Random Finds On A Melancholy Day
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Yesterday was a disappointing day. The girls arrived at around 12:30 and I had prepared my ring flash to take some portraits of Rebecca. I had never used the ring flash with either of the girls. It was last week that I photographed Lauren in my studio living room with plush toys that were given to her mother and aunt at least 39 years ago. I thought that a ring flash with some striking makeup and jewelry might suit Rebecca fine this week. I thought that the taking of pictures was something that we shared and that Rebecca enjoyed. As long as I take pictures of such an excellent model (her younger sister is quickly making up for lost time) I can call myself a photographer since such few assignments come my way these days.
But I was wrong on all counts and my granddaughter said she was tired of being photographed every Saturday (not quite the case). And so, I let it go but not without extreme disappointment and a touch of melancholy. I put my equipment away.
Filing, good filing, has kept this blog alive as anything I may want to write about can always be matched with images that I can find in my files. The filing of my photographs is something my eldest daughter began at least 15 years ago and it has served me well. But there are still boxes of stuff I have not gotten to and the re-filing of it can be an onerous task as I sometimes do not remember the names of the people involved or a relevant name for their filing.
Feeling blue and cold (we had gone for a walk to the park where both my granddaughters had thrown snowballs my way) I went to the basement through some of those yet to be filed boxes full of photographs, negative and slides.
Here you see some of my discoveries. The colour pictures o Jackie Coleman, a CBC jazz dancer of the late 70s and early 80s I had lost since 2003 when I had written an article for the Vancouver Sun
and for the then CBC Arts Web Page
(it is so strange that the essay is still up here
on the web) for which I was a columnist. In the Vancouver Sun article the folks at the Sun had used my pictures of Coleman. Those pictures vanished and every time I looked for them I drew a blank. So here they are an in a couple of them you can see Jeff Hyslop
. The pictures were taken during the taping of a show (late 70s) that featured Leon Bibb and was about the history of the blues.
In that pile of pictures I found the one of my eldest daughter Alexandra (she must have been 8 here) posing with the Royal Hudson locomotive behind her. Then there is the picture of Paul Wilson Brown and me at the Marble Arch. I found two, but the other one shows much too much of one my favourite dancers called Salem. Here there is less of her even though there I am with my eyes about to close.
And envelope labeled, Young Girl With Horse,
I know I took for the Straight long ago. There is no other name, reference or date for these pictures which I find lovely. It is my hope that someone who reads this blog might know who the girl is so that some copies of these pictures might go her way.
The last batch of pictures I look with sadness as I found these youngsters on the beach of Punta del Este, Uruguay in the late 89s when Mark Budgen and I were assigned by Toronto based magazine Vista
to do pieces on Argentina and Uruguay. I am sad when I look at these pictures because I know that the fresh look of youth of this bunch must by now be almost gone and worse of all unnamed as I never wrote their names down. There is a loneliness in their expression that haunts me, perhaps more so because of these cold and gloomy days of Vancouver Novembers.
Two Indestructible Women
Friday, November 19, 2010
Juno was an ancient Roman goddess, the protector and special counselor of the state. She is a daughter of Saturn and sister (but also the wife) of the chief god Jupiter and the mother of Mars and Vulcan. Her Greek equivalent is Hera.
As the patron goddess of Rome and the Roman empire she was called Regina and, together with Jupiter and Minerva, was worshipped as a triad on the Capitol (Juno Capitolina) in Rome.
Friday was one of those typical (but hard to adapt to) gloomy, windy and rainy kind of Vancouver in November days. The shortest day (longest night if like me you are a pessimist) of the year, winter solstice on December 21st is not as noticeable as the Christmas lights are one and at least one knows that henceforth the days will get longer and spring will soon come.
I had a little walk in our garden. Rosemary’s late blooming and extremely blue fall aconitum were past but I spotted two beautiful blooms. One was Hydrangea macrophylla
‘Ayesha’ with its delicate and teacup looking little florets of pale pastel colours (the colour is I believe characteristic of a flower that blooms late in the season). The other was an English Rose, Rosa
‘Immortal Juno’. The latter has a powerful scent of myrrh and is a rose that its creator David Austin “delisted” from his stable of beautiful English Roses saying it was hard to grow and not a good example of his roses. In my garden Immortal Juno flowers sporadically as it is in a spot where it gets little sun. It is generally healthy and taking a sniff of its deep pink blossoms (again the pale colour here is as I suspect a late fall colour) is always rewarding.
It occurred to me that Ayesha, H. Rider Haggard’s principal protagonist of She
and Ayesha, The Return of She
, and the Roman/Greek Juno are two pretty indestructible females with character and attitude! And here they were showing their beauty in a dismal Vancouver fall day. What a treat!
David Austin called his rose Immortal Juno because of botanic rules that stipulate that if a plant with a particular name already exists a second and newer plant cannot have the same name. Rosa 'Juno"is a beautiful pink cabbage rose from the 1830s.
The Minister Of Everything & Wacky Bennett's Last Erection
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Bob Williams has acquired a reputation as one of the brightest New Democratic Party (NDP) talents of the past thirty years in British Columbia. He started out as a summertime gofer at Vancouver City Hall, trained at UBC’s planning school under Peter Oberlander, and became a planner wit the LMRPB (Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board) in the early 1960s, with Tom McDonald serving as secretary. Williams was elected Vancouver alderman for a term (1966-68) and became Minister of Everything [Minister of Resources] in Dave Barrett’s 1972-76 provincial government, in which capacity he invented the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and made the Agricultural Land Reserve a realistic notion.
City Making In Paradise – Nine Decisions That Saved Vancouver by Mike Harcourt & Ken Cameron with Sean Rossiter
Warning! I am going to have fun with this one. The facts are straight as far as I know but then there might be other versions of this story. This one, as I see it, is right out of the horse’s mouth. (make that two horses' mouths).
|W.A.C. Bennett by Malcolm Parry|
This story really began (or ended, depending on which side your architectural tastes lie) a few days after September 15, 1972. For the purposes of my own story it began on Thursday, afternoon, last week. I picked up journalist and former political columnist of Vancouver Magazine,
Sean Rossiter at his home. We had arranged for coffee at the Calabria on Commercial. A block from our favourite café I spotted a man with bushy eyebrows. I called after him, “Mr. Williams!” he stopped to wait for us. It was former NDP MLA, cabinet minister, etc, etc who beamed at us with his smile and I could see his eyebrows bristle up like a cat's hair during an electrical storm. We found out we were all going to the same place. While Williams was there to see another person he did sit with us for a while. I gave him one of my postcards containing a portrait of Arthur Erickson.
Williams looked at the picture and suddenly he grinned with enthusiasm. He told us, “A few days after the Socreds lost the election I called up Arthur Erickson and told him, “I have a job for you and I have lots of money. Right after that Arthur called Bing Thom, ‘Bing, come over, we have a job.’” Williams looked at us and then said, “I felt like Superman.”
Many might know that before the NDP killed what would have been called the British Columbia Centre, our city would have had a tall 208 metre structure that would have been taller than the current Living Shangri-La (201 metres). In order to write this I needed some info on that project. I was unable to really find much until yesterday evening when of all my left messages one person did call back.
The person on the phone was charming architect Henry Hawthorne whose memory on our city’s buildings and whence they came from is phenomenal.
This is what he told me, more or less in his words:
This 55 story building was being called Wacky Bennett’s Last Erection. Had it been built there would have not been enough BC bureaucrats to fill even half of the building. The project was given to two of our city’s firms. One was Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners and the other was McCarter and Nairne. The latter built the iconic Marine Building and the main Post Office on Georgia. The folks at the Socred bench thought that Ron Thom (whom they admired) was still with Thompson, Berwick and Pratt but they were mistaken. He had gone. Paul Merrick from TBP and Blair MacDonald from McCarter and Nairne were given control of the project and architect Joe Wai and myself were given an office on Howe where we planned, worked and drew the project until it was shelved by the NDP. Arthur simply put the tall building on it side and that’s how we got Robson Square.
Now this Bob Williams, does not get all the credit he deserves. He hired some unknown photographer to photograph the most beautiful spots and BC and soon they all became Provincial Parks! There are so many stories like this one. I could tell you about them if we meet soon.
Because I am mostly a portrait photographer I do not have any photographs of Robson Square except this one featuring Gillian Guess. It will have to do.
Rip Georges, Empty Bathrooms & Belinda Carr
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
In the late 80s Malcolm Parry, editor of Vancouver Magazine
used to tell me, “The magazine downstairs (both magazines were in one building on Davie at Richards, a Blenz now), Western Living
is about photographs of bathrooms devoid of people.” And then with a gleeful grin he would stand up and drop large piles of book or magazine and books on the floor and say, “Chris Dahl’s office is downstairs; let’s shake him up a bit.” Chris Dahl had been art director of Vancouver Magazine
until then both he and Mac had won that prestigious National Magazine Award
for Vancouver Magazine.
Perhaps Mac had been miffed to have been abandoned by Dahl who moved downstairs.
(who had art directed Vancouver Magazine
for many years before Dahl arrived from Toronto fresh from big city experience with Maclean’s
) was hired back. Mac then decided that Vancouver Magazine needed a re-design so he hired a then highfalutin art director (and still highfalutin) Rip Georges to do some consulting in the re-design. Georges’claim to fame was that he had been the art director of the snazzy LA Style
and had moved from there to the highly regarded Washington DC magazine Regardie’s.
And before he had managed to warm up his seat in DC he had moved on to the more prestigious Esquire
Mac and Rick felt that there were only two photographers, from their stable of freelancers in Vancouver that they were proud enough (or perhaps not ashamed of) to introduce to the visiting Georges. They were fashion photographer Chris Haylett and me. The big day came and to our disdainful surprise we found out that Georges had recommended that Vancouver Magazine
(at the time there were next to no newsstand sales of the magazine as it was delivered to the “correct” homes) run big pictures on the cover with next to no copy to give readers and indication of what might be inside. He further recommended a Time Magazine thing called an ear on the upper right hand corned of the cover that would proclaim some special feature to be found inside. That was it! I remember Haylett looking at me and saying, “They have paid this guy all this money to be told what we would have told them for free!”
While I don’t remember having been rude, Mac was livid with us telling us we had treated the man ungraciously. I distinctly remember Mac looking at me and telling me, “You were rude.”
A few years later the folks at the Exposure Gallery on Beatty Street paid that rude dynamic duo, Haylett and me to give a figure photography seminar. This may have been the mid 90s and it was tough to find models that would undrape fully for the camera. I found a lovely one called Belinda Carr. I took three pictures of her in the presence of all those who had paid good money to see us work. I used Polaroid b+w instant negative and projected a Rosco cityscape gobo on the wall. After my pictures Haylett disappeared with Carr to another room. He said he wanted to tell her something. Even then Haylett had that pleasant way with women. They returned and he placed a large mirror on one side of the room. He pointed a quartz light on it and had the mirror reflect the warmish quartz light back to Carr who was leaning against the wall. It was then that Haylett told us, “This is how they achieve that late sundown light back in Hollywood.”
We all wowed and ohmygoshed.
A Glimpse Into A Man's Soul
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Sometime in 1985 I was dispatched by Vancouver Magazine
to photograph an architect who was in town for a while from his then home in Toronto. His office was a small one on Robson.
I will admit as of now that I knew nothing of the man and did no research before I plunked my equipment to photograph him. Of the meeting I remember next to nothing except that he was gracious and he had one of those voices that would have made him a fortune as a CBC Radio announcer in those years, when not having a speech impediment or a good deep voice was an automatic reason to be rejected by the Mother Corporation.
I remember that it was easy for me to focus my Mamiya on Thom. I did so on the little flower he had on his lapel. I knew nothing of its significance. It was many years later, in the mid 90s when I went to P.K. Page’s
house and garden in Victoria that I photographed not only her but husband Arthur Erwin. I had Irwin on one end of the garden and I was on the other. I shouted at him (certainly I broke some sort of protocol on the distinguished diplomat in so doing), “Mr Irwin it is easy to focus on you because I focus on the dogwood on your lapel.” “Sir,” Irwin shouted back, “this is not a dogwood; it is the Order of Canada.”
By 1994 I had developed a taste and an interest in BC architects and a pleasure in taking their pictures. It seemed by then that I had been the last person to photograph Ron Thom before he died. I was approached by Douglas Shadbolt (appropriately at a garden party given by Arthur Erickson) and told that he was working on a biography of Ron Thom and that the considered my portrait of the architect worthy of the cover.
It was also at this time that I convinced free-lance writer Kerry McPhedran to write a “ghost” story about her Ron Thom house in Vancouver. I had seen too many vapid articles in Western Living
written by writers who had no connections with the architects and the houses they wrote about. I suggested to McPhedran that she write about Ron Thom from the point of view of what she could discern of the man by living in the house he had built. My suggestion was accepted and in the end McPhedran won an award for her Ron Thom profile in Western Living
I post the cover of Shadbolt’s book here and the more complete portrait version that appears inside because of my current involvement in having doubts and concerns about the photography classes I teach.
It may have been in the 90s that a photographer asked to use my studio to photograph for the cover of Vancouver Magazine
the then city counselor Carole Taylor. I was miffed that I had not been contacted by the magazine for the job. The art director wanted something edgy and perhaps I was seen as too establishment. The fact was that the photographer on the morning of the shoot asked me, “Who is this Carole Taylor
that I have to photograph?” I was astounded that for a cover shot he would not have done some research. But now I see something of myself as a young man. I see myself taking pictures of Ron Thom and having only a vague idea of who he was.
And yet the picture I took made the cover of his definitive biography. Was I lucky?
I see in the portrait that eye contact that I equate with “looking into a glimpse of the man’s soul.” Was this an accident? Was it due to Thom who may have liked me and thus gave me what I did not know I was looking for?
Look at the portraits I took of my granddaughter Lauren in yesterday’s blog. I see in those pictures some of that “looking into the little girl’s soul.”
Can this be taught? Does it come with luck and or experience? All I know is that I now know when I get it. And that is a complete change to 1985 when I did not know.
The Luminous Building
Lauren Elizabeth Stewart - 8
Monday, November 15, 2010
The idea was to photograph Lauren, my 8 year-old granddaughter with different dresses (some were originally worn by her mother, my daughter Hilary) and with toys that mostly came from Mexico and were either given to her mother or her aunt Ale by their respective godfathers, Andrew Taylor and Raúl Guerrero Montemayor.
I have a particular liking for this first picture but Rosemary says the eyes are strange. I like it just the way it is but I scanned another and it follows. After so many years of taking portraits I have gut feelings about them. But Rosemary could be right.
I took the pictures in my living room where I set up a gray paper seamless and used one 3x4 foot sofbox with one Dynalite head. My exposures fluctuated between f-11 and f-16. The camera was a Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD and, the lenses, the 90mm and the 140mm and film was Ektachrome 100G
Arroz Con Leche
Arroz con leche me quiero casar, con una señorita de San Nicolás, que sepa coser, que sepa bordar, que sepa abrir la puerta para ir a jugar.
Yo soy la viudita, del barrio del frente me quiero casar y no sé con quién.
Con esa sí, con esa no, con esa señorita me caso yo.
Arroz con leche
Arroz con leche and the señorita from San Nicolás
Que Sea De Cinco Balazos
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Most magazine writers and even some magazine photographers will admit, if pressed that editors and art directors are a necessary evil. With space in magazines and newspapers at a premium and subject to ad page count and editor has to know how to chop copy. Likewise a good art director will know that sometime one big picture uses space efficiently and tells a better story than many pictures.
In fact I have been present when former Vancouver Magazine
art director Chris Dahl yelled from his room to Malcolm Parry’s (the editor of Vancouver Magazine in my time of the 70 and 80s), “Alex has handed in a good photograph so we need more space. Get rid of some of that copy.” The writer in question (and others, too) who must have been furious at Parry for removing their wonderful words, will never know that I was the one who was really to blame.
The above simply serves as my questionable explanation/justification for the fact that I am going to ramble in many directions before I reach that “aha!” point for whoever goes past this. If I ramble it is because I am my own editor and art director. I don’t accept ads and I can write as much as I want and use as many pictures as I want, and even better, I can run them as big as I want!
This story might have begun in 1955 when my grandmother, my mother and I landed in a Pan American Airways Constellation in the Mexico City airport of Benito Juarez. But it didn’t. Or at least I did not know this until yesterday (Saturday night).
This story began when I arrived at the Vancouver Public Library (Main Branch) on Thursday at 5:50 pm. By some luck of the draw I went to the video shelf and found the one episode of Foyle’s War
(22 in all) that Rosemary and I had somehow missed. There on the shelf was They Fought in the Fields
I was at the library to pick up a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank
that Rebecca is reading for school. I had originally obtained two copies, one for Rosemary to read and one for Rebecca. This latter one I took out with her library card as if she takes longer to return it there are no fines for children. After almost a month Rebecca had informed her mother that she did not like diaries and that she was not going to finish this one even if Rosemary happens to help her in reading it.
Both Rosemary and I agree that until a child has developed a reading habit, that child must finish, when possible, any book that is begun, and in particular when it has been assigned by her teacher. I was at the library to get that copy that Rebecca was going to finish if Rosemary got her way.
But with Foyle’s War
in hand I heard an announcement that the library was closing. Big city? Researchers would need a library to be open on Friday night past 6, don’t you think?
To my horror just as I was about to self-check-out my Foyle’s War
I noticed I had no wallet (and no library card). I remembered that I had left it in another coat. If I replaced the DVD in its original shelf, there would be no certainty that I would find it the next day, Friday. And so I hid it!
Where did I hide it? I chose the section on books in Spanish and slipped it inside a copy of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s La Tabla de Flandes
That’s where Foyle’s War
was the next morning. But since I was already there in the Spanish section I looked through their DVD film collection in Spanish.
It was there that I found a most surprising film, Roberto Gavaldón’s La Escondida
with María Felix and Pedro Armendáriz. This 1955 film was shot by the legendary Mexican cinematrographer Gabriel Figueroa (John Ford’s, 1947 The Fugitive
with Henry Fonda, Dolores del Río and Pedro Armendáriz had the same cinematographer).
I have a slim connection with the film director who was one of Mexico’s best. That same year that he directed La Escondida
his The Littlest Outlaw
(1953) was released. It was a Walt Disney film that featured not only that great Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz but a bright new child actor called Andrés Velázquez who made few films after that one.
And I know why. Shortly after he made the film he was involved in a motor accident and had one of his legs amputated. Walt Disney paid for everything including a brand new prosthetic leg. It was sometime around 1956 that my mother had a private student who would come to the house. He was handsome. He walked with a strange limp. My mother told me of the tragedy.
I never saw Gavaldón’s other 1955 film or any of his others which are all Mexican classics. Gavaldón was sort of a combined John Ford/John Huston. I never saw any of his films, until last night’s La Escondida
, because I would not have been caught watching any Mexican film with the exception of those made my Mario Moreno “Cantinflas”. Cantinflas was cool, anthything else Mexican wasn’t (from the point of view of this extremely ignorant young man) back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and yes even until last night!
Both my mother and grandmother thought that most Mexican movies were overacted and they called them dramones (big, loud drama). They were not better than bad operas with the difference that at least bad operas had better music (so said my mother and grandmother). And I also avoided one of his other very good films, Macario
, 1959 which was based on a B. Traven novel.
Because I was one who preferred the imported over the home grown (Mexicans would call me a “malinchista
” I could not appreciate that Mexicans had a high regard for the mysterious writer, B. Traven. Little is known about the man who was born in Chicago and died in Mexico City in March of 1969. For the same reason, I was not privy to the fact that Gavaldón’s favourite cinematographer was the highly regarded Gabriel Figueroa. I have watched The Fugitive
so many times and just marveled at his camera work. I have also marveled at Pedro Armendáriz who plays the cool atheist policeman who is out to find the Whiskey Priest, Henry Fonda. While I would say that Ford did well to pick Dolores del Río since María Felix might have been to haughty looking for the part, I can see the similarities and I can see why Gavaldón chose her to play Gabriela (from poor Indian woman to haughty high society and back to dead) in La Escondida which is the definitive Mexican film about the 1911 (it prefigured WWI) Mexican Revolution.
And I would disagree with my mother and grandmother that the music of the film was bad. Quite to the contrary it has the music of Cuco Sanchez who was a noted singer/composer of the golden era of the Mexican trios (late 40s and 50s). In fact some of his most famous songs was written specifically for La Escondida
We managed to see about 40 minutes of it on Saturday night while Hilary perused with great detail a plastic envelope containing all her grades and teacher’s comments from all her elementary and secondary years in Vancouver. Rosemary had found the envelope and had given it to Hilary before the film began. Rebecca told me she did not understand all that was being said (the library copy has not subtitles). So I reluctantly (I felt hurt and isolated) shut the TV off to finish the film today.
But I thought about it. Hilary was born in Mexico but we took her from it when she was only three. It would be impossible for her to feel any nostalgia. She would not know that María Felix is the most famous of all Mexican actresses and that she was in many of the films of the golden era of Mexican cinema, late 40s and 50s. She would not know about Pedro Armendariz nor would she know who B. Traven was.
Rebecca complained on what she considered over acting. I did not explain that one of the major differences between Spanish and English is that you can speak English with your mouth almost closed. You can mumble English. To speak Spanish and to properly pronounce the one value of the five vowels you must speak with your mouth open. To speak Spanish is to almost over act.
There is something unique about Mexican women. My grandmother used to make fun of female Ranchera singers. She told me they sang with their stomachs and she disliked the way they mimicked the male (and very macho) Ranchero singers. One of her absolute favourites to malign was Lola Beltrán now considered to be the best Ranchera singer that ever was.
María Felix, in La Escondida
is in her ravishing prime. She has eyebrows and eyes (all black) that almost make you ignore the rest of her (all lovely). But there is masculinity in her acting that only a Mexican would understand. And while I am not Mexican I understand, too and I am not put off by her performance.
The only person I know who would enjoy La Escondida
would be my oldest daughter Ale, seen here when she was 6 or 7 with her Mexican godmother Rosa Velia Gomez. She left Mexico when she was 8 and she has returned many times and kept her Mexico City Spanish to perfection. Many of the words used in La Escondida
are Mexican dialect/slang that so confused Rebecca or made Rosemary say that the actors were mumbling!
I can only hope that Hilary and Rebecca one day will come to understand the beauty of Mexican films of the Golden Era. They will have ample opportunity as I will seek more and make up for lost time. They might figure out as I have figured out that over acting isn’t always a bad thing. And never more so as Rosemary saw that last Foyle's War tonight and so enjoyed the clever sublety of English actors who say everything without opening their mouth. And that is not because the are mumbling!
There is a seen in La Escondida where Gabriela (María Felix) is riding train defended by the nasty Federales. The parched landscape of magueyes (they make tequila from them) finally gets under her skin and she says, "I long to get awy from all these magueyes and to be back in Mexico City." You might note the handsome maguey behind my daughter and her godmother.
La Cama de Piedra (Cuco Sanchez)
De piedra ha de ser la cama
De piedra la cabecera,
La mujer que a mí me quiera,
Me ha de querer de a de veras,
Ay, ay, corazón porqué no me amas.
Subí a la sala del crimen
Le pregunté al presidente
Que si es delito quererte,
Que me sentencien a muerte,
Ay, ay, corazón porqué no amas.
El día que a mí me maten
Que sea de cinco balazos
Y estar cerquita de ti
Para morir en tus brazos
Ay, ay, corazón porqué no amas.
Por caja quiero un sarape
Por cruz mis dobles cananas
Y escriban sobre mi tumba
Mi último adiós con mil balas
Ay, ay, corazón porqué no amas.
La Cama de Piedra