A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.
The Imagination of Revenge
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Last Saturday, Rosemary, our daughter
Hilary and Hilary’s younger daughter Lauren, 11, and I watched King Solomon’s
Mines after dinner. I make it a point to select a film for us
to watch that will please everybody. In many cases I have seen the films before
and usually I had seen them as a boy.
As a man of 71 I can laughingly comment
that I would surely dump my wife of 45 years forDeborah Kerr (or Charlotte Rampling or Molly
Parker). Rosemary smiles but does not know how serious I am really. My eldest
granddaughter Rebecca is shocked and said so that I would opt for a dead woman
(Kerr) over my very much alive wife.
I have no idea if Rosemary thinks the same
(would she dump me for the handsome dead star?) about the other star of King
Solomon’s Mines, Stewart Granger. But what is important is that it is human to
dream, to imagine and associate.
For today I took out the 1934 version of Alexandre Dumas's
The Count of Montecristo, directed by Rowland V. Lee and with Robert Donat and
My reason for picking these films is that I
remember them as the films of my boyhood. Life was simple. You went to school,
you ate and you went to the movies. There were only five classifications for
movies worth seeing, they were conboys (Argentine Spanish), de guerra (war),
espadachines (sword fighters but especially with fencing foils), piratas and
that exclusive classification, Tarzán.
I had read 13 of Andrea Camilleri’s novels
featuring Salvo Montalbano, a comisario of police in Sicily before I first saw the wonderful
Italian TV series Montalbanowith Luca
Singaretti as the sensitive man who likes to eat and swim.
For many of us who read novels before
seeing films the often-made argument is if the actor or actress fits our idea
of the protagonist of the novel. For many Basil Rathbone was and is Sherlock
Holmes. For John le Carré we know that after having seen Alec Guinness play
George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the TV series, somehow the man,
Guinness had taken his character, Smiley out of his head and that he, le Carré
would henceforth have a hard time writing about that protagonist.
Few today would ever read To Kill a
Mockingbird and not imagine Atticus Finch not being Gregory Peck.
But in spite of the reality of a film and
its actors supplanting the imagination of the characters of a novel I see
imagination still with us and important.
Earlier today, Lauren was playing in the
living room. She was putting her fingers in the soil of my potted plants. I
asked her what she was doing. Her reply startled me, “I don’t know what I am
doing,” and she grinned as she told me. I realized that somehow I had broken a
game of her imagination.
When Rebecca was 8 I proposed to my friend,
Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sánchez that he teach her to draw and paint. At
the time Rebecca was just three blocks away. I found it practical that Rebecca
would learn art from a master while conversing in Spanish. Sánchez was adamant
that this was not a good idea. He explained that a child until 11 or 12 had to
be left alone to play with their imagination. They had to be left alone so that
they could draw loosely without any restraints of an imposed style.
Ancillary to this was that old-time dictum
(is it still relevant today?) that you never asked a very young child what a
sketch or painting was supposed to represent. Nor were we supposed to ask, “What
did you learn in school today?”
It seems we had to be careful not to
destroy that world/life of the imagination by asking precise questions as to
content and meaning.
We watched The Count of Montecristo. Lauren
had seen a more modern version of it but was still transfixed, glued to all the
activity on our Sony Trinitron TV set with its former cutting edge cathode ray
The whole evening cemented my acute realization
on how important a child’s imagination is. And of course part of that is a
child’s willingness to read books without pictures where the child has to
imagine faces and places.
In the beginning of Olaf Stapeldon’s Star
Maker and man sits in his garden, leaning on a tree to gaze a starry sky:
Overhead obscurity was gone. From horizon
to horizon the sky was an unbroken spread of stars. Two planets stared unwinking.
The more obtrusive of the constellations asserted their individuality. Orion’s
four-square shoulders and feet, his belt and sword, the Plough, the zigzag of
Cassiopeia, the intimate Pleiades, all were duly patterned on the dark. The
Milky Way, a vague hoop of light, spanned the sky.
Imagination completed what mere sight could
not achieve. Looking down I seemed to see through a transparent planet, through
heather and solid rock, through the buried grave-yards of vanished species,
down through the molten flow of basalt, and on into the Earth’s core of iron;
then on again, still seemingly downwards, through the southern strata to the
southern ocean and lands, past the roots of gum trees and the feet of the
inverted antipodeans, through their blue, sun-pierced awning of day, and out
into the eternal night, where sun and stars are together. For there, dizzyingly
far below me, like fishes in the depth of a lake, lay the nether
constellations. The two domes of the sky were fused into one hollow sphere,
star-peopled, black, even beside the blinding sun. The young moon was a curve
of incandescent wire. The completed hoop of the Milky Way encircled the
And from there he soars out of his body to
explore space. Stapledon published Star Maker in 1937 and is a work that is
purely of the imagination.
Coincidentally tonight, in bed reading the
Sunday NY Times that is delivered Saturday night I found in the Sunday Review a
column by conservative Ross Douthat, who in spite of being a conservative is
someone I admire and read. The column calledPuddleglum and The Savage points out that on November 22, the date of
John Kennedy’s assassination (the presidential motorcade was leaving Love
Field), C.S. Lewis collapsed in his Oxford bedroom. And when a TV in the next
room announced Kennedy’s death Aldous Huxley requested a final shot of LSD.
In that column I found this:
In C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair in which a
character named Puddleglum confronts a queen who has confined the heroes in an
underground kingdom, and lulled them with the insistence that the underground
world is all there is – that ideas like the sun and sky are dangerous wishful
thinking, undermining the immediate contentment [Puddleglum says]
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up,
all those things. – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan
himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that in that case, the made-up
things seem a good deal more important than the real ones…We’re just babies
making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a
play-world which licks your real world hollow.”
As I read the above I understood the role
of old-style films with few or elaborate special effects. I understand the
importance of convincing, pushing, coaxing a young person to read. By doing so
it will be a while before an Alec Guinness or a Luca Singaretti can replace
that imagined person into the flesh and bone of the actor playing him.
We enjoyed The Count of Montecristo. I did not tell my family that my image of the count had for some years been the face on the cover of my Penguin Classic - Portrait of an Artist by Jacques-Louis David and that Robert Donat seemed too pretty and too good to play the vengeful man. After all The Count of Montecristo features: literature’s most famous case of an implacable and most un-Christian revenge.
It features a female serial poisoner, two cases of infanticide, a stabbing and
three suicides, an extended scene of torture and execution, drug-induced sexual
fantasies, illegitimacy, transvestism and lesbianism, a display of the author’s
classical history, the customs and diets of the Italians, the effects of
hashish and all in about 1000 pages.
Both King Solomon's Mines and The Count of Montecristo can be found at Limelight Video
Alas they and the Vancouver Public Library do not have The Corsican Brothers with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or The Crimson Pirate with Burt Lancaster. Next Saturday's film will have to be another.
It is impossible to ignore today that event
in Dallas 50
This morning I drove my wife to whom I have
been married for 45 years to the UBC
Hospital to undergo one
of those feminine operations, one not involving a scalpel. She is a trooper.
She slept the night but I didn’t. I feel that she and I are like our 2007
Chevrolet Malibu. The warranty is long gone and the repairs are going to be
cropping up haphazardly until that final one and we will go where cars and
elephants ultimately end up.
In 1960 I was attending St. Edward’s High
School, a Catholic boarding school in Austin,
Texas. My mother, we lived in a mining town in Mexico, Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, was all in a
flurry of excitement. She was telling me that a sexy Catholic US Senator
would perhaps become the first Roman Catholic president of the United States.
On campus we were excited, too. We all had
to explain to a few of our non-Catholic classmates what Papal Infallibility was
about and the fact that if Kennedy were elected president he would be his own
man. Few believed us.
On September 26, 1960 I had been playing
pool in our Junior/Senior rec room. We had a TV in the room and some of us
watched that first debate between Nixon and Kennedy. I was particularly impressed
by the voices of both men. They were speaker’s voices. I found Kennedy’s
insertion of an r at the end of any word that finalized with an a charming. I was told
that it was a Bostonian accent.
When Kennedy did win the election our
campus was in a minor uproar of delight and pride. I graduated in 1961 and our
Edwardian, the school yearbook was dedicated to Kennedy and another icon of the
time Pope John XXIII.
Our pride was short-lived. We had many
Cuban students in our school and when the fiasco at the Bay
of Pigs occurred I remember distinctly being harassed by one of
those Cuban students that “Your president abandoned us.” It was then that I had
some of my first intimations of a doubt that have followed me all these years.
When convenient I am an Argentine, or a Mexican, or a Canadian (I am a citizen
of Argentina and of Canada) but deep inside I feel very American
even when I suffer the indignity of crossing the border at Blaine. I am treated as an alien. Which I am.
The Americans, with singular foresight have paved the way for the eventual
immigration of Martians and Proxima/Alpha Centaurians.
Those at the border would never suspect or
know that I have a feeling of alienation in Vancouver,
in Buenos Aires, in Mexico
City and now that my mentor Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. has died
this year I no longer have a desire to visit Austin. Austin
is a place where I lived the transition from boyhood, those teenage years and I
almost became a man. I have those roots there and a lingering feeling of “I am
an American!” persists.
No further revelations of Kennedy’s errors
of judgment, a presidency perceived as being so-so, and no new indications of
possible incompetence will mar my memory of my first reading of that Edwardian
dedication 52 years ago. In spite of my present alienation, Kennedy was a
presence in my life, at least on those Camelot years that I can look back and
tell myself, “I belonged. I was part of that.”
I look forward to that phone call from UBC Hospital
sometime today. I will pick up my Rosemary and bring her home. We belong there. Here!
Photography - Full Speed Ahead & Damn the Equipment
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
For anybody beginning to read here, today's blog is the first one that has appeared elsewhere first. I have written it for Medium. I have developed a rapid liking to it as it is intelligent and nobody is able to leave such stuff as "nice pic,", "I like," or inject YouTube videos or links to newspapers without at the very least placing intelligent words explaining the motive behind it. Perhaps there is indeed hope for us.
Rebecca Stewart — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
the photograph above I used a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD and a 140mm floating
element macro lens. Film was Kodak Plus X. After scanning the
negative(in RGB) I added red and yellow for the result. Below is the
same picture without the colour.
age 71 I am a former magazine photographer and writer in obsolescence
(redundant in British lingo) retired because at least here in Vancouver
and probably in the rest of Canada the era of paid photography is either
gone permanently or at best for a while.
purchased my first camera an Agfa Silette in 1956 in a Washington DC
pawnshop. The first roll I used was Kodak Tri-X. I remember taking snaps
of the Parthenon replica in Nashville. The negative is long lost.
year later after saving up with odd jobs in the boarding school I was
attending, St Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas I spent $100 on a
Pentacon F single lens reflex which came mail order from Olden Cameras
in New York City.
it wasn’t until I moved with my Canadian wife and two Mexican-born
daughters to Vancouver in 1975 that I became a photographer full-time.
In that job I have been sent all over the world on assignments, worked
for virtually every magazine around (except the National Geographic) and
had access to film stars, rock stars, directors, politicians and hoods.
three months ago my only digital camera was an iPhone 3G. I have taught
photography at several schools in Vancouver and I have never had the
need to tell my students that I did not own anything like the expensive
Nikon and Canon DSLRs they had in their hands.
months ago, after having been urged by my wife, I finally purchased a
digital camera. I am extremely proud of my most sophisticated Fuji X-E1.
went to Buenos Aires a month ago and took the Fuji (along with two
Nikon FM-2 loaded with b+w and colour negative film). Because I have yet
to acquire anything like Lightroom I shot jpgs and I was satisfied,
even happy with my results.
a few years ago I did a lot of work for a local arts weekly. Work
diminished. In one assignment where I had to photograph some
Shakespearean actors I took some pictures with my iPhone 3G but I used
the modeling light of a 2x3 ft sofbox and placed my subjects on a
nondescript darkish wall. The folks at the magazine never noticed the
difference and even lauded me for sending them something that seemed to
be “different” from my usual.
I left for Buenos Aires I shot a cover for the publication and five
inside shots with my Fuji. I did use a largish softbox and a good studio
flash. They never noticed the difference either
I had to adjust to the idea of still using the small camera on my big
tripod. When you shoot loose with a small camera you (or at least I did)
tend to have heads too close to the top or slice the fingers of my
subjects’ hands. For too long I have used a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD on a
tripod and I like to frame my shots carefully.
I shoot cover jobs for magazines I rarely take more than 20 pictures on
120 Ektachrome (now Fuji Provia). With my digital Fuji I shot the cover
with 8 exposures. I am not about to let that camera dictate how I am to
use it. I was frugal with film, I will be frugal with pixels!
purpose of this essay, my first purpose-written for Medium.Com is to
clear misunderstandings that I have gleaned from reading some of the
interesting stuff in Click the Shutter. A few have written that
with an iPhone 5 you don’t need better equipment. Others decry the loss
of the analog system of taking pictures. Others, rightfully state that
the equipment is not as important as knowing how to use what one has. I
would only modify that last statement by adding that it is important to
note the limitations of the equipment being used. With that said I have
often loaded my heavy and largish Mamiya with Ilford 3200 ISO film and
hand held it as if the camera where a 35mm camera.
digital stitching has made the expensive swivel lens film cameras of
the past obsolete, I still believe my Noblex (it takes a negative or
slide that is 2¼ by 7 inches long) can take pictures that very good and
with a perspective different to the one of stitching.
there is a problem with digital cameras it is the perception, mostly
thanks to their advertising, that says that with one of these in your
hands you can do anything. I would beg to differ as this eliminates the
idea of using lighting to control contrast and to impose on the picture a
bit of one’s personal style.
that said I will place here some portraits of my granddaughter through
the years and I will mention what I used and how I took them. Note,
especially, one photograph that I took with my 3G iPhone. If one
realizes the iPhones are most comfortable with low contrast situations
you will understand why my Rebecca sitting in a metal bench under a
conifer in a late afternoon looks so good. Slide film would have
rendered the scene a greenish blue. A digital camera, even a cheap one
with good white balance would have rendered the scene in the right
colour.There is a saying in Spanish (I am Argentine born):
El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo.
translates to: the devil knows more not because he is the devil but
because he is older. Something then has to be said for experience.
lastly here in Vancouver we still have at least five labs that process
colour negative and slide film in small and large formats. The b+w film I
shoot, I process and print in my still functioning darkroom.