My Respite From Isolation
Saturday, February 02, 2013
|Itzel Bazerque Patrich, Juan Manuel Sánchez, Nora Patrich, Santiago Giral|
My bohemian art world ceased 7 years ago. Not that I was ever much of a bohemian or even an artist. My world before I met Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich, two Argentine painters who were married to each other, was a world of magazine photography and annual reports. The art photographers of the city did not give me the time of day. I was a commercial hack. Secretly I believed there was an artistic streak in me but I had never really exploited it until I met the Argentines. I knew them for about 6 years before the separated and left for Buenos Aires on separate planes in 2006.
Before 2006 I was in constant communication with the pair as they lived near. We talked for hours on the phone and I visited them at any hour without much warning. We drank mate
listened to tango
, discussed art and planned and worked on projects we called colaboraciones. Anything I might suggest was a go. They were eager. We used my studio or their home which was full of antiques, books and kinds of stuff like swords, masks, mirrors, hats, etc. We persuaded all kinds of women and men to take off their clothes so they would pose for us. Both Patrich and Sánchez were rapid and skilful sketchers but every once in a while would tell me to slow down as my “instant” art (they never ever deprecated photography) required less time for individual poses. The three of us were fascinated with Argentine nostalgia which included an interest in Jorge Luís Borges’s labyrinths
or the lyrics of forgotten tangos. We shared reading material. Sánchez plunked a Chilean edition of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain
and told me to read it. I did.
With them I met other people with a passion for the arts.
|Juan, Nora & Laura Machi|
When Patrich and Sánchez left my world collapsed I fell into an isolation that has really not ever left me. I cannot understand why the people I know here are reluctant to collaborate. One painter acquaintance of mine does not like to draw figure work. The painter is unsure and would rather work from a photograph.
When I approach subjects to be my models they are reluctant to work the way I worked with Sánchez, Patrich and our Argentine models. We might have work for days and one of our subjects, Linda Lorenzo
posed for us for almost a year. I have yet to find passion and commitment in this city which since 1975 has been my city.
My isolation has had a respite today. Nora Patrich, in Vancouver for a few weeks and Julia worked today on a little project that Patrich will place in an exhibition in July 2014 in the Museum of Eva Perón in Buenos Aires. She is placing some of her work and also curating the show which is going to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of Eva Perón’s death.
Our little project will consist of my photograph, a painting and a video by an Argentine video artist. Our theme is: “Last night I dreamt I was Eva Perón.”
We worked quickly as if the seven years had only been a week before. Afterwards Rosemary had bought some wonderful medias lunas, dulce de leche and ham. We ate the croissants and picked on some fruit while sipping on mate. It was a short version of paradise for me. I am writing now because I want to prolong the pleasure knowing that tomorrow I will wake up feeling empty with that isolation that is best described in Spanish as enajenado.
Patrich has promised to return and who knows I just might scrape some money and attend that opening in Buenos Aires in July of 2014. And of course this would mean I might get together with Juan Manuel Sánchez and a colaboracíon could be in the making.
|Carmen Aguirre, Nora Patrich, Itzel Bazerque Patrich, Juan Manuel Sánchez & La Facunda |
|Juan Manuel Sanchez y la Facunda|
In the company of Argentines
Live Art/Acto Vivo
Mate and an ostrich egg
Nostalgia for women in skirts and dresses
The essence of a woman
Journey back to the source
|Nora Patrich, January 30, 2013|
The Accidental Activist & Me
Friday, February 01, 2013
Three months ago I received an email from a man called Brian Morgan. He told me that he had once worked at Duthie Books and while I did not know him he knew me. He further told me that when Duthie Books closed he had to re-invent himself. He became the art director of the only really good Canadian magazine left. The Walrus
is a magazine in the spirit of the various incarnations of Saturday Night
, a magazine I was lucky enough to contribute many times.
Morgan asked me if I wanted to photograph a Nobel Laureate. He also informed me he was going to pay me. The payment in question was pretty good.
I could not believe it. Days before I had been contemplating that as a magazine photographer I had as good a chance of getting work in today’s market as General Douglas MacArthur had after he was fired by President Harry Truman. Like MacArthur I could see my image fading in front of a mirror. I felt I was a badly fixed b+w print, a spark plug gap adjusting tool, or Ferdinand the Bull.
While not feeling exactly sorry for myself I thought the last bullet in my revolver had been fired.
Not so and today I can report that my photograph of activist and Nobel Laureate Mark Jaccard is up on The Walrus web page and probably must be a full page bleed (I hope!) in the hard copy magazine.
I can remember that some time in 1976 I had my first cover in a magazine in Vancouver. It was a travel trade magazine. My picture was a shot of Tulum in Mexico. I was thrilled. This was the first of hundreds of covers I eventually had through the years in some of the world’s best magazines. That thrill of a cover or a nice inside picture has never diminished. And today I am thrilled to see my picture in The Walrus. What’s next? Certainly not Ferdinand's pasture. Not quite yet.
The Accidental Activist - The Walrus
Dianne Neufeld, Billy Wider And The Man Nobody Could Stand
Thursday, January 31, 2013
There’s a lot of talk about how the BC film industry is suffering these days. Specifically, how American producers are forgoing BC locations because of the lack of competitive tax incentives. For local film crews, this is grim news. For me, it brings back Dianne Neufeld’s prophetic words from way back in the eighties. Neufeld – a former BC Film Commissioner during the industry’s formative years – used to say: “This could all disappear in the blink of an eye.”
Of course, Neufeld was also fond of saying: “I’m just a bureaucrat.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it was her creative problem solving and constant diligence that proved instrumental in helping to make BC one of the three most popular feature film locations in North America.
I know this because I spent the better part of a decade writing about locally shot movies for the Globe and Mail
and other publications. I recall Alex taking a picture of Dianne with a couple of extras from Clan of the Cave Bear
. (We were collaborating on a business piece for Harvey Southam’s Equity.) It was an elaborate set-up that involved Dianne sacrificing her lunch hour. She didn’t hesitate for a second.
She told me it was because producers on scouting missions were actually reading what I was writing and deciding to make movies here. At the time, I didn’t tell her that I would have done it for nothing. You just never knew who you’d end up having a conversation with.
There’s a lot of waiting around on film sets. So I quickly developed the philosophy of talking to anybody who was willing to talk back. I recall seeing a man sitting by himself, surrounded by nothing but empty chairs. This is very unusual on a film set. When I asked one of the crew what was going on, she whispered that he was some big deal from LA. “But don’t go near the guy. He’ll bite your head off.”
“Nobody can stand him.”
I sat a couple of chairs away. Eventually, the man asked me what I was doing onset. I explained who I was. Looking at me with thinly veiled suspicion, he asked: “Who’s your favourite director?” I thought maybe the wrong answer would get me a punch in the nose.
But I decide to be honest and say: “Billy Wilder.”
“Really? Wilder, huh?”
“No question. Wilder’s the best.”
The man breaks into a big smile, moves over to sit next to me and begins to talk about the last scene in Double Indemnity. He starts getting excited, waving his arms around, laughing. Out of the corner of my eye I see a member of the crew thinking: “What the hell’s going on here?”
It turns out the man is the former head of a major studio. When I say: “You must really like Billy Wilder too,” he tells me: “Like him? He’s one of my closest friends! I just had lunch with him at his apartment in New York.”
At the time, Wilder’s Manhattan apartment was famous – the walls covered with priceless art that he’d been collecting for decades. I ask what the inside of the place is like and my new pal begins describing it in detail. Then he leans over as if confiding a huge secret.
“Billy’s thinking of selling most of his collection because he can’t sleep at night. He’s afraid the people upstairs are going to leave their bathtub running and it’s going to ruin a Picasso.”
A few more minutes of this. And then he says: “Next time you’re in New York, give me a call. The three of us can have lunch.”
“The three of us?”
“Yeah. You, me and Billy.”
I consider telling the man that I don’t have his phone number. But I don’t want to spoil the moment. I’m just about to go – out of my chair, on my way – when the man puts his hand on my shoulder.
“Thanks for talking to me,” he says. “It was really nice.”
John Lekich on Nicola Cavendish
John Lekich's latest novel
Boeing-Boeing - Blithering, Blathering, Brainless, Banal and…
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
.4 laughter, laughing, hilarity 870.5, risibility; laugh; boff or boffola or yuck [all slang]; titter; giggle; chuckle, chortle; cackle, crow; snicker, snigger, snort; ha-ha, hew-haw, hee-hee, ho-ho, tee-hee, yuk-yuk; guffaw, horselaugh; hearty laugh, belly laugh [slang], Homeric laughter, cachinnation: shout, shriek, shout of laughter, burst or burst of laughter, peal or roar of laughter, gales of laughter, fit of laughter, convulsion, “laughter holding both his sides” [Milton]
Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition, 1977
Rosemary and I attended the opening performance of Marc Camoletti’s (translated by Beverley Cross & Francis Evans) Boeing-Boeing
at the Art Club Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday.
I can report here that I learned nothing and was not inspired. The play did not challenge me as good art should. In short the play only made me (and Rosemary who rarely does that) laugh and laugh.
The purpose of a Greek play is to bring the audience to catharsis. Boeing-Boeing brought me a catharsis of hilarity in a week of depressing melancholy, gloom and humidity.
Boeing-Boeing succeeds then an all counts as it entertains and lightens life’s load if only for a couple of hours.
There is more to Boeing-Boeing if like me you are over a certain age. I am 70 and I remember (too stupid to realize that there were two reasons not, one) that there was one very good reason to fly TWA. It meant that if you were lucky (and lucky I was) you would fly in the world’s most beautiful airliner, the Lockheed Super Constellation. Since I was in my late teens, I was too stupid to notice that TWA airliners also had beautiful stewardesses elegantly dressed in crisp and starched uniforms that tended to cover (and thus reveal in some strange sort of way) that these stewardesses had superstructures that rivaled Lockheeds in quality and elegance.
As I grew older I understood the ancillary perks of air travel. When I had to fly from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, I made sure that I flew Varig. By then late teens I knew that Varig had the reputation for the most exotically beautiful stewardesses.
Boeing-Boeing in 2013 is pure nostalgia for a better world before Air Canada flight attendants carried snapshots of their grandchildren in their flight bags.
Boeing-Boeing in 2013 should make those younger than I am feel guilty and rage over the obvious lothario, Bernard, so wonderfully played by the tripping Jonathan Young
. I must point out here that I recently sold (for very good money) every picture I ever took of Young to an admirer, Oksana, in Belarus. As we would have said back in the 60s Young has SA (not Scandinavian Airlines but Sex Appeal) in spades.
For someone for nostalgia for the golden age of air travel, the three stewardesses, Moya O’Connell (Gabriella from Alitalia), Kimberley Sustad (Gloria, TWA) and Colleen Wheeler
(Gretchen, Lufthansa) provided me with plenty of curves that mimicked that lovely Super Constellation. From my seat on stage right I saw lots of leg and more. And this did not count the over-the top fake accents (German, Italian, American). Andrew McNee (I am still in confusion on why he stopped using glasses part way through the play) was perfect as the naïve American from the Midwest. But the only actor (actress in the parlance of my own times) who was able to out-compete Colleen Wheeler’s stewardess/dominatrix from hell was Nicola Lipman as Berthe, Bernard’s French housekeeper. She played a droll but dry almost benign Lotte Lenya as a Rosa Klebb minus the retracting shoe daggers.
Director David Mackay
expertly directed the strategically important opening and closing of doors with nary a squeak and many satisfying slams.
Rosemary and I left the Stanley satisfied with the assurance that Reader’s Digest
indeed had hit it on the head when they told us that laugher is the best medicine.
Addendum: In October 1995, two photographer friends of mine and me having lunch at Subbeez on Homer spotted a lovely freckled read-haired server. I had an idea and I asked her if she would pose for the three of us separately. She did.
During my various photo sessions with her she told me she had the ambition of being an actor. Later on I saw her on Bard on the Beach
and just a few years ago she had a rave review in the NY Times for one of her performances at Stratford in Ontario. I am happy to report that Moya O’Connell plays an Italian as well as Lollobrigida; they have a few things in common that no airline uniform could possibly hide. She will be continuously employed as an actor and she will never, ever, get a job for Air Canada.
Sylvie Desroches Revisited
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
My oldest granddaughter, is now 15 and some of what I wrote about my daughter Ale being that age is happening again but much differently and with worse consequences. It is my hope that as Rebecca gets older her life will in some way become the better one that Sylvie Desroches is living today.
More Innocent Times
Sunday, April 18, 2010
I was 7 or 8 and I was rolling down the grassy slopes of a park in Buenos Aires, called Barrancas de Belgrano. I was approached by a bunch of friendly older boys who offered to give me a white balloon. I was very happy to accept it as I have always loved balloons. I took it home and my mother was horrified.
It would seem that even then, in more innocent times, one had to be careful of strangers. I remember that one day I decided to go straight home from school and take the train (I was 8) without waiting for my mother to put me on the train. I had an abono or rail pass so the ticket man on the train did not question me. When I got to my station at Coghlan I calmly got off the train and walked the four blocks home. When my mother arrived later I was given a very nasty paliza (whipping).
When I started blogging in January of 2006 I had no idea of what blogging was all about. I quickly made it a vehicle of the discovery of my everyday life as seen with the help of my then 7 year-old granddaughter Rebecca. Of late I have included Lauren who is now 7 with the idea that my second granddaughter deserves equal time.
My friend and neighbour Robert Freeman warns me that I must never write in my blog my intention of going on a vacation or to reveal any other information that might ease the entry of a housebreaking thief. I take his advice lightly and I mostly ignore it.
My grandmother used to give me the advice, “Piensa mal, y acertarás
.” This translates to, “Think the worst of a person or situation and you will be right.” My mentor and teacher Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. countered it with, “Never expect anything and you will never be disappointed.” I have always opted for Brother Edwin’s idea of trusting people since most people are good, than the counter policy of not trusting anybody at all times.
It was about a year after I started my blog that Rebecca and I went to an Arts Umbrella dance function in Richmond’s Gateway Theatre. Rebecca had twisted her ankle at the last moment so she ended up being a spectator instead of a participant. During the intermission she asked for some money to buy sweets and I waited in the lobby. A pleasant gentleman came up to me and said, “You must be Alex.” I was a bit surprised since I did not know the man from Adam. “How do you know this?” I asked. “I have seen you with Rebecca whom I know from your blog so you must be Alex.”
I must admit that I was a bit shaken but then I realized the man meant no harm. Since then I have been approached by all sorts of people with the same sort of comment. We have gone to the theatre or the ballet and perfect strangers have come up to us and greeted Rebecca as if they knew her.
My blog would not be the blog it is if I could not write about my granddaughters and proudly display my portraits of them. I am fortunate that Rebecca and Lauren’s parents, Hilary and Bruce Stewart are trusting parents who allow me to display my pictures of their children.
But this weekend they drew the line when I asked Hilary (Rebecca and Lauren’s mother) if I could photograph Rebecca’s Quebec City billet (exchange student) Miriam with the two girls backstage after Ballet BC’s matinee performance on Saturday. Hilary was adamantly negative with a, “No way.” I did not proceed with my plan. I explained to Miriam when we were backstage with Connor Gnam that I would not include her in the picture because I had no parental permission. Miriam who is 13 and much older and wiser in many ways than Rebecca looked at me incredulously.
It was when Hilary was 16 that she billet, Sylvie Desroches, came from Quebec City. Sylvie stayed with us and I was most impressed by her more adult qualities, just like the ones I discern in Miriam even at age 13. Like Miriam, who is half Italian and half Moroccan, Sylvie was lovely so I photographed her using Hollywood lighting techniques of the 30s to photograph her in our living room sofa. The pictures you see here are the ones where she looks the oldest. There are more where she is more childlike and if I were to post them I would be crucified (perhaps?) by Hilary and others.
I never “posted” (a word or special resonance for the 21st Century) a picture of Sylvie and I never exhibited at any photography show. But I did write a blog about her here
in May 2009.
The world has so changed since Sylvie first came to visit us that I did not even dare ask Hilary if I could photograph Miriam and capture her exotic beauty. I would have loved to photograph her with her billet, Rebecca.
But perhaps in these less innocent times I must heed my grandmother’s advice.
Sylvie Desroches - Girl/Woman
Thursday, May 07, 2009
There are many reasons why I am posting pictures of Sylvie Desroches today. There is even a good reason why I posting two similar pictures of Sylvie Desroches today.
I have photographed my daughters all these years with some regularity. But there was a period when I was uncertain. This was when Hilary was 12 and Ale was 15. I told Rosemary, “I think I am going to ask photographer James La Bounty to photograph our daughters.” “Why?” she asked me and continued, “He is going to be expensive and you are a photographer. What for?" I told her that as their father I would see them as little girls for some time to come, and La Bounty, not being related to the girls would be objective and see them as girls approaching womanhood. He would photograph them as such. Rosemary hated the pictures that La Bounty took. It would seem that she was not prepared, also, to see her girls grown up. After a couple of years Rosemary began to tolerate the pictures that were on our living room wall and a bit later she even told me she liked them. Since then the pictures have been put in storage. That moment of uncertainty between girl and woman is gone. Ale is 40 and Hilary is 37.
But now it is about to return as our Rebecca, Hilary's older daughter, will soon be 12. Next year she is going to Quebec on a school student exchange. And a year later a Quebec girl will stay with Rebecca.
It was when Hilary was 16 that her exchange student came to Vancouver to stay with us. Sylvie Desroches was a lively and sophisticated young girl. At the time I was crazy about classic Hollywood lighting so I asked her if she would pose for me on our living room sofa. I have never really made up my mind if exposure 7 or exposure 8 is the better portrait of a 16 year-old going on 20. So I am posting both here.
I wonder if Hilary has made any effort to find Sylvie. Perhaps she will become curious when Rebecca travels next year.
And when Rebecca is around 15 how will I photograph her? I am not her father. But as her grandfather will I still see her as a little girl? Or will I see the woman she is bound to become by then? Just another big reason to want to be alive.
Addendum: Rosemary reminded me of a few facts I had forgotten. Hilary and Rebecca, when Rebecca was 3, went to Quebec City to visit Sylvie. She was divorced and had a daughter called Margarite. Sylvie had a new boyfriend that she adored. Sylvie's mother was very kind to Rebecca but they could not communicate because they had no language in common. Rebecca called to inform me that Sylvie now lives in Alberta.
I Wrote - She Wrote
Monday, January 28, 2013
I utilize facebook and Twitter as places where I can link to my blog. Many of my friends and complete strangers at one time may have had an RSS feed to the blog or simply checked on it every once in a while. But such is the march of technology that many of those fans out there expect to see the posting in facebook or Twitter that will take them directly to my blog. It sometimes irks me that some of these people will click on the “I like”, write “nice pic” or then pose a question that makes it obvious they only looked at the posted picture but did not read the accompanying copy of the blog. As of this date there are exactly 2642 blogs that started in January 2006. Most would find it impossible to navigate through so many postings. My advice is to use Google. As an example you might find something interesting (the comma is important) if you search this: alex waterhouse-hayward, neil Armstrong or alex waterhouse-hayward, babies, weddings & pornography.
One way I try to help the serious problem of navigation is to post links to old blogs into both facebook and Twitter. My choice of blogs in most cases is random. Today I am doing something different. I am re-posting two separate blogs that were up on the same day, Dec, 7, 2006. I am very proud of these two blogs in which I write and she (the model) writes about the experience of posing in the nude for photographs in a studio. I smiled when I looked at the original files of Joanne Chabot (the nom de plume that the quite prominent local journalist used for her essay). I smiled because my essay was originally titled: Communicating with your subject while making love with your camera
. The bulk of the pictures that I took appeared at an erotic photography show in December 2003. I cannot really post these here as I have tried to maintain a fairly loose (I have broken it few times) policy of not showing bits that might offend.
There is an ulterior motive for running this pair of blogs again. In 2003 when I was shooting Joanne Chabot I was a fairly youthful looking 61 year-old man, or at least I though I looked it. But to my horror and deep hurt Ms Chabot told me that there were many things about sex and nudity that I would never understand as I was an old man. I understood (even though she did not actually state it) that she would have considered my having sex with my ever so slightly younger wife as something in the realm of both pornography and bad taste. I was a dirty old man. In Spanish the term “dirty old man” is “viejo verde” which I find to be a much more colourful and almost endearing epithet. But Ms Chabot left me devastated and depressed. With few (close to none) magazine assignments my cameras lie almost idle in camera bags. I shoot rarely but when I do I opt for what my friend Ian Bateson calls my oeuvre, which is to photograph the undraped female figure. My idol, Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo took daily early morning nudes alter his coffee. Was it the coffee or the nude photography that kept him alive until his 100 birthday? I would like to follow his footsteps and in particular as he took one of his most exquisite and most erotic photographs “El Trapo Negro” (look it up as I cannot post it here) when he was 84. This fact gives me impetus to fight my wife’s prediction that at my present rate of decline I will die when I am 75.
I received another impetus to my pursuit of the undraped female figure two days ago. Rosemary and I watched the 1969 film Age of Consent (only available at Limelight Video
) directed by Canterbury-born Michael Powell and produced by Powell and no less than James Mason who played Humbert Humbert in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 Lolita. What is most relevant to my story here is that in Age of Consent, Mason plays a cynical and bored but successful painter who has lost his lust for life and decides to live for a while on an island off the Queensland, Australia coast. His time of relaxation is soon broken by the appearance of a very young (and very well endowed) Helen Mirren! By the end of the film, Mason who never shows anything but a professional approach to his sketches and paintings of the nude Mirren is refreshed and finds a purpose in his life and new inspiration to paint. He thanks Mirren, “You have given me back my eyes.” What makes this film a most un-Lolita
kind of film is that Mason, until the final credits begin to run, keeps his professionalism intact (not to touch) and Mirren says, I don’t only want to be the model you sketch and paint… Unlike Mason in 1969 who was a youthful 60 I am now 70. But I have regained my vigour to keep on with life pursuit of the undraped female figure.
With the photographs at that erotic show there was a framed hand-written note by Joanne Chabot that some might find interesting.
The Tension Is There, Dec 7, 2006
It was a combination of the anticipation of a sexual interaction with someone unknown and what I was going to do with her that had me not sleeping nights waiting for my 4 pm, January 18, 2003 appointment with Joanne Chabot.
Joanne is a 33-year-old writer with a ballet background. I know her professionally. She was coming to my studio to pose nude for my camera. I have photographed many women and quite a few men in the nude. But still each one provides me with pleasure, surprise, and excitement– similar to the feeling of anticipating one of my photographs on the cover of a magazine. Even after a few hundred covers the thrill is always there.
Just like at one time people said they bought Playboy
to read the articles, there are photographers who say they like to shoot nudes because they like the simple and compound curves of the human body. They say the body can be abstract or can resemble a sand dune. They may be right but I would point out that ostriches and skunks are also made up of curves... And sand dunes don’t charge by the hour.
I like to shoot nudes because I am attracted to the human body. It’s a myth that there is no sexual interplay in figure photography. There is. And it is because of this sexual conflict that the photographer must practice special care.
Elliott Erwitt, on a Life Magazine
assignment to photograph an open-heart operation, decided to watch a day before the shoot. As soon as the patient was opened up Erwitt promptly fainted. The surgeon had second thoughts in allowing Erwitt back but Erwitt asserted, “I’ll be fine tomorrow, my camera will be my barrier.” And so it was.
And so it is with nude photography. If your subjects trust you, like patients with their doctor, they’ll allow you to peek into their soul. Through mutual trust you can sometimes reveal the subject’s most intimate emotions. This professional relationship can be fragile when your subject is nude.
The best piece of advice I ever got on the subject was, “ If you don’t plan to take photographs, don’t take your camera.” There seems to be a long running cliché that photographers do it more often. Could it be that there is the pressure to overtly make a pass at the model in an intimate photo session? The idea that women are turned on by photographers was popularized in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow Up
. Verushka, the super model of her time, seemed to achieve sexual climax at the feet of camera toting David Hemmings on his studio floor. I can feel sexual tension when I photograph my nude subjects. I think this tension helps in the taking of the photographs. I allow it to remain. Touch could make it crumble.
I told Joanne to change in a special cubicle I have in my studio just for that. The idea of telling an almost complete stranger to strip in front of the camera is not only difficult for the subject but for me the photographer, too. Since I was formed firmly in the 20th century I do not have the carefree approach to nudity that the younger Joanne seemed to have. She removed her clothes in my presence, and I chose to do the gentlemanly thing and I turned around.
There are some who believe that with a model in front of your camera all you need do is click the shutter and the model will do the rest. This rarely happens but if you watch your models during rest periods they invariably strike a good pose. I like to pre-conceive my photographs and I use a couple of tricks that have served me well. One of them involves the idea of the narrative. Can I take 5 pictures that will tell a story when placed in a row? I think of an introduction shot, a strong central shot, a fun shot picture that may run after the first shot and at the end (a profile) looking at the previous 4 pictures. I always pick a theme and work around it. I knew Joanne was a dancer and as such I could feature her graceful hands.
Usually I don’t experiment with new techniques, new film combinations, or use tricky lighting with a model I have not photographed before. For the first session I keep it simple. I like to use one soft light. By using a reflector or moving my subject close to a white wall or away I can control contrast. I will take with a main camera loaded with normal B+W film, and load a 35mm camera with B+W infrared to supplement the pictures, because I like what that film does to skin. I don’t believe that bad photographs can be fixed later. They have to be near perfect from the beginning. If you cannot correct the problem it is best not to shoot it.
Sometimes the reason for not shooting is more than just technical. In 1990 I faced noted writer George Plimpton. I was awed. Plimpton shared a story with me that broke the ice. “Years ago when Muhammad Ali was known as Cassius Clay, the boxer lay defeated in his dressing room after having been out punched by Frazier. Photographer Gordon Parks and I were covering the event for Life
. Norm raised his Nikon to his eye and what he saw was defeat. It almost looked like the corpse of Che Guevara on the marble slab of that Bolivian morgue. He lowered his camera and looking at me he said, ‘I can’t do it.’ And he didn’t.”
I always have Plimpton’s story in my mind. The photographer has to respect his subject, particularly one who may be in a vulnerable position. Being nude in front of a camera surely is. For some models certain parts of the body are okay to be photographed, others are not. If I disagree I sometimes will take a Polaroid (which as a record can be destroyed) and sometimes my model will come around. But if they are adamant I must respect the choice and refrain from shooting. The camera is a barrier but it shouldn’t be so opaque as to prevent us from seeing and thinking of what we are doing.
Posing For Alex, Dec 7, 2006
When I learned of the opportunity to pose nude for a joint photo/writing project with Alex, the first thing that came to mind were black-and-white images of beautiful women a former boyfriend had taken. A talented photographer outside his day job, he chose nude women as his preferred subject matter. His shots, some of which hung on his living-room walls, were erotic not pornographic, tasteful not tacky.They also made me crumple.
Instead of seeing pieces of art, I saw women far more appealing–far more lovely and gorgeous and smooth and delicate–than I would ever be. He never compared me to the women who modelled for him, but I did. “I’ll never look like that,” I thought. I turned those images into direct comments on my own body. I would obsess on my small-ish breasts and a less-than-smooth butt. I allowed his photos to make me feel inferior, inadequate, sometimes ugly. Once or twice the photos reduced me to tears.
So the prospect of putting myself in front of another photographer’s camera, unclothed, was daunting. If I was so aware of my self-perceived flaws in front of the mirror, surely they would be the first thing I’d notice in stark black-and-white prints. In revealing my imperfect body to this artist–also male–I would be unveiling not only my physical imperfections but also my emotional vulnerability. Alex left the choice up to me. He never tried to persuade me to do something I didn’t want to do. It helped that he is a professional with a solid track record–he’s photographed Evelyn Hart and has had his work in publications like Readers’ Digest. I knew I could trust him–and ultimately, that trust made our time together work.
I knew he had no ulterior motives or inappropriate goals. I knew he wasn’t some dirty old man looking for an excuse to see some flesh, or worse, to try and get me in bed. He wasn’t out to create soft porn. I wouldn’t have said Yes if I felt the least bit wary of his intentions, and I’d never put myself in a similar position, so to speak, with someone who I felt lacked professionalism, skill, and integrity. The project depended as much on his technical ability as his interpersonal skills. And given his breadth of experience, I knew he would find a way to make me feel as comfortable as possible. We had a purpose, and we had to work as a team.
So as much as the session was a challenge, it was also an opportunity. It was a chance for me to face my fears. And it was a chance for me to say to someone–and to myself–this is the real me. It was a very real test to see if I could put my insecurities to rest.
As a rookie “model”, I didn’t know exactly what to expect or how to prepare. I had envisioned Alex’s studio as a small, semi-swank joint given its Robson Street address instead of the sparse grey room with a faux brick fireplace in a creaky old building. Two of his portraits hung on one wall. Perhaps the room’s unpretentious ambiance helped create a relaxed mood. It also helped that we chatted about that day’s peace march and weather before determining, together, where to start. We picked a theme: a dancer portrayed in “undancerly” poses. We flipped through a book of Edgar Dégas paintings to generate ideas but not to pick a pose to re-create. We began with me in my favourite pair of jeans. It wasn’t so bad to stand in front of a single light and a camera without a shirt on– if I was going to spend an afternoon in the buff I might as well lose any sense of discomfort or embarrassment from the top. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel any apprehension. That said, the situation never felt horribly awkward. Alex was encouraging when it came to coming up with specific poses without being condescending or overbearing. We seemed to have a mutually respectful rapport that included rational, intelligent dialogue.
Once we’d decided on a pose, Alex would set up the shot and take a Polaroid before using “real” film to make sure the image was one we were both happy with. Having a good idea of what the final product would look like was incredibly helpful; I didn’t have to worry that the results would be horrible. And Alex had assured me that if he couldn’t make a pose look good, we wouldn’t do it.
My voice of insecurity whispered a bit louder when it came time to strip to the raw. We joked a bit about this being the “embarrassing” part. For about half a minute I did feel embarrassed about standing fully naked in front of Alex. Still, his easy, professional manner put me at ease. And I think he was probably more embarrassed to learn that I’m an advocate of Brazilian waxing–than I was to show him my bare bum.
I had long wondered whether such a situation would be erotic for either the artist or the subject. I can’t speak for Alex, but for me, although the experience can be a sensuous one in fantasy, it wasn’t in real life. Maybe I was too consumed with trying to do a good job. However, for a few brief instances, like when I was lying on a silk sheet, I felt like the one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.
There were niggly things about the session, like me being too hot then too cold. We didn’t play any music because it was more of a distraction than anything. One thing I hadn’t anticipated was fatigue. We spent nearly five hours together. I didn’t think about the experience actually involving some “work” on my part. But posing took concentration and patience and creativity and openness; about three-quarters of the way through I started to run out of steam. I imagine that Alex felt the same way.
In retrospect, I wish I had been more bold or inventive with poses, but at the time my level of confidence would only go so far. The fact that I was able to pull it off–no pun intended–was an enormous accomplishment.
I took six Polaroid images with me after we were done. In two, the first thing I notice are what I perceive as flaws. In four, I think I look pretty good. Some day I might even think I look hot.
I’m grateful I had a chance to work with a photographer I respect and whose work I admire. In that regard, the session was an honour. I’m also thankful I’ll have lasting images of me at this stage of my life. When I’m 90 and wishing I could still dance, I’ll have these reminders of the way my body used to be, the way I used to look. I’m sure then I’ll think how ridiculous it was for me to feel anything but radiant.
Like any experience, fine details fade away. But what lingers after this session with Alex are two qualities that seep into other areas of life: how important trust is in a personal relationship, and how crucial self-love is to begin with.
Books To Die For
Sunday, January 27, 2013
It was President Juan Domingo Perón who when I was a child told us that books were valuable and sacred. He told us to protect them and never write on them. To this day, while being aware that a few years later Perón burned books, I value books and never bend pages or write on them. There are many methods available to mark a page or point to a quote that does not deface the integrity of a book.
Yesterday I spent my whole day dusting my large book collection that must amount to about 4,000 tomes. While doing this I noted the sad loss of many through unreturned loans or perhaps as gifts. I have been looking for a perfectly bound edition of G. K Chesterton’s short stories, including his Father Brown series to no avail. Did I lend it or give it away? It was around just a couple of years ago when I noted that H.G. Wells had become unreadable while Chesterton kept freshness relevant to my present world.
I like to look at the back page of the NY Times’s Book Review
. It is always and ad for Bauman Rare Books. I once visited the shop on 535 Madison Avenue in New York City and I can attest that it is almost as wonderful experience as a visit to the Metropolitan.
Today’s NY Times ad lists Gone with the Wind
– Margaret Mitchell: 1936, an American Classic, inscribed and signed in the year of publication. $24,000
Others in the list are John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
for $14,000 and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
In 1992 I photographed author John Dunning at the now gone Mystery Merchant bookstore on 4th Avenue. Dunning’s books then were mysteries that featured a used book collector called Cliff Janeway and it was in those books that I found out that books had value, particularly when they were rare and not necessarily because of their literary value. In some cases it was about a book that had early mass appeal, purchased in the thousands and then thrown away. So if you happen to have a pristine edition (a first edition) with an intact dust jacket of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot
you might be able to sell it and get the down payment for a Bentley.
I have no idea how that market has shifted now that fewer people are buying books or reading them as hard cover books. I do know that at one time I had many more books but I got rid of my worthless (in the eyes of John Dunning) Book-of-the-Month Club collection. In fact if you want to live dangerously visit Macleod Books on West Pender and tell owner Don Stewart that you have a clean Book-of-the-Month-Club edition of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
. I have no idea if Stewart might have stowed in his desk drawer a Smith&Wesson for such a situation.
I have one of those The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’s to remind me of my folly and yet I value the moments spent reading it.
Do we buy books because of their market value? Some do. I was given William Gibson’s Neuromancer
(a British first edition) by its author. It is still worth at least $2000 and even more if he had not dedicated it to this unknown photographer.
As for Dunning I have not seen any of his books recently nor have I checked on the value of a first edition Booked to Die. The price is irrelevant. My cheap pocket book edition gave me pleasure enough.