Anita The Teacher & Her Not So Terrible Student
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Of late I have been preocupied by a recent communication from one of my favourite female subjects. I wrote about it in this blog
and I will repeat here her communication:
I've also had the beginnings of an idea recently. I bite my nails, and have for as long as I can remember, and it's something that I consciously make an effort to hide, at least to some extent, when I'm acting or modeling. I feel like, to this point, I've only ever been photographed as a pretty young woman, idealized in form. What would it be like to be photographed as a flawed young woman? Does that make sense?
Coming from a family of teachers (I was one, my wife Rosemary, her sister, my mother and grandmother) I can attest that some of the most recalcitrant of persons who are less likely to be willing to listen and to learn are teachers. My youngest daughter and her family have accused Rosemary and me if being pushy in our relations with our grandchildren. We are told that we don’t listen. I think they may be right.
But I was surprised and pleased as I thought of the problem of taking pictures of a flawed young woman that when I searched through my files I found quite a few. Many of these pictures I initially considered to be failures as were the ones of Helmut Newton - A - Brad Cran & A Laurel Leaf
in yesterday’s blog.
I looked up Anita in my files. Sometime in late summer of 2010 I was approached by a female model (lived in Prince George but in town for a few days) who wanted me to take her pictures. We met at the Starbucks at Sears, downtown. Anita was a boyish, almost androgynous young woman whose voice was mezzo-sopranish. In a pinch Anita could have dressed to look like a man.
Anita was a happy woman with an almost blasé lack of preoccupation in heavy duty stuff that just might have made her less happy. But I could sense that she had not had a terribly easy past and that her strength had carried her through thick and thin.
At the time I was going through the depression of having let my studio go in late 2009. I had no place to hang my shingle – photographer. I had brought all my studio stuff home and stuffed into a dark corner of my basement. I felt like a captain with no ship on half-pay.
Anita wanted me to take pictures of her undraped. In a studio she would have walked in. We would have had a short chat and then I would have photographed her as she unlayered herself and there she would be. Perhaps after so many years of my doing this I would have simply taken the pictures without much passion or interest.
But Anita was persuasive and exuberant. My problem was taking her picture in my house. In the past I have photographed a few women in the buff. One in particular, Rosemary was not fond of. During my session in the garden, Rosemary would call out from the upstairs bedroom window, “Alex, phone for you!” I was getting the message. And yet with an extremely beautiful Ona Grauer
, I was left alone and Rosemary even mentioned what a great model she was. The idea of bringing an unknown woman into our house and taking her picture in our living room was not an idea that I looked forward to doing with no guilt and pleasure.
I decided that the course to take was not to use a big camera or lights and to do the whole session with a small camera and fast film. Alas I should have at least used a tripod so that I could use slower shutter speeds and sharper f-stops with more careful focusing.
But shooting loose (without a tether to a flash and with no tripod) almost felt strangely easy. Perhaps this route would work.
When Anita showed up I took two rolls Kodak Tri-X and it was indeed so easy that I felt guilty for it!
But the warm, friendly Anita was another Anita in front of my camera. She was almost scary. I had asked her to comb her hair back to look more boyish. She did this in front of my guest bathroom mirror. I cannot show the pictures here as full nudity is not the intended scope of my blog. But the pictures that you see here do show a raw look, almost without makeup in which the woman revealed is not glamorous or ethereal but a woman with a point of view, a woman with an unblinking eye contact, a woman not afraid to show me what she really is like.
About a year later I heard from Anita again. She had some good news to tell me, and the news had to be told in person. We met at the Starbucks at Sears downtown. Just in case I brought my Nikon FM, a 50mm and a 35mm lens and two rolls of Kodak Tri-X. One never knew! The surprise was that she was heavily and obviously pregnant. She also handed me a plastic roll containing about 40 rolls of a President’s Choice, No-name 800 ISO, 24 exposure colour negative film. She had stored the film in her fridge for some years. I took it knowing in advance that I would never use this film (I was wrong!
). Anita smiled at me and without saying much I sort of knew what my duty was. After all she had brought the high school sports sweater had originally photographed her in. I suggested we take a drive to Stanley Park. I made her sit in the drive’s seat of my Malibu
and I took a series of pictures of Anita pregnant. Here are a couple of those.
Anita moved to Ottawa and had her baby a couple of months ago.
Only now, looking at her pictures, do I get the message (learned to listen and to see beyond my own ideas) and realize that I should have photographed her many more times. But at least I have these.
Helmut Newton - Brad Cran & A Laurel Leaf
Friday, September 23, 2011
For any photographer who might stumble on this blog today you should know that there is a measure of practical experience to be obtained if you read on. The pictures here, one taken by Helmut Newton (that has almost disappeared from sight but there it is in my September/October 1995 American Photo
– Collector’s Issue
) and three from a series that I did of The Czar's Daughter
at the Marble Arch Hotel
in the late 90s and two more that I took just last week all show the progression of a photographer’s style, mine.
In a new world where the digital point-and-shoot and the cell phone camera has evened out the playing field much like the Colt Peacemaker of the 19th century did, style has become more important than ever. Important because if you look around you might see that style has all but disappeared and most everybody’s captures all look Flickrd (my coined use for a uniform sameness).
|Lisa Taylor - Security New York III, Helmut Newton|
The picture of model Lisa Taylor from Helmut Newton’s series called Security New York III
impressed me/shocked me when I first saw them. In others in the series there are pictures of a woman fully clothed looking quite dead (there is a pool of blood) as she lies on a balcony floor. Looking down you can see on the street below that all the cars are all Yellow Cabs. Obviously and Newtonian tour the force. But it is the picture here with the specter of impending implied violence that really grabbed my guts. The picture has remained in my head since and it confirms what few modern Hollywood directors do not seem to understand and that is that as you ratchet up violence with ever more special effects and more blood we all become deadened to it. Implied violence packs much more impact.
When I photographed A I was not ready for someone like her. I was still with the idea that women had to be glorified with film. They had to look glamorous and effortlessly beautiful and calm. I was not ready for a woman who showed interior feelings that were far away from those I mention above. She was her own woman and there seemed to be an inner anger I could not fathom or handle. She seemed independent and yet I felt that her vulnerability/despair which sometimes seemed to reflect from her face into my viewfinder was at odds with it.
When I looked at the contact sheet I was not too happy and I am not sure exactly how A might have seen them. Years later she told me she was very happy with them. Perhaps she was humoring me along.
In this blog I write about a project I am about to embark. I write that I do not know exactly what to do or what direction to take. And yet as I look at these pictures of A I know that I have already pretty well achieved the challenge to go beyond glamour to a messier, complex and not so flattering look at what lies beneath a beautiful woman’s skin.
You might wonder what the two portraits of Brad Cran, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, taken only last week have to do with anything.
I gave up my studio in September 2010. People keep asking me how I take photographs without a studio. In the case of A, the studio was an interesting and seedy location. In the case of Cran it was the front door of my house. I had the idea of taking a dramatic semi gothic portrait of a poet. I knew that with my 2x3 ft softbox I could light his face and with my camera’s shutter I could control the darkness/lightness of the background. I took exactly 10 shots but I could have easily taken two or three.
Because I am an old man (69) and I am a gardener I know that laureate comes from laurus. I know that laurus means laurel. Triumphant Roman generals and speedy Greek runners were rewarded with laurel wreaths. The laurel hedge leaf from my garden was simply and understated little joke between us. If anybody who opened a Georgia Straight this week looked closely and saw the leaf that would make me happy. But if nobody did, that is not important.
Going back to Helmut Newton I must explain that the path to an individual style is through the copying of the style of someone we might admire. We copy and we copy until one day the style we copy becomes ours because the copying has evolved beyond the original to modifications. Yes the picture that I took of A by the door was directly inspired by Newton’s much more ethereal one. But I believe mine has grit. If you do not like torn stockings then I cannot suggest anything more!
These pictures that I have admired are always in the back of my memory when I take pictures. Even if the pictures we take with that influence do not resemble the picture in the head at all, that does not matter. It is the inspiration behind it that pushed me to my own style. In fact the picture of Brad Cran by my doorway was inspired by another I took some years ago of the now deceased mystery writer Michael Dibdin
|Brad Cran, Vancouver Poet Laureate - 2011 |
Duplicity & Rude Awakenings
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Sometime around 1973 I remember vividly that I had just written on the blackboard of a private school where I was teaching in Mexico City. The class was a grade 9 class made up mostly children of rich Americans from American companies, the American Embassy and a few from the CIA whose parents masked their positions as librarians in the United States Information Service Benjamin Franklin Library, located in the inappropriately-named Pink Zone.
The principal of the school was a well meaning middle-aged woman and an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was pro Nixon and had the completely unfounded idea that I was a commie.
This is what I had written on the board:
While performing the part which is truly ours, how exhausting it is to be obliged to play a role which is not ours: the person you must really be, in order to fulfill your task, you must not appear to others to be, in order to be allowed by them to fulfill it. How exhausting – but unavoidable, since mankind has laid down once and for all the organized rules of human behaviour.
I asked the class, “Who do you think wrote this?” The principal abruptly opened the door, read what I had written and answered, “Che Guevara!” With a bit of smile on my face I corrected her, “No it was the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld.
I had learned duplicity in the Argentine Navy. I was either going to be at the mercy of career Argentine Marine Corps corporals or I could learn to manipulate them and get what I wanted.
Duplicity has served me well. I am now attempting to use it in order to trick a loved grandchild into reading.
Up to know I have been successful with plain honesty. I bought Kirsten Geir’s Ruby Red
(translated from the German) recently and presented it to my granddaughter Rebecca, 14, she read it and to my amazement her mother, my daughter said, “I’m reading it, too. We both love time travel books.” I found another in the same vein and that also went well. But I should have known better. From the public library I took out Madeleine L’Engle’s time travel classic A Wrinkle in Time
and last year’s Newbery Medal winner, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me
. These two, it seems have been rejected.
Today Rosemary and I passed by Chapters on Granville and Broadway. We were not there to buy any kitchen accessories, knick knacks or stuffed teddy bears. We were there to see about books for teens. I found Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austin Addict
by Laurie Viera Rigler. It was not in the teen lit section but it looks light enough and the plot involves time travel from London's Regency period to contemporary LA.
The tack I am going to use here is that I am going to give the book to my daughter Hilary as a gift. You must surely be able to figure out my true intention!
Oh And Colin Thomas Not Colin James! Hehe
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
When I first met the brilliantly red haired Nicole McLuckie in 2006 she was my contact (a brand new publicist for the Arts Club Theatre Company) to photograph Morris Panych in the lobby of the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, I was charmed by her and I have been since. It does help that she always shows a pleasant smile to the media types or the ex (me).
A few hours ago I sent her a communication that included the link to yesterday’s blog on the musical The Light in the Piazza
Now when possible I try to avoid typos and spelling mistakes but I cannot afford what my friend Mark Budgen insists I get, an editor. In her reply McLuckie wrote:
Oh and Colin Thomas, not Colin James! Hehe.
This was her polite way of pointing out my boo-boo in incorrectly citing the Georgia Straight
theatre critic's first name.
It got me to thinking. I went to my files and found the Saturday, June 20th 1998 article in the Globe &
Mail on Colin James by my now lawyer pal, Chris Dafoe. My faulty memory served me well in that I had a hazy idea that my picture might have been a good one.
In what really is a small rant I would like to point out that “back then” when the folks at the Globe
had lots of lead time for a story they indulged me and I was able to take nice photographs with lots of thought and planning. Even today if I still had that job but was obliged to use one of those Canon Mark 27s (not Jags!) I would still approach my photography with equivalent esmero (a very nice Spanish word that means care of craft).
This look back in time also gives me the opportunity to post here that portrait of Morris Panych, again and to mention that the dark figure on the left with the bowler hat is none other than Nicole McLuckie.
Technical Info: For both pictures I used a Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD. For the Thomas picture I used a 50mm wide angle lens and for the Panych shot the 140mm macro lens. In both I used a 2x3 ft softbox. In the former the softbox was fired by a Norman 200B flash and in the latter a Dynalite power pack. Film for the former was Ilford FP-4 and for the latter Kodak Plus-X.
The Light In The Piazza - A Florentine Cinderella Story
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
|Dana Luccock & Kerry O'Donovan|
Theatre can be fantastic in many ways. The Patrick Street production of Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas' The Light in the Piazza
(American mother and daughter visit Florence in the 1950s) which Rosemary and I saw on Tuesday night at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre was such a case.
For me it began some three weeks ago when I attended a rehearsal at the Vancouver Playhouse facilities on Main Street and 2nd Ave. I watched what the director, Peter Jorgensen called (and he apologized to me for it!) a transition rehearsal. I would call it entries and exits.
I heard very little singing and during breaks the actors would sit in corners perusing books with the title Italian.
I watched the young and extremely good looking Adrian Marchuk who plays Fabrizio Naccarelli the Italian who falls for the young American girl Clara Johnson played by Samantha Hill. I could not judge their performance as they entered and exited.
It was better to watch the South African born David Adams (Signor Naccarrelli, Fabrizio’s father) who I have seen in many plays about town and is one of my faves. I had a chat with him and he told me that because of his looks and demeanor he plays lots of different ethnic roles. I remember in particular his performance last year in Anosh Irani’s
(an Arts Club Theatre production) of My Granny the Goldfish
When I mentioned to Adams that I knew retired UBC drama professor Errol Durbach
he beamed. It seems that as a student under Durbach, Durbach pointed out that something that Adams had written needed to be acted out. He did. “I am an actor today because of Durbach.”
During the rehearsal I watched Katey Wright who plays Margaret Johnson, Clara Johnson’s pushy and protective mother (but a virtual dueña
) and instantly disliked her. I was to change this premature opinion as in many ways she stole the show Tuesday night and got a standing ovation in the end.
Before leaving the rehearsal I took a portrait of Dana Luccock (a mezzo-soprano of operatic stature) who plays Franca Naccarelli, Signor Nacarelli’s much suffering daughter-in-law because of her philandering husband, Giuseppe Naccarelli played deliciously by the Bermuda-born Daren Herbert who would never pass as an Italian even in Sicily. Special note: watch for Herbert's deft juggling of a sugar lump. And watch for how Signora Naccarelli, played by Heather Pawsey manages to tell us the goings on even though she only speaks Italian.
Before I proceed I would like to lay my cards on the table. As an Argentine-born Latin I like my operas without talking and I have never really understood the concept of people suddenly starting to sing in the middle of a conversation. But thanks to repeated at attempts at understanding this strange medium that is the musical via many varied performances at the Arts Club Theatre I have come to tolerate and even appreciate the musical.
Without any trombones or, God forbid, trumpets, flugelhorns or electric guitars, the orchestra, Sean Bayntun, piano, Albertina Chan, harp, Janna Sailor, violin, Evan Bates, cello and Lyndon Surjik on double bass played brilliant, soothing, pleasant and elegant music, so unlike most musical music that when the play ended and the actors had retired, people lingered in the theatre to listen to the band play on. It is nice not to have an orchestra pit and to watch this orchestra as part of the stage all framed with moveable frames. A friend of mine who knows theatre told me, “The music of Adam Guettel (a grandson of Richard Rodgers) sounds so much like Stephen Sondheim that Sondheim should have sued!” I mentioned this to Straight theatre critic Colin Thomas who was sitting near me (by pure coincidence) who simply and most practically said, “Ample proof that the music is going to be good.”
I opened about theatre being fantastic. From the scruffy, ill-dressed Clara Johnson of the rehearsal weeks ago what I first saw was a Clara Johnson in a beautiful dress and hat looking prim and proper and truly beautiful. When she first connected with her soon-to-be paramour Fabrizio there was electricity (a believable one, watch out, Mrs. Hill wherever you might be!) which culminated in an erotic hotel room bed scene that strangely needs no parental guidance and children should be taken to see this show which really is a sort of Cinderella story.
My kudos to the musical direction of Sean Bayntun, the efficient control of exits and entries by director Peter Jorgensen and a special mention to the wonderful costumes by costume designer Jessica Dmytryshyn. That low cut red dress and pumps that Dana Luccock wore brought rumblings in my old plumbing.
But the play really belongs to Katey Wright’s Margaret Johnson who went from joy to perplexity to brooding and to depression and back to joy as quickly as the harpist Albertina Chan could strum her strings.
The Light in the Piazza runs until October 9.
My Roses Wave Their Hats In Goodbye - Perhaps Not
Monday, September 19, 2011
When I left for Lillooet on Friday mid afternoon there were only two roses in bloom in my garden. One was the English Rose, Rosa ‘Fair Bianca
and the other was the hybrid perpetual Rosa ‘Baron Girod de l’Ain’
which had come back after having disappeared from my garden for a year. As I drove off I wondered if they would be there when I returned.
That was not to be. Baron Girod de l’Ain had a remnant of two petals but Fair Bianca, in spite of the three days was there with all its myrrh scent but looking not quite at its best.
Today Tuesday when I am posting this blog I decided to tour the garden to see who was out. Besides Fair Bianca (white) there were three blooms, al but one spent, of the English Rose, Rosa
‘Spirit of Freedom’ (it is pink and in the centre of the scanned image) there was one English Rose, Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’
(deep, dark red) and one nice English Rose, Rosa ‘Brother Cadfael’
(deep pink).The little pink blooms are from the always late blooming Rosa
While touring the garden I wore a light green cotton sweater given to me by Ale in Lillooet. The coldness is in the air and these could be some of the last roses of the season. Unless we are lucky enough that the sun comes out for an Indian Summer.
I have tried to not look at the sky behind the mountains of North Vancouver. It is about now when the blue sky turns an icy photographic cyan
and I know, that Indian Summer or not, winter is almost here.
You Say Tomato I Say Xitomatl
Sunday, September 18, 2011
|A Lillooet beefsteak tomato|
The only word that would describe my stay with my older daughter Ale in Lillooet this past weekend would be that of the tomato. It seems that since I arrived on Friday afternoon and when I left on Monday noon all I saw were tomatoes. As a matter of fact when we left Lillooet Rosemary insisted we stop on the other side of the Fraser River Bridge (which leads to Lytton and Highway One West to Vancouver) to pick tomatoes to bring home.
Ale, in spite of not being able to walk too well (the effects of a recent operation, she resembled Gort from the film The Day the Earth Stood Still
) was busy slicing tomatoes and other fruits to place in trays of her portable dehydrating machine. What made this worse for her is that I was eating her output of dried and crunchy tomatoes faster than she could slice them and dehydrate them!
It was difficult not to cook with tomatoes for the sight of them. I was in charge of cooking while there so I avoided them. This did not stop me from eating tomatoes when I picked them at the U-Pick (we went twice) or raiding Ale’s jars of dehydrated tomatoes.
|Ale places the tomato slices in her dehydrator|
For our first dinner I made Nando’s style chicken wings. I had purchased a large tray of them at the Canadian Superstore before driving to Lillooet. The secret to making them exactly like they do at Nando’s is to marinate the wings in Nando’s hot piri-piri (lots of it) and very important with about half a cup of ordinary cooking oil. This will make the wings flame up a bit on the barbecue and help to make them crunchy and brown. You need plenty of piri-piri after the cooking if you want to challenge your senses! We had my version of Nando’s tumeric rice. It’s pretty close. I fry one cup of rice with olive oil and at the same time I brown with it one or two chopped yellow onions and a clove of garlic. I use two cups of water in which I have added a tablespoonful of tumeric and three or four of chicken Bovril. After about three minutes I pour it on to a deep pan (that has a firm lid) and before I close it I add two chopped red peppers and I grind some black pepper. The salad, not tomatoes, was Paul Leisz’s (my Hungarian friend) cucumber salad. To make this salad you slice the cucumbers very thinly (optional to leave the skin) and drop them into a bowl of intensely salty water (Kosher salt) that is equally intense with sugar. After a couple of hours in the fridge you drain the cucumbers and add white balsamic vinegar (Rosemary does not the like the regular darkish balsamic) with cucumbers) and grape seed oil.
For the second big meal Ale’s rancher friend Lloyd McNary gave us a 3 pound organic round roast from one of his steers. I placed in a deep pan three chopped yellow onions and four chopped red peppers and a generous amount of chopped parsley. I coated the roast with molasses and quickly browned the outside in the barbecue. I put the roast in the pan with the vegetables and poured some good olive oil. After it fried for about ten minutes I added almost half a bottle of red wine (an Argentine Malbec). I cooked it (plenty of ground pepper) all over slow heat for four hours until the meat began to break apart.
Now since Rosemary made her famous scalloped potatoes (and I will not divulge her recipe here) and the roast had no tomatoes, for salad I sliced some nice Lillooet Romas and chopped some parsley. I poured regular balsamic vinegar and grape seed oil.
Since I have been sort of avoiding tomatoes here I must now interject some of my found knowledge on the tomato.
When we first arrived in Mexico in 1955 I was puzzled by the fact that our cook called tomatoes jitomates
(pronounced heetomatess) and a little green thing that had a brown peel on it was a tomate
. I was soon to learn that the latter was sometimes called a tomatillo
or a tomate de cascara (a tomato with a peel) and it was used to make Mexican green salsas.
The reason Mexicans call the tomato a jitomate
is that in the Nahuatl language (the language of the Axtecs and surrounding tribes) it was called a xitomat
l. The xi
part means belly button and tomatl
fruit. Thus you have a fruit with a belly button.
Both the tomato ( Solanum lycopersicum)
and the tomatillo (Physallis ixocarpa
) are members of the solanum
genera but they part ways after that. Let’s call them first cousins. At one time yellow tomatoes were much in fashion. The yellow ones arrived in Italy in the late 16th century (via Columbus and the Spanish conquistadores
) first. The Italians called them yellow apples which is why (one of the few words in Italian I do know) pomodoro
(golden apple) is Italian for tomato.