The Prof, The Holy Ghost & St. John The Baptist
Saturday, April 26, 2014
In the early 70s I was teaching Spanish to
foreign students in a Jesuit university in Mexico City. A kindly priest, head of the
department called me into his office one day to tell me that there was a
problem. He was in a serious fix. There was a class called Teaching Spanish to Teachers of Spanish by
Way of Linguistics in which one of the instructors had come down with
hepatitis This was a Friday and the class began on the Monday. The class was taught in what was deemed the avant-garde of the day. The
two instructors would alternate during the daily two hour class. Both would be
present at all times. The healthy instructor was a Uruguayan woman with a
doctorate. I was asked to take the place of the sick instructor. I attempted to
bow out citing my self-evident lack of academic qualifications. The priest
would have nothing of this and sort of told me that the Holy Spirit would intervene
on my behalf.
I remember going with Rosemary to the
bookstore downtown to purchase the complicated book. On my first day I had huge
butterflies in my stomach. In 1973 I was 31 but I did not look a day older than
24. My students, about 40 of them were all sort of long-in-the-tooth Americans
who taught in American universities. My Uruguayan co-instructor was pleasant. I
am sure she knew of my troubles.
For the length of the course, 6 weeks, I
was always one or two chapters ahead of my students. Every night I told
Rosemary I was going to snooze. She would run my bath get me into it and then
would demand I teach her the next day’s class. She would not allow me to go to
I would arrive early to the university and
I drank gallons of chamomile tea for my nerves. I had the runs and lost weight.
But on that last day I was approached by my students who told me that they really
admired my teaching skills and that they had learned lots.
There is no Holy Spirit or a kindly Jesuit
in these parts and I feel that there is lots of information in my head on
things photographic that will die with me when I die. In jest I tell my
Rosemary to throw in all my cameras into the open pit that will be by grave so
that I can be well accompanied into oblivion.
But more seriously last night I read to
Rosemary this quote from the Open Book section of this Sunday’s NY Times Book
‘My father was a very disciplined and
punctual man; it was a prerequisite for his creativity….No matter what time you
get out of bed, go for a walk and then work, he’d say, because the demons hate
it when you get out of bed, demons hate fresh air.’
The novelist Linn Ullmann in an interview
with Vogue, discussing the influence of her father, the filmmaker Ingmar
I put the paper down and immediately had a
thought, “Rosemary if you ever look for my portraits of Liv Ullmann when I am
dead you will not find them filed under U. She wrote that marvelous
autobiography, Changing so I have her under a separate section on authors and
yes in the Us.”
That led me to think I should put down on
paper all my passwords for the blog, facebook, Twitter and how to access the
folks that host and manage my blog/web page. They can pull the plug any instant
if the credit card expiry date does its thing and expires! They have done this
a couple of times and anybody who thinks that one’s presence on the net is
permanent has lots to learn.
The role of the Baptist as explained in the
New Testament was to “prepare the way for the Lord.” It behooves me to make the
transition of my possible widow as flawless as that of St. John’s for the Lord.
Living To Live & Bark Mulch At The VAG
Friday, April 25, 2014
This year Rosemary and I have decided to
open our garden in June for the Vancouver Rose Society. I was asked to send a
garden bio. Below is what I sent.
|Vancouver Art Gallery on the Howe Street Side|
and I moved to our present location, a corner lot, in 1986. It took a while
before we figured out what to do with it. We have been subject to the deaths of
several Japanese acers (verticillium wilt), Lawson cypresses (root rot), three
cherry trees (Winter Moth) and one apple tree. The increasing height of a large
Western Red Cedar on our neighbour’s side (faces south) means that our garden
with increasing shade will only grow what is growing. Many of our roses (we had
at one time 85) have given up the ghost. Our garden is exemplary in showing
some garden follies (too many trees we planted) and what really good garden
plants are that can take the shade abuse.
I hope this will do. And by the way our garden
appeared in both Canadian Gardener and the American Better Homes and Gardens.
This idea of opening a
garden that is in decline because of a terrible and encroaching shade has been
in the making since I heard that Vancouver
photographer Phil Hersee died in March of 2013. He was 68 (I was 70 at the time),
but I remember that soon after I had arrived in Vancouver in 1975 Hersee was
taking pictures of beautiful models (my dream at the time) in a good studio in
Gastown. From fashion he branched out into production stills for films being
made in our city. By 1986 he had published a lovely Vancouver
picture book, Vancouver-
the Touch of Magic. It was a runner-up to the BC Booksellers' Choice Award in
Honour of Bill Duthie.
I never did know
Hersee well but I always remembered him for his fine British accent and his
nicely clipped moustache. He was always polite and gracious with me.
But there is another
reason why he has been in my thoughts in the last year. Hersee died of a
terrible cancer of his lower dominions. Six months before he died he went to
Horst Wenzel (we shared this excellent camera repair technician) for something
and told him he had half a year of life. And yet this dying man would go to
Beau Photo to buy supplies as if everything was just fine.
I have seen the
syndrome that affects people when they get old and feel they will soon have to
move from their home so something smaller and manageable. Why repair the place
if it is going to be ploughed over? Why fix a leaking toilet or re-do a floor,
after all we will be soon out of here.
This mentality has
hit, as an example our local Vancouver
They plan to move (if they do it will be years hence) and so it seems they have
no concern that in recent weeks with all our rain, the gallery is surrounded by
a muck (red it is) of water mixed with the bark mulch they have used. There are
a few grassed promontories that could have some metal sculptures. The VAG is
the cultural centre of our city. It will never figure out which is its front
(no access on Georgia)
or its back (where everything meaningful happens in its back steps. The back
steps end up in a metal fence with spikes like the ones that protect soccer
players in Latin America from rowdy fans. The
VAG’s exterior is a disgrace.
In the 90s our VAG
made lots of money from film and TV companies that used the inside halls of the
gallery as law courts (which our VAG once was). It was almost impossible to
pass by the gallery without seeing huge movie lights facing windows and big
ladders and equipment that tore up the lawn that at one time made our gallery attractive
on the outside.
Thanks to Phil Hersee
we are opening our garden, business as usual, as if we were to live forever or
somehow we are back to the garden of the 90s when it was at its prime.
Rosemary and I live
today for today. We work in the garden. Who knows where either of us will be
when death comes? That is not important. As I have learned from Hersee you
either wait to die or you live to live. The choice is obvious.
When Is A Blog Not A True Diary?
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Sometimes I wonder if I should not pack in
this blog. In the last few months I have been getting repeated requests from my
subjects whose pictures might appear here. They want me to remove them as they
don’t want their clients to see them.
For many years I eschewed model releases
and preferred the route of getting permission from my subjects to display their
pictures in gallery exhibitions and in my portfolio. This worked very well
until I received a scary letter from a lawyer “ignore this at your own peril” telling
me that I could not use any pictures of her client in anything. I am waiting
for senility to then post the “offending” pictures, lawyer be damned.
But a blog is different. And particularly
telling is my blog. Because I have written every day since January 2006, 3060
blogs in all before this one, I have a Blogger Stats page that tells me I
average around 400,000 page reads (peeks, perhaps?) per month. I believe that
these statistics are wonky and that many of the findings are random image
searches. But still.
Because of the high profile of this blog I
have a self-imposed rule that I do not show bits and things when I post what
surely must be a nude.
I understand that in youth a person might
not have cared about images that might reveal a bit too much and years later
after having become a school teacher or lawyer the picture could be a
But the other side of the coin is that my
blog is a true diary. Would anybody tear out a page from a hard copy diary if
asked? But is a blog really a diary if everybody can read it?
My compromise with those that request I
remove offending pictures is to change their names. Then I check if their name
is embedded in the metadata of the photograph. I remove the photograph, temporarily and
re-name it. In most cases in name searches the images in Google Images will
disappear after a few weeks.
Increasingly as I approach my one-way door exit I believe I am an artist besides being a competent photographer. I believe that many of my photographs are, not artistic, or tasteful, but simply art. I feel hurt when I am asked to withdraw a photograph (I think withdraw is the right verb here). Somehow the picture that offends becomes a trite thing.
A Blurred Failure?
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
|Valerie Easton, Jackie Coleman, Viktoria Langton, circa late 70s at the CBC|
A local dance magazine has requested a
photograph I took sometime in the late 70s of a CBC variety show that featured Jeff Hyslop as the male dancer. Looking for the requested picture I found that
my extensive CBC files did not harbour said image. I got depressed at the
thought of losing the money the dance magazine was offering. Then I thought a
bit and went down to my files and found to big three-ring binders that had the
label, CBC b+w and CBC colour. It was in the second that I found the picture. I
could fill a large hockey arena with pictures I took at the CBC. Perhaps when I
am dead someone will offer my widow money for what represents a moment in time
when the CBC was important to all of us and our government was able to support
Within that colour binder I found a these
three 120, medium format, strips of colour negative shot on Kodak Vericolor II
Professional. I must have been insane to attempt to freeze motion in the 3200
degree Kelvin movie lighting with 160 ISO film. I have no idea if I had the
film push processed to 300 ISO. It would seem that my experiment of crouching
on the floor with my extremely heavy Mamiya RB-67 and its 65mm wide angle lens
was a failure. I filed away the pictures and I had forgotten them as I have
But a good scanner can reveal that there is
good stuff here. The dancers from left to right are Valerie Easton, Jackie
Coleman and Viktoria Langton I had been primed by dancer Jim Hibbard to always
shoot dancers from the floor to make them look taller. I sort of like the
Jan van Eyk, Annie Leibovitz's Willie Nelson & A Muse
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Inspiration and a muse are closely intertwined.
In my most recent case it involved a muse, a 57 year-old free spirit, 15th
century Flemish painter Jan van Eyck, a circular mirror in my muse’s bedroom
and a withdrawn book (it cost me $1.50) a 2003 First Edition of Annie Leibovitz’s
American Music. The book came from the stacks of the Vancouver Public Library’s
In Leibovitz’s beautiful book I was
instantly drawn to her portrait of Willie Nelson. I have taken many very good
profile portraits in my life but I have always lit from my subject’s face. It
never occurred to me to do it in the opposite way.
During this Putin fiasco in Ukraine/Crimea
several folk from the otherwise banal facebook have pointed out that Putin
appears in many portraits by Flemish painters. In particular they cite Van Eyck’s
portrait of the Arnolfini Marriage.
So when I showed up at my muse’s apartment
today and saw her circular mirror in her bedroom I heard very loud bells of
inspiration. They rang again when I saw the Mexican painting in her living
In my waning years of photography I find
myself shifting back and fourth between my roots (natural light, often called
available light) and my later years (mid 80s on) obsession with all sorts of
artificial lighting. A big injection to
this mixture has been my discovery (a bit on the late side as the film is
discontinued but I have ten boxes which amount to 100 more possibilities) of Fuji FP-3000B instant b+w film which produces 7 inch by 7 inch prints on my
Mamiya Rb-67 Pro-SD’s Polaroid back. The film is extremely fast (3200 ISO) and
the prints are free of noticeable grain. In this age of the scanner, these
prints reproduce quite nicely. But the excitement comes from the peel which for
some years I threw away (how could I have been so densely stupid?). These peels
as they dry (I help this along with a hair dryer) the peel manifests, quite randomly,
a shift from negative to positive in different sections of the image. This
looks like solarization but the correct term with negatives is the Sabbatier
I have been reserving my boxes of FP-3000B
for special occasions and with special subjects. Nina my muse fits into that
|Willie Nelson - Annie Lebiovitz|
The two images of Nina you see here are:
1. A cropped (we wouldn’t want to show bits
here, would we?) Fuji
FP-3000B peel that once I scanned I reversed in Photoshop with some tinkering
of the contrast. The colour is the colour of the slightly blue negative peel
which shifts into the magenta upon reversal.
2. A cropped (cropped for the reason cited
above) print of Fuji’s
(still being made) 100 ISO FP-100C colour instant film. Note that I used the
Leibovitz lighting technique.
In the next few days I will be processing:
1. 10 images on one roll of b+w Ilford FP-4
Plus in 120 in which I used my Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD with lights and with
2. 15 images of a roll of Kodak T-Max 400
pushed to 400 which I took with my Leica III-F. I shot some with flash as this
was the first Leica with a PC connection so that I could mate it with my
portable studio flash.
3. 15 images with my Nikon FM-2 loaded with
Fuji Superia 800 ISO colour negative film.
4. About 20 images shot with my Fuji X-E1
Judging by the pictures so far my muse has fulfilled
her role splendidly!
That Unexplained Mystery That Is Illogic
Monday, April 21, 2014
In many ways this Easter weekend has
been a satisfying one. On Good Friday I witnessed an intimate performance of Mozart’s Requiem with my fried Graham Walker. On Easter Saturday my family came
for dinner and I prepared this year’s first batch of my iced tea. Ale, my 46
year-old daughter from Lillooet requested I prepare a fondue. Hilary and her
daughter Rebecca baked an over-the-top apple pie. On Easter Sunday we had a
fine brunch at the Brock House Restaurant.
I was left wanting.
I know why. I think it is human nature to
seek the mystery and the unexplained. Why a jetliner can have disappeared for
over a month is not that kind of mystery. It has to be a mystery that transcends
In this 21st century, except for
pockets of religious fundamentalism, our faith in a higher or superior being is
not first on our agenda, perhaps the mortgage or lowering our blood cholesterol
This transcendental feeling can sometimes
happen (and it does to me) when I look at pictures in my National Geographic
that attempt to explain the immeasurable size of our known (and the others?) universe.
Then there is the tradition, the mystery,
the ceremony and the trappings of my Roman Catholic faith which came to me with
a sprinkle of water sometime after August 31, 1942.
From my grandmother
and from the Brothers of Holy Cross at St. Edward’s in Austin, Texas
that transcendence was given the depth of elaborate historical and philosophic
knowledge. From Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. I learned a kinder version of my
faith that was not steeped in the horrors (as he so well taught me) of the 30
Year’s War of the 17th century.
Faith in a religion defies logic. While I
believe that at the best of times, we as a people can be logical, the
aberrations of war and famine show me that there is a personal side of us that
defies the logic of the one and the naught. It is that illogical side of us
that pushes us to art. Nobody except for a man like Bruneleschi would or could
have imagined a round dome to fit over the very square of the Duomo of
Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore.
No matter how many special effects or how
beautiful New Zealand
is, films on Tolkien novels cannot compare to medieval cathedrals, and Bach’s
St Matthew Passion. Fantasy at its best cannot instill in a child, teenager or
adult that sense of a mystery that has no logical explanation and that cannot
be explained by special effects.
I believe that my immediate family, not
having the so-called-useless trappings of religion, lives a life of stress and material
acquisition confusion that except for the hope of finally finding a house one
can afford to buy or the paying off of that mortgage, has no end game or
And so I finally convinced Rosemary to
watch (only an hour and a half, we will finish it on Monday) to watch Martin
Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.
For reasons of a busy fate of distraction I
had never seen this film even though my occasion to photograph Scorsese came
from the fact that his presence in Vancouver
was to promote that film.
It a film adaptation of the controversial
1953 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. I have not read that novel
but I have read José Saramago’s El
Evangelio Según Jesucristo and I found many startling parallels to the film.
After an hour and a
bit more of the film I feel this Sunday, this Easter Sunday, a bit of piece and
contentment that my world has not changed as much as I think it has and that I
still have a sense of wonder for the unexplained mystery and illogic of a
religion that I was born with that I cannot just discard.
muere, muere, y ya va dejando la vida, cuando de pronto el cielo se abre de par
en par por encima de su cabeza, y Dios aparece vestido como estuvo en la barca,
y su voz resuena por todo la tierra diciendo, Tú eres mi Hijo muy amado, en ti
pongo toda mi complacencia. Entonces comprendió Jesús que vino traído al engaño
como se lleva al cordero al sacrificio, que su vida fue trazada desde el
principio de los principios para morir así, y, trayéndole la memoria del río de
sangre y de sufrimiento que de su lado nacerá e inundará toda la tierra, clamó
al cielo abierto donde Díos sonreía, Hombres, perdonadle, porque él no sabe lo
que hizo. Luego se fue muriendo en medio de un sueño, estaba en Nazaret y oía que
su padre le decía, encogiéndose de hombros y sonriendo también, Ni yo puedo hacerte
todas las preguntas, ni tú puedes darme todas las respuestas. Aún había en él un
rastro de vida cuando sintió que una esponja empapada en agua y vinagre le rozaba
los labios, y entonces, mirando hacia abajo, reparó en un hombre que se alejaba
con un cubo y una caña al hombre. Ya no llegó a ver, colocado en el suelo, en cuenco
negro sobre el que su sangre goteaba.
El Evangelio Según Jesucristo – José Saramago.
Easter At Brock House With Abi
Sunday, April 20, 2014
|The Waterhouse-Haywards, the Stewarts & Lilian the Easter Bunny at the Brock House|
After 46 years of
marriage to Rosemary it has been plainly evident for some years now that she is
always right. Case in point was her wish to spend Easter morning in a nice
brunch with the family. That Easter Sunday was one day after her 70th birthday
made the day even more special.
Rosemary did a lot of
on-line looking around but she finally settled for brunch at Brock House on Point Grey Road.
The family gathered at 11:30 (Hilary’s husband Bruce had to work) and we
splurged on Eggs Benedict, roast beef, salads, omelettes, and desserts that
included a scrumptious cheese-cake. Before we left we took some snaps with
Lilian, the resident Easter Bunny.
Of special note was our wonderful waiter,
Kalani, Mazatlán born with a mother from Prince
Edward Island. He was very good looking and had
wonderful freckles that were noticed by my Rebecca who confessed that he had
been three years ahead of her at L'Ecole Bilingue.
The joke behind the
birthday card for Rosemary is the Rebecca,16, as a little girl called her Abi
and the name stuck. Abi Easter Abi!
|Easter basket made by Ale with her kindergarten pupils in Lillooet|