La Neblina Del Ayer Y El Azul Frío Del MañanaTuesday, May 25, 2010
Tuesday began well. I gave two lectures ( a split class) at Focal Point. Someone in the class had gone to the administration and demanded that yours truly give them a class on nude photography. I told the administrator, when the request was made to me, that I could not justify teaching that course curriculum to a class that was supposed to be about editorial photography.
About a year ago when I was editorial photography I was a bit on the depressed and bitter and I thought I was being realistic when I would begin the first minutes of the first class with something like, “You guys want to shoot for magazines and newspapers? Don’t you know that they are dead or dying? Why are you here? Prepare for a Plan B. Plumbing could be lucrative.” The administration of both Focal Point and Van Arts must have wondered why they had hired me. After all the students were paying lots of dollars to be taught and not to be told to switch to plumbing (or on my worst days I urged my students to slit their wrists).
A year ago I was suffering with these classes. I would not sleep the night before wondering what I could possibly teach anybody about that which until recently had been my bread and butter.
In fact in some cases I told my students that I had no idea how UBC, Simon Fraser and so many technical schools and colleges in Vancouver could have journalism departments. Journalism was dead I told them.
I felt like one of those who can’t (be a photographer) so that I had to resort to teaching about it. I felt cheap and dishonest.
Then one day I thought about the history of photography and how the English photographers of the Crimean war and their American counterparts in the Civil War had been limited to showing their photographs in salons and galleries. Photographs were converted into lithographs and only then could they be placed in newspapers and in such magazines of the 1860s such as Harper’s Weekly.
It was a photograph of the Steinway Building in New York City in 1873 that appeared in the New York Daily Graphic that changed the course of photography. The photograph was not a lithograph it was printed in something new called the halftone process. Even today if you look at a New York Times or the Vancouver Sun you will note that even the colour photographs consist of dots (a modified halftone process).
From then on the newspapers and magazines competed with each other to show the best photographs. Money was made available and photographers rose to the challenge. This was more or less the case until the late 1990s when the digital age and free on line reading of newspapers changed it all.
Without being negative about the present transition (what will happen, I have no idea) I teach editorial photography sort of like a history of photography as seen in magazines and newspapers. When those magazines and newspapers change to whatever is coming my students will be equipped in knowing how to take those pictures.
The administrators at Focal Point have noticed the change. They say I am a happy person and that I don’t complain. They say I don’t give them problems. I am happy teaching and I sleep well the night before. I feel that I am imparting important information.
And that was today. It was a good day.
I arrived home and once I was in bed in the evening I finally finished the exquisite novel El Quinteto De Buenos Aires by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. As soon as I had finished I realized that the only person I know with whom I could have possibly compared notes was Juan Manuel Sánchez who is living in Buenos Aires. I had called him about it and his girlfriend who is currently in Barcelona was going to buy him the book.
I began to read Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura’s Havana Fever (in Spanish the novel is La Neblina del Ayer or Yesterday’s Fog, and who thinks those names in English!). This book is not part of the so called Havana Quartet but does feature the retired police detective turned used book buyer/seller Mario Conde. I have already read the terrific Adiós Hemingway with Conde, Hemingway as protagonists and with a short but extremely erotic scene in a swimming pool involving Ava Gardner.
At the Vancouver Public Library I found Adiós Hemingway in Spanish so I plan to re read it. At home in my Spanish book shelf I have Padura’s first novel (1983) Fiebre de Caballos ( Horse Fever). In all his novels Padura manages to infer that things are not all well in Castro’s Communist paradise but he does it in such a way that he has managed to publish many books without any kind of censorship.
His detective Mario Conde is all noir, Cuban style. This means lots of rum and no whiskey!
But early into Havana Fever I had to lay the book down, turn off the light and go to sleep. Mario Conde has noticed a large mansion, a bit worse for wear, and he knocks on the door having the feeling the folks inside might want to get rid of the books. Conde now buys and sells old books to keep a meager amount of food on his table and the liquor to accompany it. The two old inhabitants of the house do indeed have a marvelous library and Conde feels for their necessity to sell. Padura writes:
As if the result of a malevolent wave of a wand, the shortage of everything imaginable quickly became a permanent state, attacking the most disparate of human needs. The value and nature of every object or service was artfully transmuted by insecurity into something different from what it used to be: be it a match or an aspirin, a pair of shoes or an avocado, sex, hopes or dreams. Meanwhile church confessionals and consultancies of voodoo priests were crowded with new adepts, panting after a breath of spiritual consolation.
The shortages were so acute they even hit the venerable world of books. Within a year publishing went into freefall, and cobwebs covered the shelves in gloomy bookshops were sales assistants had stolen the last light bulbs with any life, that were next-to useless anyway, in those days of endless blackouts. Hundreds of private libraries ceased to be a source of enlightenment and bibliophilic pride, or a cornucopia of memories of possibly happy times, and swapped the scent of wisdom for the vulgar, acrid stench of a few life saving-banknotes. Priceless libraries created over generations and libraries knocked together by upstarts; libraries specializing in the most profound, unusual themes and libraries made from birthday presents and wedding anniversaries – were all cruelly sacrificed by their owners on the pagan altar of financial necessity suddenly felt by the inhabitants of a country where the shadow of death by starvation threatened almost every home.
I suddenly got depressed. My largish but modest library will have to go before we move. I suddenly understood why Conde was so sad when he saw the marvelous collection in the old house. I also thought, “I will have to Skype Juan and tell him to buy some Paduras in one of the many bookstores on Calle Corrientes in Buenos Aires.
Without summer quite being here in this cool and rainy spring I could imagine that the sky over North Vancouver was cyan/blue. Cyan is that cold blue that presages, sometimes by late July, the coming winter that will be upon us at the blink of the eye. I turned off the light and tried to dream of Mérida, its humid heat, its ochers, browns and the warm Yucatecans. Or having a pizza on a hot midnight evening with Rosemary and Rebecca on Avenida Cabildo in Buenos Aires while sipping a cold moscato. We did so five years ago and I long for it.