Looking At The Past To Defy The Present
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Repeatedly I am asked to explain how my painting evolved. To me there is no past or future in art. If a work cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.
1923, Pablo Picasso in an interview with artist and dealer Marius Zayas, when defending his controversial practice of working simultaneously in Cubist and naturalist styles
In the 80s and 90s I went to alternative scene rock concerts with my friend designer Ian Bateson. In my ignorance I would tell him that I liked the group we were listening to. His usual answer always upset me, “Alex it’s been done before and its been done better. These chaps are derivative.” I would show Bateson some of my recent photographs that I was particularly proud of. He would look at them (almost in a perfunctory manner) and simply say, “It’s been done before.” For years I was never able to find some sort of counter statement to shut him up. For a while I stopped showing him my photographs.
|Édouard Manet, Luncheon on the Grass, 1863|
It was sometime in the late 90s that it must have hit me in the middle of the night. I suddenly knew. I showed Bateson a nude. He looked at it and said, as expected, “It’s been done before. It’s old hat.” I looked at him (and if memory does not fail me) and I shouted at him, “But I have not done it, yet!”
It was at about this time that I began exhibiting in local galleries and I would frequent openings in galleries. Every once in a while I would see a roomful of “boring” landscape nudes. These landscape nudes are the usual product of a young or inexperienced photographer or artist who will say to you, “Have you noticed how a reclining female nude is so similar to a Sahara Desert dune?” At first I felt superior to these landscape nude artists. After all I had gone through that state in the mid 70s. But in the light of what I had told Bateson I began to understand that all of us go through predictable stages in our life as photographers and or artists. Some go through these stages slowly and some of us circumvent or skip them. Ultimately (it is my opinion) you begin with the landscape nude and you up the ante to the portrait nude. From there you might “regress” to bits and pieces of the body, not as sand dunes but as body parts that are beautiful in their own way. From parts you might flirt with bondage photography or esoteric eroticism.
|Luncheon on the Grass (after Manet) 20 February 1960|
Ultimately you are faced with pornography. I must admit that I was close to the brink and that I skirted it but in the end I understood that pornography is a personal exercise in bad taste. If one has some sort of innate idea of what is beautiful and what is in good taste one cannot do pornography. And so I never made pornography. I understood the process and I became less critical of those who had yet to proceed from the landscape nude (as we all do when boredom strikes) to the next stage. They simply had not done it yet. It was also then I understood that a recognizable personal style in photography much like in a similar one in painting had to first come from the looking at pictures by others. It came from understanding and figuring out the intention of those other artists. It came from out an out imitation and how this imitation soon led to variations when the resulting images lost some of their origins and adopted the intentions and style of the would-be-copier.
|Luncheon on the Grass (after Manet) Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
In fact I tell my photography students, “The Holy Grail of photography is the identifiable personal style. In order to achieve it you must first rip off as many of the photographers you admire. You will soon find your own voice.
While I never studied art or its history I have read enough, gone to enough major galleries and purchased enough books to have a middling idea of where art came from. I would almost assert that I may be fairly well versed on the subject. Of art I tell my students:
|Las Meninas, Diego de Velázquez, 1656|
When you are confronted with the most difficult element of photography, one that is almost certain to produce failure and this is a sterile studio, a gray wall, a lovely or handsome model, your camera, a light or lights and you behind the camera, nothing will happen. Nothing good will happen, unless you draw on two elements. One of them is nostalgia. I photographed not too long ago a beautiful woman with a fan. The resulting image while possibly arresting to a few (I used Hollywood lighting) was completely justifiable for me as it was based on my going to see Mexican actress Dolores del Río in 1959 in Mexico City with my mother. She had appeared in a Spanish translation stage production of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan
. My photograph was an exercise in personal nostalgia. It mattered to me regardless of what it might mean to anybody else. Nostalgia fueled my inspiration and my studio was not sterile anymore. In my imagination I could hear Dolores’s del Rió’s wonderful voice.
|Las Meninas (after Velázquez) 17 August 1957|
The second source of inspiration in the sterile studio is the inspiration of a work of art or artist that one might admire. A woman in profile in a photograph can have elements (if only in one’s memory) of a da Vinci Madonna. A fine b+w or even colour portrait of a person by a window can be inspired by knowledge of Vermeer or Rogier van der Weyden.
Sometime in the late 80s Vancouver Magazine art director, Chris Dahl told me he liked Irving Penn’s b+w cover portraits for Vanity Fair
. “Can you imitate some of them for me?” I did to the point that Dahl told me one day, “I cannot run this, it’s too much like Irving Penn.” I was not offended in the least as understood that I could now modify Penn’s technique and adapt it to my own person needs and still make my portraits look like my own.
|Las Meninas (after Velázquez) , Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
The irony of all the above is that the “It’s been done before” man himself, Ian Bateson recently returned from a trip to England. He visited the Tate Gallery in Liverpool and was blown away by a special Picasso show there. He brought me a book which serves to illustrate elements of the show. The book is called Picasso – Challenging the Past.
Before Bateson gave me the book we had lunch. While walking on Robson near Seymour he stopped to tell me, “Picasso says that there is no such thing as original art. It’s all been done before. It’s all derivative."
|Ingres, Grand Odalisque, 1814|
I have read the book from cover to cover and understood how little I know of Picasso. I never did know that the artist was a consummate copyist and that he copied and was inspired by the art of not only his contemporaries but by such masters as Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Doménikos Theotokópulos, “El Greco”, Édouard Manet, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and many more. Bateson’s gift had pages and pages of Picasso's copy work, his variations and derivatives of these masters.
Of his derivative work, as explained by one of the contributors to the book, Elizabeth Cowling in the chapter called Competition and Collaboration: Picasso and the Old Masters
|Grand Odalisque, Pablo Picasso 1907|
But whichever form the ‘collaboration’ took it never involved the respectful, self-effacing submission normally associated with copying. On the contrary , as Picasso explained to André Malroux during a long discussion on the latter’s concept of the ‘Museum Without Walls’, although he lived ‘with’ the painters who mattered to him – lived ‘as much with’ them as with the people with whom he shared his life,
“I paint against the canvases that are important to me, but I paint in accord with everything that’s still missing from the Museum of yours… You’ve got to make what does not exist, what has never been made before. That’s painting: for a painter it means wrestling with painting.”
|Una Siesta en Goya (after Ingres and Goya) Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
The final chapter of the book written by Simonetta Fraquelli is called Looking at the Past to Defy the Present: Picasso’s Painting 1946-1973.
I am certainly no Picasso, not even a portion of his shadow. But that title is enough to keep me going and I will burn midnight oil in the erstwhile sterile mind of my imagination.
And more derivative "art" follows bellow aided by Blogger's new feature of being able to put captions under my photographs.
|Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman|
|Rodney Graham by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
|Alice, Balthus 1933|
|Helen, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
|Franz Wynans with Rembrandt's The Art Dealer|
|Self portrait with Rembrandt's self portrait|
|Self Portrait, Leonardo da Vinci|
|Robertson Davies by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
Friday, October 22, 2010
On June 9th I boarded with my wife Rosemary, the Ocean Watch. She was docked at the Government Pier in Deep Cove. Sam Sullivan (below, left) and his wife Lynn had chartered the Ocean Watch
and invited former friends of Abraham Rogatnick, including architects Geoff Massey (right) and Bruno Freschi) for the ceremony of spreading our friend’s (Rogatnick) ashes somewhere in Indian Arm. He had died August 29 of the previous year.
Lynn Zanatta had suggested that some beautiful falls would be an appropriate location. Two (Freschi and I) objected to the idea as we both had the opinion that Rogatnick was more a man of logic than of romance and a waterfall would have had no significance to the man’s life particularly in that he wanted no ceremony after his death, “After me, the deluge,” he often told me as he stressed his non belief in an afterlife.
It was obvious to me that the elaborate memorial service his friends (including this one) organized on September 2009 was for our benefit as it helped us cope with the loss of an admired and much loved man.
Freschi and I both convinced those on the Ocean Watch that a piece of architecture was the better choice and than no better would be the now retired (and ghostly) power station designed by British-born architect Francis Rattenbury who most know at the man who gave us the Provincial Legislature and the Empress Hotel in Victoria and Law Court in Vancouver that was adapted by Arthur Erickson to be our Vancouver Art Gallery.
Zanatta, the gracious Zanatta we all know, had brought along delicious munchies and wine for what was supposed to be the happy celebration of a man’s life. The day was cold, gray and gloomy. A biting wind sprayed us with a persistent drizzle. It was to me, not a happy time.
I kept looking at a man with a beautiful and imposing profile who was sitting sat a corner of the stern and staring impassively, with a touch of melancholy, into the water. He was architect Geoff Massey. I had first met him in the meetings we had at Sam Sullivan’s to organize Rogatnick’s memorial in September 2009. I had been first attracted by his imposing presence, every bit of it, 100% the vision we all have of “The Architect”. I was then warmed to his low key and intelligent conversation (with a voice that would have made him rich in radio had he forfeited his career as an architect).
Because of the vagueries of fortune I got to photograph Evelyn Hart but never Karen Kain. Through similar circumstances I had been fortunate to photograph architects Arthur Erickson, Ned Pratt, Ron Thom but not Geoff Massey who was from the same generation even though Pratt and Thom where somewhat older.
It was Abraham Rogatnick who had told me of Massey and of his influence in British Columbia. When Arthur Erickson died in May 2009; Rogatnick gave the keynote speech in Erickson’s memorial service in Simon Fraser University. I was not there as I was in Texas at the time, but Rogatnick read the speech to me in his home and then explained, “Alex I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that Simon Fraser University was designe not by one architect but by two. The other was Geoff Massey. I made sure to mention the man and to give credit where credit is due.” Rogatnick explained that Geoff Massey was a quiet and self-effacing man, a gentleman’s gentleman, not only an architect’s architect, who would never complain or demand credit for the work he did.
It was in the early 50s that a youngish Rogatnick had entered Harvard’s School of Architecture. He was unhappy with his dormitory arrangements and decided he needed to move out into smaller quarters. In the school’s bulletin board he noticed a request for a fourth man to join an out of campus living arrangement. Rogatnick went and was subjected to an intense screening. One of the men was Geoff Massey. Rogatnick was in.
Around 1954 Rogatnick and his loving partner Alvin Balkind decided to travel a bit in their VW Beetle. Rogatnick told Massey of the trip so Massey indicated that he be looked up if he happened to pass by Vancouver.
When Rogatnick and Balkind arrived in Vancouver they instantly fell in love with our then provincial city, so provincial, it didn’t have a serious art gallery of any kind. Rogatnick rang the bell outside of Massey’s home in the West End. The door opened. The man facing them was not Massey. Massey was out of town on his honey moon. The man at the door was Massey’s architecture partner, Arthur Erickson. Erickson and Rogatnick became friends for life.
As I watched Massey on the Ocean Watch I wondered how much of the above story he was thinking about and how he had been the catalyst between Erickson and Rogatnick. I wondered what else Massey had contributed to our city’s well being. Will we ever know? Will anybody set the record straight?
As I watched Sullivan scoop the remnant’s of great man’s life from a plastic bag into a plastic cup and throw the ashes into the water I thought at first that it was obscene. I then immediately downgraded the act to that of inconsequential. It served nobody.
In this blog, that is my diary, I felt I could not write about the occasion with any kind of eloquence. I pretty well forgot of that gloomy day on Indian Arm.e A few days ago I found a roll of undeveloped Kodak Tri-X. I processed it and found some the pictures you see here. As gloom set in on today Sunday (as I write this Friday, October 22 blog) I have come to understand that the inconsequential act of spreading Rogatnick’s ashes in the shadow of the Rattenbury power station has suddenly pressed me with the writing of this account. Rogatnick is still around and teaching me more stuff about how important it is to live now.
That inconsequential act has helped me understand that I have been most lucky in having met and photographed (and in some cases befriended) the likes of Ned Pratt, Ron Thom, Abraham Rogatncik, Arthur Erickson and now through that single roll of Kodak Tri-X that other man of consequence, that architect, Geoffrey Massey.
In a February 17, 1998 interview with Arthur Erickson by author Jim Donaldson here
I found this delightful information that links the three men I mention above:
No this was’53. And so, and also I had this terrible habit of not liking the kind of sandwiches that you had and then getting a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese, smelly cheese, and a little bottle of wine. And I put the bread uncovered in- you know, it wasn’t sliced, it wasn’t packaged bread, it was raw, baked bread, and I would put it in the drafting drawer and it was sticking out with the cheese in one hand and this was just not acceptable in that office where everyone had white shirts and steel armbands too to keep their cuffs off the drafting board. Terribly neat. So then I went with Chuck Thompson and Pratt, and I was equally useless there. I was working under Ron Thom, trying to sort of follow his Wrightian style, I mean, which, you know, I was sympathetic with and had some understanding, but the dynamics of architects as a business hadn’t gotten through to me and so I guess I didn’t accomplish very much there either. So then I was jobless and at this time, I had met Geoff Massey. He’d come out, ‘cause at that time, this was when Vancouver architecture had become known all over the Eastern States and Vancouver was considered one of the pioneers in modern architecture. And of course, so young students were coming from the Eastern universities to work in Vancouver and that’s how Geoff came out and several others came out from Harvard with him, Abe Rogatnik and Alvin Balkin and of course, Peter Oberlander, ex-McGill, from Harvard as well, because it seemed to be the promised land for new Urban Planning and Architecture. So I met Geoff at Bert Binnings’s and we became good friends and Geoff persuaded me to share a house with him, which we did for a couple of years and it was- at that time, we were both working with Sharp and Thompson, then I lost my job and that’s when Gordon Smith came to us and said, “Would you design a house for me?” So Geoff was still working at Thompson, Berwick, Pratt, and so I was left at the house working on Gordon’s new site, and so we did the house, the working drawings and everything else, and Geoff would work on it in the evening when he got back and it was built, Gordon got a carpenter and built it, and it was one of the first Massey Medals.
More Than Human - A Case of Conscience
Thursday, October 21, 2010
As I attempt to convince my 13 year-old granddaughter of the wonders of reading I have been looking through my book shelves for a volume that might just do the trick. I have yet to find it but the exercise points me in the directions of books that have not been lately in my mind. Seeing them brings the excitement I felt when I first read them. One that I found today was A Case of Conscience
by James Blish.
I read it not long after it came out in 1958. This science fiction novel is about a Jesuit, Father Ruiz-Sanchez who is sent to, Lithia, a remote planet in another star system. It is in this planet that where his insoluble beliefs and ethics suddenly become in conflict. I have read this novel, at least thrice. It is so good that a few years back (1996) I was startled to find another science fiction novel, The Sparrow
, by first time novelist Mary Doria Russell. In it, a Jesuit, Father Emilio Sandoz has flashbacks after an expedition to a planet, Rakhat, in another solar system. There are enough similarities in both books that made me wonder if the latter novel had derived from the other. In a lengthy acknowledgement the author even mentions Dorothy Dunnet (a writer of medieval historical novels) but Blish is not mentioned. It could be just plain coincidence.
In one of the further readings of A Case of Conscience
I marked some passages with little plastic stickum tags. These are two that caught my eye:
1. Not that the count was a drone. At last reports, he had been involved in some highly esoteric tampering with the Haertel equations – that description of the space-time continuum which, by swallowing up the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction exactly as Einstein had swallowed Newton (that is, alive) had made interstellar flight possible. Ruiz-Sanchez did not understand a word of it, but, he reflected with amusement, it was doubtless perfectly simple once you understood it. [note by present blogger that all science fiction novels of the 50s had to have something like this with lots of mumbo jumbo to justify faster that light speed ships].
Almost all knowledge, after all, fell into that category. It was either perfectly simple once you understood it, or else it fell apart into fiction. As a Jesuit, even here, fifty light years from Rome – Ruiz-Sanchez knew something about knowledge that Lucien le Comte des Bois-d’Averoigne had forgotten, and that Cleaver would never learn: that all knowledge goes through both
[italics by author] stages, the annunciation out of noise into fact, and the disintegration back into noise again. The process involved was the making of increasingly finer distinctions. The outcome was an endless series of theoretical catastrophes.
The residium was faith.
2. A lifetime of meditation over just such cases of conscience had made Ruiz-Sanchez, like most other gifted members of his order, quick to find his way to a decision through all but the most complicated of ethical labyrinths. All Catholics must be devout; but a Jesuit must be in addition, agile.
It struck me as I read the above quotes how science fiction has always inspired me even if I don’t read it much anymore. All this comes to mind as my friend Graham Walker and I were sitting having Earl Grey tea at the Vancouver Public Library last Saturday. I saw a man I had never met come out so I stopped him. “How are you Mr. Robinson?” I asked him. Spider Robinson and I had a longish and most pleasant chat. I mentioned to him that I had discovered an interest in the science fiction books I had read in the 50s and that I was going to try, again to read Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human.
With a smile and in a gentle voice Robinson said, “I always liked Ted. I met him once. He was a fine writer and I guarantee you will enjoy the book this second time around.”
I cannot but think that More Than Human
explores stuff no different, and as challenging in matters of conscience and ethics, from that written by James Blish and Mary Doria Russell. But I also did read More Than Human
first and I can only wonder if it will blow me away for the second time.
A Memorial To Follies Past & Future
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
When I was a late teenager when I lived in Mexico City I was a fan of frontón, or jai-alai. The Frontón (the building where the game was played) was situated at the Plaza de La Revolución. It was named so because before the Mexican revolution of 1910 when the dictator Porfiro Díaz was finally overthrown he had only managed to build the front entrance of the splendid palace he had planned for himself. Most chilangos
(Mexico City inhabitants) would readily agree that the Monumento de La Revolucíon Mexicana is one of the ugliest in the country. What saves it for me and for others is the sheer size of it. It is, if anything, a monumentally large monument.
Putting on my best tie and jacket (the Frontón had strict dress rules) I always went to the game hoping they would let me in as I was a minor and since the game involved gambling we minors were barred from entry. I do not remember being turned back. The frontón needed my entry fee.
I lived in Mexico until 1975 when my New Dublin, Ontario born wife Rosemary persuaded me that our family would be better off in Canada where we would be far away from political corruption, corrupt cops, and a terrible postal system.
It is only in the last ten years that I have come to realize that all that I escaped from in Mexico has spread around the world. It is one of the byproducts of globalization.
While gangsters or drug traffickers are not entering Canadian hospitals to shoot patients, as is happening in Northern Mexico, violence in our fair Vancouver is escalating and one might think twice about eating in a restaurant in Richmond or in East Broadway that serves meals with chopsticks. An equally important warning could be given about parking in a shopping mall, or chain restaurant. We could in Canada use the same arguments that the Mexican government gives, about guns that kill coming from the USA.
In my time in Mexico and in Argentina we used to comment that nobody really intelligent would ever want to be a politician. We would further add that the difference between Mexicans/Argentines and Americans was that Mexicans and Argentines expected politicians to be dishonest while Americans were always disappointed when they found out their politicians were not honest. It would seem to me that Canada, or at the very least we in British Columbia can now feel that same disappointment in finding out how dishonest our politicians are.
Mexicans point out that they have lots of patience and tolerance for injustice. It took until 1810 to eject the Spaniards and then it wasn't until 1910 that dictators were history, too. It is now 2010 and violence is again gripping Mexico. Will it take another 100 years for violence to diminish?
I ask the above question because I ask myself how much more do we have to be exposed to the questionable practices of our current British Columbia (hush money is the latest scandal) politicians before we cry, in unison, “ Enough!”
No, this is not a rant in the classic sense. It is about a smaller matter that might be considered insignificant and yet it only proves that my Vancouver of 2010 may be no different from my Mexico City of 1975.
Argentines like to complain about their politicians and bureaucrats and like to use the epithet prepotente
(which means a lot more than arrogant and high-handed). What it means is that someone in power exercises it without regard to those below (and not so powerful) simply because they can.
In the last few years I have noticed how more politicians, Crown Corporations, City Hall Planning Committees, have circumvented normal democratic channels to give us more of what we distinctly do not want. I need not go further than the virtual explosion of gambling or the building of laudable bike lanes in which minutes after the authorization had been pushed through, trucks were ripping up pavement and setting up barriers.
The insignificant event of which I write above I wrote something about back in March 31, 2006. You can seek that blog or read below:
When architect Frank Allen's Terry Fox Memorial, at the foot of Robson and Beatty Street, was inaugurated in 1984, it instantly became Vancouver's most hated structure. Could it be too small to reflect Terry Fox's huge feat? Nearby BC Place Stadium also dwarfs the structure. The monument is now mostly forgotten, even though there are many positive aspects to it. I met and photographed Frank Allen a bit later. He stuck to his guns and stayed in town in spite of the terrible and long media campaign against his memorial. Allen had a tidy little office somewhere on West 14th or 15th Avenue, just West of Granville. In the garden he had one of the fibre glass lions, that was the model for the four that grace each of the memorial's corners. I like to think of them as our city lions. There is another lion on the top floor balcony of the Marine Building but that is another story. In the memorial arch walls there are two, 5ft by 18 ft, steel etchings. One is based on the iconic photograph of Terry Fox running and the other is a map of Canada showing his cross country route. I happen to know the artist on whose pointillist style drawings the etchings are based. He is Ian Bateson. Ian has never believed in participating in fashionable or popular projects that might further his career. He believes in following his heart and his principles. As for the gentle Frank Allen I have no idea where he might be.
I took the memorial photograph here in one shot. I used a Pentax MX with a 15mm rectilinear wide angle lens and Kodak Tri-X. The beautiful Maddalena Di Gregorio placed her hand near my lens and I used a tiny flash. I kept the shutter open for 35 seconds at f-5.6. I processed the film in Perfection Micrograin using the technique called extended range night photography.
Today in my Vancouver Sun
I read that the Terry Fox Memorial is going to be torn down. The article did not bother to mention the most beautiful double steel etching which was a contribution of my friend designer and illustrator Ian Bateson. Without the map of Terry Fox’s intended journey and the fine pointillist illustration of the brave young man, the monument in itself would have been meaningless.
My friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick
, who died last year, rather liked the monument. We spoke often of it. We both liked the projection system that it had (it worked for a few months after it was inaugurated in 1984. Special projectors showed images of British Columbia. We both agreed that the problem with the monument was more the fact that it was not monumentally large enough and it was lost in comparison the huge BC Place Stadium that was so near. We both agreed that walking through the monument, the 18ft height of Bateson’s steel etchings was a thrill.
The Vancouver Sun
article by Jeff Lee revealed that Warren Buckley, the president and CEO of PavCo (BC Pavilion Corporation) has informed us (through the Sun, I presume) that the memorial is going to be torn down to facilitate renovation of the Terry Fox Plaza as part of the $563-million revitalization of BC Place. This is what shocked me when I read the piece:
He [Buckley] said he discussed the matter with the Fox family, which agreed to allow the memorial to be removed and replaced with something designed by Coupland, who wrote a 2005 fundraiser book about Terry Fox and had designed a Fox Memorial in Toronto.
By any definition the actions of the BC Pavilion Corporation are a clear case of good old Latin American “prepotencia”. Why ask the citizens of the city? Perhaps the Fox family can also tell us that they have decided that our Vancouver Airport should be called The Terry Fox Memorial Airport and that the new Terry Fox Memorial Airport Logo will be designed by the multitasking, peripatetic typographer Douglas Coupland.
The Monumento de La Revolución has served Mexicans as a reminder of a dictarship of the past and the folly of a man who in his “prepotencia” did as he pleased until Mexicans finally lost their patience. The tearing down of the Terry Fox Memorial to me seems like a future reminder on how democracy in our city and province is in a decline. Luckily it is still safe to be in a Vancouver hospital so I will not be moving back to Mexico in the next while.
The photographs here of the Monumento de La Revolución are by Mexican photographer Héctor García. The photograph of Terry Fox on the steel etching is by Ian Bateson. In the second photograph by Héctor García the Mexican populace perched on the equine statue, they are doing so on the shoulders of Carlos IV of Spain. This monument was called El Caballito for many years and it was eventually moved to a less prominent position. Few in Mexico would hold any affection for the long dead Spanish monarch.
There is a lesson to be learned in the move of El Caballito. The monument was not destroyed. In its different location it serves to remind anybody who may be interested of the follies of men from the past who thinking that because of their prepotencia they could rule forever. I believe that the Terry Fox Monument should be moved but certainly not destroyed. Some memories have to be kept.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I do believe that the most beautiful woman I ever photographed was a woman of Finnish extraction called Lisa Montonen. When I met her she was hanger on with Vancouver’s then beautiful crowd. One day she decided to enter a beauty competition that was held at the Drake Strip Bar. It was odd to see women keep their clothes on (it was oddly erotic) as they paraded their bodies on the platform of the bar. Lisa did not win and she was in tears. I attempted to comfort her by telling her that the other women were all very pretty but that only she was beautiful. She never did understand.
Some weeks ago as I was taking my granddaughter Rebecca to watch a laser show of Pink Floyd’s The Wall
at the Planetarium she told me, “Papi I am depressed because a boy at school told me I was kind of pretty.”
I realized that she was living a moment similar to Lisa Montonen’s. We live in a time when all those women who appear in Hollywood films all seem to have the same perfect features and the same hair. The only one of them all that intrigues me is Lady Gaga because you can really never see her face. She is almost a mystery.
I tried to explain to Rebecca that her own face has a complexity and not that stamped-out uniformity of so many beautiful women of our times. I told her about such stars as Gene Tierney, Monica Vitti, and my ever favourite Charlotte Rampling and Molly Parker. I think I may have gotten through to Rebecca. I am aware that at age 13 how one is seen by others is far more important than in our later years. I further told her that her friend might just be a bit more perceptive than most when he called her "kinda pretty".
Meanwhile I enjoy taking pictures of that face.
Fractals & Three Mandelbrots
Monday, October 18, 2010
I first encountered fractals in William Gibson’s 1996 novel Idoru.
In it a smart young woman decides to look her best and to furnish her house as best she can in order to look good for a video conference with a woman in the Far East. She purchases designer clothing and furnishes her house with the best. But should anybody have been present as she faced her computer with its 1996 soon to be as common as Osterizers, her webcam you might have noticed that she would have either been wearing nothing or nothing to write home about. Her living room would have been shabby or just plain. Gibson in 1996 was predicting that some day we will dress up with make-believe dress up clothing that is 100% virtual.
But had you been spying behind the woman in the Far East in the two-way video communication you would have admired the dress and makeup and the look of the living room she was viewing. You might have noticed little important details like the not-brand-new but lived in and comfortable (but expensive) sofa. The room, with a thin coat of dust, here and there, and the sofa with creases in the right places would have made the room look authentic. Something called fractals would have added the dust and the creases. The fractals in some way made digital perfection more perfect by making it less so. Sort of, like Ivory’s 99 44/100% pure soap – this side of perfection, perfection.
The man who invented and coined the word fractals, a new class of mathematical shapes whose uneven contours could mimic the irregularities found in nature, Benoît Mandelbrot died this past Thursday. He was 85.
When I read his most interesting career in the obituary of the New York Times I thought of another Mandelbrot I had met in my past, more precisely sometime in April of 1999.
The man whose real name was Stephen Osborne is the editor of Geist
the Vancouver intellectual/art magazine. He was very pleased to be my photographic subject for a Georgia Straight
article. Pleased enough that he sent me a signed copy of his very nice book of essays, Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the new World
. Mr. Osborne also founded Pulp Press Book Publishers which became Arsenal Pulp
Press one of the few publishing firms left in Vancouver. He confessed to me that he was an amateur photographer and that when he published or someone published his photographs he used the name Mandelbrot.
A few years after I sent queries about contributing to his magazine. I never did receive a reply. It would seem that the amateur Mandelbrot did not want an amateur writer Mandelbrot writing for Geist! Years later I sent queries to that other Vancouver arts magazine, The Vancouver Review.
This time I received a satisfactory (in that my existence was at least acknowledged) rejection that my writing was not the type of writing pursued by the publication.
To this day I treasure a pleasant letter (it did have some praise) of rejection from Bill Bufford who was editor of Granta
in the 80s. If only I could apply some fractals to what I write and modify its lack of perfection. I could achieve a potential Ivory.
An Old Soldier & The Perfect Model
Sunday, 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.