umbrella dancers and just might want to return. But this was not to be. Only Lauren (6) is enthusiastic about learning to dance at the Arts Umbrella this fall.
As per usual the performances were top notch, choreographed by noted choreorgraphers D.A. Hoskins, Chengxin Wei (Ballet BC Dancer), Gioconda Barbuto, Roberto Campanella, Joe Laughlin, Francisco Martinez, Sidra Bell, Lina Fitzner (I saw her backstage on Saturday night and she looked absolutely stunning, but then I love red hair), Donald Sales (ex- Ballet BC dancer) and Azure Barton.
All those young girls that I had last seen as the Apprentice Company Dancers, now as the Seniors where to my delight all grown women with bodies to kill for. But I have to confess here that this inveterate Latin man who has always been interested in the female form had his eyes mostly for the boys who were now men. These were the boys I had written about for VLM. Only one was missing, Jeremiah Kennedy (a red head!) who had the best smile of them all. In the picture here Jeremiah is upper right. Upper left is Michel Issa Rubio, bottom left is Jed Duifhuis and bottom right Scott Fowler.
My favourite female dancer, seen in the picture with the four boys is Nina Davies. She had the ambition to join Cirque du Soleil. She was uncommonly flexible. But a year ago she suffered from a back injury so she has not been able to dance since. She is now 18 and her parents are sending her to Europe.
The boy (now a tall young man) on the left, Michel Issa Rubio has a style that is all his own. It is part macho Mexican (he was born in Mexico) and part street fighter/hip-hop. While I am no expert on dance I was able to determine that his style is so personal and unique that he must continue with dance. Bottom right, Jed Duifhuis is very tall and strong and he is a solid partner to the increasingly taller dance girls of our century. I can see him being recruited by all kinds of dance companies. Scott Fowler, bottom left, reminds many of an extremely young Mikhail Baryshnikov. When I last saw him he was a virtuoso little boy. That is no longer the case as he is no longer tiny and has gained meny inches in height. He is but somehow he is not yet a senior dancer. He is much too young to graduate. This means we will have another opportunity to see him next year! The young man I saw perform on Saturday night is what I would call a fenómeno a Spanish word reserved to label all those with unexplained talent.
But from the first moment of the first dance, D.A. Hoskins’ Fruit
, my eyes narrowed down the field to watch senior dancer Alex Burton. When I talked to him a couple of years ago he told me that he wanted to be an architect (like his father) and that he loved to explore buildings as spaces for dance. The thought he could combine both professions.
I am sure that one of his mentors at Arts Umbrella, dancer Emily Molnar (on the left with Alex in the middle and Arts Umbrella Dance Director Artemis, Artie, Gordon on the right) would not be surprised in the least as she has repeatedly told me how dancers have intimate knowledge of space and how to work within its boundaries. I am sure that our very own architect, Arthur Erickson would not quibble if we defined that as architecture.
Every time Alex Burton moved on stage I could not look at anybody else. And it was like that for me until the end.
But I did notice the girls and in particular these three in the top picture that would have appeared as the Three Muses in the VLM essay I was going to write. On the top left it’s Alex Parrett, bottom left it’s Alyson Fretz. On the right is Caroline Kirkpatrick. I have a special fondness for both Caroline and Alyson as when they were young girls they were “helpers” in Rebecca’s first ballet class with Andrea Hodge
. Rebecca had a tendency to daydream and Caroline or Alyson would set her straight. Again without any much knowledge on dance matters (except I have seen lots of it) I see Caroline as a future choreographer of note. Wherever she goes she is always the centre as she is in my picture. Parrett danced her heart out all night. I would believe that she did not wake up until very late the next day. She was all energy and grace.
For some reasons on the Saturday that we went (there was another performance the day before) there was not all that much of Alyson. But when Alyson was on stage, she was the only one who managed to steer my eyes away from Alex Burton. At last year’s Arts Umbrella program at the Playhouse I watched Alex and Alyson dance together. I don’t remember seeing so much electricity between dancers before. I itch to see them soon in a future performance of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet
. Where are you John Alleyne when we need you?
Roy Surette, David H. Souter & Gregor Roberston Snaps His Own Worshipness
Sunday, May 03, 2009
In these last months that I have been teaching photography I have noticed that some of my students (most are quite intelligent) who may be in their early 20s or even 30s have no concept of the former existence of Life Magazine
. When I point out to my class (usually an even split beween women and men) that Life’s first cover on November 23, 1936 was taken by a woman, Margaret Bourke-White I am met by blank expressions. I am no longer shocked as I simply think that few now would know of events that happened 73 years ago. At the same time my 11-year-old granddaughter Rebecca can use Microsoft Word
with no problems and knows all about different typefaces and font sizes. At age 11 I had no inkling of such things. My students have simply traded knowledge of one thing for another. It is up to me to more or less set them straight on the origins of photography and perhaps this might help them in their pursuit of success in this now difficult medium.
When my Sunday New York Times
comes crashing on my doorstep sometime around 7pm on Saturday night I try to ignore it. At one time the paper would arrive much later, much as the daily weekday version does. But the delivery people have become most efficient and I am left with that terrible agony of not wanting to delay the reading of the paper to Sunday morning. Be it Saturday night or early Sunday morning, the first part of the paper I look for is the one titled Week In Review
. It will usually have a fine column by Frank Rich and another by Maureen Dowd. The rest is usually extra scrumptious gravy. This is the best section of the paper. Today’s Week In Review
visually blasted me with a photograph that had me staring at it for a long time (yesterday it was!). It is a panoramic shaped portrait of retiring American Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter taken when he was attorney general of New Hampshire in the 1970s. The photograph is credited: Ken Williams/Concord Monitor, Via Associated Press.
Before I go into my analysis of this striking portrait I would like to point out that the credit for the on-line version is different. It is Jim Cole/Associated Press. This is an interesting discrepancy that has no bearing with my story here. What does have is the fact that there are subtle differences between the look of the hard copy version and the one I see on my monitor.
For years I have received much criticism for taking portraits of people looking at my camera, either most seriously or imagining that they are smiling without in fact doing so. Consider the one here, top left of theatre director Roy Surette, and artistic director of Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. It was American photographer Gregory Heisler who publicly criticized Annie Leibovitz for spoiling it for those photographers who tried to look into the soul of their subjects. Heisler remarked that thanks to Leibovitz now photographers had to photograph people doing something. In some cases this doing had to be an eccentric activity like hanging upside down from a tree or bathing in milk.
This has waned a bit as Leibovitz filed for bankruptcy and Heisler, more or less still relatively unknown, has been vindicated. I wonder what Heisler would say of how portraits are now lit, or in most cases not lit. The advent of the do-everything DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera) has made a generation of photographers to so rely on the camera in hand that they don’t consider the possibilities of “tethering” (be it wirelessly or with a cord) the camera to a light and not depending on the light that is available or that pop-up flash that makes it all so easy and, oh so! Flickr.
In the 19th century, before the advent of electrical light portraits, be they photographic, painted or drawn, the rendering of them relied on window lighting or light coming down from large skylights. Such light creates shadows. Shadows give shape to the body and to the face. Shadows hint at the three dimensionality of a person’s face or body on a medium that lacks that third dimension. Flat lighting does away with what in photography is called modeling. Modeling is the contouring of a person’s face with shadows.
What is striking about this portrait of a young David H. Souter is the shading. One side of his face is light the other is dark. The nose somehow (I have never really known how, exactly!) projects an inverted pyramid on his left cheek that those who know call Rembrandt lighting. The absolutely black part of his neck is sharp edged to an area of relative lightness. Again I have never known exactly why except that this is a feature of window lighting or that of a photographic soft box that is placed to one side of a person’s face. The photographer (is it Ken Williams or Jim Cole?) has taken ( I am loathe to use the 2009 term capture) a photograph that shows Souter to be intelligent, urbane and there is, furthermore, just a hint of of a smile. Do either Cole or Williams know of my trick? I tell my subjects, “Think about smiling, very hard, but don’t.”
Colour photographs to this writer are much more effective when there is a lack of colour. A businessman in a dark suit in which the warmth of his skin colour hints that the portrait is in indeed in colour is an example. Contemporary portraiture seems to stress extremely bright, sharp and contrasty colours. This portrait of Souter is the more remarkable in that it has no colour. It is black and white. It stands out in the virtual Babel rainbow of our times.
The discrepancy between the look of the hard copy version, the second picture here and the on-line version, the third picture is due to the manipulation of the scan (this photograph was either a scanned negative or a scanned b+w glossy from a newspaper’s file). The one on my monitor has more of a halo between Souter’s dark side of his head and the back wall. The print version has a more uniform fading into the darkness of the wall. If anything I would like to point out that both images are striking but one might be affected by one over the other without really knowing why. Our ability to subtly change and modify (or not so subtly) the look of a photograph is something that should be considered by all of us and particularly by politicians. Shifting a politician’s face colour from an attractive flesh colour to one that goes into the cyan, the green, or the blue can directly affect our perception of the politician’s qualities and or defects without us being consciously aware.
In the last picture here, a self-portrait by Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson (in my studio, with my camera and facing a large mirror) you can see the modeling on his face, the Rembrandt lighting and that curiously attractive light area right next to the dark side of his face. If I were to up the contrast and open the dark shadows with Photoshop, that area around his head would halo much like in the on-line version of Souter's ever so beautiful portrait.
Addendum: April 6, 2011
name: Ken Williams
comments: The portrait of David Souter on your blog is mine and not Jim Cole's. It was taken while Souter was AG in his Concord, NH office and I worked for the Concord Monitor. I corrected this on the NY Times site but the confusion continues. And, yes it was window light and not a softbox.
Thanks for the post.
Ken Wiliiams, Canterbury, New Hampshire, 03224