Hosta 'Bressingham Blue' & Max Factor's Thinking Cap
Saturday, November 05, 2011
|Hosta 'Bressingham Blue' |
It seems that it was only a few days that I cut one of the yellowing leaves of Hosta ‘Bressingham Blue’
which is one of my largest of my blue hostas. They are not really blue but the glaucous waxy coating on the green leaves reflects lots of ultra violet and to the eye, and particularly when these plants are in the shade (lots more blue light) they appear blue. This blue is even more so when captured by digital cameras or film cameras since the sensors and the film are more sensitive to ultra violet light that humans.
As a an aside it was a Mr. Max Factor who many years ago noticed that the intense lights used in making movies or the lights inside TV studios produced lots of ultra violet radiation. This light had the ability to penetrate human skin and reveal all the flaws that conventional makeup did not seem to hide.
Mr. Factor put on his thinking cap and thought and thought. He soon had his eureka moment. Sun tan lotions were sun blocks in that they protected skin (somewhat) from the sun’s UV rays. So he concocted a sun tan lotion, perfumed it, made it slightly pink and added lanolin (So good for your skin, madam!). This concoction was the first Max Factor makeup for actors and it was soon valued for what it could do and ultimately it was given the name of pancake makeup.
Some of us who watched the televised presidential debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy (I was playing pool in the St. Ed’s High School, Austin, Texass upperclassman student rec room) noticed how terrible Nixon looked and how wonderful Kennedy was in comparison. You can guess which one of them wore Mr. Factor’s product.
Aside over here is Hosta
‘Bressingham Blue’ all shrunken up as it dried in my kitchen window. I think it is most beautiful even if it isn’t blue.
The Penelopiad - A Marvelous Imprudence
Friday, November 04, 2011
Penelope is herself a fascinating character, utterly different from all the Homeric prima donnas and self-dramatizing primo divos we have been in the presence up to now. Though he scarcely awards her an aria of her own, Homer constantly shifts his description of her, as if to underscore her many facets. She is "reserved," "discreet," "cautious," "wary," "poised," "alert," "guarded," "composed," "well aware," "self-possessed," "warm, generous," "of great wisdom," "the soul of loyalty." She, too, weeps in private, draws a veil across her face in public. She is the female equivalent of her husband, secretely strategic, full of wiles, keeping the overbearing suitors at bay for years with one deception after another.
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea - Why The Greeks Matter
by Thomas Cahill, 2003
|Meg Roe & Lois Anderson|
At age 69 I may be part of a diminishing statistic, a person who read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in a Richard Lattimore translation. I read them both twice, the first time because I had to and the second time because I wanted to.
As a little boy
in Buenos Aires, when I was running around in short pants and playing with my neighbourhood friends, I was either Gene Autrey (sometimes the Llanero Solitario
, the Lone Ranger) or, with short wooden sword in hand, the great Achilles.
I admired Achilles as my ultimate hero (Tarzan was waiting in the wings) and only as I became a bit older did I shift my allegiance to my namesake Alexander.
The Odyssey never offered me something of interest. I did not like the crafty, to me dishonest, Odysseus, I preferred the spoiled brat but virtuoso warrior that Achilles was. I was not old enough to see into Achilles’s relationship with the fair Patroclus as anything more that one of friendship. Surely in those days I would have been shocked to have known the truth.
In 1955 I went to see Robert Wise’s film Troy
in which the beautiful Italian Rossana Podestá was Helen. But I had two other reasons to go. One of them was Achilles, who was going to play him? Who then was Stanley Baker playing Achilles ? Would he be the hero of my dreams? He was. The other reason was more mundane. There was a small part for Brigitte Bardot. By age 13 cleavage was very important to me.
You can imagine that my intense interest in seeing the Arts Club Theatre production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad
(adapted by her from her 2005 Novella by the same name and directed by Vanessa Porteus) was not because of it being a retelling of the Odyssey. Even though it was a shift from Odysseus to Penelope, through her eyes, ears and voice and her 12 maids. A few of those maids, dressed as men, to play her father, her nasty suitors, her son Telemachus or her crafty husband Odysseus.
My intense interest was due to the presence of two actresses, Meg Roe
as Penelope and Lois Anderson
as Eurycleia her maid, a fixture of Odysseus's Ithaca for many years.
There are many good actresses in town and one of them is definitely Colleen Wheeler. Who can forget her from Trout Stanley
, where she appeared with Lois Anderson and Jonathon Young? Wheeler plays one of Penelope’s maids but, also, a most manly Odysseus, too, even if her red hair might remind you of that most manly Irish Spring Soap ad with shades of Maureen O' Hara. In fact I must state here that I have an exciting task at hand which is to convince Bard on the Beach’s
Christopher Gaze to produce a Shakespeare play with an all female cast! The Arts Club Theatre’s production of The Penelopiad
is ample evidence that men are sometimes not needed, except by those Amazon women of yore.
While Roe does not have freckles and she is much shorter than she seems to be it suddenly clicked in my mind what it is about Roe that I have found faintly familiar. It all clicked when I saw a recent screening of Fred Zinnemann's 1952 The Member of the Wedding
. There is a performance, one of the best in films ever, by a young Julie Harris ( a sea of freckles and not short ) that confirmed in my mind the calibre of actress that Roe is.
When I photographed Meg Roe and Lois Anderson in one of the dressing rooms of the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage I asked them for suggestions on what that play could be. They mentioned Midsummer’s Night Dream
. They may be right but I am thinking that Lois Anderson would be dynamite as Richard III
and Meg Roe would be the perfect Hamlet
and cast Ophelia as the only token male in this version of the play. Mr. Gaze, the ball is in your court, sir!
I cannot be more glowing in my reports on this play and its production values. Seasoned and professional theatre critics, Peter Birnie from the Vancouver Sun
and Jo Ledingham from the Vancouver Courier
have written ample copy. This is a play worth seeing. I would not deny that.
But neither of them have stated this: The Penelopiad is a play that is worth seeing twice. The first time around I saw it with my wife Rosemary from the middle row just a few rows back. I was able to see everything, including maid Sarah Donald play a musical saw (for more on this read at bottom) in the back at extreme stage right.
The second time, I saw it from the first row. How many of you reading here, are aware that this row, and in particular in the middle are not only the best seats in the house but the cheapest? With enough lead time you can secure them (less than $30, each) and enjoy a play that probably just because Meg Rose plays Penelope, would trump the 2007 production of The Penelopiad in Stratford-upon-Avon with Penny Downie as Penelope, in of all things, a red dress!
To begin, with Costume Designer Deitra Kalyn’s designs of Roe’s luscious dresses with lots of Helenistic cleavage were further inspired by her choice of blue and aqua. After all the advice that Penelope gets from her Naiad mother (Megan Leitch) to be like water and go around problems was right on.
My second venture to the play was yesterday. I bought my front row seats on late Tuesday so my friend Paul Leisz and I sat in the middle row, but stage-right. We missed the saw playing and few other things.
My friend Leisz (who assisted me in the dressing room portraiture) does not go the theatre a lot. Of Meg Roe he said, “That woman has a lot of dialogue to remember.” “She’s so natural. It doesn’t seem like she is acting.” He got it right.
But I would add that Roe’s built-in dolphin smile is so convincing and invigorating. Roe was just chatting to us all and telling us how it was that she waited 20 years for her husband to return. But sometimes that dolphin smile can quickly turn into pathos and it is in those moments that I know that she, Anderson, Gabrielle Rose
and a few others are what make our theatre scene in Vancouver a great on. Take that, Stratford upon two hyphens!
Some might wonder exactly what it is that our Atwood has added to that ultimate and original bard, Homer’s (was he one or more, we will never know) Odyssey?
I think I got it. Everybody knows that when Odysseus returns home with the help of Athena (not a character at all in Atwood’s version of the story) he is recognized by Eurycleia and that he changes his beggar like appearance to convince Telemachus that he is indeed his father and much alive. You might also know that Penelope is not the wiser and does not find out until the next day when all the suitors have been killed by Odysseus and Telemachus and her maids killed (hanged in this play). It is Eurycleia who in the original epic reveals to Penelope that her husband has returned. There is a most important scene, a bedside scene where Penelope tests her Odysseus.
But in Atwood’s The Penelopiad there is this from her novella (it is the latter part that Roe so beautifully utters in a wonderful - Ah! Shucks! - aside.
No sooner had I performed the familiar ritual and shed the familiar tears than Odysseus himself shambled into the courtyard […] dressed as a dirty old beggar. […] I didn’t let on I knew. It would have been dangerous for him. Also, if a man takes pride in his disguising skills, it would be a foolish wife who would claim to recognize him: It’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness.
When Roe said those words, thanks to Atwood's turning of the Odyssey up-side-down, Penelope is suddenly an empowered modern woman. We are in on the secret and nobody else is the wiser. This is the best moment in the play.
When the play was about to end, in my second viewing, Penelope finds out of the brutal execution of her 12 faithful maids (don’t count them on stage as they are always at most only 10). She is unable to show her enthusiasm for the appearance of her husband right there on their conjugal bed. She descends into Hades to finish the telling of her story and from my vantage point I spotted tears coming down. Actors can do this and I will never understand how they do it. Coming from the wonderful Meg Roe it was most special.
As I left I remembered the words from the final scene between Odysseus and Penelope (before he ventures out again on further adventures):
So husband and wife confided in each other while nurse and Eurynome, under the flaring brands, were making up the bed with coverings deep and soft. And working briskly, soon as they made it snug, back to her room the old nurse went to sleep as Eurynome, their attendant, torch in hand, lighted the royal couple’s way to bed and, leading them to their chamber, slipped away. Rejoicing in each other, they returned to their bed, the old familiar place they loved so well.
There are really two plays in the Penelopiad. There is the extraordinary one that is Roe’s monologue and there is the second one played by her supporting cast of 10. This supporting cast, much like Odysseus, is crafty and full of ingenuity. They act, they sing, they dance and they play assorted musical instruments. Here is the complete list:
Violin – Sarah Donald
Saw – Sarah Donald
Cello – Rachel Aberle
Gong – Lopa Sircar, Quelemia Sparrow
Hand Drum – Dawn Petten, Rachel Aberle
Penny whistle – Megan Leitch
Drum – Laara Sadiq, Rachel Aberle
Cymbals – Rachel Aberle, Quelemia Sparrow, Megan Leitch
Egg Shaker – Dawn Petten
“Fish Stick” – Sarah Donald
Guitar – Ming Hudson
Triangle – Sarah Donald, Colleen Wheeler
Xylophone – Sarah Donald
Finger cymbals – Rachel Aberle
Dana Luccock - The Resolution Towards A Portrait
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Mezzo-soprano Dana Luccock
contacted me the other day because she needed new promotional portraits. In the business this has always been called the head shot. There is something in that combination of two words that to my ears sounds almost obscene.
For some years the head shot has been the bread and butter of the new-on-the-block studio photographer. In order to compete, with other photographers and to get clients, struggling young actors and dancers, fees had to be low. But competition for head shots was and is so fierce that the photographer had to resort to, what in the head shot game, is called the “cattle call”. This would entail having as many people go through your studio in one day - assembly line photos.
I never did this because I was never willing to stay in my studio all day. It was not my cup of tea and when people would call me I would always refer them to Sooter’s Studio or the Yellow Pages. I protected my uncertain hours of the free-lancer with gusto.
Another reason for this was snobbery on my part, one that may have been based on pride. I was not going to "stoop that low" I thought.
Many who did head shots practiced something called testing. These photographers had ambition to be fashion photographers. They were (and perhaps even now) attracted to the perceived glamour of the business. Testing meant that they were willing to photograph young and very pretty up-and-coming models for very little money or for free in exchange for having a beautiful young thing in your studio with which you could test new cameras, new lights or new techniques.
The value of a good headshot is one that I did not suspect immediately. Probably, because I didn’t do them. But it was in the late 80s that in my job (a short-lived one) as director of photography at Vancouver Magazine
that my awareness and respect for the head shot changed. I was dispatched by editor Malcolm Parry to find a beautiful young model, with generous cleavage, that would pose on the cover with DJ Doc Harris
to promote (editorial even in those days was not completely independent of the advertising side as is so much more frequent nowadays) the Playhouse Theatre Company sponsored wine festival. I was to go to the Playhouse to be shown 8x10 glossies of young girls who had connections to the company.
|"Nora" by Juan Manuel Sánchez|
The publicist gave me 100 8x10s which I placed on the floor and then looked at with my eyes semi-closed (the noticeable ones would stand out). Two did and I picked them up. The publicist smiled with surprise and told me, “Alex this is so wonderfully strange. You have picked sisters Saffron and Camille Henderson
and the glossies are amateur glossies taken by their mother.” In the end Saffron Henderson graced the cover of Vancouver Magazine
and her cleavage was glorious as taken by the fashion photographer Chris Haylett.
It is my idea that a head shot to work has to stand out in a sea of headshots. But if it is too extreme it will scare off a possible client and a job. Of course sometimes the head shot can be a multiple one. They can be one that promotes the person as a singer, or as a dramatic actor, or as a funny actor. It can be a head shot that if the person is young looking through photographic methods (lighting, etc) he or she can sell themselves as someone who can play an older child or a teenager.
In my last 10 years I have noticed that the elaborate photographs I used to take of people for magazines and newspapers have become simpler. If you look, not too closely you might say that they are head shots.
It was Annie Leibovitz
who some photographers say ruined our ability to photograph a person and to capture a semblance of who they are. Since Leibovitz people had to be photographed doing stuff, and the more out of context or outlandish, the better. For years I resorted to those “tricks”. But I believe that I am back on track with the idea that what is not needed in a photograph has to be removed. This was soemthing I had learned from American photographer Bert Stern
For 10 years I was friends with Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sánchez
. Alas, he's gone back to Buenos Aires but I have come to understand what it was that led him to paint, obsessively, nude portraits of women or figure studies that seemed to all be sort of the same. They had perfectly round breasts (like dinner plates with a dot in the middle). Sánchez spoke of his paintings using the verb resolver
(resolve/solve). For him an idea in his head and a subsequent line drawn on paper or canvas was a problem that needed to be resolved. A successful painting meant he had found a resolución
One day I asked him, “As your paintings of women get simpler do you think some day you will draw a straight line or perhaps a curved line and in that line will be a distillation of your idea of what woman is?” His answer was, “¡Quizá!” (maybe).
In like fashion I have seen my portraits go in that distilled direction of simplicity. I use one light and a gray background. I get very close with a lens that puts me within worry of knowing I must have a good underarm deodorant and to have previously made sure my mouth and teeth are clean.
I chat with my subject. I try to connect and then I ask them to move (in millimetric segments) up or down or to the side. I do the same thing with my light. I take very few pictures. All those years of taking portraits have all been reduced to instinctively knowing when to press that shutter.
And suddenly I look at my portraits. Are they head shots? Are they portraits? Or has the distinction been blurred in distillation?
Videomatica & Death & The Maiden
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
‘Indeed,’ Liebermann replied. ‘A metaphysical opera condensed into forty-three bars.
Death and the Maiden [String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, by Franz Schubert] Frank Tallis, 2011
Today I tried to reserve Bruce Beresford’s 2001 Bride of the Wind
which is about Alma Schindler who married successively, Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel. It is a terrific film which I once took out from my Videomatica. There is a moment in this film when a very familiar situation in a café salon freezes into what becomes a Klimt painting.
I was thinking about the film today because I am reading a very good novel (I have previously read Vienna Blood
from this series called the Liebermann Papers) Frank Tallis’s Death and the Maiden
which features Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt (also a very good amateur operatic baritone) and his friend the psychoanalyst (all this happens in Vienna in 1903) Dr. Max Liebermann (who plays his Böesendorfer very well). One of the protagonists is Gustav Mahler who in 1903 was the musical director at the Vienna Opera. Is the sudden death of an operatic diva suicide or murder?
Meanwhile my Chilean friend and model C Valparaiso
wants to work with me on a project where we would take some photographs of her in the spirit of Klimt paintings.
When I dialed my Videomatica phone number and got a change of number notification I knew my longstanding love affair with this unusual DVD and VHS rental institution was over.
I went to the Vancouver Public Library web site and put in Bride of the Wind
. They don’t have it. I went to Netflix and I was offered Princess Bride.
This is certainly an end of an era for those who until now used the services of Videomatica not only for fun but for cultural improvement and for helping educate
younger members of one’s family, which in my case, are my granddaughters Lauren, 9, and Rebecca, 14.
I hope all those Vancouverites who are happy, willing and eager to see streaming versions of current Hollywood faire are happy. I wonder if they will ever know how profound their loss is.
I know and I grieve.
So Mama don't take my Videomatica away
Death and the Maiden
Death and the Maiden Redux
The Best Of All Possible (Repaired) Worlds
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Monday morning, bright and early I felt happy and I seemed to live in an optimistic Leibnizian world, a best of all possible worlds. By the end of the day it had become Candide’s pessimistic and satirical (via Voltaire), “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
You see I dropped my iPhone. It worked fine except for its primary purpose of enabling me to communicate with someone beyond shouting range. It was caput as a phone. A short trip (with a throbbing toothache) to chat with the geniuses at my local Oakridge Apple Store brought no relief of any kind. The phone ( amost basic and early model 3G) could not be repaired and Apple was prepared to provide me with a brand new (3G) for $170 plus the relevant taxes and no, they would not upgrade me to a 4 for any money.
The folks at Telus told me that I would have to pay $275 to terminate what remained of my 3-year contract and for the sum (a special!) they would give me a iPhone 4 for $49 if I were to agree to a 3-year contract.
The pain in my upper back molar was so bad that I could not think straight so I called and made an appointment to see Dental Ben
today and I would figuratively put a gun to his head and demand a lovely root canal. My appointment was at two.
The next day, at precisely 1:30 our Malibu
did not start. I had to make it to Dental Ben's! I called a Yellow Cab and told Rosemary to deal with BCAA and have someone see what electrical problem we might have to deal with.
On Monday I had taken the Malibu to Dueck on Marine to have the rear brake rotors change. They were wobbly. My Service Consultant, a very pleasant young man called Cam Haskins told me that he had had a friend with similar problems with his iPhone and that he had temporarily resolved the issue by using earphones. He was right! And finally I knew that was was wrong with my phone was the phone speaker.
Rosemary called Haskins who told her that we had probably left a car door not quite closed or something of the sort.
While going to my root canal I remembered that Tuesday morning as I had gone to pick up Rosemary at Safeway there had been a persistent warning ring when I closed the door. I had ignored it. I suddenly knew that somehow the Auto light switch on the steering column had been moved to Light and that had drained the battery.
Dental Ben did the root canal (a tricky one) and filled the tooth (a tricky procedure as there was little of my tooth left). He sent me on my merry way warning me that I would be in pain the next day. That was not to be. I called, using the phone at Dental Ben’s) Rosemary to pick me up. This was not because I could not take the bus home (Dental Ben had told Rosemary on the phone that I was as good as Kessler and that I could ride the bus, no problem). I knew the car had been started by BCAA and that it needed to be driven to charge up the depleted battery.
With no pain and driving the Malibu all was well, as I knew that come Wednesday (and that was to be) I was going to go to Ash Street, near West Broadway to pick up my phone. You see, an enterprising young man, Darcy Patko (The Mobile Phone Repair Shop 604-700-6049) repairs iPhones! For $50 he left my 3G as good as new.
|Illustration by Rockwell Kent from my 1926 edition of Candide |
The car starts, my tooth does not hurt and my iPhone works. That has to make today the best of all possible worlds. And I will take Candide’s advice “…we must cultivate our gardens.”
My thanks to Dueck’s Cam Haskins, to Doctor Ben Balevi (Dental Ben) and Darcy Patko.
Fall Is In The Bag
Monday, October 31, 2011
So much about fall, the season, revolves around the transitive verb to fall and its repercussions, the stuff that drops to the ground. It is about the esthetic one, of the action of the leaves of deciduous trees turning from green (or light green/yellow) to the marvelous earth colours of brown, red, yellow and ochre and finally dropping to the ground.
For many years fall was the drudgery of having to rake the leaves from the weeping willows (Betula pendula
) of our boulevard. Then there was the bagging. The bagging ceased until we figured out that the “black gold” compost that we purchased every year from VanDusen came from the very leaves we bagged. We need not bag them. All we had to do was put them in piles on the corner and the city would eventually dispatch sweeping trucks to pick it all up and dump it in a place that will in time bring money to the city coffers and help our plants grow in the coming spring.
When the birches on our boulevard all died (but one) of the birch borer we had found out that our lawnmower, with the bag attached, would sweep up, effortlessly all the leaves. This is a particular important job now as the huge Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata
) on our property sheds many of its needles about now (so much for evergreen trees!). These needles are extremely acid and they prevent lawns from growing well. The same situation applies to the needles that fall in our flower beds. We have to pick it all up by hand. At least the mower does an efficient job of sucking it up on the lawn and boulevard.
We have quite a few trees in our property that have brilliant fall colour. I think that the nicest is our Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum
But not all the beauty of fall is up there in the trees before it all falls. My hostas have beautiful colour. The blue hostas lose their blueness and become golden. Some of the leaves have huge holes (I let the slugs have their feast now. I will get back at them come spring). Some crinkle up and soon decay and disappear into the ground with the fall rains.
I have picked three hosta leaves for today’s picture. One, Hosta
‘Bressingham Blue’ is huge. The other almost intact one is the sexy Hosta
‘Strip Tease’. The crinkled one has, for me a name that evokes an ancient Roman emperor who in my imagination got as far as Japan in conquest, Hosta
And then there is the surprise of two roses, the English Rose, Rosa
‘Crocus Rose’ and Rosa
‘All That Jazz’ (red) that have brought some unusual colour to the garden, so late in the season, as they wave me a fond farewell until next spring.
An Architect In Vancouver's City Hall
Sunday, October 30, 2011
|William (Bill) McCreery|
We have never had in our city or province a politician who would represent Plato’s ideal of philosopher king. Only philosophers-made-kings would ever help the ideal city state become a utopia.
My next best bet towards a possible utopia (a very small one) has been the idea of an engineer. I do believe that my photographs of NDP mayoral candidate for Surrey, Bob Bose
, helped him win and in Bose we did have a politician whose intelligence and honesty has never been in question.
My third candidate for a political office would have to be an architect. As a photographer in this city since 1975 I can genuinely assert that my favourite people to photograph (after beautiful women, that is!) are the architects. I have found that architects here (can this be a universal feature of architects) are renaissance people. You can talk to them about anything. They also seem to think rationally.
It was shortly before Ned Pratt
(perhaps my favorite of all Vancouver architects) died in 1996 that he and I walked in my neighborhood. We were discussing the problem of monster homes which in those years was a real one. And he told me, “I have had on hell of a problem trying to get a city permit to fix up my girlfriend’s garage at her house on South West Marine Drive. And yet here these houses are going up so quickly. I am sure that some sort of money is changing hands between developers and City Hall.” This was from the man whose firm Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners
had built our city’s Burrard Bridge, the Cenotaph, several buildings in UBC and some of the firm’s alumni had built such buildings as our CBC and many others.
For me the best way to keep unchecked development checked is to have an architect as mayor or in City Council. For me that mayor would be Bing Thom
. Unfortunately Thom, the architect is having a booming career and nobody would expect this man to leave all that for the peril of being our city’s mayor.
Based on the above an architect in City Council would be a good thing for our city. And to avoid all kinds of conflict of interest that architect would have to be a retired architect.
Today I noticed that William (Bill) McCreery is running for City Council. I photographed McCreery quite a few years ago when he was a practicing architect. At the time he had modified a heritage firehall on 70th Street to have it converted to a senior’s home. During our photo session and later when he had his offices in the building that housed Equity Magazine
(a business magazine for which I contributed as a photographer) I came to appreciate this intelligent, sensible and quiet man.
I would suggest that when you vote in this coming city election that you consider Bill McCreery as a good candidate regardless of your political affiliation