The Unraveling & The Shuffling Of My Beginning To End
Saturday, December 28, 2013
In my living room I have a very good sound
system that is of the CD player era but I also have, a tuner (few now would
know its purpose) a tape deck and a linear tracking turntable. I have no way of
playing MP3 files. My iPhone 3G is a telephone and no more. I do not own
earphones of any variety.
|Paul Luchkow, Don Harder, Glenys Webster|
I believe I might have known what would
eventually happen in this century back in the early 50s. My grandmother (who
was a fan of swashbucklers, pirate films and westerns) would take me to Calle
Lavalle in Buenos Aires.
This was a street that mostly had wall to wall cinemas. They featured something
called “programa continuado”. We would enter one of theatres and watch a film
somewhere in the middle. As soon as it was over we would see the beginning. At
the point we had entered, we would leave the theatre and go to the next one and
go trough the same process. Sometimes we would note that the next film would
begin at a time that would give us an ice cream soda rest. We would take the
That programa continuado was one of the few
aspects of my life that did not seem to have the continuity of a beginning, middle
and an end.
And then in the late 90s of the last
century the CD player came with a button called shuffle. Here is where the
trend that brought a continuous disorder to our life. I had not noticed that by
the late 70s Saturdays and Sundays were disappearing. Bars were open on Sundays
by the time of Expo 86. Some shops were open 24 hours and in fact never closed.
The concept of day and night, weekdays and weekends began to blur.
It had been in Mexico in the early 70s when I had
noticed that many plants in the city became confused with the lack of seasons. It
was poet Homero Aridjis who stated that there was a season of extreme smog and
one of not so much fog. There was a season when birds would drop from the sky
and a season when they didn’t.
In the 50s during the rainy season it would
rain for a couple of hours in the afternoon. That was replaced by a seemingly
eternal, “What now?”
When I listen to music in my living room I
sometimes read, but not always. If I go to the kitchen to re-heat my tea in the
microwave (I am modern in some respects) I can hear the music filtering through
opened doors into the kitchen. I have no wireless (or of the wired kind) in my
kitchen so I will not hear the immediacy of music that is “right here”. I am
most happy to live for hours on end without listening to music either because I
want to listen to it or to have it as some sort of comforting background.
One of the techniques that served me well
in my photographic studio when I photographed people was to never play any kind
of music. The silence would put many of my subjects on edge. I liked it as this
meant they never let their thoracic diaphragm go.
In my bathroom I have no radio or
water-proof MP3 player. I like to read in a hot tub with silence.
In bed, in our bedroom there is no music. The
only sound might be a passing car on the boulevard. We have a clock radio but
we now use my iPhone’s subtle wakerupper sound to get us up without stress.
In the garden there are no outdoor
speakers. We have never channeled sound from the living room into the garden. The
garden has its own sounds. I savour them but I cannot ignore the spring time
pressure washers of the neighbourhood.
In the living room I like to pick up a CD
or a record. I like to see what is in it and I usually listen to them in the
order given. I will listen to some Bach, perhaps some Monk after, followed by
Corelli or Twardzik. But I would never listen to one cut of each in no
particular order in some shuffle mode. I have a friend who told me once he had
downloaded so many hundreds of books. Would my friend shuffle read them?
At one time, when I worked I could tell you
if it was Sunday or Tuesday. I am now having problems with that one. I find
that I don’t necessarily have to go to bed at some special hour. Nor do I need
to get up in the morning at any hour in particular.
The order that was my life is unraveling
but I can still hold on to my beginning and end, from here to there with
My Boom's Decline
Friday, December 27, 2013
My eldest daughter Alexandra Elizabeth
Waterhouse-Hayward lives in Lillooet,
British Columbia. She is an
elementary school teacher there and happily lives in a one acre property with
her cat Banjo.
When she comes to Vancouver she unleashes in our household this
desire to organize our lives. I must admit that until she put some order into
our basement both Rosemary and I felt there was nothing we could do with all
the stuff. But with the objective point of view of our daughter Ale, the
basement is now clear, neat and pretty clean. Gone is an obsolete photographic print dryer and a heavy but useless 11x14 dry mounting press.
Much of my obsolete photographic equipment
is against a wall where if I need it (who knows?) I can readily access it. One
of the items, much too big to properly store is a Manfrotto super boom.
With this device I was able to suspend a
light over my subjects in my studio which had a very high ceiling, one of the
necessary requirements of the big Manfrotto boom. The boom with a light that
has a grid on it (to narrow the direct beam) can make a wonderful back light
and or hair light. Without a boom George Hurrell could never have taken his
signature portraits of Marlene Dietrich nor would Dietrich then commanded her
film’s directors to use the boom in most of her films.
But my boom had a special role in the
portrait of my daughter which I took in 1991. It served to hold one end of my
This portrait which is in our bedroom is
one of my most favourite portraits ever. In these last days of 2013 I asked
myself why I took that picture. I asked myself why I took all those pictures of
what every day appears to be a huge output. Here are my conclusions:
1. One never does stuff unless it is
assigned. Having a job (even as a freelancer) as a photographer means that one
will be assigned. Assignments produce an output.
2. When one exhibits in galleries one plans
themes for a show. That produces an output.
3. When one exhibits in themed group
exhibitions as I did for many years, that produces an output. In fact this
picture of my daughter was my entry on a themed exhibition that may have had
the title The Family.
4. When assignments evaporate, when a photographer’s
studio is closed, as mine is, opportunities to go to the studio to think of
creating something diminish.
5. When I was in my 40s and even 50 I could
stop a woman on the street and within days she was undraped in my studio. These
days these women might call the police. In jail I would miss my cooking.
6. My wife’s cat Casi-Casi will run away
the moment you hold a camera to your face (even a phone). My youngest granddaughter
will ask me, “How many pictures are you planning on taking?” The older one
simply refuses to have her picture taken.
All that leaves me with a problem. I do not
plan to enlarge my photographic output by recording lamp posts, fire hydrants
sunsets. Any ideas?
Technical information on the above image. I projected my b+w negative on a sheet of 8x10 Kodak Kodalith (lith film). I processed it in photographic paper developer. This produced a continuous tone (not the usual high contrast that lith film used to be used for) b+w transparency. For my purposes it has to be slightly lighter than a normal photographic print on paper. I immersed the lith film (after very careful washing) in a 1 to 9 bath of selenium toner for archival purposes and to give the picture a warmish tone. I then mounted the transparency with archival sticky tape on a mirror finish silver card.
The picture is supposed to slightly resemble a Daguerreotype. It does so as the framed picture is over my wife's bed table lamp.
In praise of the mundane bodyscape
Madeleine Morris under a boom
A boom - from simplicity to complexity and back again
Moths Fluttering At My Kitchen Window Part II
Thursday, December 26, 2013
I wrote the blog below on December 04, 2008. It has come to mind as I notice
our indoor spider Puig about which I wrote here
. He(she) is still alive and it
looks like he(she) might make it to the New Year in spite of what must be a
very small diet of whatever insects inhabit our home in December. I am
astounded by Puig's will to live and his(her) ability to adapt to a situation
in which I am sure all of his (her) contemporaries are long gone with the late
fall frosts. Native Canadians have a belief (a universal one, I believe in cold
climates) that if one survives a winter one will live to see spring and another
year. I wish Puig the best.
Moths Fluttering At My Kitchen Window
December 04, 2008
days as I look out the window of the guest bathroom or out the kitchen
window (by the sink) I see little moths fluttering and trying to get in.
It could be the light or the warmth they sense is on the other side of
the window. They are insects at the end of their cycle.
remind me of other animals I have seen in the throws of death. For all
of us this is an exit we take alone, Hollywood scenes of Lionel Barrymore
dying in bed surrounded by his loving family to the contrary. The
fluttering of the moth's wings even reminds me of the little vibration
in the body of a fighting bull moments before it dies on the sandy arena
after it has been pierced by the matador's sword. In that huge arena of
cheering people the 600kg bull seems small and pitifully alone. It dies
surrounded by thousands of spectators. Is it any different to the
shocking image of a dying crow in my garden as its wings like that
moth's flutter and then stop?
Sow bugs and other bugs die by the
thousands in my garden unseen, but those little moths hit home and
sadden me. They are so persistent, trying to live for a few minutes or
As the moths fade away I try not to go to the
garden. The cold repels and the mush of my hostas as they fade into the
ground is a sobering and unwelcome sight. But today I ventured outside
anyway and I was rewarded by English Rose Coverdale. There were two
blooms that had managed to open. And Rosa
Feligonde' while not in bloom sported beautiful new foliage that
contrasted with the reddish older leaves. Those very leaves might have
little holes next spring as the offspring of those little winter moths
chew their way to an eventual confrontation with my kitchen window.
I momentarily forgot about my lonely moths but not forgetting that my own turn by the window in winter will come.
The Genesis Of The Christmas Eve Family Portrait
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
|Watch that Casi-Casi. I did not set the self-timer so I am not in picture|
|Casi-Casi digs in.|
|The best of the lot even though the top of my head is missing|
|We gave up and called it a night. We then opened the presents.|
The Acoustics Of Christmas Eve Music
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
For the December 10 NY Times Rosie Schaap
wrote a delightful essay on the idea that going to bar on the afternoon of
Christmas Day is not always a terrible experience. Those who may want to read
more can pursue the story here.
One paragraph caught my eye:
A bar holiday may be tinged with melancholy,
but it’s a sweet sort of melancholy. (Its tone is captured perfectly, I’m
compelled to say, in John Denver and Rowlf the Dog’s rendition of “Have
Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” on the “John Denver and the Muppets: A
Christmas Together” TV special in 1979.)
This very record (we have it as both a
record and as a CD) is my family’s favourite music to open presents by the
Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. We follow (as I am originally from Argentina
and my daughters were born in Mexico) the custom of celebrating nochebuena and
leaving Christmas day as a day to stay in bed, do nothing except eat Belgian
chocolates and Spanish marzipan.
But there is another piece of music that is
dear to my heart for Christmas. This is Vivaldi’s Gloria (he wrote two) RV 589.
I first heard it a few days before
Christmas in Mexico City.
It might have been 1973. This was the year that my friend Jorge Urrechaga told
me my sound system was not adequate. What hackers do now, Urrechaga did then
with smuggling. He had a transistor amplifier(one of the first at the time) that banged over 50 watts per channel RMS. The brand was Acoustic Research and
the amplifier had a brass front piece (I like the word escutcheon) and exactly
five knobs. It was beautiful. Urrechaga harped on the idea that Acoustic
Research with its amplifiers, turntables (I bought the lovely XA-1) and
speakers would reproduce music accurately. Urrechaga sold me (cheap) that AR amplifier.
I like to think that the age of
enlightenment which began in the latter part of the 17th century and
ended in the beginning of the 19th represented an age of scientific discovery
and where the idea that all was knowable and possible produced an explosion of
activity in which man was the center of all things. I like the sound of the
Alejo Carpentier’s version of the term enlightenment as Siglo de las Luces (the
century of lights) and the name of one of his most famous novels which follows
the first appearance of a French guillotine in the West
The idea of a century of lights and of the
fact that the music of the time was the early baroque and the baroque, produces
in my ears, when I listen to Vivaldi’s Gloria, an explosion of positive
thinking. Christmas music should give us cheer and hope and baroque music has
that in spades.
In the beginning of the 1980 I did not lock
my front door. This was a habit. I paid the penalty in that someone walked in
one night and took my CD collection and my Acoustic Research AR-3A speakers. The
insurance company replaced them with JBL monitors that were supposed to be
better. I have never been that sure.
I find the present situation of musical
sound suspect. I cannot understand how music can sound at its best with ear
buds and with that sound coming out from a digital phone. I do not buy the idea
of “enhanced” sound or “enhanced deep bass”. Nor do I accept the idea that
music has to come from all sides.
It was on Sunday’s The Bach Cantata Project
brought by Early Music Vancouver at the Chan that my idea was further
I was centre-front row and very close to
violinist Marc Destrubé and his
superb group of musicians who specialize in baroque music placed in period
One of the warmest but
most delicate sounding (as in never loud) was Ray Nurse’s lute. And yet while
surrounded by a loud baroque chamber organ, a couple of cellos, a bassoon, etc
I could hear that lute.
Back in the middle of
that cavernous Chan Centre I am sure the lute could not compete.
Baroque music is music
to be heard in a large living room or a king’s chamber. Earbuds will not create
the reverberation of a chamber’s walls no matter how good your surround sound
If I am to follow the
path of the now defunct Boston Sound of Acoustic Research I need to be facing a
wall of sound coming to me from the front and I will accept that some of it
will pass through and bounce back.
At the same time I
want to be able to hear that violin, that viola, that cello and the bass
without any of those instruments being enhanced in any way. Perhaps if there
are two cellos, one might be a better instrument and sound better. I don’t want
to make that cello sound better (enhance it) by turning a knob.
For Christmas my
eldest daughter will no longer listen to music in her Lillooet home through the
tiny speakers of her computer. She will have my AR amplifier and a very good
used CD player that I purchased at Lotusland Electronics & Music. But there
is more. As I was about to leave with the Technics CD player (perhaps not as
good as a Denon I recently purchased there to replace my Sony that finally
failed) I made the wrong question to the friendly associate Mitch, “You wouldn’t
happen to have any AR speakers, would you?”
As a matter of fact I
have these recently restored (they are 35 years old) AR-2ax speakers. We
connected them and played my recently fave recording of Colin MacDonald playing
Handel with a baritone sax in a trio with a harpsichordist and a cellist. I was
blown away by the presence of the sound.
I have been listening
to them now for a week as my JBLs are in the basement. My daughter Ale will not
note the difference when we open presents on Christmas Eve. The ARs are about
the same size. At some point once I give her the amplifier and CD player I will
tell her, “You might was as well take my speakers, too.”
My heart will be wrenched but my JBLs will do just fine.
As By Enchantment
Monday, December 23, 2013
|Mrs. Brandon - Matthew Brady circa 1860-65 US National Archives|
While reading Robert Wilson’s interesting
and informative Mathew Brady – Portraits of a Nation a paragraph in Chapter 3
caught my eye.
Photography [Chapter 3 deals with the late
1840s, so it was about the daguerreotype] was also among the first examples
(along with the telegraph and the railway) of a phenomenon that has become
almost commonplace in our time – an advance in technology that transforms
rapidly from a state of inconceivable mystery or even magic to something that
everyone could and must have access to. In his 1853 dictionary, Noah Webster
ended a brief description of the daguerreotype process with “and then the
images appear as by enchantment.” Photography was at first as surprising as the
possibility of wireless telephone communication seemed to us decades ago, and
then as urgent a necessity as the smartphone is today.
|John Alleyne & Gail Skrela - 1997|
One of the photographs attributed to Mathew
Brady is this one of Mrs. Brandon taken between 1860 and 1865. It is one of 9
photographs on the book’s cover that especially caught my eye.
The second photograph is one I took John
Alleyne in 1997 when he was the Artistic Director of Ballet BC. The dancer is
When I took the picture I had in particular
mind the US Civil War portraits of black Union Army soldiers who matter-of-factly
stared at the camera having no inkling that we would look at them when they
were long dead and buried. Had I wanted to be a bit more Brady-like I might
have pulled back my camera and given then more room in my studio.
This is one of my favorite portraits which
somehow I was lucky enough to capture by enchantment. I have never gotten over
the fact that so much can happen between my camera and my subject if I only
wait for the right moment to press the shutter button.
An Oboe D'Amore, A Natural Horn, A Traverso & A Pair of Bay Shoes
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Our mouths and the sound of strings
should for you
for ever and ever
prepare thanks and sacrifice.
Our hearts and minds are lifted up throughout our lives
great king to praise you.
Aria Unser Mund Ton der Saiten
Bach Cantata BWV 1
My graphic designer friend Graham Walker
and I have gone to every performance of Early Music Vancouver’s ongoing The
Bach Cantata Project which began 10 years ago. Not all the concerts featured
four Bach Cantatas. As an example tonight’s program include a Cantata by Bach’s
predecessor as cantor at Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722). This
would mean that we have seen/heard 35 of them. Since Bach wrote around 200 of
them we have a long way to go!
But after 10 years I can safely say that I
know most of the performers by their first names and I can routinely (and so
can you as baroque performers put on their pants, one foot at a time) go back
stage to greet them. They are really part of my Christmas season family. And
Christmas is a family tradition.
|Marina Hasselberg & Viola de Hoog|
Both Walker and I know something that few
seem to know. We feel smug about it and we know that even after repeated
telling people of our knowledge of this fact, that our fave centre-front-row seats
will always be available to us.
There are some (mostly conservative
Canadians) who feel that they must sit at the middle of the middle to get the
best sound. They just might be right if they want to hear an overall sound. They
might be right if they have sensitive eardrums and do not want to sit front row
to hear the VSO play Ravel’s Bolero. I did, once and I took my Radio Shack
sound level meter which at one point (I believe where the trombones kick in)
marked 120 decibels.
Extremely loud sound is not a staple of a
middle sized baroque orchestra. Sitting in front gives you a classic 60s stereo
sound feel. It sounds much as my Acoustic Research AR-3A speakers used to
sound. I feel that the sound is accurate and that the Chan’s room acoustics
(good or bad as they might be) do not add to what I hear.
Up front I could enjoy what was my
favourite moment of the evening. This was the bass Aria Wer bist du? Frage dein
Gewissen of Bach’s Cantata BWV 132. The aria featured bass singer Sumner
Thompson accompanied by Viola de Hoog on cello (Wow! Wow!), Natalie Mackie on
violone and Michael Jarvis on baroque chamber organ.
|Ray Nurse, Marina Hasselberg & Viola de Hoog|
For those who might not know of small but
interesting facts, up front I could see that the first violin’s chair had a second
and extra thick cushion. Why? Marc Destrubé, the first violinist was also the conductor and the extra cushion
gave him the necessary height to look upon and direct the section with the
weird instruments, such as Debra Nagy and Curtiss Foster on Oboe D’Amore and
Oboe Da Caccia, and Andrew Clark and Steve Denroche on natural horns
(unnaturally difficult to play).
From our vantage point
of the first row you might have spied Ray Nurse with his lute. The top half of
his instrument is bent backwards so from where we were it looked like it had
been guillotined. But just for once, and this is a most rare situation, we were
able to hear the fine and very warm sound of his lute. Those "middlers" would not
have heard any of it.
I can close this and
write what a wonderful concert it was, which it was. And I would hope that I
will be alive for the eleventh incarnation of the series next year. Walker and I get used to the usual roster of fine singers. This year we heard for the first time, tenor Aaron Sheehan pleased us and we particularly liked his German diction. We would like to see him back soon.
But I must add a bit
of whimsy to it. I have a new friend, a young cellist called Marina Hasselberg
who also has a group called Novo. I met her at a Microcosmos String Quartet
concert. We became facebook friends (you see facebook, note it must be written
in lowercase, does have some good things).
And there she was in a
smashing long black dress up front playing alongside the indomitable (and scary
if she were my second grade teacher and in particular while wearing her
spectacles) Viola de Hoog.
My friend Graham
Walker, from our vantage point of our eyes being at the exact level with the concert
floor, said, “Those are shoes!” You see Walker
has developed a shoe fetish in the last few years. He wears shoes with long
points. They are always highly polished.
Ray Nurse during the
interval told me that Viola de Hoog is the best baroque cellist on the planet. I
am trying to imagine what it must be like to be a young cellist sitting and
playing next to her. At the end of the concert I watched de Hoog gently pinch
Hasselberg and gave her a beaming smile.
One of the friendliest
and happiest of all the performers is Seattle-based violist Steve Creswell who was
wearing a red tie that stood out. I felt like Ferdinand and I wanted to charge.
I didn’t but I managed to take Creswell’s portrait with my iPhone 3G.
Canadian content. I bought the tie at the Bay.”
Which is exactly where
Hasselberg bought her shoes.
There are some who say that up front they see the singers' nostrils. I don't look. I just listen and now
thanks to Walker stare at their shoes.
|Marina Hasselberg & Viola de Hoog|