In Praise Of The Mundane Bodyscape
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Patterns can only be noticed with the passing of time. This I have particularly discovered in our garden. After quite a few years I know which roses, hostas and other plants are the true performers and which plants are difficult and destined to die.
Computers are also able to discern patterns, and usually because they are used for the business of profit, these noted patterns are called trends. Computers are also used by particle physicists to predict through computer statistical analysis the possibility of finding and until now fleeting subatomic particle.
In photography it is important to be meticulous (keep to the same pattern) with one’s approach. A meticulous approach will produce expected results. Of course these expected results can end up being a boring repetition of the same thing. But because of the meticulous methodology (using the same developer, loading the camera in the same way) in conjunction of the almost sure inevitable failure to not do things in the exact way, results can be unexpected and many times most wonderful. By tracking back through one’s procedures one is usually able to finger the “mistake” that produced the exciting new picture. Just about everybody now knows that Robert Capa’s famous blurry photograph of the D-Day landing was the result of a photo technician’s failure in properly processing Capa’s roll of film.
In the 60s it was fashionable to use Tri-X film in a way it was not intended. The nominally 400 ISO speed film was exposed at over 3000 ISO and then processed in very strong Kodak Dektol (a developer usually used for processing b+w paper) and stirred and shaken, un-Bond-like during the whole operation.
My endorsement of this plodding approach to photography comes from having noted patterns. These patterns I have seen simply because I have been at photography since around 1960.
One of these patterns is the usual progression on how a photographer approaches the nude. Some photographers get as far as the, “Gee whiz, have you noticed how the undraped human body (particularly when you crop out the face) resembles sand dunes in the Sahara or in Death Valley?”
About 20 years ago I caught myself disparaging the work of other photographers who had on display in local galleries their versions of bodyscapes that looked like sand dunes. I felt an in some cases I was rude enough to blurt out, “I have been there, I have done that. Can you not come up with a more interesting concept?”
Looking back I feel very sorry for this and for some of the people I may have offended and perhaps momentarily ruined their expectations toward nude figure photography.
It is the bodyscape the enables a photographer to notice how the body reacts to positions and postures. It is no different from young painters and sculptors approaching live body sketching. In order to paint and sculpt the human body with some degree of accuracy (and grace) one has to know how the body moves and rests and how creases and folds fall here and there.
Bodyscapes teach the photographer on a personal approach to cropping the human body that must still satisfy a universal law of design on what is correct and what is not.
The bodyscape teaches the photographer the use of different lenses (I would never recommend the zoom lens for this) so that one can figure out how perspective is affected by a lens choice. Few photographers have ever achieved the level of skill of wide angle lens figure photographer of Hamburg born, English photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983).
The bodyscape teaches the photographer how to be comfortable in the presence of a nude body and more important it teaches the photographer how to deal professionally with the nude subject.
The body scape is the final transition from the nude photograph as a shape to that (and much more difficult) of the human body and being part of a person. If anybody asked me to define my nude photography I would call it “contemporary portrait nude” photography.
It is my long photographic involvement with Tarren (see yesterday’s blog
) where I learned how to properly take bodyscapes. Besides having a perfect body and an easy way attitude in front of my camera, I soon found out that the best tool was the boom
is a very large tripod with wheels that has a horizontal arm (the boom) with a counterweight on one end to balance the light on the other side. On that other side I attached either a 2x3 ft or 4x5 ft soft box which I suspended in my studio. My back wall was painted a neutral middle gray which depending on how far my subject was from the wall it could black, several degrees of gray or almost white.
When I suspended the light, overhead and parallel to the floor the light tended to hug the body and cast an interesting but pleasant shadow. I cannot show here a phenomenon, quite common with this type of lighting in how it tended to enhance my subject’s nipples!
I took the pictures of Tarren that you see here with a Mamiya RB-Pro-S and mostly with the extremely sharp 140mm macro, floating element lens. In the Mamiya’s 6x6cm format the 140mm lens is equivalent to a 75mm lens on a 35mm film camera or in that of a full-frame sensor DSLR. My film was Ilford FP-4 in 220 size. The effect you see here I achieve by misinforming my scanner that what it is scanning is not a b+w negative but a colour one. The scanner artificially adds an orange mask that in certain instances I can almost make the colour of real skin. There are some pictures here for which I have inserted two versions. One of them is the rather attractive (dark and almost flat) one and another with a bit more luminosity. Scanning these wonderful negatives of Tarren at 50(!) is no different from being in the darkroom until the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning. It was W. Eugene Smith who said, “For an enjoyable time in the darkroom one needs a good negative, good music and a bottle of good scotch. For me I prefer silence, no booze and I am content with that perfect negative of Tarren.
And one word of caution, the moment that you incorporate objects (and in my case plants) with your subject I have found that it rarely works. To begin with I cannot justify the action. What does a beautiful body have in common with the two beautiful leaves of Hosta
'Halcyon'? Besides the beauty I see none.
The Allure of Imperfection
Friday, August 12, 2011
One of the singular pleasures of being a photographer of people is the one of being able to photograph them more than once. I am not too sure if my two cats can ascertain change even though they can adapt to it. After our three-week vacation in south Texas, they immediately recognized us when we arrived. They had adjusted to a completely different schedule in which my daughter Hilary left them out for most of the day and had food and water for them outside, too which was not normal for them. Can animals notice change or the passing of time? Would they understand the Catholic concept of purgatory?
For me to catch and observe time is a most human pleasure particularly when I follow it and how it changes and has changed one of the most beautiful women I ever met in my life. I first saw her around 1979 and until about six years ago I photographed her every few years. An ex student of mine, Gabriel Beltrán, who lives in a now dangerous Monterrey in Mexico wrote recently in facebook: I honestly don’t think Bar Refaeli is human.
I had no idea who this Bar Refaeli was so I went to my student’s link and found a most beautiful woman who looked much too young for my taste. Her perfection was off-putting. Such perfection point towards the direction of the essay in Thursday’s NY Times about a new scourge that promises to prevent " perfection" in that lofty space of female nothingness that we call cleavage. The scourge consists of vertical lines that happen for many reasons but one principal one is of larger sized women who sleep on their side and one breast will fall on the other and stretch. The cure (beyond that of new greedy plastic surgeons that will jump on this bandwagon) is a device that gently separates, etc…that a woman concerned about her perfect cleavage can wear to bed. My question is how this will affect religiously religious inclined men who opt for face to face sex.
All the above is but an overture for the real purpose of this blog and that is to parade here these photographs of Tarren, some of which I have shown before but I have re-scanned with esmero
( a fine Spanish word that means with special care).
I wish I could explain to my ex-student what it is about Tarren that is in such opposition to the perfect and not human Bar Rafaeli. With Tarren it was beyond her body and more about a personality that beautifully made me understand why women are God’s best gift to man.
As Tarren began to age (not that I could notice the effects much) her personality became ever more vivacious. If anything I would cite the paradox that her sexuality was more evident. Snapping her picture was like taking out a hot peach cobbler from the oven without oven mitts. I had to be careful not to burn myself. It was this sense of proximate danger that made Tarren one of the most desirable women I have ever met. I hope that these pictures somehow convey that truth, that to me, is beyond contention.
The last picture here is one of those lucky (unlucky) shots where I try to get more than 36 exposures from a roll. The ony way is to load the camera in a darkroom so that you can get a picture in the leader or beginning of a roll. Here you see what happens and how paradoxically, (Gabriel Beltrán, please take note) imperfection adds to the final allure.
Elton John, Diana Krall & Elvis Costello
Thursday, August 11, 2011
I am not sure when I took this picture. I had been hired by an organization associated with the BC Cancer Institute to photograph Elton John, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall for a function in which people paid (the money went to the particular cancer charity) to appear in a photograph with the dynamic trio. I am not sure (either) if this function was associated with a concert.
But I do remember that I hired my eldest daughter Ale
(and I did pay her!) to assist me to organize and move people around for the individual photographs. I had to sign all kinds of disclosure agreements and provided them with all the negatives (it was a handsome buyout). Ale
was very efficient and by the end of the hour long shoot Elton John went up to her and gave her a big hug. This was followed by a warm handshake from Elvis Costello. All I can say here is that Miss Krall was most reticent.
When I have to give or sell my negatives (these were in colour) it is very easy to slip in an extra back on my Mamiya RB-67 and take a few snaps in b+w. The roll has been undeveloped I would guess for at least 7 years. I remember that I kept telling Mr. Costello to nod down so that my large softbox would not be reflected on his glasses. This is one of the exposures where I did not stress that action.
A Russian In Langley
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
A Guest Blog by John Lekich
|Willa-Lee Reed, Paricia Trinh, Jamie Taylor & David Lloyd|
A Russian in Langley by John Lekich
When Alex asked me if I felt like seeing a little Chekov, I thought he might be talking about the guy who helped steer the spaceship on Star Trek. He was actually referring Three Sisters in Langley
. A new adaptation of Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters
by writer-director Bronwen Marsden. Since even a smattering of Chekov is mounted on local stages about as often as a solar eclipse, I was more than happy to attend a recent rehearsal. I’m glad I did.
Marsden is part of a troupe of Vancouver-based actors known as Button String Theatre
. Along with co-creator Jamie Taylor, Marsden formed the company to put a fresh spin on classic theatre. Her play is a about a young troupe of actors struggling to advance beyond community theatre while figuring out a novel way to adapt Three Sisters for a contemporary audience. They try everything from turning it into a musical to donning red clown noses. In the process, we’re treated to a inside look at the egos and infighting that go on behind the scenes.
|Jamie Taylor (left) and Bronwen Marsden|
The versatile cast – Willa-Lee Reid, Patricia Trinh, David Lloyd and co-producer Jamie Taylor – handle Chekovian text with ease. As a bonus, they sing, dance (and bicker) like they’ve been performing together for months. Ever wonder what it’s like to perform in an amateur theatre company? Marsden’s play offers a funny, clever and – sometimes withering - look at pretention, ambition and creative sacrifice. It’s on at Havana (1212 Commercial Drive) from August 11-14. It’s well worth a look.
Addendum: For those who might look closely at the director/producer's chest you might notice something odd. I was not able to prevent this from happening when I scanned my b+w negative. The scanner is reacting to the fine vertical ribbing of Marsden's blouse which is not quite parallel to the sweep of the scanner's CCDs. The pattern on Marsden's chest is called a moiré pattern. In physics, a moiré pattern is an interference pattern created, for example, when two grids are overlaid at an angle, or when they have slightly different mesh sizes. AWH
A Photographic Memory - 220 R.I.P.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
It is a paradox of the expression “a photographic memory” that it is no longer that and that is it rarely used.
The expression may have originated with the birth of photography when this new thing (not art yet and who knows not art even now) could capture (and yes that word was used before it became a staple of digital photographers) reality as opposed to the embellishments of artists be they painters or sculptors. In fact with the advent of photography the art of painted miniatures by which 8 year-old grand duchesses might meet their future husband, some Hohenzollern prince, just about disappeared. Blue bloods now wanted to see the real thing or at least a reasonable facsimile. Photography fit that bill to perfection until photographers became adept at modifying this erstwhile absolute reality.
A photographic memory implies looking at something once and then snapping it with our mind’s eye to then be able to retrieve it all, unchanged, at any moment’s notice.
But with the proliferation of all kinds of digital programs for photographic manipulation (and before them the virtuoso talents of Russian propaganda technicians who with the help of historians could make people disappear from a well known image using photomechanical methods) a photographic memory now comes burdened with imperfection.
And when one considers the term within the confines of photography itself that memory can be vague and all but forgotten.
Before digital, there was the almost universal presence of the 35mm camera. By mid 70s I had tired at its ability to allow me to shoot one picture after another. When the motor winders and the much faster motor drives appeared, we photographers abided by the rule that “film is cheap, so shoot lots”. I resisted this trend by purchasing my first medium format film camera a Mamiya RB-67. It used two types of roll film (it can be identified by the fact that the film is protected from light by a paper backing) one was 120 film which gave me 10 exposures and the other 220 film (twice as long) which gave me 20 exposures. I weaned myself from shooting lots by using the 220 back for my Mamiya. In the beginning for me 20 exposures put me at a challenge to the previous count of 36 exposures with 35mm cameras. My Mamiya taught me to be frugal with film and forced me to make every exposure, every shot count. Soon the 10 exposure roll became my standard.
Some magazine art directors, stuck to the techniques of 35mm photographers would get nervous when I would show them 10 exposures of b+w or slide film. “Did you shoot more?” they would ask. After a while they, too adapted and began to shun the photographers who shot a lot without much thought behind each exposure.
It was in our trip to south Texas where I used my Mamiya 220 back (I have two) for the last time. Kodak and everybody else have discontinued 220. One of my last shots, to my feeling enabled me to leave 220 with a bang. It is that portrait of El Borrado
|Camerino Urbina aka El Borrado |
Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD
Kodak Plus-X 220
But I don’t want to give the impression that I could handle a magazine assignment with one roll (in fact, handled quite a few with two or three exposures and no more). More often than not we had a special tool/crutch which was the Polaroid back. This meant that I could take a snap with Polaroid back attached to the back of my camera. The resulting picture (much like a digital’s image in the display in the back) helped me check my equipment’s performance, my lighting and my composition and many times it helped me to make my subject relax. There was an added bonus in that many of my subjects went home with that Polaroid which I hoped they would attach to their fridges with a magnet.
That Polaroid back gave me a choice. An important choice was my ability to not take it with me (I could pretend I had forgotten) and when I took portraits of iffy politicians, businessmen of questionable repute, showing them what I was doing to their faces might have made them bolt. I had that choice and I wonder what digital photographers do now when their subject demand to see each exposure and some even go as far as demanding that the picture be deleted.
So here is a scan of my retired 220 back and I look once more on how elements of my past world have disappeared. We will soon join them but until then I still have 120 film with its ten exposures! Particularly important, now that film isn’t cheap anymore.
Nostalgia - Bucolic & A Tad More
Monday, August 08, 2011
It seems that just about every day that I read my NY Times
from cover to cover (and section to section) I find something that nails down something that may be nagging me at the moment. Most often that something has to do with living in our modern world replete with social media, instant communication and with how rapid technology affects my life and those whom I love. A case in point is an August 4 essay by Carl Wilson in the NY Times Sunday Magazine
, My So-Called Adulthood. The essay is about Generation Xers' concept and sometimes rejection of nostalgia. It was within this essay that I read:
It’s not that we were aware the term was coined to describe the crippling melancholia that overcame many 17th-century Swiss soldiers when war took them away from the bucolic mountain landscapes of home.
For years since Argentine painters Nora Patrich, Juan Manuel Sanchez and I mounted an exhibition called Argentine Nostalgia I have known (as easy as this might seem it did take me many years to figure it out) that it is impossible to feel nostalgia for a place when you are living in that place. What this means is that I would have to be living in Venice before I might approach a lovely women on Ponte de Rialto and say to her, “I am a photographer originally from Vancouver and I would like to take some photographs that reflect my nostalgia for that city. Would you be willing to pose for me, undraped and holding an umbrella?”
There is no doubt that I feel nostalgia for the United States that we drove through for three weeks in our Malibu. I feel a nostalgia (my Microsoft Word objects to the preceding a
to nostalgia and refuses to accept that the a
for me redefines or further classifies my nostalgia to a particular one) for some of the open spaces and open skies of Montana and Utah. This is a nostalgia that I could satisfy by driving to Canada’s middle provinces. But I am not about to leave my garden and cats for another fling of motoring.
It is Monday and I am preparing my equipment to photograph the actors and the director/writer Bronwen Marsden of a play:
Three Sisters in Langley : A modern adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters; ours is the story of four theatre school graduates who’ve ended up in Langley B.C. doing community theatre. Now they must stage Chekov’s classic, but how? Dance Theatre? Naturalism? Musical? Clown? Will they ever get out of Langley and back to their beloved Vancouver?
Because this preparation amounts to the slight injecting of a routine that used to pervade my life as a magazine photographer I feel a tad cheerier. But I must admit to feeling of nostalgia. Is it a nostalgia for the United States on the road? Or could it be (rhetorical as I am indeed sure of it) a nostalgia for sharing it not only with my wife, but with my two granddaughters? Yes that must be it. There is a vacuum in the house of silence. It is a vacuum of silence caused by the knowledge that the phone will not ring and that Hilary will not say to Rosemary, “The girls are still in bed and I am enjoying the peace and quiet.”
Looking at these three panoramas of open space in the US but also with the magic presence of our granddaughters, they give me a feeling, yes a nostalgia for them being here.
Those Swiss soldiers of old may have indeed felt nostalgia for the bucolic mountain landscapes of home but they surely must have felt a nostalgia for their families, wives and children.
A Monumental Puttering In The Garden
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Today Sunday I have been puttering in the garden. Most who would read this would find the verb to putter as a pleasant verb that applies perfectly to action during an idyllic day of bucolic fun. That’s in English. There is no appropriate equivalent in Spanish. One might say in Spanish , “I spent a day doing useless stuff in the garden.” Or one might use either of these verbs that have a negative association. One is the verb ociar which comes from the Latin otium which means free time or leisure time. But once it became a word in Spanish it came to mean doing nothing. The other verb is to vagar which if you notice that the root is similar to vagrant and that a vago in Spanish is worst than a vagabond you get the meaning that it’s best I stick to puttering in the garden in English.
In the evening, in bed, I watch Rosemary with pen in hand and a small notebook. In that notebook she writes “a things to do list”. At the end of the next day she probably crosses out those things she indeed did. Sometimes she says in frustration,” The day has passed and I have accomplished nothing.”
I can understand her frustration. At one time years ago she would travel to Europe for her job and routinely rent cars in airports. I remember one day that she called me from a luxurious Los Angeles hotel to tell me that outside her window she could see people living in cardboard boxes. The juxtaposition of the highfalutin business woman calling me up to describe abject poverty was off-puttingly strange.
On my side of the street, politicians, business men , and movie stars waited for me to show up and I remember the evening when the band The Police sat down on a bench inside the Coliseum while I set up my lights to take their photographs.They had to be patient.
From a position of access (and in the case of my, wife luxury and the action of jet setting when that was deemed a good thing) to that of one of puttering in the garden for not having anything better to do, can be troubling. And troubling indeed it has been.
But my friend, Paul the frugal Hungarian, has come to the rescue. He phoned yesterday and I told him that I was having a hard time adapting to being unemployed.
In a perfectly calm manner he corrected me, “Not unemployed. Try retired.” Somehow I didn’t feel so bad and I am beginning to adapt to Mondays being Wednesdays and Sundays feeling like Tuesdays and weeks going by like the accelerated time machine in the film The Time Machine.
After three weeks of being with our granddaughters all the time, now that they are in Cabo San Lucas for two weeks, Rosemary and I miss them. But at the same time we are starting to understand that we have to withdraw our preoccupation of what they are doing and what their mother and aunt are doing and worry a bit about finding the time (of which we have lots) to spend the time together by ourselves. I am even thinking of going to Buenos Aires in November, just with Rosemary and leave the granddaughters to themselves and their friends.
We have been using Skype to communicate with Hilary and the girls while in Cabo San Lucas. It was Friday when we made our last call and have our daughter say, “You guys, again?” It was my friend the frugal Hungarian who told me that we have been imposing ourselves too much on our daughters and granddaughters. He must be right and Skype will be unused until the girls get back.
All in all this weekend of puttering in the garden has not been just that. I would define it as a monumental weekend of puttering in the garden in which we are at last learning that two can be the best of company. I must re-define my concept of usefulness and learn that being mutually useful is usefulness enough.