Bach's Suite For Cello In D Minor
Saturday, August 28, 2010
ON BACH’S CELLO SUITE NO. 2 IN D MINOR Prelude
Lacking the violin’s higher reasoning,
its closeness to the mind, the cello
without touching, knows the lower body
best, the shame and glory of the belly,
the bowels, the inner thighs,
the sweat and stain of things, holy and otherwise,
—this, the cello’s music, the dark vibratos,
the pitch and muscle of their sounds.
On Monday, August 30, early, I will see the urologist Doctor Ercole Leone at his office on Burrard. I will arrive an hour early (and he will see me early). I will sit in the waiting room for a short time, time enough, to read one poem in the Spring 2010 edition of the Malahat Review.
I will read the poem by Lorna Crozier
and realize that of all the poems that anybody would read in preparation for a urologist, none could be better or more succinct to the situation.
After a complete examination (I repeat, complete) Doctor Leone will confirm my family doctor's, Colin Horricks, opinion that if I die it will not be of prostate cancer since I have a most healthy one. I will include here a picture of another gentleman
who did not die of prostate cancer. He happened to play the cello.
Tengo Ganas De Un Beso
Friday, August 27, 2010
Tengo ganas de un beso (bolero)
Composición: Agustín Lara
Tengo ganas de un beso
por qué no me lo das.
A nadie una limosna
se le puede negar.
Tengo ganas de un beso
te lo vengo a pedir
aunque después del beso
me tenga que morir.
Ese jugo sabroso
de tus labios ajenos
me darán por lo menas
valor para esperar.
Tengo ganas de un beso...
I would like a kiss
why don’t you give it to me.
Nobody can deny someone
I would like a kiss
I come to ask it of you
even though I may have to die.
That delicious juice
from your distant lips
will at least make me brave
I would like a kiss...
I write this three days hence on Sunday night but this blog is indirectly inspired by the 2006 Pedro Almodóvar film Volver
with Penelope Cruz. Rosemary and I enjoyed it and for free as I took the film out from our local Vancouver Public Library. The incident in the film that inspired (part of it) these musings has all to do with Penelope Cruz’s character sittting down with a couple of flamenco guitarist to sing the song Volver
. Few here in Vancouver would know that the song was written by the Argentine tango crooner and idol Carlos Gardel in 1935 with lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera for a seminal Argentine film called “El Día Que Me Quieras
” which sort of translates to (English has nor real future subjunctive) The Day In Which You Might Just Love Me.
Few in Vancouver would grasp the enormity of gall for someone like Penelope Cruz (nobody knows for sure if she sang the song in the film or if she was dubbed) to even dare sing it and to sing it as seriously as she did. But, in any case, the song brought me pangs of Argentine nostalgia particularly when the song is about love, lost love, and about returning to face the loss with that hint of hope that the loss might be recovered.
When my oldest daughter Ale (she was 42 last Friday) recently returned from Mexico City she brought a CD as a gift from her godfather Raúl Guerrero Montemayor. When I saw what it was I immediately appropriated it an slipped it into our CD player. The smooth delivery of tenor Pedro Vargas also brought pangs of nostalgia but a much more intense on that from the Cruz interpretation of Volver
. Let me explain.
There is nothing like hindsight to defined periods of history. One can safely make definitions of what was, wasn’t, what was great and what wasn’t so great.
When I arrived to Mexico City in 1955 with my mother and grandmother I was unaware, as most Mexicans were also unaware, the decade of the 50s would represent the golden age of Mexican film and song. As a perfectly normal malinchista
( a Mexican who opts for the foreign over the local) I would not have been caught dead seeing any film based on any story by B. like La Rebelión de Los Colgados
(1954) which was Directed by Alfredo B. Crevenna and Emilio Fernández. With Pedro Armendáriz, Ariadna Welter and Carlos López Moctezuma. Fans of The Wild Bunch
might know that Emilio “Indio”Fernández” plays the dastardly and corrupt Mexican general in the film who finally meets his end with an unexpected confrontation with Mr. Gatling.
Pedro Armendariz (the wonderful Pedro Armendariz) plays the sure-as-hell atheist (who may have doubted in the end) in the John Ford adaptation (Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory
) The Fugitive
with Henry Fonda and the most beautiful woman in the world (yes even more so that Grace Kelly!) Dolores del Río.
But back in 1950 I would not have been caught dead watching a Mexican dramón
(sort of like an overacted soap opera!) even though that cast of La Rebelión de los Colgados was stellar. It was only my infatuation with Mexican actress Silvia Pinal in the early 60s that lured me to two Luís Buñuel films, Viridiana
(1961) and The Exterminating Angel
In the late 50s my mother took me to the theatre to watch Dolores del Río play Lady Windermere
in an adaptation into Spanish of Oscar Wild’s play, Lady Windermere’s Fan
But it wasn’t until the 60s that I began to appreciate the home-grown talent of Mexico. It was then that I went to se the great Mexican actor of the stage, Ignacio Lopez Tarso play in El Rey Se Muere by Eugène Ionesco.
In the 50s I was not aware of the golden age even though my grandmother, working at the Embassy of the Philippines invited to our home such people as Alma Reed, the odd Mexican muralist, intellectual and such fictions of their own imagination as the “Mayan” princess Nicte-Ha. These gatherings, because of my teenage cousin Carmen Miranda, brought well known Mexican trios like Los Tres Caballeros and others which I thought were all awful.
But somehow I watch some good stuff on TV. One of my favourite programs of the late 50 and early 60s was El Estudio de Pedro Vargas. It featured the tenor voice, but stony presence, of a dark chubby man from San Miguel de Allende. When he began to sing all was forgotten, even his wooden delivery. His foil was a Yucatecan-born comedian who had extremely oriental eyes so he went by the epithet “El Chino Herrera who made fun of Vargas’ dark skin. I remember one joke, “Someone ran into you one dark night because they didn’t see you. You are so dark.” The weekly program was called El Estudio Raleigh de Pedro Vargas but it also had another sponsor. This sponsor was a lesser known Mexican rum which, Ron Batey, is now sadly history as are Pedro Vargas, el Chino Herrera and Paco Malgesto. The latter was a Mexican radio and tv announcer who was perhaps the best bullfighting narrator that Mexico ever produced. The unforgettable Manolete
, himself demanded that Malgesto travel to Spain to narrate his fights for Spanish radio.
In el Estudio Raleigh de Pedro Vargas, Malgesto was the more serious, but not by much, animador so that Vargas could do what he did best which was to sing. One of the more interesting of Malgesto’s tasks for the program was to prepare in a side bar (literally a bar that was on one side of where Vargas sang) the chosen Ron Batey concoction that some lucky TV viewer had submitted. The bar had the blender and all the other necessary apparatus for fixing any cocktail known to man and Pancho Villa. While none of the ingredients (that I can remember) ever featured crushed grasshoppers, It was extremely funny to watch Malgesto pour the concoction and then facing the audience he would drink, grimace, and always say, "Not bad." It always seemed to me that the man may have been an alcoholic and every drink he had in El Estudio Raleigh the Pedro Vargas added to his droopy eyes and pronounced bags.
The songs. The songs! Many were boleros which was a form that Vargas popularized and perfected. The big band always had a pair of maracas and that rumba-like beat. Many of the boleros featured the compositions of the greatest living composer of boleros of the time, Agustin Lara. He was an ugly old man with a scared face who had had a torrid affair with the second most beautiful woman of the world (much more beautiful than Grace Kelly) María Felix
. It was Felix (sort of a dark, mannish, intensely serious and scary but still Mexico’s answer to a combination of Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn and Betty Davis) who managed to have an affair with a Mexican president, Miguel Alemán and (a very big rumour) with both Diego Rivera and his paramour, Frida Kahlo.
In those late 50s and early 60s it seemed that Frank Sinatra would visit Mexico City and would consent to sing for hours (telethons in reality) on end for Mexican TV and for charity. I remember watching all those programs not realizing that our very own Pedro Vargas, while not as handsome was every bit as good.
As I listened to Pedro Vargas sing the “cursi” (a Spanish word that almost means banal/corny) I realized the lyrics were the product of a perhaps more innocent times. They were times of romance when women did not mind if someone opened a door for them and they would not object being addressed as señora. As I listened to the accompanying orchestras of Mrio Ruíz Rangel and of José Sabre Marroquin, they sounded suspiciously like many of the bands that accompanied Frank Sinatra like the Nelson Riddle Band. The maracas and the Latin beat suggested the Nelson Riddle Band under the influence of a Ron Batey blend with perhaps some El Patrón Tequila.
The warmth in my insides these days (even though I don’t imbibe) suggests that I have come to appreciate that I lived and grew up in a Mexican Golden Age. What is incredible is that there is little information on the 12-year stint of El Estudio Raleigh de Pedro Vargas. Every citation of el Chino Herrera points out that there is no biography of the man. What you read here mostly comes from my memory. A lively chorus complete with a lively maraca beat, accompanies Pedro Vargas in the song whose lyrics are above, with a lively rendition of:
Even if I may have to die
Even if I may have to die
Even if I may have to die
I would like a kiss
Now there is another lyric that says: I will find you, no matter where you have gone. Our world cannot be that big, after all, how big can it be if only five letters define it?
But that is another story for another day.Bésame MuchoSiboney
Remember Me & The Boy With The Green Hair
Thursday, August 26, 2010
It is a rare day that a film that is being shown on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is one that I have not seen. There are a few exceptions such as most of the silent films and some of the more risqué that my grandmother or my parents would not have taken me to see in Buenos Aires in the 40s and early 50s.
Watching a film with a child, as I see it now, is a combination of many deciding factors. One must decide if it is worthwhile for the child’s development, if it will entertain her and not go over her head. And perhaps with a dash of selfishness, will it entertain me, also, or will it be too juvenile?
My guess is that there are many films I saw with my mother and father that featured actors and actresses they liked. My mother loved Leslie Howard and Joseph Cotton. She must have really liked Gene Tierney and Jean Simmons. I remember them taking me to see Laura
before 1950 and for the Argentine premiere of The Robe
in 1953 (with that close to 3-D effect where a chariot pulled by dashing white horses comes at the audience and almost leaps from the screen). I understood little of the plot so my mother explained why Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer were doomed in Romeo and Juliet.
I think it was then that I first heard of William Shakespeare. But also she told me how Norma Shearer had been a would-be starlet whose image was enhanced and career made by a man I soon learned to admire in the 1980s. It was photographer George Hurrell
There are spooky memories (the dead legionnaires propped up on the crenellated ramparts of Fort Zinderneuf) of going with my father and mother to the Cine General Paz on Cabildo Street (in our neighborhood in Coghlan to see Gary Cooper in Beau Geste.
I remember the magic and of wonder of watching Douglas Fairbanks Jr. wince when his twin brother was in a sword fight in the Corsican Brothers.
When my father took me to see Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
(I must have been 8) the funny parts went over my head and I was in terror every time Bela Lugosi as Dracula appeared on the screen.
But all in all my parents and my grandmother, who loved both cowboy movies and war movies, seemed to know what films I would like. They obviously put some thought into their selection.
There is one incident that left we with a curiousity that was finally satisfied last week. In 1950 (I was 8) my grandmother picked me up at the house and we took the train to Retiro and from there the subte (subway) to Plaza Lavalle. Going up the stairs of that subway station led to the most exciting sight for anybody who liked going to the movies. It was Avenida Lavalle and on this avenida there were blocks and blocks of movie houses one after the other. They had a system called “programa continuado” which meant that you would go from one movie in one movie house to another seamlessly without missing any of the action. The projection schedules were planned accordingly. When we had seen too many films, perhaps two, we would rest at the Roxy and have a strawberry ice cream soda. And we would then return to the fray of cowboys, pirates and John Wayne singlehandedly machine gunning a battalion of nasty Japs.
It was in one of those glorious days with my abuelita that we passed a movie house that had curious posters of a young boy with green hair. “What is that, abuelita,” I asked her. Her reply was final, “This is not a movie you would want to see.” I never saw it until last week when TCM had it in its program. I alerted Rosemary and we sat down to see the precocious Dean Stockwell, the lovely Barbara Hale and the warm and wonderful Gramp played by Pat O’Brien. Even this film which I had never seen brought memories of my past on Avenida Lavalle. It must have been in a movie house on Avenida Lavalle that my parents took me to see in 1951, Kim
(Kim de La India was its name in Spanish!) with Errol Flynn and Dean Stockwell.
When Rebecca was around 9 she lost interest after 30 minutes of Kim and I have waited before taking out Beau Geste. While I may be stuck in some of these films from my past I have also attempted to adapt. When Twilight
came to Vancouver I had read all about the phenomenon in the New York Times so I surprised Rebecca by asking her if she would want to accompany me to its first screening at the Rio on Commercial. And I took the girls to see Alice In Wonderland
in 3-D. I draw the line in some of the overly animated or special effects adventure films.
But there was one incident recently that made me remember my grandmother. I felt both old and young at the same time.
Rebecca and I had arrived at the Austin airport and we were waiting for Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. to pick us up in the Toyota Matrix. Once we were in the car Brother Edwin said, “I don’t know what your plans are for tonight, Friday. On Fridays we always watch a movie at St. Joseph’s Hall and I make popcorn on the microwave. Are you interested?”
Our curiosity was piqued and we said yes while I wondered what sort of film 16 or 17 Brothers of Holy Cross in their 70s, 80s and 90s would choose to view.
At seven Brother Edwin removed the popcorn from the microwave and we moved to the viewing room. We had front row seats. Brother Edwin gave us little bowls with which we could scoop the popcorn from a much larger bowl. We were introduced to Brother Johnny whose task it is to select the week’s film. When Brother Edwin told us that the film was Remember Me
with Robert Pattinson she beamed and I cringed. We all (not Rebecca) looked at Brother Johnny thinking, “You are not going to survive this one.” But the film was better than we all thought it would be. When the film was over we lingered and Rebecca discussed with the brothers the un-Hollywood ending.
I had a glow inside. It was an Avenida Lavalle glow. I wonder when I will watch The Boy With The Green Hair
with Rebecca and Lauren. Soon? Or will Rebecca have to wait 60 years?
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
When Hassan the Electrician
had a look at my pictures hanging on the wall of my darkroom (very close to the ill-fated circuit breakers) he said, “Alex, you are really good.” I have never been able to handle praise so I answered in my usual way, “If by this time I were not good I would have changed professions a long time ago and particularly a more lucrative one like plumbing (certainly not electricity with my low capacitance for understanding voltage and impedance).”
But there is one area of my photography where I will rapidly come to my defense and say I am really good at it. I am good at taking portraits that feature hands.
On December 22, 2006 I wrote a blog here
that featured a photograph I had taken of actor and acting school teacher Peter Breck. I had taken the portrait back in May 1989 for the Georgia Straight. Within a few days I received a nasty email from an irate Peter Breck fan who wrote that I had a reduced a handsome man into an ugly apparition. I was shocked and hurt and never answered the email.
While for years I have stuck to my guns that a portrait photographer has the obligation of making people look as good as they look or better, I have held a parallel opinion that with actors capturing drama was more important.
When I photograph women of a certain age (even female lawyers and politicians of a certain age) I refuse to smooth out the face so that skin pores disappear. I might ease out some rings around the eyes and a few crow’s feet but I try to make the people of my portraits look real. I opine that the infamous Photoshop tool “diffuse glow” is Jennifer Anistoning the world. Yes I claim to be the first to use that person’s name as a verb!
My almost rant comes from the fact that yesterday I saw a reputable photographer’s photo card at a printer and I saw a nicely lit portrait of a man. It looked like a photograph I might have taken around 1985. It was evenly lit with a softbox but there was a bit of nice shading on one side.
My point is that back in 1985 few had softboxes so when I took my soft box portraits in Vancouver people knew I had taken them, especially when they looked at the hands and noticed that my camera was always higher than my subject’s eyes. I also liked to use a deep green filter with b+w film to increase the contrast (manliness?) of a man’s face as is the case here in the portraits of Peter Breck.
The last one (all are negatives that are scanned into the computer) has some added vignetting. This was standard for me even back in 1985. The darkening of the corners and sides made the portrait seem more dramatic.
The picture I saw at the printers had no drama. It was efficient, sharp, well exposed and probably (when a real print hangs at a gallery) the print will be very nice. But there is something missing. Perhaps it's soul but, more likely, a sense of style.
We have reached an era when photographs “come out”, “turn out”. In the past that was not always the case. Once one circumvented all the equipment and lighting equipment pitfalls it was often a miracle if any of the pictures that one took were decent. We are now in the era of almost assured efficiency (an exception could be that horrible term “a corrupted storage card”).
Anybody might simply say, “Alex, chill out; accept the inevitability of things digital. Hang up your Mamiyas. Buy a Canon Mark IV with overdrive and torqueflite transmission. You will like it.”
In our path to finding and have found equipment that works all the time we have forgotten what style is.
On a sad note when I checked Peter Breck’s web site
(where you might agree with the irate fan about how I photographed such a handsome man) I found out that his wife tells us that Peter Breck has dementia. As for me I can remember a gracious man man with a beautiful voice who told me he liked the Polaroids I took of him before I committed to film. It seems to me that Peter Breck, too, had style, a kind of style that has since faded and is hard to find in our now perfect world.
Capacitance For Stupidity
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Hassan Ayach arrived at my front door on Monday morning at 9:30. He was a pleasant short, and young man, obviously of middleastern origin.
A. Where are you from?
H. (suspiciously )From Canada.
A. No, where were you born?
H. I’m from Lebanon.
A. Well I’m from Argentina. I find that Latin Americans, Arabs and even Persians (even though I call them Iranians) have a lot in common. We seem to think in the same way. We are prácticos
(practical). We tend to fix instead of throwing away.
H. Show me your electrical problem.
A. I blew a circuit last night drying photographic prints with a hair dryer in the basement. I think I may have problems with one of the fuses.
H. How do we open that fuse box as there is that wood insert in the way?
A. Let's break it.
H. No, let's not. Let's think.
A. Since we are prácticos
I am sure we’ll find a solution.
If you pry it here carefully I think we can do it.
H. There is nothing wrong with the fuses. We are going to have to check the circuit breakers. I should have learned to speak Spanish. I find it easy.
A. It’s easy because you open your mouth. The difference between English and Spanish is that you can speak English with your mouth almost closed. Is it possible for a circuit breaker to burn out?
H. Yes. What's this?
A. They are a series of photographs of a Japanese/Canadian woman removing, little by little all the layers under her kimono.
H. It must be great to be a photographer.
A. I don't make as much as you do and especially now but you cannot approach a beautiful woman and tell her, "How would you like to discuss electrical circuits with me?"
H. Yeah, I know what you mean.
A. I find it strange that when the circuit went so did the 220 volt one for the stove and odd outlets throughout the house. I kept pushing the breakers up and down but it all remained the same.
H. The solution to your electrical problem is going to be and easy one, but I am afraid it is going to cost you some money because of the quoted diagnostic of my company (Expert Electric). Do you want to hear the truth?
A. Give it to me as long as I can tell Rosemary when she comes home that we have our stove back.
H. This is very much like the story you told me about Steinmetz
H. There are two banks of circuit breakers. In the lower one, the switches have to be up to be on. On the upper bank the switches have to be down to be on. You kept going back and forth with that upper bank but every time you would leave them in off.
A. I guess this is part of my dyslexia. But then I failed electricity in college because I could not discern the difference between capacitance and inductance.
H. Capacitance (symbol C) is a measure of a capacitor's ability to store charge. A large capacitance means that more charge can be stored. Capacitance is measured in farads, symbol F.
A. And now I know all about capacitance as I depend on my flash units' capacitors to store all that energy.
H. I would tell your wife that I found a loose wire which I tightened. Don’t tell her the truth. Give me a felt tip pen and let me write here on your box where on is so that it will not happen to you again.
A. I may be Latin, Hassan but I am also part English. I am going to tell her the truth.
H. You have to be práctico. I am going to be 30 soon and I want to get married. Do you do weddings?
I signed a check for $202.12. I would say that $2.12 represents the physical labour when Hassan moved that bank of switches down. The $200 is for knowing that they were up and off. Hassan and I parted with an abrazo
. I told Rosemary the truth.
The Facts Behind The Photograph (s)
Monday, August 23, 2010
Saturday night I read my Sunday New York Times in bed. It is one of my weekend pleasures. The heavy package comes crashing to my door sometime around 8pm. There was something (there always is) that made me think and I read it again. It was an article in the entertainment section and it was called It’s Actual Life. No, It’s Drama. No, It’s Both
. It was written by one Dennis Lim. It was about the fine line (if there is even one) between documentary films and fictional/drama films. This was the paragraph that made me sit up:In a very literal sense, all films have documentary aspects: once the camera is turned on, whatever is captured, no matter how staged, contains a trace of reality, an element of chance. The inverse is true as well: no documentary, whatever its claims to objective reportage, is ever devoid of manipulation, since a controlling hand is evident in even the most routine matters of camera placement and shot selection.
It made me think of the picture that I took of Rebecca that graced yesterday’s blog. Here you see a variant. In all I took two pictures with film and my Mamiya and one with my iPhone.
The spot I chose for the picture is across the road from Michael East’s Santa Fe Ranch house in South Texas. The land (called Texas brush) is absolutely flat but where I took the picture there is an ever so slight elevation and it was here that Michael East (and perhaps his mother, too) chose to bury his father Tom East when he died December 8, 1984. The grave has a little promontory nearby with potted plants and trees were planted for shade. The plot, with the one grave is surrounded by a fence with a gate. The gate leads to a pasture and another gate which opens to the road and the ranch house. From the ranch house front door you can see the group of trees (a mott) and the fence. To me, and I never knew the elder East, it is a magical place.
When I told Rebecca I wanted to show her the little cemetery and take her picture she immediately objected. It was close to noon and it was around 40 degrees. She was wearing flip flops, shorts and insisted in putting on a blue floppy hat (my wife’s) that is not half as nice as the straw one (also my wife’s) that I forced Rebecca to wear after an altercation. Michael East told us to be careful in the cemetery, “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” I knew that the path leading to the plot was free of vegetation and that once I was within the plot I would stomp on the ground and make enough noise that any snakes would vamoose pronto. Still Rebecca was reluctant, moody, angry and hating to put on the hat.
Once we were there she told me to hurry as she thought she was being bitten by chiggers. I was barely able to take my three pictures when she simply left in a huff.
I think all three photographs are extremely beautiful and they capture the beauty and peace of the place. Rebecca looks sad and sensitive and lovely. But the facts as I explained them above tell a different story. This is why that paragraph that I read in the Sunday New York Times on Saturday night made me sit up.
In order to scan the second b+w version of the photograph I forced dried it with a hair dryer in my basement darkroom. Perhaps I had the dryer too close to the photograph. The circuit breaker went. When I set it back nothing happened until I did it a few more times. To my horror I found out that a circuit in the kitchen (the fridge, the stove, the microwave and other outlets) plus my darkroom, was inoperative. No amount of setting it changed anything. I connected the fridge to the dining room with a long extension cord and I now wait for Monday morning to call an electrician. Depression had already set in when I went to the basement to check on the circuit breaker and I ran into a big rat. At this point no drugs (not that I ever take any) could relieve my melancholy. It is amazing how important a functioning stove can be to one’s life and happiness!
But as I look at the picture I remember the idea that the moment you set a camera on a tripod in a pristine wilderness, it is wilderness no more. The camera and its owner intrude on the situation. As I look at the picture I am well aware that the cemetery plot is not a wild place in the least. But somehow our intrusion on the quiet place was counteracted by my memory (I have read about Tom East) of the man who was buried there. I had explained to Rebecca his significance in South Texas ranch history. Whatever it was, both of us, in spite of fear of rattlesnakes, in spite of the insects and the heat, shared a moment we will not forget, particuarly since we have three photographs as proof.
Watt Seconds, A Dark Russian & Oriental Seagulls
Sunday, August 22, 2010
My conversations with fellow photographers are about as frequent as my conversations with Uruguayans.
It was in the early 80s that I was a member of CAPIC (Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communication). We had monthly meetings (I went to them for only one reason and that was when the meetings were held in Rick Etkin’s studio, read below, he would have his makeup and assistant,Nicole Scriabin around. She was the dark haired wonder woman who wore tight fitted skirts, what a body!) were mostly male photographers who would drink enormous quantities of beer. We boasted about who had the most powerful studio flash system. I was mostly quiet about these things as my units could barely inch up 1000 watt/seconds while my competition paraded numbers like 3000 and 4000. The most successful of these photographers (he had a beautiful studio, good commercial accounts and a pleasant wife) was Rick Etkin. He was the first photographer in Vancouver to have a cellular phone.
Most of us (or at least this photographer) were unaware that every time we called Etkin, he had to pay for the call. He would get angry with us when we could call him up with info on the next meeting ("Will that dark Russian be there?"I would think and not dare ask). Before his pleasant wife could be his wife, he had to marry her. A few days before he did Etkin invited us to his stag party. At that time I was always ready for three excuses whenever the phone rang (in those pre-call-display dark ages). It it was MacLean’s Magazine wanting me to take a photograph that very moment for $50 an then to rush the raw film to the Air Canada counter at the airport, I would politely tell them to f… off. It someone was inviting me for a Saturday wedding (I can think of now worse way to waste a weekend!) I told them that I could not go unless they served Moët et Chandon. But it was the invitation for a stag that I was particularly ready to have an excuse not to attend. I can think of nothing worse that a situation that places many drunk men as far away as possible from the company of women (with a token stripper if you were lucky). When Etkin called I was caught off guard and I told him I was free on the Saturday in question. I told him I was free after he told me the stag was going to be on a boat. Imagine being in close proximity to many drunken men (male photographers to boot, are even worse and more boring) and in a place where one could not make an exit even if one knew how to swim.
So I reluctantly boarded the sailboat that was docked on Granville Island sure that this particular Saturday was going to be one of the darkest moments of my life. It was evening and as soon as it was dark the men began to drink. I was alerted to the sound of women. They almost sounded in my imagination like Ulsysses’ sirens luring us to our destruction. Unbeknownst to us Etkin had chartered two boats and had spent the afternoon luring (sirens! Ha!) innocent women on Granville Island to board the ship. They had and they soon boarded us. “Avast! Photographers. We are here.” The evening became one of the most pleasant in memory. I remember in particularly that three of us sat with a beautiful woman who asked us to guess at what she did. She told us that we might see her once a week and that her job was an ordinary. In spite of her hints we never did guess and she had to tell us that she was a Safeway check out clerk. Few got drunk that night and I must confess that I loved every minute of it.
My digression above has all to do that in my early years and in most of my years in Vancouver I avoided the company of photographers. And now when I want to remedy that situation I have come to find out that most have gone to become real estate agents or grow fruit trees on Salt Spring Island. And the few that I do communicate with (and I now come to the crux of today’s blog) tell me of the days when they used to shoot film. They tell me of the days when they used to process film and print in terrific darkrooms and brag of Swedish built, titanium clad Hasselblads, Swiss Alpas and $3000 day rates (for a week) in the Bahamas. They talk of the good old days and how their darkrooms are now clean desks in front of monitors.
What they tell me affects me much in the same way as when I was told at the last maintenance job on our Audi (Goodbye Sophie, this September 15) that the latest A-4s no longer have a dipstick. It’s electronic. Not only that, the emergency brake is an electric button. There is nothing to pull when all hell breaks loose. The folks at Audi should check with the folks at NASA about backups that are electrical.
All the above is an overture for today’s scanned 8x10 b+w print of Rebecca which I took in South Texas in Michael East’s Santa Fe Ranch. I took the picture with my Mamiya RB, on a tripod, with a 90mm lens. My film of choice was Kodak Plus-X Pan. I printed the photograph Friday night using, my first time ever, Oriental Seagull VC-FBII Warmtone paper. I had run out of paper on Friday and it was too late to go to either Leo's or Beau Photo as they close at 5. My place of last resort was Lens& Shutter. I called and Mike their darkroom guy told me all they had was this Oriental Seagull. My silence was broken with Mike's, "Hey it was Ansel Adamas' favourite paper." If the results I got last night are any proof I can concur with Adams that the paper is excellent.
No scan can show you the marvelous heft and sheen of the picture. While my scan I fairly accurate, there are subtleties that somehow the scanner leaves out. It could be that tactile part of it. Lifting the photograph and shifting it back and forth near a light reveals depths that are not transported to the screen of my cathode ray tube monitor.
Best of all I project the negative on to the paper in my easel. After an initial 40 seconds at f-16 I opened the lens wide open and vignetted the corners with my homemade cardboard vignetting tool. I then eased it into my developing bath and timed it for exactly 60 seconds at 20 Celsius. I sloshed it in stop bath (Heinz -57 white vinegar and water) and then watched it darken a tad in my two fixer baths.
While I may concur with any photographer who states that a good ink jet print from a good digital file is a wonder, this old man will simply not accept that anything sitting on my desk (and which whirs) can match what I can do in my darkroom.
Perhaps the reason I avoid the few photographers that I know is that most of them tell me of what they used to do and I can only match this with the fact that what they used to do I still do. And it sometimes does feel lonely.Nicole Scriabin