Out In The Noonday Sun
Saturday, December 11, 2010
The sun came out briefly on late Friday morning but I knew that if I ventured outside the sun’s warmth would be fleeting. I thought of the great (but wonderful) heat of Merida when Rebecca, Rosemary and I went there two years ago. When we visited the Mayan ruins of Uxmal It was extremely hot. We made sure Rebecca wore a hat. But as she scurried away amongst the rocks of the ruins in pursuit of an iguana (she did manage to snap the picture you see here with her digital camera) she thought she was going to lose her hat so she stuffed it in her pockets. By the time we got into our car she told us she was feeling funny. She had a mild case of sun stroke which we treated with some Mexican refrescos (soft drinks).
|Lord Delamere in outsize toppee with Frederick Jackson, 1909|
Thinking about the sun today Friday I looked for some pictures I had taken around the time I photographed Lorian (see the blog that precedes this one). They were of two lovely women (the one with black hair was called April, the other one I do not recall) wearing what now looks like the same straw hat. Again the pictures are uncropped and I used Kodak b+w Infrared Film.
One of my favourite books that I re-read often is Out in the Noonday Sun – Edwardians in the Tropics
by Valerie Pakenham. I have a particular fondness for it as it is all about the British in exotic locations during the beginning of the end of their empire. It places them in locations which are mostly very hot. It was when I read this book in September 1986 (and I will explain below how it is I remember that date) that I first heard of Noel Coward’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen
. It was a couple of years ago that I discovered Life Magazine
photographer Loomis Dean’s photograph, of Noel Coward shot near Las Vegas where it is evident why Coward is not wearing a hat!
As I was looking over the book today I spotted bits of my handwriting on the title page of the book. It seems that on September 10, 1986 I had been dispatched by the PR arm of Canadian Pacific Limited to photograph 27 foursomes at the Hazelmere Golf Course in Langley. I had doe this before. I would park my gear in one of the holes (I believe it may have been the 8th hole) and the set up my medium format camera on a tripod with a small soft box attached to my portable Norman 200B flash. Each foursome had one employee of the CP and the other three were either good clients or potential clients. I took colour negative portraits and I would then send the negatives to CP’s head office in Montreal. It seems that between snapping pictures of the foursomes I had picked a shady tree to read Out in the Noonday Sun.
Shortly after, I received a letter from the chief CP lab technician in Montreal. He criticized me for moving my camera and lighting stuff around to take the pictures. He told me it was far easier for them to print the pictures if I stayed put. The exposures all varied.
The reason I moved my gear is that the sun moved and I never wanted the sun to be hitting the golfers’ eyes. I would move the equipment and kept the sun to one side. My reply to the man at CP was:
If CP can arrange to make the sun not move for four hours I will keep my camera in one place.
It seems my letter stirred up lots of guffaws with the folks at Montreal and I never did get any more instructions on how to take my pictures out in the noonday sun!
Mad Dogs And Englishmen
In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of the rules that the greatest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry
And one must avoid its ultry-violet ray.
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, definitely nuts!
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,
The Japanese don´t care to, the Chinese wouldn´t dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one
But Englishmen detest-a siesta.
In the Philippines they have lovely screens to protect you from the glare.
In the Malay States, there are hats like plates which the Britishers won't wear.
At twelve noon the natives swoon and no further work is done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
that though the English are effete, they're quite impervious to heat,
When the white man rides every native hides in glee,
Because the simple creatures hope he will impale his solar topee on a tree.
It seems such a shame when the English claim the earth,
They give rise to such hilarity and mirth.
Ha ha ha ha hoo hoo hoo hoo hee hee hee hee ......
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun,
They put their Scotch or Rye down, and lie down.
In a jungle town where the sun beats down to the rage of man and beast
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok at twelve o'clock they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this foolish habit.
In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off a noonday gun,
To reprimand each inmate who's in late.
In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
there is peace from twelve till two.
Even caribous lie around and snooze, for there's nothing else to do.
In Bengal to move at all is seldom ever done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
Noel Coward and the Mystery Bassonist
|Noel Coward by Loomis Dean|
Learning To Crop With Lorian
Friday, December 10, 2010
I learned to process and print b+w negatives in 1964. I was taught by my friend Robert Hijar who was getting a fine arts degree at the University of the Americas which was situated on the road to Toluca outside Mexico City.
My idea of fun was to ensconce myself in a darkroom and move the enlarger head up and down as I did different variations of one negative through what we photographers call the crop. This sometimes resulted in hours of work and many prints that at best were forgettable and boring. It didn’t take me long to realize that the real difference between the so-so photographer and the better one was the photographer who could master the skill of cropping within the camera. This involves moving back and forth with your camera (or if you are lazy and have the money for a good one, zoom in or out) until what you see satisfies whatever innate idea of design and esthetics you might have. Once you are at least comfortable with the in-camera crop you realize that in our world that shifts between metric and the English system you have the problem of fitting the one into the other. The venerable 35mm format was and is longer than the even more venerable 4x5 and 8x10 inch format. This problem was resolved by photographers who learned to print (or ask for the service in custom labs) full-frame within a standard sheet of photographic paper such as 8x10, 11x14 and 16x20 inches.
With the mechanics out of the way the photographer has to constantly practice (and you get many duds) with this in-camera crop. In portraiture and figure photography there are no fast rules so one has to use trial and error to achieve a comfortable cropping style.
I took these pictures of Lorian on Wreck Beach around 1978 and I used Kodak b+w infrared film. The long and narrow picture I have further cropped so as to hide offending bits and pieces. But the others are full frame as I experimented in cropping. The “fracturing” of the human face and the body is a delicate matter and I soon found out what worked and what didn’t. Anybody who wants to learn how to crop in camera will have to go through the same paces and even in this age of fast, it will take time.
Lorian was a delightful (beautiful but her beauty was almost hidden by an inherent sweetness and a dolphin like built-in smile) subject for my camera. Her body was voluptuous. She was approached by Playboy head hunter Ken Honey many times but in the end nothing happened. One day I found out that Lorian had answered an ad in the newspaper from a Victoria painter who was looking for a “voluptuous female model willing to pose nude for a book cover”.
A couple of years later I traveled to Victoria on assignment for Douglas & McIntyre on a project of taking pictures of Victoria buildings for some BC textbooks. I spotted Lorian on the street and she invited me to her home for an evening of spaghetti where I met her delightful painter friend. Then I lost touch and never saw either of them again.
That Unkind Cut
Sabañones, Reuma & The Detritus Of Winter
Thursday, December 09, 2010
My memory of my fellow Argentines is that they are hypochondriacs and especially so in winter. As a child I remember the neighbourhood old ladies complaining about their sabañones
(chilblains) which were rampant in my Buenos Aires of the 40s and 50s. Winters were cold and extremely humid. Nobody had the luxury of central heating. We used upright kerosene stoves (ours was painted in red enamel) which invariably had a pot of water boiling on its top. Into the water we would either put eucalypt leaves or the leaves of the cedrón
(lemon verbena). I can still remember the stench of the kerosene. I am not sure if my parents turned the stoves off at night. Would that have been dangerous? To keep us warm in bed our housekeeper Mercedes would heat up bricks in the kitchen oven and then wrap them in thick cloth.
Argentines also complained of reuma
(rheumatism). The little old ladies would gossip about some neighbour who was not expected to survive the winter. Argentines were always complaining of troubles with their livers. You could never tell them that they might consider easing off on the daily diet of red meat or their desserts of canned peaches, flan, all with dulce de leche
and crema chantilly
(whipped cream with sugar) on top.
This particular winter has brought mixed bad news. My wife has survived the shock of being diagnosed with a cancerous lump in her breast. It was removed and she has been given a clean bill of health. This blogger, on the other hand has been diagnosed with the slightly rare arthritis of the soriatic. The weird thing is that I don’t have and I have never had any skin blotches. In fact I have always been proud of my smooth skin. But my specialist, Dr. Verdejo spotted the vertical striations on m finger nails and toenails and came down with his verdict. Since then the pain in my pinkies and elbows has increased.
I could go on but it would make me feel like one of those little Argentine old ladies talking incessantly about her bad health. In fact by the time I had grown up in Argentina I made it a habit of never asking anybody how they were or felt. I did not want to be plagued by a litany of maladies.
Of late I have noticed (and I have vowed to keep my trap shut henceforth) that when my friends call or when I have coffee with them I recite my health concerns. Only today I was telling my friend Ian Bateson that I was like a car no longer on warranty and there were problems with the brakes, the clutch, the tires, the ignition, etc!
It was sometime in the early 90s in the first few days of December that Western Living dispatched me to the Burrard Indian Reserve in North Van. I was supposed to take a photograph that answered a reader’s question, “Why is it that the Indian burial ground in North Vancouver has so many crosses with the name George?” Appropriately I was met by Chief Len George at the burial ground. He told he was there to make sure I did not desecrate. I am not sure exactly what he meant. But I liked him and his quiet ways. As soon as I finished taking my pictures, little snowflakes began to fall. George explained the tradition of his nation (which I believe is mostly a universal one) that elders and older members of his band looked at winter as a time of the year when everything had to be put right in preparation for the possible death. But if death was evaded that winter then one could rest easy that it marked a new spring and summer to come.
I feel that there is a big chance that I will survive this winter but I still look at the darkness outside and the constant rain with a bit of trepidation and gloom.
Last Saturday I suggested to the girls (Rebecca, Lauren and my own Rosemary) that we have a walk in VanDusen. It was a crisp but sunny afternoon. We walked and it felt wonderful to breath in the fresh cold air. I took a few snaps of the frozen and collapsed perennials. Nobody took a snap of me but I do look forward to coming back next spring just like the perennials, whose detritus you see here.
René In 54
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
It was by the mid 90s when I began to experiment with sequential photography. I call this sort of thing a narrative. My ideal narrative is five pictures of one person that may have a central picture that is strong, two side pictures that might show something funny or whimsical of the person and two more pictures which are usually profiles that close in on either side to complete the five picture narrative.
My discovery of the narrative
finally released me of the pressure that I felt as a photographer (a portrait photographer) of taking the ultimate portrait of a person. This ultimate portrait would, in one picture, in a photographic nutshell, reveal to those who might look at the picture the inner working’s of the person’s mind/personality.
I soon found out that five pictures told a better and more complete story of a person that one single one. Also when I had a game plan of taking five pictures, that strong central picture, more often than not, would appear like magic.
In the era of Polaroid I would put those five Polaroids on my studio table and I would discuss with my subject its sequence or if we had succeeded.
It was in June of 1997 that I received a phone call from Malcolm Parry who told me, “I have met René and you must photograph her. She will do 'anythin'”. Mac explained that Rene was a fetish enthusiast. I will admit that then, and now I have no clue as to what photographic fetish is all about.
In the mid 80s Vancouver Magazine
assigned me to photograph classical guitarist Leona Boyd who had hired a new manager, no less than Bruce Allen. The art director, Chris Dahl asked me to do a sexy re-branding of the guitarist who wore long dresses and with her long blonde hair always looked like she had a unicorn parked outside. I remember going to stores in Vancouver looking for leather skirts or dresses. The only leather dresses I found were severe and conservative Austrian stuff designed for women over 50.
I went to the last remaining place in town, (at that time) which was a store called the Leather Ranch and it was next to the Granville entrance to the Orpheum. When I asked them if they had any rubber or latex wear the looked at me as if I were a pornographer and told me that I would be able to find such stuff in LA but certainly not in Vancouver. In the end I left with a leather reproduction of an outfit based on something that Tina Turner had worn to show off her legs. Vancouver in the mid and late 80s was simply not a fetish or latex kind of place.
When René entered my studio she pretty well told me she was not prepared to do “anything” and that meant she was not going to take her clothes off for me no matter my reputation or questionable photographic talent.
When she informed me I sort of lost interest and made the motion of taking pictures, 54 to be exact. I never saw René again and I filed my negatives and contact sheets. I did not look at them with any kind of detail until yesterday. I found that the negatives had not been properly fixed and they had all kinds of streaks in the gray background I had used. I will have to re-fix them to stop any further deterioration.
I also noticed that René was an excellent model and I was much too stupid to notice.
Here I will put in sequential order the pictures as I took them, from the very first one (a picture that did not bode well then for any progress) to the last one. Of course these 13 pictures only represent the ones that I liked best within that sequence.
It was also by the mid 90s that fine tuned the use of 2x3 ft soft box, no hair light and I simply worked with the relationship of my subject and the distance to my back gray studio wall. Depending on how I moved my subject (closer to the wall that background was light gray and further away it became close to black or black) I could affect the overall look of my sequences and make them look uniform. I would then lock my camera in position and the only change would be the costume/clothes used and the pose.
Action & Reaction
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
It was sometime around 1977 and I was in the car with both my daughters and my wife. It was in the evening and I was turning left onto Fraser from West Broadway. It was then that I told the joke that literally had Rosemary (and I will never know why) in tears not because the joke was funny but because it was bad. I asked my passengers why Rubik’s Cubes were all over the place. They were unable to answer so I told them it was because the cubes were Rubiquitous.
Four years ago at the Vancouver blogging conference Northern Voice the latest buzz was all about something called Twitter. In this year’s Northern Voice the head speaker, Chris Messina
told us of his invention the hashtag (sample, #Photography).
As I see it, in what we call a rapid era of change it still took Twitter four years to become mainstream. The same could be said about facebook. It is mainstream.
I have already learned my lesson about putting a critical comment on a person’s photograph (it was terrible and her friends kept telling her how beautiful she was and how fantastic it was). My comment was perhaps not a kind one as I said that the photographer in question might want to chose a second career like plumbing. My friend and all her friends and photographers sent me terrible and nasty private emails to the effect who did I think I was that I was making blanket opinions on what were good photographs and bad photographs. On facebook any photographer who posts is a “professional” and thus we all have the same opinion and all the photographs are fantastic. If they aren’t we must keep silent. I am now most willing to tow that line and keep my keyboard trap shut.
But there is another way to study this phenomenon that all the photographs are wonderful and fantastic and everybody’s avatars are compelling and lovely.
I think there are two classifications for most photographs, There are the reactive ones and the active ones.
Consummate French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was an extremely good active and reactive photographer. But he is better known for that second category. His method he named the decisive moment. He patiently would wait (or perhaps he knew where to wait or had a second sense that something was about to happen) and when what he was waiting for happened he would capture it on film with unerring accuracy.
Most who attempt to imitate Cartier-Bresson’s method, of waiting until something happens and then to react by taking the picture, usually fail or have problems with unfamiliar equipment and they don’t get the image.
Another reactive photographer of note (and also dead like Cartier-Bresson) was Ansel Adams who would patiently wait for the moment when clouds, sky, sun and landscape achieved what he considered to be that optimum moment. There is no denying that Adams was the consummate reactive photographer as he was able to take his most famous image, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico because he knew exactly what the luminosity of the full moon was. He took his picture (one) and as soon as he did the clouds changed, and the image he had taken was gone. Perhaps there are some that would point out that Adams’ reactive talents came from years of observation, particularly in the areas of landscape that he frequented.
The second type of photograph is the active one. In this case the photographer thinks of an image in his or her head and then executes it (triumphantly or in failure).
It is difficult for the active photographer to make the sun do this or the moon to do that. The reactive photographer is unable to play God with nature. The reactive photographer will have more control with inanimate objects (whiskey bottles, fruit and other miscellaneous stuff) where lighting can be controlled. The active photographer can further affect that image with choice of cameras, lenses, sensors, film, lights as well as with viewing materials which can be photographs on photographic paper, on inkjet paper or on a monitor.
For me the crown of active photography is the portrait. It is here where the photographer has as much control as he or she will ever have even though subject might not be malleable or forthcoming while at times they might be cooperative.
If you start looking at the pictures in facebook and try to classify them in my two categories you might note that the reactive type is the more frequent.
The modern DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera is a marvel. It is an enormity of features within a rather tight and not too big package. It has capabilities even in HDR Video that exceed what some expensive video cameras only a few years ago.
While Cartier-Bresson waited for his decisive moment we can assume that he might have had one Leica with one lens attached. His element of control involved focusing and using the correct exposure. The correct exposure was not all that difficult as he might shoot in a Paris café or in a landscape where he already knew of his exposure because of practice.
Cartier-Bresson was unaware of:
1. The available focusing modes of a DSLR
2. Had no idea he could switch from jpg to RAW or that he could use RAW and then switch to monochrome or b+w
3. He had no idea or concern (he shot in b+w) about how light had colour at different times of the day and with mixed lighting. He did not have to be concerned with white balance, custom white balance, and tungsten white balance.
4. Cartier-Bresson (with plenty of film in his pocket) was unconcerned with digital storage cards that were full or that might become corrupted.
5. Not using more than one or two lenses, Cartier-Bresson did not have to make the decision that 33.7mm was a better focal length than 73.8mm was. Not having a zoom lens gave him yet one less option open to the photographer.
I could go on with all the other stuff that is inside a DSLR and that is somewhat explained by a manual (mostly on-line these days) that may be as complicated as integral calculus.
What exactly am I driving at?
The first picture here is one that I took with my iPhone during one of my nude classes at Focal Point. As the teacher I feel that I have to watch my students and give them instructions. I don’t think it proper for me to snap pictures of the models. But I do succumb every once in a while as I did here and I just pointed and shot my iPhone.
It is not exactly a lucky image. I know that the iPhone cannot handle high contrast (it will severely overexpose whites) but it will do just fine in a situation where a nude model has a white background. It all blends to a medium gray and phone will work fine. There are no controls with my 3G except to shoot in a silent mode or in an artificial click mode. Knowing when to use an iPhone where it will do a good job is easy if you have been a photographer for some time. Thus the picture that you see here is an efficient picture taken in a situation where the photographer has few choices but knows that the results will be likely not bad.
But I would never call this photograph an arresting one. It is simply a picture that came out (turned out) and which I can post here because movement blurred the bits and pieces that might offend viewers here.
The paradox here is that my iPhone in a controllable situation where the photographer knows of the reduced parameters might just be likely to take a better picture than the photographer with a big DSLR and who might be saddled with the problem that is over choice.
The smart restaurateur of the 80s prepared elaborate salad bars in which customers had their fill and might have been confused with the over choice of synthetic bacon bits, pickles of all kinds and dressings from ranch to Sicilian.
To me the DSLR is a compact version of that dizzying salad bar. Something I see so often in my photography classes is students looking down at their cameras (checking up on their zebras or in confusion that their camera is not reacting as predicted) instead of looking through them.
I tell my students that the more stringent the parameters for a shooting session, the fewer options considered, the more likely that they will take a picture that they will be proud of.
If those who facebook take the bull by the horns (instruct their cameras to do as they, the photographer, think) and instead of waiting for pictures to happen, make them happen, then we will be less likely to consider every image we see to be fantastic, when it isn’t.
The second picture, one of my favourites was one that I never planned (preconceived) but simply happened as I waited for Patrice
to be made up for the shoot we were going to collaborate on. When I saw this I quickly put a long 250mm telephoto on my Mamiya and guessed the exposure (the window light on a snowy day). The second picture I planned. It was to be one of my interpretations of La Santa Muerte
who is the patron saint of drug smugglers, and other low-life in Mexico, particularly in such states as the State of Sinaola. I knew who my model was going to be and I knew how I was going to light her.
The Naval Architect & His Boat
Monday, December 06, 2010
It may have been around the mid 80s when Mac Parry dispatched me to photograph boats, their owners and in a couple of cases builders of boats.
The most interesting of the boats, and subsequently their builder was Velko a Croatian naval architect. He built fast boats with fiberglass hulls and and with exquisitely turned wood decks. He then installed B&W engines. I was taken in one from Granville Island to the gulf island home of architect Dan White who owned a Kavalk boat as Velko’s creations were called. The boat exceeded 50-plus knots and I feared for my life!
Velko was no count, but he certainly had the look of one when I photographed him in his garage boat building area. I was not to know then that many years later I was going to dance the tango with his très elegant daughter who was one of the finest ships on two legs (my, what legs!) I ever did meet.
I do remember some time ago that I was driving on 6th avenue and going east when I almost drove the the car into a tree. I had been distracted by a woman, almost 6ft tall, wearing a short but well tailored skirt and black pumps. Her fishnets had a seems going up from her heels to where my imagination took over.
Leonard Schein's Giant Flat Screen (Excellent It Is)
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Saturday evening I was comfortably ensconced in my bed reading James R. Benn’s second Billy Boyle WWII mystery, The First Wave
. It was around 11:30. My wife said, “Alex, can you turn on your computer I need to print something.” She then produced two tickets to the movies and infromed me that today Sunday we were going to see The King’s Speech
at 10 am but that we needed to be at the Park (on Cambie) a little bit after nine because they served bagels, cream cheese, muffins, tea and coffee (plus I presumed, ugh! Popcorn in the morning, ugh!)
At the door I noticed that most of the crowd, almost made me feel young again, and there was Leonard Schein with that big smile of his telling us to step right in if we already had our e-tickets.
Schein told us that another sold-out ( I never knew this Sunday series had been going on for at least five years) Sunday performance had been Stephen Frears’ The Queen
with Helen Mirren and James Cromwell. It was obvious that we folks has established a pattern of preference!
I will not attempt to review The King’s Speech
except to say that if Geoffrey Rush not only gets nominated for a supporting (?) Oscar and does not get it there is truly (and Mr. Dawkins would agree) no God. Colin Firth is superb as is Helena Bonham Carter as the future Queen Mother. I almost missed the short but arresting performance of Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, Consort .
Rosemary left the theatre (I was a bit sleepy) but I kept humming that second movement of Beethoven’s second Symphony which is the music in the background of the King’s Speech
when Colin Firth indeed finally manages to speak into a microphone with almost no stammer. Both the film and Beethoven have their crescendo just about there.
When Rosemary suggested we might come to see the next British film on this coming Sunday I did not tell her what I told her Saturday night, “The movies on Sunday morning! You must be joking!”
When I had my short chat with Leonard Schein he told me (when I reminded him of that picture that I took of him at the Ridge for Vancouver Magazine
so long ago). My hair is mostly gone.” I should have added, “But your smile and enthusiasm for movies is still there.”
Below you will find a small but I would point our regal connection, that I once had with one of the actors in The King's Speech,
Helena Bonham Carter. She could well play Catherine of Aragon some day as her Spanish is perfect.
Addendum from Mr. Leonard Schein:
Thanks again for this and your kind words. The picture on top of the Ridge is Allen Stevens, not me, however.