That Perfect Red - Not Yet
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Some who read these
pages might know that I have a long time project of taking pictures of people, mostly friends, who represent many professions here in Vancouver. I photograph them all wearing my
mother’s red Mexican rebozo or shawl. My mother made an exploratory trip to Mexico around 1952 and came back with it to our
then home in Buenos Aires.
Since then I can remember the many occasions my mother wore it. She had
different ways of wearing it. I was one way for Mass, another for a fancy
party or a cocktail and in a completely different way when she wore it to keep
her warm. She died in 1972 and when we moved to Vancouver in 1975 the rebozo has been kept as
a treasure in a Mexican chest made of Olinalá wood in the Mexican state of
Guerrero. The material of the rebozo is rough and nobody I know has been able to tell me if
it is rough wool or cotton or a blend. Of the brilliant red I have always
thought it to be some Mexican native plant dye.
One of the rules for
those who pose with the red shawl is that they must write an essay on anything.
I welcome them doing this shortly after they pose as for many the shawl has
provided quick and wonderful inspiration.
It is also amazing how
my over 40 individual red shawlers have managed to find a perfectly unique way
of wearing it.
But at least ten of my
red shawlers have not written their essays. They include Bill Millerd,
Christopher Gaze, Bruno Freschi, Karen Gerbrecht and Artemis Gordon.
I do not post their
pictures until their essay is submitted. They can write about anything and the
only person who asked me for some sort of established length (I mentioned 500)
wrote more on purpose. And of course anybody who knows George Bowering would
Now I feel that I can
post this delightful Fuji Instant Colour Film picture (I scanned the peeled
negative which I had to bleach to get rid of the accompanying gunk) of Katie
Huisman. She is a seriously talented Vancouver
art photographer. I think I am allowed (after all I set my rules here) to do
this as I am not posting the actual real film (film transparency) but the
I first met Ms.
Huisman at Focal Point where we both taught. She was a quiet, pretty young
woman who always wore a beret. I made it a point to berate
(!!) her every time she showed up at school when I was sitting in the school
lounge. I once remember asking her if she wore it to bed. She never reacted in
a nasty way (it certainly was her prerogative to do so) and just took it with
that “I will not reveal anything” smile of hers.
Our first real communication came when she
asked me if I knew anybody who would provide a garden where she could take her
students to shoot some nude for her class. At the time, my friend, architect
Abraham Rogatnick was dying (we did not then know that he was giving up on
treating his prostate cancer). Rogatnick lived around the corner from Focal
Point. I asked Rogatnick who immediately assented. As sick as he was he peeked
from his window as Huisman and class took their pictures.
It was only a few months ago that I asked
Huisman to pose for me in the shawl. She did but as you can see the essay has
not been forthcoming.
But something happened to me in the last
few days. I remembered a book that had been given to me years ago by my
free-lance writer friend (who has exquisite taste) Kerry McPhedran.
Chances are that the red dye of the rebozo
is not vegetable but it comes from an insect called Dactylopius coccus or the
cochineal that is found mostly in Mexico. Hernán Cortés as soon as he
had subdued the Indians of the State of Veracruz
(he had yet to vanquish the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan)
he sent a delegation of Totonacs and booty to Seville. From there they went to Charles V
(Charles the First of Spain) who was 19 but saw real red when he saw it. The
rest is history and after gold, silver and chocolate, Mexican cochineal dye
became one of the most valuable items of the new world.
It would seem that Kerry McPhedran was only
partially right about my ability to make connections. It has taken me 9 years
to make it.
Katie Huisman no longer wears her beret.
It is the nature of Fuji instant colour peels to not be accurate in their display of colour. That perfect red will have to wait for the accompanying essay.
Red shawl project
Corte Y Confección - Part II
Friday, August 15, 2014
I read in bed today in
my NY Times while having my strong mug of tea and munching on my cheese bread
toast (that Rosemary burned) that folks who purchased clothes from Land’s End were incensed at having been sent as a gift a copy
of the latest GQ Magazine that features model Emily
Ratajkowski not wearing much but not revealing any of the serious parts.
It was sometime
around 2006 (I started this blog in January of 2006) that I found out that
somehow my eager subscribers from the UBC Botanical web site had severed
connections due to the somewhat racy stuff that occasionally appears on these
pages. That severing has happened with other organizations and I know a few acquaintances
who refuse to contribute to my blog because of this racy content.
I find it hard to
reconcile this in the age of easily available (and free) pornography.
My definition of
pornography is something done in bad taste. I have tried taking pornographic
photographs but always a little controlling valve in my brain (good taste
valve?) steps in and my pictures end up not being pornographic (as I see it).
As a much younger
man the offers (in person, by telephone and by writing) of beautiful women who
wanted to pose for me. The usual roundabout procedure was to tell me that they
were not satisfied by their Sooter’s Studio pictures. My files
are voluptuously straining from their metal confines.
But as I get older
the new entries are far and far between. Perhaps it has to do to with my age. In
Spanish I might be perceived as a viejo verde. Or we might be riding a new wave
of puritanical sensibilities.
This is a sorry
state of affairs as I feel that my photographic interpretation of eroticism is
at its best simply because it comes from a mind that is detached from a body
with no warranty.
But I persist in
my self-censorship standards and today’s photographs will offend nobody, except
perhaps some Canadian customers of Land’s End.
In yesterday’s Corte y Confección
(a Spanish expression for the art of fashion tailoring) I playfully
worked with some beautiful b+w negatives of my friend Kathryn which I cropped and
eliminated the bits.
In today’s sequel I took pictures from a contact sheet of Kathryn where modern
digital GPS camera technology would tell you that an image (the one on the left)
was taken in a studio on the second floor of the Farmer Building (now gone) on Robson
and Granville. The second picture (which I took of just those lovely legs) would
be revealed to have been taken in UBC’s Endowment Lands.
My camera was a Nikon FM-2 and the film was Kodak TMZ 3200 ISO processed
in dilution B of Kodak’s HC-110.
Corte Y Confección
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Leonard Cohen Is Not Dead - Yet
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Hi Papi, you must have
something to say of Lauren Bacall.
|Leonard Cohen - still alive but my index finger is poised for that homage|
The above came to me today
via facebook (note it must be written in lower case) from my eldest daughter
Alexandra. Below is a rare rant. Best stop reading now.
I am a photographer
but unlike Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee), a much better photographer than I will
ever be, I am not an ambulance chaser.
In this 21st century
in which the amateur (not in the good meaning of the word as reflected by
English gentlemen of the 19th who loved whatever they were interested in, be it archaeology, growing pineapples in greenhouses
or warfare, and thus called themselves amateurs) reigns supreme. They are
journalists, photographers, designers but not yet doctors of medicine, civil
engineers, funeral directors or masters of law. Those latter professions require study
and perseverance. It is better, and far easier to publish a blog as I do, or "like" a
statement or “pic” in facebook.
And so we face our
flat-screen monitors and write with our left hand while our right hand’s index
finger is poised to send our sentence of homage to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan,
Sophia Loren or Liv Ullmann (if anybody remembers her still) as any are bound
to die soon.
We will then grieve
and mention in trite sentences how it was that any of those great people
somehow entered our lives. Perhaps it was a sighting at an LA restaurant, or as
a stills photographer in the making of one of their movies. Perhaps it was
falling in love while reading a poem by one of them.
In all truth I cannot
find any fault in that, in the same way, that I cannot damn a man who might be playing
air guitar while watching Art Bergmann play a real one on stage. If we cannot
be St. Peter we must buy a bit of his upside-down cross.
Ex Premier Dave
Barrett is still alive. In the back window of my Malibu
I have an Australian
hat that I once photographed on him. My right hand index finger
is poised to reveal to any who might have gotten this far in my rant the story
of the Akubra hat as soon as Barrett succumbs to his personal but universal inevitability.
But seriously, I think
that our relationship to a treasured actor, actress, poet, singer, novelist,
historian, basketball player, is no different in a most personal intimacy that
we might experience with the loss of a loved one or a best friend.
Why would I want to
share my grief with 300 or 500 or 1000 or 25 friends I may have never met in
Twitter or facebook?
Is there a first prize
to be given to the first to post homage to such a loss?
If and when I see my
eldest daughter I might share with her my memories of films I have seen that
starred Lauren Bacall. But I do not feel a need to share any of that with anybody else.
Meanwhile, to me, all those
tributes to recently dead actors seem no different from that American
invention that is the roast. In a roast the roastee has to take long attacks on
his or her character with composure because that is the rule of the game. But
there is one important difference; the roastee is most always alive while the
dead actor is definitely dead. The more famous, the more talented, the more
perverse, the most infamous, like us must all die. And once dead, what happens after
is of no consequence to he or she who is dead.
Ergi La Mente Al Sole
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Turn your mind to the
the eye’s light has no
for it only sees what
Focus in that radian
and seek to
contemplate the eternal light
Mente Al Sole
|Helianthus annuus August 11, 2014|
Today Monday I was ruminating
about the concert in particular as Rosemary and I attended the lecture (At UBC School of Music's Gessler Hall) of Dutch
harpsichord maker Ton Amir whose topic was the symbols behind the Dutch
paintings of the 17th century. The talk was called Memento Mori.
|Alexandra Waterhouse-Hayward - Lillooet Sept 2012|
One of the pieces on
Saturday was Luigi Rossi’s Ergi La Mente Al Sole (Turn your mind to the sun). It
was all about the sun and by the end how the sun is really in the shadow of
God. The line “turn your mind to the sun” made a connection in my mind. The
lowly but tall sunflower is called a girasol in Spanish. That translates to “turns
to the sun”. That (a blinding light of inspiration?) all led to what I write below.
One of those most
pleasant of annual pleasures happens when my oldest daughter, Alexandra arrives
in the spring from her home in Lillooet with several pots of tall sunflowers
(Helianthus annuus) which she grows from seed in her one acre property in that
place that every year happens to compete with Lytton as the hottest spot in Canada.
In fact today (I am writing this Monday night) it hit 37 Celsius in Lillooet.
There is not much sun
in our garden and one of the last refuges for it is on our back lane which we
have converted into a lane garden. Ale’s sunflowers are at their peak now and a
few of them have dropped their yellow petals. I find that the spent flowers
much like the Vanitas movement of Dutch art in the 17th century have
a beauty even though they remind us of the passing of time and that inevitable
You make serene our
O infinite source of
the sustenance of life
you form and show for
Without you, a dark
for us would be the delightful
and in the darkness of
all nature would weep
Mente Al Sole
El Olor Del Jasmín Y La Madreselva
Monday, August 11, 2014
|Rosemary and Alexandra, Feb 1969 Mocambo, Veracruz|
Jorge Luís Borges
de tus patios haber mirado
banco de sombra haber mirado
ignorancia no ha aprendido a nombrar
ordenar en constelaciones,
sentido el círculo del agua
el olor del
jazmín y la madreselva,
del pájaro dormido,
el arco del
zaguán, la humedad
cosas, acaso, son el poema.
To have watched from
one of your patios
the ancient stars,
from the bench of
shadow to have watched
those scattered lights
that my ignorance has
learned no names for
nor their places in
to have heard the note
in the cistern,
known the scent of
jasmine and honeysuckle,
the silence of the
the arch of the
entrance, the damp
–these things perhaps
are the poem.
by William S. Merwin
If you ever visit Buenos Aires and ask any
porteño on the situation at the time they will tell you it has never been worse
than at that precise moment. I sometime wonder that if you feel great pain,
will extreme pain be just the same? Porteños complain about everything. In the winter they complain of chilblains in the summer of the heat.
In Vancouver, when it rains, Vancouverites
complain about it. When it is hot, as it is now, they complain about it. My
Rosemary, not a Vancouver-born Vancouverite, is complaining of the heat and nags
me to put sprinklers here, there and everywhere.
I happen to love the
heat and to be able to open windows. The opening of windows is verboten in the
winter as heat bills are high and we must save.
I happen to love the
heat. I love humidity, its smell in heat. It, the humid heat, reminds me of the
tropics. My mother was born in Manila and often spoke of the heat. She never complained of the Buenos Aires heat.
In the late 60s and
early 70s my Rosemary and I would drive our Beetle from Mexico
City to the gulf coast port city of Veracruz where my mother lived.
We taught English in
American companies so this meant that we would leave after our last classes on
Fridays afternoon. Almost halfway between Mexico City
and Veracruz we would plummet from 2,250 to
817 metres when we approached the city of Córdoba.
By then it was night and you could smell that tropical heat. In Córdoba after a
fine coffee (Veracruz
has excellent and well made coffee) on the plaza I would change the carburetor
jet of our VW. The jet allowed for more fuel to enter the carburetor as there
was more oxygen to mix with it. Then we would open all the windows and glory at
the feel of the heat and humidity. We could hear the insects and birds. It was
a tropical paradise for our senses.
In Veracruz the tropical heat came with the
smell of the decay of a port city. I liked those smells of salt, bunker oil and
fish. Rosemary who was born in New Dublin, Ontario, could not handle the heat
and spent most of the day taking cold showers.
On the Zócalo Rosemary
and I would go to the Parroquia. It was a corner coffee establishment to one
side of the local church. La Parroquia had walls of white tiles and waiters who
might have been born for the job and had retained it. The corner coffee
establishment had portales. In fact the zócalo of Veracruz is a four sided portales. Here we
could sit or be inside under the large whirling fans that moved the air. But on
the portales side we could listen to the marimbas that played and that for a
few pesos would compose personal lyrics about you on the spot and sing them,
competing with the sounds of the clanging streetcars and the ever honking cars
of restless jarochos (as Mexicans call people of Veracruz).
In the Argentine Navy
it was a high-ranking admiral who decided when the cool Buenos Aires spring met up with the humid hot
summer. When the admiral decided for us, only then, could we switch from the
heavy dark blue woollens of our winter uniform to our lighter white cotton
summer one. My companions complained but I managed to not sweat and I ignored
the whole thing. I guess I like to feel hot.
In Vancouver there are about two weeks when at
night you can sleep on the bed without anything on and not under sheets. I find
this luxuriously exotic/erotic. Unfortunately Rosemary doesn’t and she
complains oblivious to my naughty advances.
Heat and cigarras are
part of each other in the tropics. A cigarra is a cicada. Their
afternoon drones give me nostalgia for tropical siestas with the anticipation
of a cool drink and meal in the evening. In Veracruz this included walks with Rosemary
on the seaside Malecón (before I married her) holding hands and enjoying the
I cannot explain the
paradoxical delight of leaving my friend Michael East’s air conditioned ranch
house in south Texas, and to experience outside the furnace-like heat a couple
of years ago. Lauren, now 12, could not and can not understand why I wore blue
or black jeans in that heat. I have told her that I do not usually wear shorts
because I am ashamed of my legs. In fact I inherited my mother’s beautiful
legs. I guess I need not worry of insects or in Texas of marauding rattlesnakes.
It is hot today and I
hope it persists a few more days. I can take Rosemary’s nagging to position the
sprinkler. The heat simply makes me understand that in the past one never
thinks that the precise moment of that present will one day be a memory, even a
I live the memories of
the past in this present while the present quickly recedes into a past to make
fresh new ones for tomorrow.
As for the picture of Rosemary and Ale taken so long ago I remember Rosemary's bikini well. I purchased a bra and panties at a department store. Rosemary and I decided on the happy material that featured pink hearts. Then I carefully took the bra and panties apart and I made a pattern. We cut the material and Rosemary sewed her bikini. Later we made one out of a black almost latex-like material.
How Frail A Lovely Semblance Is
Sunday, August 10, 2014
|Rosa 'Wild Edric' August 9 2014|
Medicine is powerless
Quinine is useless
you can never be healed
You must die.
Anon, Passacalli Della Vita
Last night’s final
performance of 2014 Vancouver Early Music Vancouver left me almost satisfied (I
wanted more) and very melancholy.
The lyrics to the
songs performed were sad and depressing straight out of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter’s weltschmerz. But that was not the reason for my melancholy.
My melancholy came
about as the result of having gone to all the concerts and lectures of the 2014 Vancouver Early Music Festival. The
performers and the audience, we all shared in a love for the baroque, the
reading of music, the heat of summer in these sunny days that we experienced in
the UBC School of Music at the Roy Barnett Recital Hall. The sounds, smiles,
the clapping are now all in my memory. As were the warm pre-concert talks with
Early Music Vancouver’s Artistic Director Matthew White and his guests, all
erudite but down to earth.
|Matthew White & Hank Knox|
At age (almost) 72 I
feel there is lots of room in me to be surprised, challenged, entertained,
enthralled, and excited. The EMV festival did all that. And it’s not all quite
Tomorrow at 5:50 in
Gessler Hall (in the basement of the UBC School of Music) I will listen to a
talk by Dutch harpsichord maker savant Ton Amir talk on the subject of Memento
Mori in Dutch and Flemish art. Memento Mori is related to the artistic movement
of the 17th century called Vanitas and closely associated to Jean
Paul Friedrich Richter and, yes! – the theme of tonight’s program Vanitas
Vanitatum put together and directed by Philadelphia transplant in Montreal,
organist, harpsichordist, professor, etc Hank Knox.
featured Italian and German/Italian (Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger,1580-1651)
composers of the 17 century. There was a brilliant lute solo (one of those long
ones that resemble the even longer archlutes) Kapsberger’s Toccata Settima –
Libro primo d’intavolatura de lauto, 1611, by Sylvain Bergeron and a
harpsichord solo, Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Ricercar Terzo, 1614, by Hank Knox. There
were also one lovely Biagio Marini, 1594-1663 sonata, Sonata sopra Fuggi
Dolente core and his Passacaille. Both were performed by Knox, Bergeron and
violinists Chloe Meyers, Chantall Rémillard and viola da gambist and cellist
The real core of the
evening were the choral pieces in which we heard soprano Jacqueline Woodley,
soprano and mezzo-soprano, Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano Sylvia Szadovszki,
countertenor (billed as a high tenor in the program) Jacques-Olivier Chartier,
tenor Colin Balzer and baritone-turned bass Sumner Thompson.
|Violinist Chloe Myers not included as my wide angle wasn't wide enough|
Knox somehow blended
and mixed those six singers in ways that delighted me. You can find in YouTube
many versions of the songs performed last night including this one, of the anonymous Passacalli Dell Vita. almost as good as the one I heard. It is by ARTEK. But it does not
have that injection of variety that Knox gave us and it is treated with over-the-top bufoonery.. Best of all the lyrics of all the songs which are terminally depressing:
You die singing
You die playing
the lyre or the pipe
You must die.
Were played with a
swing with graceful swerves of the violin bows and with Bergeron playing his
lute, almost (but not quite) like an electric guitar. A wonderfully depressing
concert somehow ended on the upbeat with that Passacalli which is really just
an old-fashioned ground.
|Rosa "Wild Edric' August 9 2014|
One of the reasons I
love 17th century baroque is that the composers like to throw in
those odd notes that you might think are bad notes by performers but are not. Violinist
Marc Destrubé likes to call them (and he smiles when he tells me this) blue
notes. The first time around those notes sound like Thelonius Monk’s
right-wrong notes. Of late I have heard fewer and fewer. I noted about four in
the evening. Destrubé has told me that as I increasingly become used to them
these odd notes are not odd anymore.
One salient one was in
Domenico Mazzocchi’s (1592-1665) Da Tutti Gli Horologi Si Cava Moralitá with
tenor Colin Balzer.
In the line chál ciel
misura il regaloto errore (for it is heaven that measures all sin in order)
Balzer uncharacteristically sounded off (he was not!) on that word regaloto.
And then! And then! he
sang the last line:
Misurar non la deve
altro ch’il pianto (and is not to be measured except by weeping)
and I came to
understand where the Portuguese Fado came from. It was the best part of a
And yet I was left thinking by the haunting lyrics of Marco Marazzoli, 1605-1662, Elena Incecchiata (the Aged Helen) in which Helen of Troy, after its fall looks at her image on a mirror. It ends:
She spoke, then broke the mirror
in which once she delighted:
and the fragile glass demonstrates to us
how frail a lovely semblance is.
I then recalled that in October of 1992 I photographed Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors in my studio. She told me, "Alex, photograph me as I am. This is my face and I am proud of it." Unlike Marazzoli's Helen, Lindfors knew all about mirrors and about frail semblance. In the depressing lyrics of those 17th century composers there is hope and that hope is to accept the folly of vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas.
|Viveca Lindfors, October 1992|