When A House Is Not A Home
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Sometime in 1990 we started getting phone calls from the front (the Gulf War). American soldiers were given the opportunity to call their loved ones in the US to tell them that they were alive and well. These calls came from two brothers (black they were) who had befriended my oldest daughter Ale. The first time they came to our house, we had not be warned, Ale showed up with two men who looked like Pad Doc Duvalier’s Ton-Ton Macoutes. One of them was so large that his nickname was, I believe like that of American NFL player William Perry, The Refrigerator
Rosemary, my wife, coming from the small village of New Dublin, Ontario was shocked. I attempted to be more liberal and asked the boys to stay for dinner. The calls from the Gulf, to tell me that they were ok since I was supposed to be concerned as to their wellbeing, became suspect after a few weeks. It seems that the two boys had woven a story of truths and half-truths (when truth is simple it is far more fun to invent a more complicated reality) and Ale in the end kissed them goodbye.
It had been in 1962 when my friend Robert had noticed I did not seem to have the capacity to make female friends. “I know of a girl who has everything you would want in one. She is intelligent and artistic.” So I had a blind date with an American black woman who was a converted Jew who told me, “My name is Benjamin but you can call me Benji.” She was pretty enough but it was difficult for me to reconcile my idea of what was beautiful with a person who had wiry kinky hair and large thick ( I could not recognize their sensuousness at the time). Wherever we walked in Mexico City we were stared at. I decided to invite Benji to visit my mother in Veracruz. In Veracruz my mother used her large house to teach the children of the executives and engineers of a large Alcoa aluminum plant there. I happened to mention to my mother that my Benji was black. My mother was most liberal and accommodating but she still said, “This friend of yours would not sit well with the people who have hired me here. I suggest you do not bring her.” I remember distinctly saying to her, “If I cannot bring my friends to your house which is my home then it is no longer my home.”
The relationship ended for two reasons. Benji and I had coffee at a beatnik café in Mexico City called La Rana Sabia
(the wise frog) and she told me that no woman ever had dates with a man without considering the man a potential marriageable mate. I looked at myself as she said this and decided there was too much of my life in front of me to commit to any idea of marriage. Not too long after I went to Argentina to do my military service and I kissed Benji goodbye. In Buenos Aires I received a gift subscription to Downbeat Magazine
from her and then she just disappeared somewhere in Chicago.
Today we had our Thanksgiving dinner because Ale drove fom Lillooet. So we had Hilary, Rebecca and Lauren ( Hilary’s husband Bruce works until late so he could not come). Our pleasant dinner was tempered by guilt in my part.
A few days before Ale had called to tell us she was bringing a Japanese exchange student/teacher and that she would stay with us. We have an iffy arrangement with our upstairs bathrooms in that one of the tubs leaks while a toilet in the other does not work. This results in an awkward situation especially if we have guests we don’t know. Ale is welcome to stay but anybody else imposes stress on both Rosemary and I. Hilary had already figured out some musical beds in her own house and was willing to allow both Ale and her friend to stay. I simply told Ale that this was imposing on us and particularly on something as an intimate family dinner on the special occasion that is Thanksgiving.
Ale “uninvited” her friend and arrived alone for our Thanksgiving dinner. I understand that I was wrong and that a home to be a home has to always be open to our children's friends. The other side of the family-gathering-coin is our duty in putting a bit of effort to meet new people who are friendly to our daughters and to keep that line of communication alive. I fell most guilty and for the record I will try harder the next time.
Our house is not always a home. And that is tragic.
The scan you see here is that of a lowly astilbe from the garden showing off its brilliant fall colouring.
Friday, October 09, 2009
It is scary to go to an opening by a photographer who shoots b+w film and happens to just be one year older than I am.
There are other resemblances but there is one difference that makes Jürgen Vogt unique. This is his penchant and talent for calmness and patience. Calmness and patience are absolutely necessary if you are going to take portraits of venerable Canadian painters, musicians, authors, poets and prima ballerinas with a 4x5 inch view camera. Vogt eschews flash and works with available light. His average exposures are ¼ second at f-8. He shoots sparingly and might have only taken four sheets (4x5 cameras are one shot cameras and you have to load them again after each exposure) of someone like Timothy Findley, Pierre Berton or, my favourite one of them all, a portrait of singer Ian Tyson.
When Vogt traveled to Cuba (there is a fine display of Cuban photographers who photographed Guevara and Castro) he might have felt generous and taken 12 pictures instead of four.
His portraits, at the Eastwood Onley Gallery, 2075 Alberta Street, are digital prints from beautifully scanned large-format negatives. Vogt’s subjects are treated with a respect and elegance rare in this day and age.
I personally think that what he does in the age of Flickr is headed towards rapid obsolescence (redundancy in that quaint British term) and yet he maintains an easy smile on his face and there is no trace of that bitterness and anger present in so many photographers of our generation.
The most striking portrait in the room (after my fave of Ian Tyson) is of the former Cuban prima ballerina and director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Alicia Alonso (her full name Alicia Ernestina de la Caridad del Cobre Martínez Hoya). Not too well known is that this dancer had an acute eye problem and for the many years that she danced she was virtually blind.
There is something Helmut Newtonish about the image, a sensuality, that makes me think that Vogt captured something of what Alonso must have been as a dancer when she was one of the best Giselles in the world.
Best of all for me was to find out that Vogt is already planning his next project.
The Portrait Project is on until October 16 and is open noon to 6pm daily.
What If? Those Frenchies
Thursday, October 08, 2009
While Joseph Nicéphore Niépce came up with the first photographic process
around 1825 which he called heliography, that at long last showed that nature could be captured (his view from the window at Le Gras, above)
and “fixed” so that one could study the miracle of reality, his exposures were much too slow. They were too slow to capture that fleeting reality that is man. In 1829 Niépce formed a partnership with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre but died in 1833. It was Daguerre who ushered in photography with his ultra sharp images on polished silver plates, the Daguerreotype, a process he announced to the world in 1839. Soon after Daguerreotype mania hit the world. Here you see a portrait of three girs taken in Berlin by Gustav Oehme in 1843.
Many today believe that photography in the 19th century was black and white. Few would realize that the b+w photograph was really an invention of the 20th century and that Talbotypes (the original paper negative prints by British photographer Henry Fox Talbot) and most other prints were never black and white. To be correct we would have to call them monochrome. They came in rich earth tones or in cold blues. Some had more than one colour in what today we would define as split toning. The “modern” black and white photograph with those jet-blacks had to wait until the 20th century.
I have always been charmed by what-if? scenarios. One of my favourites is that 1990 collaboration between authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine
where real-life early computer inventor Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine
is steam driven to change permanently and irrevocably the framework of Victorian times.
In 1903 the Lumière brothers, August Marie and Louis Nicolas patented their Autochrome process which finally showed the world’s reality in a full (interestingly pointillist ) colour which dominated photography well into the 30s when the more practical and easier to use colour negative was developed.
What if Les frères Lumière had been born earlier in that century and collaborated with Niépce? It is my belief that the concept of the b+w art photograph or b+w fine art photograph would be an alien concept today. What makes a b+w print art when the same picture in colour might not be? The tradition of which one came first. Harry Ransom Center
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
For almost four years the folks at Skunkworks
including their web expert and my webmaster, Chris Botting have kept me happy with a web page and blog that works the way I want it. Every once in a while the Blogger-based blog fails but that’s another story.
As the editorial market has changed for the worst my usual markets are drying up. It is not only difficult to get a paying gig as a magazine photographer but equally as difficult to find free lance work as a writer.
I don’t think that there can ever be any profession or job that does not require some sort of support staff. I have a very good one. When I shoot my pictures my wife Rosemary is in my head telling me that little finger should be curved or that hair is in the way. She spots stuff in photographs that in the past I would not have noticed. I listen to her now even when she is not around.Horst Wenzel
keeps my cameras (old-style mechanical wonders) working and Viktor keeps my studio flashes in working order. I rely on The Lab to process my E-6 Ektachrome transparency and Grant Simmons at Disc Imaging Group
drum scans my stuff when I need very good scans. He also prints my digital files as giclées. I would never print anything with a home inkjet printer.
I have a good family doctor in Doctor Colin Horricks and Doctor Simon Warner checks my eyes at least once a year.
In this day and age if you don’t know someone who is computer inclined you are dead. My friend Paul Leisz
dragged me into computers some years ago and helps me install stuff in it and fixes stuff that is over my head most of the time.
But now I want to dedicate this blog to Chris Botting my web master who made my web page simple and clean (in his job as part of the Skunkworks design firm that designed this blog and webpage. Chris Botting has now installed a portal. This portal has the address www.alexwaterhousehayward.com/postcard
This address is in the back of four different postcards
that George Kallas at Metropolitan Fine Printers
printed for me. The address takes you to portraits on a page that has been constructed to work very nicely by Chris Botting. The postcards were designed by my friend, Ian Bateson of
Baseline Type & Graphics
Another way to get to this portal is to go from this blog to home and to click the middle dropdown menu, Applied Photography, and to select The Portrait
The idea to create the portal with an address on the back of a postcard came from friend (about 30 years) Ray Mah of Leap Creative
. He is the one who designed my identity about 30 years ago and I have never found a reason to modify it except to get rid of pager numbers and fax numbers.
In short I have survived up to know because of the above mentioned support staff.
Thank you to all.
Twins, Sisters, Puka Shells & A Yellow Fiat X-1/9
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Around 1977 I decided that my career as a photographer would soar if I started taking pictures of beautiful women and became a fashion photographer. It was not to be. I had already seen Gabriel Levy, the fashion editor for Vancouver Magazine. He had unequivocally told me I had not talent for fashion but that I might do well with portraits. I didn’t pay too much attention to him and I went around the modeling agencies in town. One of the better ones (one that did not rip off their models by telling them they had talent when they didn’t) was Morton Talent which was run by a down-to-earth and gracious Marie Morton. She looked at my photos and told me, “I think you will do for head shots of some of my models and actors. I have one piece of advice, never, I repeat never, photograph a young man wearing a puka shell necklace or earrings.”
Morton then would call me quite often to take preliminary photographs of some of her newly hired talent. Of all the pictures I ever took for her the ones that are the most memorable are photos I took of four sisters, the Samuda sisters. Two of them, Carmen and Anita Samuda were twins. One of the others (right in both pictures) was called Rita but I do not remember the name of the fourth.
In 1977 I had no concept of lighting except what was available. It was then, obviously, called available lighting! Flash of any kind was out of the question. I was into the "authentic" look. With the Samudas we went to parks, took pictures in their homes or in one case I took them in my yellow Fiat X-1/9 to Simon Fraser University. I had no studio. There are pictures here that I will not show. They would embarrass me. There is a set of photos of the sisters of the twins wearing bikinis and sitting on top of a dining room cabinet. There are pictures of the twins holding red apples (what if Eve had been a twin set?), etc. I may have unknowingly, and, in spite of everything, taken some good shots because I like the ones here.
About 10 years later, in March of 1987 I proposed to Vancouver Magazine
editor Mac Parry a photo story on twins. “Mac I would like to hire my family doctor, Elliot Mintz to write an essay on twins that will contain no hocus-pocus on a set of twins owning Pink Cadillacs living thousands of miles apart and separated at birth. It will be a no-nonsense article defining what twins are and how often they occur.” He gave me his blessing and I found four sets of interesting twins. The Samudas were one set.
I went to the home of Carmen (I believe) who lived in Ioco. I was most surprised to find out that Carmen (then called Carmen Samuda-Lehman) had identical male twins. Carmen had always been the more outgoing one and she had these lovely buck teeth that helped to make her mouth that more sensuous and arresting. But I had a soft spot in my quickening heart for the more reserved Anita Samuda-Houlihan. There was a look in her face of sadness and tragedy that made me feel I wanted to protect her. It was a feeling I was to experience again, years later, when I met Evelyn Hart.
In 1997 I found out the four sets of twins were still in Vancouver and I suggested an encore to the editor of Vancouver Magazine. I don’t remember who he was but I thought he was an idiot (I use idiot because the word that comes to mind is not one I would write here). He told me, “We’ll pass on it.”
As I looked at the pictures today I fell in love with the Samuda sisters (all 4) all over again. I wonder where they are and what they are doing? The twin brothers would be 27 now.
I never did photograph any young men with puka shells and wearing earings.
The curious (attractive to me) colour photograph of the two sisters is the way it is because the Kodak Kodacolour negative (I shot colour negative in the late 70s) had deteriorated and shows a green/magenta shift. To make it less green it will become more magenta and vice versa. It is impossible except for those who might be Photoshop experts to "correct" the shift. Ditto with the twins and the Fiat. If I attempt to make the gray concrete less yellow/green the faces of the twins will go blue/magenta.Now that I don't have a studio I may not only take pictures on locations, but I just might opt to leave my studio lights at home.
Reading Takes A Holiday
Monday, October 05, 2009
When Christopher Columbus made landfall on San Salvador ( Watlin Island) on October 12, 1492 he observed some of the inhabitants of the island breathing-in little pencil-like tubes that seemed to be on fire. The “Indians” were inhaling tobacco through their noses. While these “New World aboriginals” might have been having their nicotine hits for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, the habit became widespread once Columbus returned with his exotic findings.
I would like to think that a habit that became “known” by the rest of the world in 1492 is on its last legs now that it is increasingly becoming difficult to even smoke out in the open in some countries and cities. There will be an end to smoking tobacco in a near future.
After reading several articles on how books are being modified to be interactive and will contain video, etc I wonder if reading as we know it will be another habit of mankind that will cease to exist in a very near future.
For years when I was living in Mexico City in the 60s and 70s some of us would laugh at the statistics of the PRI (the ruling party of the time) that gave us glowing predictions on how illiteracy was disappearing quickly. At the time buses in Mexico City were painted in certain colours and they had names like El Mariscal Sucre, Lomas Hipódromo or the extremely long blue-lined Circuito Hospitales, Cuarteles, Tlalnepantla y Anexas. The purpose of the colours and the names that could be memorized, is that many who rode these buses could not read, write or even discern the numbers of a bus. We laughingly pointed out that the statistics just proved that more people were able to read, from one year to the next, the sign on the bus. After that they did not read magazines, books or papers. They did not have the habit of reading.
If you go to an upscale Sanborns (an American style drugstore with restaurants and even more stuff than Walgreen’s) in any Mexican city you will find some of the best book selections around. Then you check the prices and notice that soft cover books go for 30 or more dollars in a peso equivalent. Reading is expensive. Comic books are far cheaper. And of course unlike our fair Vancouver and the rest of the lower mainland there are no real public libraries where you can take out a book and take it home. You have to read it in the library. Perhaps university libraries have modernized but for the average Mexican a book is a rare luxury.
If you consider what Gutenberg did for book publishing you can only wonder that nothing much has really changed in the over 500 years that have passed even if books are no longer chained to the wall.
I took my granddaughters to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. I have taken them before but not as much as I would like. Rebecca’s first question as we walked up the stairs was, “Who was the architect who built this? I don’t like it.” The tone was more or less set for the rest of the afternoon. We went to the Woodward Library for Youth downstairs. Both girls seemed to be lost. I have my doubts that either of them have been shown how to use a school library. I walked them around and Lauren (7) was reluctant to pull books out. Eventually Rebecca sat down to read to Lauren. This always cheers me up. When Rebecca got bored she moved by the stacks like a never ceasing hammerhead shark. I could not explain to her the wonder of the random finding of a book in a just-in section. “These books are too young for me. Let’s go somewhere else,” she told me. I showed her many books which were her level or even a bit harder but they were all “boring”. It would seem that a very young age we begin to judge books by their covers.
So we went upstairs to the teen section. But there was still no interest and the shark kept cruising with one question, “Where are the magazines?” Our day at the library ended with an open teen magazine and I became angry citing the travesty of reading a magazine one could find at London Drugs in the largest and nicest library (in spite of Moshe Safdie
) in town. The final statement was, “I am reading. It is reading that is important, isn’t it?”
Reading a magazine must be a notch better than reading the name of the bus.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
As promised in yesterday’s blog today’s is about our going to a dance performance Diary / Journal Intime at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Since they have recently opened the newly refurbished facilities (excellent use of the little space they always had) they are definitely promoting the use of the more affectionate moniker, the Cultch.
Rosemary, Rebecca, Lauren caught the last matinee on the last day, attendance was fair. The performance exceeded any expectations I may have had. It pleased all four of us and I saw an almost constant smile on little (7) Lauren’s face.
I asked my other granddaughter Rebecca (12) what she thought. She told me that the dance was more than dance and that the dancers were able to incorporate several languages (French, English, Spanish and some counting in German), a kind of sign language and virtuoso dancing. Rebecca noticed that the female (four) dancers had special pointe shoes that were somewhat easier to remove and put on quickly, something that the dancers did often during the performance. I couldn’t draw her out on the extreme sensuality of the show. I asked her if she thought George-Nicolas Tremblay (the male dancer in the picture here) was cute. I thought he was cute and very sexy but Rebecca played it safe with, “I am not into the dancer types. I prefer the ones in law.” I asked her about the very long kiss in the beginning of the performance between George and Roxane Duchesne-Roy, the female dancer in the photo, and her answer was noncommittal, “It was long but the afternoon was more than just sexy, it was about many other things.”
I can only guess that Rebecca would make the better and more objective dance critic. I could never be one as I could never be all that objective.
For four weeks, most recently, I visited a dying friend. Concomitantly my wife Rosemary was hit by an SUV, as a pedestrian, and suffered a severely broken ankle. I have been going with her to physiotherapy and to her doctor. I have been seeing people limping, missing limbs and watched Rosemary walk with a walker, a cane and drag herself around the garden in her attempt to help me put the garden to bed for the winter.
Seeing 7 dancers (4 females and 3 males) at their peak of their youth, doing stretches of virtuoso dancing was a treat after the hospital scene. They were attractive and had lovely bodies and moved with their inherent grace. I am not ashamed to admit to mention here that Diary/Journal Intime choreographed by Hélene Blackburn was a very sensual piece. I am not ashamed at all because my friend Artemis Gordon
who runs the dance program at Arts Umbrella always stresses this fact as to why we should appreciate and love dance.
If the dance performance was not enough I have to add the original music, including standup plucking of the piano strings and (alternated with Bach solo works for piano) by pianist Matthieu Fortin.
He was playing by the time we were allowed entrance to what is now called the Historic Theatre. The young men were sitting casually on the left and the four young female dancers were sitting (casually too as they chatted with each other or adjusted their pointe shoes) on the right. I was intrigued before the performance even began. The floor was decorated with 1000 little round candles and Fortin was playing on a piano with an ancillary sound that sounded like a human being breathing deeply.
There was humour, singing, dancing, point shoe virtuosity (courtesy of Roxane Duchesne-Roy). The performance pleased us all.
Since 1995 when I first met and photographed Evelyn Hart
fell in love with dance (modern, ballet, modern ballet, contact improvisational and even some of the hybrid modern/hip-hop by the likes of Amber Funk Barton and Shay Kuebler
). Since Rebecca was 4 she has been accompanying me to dance. She danced at Arts Umbrella until recently and gave up dance to hunker down on her scholastic life (I do not agree with this but then I am only the grandfather). Rebecca knows about dance and she told me as we watched the performance of Diary/Journal Intime yesterday, “Only Roxane can really dance some of those difficult parts. The only other one would be the girl with the ponytail. I am not all that sure that I could be that objective but I think I would agree. The girl in the pony tail was Susan Paulson. At one point Paulson let her hairs loose and was transformed for me. Suddenly her virtuosity seemed to match Duchesne-Roy’s. My Rebecca was right.
We left for home contented and happy.
I wasn’t all that happy. I know that the Straight gave a glowing mention/preview but I am not aware of any media attention to what certainly one of the most memorable dance performances for a while. Sometimes no matter how good our own home-grown dance scene is I believe we need to see what other countries or at least other provinces in Canada are doing with dance. This performance merited a review, a glowing review early on.
Arts organizations in Vancouver including the Cultch, run by Heather Redfern, right, cannot run them on grants and declining government funding. They need to fill seats. A couple of good reviews (certainly Diary/Journal Intime , a Cas Public Production deserved them) would have put more people in more seats. Then the show can go on.
It is for this reason that I believe that our city needs what I call a Vancouver Arts Web Hub. This would be a web page containing a central hub (a de facto web arts magazine) run by a paid editor who would hire competent writers to write intelligent reviews, but more important, intelligent previews that would attract the presence of more paying customers to dance, theatre, music, opera and visual arts performances and shows. This web hub would also have links to all the web pages of participating arts organizations like the VSO, the Vancouver Opera, Arts Club Theatre, Ballet BC and many of the much smaller institutions with small advertising budgets.
If many people paid and went to see Diary/ Journal Intime, then I am happy for them and for Heather Redfern’s Cultch. If this was not the case then it is a travesty that has to be soon corrected. I believe that steps are being taken in that direction.Cas Publicthe dancers