Billy Duffy - A Minnow
Saturday, January 25, 2014
|Billy Duffy - The Cult|
Most people might be aware that Robert Capa’s
(Magnum Photographer) photographs of the allied landing on D-Day are his most
famous in his long and storied career. Few might know that these images are striking
particularly since the lab that processed the Capa’s negatives made some
mistakes in the processing.
Sometime in the mid 80s I came up with the
idea of writing a book which would have been called 1001 Photographic Mistakes
& How to Avoid Them. I shelved my project when I realized that I was
inventing new ones every week.
The fact is that many of the best known
images of the photographers of the 20th century came about because
of failures of equipment, processing or photographers not doing things
carefully. In fact there is uncorroborated story that tells that a frustrated Lois
Daguerre experimenting one day with his yet unperfected technique went home on
a cloudy day (not enough light for his low sensitive plates) and threw his
stuff into a closet in disgust. It seems that a mercury thermometer in the
closet broke and the rest, of course is history. The Daguerreotype became the
first successful photographic process and the mercury used to develop the
exposed plates caused a big increase of bald men.
Many Ray’s famous solarized prints began
with the turning of the lights in a darkroom when prints were in the developer
tray. The turning of the lights was a sheer accident.
Many other wonderful photographs happened when
photographer deliberately went against the grain of, “You cannot…”, or “Don’t…”
For most of my magazine and commercial photography
career I have attempted to avoid mistakes and equipment failure. Of the latter I
have spent a fortune having duplicate equipment, just in case. But in my invention
on finding new ways of making mistakes I have always followed the one basic rule
of magazine photography. This is that your picture (and only one is really needed)
must be useable and not necessarily. The big fish cannot get away in magazine photography.
It suffices to show up with one minnow.
I cut it very close (there is only one useable
image) when I had to photograph guitarist Billy Duffy of The Cult.
While processing the roll of 120 film in a
revolving tank I decided to take a leak. This I did so momentarily so left the
tank revolving on its electric base. When I returned I noticed with horror that
the tank had fallen off. This meant that the developer that swirled around the
negative did not swirl. You can see from the two scans of the negatives how the
lack of swirl produced a sine-wave-like separation and on one side the negative
is properly processed and in the other it is under developed. But you might
note that the exposure on bottom left of the first contact is fine. I passed
the test of the minnow and the Vancouver Magazine art director, Chris Dahl
never found out how close he was to not getting anything.
This time around as I scanned the one good
negative I have noticed fixer stains (caused by improper washing). I will re
fix this negative and wash it thoroughly, after all it is the minnow that I
caught and all those other big fish got away.
Dream Location At The Presentation House Gallery
Friday, January 24, 2014
As one gets older and distances between
places seem to increase inversely proportional to one’s estimation of time left
it is difficult to get out of the house.
It is difficult to get out of the house for
a cultural event all the way across a bridge from Vancouver
to North Vancouver’s
premier photographic establishment, the Presentation House Gallery.
But the prospect of being able to see works
by Gerhard Richter was too good to leave to the comforts of home.
I met up with my friend designer/artist Ian
Bateson (who did not have to cross any bridges but merrily walk a few blocks
from home) at 7:30 this Friday (I am writing this Saturday morning).
It was indeed a pleasant occasion which I
think I will repeat again soon.
The neat little show also includes photo-based
works by Elad Lassry, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Walker Evans, Sigmar Polke, Runa
Islam and by the show’s curator, Stephen Waddell. The show will be on until
A Brimful Of Fun In A Brimful of Asha
Thursday, January 23, 2014
|Asha & Ravi Jain|
Anything to do with India has always been
for me a dark mystery particularly as I might have heard my Filipino mother utter in a
whisper, “Bombay", pronounced Bom-bye when I was a child in Buenos Aires.
In 1950 the newly independent India opened an embassy in Buenos Aires and my father, a
journalist for the Buenos Aires Herald, moonlighted as a translator for the
Embassy. One day, he invited his Hindoo (that’s how he spelled the word)
friends for lunch in our home. My father, a very good cook, decided to
prepare Indian curry. The four, very dark men, two in turbans arrived in their
Hillman Minx. I could not decide what was more exotic the car or the four men
and especially those two with turbans. My only exposure to turbans was Gunga
Din with Cary Grant (who did not wear a turban) and Errol Flynn in Kim who did.
My mother seemed to be afraid of the four and she soon disappeared. As a little girl in Manila Bombays were bogey men who would take her away if she did not behave.
It was much later when I was older that my
mother told me that all Indians were called Bombays because the four letter
word to fornicate in Tagalog was hindu followed by a t, it was too close for
When I told this story to Asha Jain’s son Ravi (both act and wrote the play A Brimful of Asha and
directed by her son) he laughed and consented to pose for this blog’s
A Brimful of Asha, a play which is the Art
Club Theatre’s contribution (7 years in this) to the Push International
Performing Arts Festival (in full swing) is a most
economical way of escaping our Vancouver winter bleakness. You need not book to
go to Puerto Vallarta or to take Art Bergmann’s
advice to Let’s Go to Fucking Hawaii. You just need to
see this awfully funny play that is supposed to be the true story (irrelevant
to the funny story be it true or not) of Asha Jain and her husband doing everything
possible to dissuade their son from going into the theatre and to marry him off
to a girl in India.
This becomes a battle of wills and of two
cultures (Asha began her married life as a young woman in Toronto) in which the funny son (not an
engineer, not a doctor but an actor who could easily be a stand up comedian)
has as a foil a deadpan mother. Asha Jain is even funnier because even though
her English is good she manages, every once in a while to put an adjective or a
verb in the wrong but right place. Ravi Jain manages to make the presence of his father and many relatives known in skits that are full of bittersweet humor. It seems that any conflict between a son and his parents must somehow be a universal occurrence to all cultures.
A Brimful of Asha is a retelling of the events that began in 2007 and I will not divulge here the resolution.
Suffice to say that for a lot less money than it might take to pay for that
limo to the airport you can have a warm evening of escape in someone’s
home (almost) and forget the cyan sky over the North Shore
Mountains and perhaps hope
that spring is around the corner.
I must thank Julie Fox’s design for
selecting colours that warmed my insides even though it was my 16 year-old
granddaughter Rebecca who was enjoying hot chocolate.
A Brimful of Asha is on at the Granville
Island Revue Stage until February 8.
An Observer From Proxima Centauri
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
In the early 70s I discovered a way to make
my high school students open up on personal opinions on life. I told them that
they were from another planet in a far away star called Proxima Centauri and
that they had been sent (they were rendered invisible) to observe people on
Once that was made clear they would answer
questions such as, “What is sex?” or “How did these people live from day to
day?” an even such more personal questions, “What did the younger ones think of
something they called school?”
I don’t think they ever caught on. But then
I am not sure.
Of late I have observed that in the age of
pornography people seem to be much more conservative (repressed?) on their
views on sex and how we depict humans in photographs. There seems to be
tendency to try to render the portraits, particularly of women, as asexual
beings. If I am not expressing that quite correctly this might do, that the
taker of the photograph should snap the pictures without any thought on
It sort of reminds me of that 10th
You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his
ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
— Exodus 20:17
My Roman Catholic upbringing made me feel
guilty even when I happened to look at a girl “that way” as I was told that it
was just as bad. The thought was the same as the action.
Not too long ago I was watching one of my
favourite violinists from the VSO. I was close enough that I did not need my
binoculars. I went up to the front of the orchestra to chat with one of the
cellists who did confess to me that he too was distracted by our violinist but
could not say anything as it might be seen as some form of sexual harassment.
In Spanish we have a lovely word piropo
that comes from the Greek via the Latin ( Del lat. pyrōpus, y
este del gr. πυρωπός). The word means to compliment but with the exact purpose of saying
something brief and poetic to a woman about her looks. If you are good at it you would seldom get slapped.
In Mexico, particularly in small towns
there was a custom (probably nonexistent now) where young people would
congregate on every Sunday on the main square (zócalo). The young men might walk around the
square clockwise while the young women would do so in the opposite direction. Smiles
would be flashed or perhaps meek stares. The more adventurous young men might
whisper piropos. On Easter Sunday, I remember in Veracruz the youth would have hollow eggs
filled with confetti which they might break and throw at the girl of their
might be served by a lawyer and sued.
As a 71
year-old man I know feel that my students could counter and play my game my
way. I am now that spy from outer space watching mankind in the sly.
example I am placing here two contact sheets (there were more) of a beautiful woman
called Andrea. She was a mess of scars. She had a single mastectomy, two
caesareans on an appendix operation. Because I took the pictures some years ago
I was not in a 21st century mode of brutal honesty so no scars show.
lay on my psychiatric couch which was covered by a white sheet. I hovered around
and took my pictures.
at them and I can imagine my students asking, “Mr. Hayward, were you thinking about
sex when you took them? Were you trying to make your pictures erotic?” As
students in the 70s they would not have asked, “Mr. Hayward, are you shooting
with respect? Are you depersonalizing her? Are you depicting her as a sexual
object and not as a person?”
can tell you is that my answers would be confusing and I would stammer a lot
and not say much. But I still think these pictures are lovely and when I took
them I was plainly aware that I was a man with plumbing that worked and that
she was an attractive woman with a lovely body. Can anything more be said?
An Evening of New Music With Bramwell Tovey & The VSO
Monday, January 20, 2014
In 1965 I was a lowly conscript sailor in
the Argentine Navy. Because of my English I was able to get a cushy desk job as
translator for the Senior U.S. Naval Advisor. I had told the folks that I did
not know how to type but played the alto saxophone. So they made me translate. Edna Gahan, an Irish/Argentine was able to read my scribbles and transcribed
them with her roller ball IBM typewriter. One day she offered me a try of her
peach yoghurt. I told her I had never liked rotten milk. She asked me if I
had ever tried it. When I told her "no" she insisted. I have since that date
tried to make up for lost time. I eat yoghurt, particularly peach yoghurt, all the time.
|VSO Music Director Bramwell Tovey|
In 1963 I went to a contemporary music
concert at the University
of Mexico. On the bill
was some Olivier Messiaen which featured a soprano. I absolutely hated it and
equated the soprano’s singing the way my grandmother would have opined, “Los
gemidos de Poncio Pilato,” or Pontius Pilate’s moans.”
In 1963 I was taught by my pianist mother that Bach
was God and that Mozart was impotent. She listened and played Grieg, Chopin and
Rachmaninoff. At about that time I discovered the Archiv Records release of
baroque composers. I was smitten. But my taste for music was limited.
|Edward Top, left, & John Oliver|
It was some 20 years ago that I went to a
Sunday concert by the VSO at the Orpheum. They were playing one of Shostakovich's
early symphonies. This was in the second half of the concert. The first part
featured a beautiful Canadian female cellist who sported a silver or gold
armband and played a Tchaikovsky cello concerto. As soon as the Shostakovich
was on the Orpheum emptied. I calculated that when the symphony had been
composed many of the elderly people who had been eager for the Tchaikovsky and
were now leaving in droves would have been in their early 20s. This was their
music. And yet? And since then I have seen audiences in Vancouver for ballet, theatre, Early Music
Vancouver concerts, baroque concerts and symphony concerts, get older and
older. Where are the young people? Where are they going? What are they
listening to? When I was in my 20s I was going to baroque concerts in Mexico City. This was
then just discovered. It was fresh almost avant-garde.
Fourteen years into the 21st
century many people equate new or contemporary music to the atonal stuff of
Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alban Berg. “It is dissonant, remote, it turns me
off,” many say of this music. So when new music concerts are announced here in Vancouver few of us take our
chances. But if we listen to Philip Glass's music in a TV commercial (there are quite a few) we think we are enlightened.
|John Oliver, left, Brett Dean centre, Edward Top, right|
And here I will make a blanket statement
that is purely not true. They will go to concerts of the VSO, which are mostly
of music of the 19th century.
This is clearly not true and particularly
with the tenure of Bramwell Tovey as the VSO Music Director.
I read with absolute pleasure all the
reviews in my hard copy NY Times of Maestro Tovey’s yearly performances with
the New York Philharmonic. The NY Times reviewers mention always Tovey’s bantering
in his pre concert talks or his comments between pieces. Much is written, too of his enthusiastic and spirited directing.
We have a gem in Vancouver and we do not give the man enough
credit for it. He is doing his best to make music accessible. He has helped to demystify music (I don't want to use the epithet classical) so that we can enjoy it without having our noses so up in the air.
Having been present at concerts where the
maestro has played his jazz piano or accompanied on the piano a projected
Charlie Chaplin film I can attest to his appeal beyond wielding a good baton.
On Monday I attended the fourth and last segment of
this year’s first ever New Music Festival. Alas I am so sorry to not having
gone to the three others on Friday January 17, and Saturday 18 and Sunday January 19. On Sunday I would have liked to haver hearr Peter Hannan's Trinkets of Little Value. How many of you might know that his instrument of choice is the recorder? Specifically on
Saturday I missed Jocelyn Morlock’s Aeromancy: Concerto for Two Cellos. One of
the cellists is my friend and virtuoso Ariel Barnes. And giving it further
thought I am a fan of Standing Wave which performed on Friday. I happen to know
all of the 6 members of that group who have filed past my camera at one time.
It was Standing Wave percussionist Vern Griffiths who
played the snare drum, in a most unusual location in a performance of Ravel’s Bolero a few years back. It
was with the VSO and I was sitting front row. Tovey put Griffiths on the front of the orchestra at the edge of the
stage. I had brought my Radio Shack sound level meter. The sound at one point
went past 120 decibels! Forget some of those rock concerts for that kind of
Monday’s concert featured excerpts from
Australian (VSO-Visiting-Composer) Brett Dean’s from his opera Bliss which
included the tough looking but lyrical tenor of the original performance of the
opera, Peter Coleman- Wright. For anybody who has ever read Australian author
Peter Carey or read his Magwich, this just might lure you into reading his
novel Bliss on which this opera is based.
From our (I had been invited by Vancouver
composer/saxophone player/teacher/director of Colin MacDonald's Pocket Orchestra) Colin MacDonald) seats at the edge of the
balcony we able to see a full (really full) VSO arrayed, which included Corey
Hamm providing all kinds of sounds (including barking dogs) on a synthesizer. The
almost long (it went by too fast to seem so) performance which occupied the
second half of the concert had everything. It was loud, it was quiet, it had
melody and whatever dissonance that may have alienated anybody, I did not note.
The first half of the program had two compositions. One was by
Dutch, VSO Composer-in-Residence, Edward Top and the other by Vancouver’s John Oliver. Oliver’s Up Wind was
full of surprises. Oliver explained that smells are never noted up wind, only
down wind. All I can report is that the sweet sounds of his three-part
composition could have been smelled down-wind with pleasure. There is an enthusiasm
in this tall composer’s ever present face that not only would I listen to more of
his music but I would also buy a used car from him.
Edward Top’s Fugue States for Saxophone Quartet
and Orchestra featured the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet based in Germany. It is not
often that you see a bent (as opposed to a straight soprano sax that resembles a
silver plated oboe or clarinet) soprano saxophone. I asked MacDonald why he
plays on a straight soprano. He gesticulated like an old man with severe
arthritis and put his hands close to his mouth and I understood immediately. It
must feel awkward to have so many fingers close to the body!
I must digress a bit here. If Bramwell
Tovey were to lose his right hand in an accident he would become one of Vancouver’s ablest stand-up
comics. He is that good. When Top explained that his composition (about a
mental malady called Fugue
State in which those who
suffer it have memory lapses) was based on the first five notes of the scale,
Tovey added that only one other piece of music has that premise and that is W. C.
Handy’s When the Saints Go Marching In. Soon after all of that we were in
laughter. And Tovey was not about to ignore an Orpheum that was perhaps 35%
full. “So we have our core of enthusiasts here tonight!”
Top’s piece had me on the edge of my seat
as I attempted to figure out which section of the orchestra was playing those
Best of all there is something to be said
for hearing compositions that have either never been played (Top’s was a world
premiere) or pieces that most of us have not heard before.
Higher up in the balcony I noticed a man. I
went up to him and asked him, “Is your name Alexander?” He answered, “Yes.” I
then told him, “It is so pleasant to see the President and CEO of the VSO
attending one of his symphony’s concerts on a cold Monday night." Jeff Alexander
smiled at this.
In the audience I spotted at least over 15 Vancouver new music and
contemporary music composers. Had an errant US cruise missile hit the Orpheum
it would have indeed been a musical tragedy for our city.
If all the above was not enough, the series
had a pre-concert chat in the upper lounge, the Wescoast Energy Hall (it has a
bar) of the Orpheum which featured Paolo Bertussi and Corey Hamm (directors) of
music by emerging artists. On Monday, a beautiful Steinway resisted demolition
by the likes of Vivian Sham (she played I leap Through the Sky With Stars by
Alexina Louie, Frederic Rzewski’s Piano
Piece No. 4 played by Elliot Kam, and Nicole Linaksita performed John Paths Jettatura.
The three composers explained their pieces
and it was just five minutes before the concert began so we only had just a few
minutes of silence to gather our thoughts.
But I must record here that when Elliot Kam
sat at the piano, Glenn Gould-like face almost on the keyboard to play that
Piano Piece No. 4 I told myself, “This is going to be hard to beat.” I was
After the concert we were told we could
gather at the Wescoast Energy Hall Lobby. A gentleman was playing jazz (and Bésame Mucho) on the Steinway and there were
many of the performers, Bramwell Tovey, all those composers all casually
chatting while imbibing drinks. I con only say that a fireplace would have
hardly made the place feel any warmer.
A Fine Sunday Afternoon With The Arts Umbrella Dance Company
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Today I went to the first ever Arts
Umbrella Dance Company Sunday Performances Series 204 for the second time. The
reason being is that I went last week and the place, Glen Gilmour Studio on 7th
was locked. In my eagerness I had my dates wrong.
There was a very long line to get in. I
paid my suggested $10 ticket (a real steal) and even though I knew that most
seats would be taken in the limited space I had my secret spot waiting for me. The
secret spot is a hard column by a hard floor. I sat and I knew that the big
gun would surely come. The seat behind me had a reserved notice. She (Emily Molnar) sat down. I was a mere
inches away from the dance goddess. She looked at my camera (a Fuji X-E1) and
asked me, “Alex are you going to take pictures?” While I am not shy I sort of
lied and told her the truth, “I am no expert on dance photography. In fact I
know nothing about it.” The truth is that years ago I realized I could never
compete with David Cooper so I reduced myself to photograph dancers as people
firmly planted to the floor or sitting on a chair in front of my camera.
The truth is that I used to take still
photographs of the jazz dancers who performed in the CBC variety shows of the
late 70s and early 80s. I had been hired to take pictures of all the shows. Among the dancers were Jeff Hyslop Viktoria Langton , Jackie Coleman and Valerie
Easton. The latter is the choreographer for most of the theatrical productions
of the Arts Club Theatre Company. The choreographer of the CBC jazz dancers was
James Hibbard who gave me the best advice I ever received from anybody on how
to photograph dancers. He told me, “Get as low as you can and if you can dig a
hole to be even lower, do so.”
From my vantage point on the floor of the Glenn Gilmour Studio I was
Now this digital contraption that I now
own is capable of many things if one is aware of what these things are. The
fact is that the Arts Umbrella Apprentice Dance Company are far better at what
they do than this digital apprentice can hope to be. But I tried and herewith
are some of my attempts.
I hope that the dancers photographed might
just have some fun recognizing themselves in most of my blurs which I purposely
shot using 1/15 and lower exposures.
It is a pleasure and a delight to be able
to see such quality dancing in intimate surroundings without being told that cameras
and video are prohibited. At this rate, and considering that the next session in
the Sunday Performances Series is at Performance Works on February 9, if things go well, I might just learn to photograph dance, after all.
I cannot leave this blog without mentioning
that those who in the end did not show up for this performance they lost seeing
the most incredible dancer from Ballet BC, Rachel Meyer choreographed by her
fellow Ballet BC dancer Dario Dinuzzi. Rachel Meyer has the kind of dancer’s
body, all muscle and sinew that if you pushed her into a swimming pool, my
guess is that she would sink unless she swam. I managed to take a few
photographs and if you look closely you will know which ones they are.
My thanks, as usual to that dynamo of dance
and inspiration, Artemis Gordon, Artistic Director of the Arts Umbrella Dance
Company. I could not forget thanking Emily Molnar for her generosity in lending
to the Arts Umbrella Dance Company her three dancers, Livona Ellis, Rachel Meyer and Dario
Dinuzzi who choreographed two pieces for Arts Umbrella Dancers. Of Livona
Ellis, we can mention here that is was not too long ago (a year or two?) that
she was a member of the venerable Granville
Island company of
And also before I forget, I understand that
former Arts Umbrella dance virtuoso, Caroline Kilpatrick who now works in the
administration of the company is engaged. Congratulations!