Limoges China - The Essence Of WomanSunday, July 27, 2014
My Argentine painter friend Juan Manuel Sanchez, well into his late 70s could make any woman he met; divest herself of all her clothes within minutes of having met them when he told them he was a painter.
I thought I was very good at this until one day when both of us where in my studio and we had requested the presence of a beautiful Latin American woman. She entered my studio. I checked my watch and two minutes later she cast off everything she had been wearing.
Perhaps it was Juan’s face. He had Spanish blood from Galicia. In Buenos Aires you might have easily seen him as a waiter. But this he was not. He had one obsession (I would like to qualify that as huge, but then when is an obsession not that?) and that was to render the woman, a woman, the essence of woman on his canvas.
Unlike this photographer who needs a woman of flesh and blood to face my camera, Juan can conjure woman with his imagination. One day as I noticed the simplicity of his paintings I asked him what was going on. He explained that the concept of woman was a problem that needed a resolution. One, day, perhaps close to his death he would paint a line on a white canvas and the white line would be a platonic woman, the perfect woman resolved with nothing missing and nothing to be added.
|Juan Manuel Sánchez - Sept 2013|
When I last saw him in his studio in Buenos Aires last September his drawings were as clean and as perfect as I could have imagined. It would seem that by now at age 84 his talents were super attuned to the problem of hand. How can one convey the universal woman?
On August 31 I will be 72 and I find that there is no way I can compete with Juan to convince women to face my camera undraped. I don’t have a Galician face or perhaps I am seen as a viejo verde (a green old man is Spanish for a dirty old man). Whatever it is my output is definitely in decline.
What comes to mind these days is the wonderful but sad scene in The Magnificent Seven when Robert Vaughn (Lee) as a former quick-draw gunfighter now with a streak of cowardice spots three flies. He swoops at them with his hand and catches two. He says, “At one time I would have caught all three…”
It was perhaps some 25 years ago that at the Railway Club (I met with friends on Thursdays for lunch) I had noticed a beautiful woman (a bleached blonde) who always showed up at around noon. One day I simply got up and said to her, “My name is Alex and I would very much like to take you photographs without anything on.” She looked at me and quickly said, “Fine, this is my phone number.” And that was that. Now the flies buzz around but I am not catching any of them.
I may have been around 1982 when I first met Julie Menard. I called her the watch lady. In her profession she divested herself of everything within minutes of her performance. But she always kept her Cartier watch. Menard reminded me of a sophisticated version of Susan Sarandon. Menard’s skin looked like the coating on white Limoges china. She had a liking for red lipstick that set off her unsaturated skin.
There was a streak of existentialist sadness in her demeanor. But I was told she was tough. She had a little daughter and she did her best for her. One day I asked if she would pose for me. I remember that she lived right next to Grandview Park on Commercial Drive not far from where I was to photograph Dave Barrett by his Volvo a few years later. I picked her up in my yellow Fiat X 1/9 and we drove to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. We walked to the cliffs where I took the pictures on a hot sunny afternoon in summer.
I note that I used four film stocks. With my Pentaxes I loaded one with Kodak b+w infrared and the other with Kodak Technical Pan. With my Mamiya RB-67 I used Kodacolor in 120 and a Fuji HR- 100. The latter really shows off Menard’s white skin but unfortunately the negative has stained in places and you might note that there is some yellow in her white slip.
Shortly after I took the pictures she told me she was going back to Montreal and I never saw her again.