Post Mortem - Skulls & Skeletons
Thursday, September 12, 2013
|Sheila Christie & Adrián Verdejo|
In the heyday of paid magazine and
commercial photography in the 80s I regularly commanded a $2000 daily rate that
did not (I repeat, did not include expenses such as gasoline, food and film). Logging
and energy companies paid me this rate, in some cases for a whole week to shoot
across Canada or to spend
the week in BC, Alberta or Saskatchewan.
We all know that those days are long gone.
This year I did a shoot for The Walrus that paid half that rate but it included
all my film.
|Sean Emeny standing, Chris James|
As you might suspect, since film is
expensive (in the 80s since our clients paid for film we used to say, “Film is
cheap.”) the less film you use the more money you can rake in. This is
especially important when what you rake in is minimal.
For years I have been shooting magazine
assignments in which I might use only one roll of medium format transparency
film (10 exposures in the 6x7 cm format).
|Thibaut Eiferman & Danny Nielsen|
In the last 10 years my magazine
assignments have dwindled to nothing and I have spent more time behind my gas
mower than behind my camera on a tripod. That is just the way it is.
But for the last 10 years the Georgia
Straight has tapped me to shoot its Fall Arts issue. Perhaps around 5 years ago
I would take the portrait of two dancers (each one individually), plus musicians,
visual artists, comics and actors.
|Sylvia Grace Borda & Khan Lee|
The bean counters at the Straight figured
that they had to pay me for 10 pictures plus the cover shot. So they had the
idea that I would photograph those people two at a time even if in many cases
the people involved had little in common or did not even know each other. This
was a tough assignment.
This year I have noticed that they have
imposed the same idea on the writer. Instead of the, let’s say, the theatrical
writer having to write two individual pieces (and get paid twice!) they now
combine the two actors as one piece.
|Stephanie Izsak & Josette Jorge makeup by Devon Bree Baker|
I miss those single artist assignments. That
is how I was able to photograph a brand new dancer in Vancouver called Emily Molnar. Alone I could
This year I had to photograph a ballet
dancer with a tap dancer. Go figure!
If this might sound complex, and it is,
consider that for this year’s Fall Arts Preview I used a camera I had only had in
my possession for a week and a half and with which I had only taken five
pictures. The camera in question is my first digital camera, a Fuji X-E1.
I must clarify here that all times during
this assignment (last week) I had in my trunk my medium format Mamiya RB-67 Pro
SD and film, just in case!
Just because I now had a digital camera in
hand I was not about to suddenly succumb to its so-called virtues and shoot
lots. Instead like Odysseus I lashed myself to the mast and ignored my
Circe-like Fuji X-E1. For this week’s cover I did not shoot 10 exposures on a
120 format roll of transparency. I shoot 7 pictures with the digitals.
For the first of the pictures, the
comedians I noticed that in my 5 or 6 exposures there was a variation in the
edges. I corrected this in the rest of the assignment by attaching my little camera
on to my very large tripod. It looked silly but I could concentrate on what I
wanted without having to worry what was in or out of my frame.
|Makeup Devon Bree Baker|
I checked the Straight’s cover today and I
was astounded at the amount of shadow detail at the bottom. This is quite
incredible as the both the singer and the guitar player are dressed in black
and are standing on a black floor.
I shot the pictures with a rating of 100
ISO which is not recommended by Fuji
as they note that I would get a reduced shadow detail!
Every year there is a theme. Last year I
used an Arthur Erickson chair on an Arthur Erickson concrete wall (the roof of
the Dance Centre on Davie).
This year the location was an unusual
design studio run by Wendy Williams Watt on Maple Street. But if you notice in each
of the pictures here (there are 6 not five as the dressed to the teeth actresses
was an alternative cover) you will find either sculls, skeletons or skeletal
hands. Why not?
If you are perceptive enough by now you
must have suspected that my film costs were reasonable.
And lastly I must thank Georgia Straight
Arts Editor, Janet Smith for trusting this old man on a fun project for which I
will even (can you imagine?) be paid.
A Photographer Photographs
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
A photographer photographs.
To do this a photographer has to have a
camera. It has been many years since I left my house with a camera for those
just-in-case moments or simply with the purpose of taking pictures that might
interest me on the way somewhere. In my youth when I was in my early 20s and
particularly when I lived in Mexico,
which was exotic even though I had been there for many years there was always
something that would spark my interest. I felt naked without the weight of my
Pentacon-F or my newer Pentax S-3 around my neck. A camera, particularly these
all-metal ones had heft and there was an impression that when I pressed the
shutter button it was the beginning of an act of magic that would progress from
the latent image in the negative to the backwards reality of the properly
developed negative. From there, I would face the magical ending of seeing the
image emerge in the developer bath.
With the ubiquity of people with cameras I
am not sure if my initial statement, “A photographer photographs,” is valid
now. Should this definition of mine be amended?
My 2007 Chevrolet Malibu sports a small
Municipal Plate on its windshield. For about $235 I can legally park in back alleys
and loading zones for 30 minutes for the purposes of loading or unloading. For
many of us who have these plates it is normal procedure to abuse the privilege. I know
all the safe spots in Vancouver
where parking enforcement of Municipal Plate abuse is nonexistent (or almost
so). I can abuse the city statutes for a whole year without getting a
This means that my Malibu is often parked in seedy back alleys. Nobody
has ever broken into my car.
There is one back alley off Davie and Granville where
I park when I go to Leo’s Camera. It was not too long ago that when I locked my
car I noticed this doorway. While ignorant of the man’s talent I do know enough
to surmise the man on the door is Nick
Cave. Just once, I took out the only camera I was
carrying at the time, my iPhone 3G and I snapped. Three days later the door was painted white.
The Belle Of Amherst - I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Today Tuesday September 10 Rosemary and I watched Julie Harris in the one woman play The Belle of Amherst which was videotaped in 1976. The 90 minute tour de force was written by William Luce and directed by Charles S. Dubin.
After seeing the play I checked my email and found a piece by my friend, the theatrical lighting designer Kyla Gardiner which was her impression of my rose scans. In that beautiful little essay here, there was a line that stood out: When I cast the light upon an actor. It was reminiscent of a poem that Emily Dickinson never wrote.
Those who may read some of my blogs might know that Emily Dickinson is my favourite poet and that one of my favourite pastimes is to illustrate some of her poems with my photographs. If I were a few years younger I would seek a publisher who might be interested in an illustrated book of Dickinson’s poems. I would never take myself seriously enough to seek such a venture as I get enough satisfaction in occasionally doing something like it in my blog. I have also tackled the poems of Jorge Luís Borges and my Mexican poet friend Homero Aridjis.
Below you will find all the blogs of Dickinson poems I have found which I have illustrated with my photographs.
Bravo Bard On The Beach! Bravo Christopher Gaze!
Monday, September 09, 2013
It seems to me that struggling artists are
loved in Vancouver
but as soon as they hit success they are methodically forgotten or considered
It seems to me that somehow we must be coy
about achieving success. Perhaps our underlying ambition might escape notice.
Vancouver institutions, it seems to me experience the same slide in
popularity. When was the last time you might have visited the Vancouver
Umbrella Shop, or the Flag Shop? One of the most beautiful art galleries in our
neck of the woods is the one in Surrey, the Surrey Art Gallery. Have any readers of this blog
ever been there?
A writer, novelist, musician, composer, etc
whose name I will not place here publicly while being on the board of the
Canada Council proclaimed on CBC Radio that he/she had not been at the
Vancouver Art Gallery since Luke Rombout was in charge when the gallery was on
We no longer, it seems to me, use that
hackneyed term “world class”.
While on Skype with an Argentine
intellectual friend of mine in Buenos
Aires he complained the high cost of books there. And
they do not have our Vancouver
“world class” library there. He could not believe that I had found Manuel Vázquez
Montalbán’s Quinteto de Buenos Aires in
Spanish in my local library. While Vázquez Montalbán wrote in Spanish even
though he lived in Barcelona,
Quinteto de Buenos Aires is one of the best novels ever written about the
Shortly before I left Mexico for Vancouver
in 1975, my urbane friend Raúl Guerrero Montemayor warned me, and I translate
from Spanish, “The fact that they are white in Vancouver, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they
are civilized.” He was wrong then and even more now.
Next Sunday I am attending an intimate concert
featuring the Microcosmos String Quartet
. The bill is unique as they will be playing: Henry
Purcell - Chacony in G Minor (arranged by Benjamin Britten), Béla Bartók -
String Quartet No. 4 and Benjamin Britten - String Quartet No. 2. Is Vancouver a cultural
backwater? I don’t think so.
It seems to me that one of our most
treasured and unique (besides Stratford,
Ontario, who else?) cultural and
entertaining (yes! that too!) institutions is our perennial Bard on the Beach.
Some of us might be aware that most of the summer-long productions tend to sell
out. But are the same people (those who know) attending these plays every year?
I don’t think so as I have noticed that when randomly these theatre goers are asked
who is there for the first time, I have seen plenty of hands. This is encouraging.
But, it seems to me, that we have to take stuff
a little less for granted and give credit where it’s due.
Bravo, Bard on the Beach and bravo to its Artistic
Director, Christopher Gaze!
Franz Schubert & Inspector Morse
Sunday, September 08, 2013
I write this late Saturday evening. The
pleasant day with the two granddaughters and our daughter was not as pleasant
as it could have been. My manipulative older granddaughter made sure of that.
She may have created a conflict so she could leave, skip dinner and our family
film to go where she really wanted to go, a date with a friend. Her mother
knows her daughter too well and can see under all the subterfuge but my wife
who believes in the innocence and goodness of most people cannot.
We managed and the four of us watched
Inspector Morse in an episode called Dead on Time. I would not reveal too much
of the plot except to say that one of the protagonists, a possible murder
suspect at one time was a most dear girlfriend to Morse in his young Oxford
days. There is a scene where Morse, the older Morse takes her to a concert that
features Franz Schubert’s exquisite Quintet in C, D. 956. In a latter part
Morse invites the woman to his flat and as he prepares all the food he has the
Schubert on his sound system.
As I took Hilary and Lauren home I played
the Quintet in the car’s sound system. And I told them a short story.
When I was in quinto grado in my school (a
bi-lingual American school in Buenos
Aires) our teacher read a biography of Schubert in
Spanish. She read for 15 minutes every day at the end of the class. I have no
memory of my teacher’s (she was a woman) name nor do I remember her features. I
remember a droning voice with a clipped Argentine accent that began always
thusly, “De la biografía de Franz Schubert, capítulo segundo (o tercero o
cuarto)… and she would read to us.
I had no idea who this Franz Schubert was
except to vaguely remember he had to do with a city in Austria called Vienna.
And yet, today, September 7, 2013 as I was
driving my family home it occurred to me that my anonymous teacher taught me