Arts Umbrella - A Conspiracy To Create Stellar Youth
Saturday, June 09, 2012
|Lauren Elizabeth Stewart - Third year dance student at Arts Umbrella |
I find it difficult to begin a blog with the word life. These days facebook and other social media have been the repository of unending and cloying streams of aphorisms. At least the previous incarnation of that trend was the “word of the day” which did bring, at the very least, an opportunity to learn something that was not self-evident.
So I will not begin this with the word life.
Rarely does life give one a second chance. That has been my personal experience. But there are some interesting exceptions. My wife Rosemary and I, as parents of two girls made many mistakes. We had no experience. On my side the only grandparent, my mother, had died when our eldest was five. And once we moved to Canada in 1975, on Rosemary’s side the grandparents were in far away New Dublin, Ontario. To feed, raise and educate our two girls we had to do it on our own with the help (and I must acknowledge this here) the excellent Canadian public school system. When our eldest began to speak terrible English (she had attended very good French Immersion schools in Coquitlam) in what was going to be her grade 11 we put her into York House. She hated the school in the beginning and to this day Ale, keeps thanking us for putting her into that school.
Both Rosemary and I believe that private schools (when funds permit) can offer some advantages. I was the product of one and I can remember every teacher I ever had with pleasure and pride.
Getting back to not beginning with the word life, we have learned subsequently to our small triumphs and many failures in the raising of our two daughters, that being a pair of grandparents at close proximity (and we are at close proximity) can break that pattern that life gives one few chances for correction or re-wind.
|Lauren in class with her teacher|
Claudia Segovia behind.
As grandparents we can look back at our mistakes and offer suggestions to our daughter and son-in-law (an iffy proposition this idea of suggesting. Mexicans have a beautiful but terrible-sounding word for someone who overly intrudes metiche
). We are aware where we went wrong and can see similar patterns in the raising of our grandchildren. Unfortunately while this sounds good on paper (or looks good on a computer monitor screen) in actual fact we are metiches
and we have to understand that grandparents are not parents.
The cliché is of the grandfather telling his grandson how he used to walk miles to the one room schoolhouse. The fact is that I never talked to my girlfriend (she did not know she was my girlfriend) and yet my daughter says that her daughter Rebecca still talks to her ex. By talk she means text. Since when was texting talking? Obviously walking miles to school is of inconsequential merit or value.
As parents we put our daughters into ballet. It was "the right thing to do" we were told by our friends. We put them into The Vancouver School of Music by The Planetarium. Either of us would drive from Burnaby to take the girls. Then we would wait for what seemed hours for them to put on their street clothes after classes. We did not understand that their teacher only put effort into the dancers she thought had talent. She ignored the rest and treated them badly. Both my daughters hated their ballet. The end of the years performances were excruciatingly bad and boring. When my eldest wanted to quit her ballet and her classical guitar classes I told her she could only quit one of them. She stayed with the guitar and to this day, because she can sight read so well, she thanks us over and over for having forced her into guitar. She plays the piano well and uses this knowledge as a primary school teacher in Lillooet.
This brings me to the real meat of this blog which is my unwavering admiration for the possibilities offered by Arts Umbrella, that education/culture gem of Granville Island. It was only a few days ago that I paid it a visit and I found myself in a lobby full of children’s art. There was a whole wall of personal pizzas (grand idea) but what really impressed me where sculptures and paintings inspired by Shadbolt, the Impressionists and other artists of stature.
|Rebecca Stewart & Andrea Hodge 2004|
And then there is the end of the year performance of the dance students (from young and rank beginners to the seasoned and very professional Senior Dance Company). This June 8 to June 10 version of Expressions Festival 2012 to be held at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre is a fast (very little time between acts) showcase of the talents of the dance students who are part of the Arts Umbrella Dance Program headed by Artemis Gordon and backed by a stellar staff of teachers and choreographers from here and abroad.
Judging from my past experience at this festival (I have attended the last nine) what you see is a far cry from the mediocre high school stuff of yore. Particularly when you see the Seniors and the Apprentices you see the best of ballet and modern dance.
Because my eldest granddaughter attended the program for six years (and alas she stopped) and I now watch the younger one Lauren dance in her third year, I can affirm that those who attend dance classes at this institution somehow manage to become physically fit, while learning to get along with others at close proximity and at the same time being able to elaborate on the merits of dancing to the music of Leonard Bernstein or being exposed to the dance philosophy of the noted American choreograph William Forsythe via one of his gifted dancers, Ballet BC’s Artistic Director Emily Molnar (a partner with Gordon in their underhanded conspiracy to produce well balanced young adults).
One of my fondest memories of the residues of the Arts Umbrella education on my eldest granddaughter was once when she told me, “Watch me dance in the style of Emily Molnar.” Then she sat down on the piano and said, “This is my impression of the music of Phillip Glass.” Rebecca’s introduction to Glass was watching Molnar’s classes to the seniors. Molnar loves Glass.
|Emily Molnar, Alexander Burton, Artemis Gordon|
I am convinced of the merits that a dance education at Arts Umbrella provides to students. And especially when the students stay on and then are part of a program where they go to school (Magee Secondary School) in a special curriculum that drops physical education but begins early so that the students can then do dance in the afternoon. I have observed how these students seem to be able to talk to adults, are comfortable with their peers, all look fit; have a presence and a sense of humour. When they graduate they go to good universities or good dance companies in Europe and at lest two per year get jobs at Ballet BC.
As Arty (Artemis Gordon) often tells me, “Our students are off the street.”
I watch my Lauren dance in her class (her teacher is Claudia Segovia). I watch someone who is focused in what she does. She is flexible, graceful, and elegant. She is another person in class and I think that experience will in the end make her a better person out of class. My one hope is that she will stick to it.
Arts Umbrella -Essentially - Pure Dance
A Touch of Profanity - All In Good Taste
And The Moon Be Still As Bright
Friday, June 08, 2012
Yesterday in the morning I read the NY Times obituary on writer Ray Bradbury. It is a fine and extremely detailed one which drew lots from a June 4 New Yorker
autobiographical essay. It seems that Bradbury, who never went to college and boasted about it, extracted most of his inspiration from when he was a young boy. Of this boyhood in Illinois he wrote:
It was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another… You rarely have such fevers later in life that fill your entire day with emotion.
Reading this made me reflect and worry of the present and troubling years of my 14 year-old granddaughter Rebecca who should be subject to all that childhood wonder and frenzy. I despair but can only hope for the best.
While reading the obituary something else clicked in my brain so I rushed down to my library, to the section where I have my books in Spanish. I knew what to look for and that is a Borges book with a whimsical (but labyrinthine) title Forwards with a Forward of Forwards
. In it are forwards to translation of some universal works into Spanish like Shakespeare’s Macbeth
, Olaf Stapelton’s Starmaker
(one of my favourite science fiction novels of all time) , Frances Bret Harte, Paul Valéry and yes (!) Ray Bradbury’s Crónicas Marcianas
I thought about going through the effort of translating it into English for those who may be reading this and would have no way of knowing that the distinguished Argentine author was a Bradbury fan. Fortunately Google (if it isn’t in Google it does not exist, if it isn’t in facebook it never happened) has provided me with a translation via the Ray Bradbury Homepage by a man called Captain Spender (he named himself after a character in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles from the stories And the Moon Be Still as Bright
and The Settlers
). This is it:
In the Second Century of our Era, Luciano de Samosata composed a truthful History, comprising, among other wonders, a description of the selenites who - according to the truthful historian - thread and comb metals and glass, put on and take off their eyes, drink air juice or squeezed air; in the early XVI century, Ludovico Ariosto imagined that a knight discovers on the Moon all that is lost on Earth, the tears and sighs of lovers, the time wasted in gambling, useless projects and unsatisfied longings. In the XVII Century, Kepler drafted a Somnium Astronomicum, that aspires to be the transcription of a book read in a dream, densely revealing in its pages the configuration and habits of the snakes of the Moon, that stay in deep caverns during the heat of the day and come out at dusk. Between the first and second of these imaginary trips there are thirteen hundred years, and between the second and the third, about a hundred; the first two are, however, irresponsible and free inventions and the third one is stalled by a thrive for credibility. The reason is clear. For Luciano and for Ariosto, a trip to the moon was a symbol or archetype of the impossible, as black feathered swans were for the Latin; for Kepler, it was already a possibility, as for us. Didn't John Wilkins, inventor of a universal language, publish in those years, his 'The Discovery of a World in the Moone: Or A Discourse Tending To Prove that 'tis probable there may be another habitable World in that Planet' with an appendix titled "The possibility of a passage thither"?
In the 'Attic Nights' of Aulo Gelio, one reads that Arquitas the Pythagoric manufactured a wooden pigeon that flew in the air; Wilkins predicts an analog or similar mechanism will take us, someday, to the moon.
By its nature of anticipation of a possible or probable future, the 'Somnium Astronomicum' precedes, unless I am mistaken, the new narrative genre that Americans of the North label 'science-fiction' or 'sciencefiction' and of which these Chronicles are an admirable example.
Their theme is the conquest and colonization of the planet. This arduous enterprise of the future men seems destined for the times, but Ray Bradbury has preferred (unknowingly, perhaps, and by secret inspiration of his genius) an elegiac tone. Martians, who at the beginning of the book are horrible, deserve his pity when annihilation reaches them. Men vanquish and the author is not proud of their victory. He announces with sadness and disappointment the future expansion of mankind over the red planet - that his prophecy reveals as a desert of vague blue sand, with ruins of chess-like cities and yellow sunsets and ancient ships to wander on the sand.
Other authors stamp a coming date and we don't believe them, because we know it is a literary convention; Bradbury writes 2004 and we feel the gravitation, the fatigue, the vast and vague accumulation of the past - the 'dark backward and abysm of Time' from the Shakespeare verse. Already the Renaissance had noted, by mouth of Giordano Bruno and of Bacon, that the real Ancient Ones are us, and not the men from Genesis or Homer.
What has this man from Illinois done, I ask myself when closing the pages of his book, that episodes from the conquest of another planet fill me with horror and loneliness?
How can these fantasies touch me, and in such an intimate way? All literature (I dare reply) is symbolic; there are a few fundamental experiences and it is indifferent that a writer, to transmit them, recurs to the fantastic or the real, to Macbeth or to Rascolnikov, to the Belgium invasion in August 1914 or to an invasion of Mars. Who cares about the novel, or novelty of science fiction? In this book of ghostly appearance, Bradbury has placed his long empty Sundays, his American tedium, his loneliness, like Sinclair Lewis did on Main Street.
Perhaps the third expedition is the most alarming story in this volume. Its horror - I suspect - is metaphysical. The uncertainty of the guests of Captain Black suggests uncomfortably, that we do not know who we are either, or how our faces are to God. I would also like to highlight the episode 'The Martian', which includes a pathetic variation of the myth of Protheus.
Towards 1909 I read, with fascinated anguish, in the sunset of a large house that no longer exists, The First Men on the Moon, by Wells. By virtue of these Chronicles, of very diverse conception and execution, I have been given to relive, in the last days of fall, 1954, those delectable horrors.
Jorge Luis Borges
Captain Wilder, Fourth Expedition
And in Spanish:
Ray Bradbury: Crónicas marcianas.
En el segundo siglo de nuestra era, Luciano de Samosata compuso una Historia verídica, que encierra, entre otras maravillas, una descripción de los selenitas, que (según el verídico historiador) hilan y cardan los metales y el vidrio, se quitan y se ponen los Ojos, beben zumo de aire o aire exprimido; a principios del siglo xvi, Ludovico Ariosto imaginó que un paladín descubre en la Luna todo lo que se pierde en la Tierra, las lágrimas y suspiros de los amantes, el tiempo malgastado en el juego, los proyectos inútiles y los no saciados anhelos; en el siglo XVII, Kepler redactó un Somnium Astronomicum, que finge ser la transcripción de un libro leído en un sueño, cuyas páginas prolijamente revelan la conformación y los hábitos de las serpientes de la Luna, que durante los ardores del día se guarecen en profundas cavernas y salen al atardecer. Entre el primero y el segundo de estos viajes imaginarios hay mil trescientos años y entre el segundo, y el tercero, unos den; los dos primeros son, sin embargo, invenciones irresponsables y libres y el tercero está como entorpecido por un afán de verosimilitud. La razón es dara. Para Ludano y para Ariosto, un viaje a la Luna era símbolo o arquetipo de lo imposible, como los cisnes de plumaje negro para el latino; para Kepler, ya era una posibilidad, como para nosotros. ¿No publicó por aquellos años John Wilkins, inventor de una lengua universal, su Descubrimiento de un Mundo en la Luna, discurso tendiente a demostrar que puede haber otro Mundo habitable en aquel Planeta, con un apéndice titulado Discurso sobre la posibilidad de una travesía? En las Noches áticas de Aulo Gelio se lee que Arquitas el pitagórico fabricó una paloma de madera que andaba por el aire; Wilkins predice que un de mecanismo análogo o parecido nos llevará, algún día, a la Luna.
Por su carácter de anticipación de un porvenir posible o probable, el Somnium Astronomicum prefigura, si no me equivoco, el nuevo género narrativo que los americanos del Norte denominan science-fiction o scientifiction (1) y del que son admirable ejemplo estas Crónicas. Su tema es la conquista y colonización del planeta. Esta ardua empresa de los hombres futuros parece destinada a la época, pero Ray Bradbury ha preferido (sin proponérselo, tal vez, y por secreta inspiración de su genio) un tono elegíaco. Los marcianos, que al principio del libro son espantosos, merecen su piedad cuando la aniquilación los alcanza. Vencen los hombres y el autor no se alegra de su victoria. Anuncia con tristeza y con desengaño la futura expansión del linaje humano sobre el planeta rojo -que su profecía nos revela como un desierto de vaga arena azul, con ruinas de ciudades ajedrezadas y ocasos amarillos y antiguos barcos para andar por la arena.
Otros autores estampan una fecha venidera y no les creemos, porque sabemos que se trata de una convención literaria; Bradbury escribe 2004 y sentimos la gravitación, la fatiga, la vasta y vaga acumulación del pasado -el dark backward and abysm of Time del verso de Shakespeare-. Ya el Renacimiento observó, por boca de Giordano Bruno y de Bacon, que los verdaderos antiguos somos nosotros y no los hombres del Génesis o de Homero.
¿Qué ha hecho este hombre de Illinois me pregunto, al cerrar las páginas de su libro, para que episodios de la conquista de otro planeta me pueblen de terror y de soledad?
¿Cómo pueden tocarme estas fantasías, y de una manera tan íntima? Toda literatura (me atrevo a contestar) es simbólica; hay unas pocas experiencias fundamentales y es indiferente que un escritor, para transmitirlas, recurra a lo "fantástico" o a lo "real", a Macbeth o a RaskoInikov, a la invasión de Bélgica en agosto de 1914 o a una invasión de Marte. ¿Qué importa la novela, o novelería, de la science fiction? En este libro de apariencia fantasmagórica, Bradbury ha puesto sus largos domingos vacíos, su tedio americano, su soledad, como los puso Sinclair Lewis en Main Street.
Acaso La tercera expedición es la historia más alarmante de este volumen. Su horror (sospecho) es metafisico; la incertidumbre sobre la identidad de los huéspedes del capitánjohn Black insinúa incómodamente que tampoco sabemos quiénes somos ni cómo es, para Dios, nuestra cara. Quiero asimismo destacar el episodio titulado El marciano, que encierra una patética variación del mito de Proteo.
Hacia 1909 leí, con fascinada angustia, en el crepúsculo de una casa grande que ya no existe, Los primeros hombres en la Luna, de Wells. Por virtud de estas Crónicas de concepción y ejecución muy diversa, me ha sido dado revivir, en los últimos días del otoño de 1954, aquellos deleitables terrores.
The Complexity Of Pomp & Circumstance
Thursday, June 07, 2012
I remember precisely that winter day in Buenos Aires. It was June 2, 1953. It was around noon because my mother called me to lunch. “¡Alex, lavate las manos y las rodillas, a comer!”
I wore short pants so the lunch time routine not only meant I had to wash my hands but my knees, too. I remember also precisely what I answered as I hovered near our large upright radio in the living room. I said in English, “Not yet, I am listening to the coronation of my queen.”
Since that day when I seemed to know something about my nationality, my feeling of belonging somewhere and having allegiance to something or someone has somewhat thinned or at the very least it has become most complex.
I am jealous of my friend John Lekich who every once in a while will say, “I was born and raised in Vancouver and I have lived here all my life.” Of late he seems to have some small pangs of regret in this simplicity of belonging. He told me he felt a bit odd these days with how his city has changed.
I told him that I felt much the same and I wanted to use the word alienated but the word was somewhat stuck in my head and all I could remember was the Spanish for it, enajenado
. I could have easily placed that feeling of enajenación
on a wintry Buenos Aires evening in my 20s when a girl I was crazy about told me over the phone, “I don’t ever want to hear from you again. I am ashamed of your manners. I have fallen in love with an older violinist at the Teatro Colón orchestra.” Or it could have been over an espresso in the late 50s (my beatnik years) at the Rana Sabia (the Wise Frog Café) in Mexico City. I felt enajenado because that was the fashionable feeling to have at the time. I had no genuine reason to feel it.
This feeling of not belonging has been part of me most of my life.
To begin with consider this. My father was born in Buenos Aires but his father and mother were from Manchester. My mother was born in Manila but her mother in Spain and her father was Basque. A great grand aunt was Chinese. I had a Spanish ancestor General who surrendered to Admiral Dewey after the Battle of Manila Bay and my mother was denied entry into the United States (she had a Johns Hopkins scholarship) because she was listed as being Asian.
My friends in Buenos Aires called me el inglesito (the English boy) but when I was awaiting my orders at the Casa Rosada in Plaza de Mayo (I had been conscripted into the navy) I remember that a young man stared at my Botany Bay wool suit and asked me, “Tus pilchas son gringas. ¿Sos un gringo?” (that suit is a gringo suit. Are you a gringo?)
When I was around 10 I went to a game of the Harlem Globetrotters in Buenos Aires. I was picked up in a huge Lincoln by the minister of the Filipino Ministry (no embassy yet for that young country) and his son Fidel Ramos who one day became President of the Philippines. In fact at age 10 I routinely wore a barong tagalong to parties. This was the Filipino version (made of pineapple fibre) of the Cuban guayabera. I was a blond Filipino who could move the bamboos for the Tinikling with skill.
At age 10 I often hoped with my friends that there would be a revolution, or at least a coup so that we would have a long holiday from school. I was not supposed to feel any kind of sympathy for Perón or his wife Evita because we were not unwashed descamizados.
The patrician elite (we were hangers on) had no time for Perón. We admired the order, even welcomed it, that the armed forces represented and felt comfort in the tradition and ritual of the Catholic Church. My father, who was not Catholic, kept his silence while my grandmother told me how the Jews had killed Christ. And yet my good friend Mario, el judío
, did not seem to me to be an evil boy.
In Mexico in the mid 50s the country was living its richest history in film and song. Mexico had actresses like Dolores del Río and María Felix. I discovered Buñuel because of my infatuation with Sylvia Pinal and I may be one of the few besides the person I see reflected in my bathroom mirror who saw Viridiana
, the Exterminating Angel
and Simón del Desierto
I felt nostalgia for Argentine, Argentine pizza, steaks, vegetables and fruit but I had no desire to listen to the tango, that music of the great unwashed. I preferred Miles Davis.
I was pretty Mexican except when it was convenient to parade Argentine superiority in futbol. This superiority was often thwarted by the Mexico City altitude and Argentine teams often lost.
Then I went to the United States and lived most of my teenage years in Texas. I did eat hamburgers in a car, a Corvair Monza that had been served by cute Texan girls in roller skates. I did pass my hand on the sharp edge of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. I felt American and I tried to downplay my Latin roots. But in the boarding school I attended the Latinos considered me too white to be part of them and the Anglos and Texans thought me strange because I spoke Spanish. I began to feel pangs of alienation.
Back in Argentina in 1965, while in the navy my Irish Argentine secretary, Edna Gahan (who typed my translations for the Senior US Naval Advisor, Captain USN Onofrio Salvia) hummed the new Beatles songs and my very Argentine cousin Wenceslao de Irureta Goyena tried to woo me in the direction of classical Argentine tango singers like Gardel. I wanted nothing to do with that music. I had discovered Piazzolla. Wency argued that Piazzolla was not tango since you could not dance to it. Years later, sometime in the beginning of this century, I proved him wrong by honing some sort of style in dancing to Piazzolla with a level of efficiency (and not more) that made me feel an Argentine nostalgia that had eluded me for years. I was suddenly drinking mate and looking for Argentines who lived in Vancouver. I had avoided Argentines for years saying to anybody who would listen that Argentines were only bearable in their own country.
It was in Argentina in 1966 that after I had sworn allegiance to my flag and constitution that I was dispatched with a contingent of navy troops allied to those of the army and airforce to surround the Casa Rosada. Our president went home in a cab and the next day we had a military junta in power. It was then that I began to understand the folly of extreme nationalism. The nationalism that I call "we nationalism". We defeated Brazil in futbol. We defeated the US in hockey. We have a better economy than they do.When the Canucks lose they lose. When they win, we won. Since then I have understood that feeling for a place is much more important than feeling for a flag that any day will become suit lining.
In 1983 Queen Elizabeth came to Vancouver with her consort to announce to the world that Expo 86 would happen. CTV broadcaster Alyn Edwards, a cameraman, two assistants and I were hired to cover the Queen’s part in the event at the new BC Place Stadium.
The two assistants were part of a then cutting edge system. The cameraman had a cordless TV camera (remember this was before digital) that was connected to a gun (and it looked like a gun). The assistant would point the gun up into the bleachers where the other assistant sat with a largish microwave dish that received the camera’s signal. We managed to pass through all kinds of security gates and we were but 6ft away from the Queen.
In 1986 (with a lingering feeling in me of dislike for the English and their queen, certainly not my queen because of the Malvinas conflict) I reluctantly went to get accreditation for the visit by Prince Charles and Lady Diana. I had been commanded, against my will, by Mac Parry, Editor of Vancouver Magazine
. I went to the accreditation office and told them up front, “I know it is a bit late for me to get accreditation. And I really don’t want it if you deny it to me. After all I am one of those Argies and I have no love for the Royal Family. A woman looked at me and said, “Move there and look at the camera. It won’t take but a few minutes and you will be off.”
And so I was but a mere 6ft away from the royal couple at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Nobody checked my photo bag. I felt ill dressed next to the Brit photographers in their tuxes and” their “aluminium (not aluminum they told me) step ladders to get better shots.
On Tuesday night Rosemary and I watched the big concert held in London to celebrate the queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I saw it with fascination as all kinds of feelings traveled around my head and heart. She seemed, to be suddenly my queen again even if her son seemed to be a dolt not fit to be a king.
As it all ended with all that pomp and circumstance that the English are so good at I reflected that like the Pharisee in Saint Luke’s Gospel (18:10) I kind of felt sorry for the poor publican. I gave thanks to God for making me not feel I belonged anywhere but belonged everywhere. My poor friend John Lekich, the poor publican who was born and raised in Vancouver, can only feel nostalgia for a past, his past, a past of a rich Vancouver that seems to be fading towards more bike lanes and talk of the travails of walking in parks full of dog poop. I feel sorry for Lekich because I think I understand. I almost feel part of this city, even if I wasn’t born and raised here. You see it was here where I first had a close encounter with my queen.
And finally I must point out that I am a Canadian now and just like my birth it was recorded by a photographer. In this latter case by my friend Robert Blake. Unlike the lucky John Lekich who was born a Canadian I had to wait many years. I became one by swearing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II while holding my father's King James Bible. El inglesito finally became one.
Celia Duthie - Gallerist
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
My Mother's Red Shawl - El Rebozo Colorado
Celia Duthie - Gallerist
What else could there be to do after ‘books’? Not that this is after books, I read as much as ever, and as new as I can afford. Alex teases me about not wanting to pay full price for a book, even to ‘buy’ a book. (I bought the new HiIlary Mantel at Ivy’s in Oak Bay at full price!) It’s been a long conditioning; I’ve grown up with all the books I could ever want, free! Advance reading copies, new hardcover fiction, art books, everything and surrounded by a culture of seasoned readers with endless excellent recommendations:
Ivy, of Ivy’s Books
, still extant in Oak Bay, Victoria, worked at Duthies
in the 50’s and early 60’s. She suggested Flowers for Hitler
. Don Lewis recommended Le Grandes Meulnes
by Alain Fournier, and several Heinrich Boll. Jane Flick got me gobbling up Virginia Woolf, and Michael Varty: Kapuscinski and Tony Judt. Nick’s, almost the last recommendation before the last 4th Ave store closed, was Geoff Dyer, the current darling of my reading heart.
Alex doesn’t like Geoff Dyer, or at least not his photography criticism. I adore (almost) all his writing, admire his mastery of so many literary forms, even among his novels such a range of different structures and themes, and his critical essays cover an amazing breadth of interests and passions with brilliance originality and humour. There’s a recommendation!
Now, we do art. We show it and recommend it. Duthie Gallery - Sculpture Park, fine art and studio furniture. Michael Dennis, Brent Comber, David Robinson, Judith Currelly and others. Tangibles.
Alex has (very kindly) come and photographed the art. He refrains from any art criticism when he is taking pictures, but then adds cheeky titles to the jpgs. Next year we’re planning a show of Alex’s Erotica, his Balthus series, with collaborative paintings by Stefanie Denz.
Alex always calls me Napoleon, but he is much more fundamentally Napoleonic than I am (watch him taking pictures or selecting plants). Mostly he is referencing the books by Arthur Upfield (which I had recommended) whose main character is named Bonaparte, Bony for short). Alex, for years after we left town, thought we would come back, but I don’t think so. I love Elba.
Vancouver Sun Columnist
Statesman, Flag Designer
Vancouver Sun Columnist
Lauren Elizabeth Stewart
The Genesis Of A Coptic Virgin Mary
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
|The Coptic Virgin Mary - Original (cropped) |
Ektachrome 100G Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD 140mm lens
Obviously if you are reading this you know that I post a blog every day and that I have done this since January 2006. Since I do not allow for comments in my blog I have no idea how many people out there are real fans, if any. Blogger stats inform me that I have an average page view count of 450,000 per month. I take that with a miniscule grain of salt as I believe that many of those views are random Google image searches.
|Polaroid peel scanned as is|
Because I use facebook (notice that it should not be capitalized but under-capitalized) to post daily links to my blog I do get some “I likes” and on rare occasions even comments.
|Lightened with scanner settings|
Epson Perfection V700 Photo
It is very difficult to navigate through 2407 (my last count) individual blogs. Blogger’s archive is hard to follow and I do not have an orderly classification of my blogs by themes. One way that I partially circumvent this is by also posting on facebook blogs from the past.
I am not a bad photographer; in fact my photographs are probably a tad better than most of the facebook posters’ Instagrams. The paradox is that just a day ago I received quite a few comments on picture that appeared in facebook that was linked to my blog. This
is the link.
|Darkened and "spots" removed with Photoshop|
In my photography I have always placed importance on a correct exposure, extreme sharpness, a fairly good composition and simple lighting. And yet the picture, entitled The Coptic Virgin Mary caused comments while it lacked all the above qualities that I treasure.
|Cleaned up further with Photoshop|
A photographer like a good cook has to have a personal cook book, a sort of recipe book for all situations. A cook, particularly home cooks have to be ready, at the last moment to rustle up quickly a vegan dish for a group of invited guests who did not inform you of the needs of one of them. There can be no excuses and you simply find something to serve. It is the same for photographers. Wedding photographers must have the skills of baby photographers who must have the skills of those who photograph difficult people and at the same time you must know how to do landscapes, sewing machines and if really pressed some pseudo-pornography. In short the photographer has to adapt to all situations and must never have the excuse of the perennial fisherman’s big fish (this big) that got away. As a photographer you have to produce an image with no excuses.
|Clarified and sharpened with Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2|
This further means that if your pictures are conventional and done in good taste you must have a hint of edgy stuff in your recipe book. If your pictures have high production values you must be able to demonstrate fly-on-the-wall & from-the-hip shots, too.
|Red added and constrast modified with Photoshop|
The Coptic Virgin Mary began as a project in which I photographed one of my favourite models ever, Pam Benhke, with the help of my Argentine artist friends Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich (they were married at the time). At their home they had all kinds of stuff (which you see in the picture here). Nora Patrich also had the ability to do anything I would ask. “Can you do Egyptian makeup?” “Si!” The Coptic Virgin Mary was one of a few I did for a series of ethnic Virgins which Juan Manuel Sánchez and I called Santa Conchitas (I will not explain here the vaguely obscene Argentine double entendre). Because Pam Behnke had been born minus an arm (and one leg shorter than the other) she had a body shape that mimicked (in all its beauty) the body of Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton (previously known in his reign as Amenhotep IV). Akhenaton believed in the existence of only one god (the sun Aten) so I came up with the idea of an Egyptian Virgin Mary. It helped (but alas you will have to look carefully) that Pam Behnke had a snake tattoo below and right of her belly button. If you notice that in the pictures the tattoo is on the other side, the reason is that the scan of the Polaroid negative peel is a reverse image.
|Shadow/highlight and levels settings with Photoshop|
The original image in Ektachrome 100G is glorious but I cannot show here sharp full-frontal nudity because of my own personal ideas of what my blog is. I also took some versions in b+w film. I took them all with a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD and a 140mm lens. I lit the picture with a 2x3 ft softbox with a Dynalite flash and I kept my shutter open for 15 seconds so that the candle flames would register.
|Candle flames lightened with Photoshop|
To test the candle flame exposure I used Polaroid Instant Colour Print film which I loaded on to a Polaroid back that I mated to the Mamiya.
Fuji makes instant film and Polaroid has gone bankrupt. Although the Impossible Project has brought many of the Polaroid films back, the instant colour pack film for medium format and large format cameras is gone. There is one very big difference between the Fuji instant print film and the Polaroid. The difference crucial to what I used to do is that the image that appeared on peel (the back of the instant print) was and is permanent in the Polaroid while in the Fuji the image quickly disappears and it cannot be scanned well. I have tried to peel the print and instantly attach it to my scanner but the results are marginal. What you see here is a lost technique.
I will place the results from the raw first one to the final image that is all “fixed up”. I have installed in my computer the 2003 version of Photoshop called Version 8 but also called the first Photoshop CS. I used a clever feature from my Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 called clarify that enables me to sharpen and pump up the clarity of the image through contrast control.
|Clarified again with Corel and a tad more contrast with Photoshop|
Going through this exercise reminded me that the result is a perfect blend of old school photography, “new-old”, and some of the latest in digital. That peel 20 years ago would have been instantly thrown into a garbage can. Now I would kill (or die) for just a pack of the wonderful Polaroid Instant Film (100 IS0) with its never fading peel. While you might be able to imitate in some ways the result with a digital camera and Photoshop, I like the simplicity (is it that simple?) of the old way. That a few were willing to positively comment on the image tells you that progress is sometimes overrated.
A Coptic Virgin Mary
Monday, June 04, 2012
My Uncle Antonio (Tony) de Irureta Goyena was a chemical engineer who most of his life worked for Dupont and for Kaiser Roth. In the latter job, in Greensboro, North Carolina, he was an expert in creating the finest nylon stockings money could buy. In the middle 60s he worked in Alexandria. While in Egypt he made it a hobby to explore Coptic churches armed with his beautiful Nikon rangefinder camera. In one of those churches he found this interesting early (perhaps circa 1900s) colour print in a dingy area of a church near Port Said. He took a picture and gave me, some years later, a copy of his colour slide (an Italian brand called Ferrania). Here is a scan. The slide was not a good one so I have done the best to correct some of the flaws and bring in the details. My guess is that she is some sort of Coptic Virgin Mary. As to why she seems to be missing an arm I do not know.
An Idea Behind A Burqa
Sunday, June 03, 2012
When possible, as the magazine photographer that I have been I have avoided being political, religious or nasty with my photographs. When assigned to photograph white collar crooks I have always tried to be neutral in my approach. I do remember once working with a writer (so poor that his jeans were torn because they were just plain old) who had been assigned to write about the Vancouver private school St. George’s
. From the very beginning he told me that he disliked the concept of private schools. I made a resolution that I would take pleasant and positive photographs to compensate for the negativity to come.
I once had to photograph a man
who had been accused of murdering his wife and of leaving her dismembered body in garbage bag by the side of a road in Switzerland. He had been found not guilty. When he faced my camera the idea that I was going to dramatically light his face and then his hands, individually, I just could not do it. I could not find the man guilty with my photography even if most people thought he had been set free on a judicial technicality.
When my tango partner (and photographic model), the beautiful 6ft tall Indiana approached me with an idea. I had second thoughts. Somehow she had been reading of the plight of women in Afghanistan and wanted to do her part to protest what the Taliban had been subjecting women to. “I want to do something rude, to prove a point. You are going to photograph me in a burqa and then little by little I will reveal my body parts until I will then cover my whole body but show my face which, according to the Taliban is true pornography.” And so I did. What you see here is a scan of the first picture done as a small giclée.
The idea for this blog came over this weekend as I reread D.M.Thomas’s novel Lady With a Laptop.
This is the paragraph that inspired me to post the picture.
Dear Mr. Hopkins,
I have been command to write to you to inform your novel "Transplanted Hearts" has be shortlist for Shalimar Prize. As you shall know, this distinguishing prize is for best and most spiritously enhancing book from non-Islamic country. The exact amount of prize varies per year, but is always suffice to relieve author of all financial anxieties for many years. Before the last judgment takes place, I have to ask you one question. Should you be award prize, we would have be sure that you shall not use occasion to propagandize on behalf of author Salmon Rushdie, but on contrary express sympathy to Islamic position. May we have your assure on this? I look forward to hear from you.
Lady With A Laptop
D.M. Thomas 1996