My Dell CRT Monitor & That Epson PerfectionV700 Photo
Saturday, March 08, 2014
One dramatic change for me since I started
blogging in January 2006 has to do with my complete ignorance on what a blog
was. Within a few days I removed that ability of anyone leaving a comment. While this meant that I would no longer have
banal musings from idling busybodies it soon put my blog into an uncertain
domain that was out there.
In that first year that was 2006 more often
than not a blog consisted of my going through my extensive photo files and by
either random or by purpose search I would find a photograph or a series of
ones that would inspire a blog.
This has reversed itself in the last few
years when I
know what I am going to write about and then have the problem of
relying on my memory to find a photograph to illustrate what I have written.
For my first three years I was obsessed
with the idea that since a daily blog was just that, a daily blog, I had a
midnight deadline to fulfill. This was awfully difficult when we traveled. I
had no computer to take with me so internet cafes in remote Mexican or
Argentine towns became the rigorous part of every day.
Then I figured I could write blogs in
advance before I left for a trip and then on the day in question I would post
This has all changed but I still attempt to
have a blog for every day even if I have to go back to several weeks of blank
postings. I feel I have a duty to myself to blog every day even if the sequence
Sometimes I feel lazy. I think to myself, I
can look for a picture in my files of a sexy looking woman. This will please my
friends John Lekich and Gavin Walker who are avowed heterosexuals (with just
the right amount of romanticism in them to not make them possibly scary
predators!). I put up the photo write some technical information to provide
words and it is done.
Invariably these blogs will have a “like”
flag when I post the links into facebook (note it has to be written in lower
But of late my blogs have mainly consisted
of personal content relevant to my existence in which the photograph I use to
illustrate them is secondary. And would you know it? The “like” (your picture)
flags will still proliferate.
This blog has a series of four pictures
which I took with a Nikon FM-2 and a 35mm lens. My film was Kodak b+w infrared
film which has been discontinued for many years. This particular strip is not a
scan of the long negative but of the contact sheet. The sepia colour is there
because the photographic paper, Ilford Multigrade if not properly fixed would
turn and the image would decay (ever so nicely, I think).
What has changed since 2006 is my discovery
and reliance on the multi possibilities of my Epson Perfection V700 Photo
At one time I would have gone to my
darkroom (I still do with increasing irregularity) with a strong mug of tea and
a big fat file of negatives.
Now I sit here in front of my Dell Cathode
Ray Tube monitor, with a strong mug of tea to my left, a big fat file of
negatives and that wonderful Epson.
Karen Gerbrecht, Max Factor & My Fuji X-E1
Friday, March 07, 2014
|Karen Gerbrecht, alas! in b+w|
Few might know who this man was, Maksymilian
Faktorowicz, 1877 – August 30, 1938. A few more might know that Max Factor, a Polish-Jewish
cosmetician from Łódź, Poland
started a company we now know as Max Factor.
But even fewer would know that the man was instrumental
in making John Fitzgerald Kennedy the President of the United States.
In the early 1850s photographer Mathew
Brady had to work with Daguerreotypes and wet plate glass negatives. The
emulsions on these photographic methods conspired with the then slow camera
lenses to make exposures quite long. Few humans (except for the often
photographed soldiers of the American Civil War) could sit very still for a
minute or more. Elaborate metal braces (that could not be seen) were used to
keep portrait sitters immobile.
Brady had a very large skylight studio with
a glass wall on one side. Light on sunny days poured in. Brady noticed that
when he tinted his skylight blue exposures were shorter.
Without knowing exactly, Brady had
discovered what Nixon should have known when he appeared in the TV debates with
What Brady discovered is that the blue end
of light that we humans can see (but we do not see the blues very well)
contains ultra violet. All photographic materials be it film, videotape and digital
cameras (and crucial for Nixon, early b+w TV cameras) are sensitive to UV
light. This meant that while a face might look just fine in a TV studio with
all those hot TV lights, light sensitive materials see more. The TV cameras in
those Nixon/Kennedy debates penetrated Nixon’s face and made him look worse
than he was.
Max Factor knew this. He also knew that
suntan lotion blocked UV light. He concocted a mixture of suntan lotion, made
it pink, added perfume and lanolin (it was supposed to be good for skin) and
called it Max Facto Pancake Makeup. Kennedy had it on his face.
Sometime around 1977 I has a red haired
Canadian Pacific Airways stewardess (they were called that then) subject. I
took portraits and then attempted to print decent colour prints in my darkroom
which was equipped with a colour head enlarger. I was never able to print a
picture that showed the true colour of her skin.
The reason (my suspicion, only) is that
red-haired people must affect the UV penetration of light in such a way that their
true colour does not happen. If you then add to the mix that transparency
(slide) film can have a built-in colour cast or that the flashtubes on a studio
flight are old or simply are not balanced for daylight film, you get what I
have gotten all these years. To make it worse when I photographed anybody with
a gray backdrop, the gray was never a true, neutral gray. It always had
overtones of blue, green and or cyan.
With the advent of good digital cameras
that have either auto white balance or white balance you can dial in, gray
backdrops are gray and skin looks like skin.
I have a problem. I am unable to get my
favourite red head, VSO violinist Karen Gerbrecht to pose for me. She has a
busy schedule. I can only dream how her skin will glow when she finally meets
up with my Fuji X-E1.
The picture you see here is a scan of the long discontinued Polaroid Type 55 Instant b+w negative film.
We Are Highfalutin Snobs
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Right off the bat you must know that my
computer monitor is a cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor. It is a Dell. I calibrate
it every once in a while by making the gray background of my blog gray without
any bits of blue, yellow, magenta, green or cyan. When I send my digital files
to Grant Simmons at DISC so he can make some of those wonderful giclées, my prints are exactly as I expected them. And
furthermore when I see my files on his super calibrated Mac monitor my pictures
look exactly as the do on my CRT.
Next to the living
room, where I have my monitor, computer and scanner is a small den with an
excellent fireplace. In a corner is a medium sized Sony Trinitron (yes it also
has a bulky cathode ray tube protuberance on the back.
Rosemary and I have no
way of connecting the computer to our TV should we want to watch what is on the
computer or if we would download from Netflix. We are happy as we are.
And we are happy as we
are because thanks to our excellent Vancouver Public Library and Limelight
Video we get to see all that wonderful stuff that is not mainstream.
|Yuliya at my Dell CRT monitor|
You see, Rosemary and
I keep our noses very high because we are highfalutin snobs.
We have never watched
Law & Order or any other American made TV program. I saw one Breaking Bad
and one Mad Men a long time ago and that satisfied me that I was not missing
Rosemary and I like
foreign films and in particular films that never have animated characters with
the voices of famous Hollywood actors.
We do watch police
procedurals. We like our policemen to have lots of existential angst. We have
seen, now, 18 episodes of the Italian series Montalbano. As I write this
Rosemary is reading her 8th Andrea Camilleri, Montalbano novel.
We like existential
angst and we saw the few in the British series (that made only a few) that
featured Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen and Robert Wilson’s Seville cop Falcón.
What is next? Rosemary
was not keen on having our dear Inspector Brunetti (Dona Leon’s detective based in Venice) speak German as the series is made by
So we tried Wallander.
But I did not think Rosemary would approve of the original Swedish series in
We have seen two
Wallanders with Kenneth Branagh. And we like Branagh’s Wallander because he is
full of existential angst, suffers from a horrific and enervated work-related-stress
and by the second episode he is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Rosemary and I have
come to the conclusion that Branagh’s tired look cannot be just makeup. We
imagine him going days without sleep and he perhaps smokes a few tokes to get
those bloodshot eyes. The man looks like he is about to collapse. We love him
and we love the slow pace (so unlike the quicken-it-up-time-is-money American
method) of the show. Better still that first episode featured my very favourite
British actor, David Warner, as Wallander’s father, a painter suffering the
early stages of Alzheimer’s.
I met and photographed
Kenneth Branagh some years ago. The perennial question that most people ask me
is, “What was he like?” My usual answer is that I have never been able to
penetrate, as far as I know, the mask of the actor, except once.
The man in question
was a young Christopher Gaze who played Richard III in an early version of Bard
on the Beach in 1984. Gaze played the hunchback with a withered arm Richard. It
was amazing to watch him. I wondered how this man could possibly woo the very
women whose husbands he had sent to their death. At the end of the play (there
was no curtain bowing as there was no curtain) Gaze would bow to our applause
and he would then straighten up and shift from Richard III to a man I would
soon get to know as Christopher Gaze.
I can assert that
Branagh made only one mistake in his life and that was to leave his wife Emma
Thompson. When I photographed the man (he was courteous, warm and low key) he
was having an affair with Helena Bonham Carter. Since I had photograph Bonham
Carter a year before I shopped for a Pugwash, Nova Scotia pewter locket and inserted one
of my snapshots. He was most grateful.
As Rosemary and watch
Wallander we marvel as how the man can make a scene without saying anything. He
uses his eyes. He might think of a smile without smiling quite. He is to
Wallander what Lucca Zingaretti is to the Montalbano series.
And we formally thank
here the VPL and Limelight Video for making accessible to us the good stuff.
I Am Abraham - Which One?
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
|Abraham Lincoln - William Shaw -Spring/Summer 1860|
At this moment I am putting my copy of
Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham, aside. I am doing with the novel what my Rosemary does with
Mars bars (a Canadian chocolate bar similar to the Milky Way). I am half way
through but like Rosemary, who sneaks into the kitchen to slice thin slivers the bar on the cutting board, a sliver at a time, and by evening it is all gone. We both now how to savour and prolong the pleasure of good things.
Thrilling as I Am Abraham is
(particularly if you are a Lincoln fan as I am) I have to let it go to peruse
in my head the information that Charyn throws at me in what would seem is a
mask of novelized facts. But between reading an official biography rich in
detail or reading a real memoir like U.S. Grant’s I will take the second and if
a memoir is not available a novelized one will be my choice if I know the
author. Two of the best novelized memoirs I have read in the last four months
have been Tomás Eloy Martínez’s
Santa Evita and Marcos Aguinis’s La Furia de Evita. And of course it wasn’t too
long ago that I read with pleasure Charyn’s The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.
|Jacket design Tal Goretsky|
I will not write here
one of those silly art critic comments on why Charyn would pick Dickinson and
Lincoln as his subjects. He is clear in the Author’s Note to I Am Abraham as to
why he chose the latter and I will write about that below.
First I will put
forward an observation not based on any facts or scholarship but by someone who
is primarily a portrait photographer, and that’s me.
|Lisa Gherardini, Leonardo da Vinci|
Of the four only one
has given us the sound of his voice and we have also seen him in news films. He
exists in our minds as someone we think we know. In my case I can even smell in
my head the aroma of his Romeo y Julieta’s.
But the other three
are enigmas. There is one known photograph of Dickinson. What we know of her is through her
poetry and a few observations by people who knew her.
Of the Mona Lisa we
know absolutely nothing except that little known fact that her family, once a
patrician one, were exiled to several countries including Ireland where
they adopted the name of Fitzgerald. You can connect then the possibility that
she and John Fitzgerald Kennedy might have been related.
While there are a few
extant Daguerreotypes of President Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln had provided
history with over 100 likenesses. Of those I have counted (purely subjectively)
one almost smile and two half smiles.
So I believe that our
attraction to Mona Lisa, Emily Dickinson (particularly after we have seen her
one image) and of Lincoln
has to do with our inability to know who the person behind the mask is.
|Andrew Jackson - Mathew Brady - between 1844-1845|
And with Lincoln (those three
almost smiles) you see a gaunt, sad, troubled man who sometimes seems to be at
peace, in spite of the turmoil of his life.
It is the enigma of
those three faces, Lincoln, the Mona Lisa and Emily Dickinson that makes it
compulsory for us to return to them to see them and read about them.
Both Lincoln and
Dickinson look absolutely contemporary in their portraits specially when you realize that they were alive when they faced the camera.
We know that the
exposure times for these 19th century portraits could be one minute
or more. This forced a photographer’s subject to sit still (a framework of
metal contraptions held them in place but not seen by the camera) but even then
one cannot avoid seeing the patient melancholy behind Lincoln’s eyes.
In his Author’s Notes
Charyn begins: I never liked Lincoln.
He then retracts and
writes: Then several winters ago, I happened upon a book about Lincoln’s
lifelong depression – or hypos, as nineteenth-century metaphysicians described
acute melancholia, and suddenly that image of the backwoods saint vanished, and
now I had a new entry point into Lincoln’s life and language – my own crippling
bouts of depression, where I would plunge in the same damp, drizzly November of
the soul that Melville describes in Moby-Dick. But I was no Ishmael. I couldn’t
take my hypos with me aboard some whaler. I had to lie abed for a month until
my psyche began to knit and mend, while some hired gunslinger of a novelist
taught my classes in creative writing at the City College.
Jerome Charyn’s novel
I Am Abraham is of a man whose pictures you see here. But consider this; the
last photograph of Lincoln
taken by Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865 was, as far as we know the last portrait
of the man before his date at Ford’s Theatre for the production of Our American
Cousin on April 14.
And in this photograph,
a glass plate, (it was originally thrown away and is all that remains of Lincoln’s session with Gardner)
giving the best smile he ever gave to a camera. That image is what the cover
illustration of Charyn’s novel is based on.
Let us hope that
Charyn’s hypos will have receded as we await his next book which will surely be
about some other person whose face is or was an enigma.
The pictures of Lincoln below are in chronological order and they begin in 1846/47 and end February 5, 1865.
|Portrait by Brady taken after Lincoln made his Cooper Union Speech on Feb 27 1860 |
|Jerome Charyn, 1995 Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
|Hair cut to facilitate the making of life mask|
|Photograph by Alexander Gardner, illustration on Charyn's book based on this.|
|Lincoln's second inauguration March 4 1865. Lincoln under black dot, John Wilkes Booth under black dot|
|Lincoln and son Tad|