Elliott Erwitt's Masterpiece & The Demise Of Street Photography
Saturday, March 05, 2011
|Elliott Erwitt by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward 1990 |
The subject of today’s blog has been on my mind for quite a long time. It has been on my mind ever since the proliferation of the digital camera and in particular since the advent of the $200 (or less) digital point and shoots.
But it hit home with a thunk to my head when I watched Justin Bieber’s documentary Never Say Never
a couple of weeks ago with my granddaughter. The sold out performance of Justin Bieber’s concert at the Madison Square Garden on August 21, 2009 was somewhere in the order of 40,000 people. It seemed to me that a great majority of the young girls attending were all clutching and waving either cell phone cameras or point and shoot digital cameras. It was a sea of glow.
In today’s (I get the Sunday New York Times
delivered on Saturday night) newly designed Sunday Magazine
there is a new section called What They Were Thinking
. The one page contains (and will contain) one photograph in which either the photographer or the subject discuss what was in their mind at the time of the exposure. Since the photo was taken in New York City in 1985 we know it was taken and not “captured” to use the modern parlance.
What is different (even in this first feature of the new column) is that the photograph, taken by Ted Barron is about the more famous Robert Frank (who is in the picture) taking a photograph of Tom Waits squatting over a puddle in Tompkins Square Park in New York City. So the page is about three men (Tom Waits, Robert Frank and Ted Barron) and what they were thinking.
In this age of unbridled photographic proliferation there are still some controls that protect the copyright of some of the good photographers of the past, particularly those who are still alive as Robert Frank and today’s subject of my blog, Elliott Erwitt. Ted Barron’s photograph is an interesting photograph even before we know that the squatter is Tom Waits and that the photographer, what seems to be a collapsible Polaroid Land Camera) who we only see from the back is the famous Swiss photographer who published one of the seminal books on photography of the 20th century, The Americans
(1958). I will not copy the NY Times photo and place it here and face a copyright infringement and the possible (remote I would think) lawsuit by the newspaper and Ted Barron. What I find remarkable is that the NY Times did not publish Frank’s photo of Waits (no room for it in the layout, perhaps?). What is more remarkable is that if you Google , Tom Waits/Robert Frank, the only picture that turns up is Ted Barron's. There seems to be no evidence on the web of the photograph that Robert Frank took of Tom Waits.
Any of us who might have an extensive collection of photo books (but I don’t have the Frank book that would have Waits’ photo) would instantly find the photograph and it would be most educational to see what it was the Robert Frank took.
But Ted Barron’s photograph is interesting from another perspective. There are gawkers (besides Ted Barron who arrived at the scene purely by accident), who are mostly quite young and some have smiles on their faces. Not one of them has a camera in hand or around their neck. In 1985 there was no proliferation of cameras in the street as you would see now. It was before telephones started sharing tasks with cameras. An exception might have been near the Eiffel Tower in Paris or in the pre September 11 Statue of Liberty. Only tourists seemed to have cameras in those days.
If you go back 30 years to the prime of Henri Cartier-Bresson, those with cameras in hand would have been even more reduced. That any of those fewer photographers would have owned an sophisticated and expensive Leica (Cartier-Bresson’s) that number would have been even smaller.
The kinds of photographs that Cartier-Bresson took were in genre called street photography. He was not the first by any measurement. The first street photograph was a Daguerreotype by Louis Daguerre taken of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris in 1838. Scholars suspect that it was not strictly a street photograph. What seems to be the cardinal rule of the true street photograph is that the photographer is a bystander who does not participate in any way. The photographer can wait until the action that is suspected in happening happens. But there must be no interference. Many good street shots are thus the “lucky” shots of photographers in the ready who are masters in being able to shoot quickly from the hip.
|Louis Daguerre, Bulevard du Temple, 1838|
It seems that Daguerre’s street shot was staged and he either paid or asked a man to stand on the street to have his boots cleaned. One of the pioneers of street photography as we knew it (I used the past and I will explain below why) was the Hungarian-born André Kertész who spanned almost the whole 20th century (1894-1986). I will not delve into the subject of the fact (for me) that Kertész was a better photographer than Cartier-Bresson in that he had a wider repertoire of skills and interests. The fact is that Cartier-Bresson singlehandedly became the beacon for the new breed of street photographers that followed after him. They could have told you all about the significance of the decisive moment.
One photographer, generally considered to be a street photographer (his career began in the 50s) is Paris born (parent of Russian emigrés) Elliott Erwitt. Some see him as a street photographer as his most famous image is the one here which was the invite card for his 1990 show at the Presentation Gallery in North Vancouver. But if you investigate further you will find out that he shot the stills for The Misfits (
in my interview with Erwitt for the Georgia Straight back in 1990 he had no recollection of Marilyn Monroe's polka dot dress!) and was there during the kitchen debate between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev.
Erwitt’s storied career (it is not in the least ended yet as he was hired by Pellegrino last year to do an adverstising campaign for them) has something most importan in common with Cartier-Bresson. Both were members of Magnum a cooperative founded in 1947 by Cartier-Bresson that would control the use of important photographs taken by their members. The newspapers and magazines of the day would hire Magnum photographers for assignments knowing that results would be a sure thing.
These pictures agencies have sort of disappeared as we know have Getty Images which is really and organization not run by photographers and which is slowly but surely securing a monopoly on images.
Magnum still has a reputation and it is perhaps for that reason that you cannot find some of the finest photographs taken by their photographers unless you happen to have old photography books.
The proof is what I consider one of the best street photograph ever taken (it happens to be a sequence of three). It was shot by Elliott Erwitt. In his book Get The Picture -A Personal History of Photojournalism
by John G. Morris (1998) he writes of the sequence:
These pictures may have provided President Kennedy with his only laugh during the Bay of Pigs crisis. Elliott Erwitt took this sequence at one of Nelson Rockefeller’s stump speeches in Albay, New York – a warmup for a presidential run he was planning in 1964. I noted the dog’s reaction to Rockefeller’s oratory and had prints made for my visit to Kennedy’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger who jumped at the chance to lighten his boss’s dark mood. It Worked.
|Elliott Erwitt's Masterpiece|
This sequence (connected by me with Photoshop) works to perfection even if we do not know that the man central in the group is Nelson Rockefeller. What you see here is a low resolution version, the only one available to the viewer at the Magnum agency web site if you happen to search for Erwitt/Rockefeller. It my hope that neither Magnum nor Erwitt nor John G. Morris will go after me for the use of their work without prior permission.
The point of the blog is that I believe that the brand of street photography and photojournalism (try to find a definition that clarifies their absolute distinction) that was pioneered in the 20th century is either moribund or dead. A young Cartier-Bresson suddenly plunked by magic in 21st century Vancouver would not be able to find work.
Flickr, facebook and millions of digital cameras (the equalizer versions of the 19th century Colts) have leveled the playing field. There are street photographs everywhere and after a while my eyes and those of others (I guess) must become dulled.
Converting some of those pristine, sharp and colorful images taken with the help of image stabilization and state of the art zoom lenses and auto focusing to b+ws sometimes helps to clear the eyes, but even those after a while dull the senses eventually.
I remember reading a fine piece of fiction in an 80s Penthouse Magazine
in which 18th century Italian composer and virtuoso harpsichordist Domenico Scarlatti was brought, via a time machine, to Los Angeles circa 1980s. His agent (a savvy American ) planned to make a bundle parading the harpsichordist around LA. To the agent’s horror, Scarlatti wised up quickly and lost all interest in harpsichords and the baroque music of the 18th century. Scarlatti grooved on the Moog synthesizer of the era and took Leary’s advice and dropped out in a haze of dope and drugs.
Likewise I think that a young Cartier-Bresson in Vancouver would trash his Leica and purchase a $140 Cisco Flip-cam and do street videos.
|El Santo de la Trompeta, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward 1964|
A Hungarian friend of mine, Michael Varga, one of the best CBC cameraman of his generation and now extremely busy even though he is retired, told my wife Rosemary that Alex (me!) would be less morose if he purchased a good digital single lens reflex camera. My other friend, also Hungarian, Paul Leisz begs to differ (and seems to understand my so-called predicament). He says that a digital camera would not change my method of working and using lights or my personal approach to photography. It would just provide me with a learning curve. It would be a toy and a distraction. I agree. For now, my type of photography is in deep slumber. Will the bear wake up? Perhaps or perhaps not. In any case I did my stint in street photography in the 60s in Mexico. Above is one of them. The picture is interesting only in that it would look alien to most how have never seen a Mexican wrestling mask. If I happened to take street photographs in b+w or even took Varga's advice I might have a show of the pictures in Buenos Aires or Madrid where our every day Vancouver would be seen as exotic. To most that saw Cartier-Bresson's shots of Paris, Paris was a remote and exciting place. It is now an almost available destination to anybody with Airmiles points and Expedia.
A Labyrinth of Gaddafi, Kaddafi, Qadhafi...
Friday, March 04, 2011
A special headache for anyone writing about the Middle East is the transliteration of Arabic words into English. For example, the name of the Libyan leader is variously spelled “Gaddafi” (Time
), “Kaddafi” (Newsweek
), “Qadhafi” (Wall Street Journal
); “el-Qaddafi” (New York Times);
“Kadafi” (Los Angeles Times); “
Khadafy” (NBC News);
or “Qaddafi” (ABC News).
That fact is that English orthography is not readily adaptable to Arabic phonetics. Written Arabic, like Hebrew, has no vowel signs.
Passionate Pilgrims – English Travelers to the World of the Desert Arabs, James C. Simmons, William Morrow and Company, Inc, 1987
|Scanned , from the bottom, b+w negative with a white paper on top, then reversed |
With all the events happening in the Middle East I have been re-reading the book mentioned above and another wonderful written earlier (1979) by Jonathan Raban, Arabia – A Journey Through the Labyrinth
. The latter book was my introduction to the wonders of Raban’s previous and subsequent books of non-fiction and a few novels, too.
What is interesting is that James C. Simmons quotes Raban in his book and the quote is most revealing:
To live in Arabic is to live in a labyrinth of false turns and double meanings. No sentence means quite what it says. Every word is potentially a talisman, conjuring the ghosts of the entire family of words from which it comes. The devious complexity of Arabic grammar is legendary. It is the language which is perfectly constructed for saying nothing with enormous eloquence; a language of pure manners in which there are hardly any literal meanings at all and in which the symbolic gesture is everything… Even to peer through a chink in the wall of the language is enough to glimpse the depth and darkness of that forest of ambiguity. No wonder the Koran is so notoriously untranslatable
– A Journey Through The Labyrinth
, Jonathan Raban
For me Arabia and things Arabic are not as much of a mystery as they would be for a North American. Being Argentine and of Spanish heritage I know something about the Moorish occupation of Spain and through my Filipino relatives about the Muslim presence in Mindanao. My grandmother told me stories about "los moros de Mindanao" and "los moros de España" from the moment I started remembering anything. It was my abuelita Lolita who told me that one of the most beautiful words in Spanish, ojalá
(I hope) came from the Arabic and it is condensation of if Allah wills
Spanish is loaded with beautiful words from Arabic as is alcauci
l (artichoke) and these others just some of the ones that begin with a: ataúd
(sugar). A favourite word of mine is the sweet sounding jarabe
which means syrup. Another of my favourites, and it begins with a z is zagúan
which is a long passageway that may lead into the interior of house from the street. The walled houses of Spain and Mexico (that hide what could be a beautiful garden inside) is purely of Arabic origin.
As a young man I read Octavio Paz’s seminal book on what makes the Mexican man tick. The book is called El Laberinto de la Soledad
. When I read it, not feeling entirely Mexican I realized that the book was about the machismo of all Latin males. And in this age of globalization where I am most likely to meet and learn more about people in other countries I came to the realization that the Mexican was no different from the Italian or the Arab. And if I really started looking with some more detail it seem that we all men are the same. Once I realized that, I came to know that Arabs are no different from me!
My grandmother used to often ask for a particular dish that was one of my favourites. Mexicans call it Arroz a La Cubana
. It is ground meat with raisins and olives and pimentos. This is served with little mounds of white rice (cups or glasses are used as molds). On the plate with the rice and meat you also have a couple of fried eggs and fried plantain (called plátano macho!). My grandmother, the Spaniard that she was, called the dish Moros y Cristianos.
The Moors were the dark ground meat and the Christians the angelic white rice!
There are many expressions in Spanish that are based on the protracted war that the Spaniards had to get rid of the Moors from their country. If you are in a situation where you want to make sure nobody is watching you may ask, “¿Hay moros en la costa?”
or “Are there any Moors on the horizon?” equivalent to “is the coast clear?”
As I look at the crowds of protesters in Al Jazeera the men (they seem to be all men) look very much like the crowds in Mexico. They look familiar and not alien at all.
|Judah & Tamar by Emile Jean Horace Vernet|
It was in Passionate Pilgrims that I found out:
In 1902 the American historian A. T. Mahan coined the phrase Middle East to distinguish the region of the eastern end of the Mediterranean from the Far East.
Simone Orlando & Jocelyn Morlock's Luft - A Flutter Of Origami
Thursday, March 03, 2011
If feathers did not evolve first for flight, what was their purpose? Perhaps for insulation or, as a recent research suggests, to get the attention of the opposite sex.
The Curious History of Feathers, National Geographic, February 2011
Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.
After a satisfying performance of Stravinsky’s’ Firebird
, orchestrated for 16 (including a bass clarinet) instruments of the Turning Point Ensemble by Michael Bushnell in Tuesday’s dress rehearsal, I awaited for my first glimpse of Simone Orlando’s new ballet (a modern ballet) Luft
. In German, luft serves as a prefix for all things air and flight. By the end of the evening luft also had an intimate connection with feathers, black ones and white ones.
As I watched 15 of the musicians (alas the bass clarinettist had no part!) climb up to Alan Storey’s set (which I will not reveal what it looks like as that should be a surprise) they began to tune the instruments. There was something strange as the tuning had lots of trumpet (Tom Shorthouse) and it all sounded familiar. A lot of it came from the fourth movement of Firebird
. There are five dancers in this ballet (the two principal ones are Alison Denham and Josh Beamish). The other three, Cai Glover, Matjash Mrozewski and Heather Dotto appeared, one at a time to stretch. I first suspected this was part of the dress rehearsal. But with the Firebirdish sounds coming from the tuning up and the fact that the stretching dancers were lit as they elegantly stretched I caught on!
Anybody who has ever met the very serious Luft choreographer Simone Orlando and the not-so-serious composer of the ballet, Jocelyn Morlock (and I have!) will instantly know that these two women who collaborated, even in the telling of the story, have a very good sense of humor!
|Josh Beamish |
I had the opportunity to chat with Morlock who told me that a lot of the story had inspiration from the myths of writer Joseph Campbell. After listening to her music, which featured more piano demolition by Jane Haynes with lots of wonderfully obsessive stuff by the French horn, trumpet, bassoon, cello and bass I noted the influence of Stravinsky in Tom Shorthouse’s lively trumpet. Once it was all over I went up to Morlock and I told her, “I can imagine three men having coffee together and after doing so they appeared as ghosts and whispered into your ear. The three men were Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland.” I certainly do not have the educational background of a music critic (I am no critic) so my statement was based on ignorance. But I did get a smile from Morlock who told me, “That’s rather nice.”
In the beginning of the ballet I watched Josh Beamish (he pretty well dances without rest for close to 40 minutes!) flutter and vibrate his hands and arms. I had seen that very move in Stravinsky’s Firebird
during a performance of the National Ballet of Canada some years ago. Like Morlock’s writing the trumpet part for Luft
, Orlando had found an element of Firebird
to bring into her completely original ballet.
I will not reveal here why Luft
to me immediately brought to mind the expression fluttering origami. I will leave that as a surprise and a pleasant one it shall be for those lucky enough to see Luft in what seems to be sold out performances until Saturday.
The ballet is a tour-de-force performance for one dancer, Josh Beamish but I cannot leave out the performance of the three other dancers and also of Alison Denham, whose beautifully designed costume (she wore two different ones, by designer Linda Chow) in their pinkness provided almost the only colour on stage. Denham (those legs!) in whichever way you interpret the story, is a wonder to behold in her movement as she troubles, tests, inspires and challenges the everyman that Josh Beamish perhaps represents.
And of course only a few might suspect and a few might wonder why it was that when I left the evening’s performance I found a little white feather, with that one black filament, on the floor of the Cultch lounge. The answer to the possible question is that the Cultch stage has never been a deep one and no renovation can add space that is not there. When dancers exit, stage left or right, to return stage right or stage left, they must do so through that lounge. A bystander sitting there with a drink might just get a different take on Luft.
Turning Point Ensemble’s Firebird 2011 - Part III
|Vern Griffiths, percussion |
One hundred years after Stravinsky composed his original work for ballet, Firebird
, Turning Point Ensemble played ( I went to a dress rehearsal on Tuesday night) what amounts to a premiere of the work. It was an arrangement by composer Michael Bushnell of Stravinsky’s original Firebird
in a chamber suite for a 16-member orchestra.
Consider that Stravinsky wrote his 45-minute (Bushnell’s version was a tad shorter) ballet for a very large orchestra including quadruple woodwind and three harps, as well as a piano.
Last night’s ensemble featured one harp and one piano but the sonic ballistics I am used to were all there. For one thing the Cultch’s small theatre is small so I was close, intimately so, to the orchestra. Unlike being at a performance at the Orpheum every instrument here was directional in sound. I could immediately discern when each instrument was “on”. In a world that is increasingly becoming used to the enveloping sound of ear buds it was a pleasure to listen to (and watch) music as it should be listened to.
The work, as orchestrated by Bushnell, had the four movements of the original. The smaller ensemble gave me the opportunity to listen to stuff from the Firebird I was not aware was there. There were many moments of delicate intimacy particularly from François Houle’s clarinet.
But I was ready and waiting for the ballistics of the fourth movement. The more I watch and listen to pianist Jane Haynes the more I enjoy her affirmation of the piano as a percussion instrument. She seems to demolish the piano but the piano holds on! On the other hand it is fun to watch percussionist Vern Griffiths
who I must describe as a man who moves in complete quiet and grace (not that anybody could possibly hear any noises he would make with his tiptoes). There is an elegance in the way he wields his xylophone mallets (it may have been a marimba as I saw wood).
|François Houle, clarinet|
I was not disappointed. Sometime around the middle of the fourth movement I watched Griffiths face his tympani and I knew what was coming. It came and on the right I watched Jeremy Berkman on the trombone and I would swear his slide almost hit the ground a couple times.
Because it was a dress rehearsal I could look to the side and watch arranger Michael Bushnell’s involvement as he nodded his head and smiled. Bushnell is most watchable as he resembles a cross of the faces of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut!
Bushnell has had a musical history of working together with TPE conductor Owen Underhill and it showed here. Underhill, with that ever present smile of his, enjoyed himself, as I did.
My only disappointment is that my granddaughter was too sick to accompany me. I know she would have enjoyed it.
Turning Point Ensemble’s Firebird 2011 - Part II
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
| Left: Alison Denham, Jocelyn Morlock, standing Alan Storey, Jeremy Berkman|
On September 25, 2008 my granddaughter Rebecca and I went to a performance of the National Ballet of Canada. We were interested in particular to see what was going to be dancer Rex Harrington’s swan song. The program featured Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
and Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird
. The latter Rebecca and I did not consider important. We had found the music interesting (we had listened to it at home) but it was nothing we could understand.
The evening proved to be an extremely pleasant surprise as Stravinsky’s music made all the sense in the world when we saw it danced it was exciting. There is a moment in the ballet where the music gets very loud and I purposely did not warn Rebecca how on cue jumped from her seat during that moment. Once we had seen this performance we considered that the Firebird was something we would see again and again if we could.
In some way our hopes are to be fulfilled this week with the performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird
orchestrated for an ensemble of 16 musicians arranged by composer Michael Bushnell and played by our very own Turning Point Ensemble. In the second part of the program the ensemble will accompany a dance performance of choreographer Simone Orlando’s new ballet Luft
with music composed especially for the piece by Vancouver composer Jocelyn Morlock.
|Laura McPheeters & Jocelyn Morlock|
Turning Point Ensemble Artistic co-director and trombonist Jeremy Berkman explains:
Turning Point Ensemble's Firebird 2011 is actually two discreet presentations. - The first half of our show will be a very special concert presentation - no dance - music alone. It is an arrangement of some of Stravinsky's Firebird ballet music. We had to obtain the rights to engage Michael Bushnell to create this arrangement, and it was really because of the prestige of the Rio Tinto Alcan Award, I think, that we were successful. But, also, maybe because Michael eloquently described to the publishers and rights owners exactly which music he was interested in (some of the popular "tunes", but also some of the interesting less well known stuff!). Jocelyn Morlock and Simone Orlando also began with Stravinsky's Firebird - but really more the story that Stravinsky musically described. Then they took the "essence" of that to create their own story, and Jocelyn her own entirely original composition - the collaboration which will be danced and played as the second half of our presentation. We wouldn't have space to dance unless Alan Storey came up with an ingenious multi-floor set-design, and Simone and Conor (lighting) worked to utilize every inch of our stage!
What this means is that we are going to get some Firebird and, then some, as Luft is choreographed by Simone Orlando
who happened to have choreographed the dance section Turning Point Ensemble’s February 2009 production of Erik Satie’s Relâche
at the Vancouver Playhouse.
My granddaughter Rebecca has a special relationship with Simone Orlando. Some years ago after a performance of Ballet BC where Orlando was a featured member of the troupe, we went back stage. Orlando invited Rebecca into her room and presented her with a pair of her pointe shoes. I know for a fact that Rebecca slept with them under her pillow that night.
Rebecca and I went to the Cultch on October 19, 2007, to see the Wen Wei Dance Company
perform Three Sixty Five
. The special recorded music had one lone musician on stage, one of Turning Point Ensemble’s cellists Peggy Lee. But there was a dancer that suddenly appeared and my granddaughter whispered in my ear, “Look at those abs!” Rebecca and I subsequently have seen a few performances with this strong dancer who has a body to kill for.
I first ran into Turning Point Ensemble conductor Owen Underhill some years ago when he was involved with Ballet BC’s production of Boy Wonder
. It was then that I took one of my most favourite photographs of him playing the piano while receiving inspiration from muse/dancer Lauri Stallings. Since then in many a performance by the Turning Point Ensemble I try to sit as close to him so I can watch him smile as he conducts.
|Ballet BC's Boy Wonder, Lauri Stallings, Owen Underhill |
I cannot not mention, that I often think on how culture-free our city used to be. Yet in 2009 Turning Point Ensemble’s production of Erik Satie’s Relâche
was the sort of production one could wait for years to ever see in New York City, surely one of the world’s cultural capitals. Within 6 months the The Turning Point Ensemble had then brought us a concert of new music that also included Oliver Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time
It was performed by cellist Peggy Lee, pianist Jane Hayes, clarinetist François Houle and violinist Marc Destrubé. It was the kind of performance that made me feel proud to be a Vancouverite.
|Quartet for the End of Time, Peggy Lee, Jane Haynes,François Houle. Marc Destrubé |
Globe trotting violinist, Marc Destrubé has this to say about being a member of Turning Point Ensemble:
I'm sad to be missing the Turning Point event (I'm in Washington playing Haydn, Mozart, and Smetana's intensely romantic quartet 'From My Life' (which was not a particularly easy one because he suffered, like Beethoven, from increasing deafness).
I don't think Vancouver is at all 'devoid of culture'. As you have pointed out in the past, what Vancouver is devoid of is a public (and media) awareness of the extraordinary cultural riches it contains, especially in the area of contemporary, experimental, adventurous and creative activity in pretty much all the artistic disciplines, and an appropriate measure of financial support from the different levels of government.
The Turning Point Ensemble is one of a thrilling number of what could be described as 'niche' ensembles in town (although I suppose any and every ensemble is in a way a 'niche' ensemble), exploring a particular area of music and music-making, and of creative expression more generally, and doing it at a high level and in a way that stimulates a wide spectrum of creative activity. The TPE not only gives me a chance to make music with some of the best and most interesting musicians in the city and the country, but also to expand my own artistic horizons through its collaborations with creators and artists in other disciplines in the community.
It was Marc Destrubé, as former musical director of Vancouver’s Pacific Baroque Orquestra who commissioned Jocelyn Morlock to compose a work that would incorporate baroque instruments and voice. I was present at the performance of Golden in 2001 with soprano Phoebe MacRae. Morlock’s accessible and gentle composition incorporated a sort of glass harmonica that made Rebecca and I smile.
As for Alan Storey and his sets I still remember his set for the February 2008 Ballet BC performance of The Four Seasons (with the active on stage painting with Tiko Kerr). In included an infrared transmitter attached to dancer Makaila Wallace that somehow interacted with a robotic drawing machine that hovered over the Queen Elizabeth Stage. Anything that Storey does will always be as interestingly wild as his own wild hair.
All in all I feel glad for all those who will have managed to have secured tickets for Firebird 2011 which is sold out. I feel sorry for those who will be left out and ever so glad that Heather Redfern
and her Vancouver East Cultural Centre take so many chances in the direction of the avant garde and innovative works. Our city is better for it.
I conversed with you in a dream
Simone Orlando and Jocelyn Morlock
Turning Point Ensemble’s Firebird 2011
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
At The Cultch March 2 - 5, 2011
895 Venables Street
Featuring the Turning Point Ensemble, Move: the company, set design by Alan Storey, costume design by Linda Chow, lighting by Conor Moore, guest dancer Matjash Mrozewski.
Guest Blog On the Collaboration Process of Firebird 2011
|From Left: Alison Denham, Jocelyn Morlock, Simone Orlando, standing Alan Storey, Jeremy Berkman |
I remember one of those embarrassing moments as a student in Conservatory when a music theory teacher retorted to a comment I made about going to see a certain musical production - "you don't go to SEE a concert you to HEAR it!". Well, the beauty of good music is that it fills more than one sense - it sounds, sure, but it also moves in our outer space, our inner space, it conjures smells, visions, textures, and most importantly has a physical relationship with our body. In collaborating on Firebird 2011 I was reminded of that embarrassing moment as I am always SO inspired by outstanding choreography and dance - and working with people who are so much more in tune with their bodies and relationship with their space than I feel I am. Their inspiration so positively affect my attempts at excellent musicianship - and the time I have been fortunate enough to share with Simone, Josh, Ali, Matjash, Heather, and Cai - and especially to watch and listen - (and I obviously mean that!) to how Simone and Jocelyn "danced" to find the right balance is something I cherish. And, you know, the only way we have been able to find enough space for these incredible dancers to work in the Cultch is that Alan Storey devised a multi-level set of beauty, simplicity, and yet clever efficiency so that the dancers can actually mingle with us whether we're on the stage floor or up on the third floor!
The other fascinating aspect of this collaboration involves our two discreet presentations. We all started with Stravinsky's Firebird music - with the prestige of the Rio Tinto Alcan Award we convinced the primary publisher of the ballet music to give us the performing rights to create an arrangement. Michael Bushnell, a local composer and frequent collaborator with choreographers - took on the immense task of taking a number of Stravinsky's versions of the work - from two- piano to an orchestra with four harps - and reduce it to TPE's 16 players. Simone and Jocelyn started with the Firebird story, knowing what they wanted to take from it was an essence more than anything else. Their collaboration would be to create a new work - a Firebird reborn - but maybe even transformed into something hardly recognizable! Intelligently, Simone and Jocelyn researched various versions of the Firebird story, and chose to be influenced by one that is an inner journey - one of loss and transformation - and create a phenomenal work that is extremely personal to them - and likely metaphorically so for many in our audience.
The evening is thus two discreet presentations - a concert of a new arrangement - one that will showcase the beauty of Stravinsky - and its grandeur, but in a more intimate way -- and a music/dance work that takes a very personal and inward journey and finds its expressiveness and grandeur in its presentation.
Jeremy Berkman, Artistic Co-Director and Trombonist, The Turning Point Ensemble
A lot of trust and generosity has gone into this process. In the creation process we learned a lot of each other’s movement material. There was an evolution of some of the movements through different people’s bodies. This sharing and expanding created a common ground in the movement vocabulary. It was a learning experience witnessing Simone Orlando (choreographer) and Jocelyn Morlock (composer) navigate the subtlety and the drama of the music and the choreography. They seemed to have a collaborative camaraderie. Jocelyn came to many rehearsals and sat watching us with her score spread out on the floor around her. We have only had a few days with the Turning Point Ensemble playing the score live. It is a big change from the recording we have been working with. There's spontaneity, an unknown to live performance - for the musicians and for the dancers. It has been tricky trying to find common and ideal timings for everybody but we are doing it and clear communication seems to be the key. Having live music definitely forces me to be very present as I'm dancing. I feel myself hyper aware because i can't rely on the same recorded version that's always the same. There's something electrifying between the dancers and the musicians. Encompassing us all is this beautiful set that Alan Storey has built. It creates a world for the piece to exist in. As a dancer in this piece i have tried to understand and fulfill Simone's vision of my role. Every time we do it it's a little bit different. Things change and shift keeping it alive and breathing.
Alison Denham, dancer
Hi Alex! It was fun seeing you this afternoon, much as I am a hesitant photographic subject. I hope my scarf shows itself to its best advantage...
Simone Orlando is a joy to work with. She is so intense and dedicated; and she responds to my music in ways I would never have imagined, and I in turn (hopefully) respond to the movements she creates. Together we have made a truly collaborative synthesis, one which never would've come about if, say, I wrote some music and then she choreographed it later, or vice versa. Creating Luft (our Firebird 2011 piece) has stretched both of us, and I am very proud of our efforts. All of the musicians and dancers have been incredibly hard-working, perceptive, and inventive; Owen Underhill has worked tirelessly to ensure that the music is performed with rhythmic vitality and zest; and Alan Storey has designed an amazing set which is visually and aurally striking, minimal (the Cultch stage is so small!), and also whimsical. I feel privileged to be part of this project.
Could you write something about the process? Something most of us are too ignorant to even suspect? What you wrote would be just fine in a program but...
What’s the process?
...I'm not sure what that would be - we discussed the moods we wanted, I would write 30-second or so "clips" of music, we would test those, see what might work, I would expand the music, they would try out various combinations of motions/gestures, the length of the music might change, more discussion of mood/direction, look at videos, sometimes I might add layers of instruments to stuff I'd written to start changing mood/direction/intensity, etc.
I have no idea if any of that is unexpected. One interesting thing I found is that dancers most often count in 8 regardless of the meter that the musicians are looking at on the page. However they counted one part that we needed to make longer in groups of 9, because I was in 3/4, and that made it much easier for me to add some music in that section. (It is hard to add, for example, "an eight" to 3/4 because it would be 2 and 2/3 bars of music, whereas adding 3 bars isn't very difficult as long as you can find a suitable place for a small expansion.)
Jocelyn Morlock, Composer
Turning Point Ensemble
My Buddy Muammar Gaddafi
Monday, February 28, 2011
| Felipe alias Muammar Gaddafi|
I met the Acapulco Chief of Police, before he was so, 1971. We were neighbours in a suburb of Mexico City called Arboledas. Our houses had no fences but he built a high one (called a barda
which Mexicans borrowed from the Spaniards who in turn borrowed the concept of privacy from the moors) with a strong gate and an interphone. I would listen to him shouting through the interphone asking for his wife. The loud man was 6ft tall. When we met he said, “Soy Felipe alias Muammar Gaddafi." I knew who Gadaffi was as there had been a coup in Libya. Felipe was his spitting image!
Felipe was our star volley ball player in our street team. We had painted a court on the concrete street and installed removable steel poles to hold the net. We played every Sunday.
Felipe liked to drink rum cokes (cuba libres) and he liked to gesticulate with his fists in imitation of his Libyan idol (let’s not forget that the original Captain Gaddafi, not quite a colonel yet, modeled himself after Che Guevara). In Mexico we liked Gaddafi because he was against the US.
Felipe and I became friends but I was a bit afraid of his wife. She carried a gun in her purse and her job was to protect higher up wives of Mexican politicians. Her husband was a lawyer who eventually became a new breed of competent policemen in Mexico who had a law background.
While in Arboledas he had a bright red Jaguar saloon that was almost always on blocks. FFGJ (his name is much too long so henceforth it will be his initials) said it was “Mi auto de antojo.” “It is my car of impulse. I bought it on impulse and I have lived to regret it.” FFGJ was very pro British and he often spoke of his love for Her Majesty Elizabeth the Queen of England. He would speak about her in his terrible and terribly accented English.
Before I moved to Vancouver in 1975 Rosemary and I went to Veracruz and we visited him there. He was not yet in the police department but had a very good job as a lawyer within the Mexican Social Security Department.
One evening he told me, “Alex I must take you to a house of ill repute
so you will see what you will miss by going to that frigid country up north.” We went but I imposed the condition that we would only go as visual shoppers. This we did and we sat down in a a very small place that had a dance floor. I spotted a beautiful young woman dancing with a nasty looking man. Felipe whispered in my ear, “Don’t even look in his direction, he's the chief of police of Veracruz."
In 1989 I found out the FFGJ was Chief of the Federal Police in Acapulco. I convinced Malcolm Parry, editor of Vancouver Magazine
that I should go to Acapulco and write a story. Mac gave me the green light and I had an interesting time in Acapulco. I wrote about it here
About three years ago, knowing I had lost touch with FFGJ I decided to look for him. Through serpentine methods and various search engines I found him in Houston. FFGJ was a couple of years older that I am and on Skype he told me that he had emphysema. He told me had a couple of transparent plastic tubes connected to his nose. His voice sounded like a combination of Marlon Brando and Richard Widmark. His English was no better than I remembered.
FFGJ told me that he drove around Houston in a Korean automobile that had GPS in Spanish. He could ask for, “¿En donde puedo encontrar una buena pizza?”
and received efficient directions and instant satisfaction.
I thought this all very funny as I remember the fit man in Acapulco who would weekly practice with his 9mm Smith & Wesson and a cuerno de chivo
(AK-47). I could not imagine without laughing this tall man inside a Korean sardine can navigating Houston with a couple of transparent plastic tubes up his nose!
FFGJ would send me tons and tons of slide shows. They were sent to me and to the many other friends he had. I did not know how to tell him that I did not want any of that stuff but just wanted to know that he was well.
About a year ago his stuff stopped coming and I left it at that. Then when I changed to a new computer a month ago I lost all contact with FFGJ. He is no longer listed on the Houston White Pages. I feel the worst. But I have contacted a granddaughter and perhaps soon I will know that FFGJ alias Muammar Gaddafi is alive and well.
Ken Honey - A Gentleman With Coin Tricks Up His Sleeve
Sunday, February 27, 2011
|Kodachrome, Dorothy Stratten & Bruce Allen|
Ken Honey the stringer for Playboy
who discovered Dorothy Stratten, Kim Conrad and Pamela Anderson died on Thursday. He was 86. In the late 70s I used to sun myself in Wreck Beach and I would often see him. He believed (rightly) that no young woman would talk to him if he would suddenly show up with his Hasselblad in hand while wearing clothes. So he would carry his clothes around one of his arms where he had a bag with Playboy paraphernalia including playmate shots he would have taken in the past.
His technique was simple and disarming. Many of the pretty young women he was after, as candidates for playmates, often owned a dog or were on the sand with a friend who had a dog. He would begin by enquiring about the dog and he would mention how cute it was. Honey had a genuinely pleasant smile and usually that was enough to coax the young woman to pose for him.
I was a much younger man. I was not to know then that some day I would be writing this from the point of view of a man much older than Honey’s age then as he was 54. I saw him as a viejo verde
(Argentine Spanish for a dirty old man). The fact that I was 38 and also wanted to snap photos of the same women was just fine as I was much younger! Stupid I was!
In actual fact, none of the women I ever photographed ever got anything more from me than some 8x10 prints and the dubious honor of posing for an unknown. Those who posed for Honey had a good chance of making money.
I knew one woman who had that ambition. Her name was Lorian
and she smoked custom made Sherman cigarettes with an elaborate holder. Lorien was lovely and she had a sexy mezzo-soprano voice. But she had a problem. She would often tell me when Honey was in the vicinity, “He has photographed me a few times but I know I don’t have a chance. My breasts are a bit droopy.” Eventually Lorien answered a newspaper ad that read “Wanted, buxom blonde to serve as artist’s model.” She went to Victoria and the last I heard she had married the painter.
During his sojourns to Wreck Beach Honey never acknowledged my existence. I was of the wrong sex! But in 1983 I met him formally as Les Wiseman, an associate editor at Vancouver Magazine
was working on a story on BC Playboy Playmates. It was inevitable that he would have to interview Honey. Honey would come to the office with his latest pictures of his beautiful discoveries. He also liked to show us coin tricks.
Three years before, I had taken some snaps of his most famous playmate (Dorothy Stratten) - famous in the end because of the woman’s murder and subsequent suicide of her partner. When I saw her in Bruce Allen’s garden I heard many a journalist say stuff like, “They have brought Stratten here to announce the launch of a Prism record as if anybody would care."
From the point of view of a photographer that cover was important as it had been taken by Fred Herzog and the art director of the record was James O’Mara who was a very good photographer in his own right. Herzog did not have any releases for the “punks” of his photo so O’Mara hired a detective agency that secured the necessary photo credits.
I took many pictures of Stratten but there was one in particular that made her look like a tragic swan (I saw it as that just months later when she was killled). That picture was not used and subsequently lost by West Magazine
who followed Stratten’s death with a profile on her. I remember getting a call from the editor, Paul Sullivan, who told me, “We did not use the picture but we will pay you as if we had.” I shouted at Sullivan (the first and last time I ever shouted at an editor) and told him, “You are going to pay me $1000 for it because I cannot re-take it. She is dead!” They paid.
I have to close this stressing that age has a way of making one not only change one’s mind but also make one feel guilty and stupid for opinions that were out of line. Can I simply dismiss them as the stupidity of youth? I don’t think so.
When Honey would walk nude, but with his shoes one (perhaps he did not like the feel of sand on his feet) I would often comment that he looked like a pervert. I looked at him with derision and contempt. If he were alive today I would apologize and point out that he was a very good photographer and that his style was unique to our city and province. Perhaps the folks at the Vancouver Art Gallery might just want to re-think what is photographic art and have a retrospective on Honey’s photographs.
No matter what many might think, Ken Honey helped put our city on the world map. That it involved women with little on should make no difference as how we judge this man.
Kelly Tough & Playboy