An Old Soldier & The Perfect ModelSunday, October 17, 2010
The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-by.
General Douglas MacArthurs at Joint session of Congress, April 19, 1951
In 1978 I read William Manchester’s American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964. Reading about Douglas MacArthuur was like reading about an old friend. On my mother’s side of the family most had either been born or lived in the Philippines. I had an aunt Pilar de Irureta Goyena (my grandmother Dolores de Irureta Goyena often described her , diplomatically though euphemistically, “She dresses like a man and rides like a man.”) who in a visit to Vancouver in the late 80s showed me a photograph in which she posed by a beautiful horse and the handsome General who was giving her a riding trophy. My Aunt Pilar was very proud of that occasion. Many others in the family had their own MacArthur stories. I learned fast that unless you had a good press agent (as MacArthur had) and made sure that right people were there when you uttered such important stuff as “I shall return,” you would never be noticed through your brief passage through human affairs on our blue planet.
In the 80s and 90s I had in Vancouver (a small blue pond in the realm of universal human affairs) a fair amount of fame as a good photographer. If some famous personality were to come to town all I had to do to secure a photographic sitting was to call the press agent. As things stand right now I don’t even know how to get in touch with those press agents. Luckily my ambition to get that shot is no longer an imperative and I am content to do as a small MacArthur and just fade away like a badly fixed photographic print. But it sometimes hurts when I ask to photograph someone and I am denied without much of an explanation. In my profession you are only as good as your last photograph. That photograph cannot be a Time cover in the 80s or a photograph of William Gibson in Vanity Fair in the 90s. It has to be something now. But styles such as mine are in the wane and there is a clamor for paparazzi type portraits that are taken as a fly on the wall or simply on the fly. That has never been my style at all. A portrait on the fly will never really have a personal style, one’s stamp. It will simply be a snap of Justin Bieber emerging from the Vancouver Airport. It will be a photograph with a short time value.
So I do get melancholy at times when I am unable to get people to pose for me. “I am not ready for photographs yet,” they say to me. “Maybe in a few years,” will I be alive when that happens? While all this goes on I am most aware that a photographer has to take photographs to be one. One cannot expect to progress as one, from past (and fading) files.
I am happy to report that I have a plan B. My plan B is my granddaughter Rebecca who is, in my opinion, (perhaps to be taken lightly as it is that of a fading photographer) is the perfect model. In New York or even in Toronto she would be able to support her parents.
She is high strung like a cat and when I photograph her I can feel her energy. I can call her up and tell her of ideas and she will listen, after a bit of protest. Or, as I did on Saturday when I told her, “In 30 minutes I would like to take some tight portraits of you in the living room. You can perhaps do your hair as you like and do whatever with makeup. Here are two for your perusal.
Thanks to Rebecca I can still call myself a photographer even though I may not be an archival one.