Working Towards Irrelevancy
Saturday, January 03, 2015
brought up my VHS machine and installed it again. I had relegated it into basement
oblivion. But when I wanted to see Otto Preminger’s St. Joan the only available
version of the film was Limelight Video’s VHS.
In this beginning
of 2015 I am obsessively thinking (so my wife says) of my past. I would argue
that any path forward towards that future must in some way have a reflection
with the past. I think of the word relevance. Are VHS machines relevant? Are
film cameras relevant? Is a magazine
photographer of the past century (that’s me) relevant? I like to use the British term. Am I redundant?
noticed the social media trend to post pictures of oneself when one was young
and gravity had yet to take its toll. This is especially of women of a certain
age who like opera singers use pictures taken at least 30 years ago. So as not
to be redundant one has to look fresh and young, “You are still beautiful,”
friends post without thinking that the use of “still” makes it an insult. Or
smart phone apps are used to blur and lift (perhaps?) features in those annoying selfies.
past century I despised the artsy term image for what in my opinion was a
photograph. This has now been replaced by, “Nice capture.”
of Sean Rossiter here. by then Western Living Magazine art director Chris Dahl. The man never allowed me to stay in the comfort zone and glory of past work. He always pushed for doing it different, I remember what he told me on how to take that picture of Rossiter:
use your Mamiya and don’t use flash. I want you to use your Nikon with that
85mm f-1.4 lens. I want you to used hot lights so you will have to switch to
Tungsten Type Ektachrome to get a decent flesh tone. And please use some
dramatic lighting and some colour gels.”
was that. In many other shoots Mr. Dahl made sure I did not rest on my laurels
and he kept pushing me. Thanks to him I never became irrelevant or predictable. My
style while always identifiable always challenged viewers who often wondered, “How
did he do that?”
In this 21st
century, digital wonders ads tell you that with the Mark III in your hand the
world is in your hands. Nothing else is needed for you to “capture that amazing”
image. And as I see these captured images I see mostly a vast wasteland of
through 2014 I contacted a beautiful and very good local photographer and asked
her if she would pose for me. I was pleasantly surprised that she said, “Yes.”
These days I don’t even get a “no” . I am mostly ignored with silence.
pictures of the photographer I used a ring flash and I attached to it my Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD
crooked so that the lens would “see” the edge of the ring flash. I used
conventional Ilford F-P4 b+w film. I was very happy with the results. What you
see here are the negatives scanned as if they were colour negatives. The scanner artificially imposes an orange
mask. I work a bit with levels, highlights and shadows with my 2002 Photoshop
(good enough for me). The last photograph is a scan of the peel part of a Fuji Instant 3200 print (now discontinued). After I scan the negative peel I reverse it in Photoshop to a positive.
that these pictures (I have scanned the more demure ones) show a bit of
edginess and I would wish that nobody would tell me, “Alex, those are tasteful
tasteful I abhor as much as image and capture. For a 72 year old photographer I
hope that I am still relevant and not too redundant.
George McWhirter's The Gift Of Women
Friday, January 02, 2015
Lily’s debut engagement was at the Candia Taverna on 10th
Avenue. Initially Candia suggested vouchers and Herbie said okay. The Taverna
did a good pizza, great chicken and Greek Salad. Herbie liked the wooden booths
– maybe stalls described them better – for four or four two people. One served
a party of twelve by the window; the cops used it, which added an aspect of
public safety to the cuisine.
This double sided row of dining stalls ran from the front
door down to the bar at the back. To Lily, her Candia Taverna performance –
swinging her hips, raising her arms, clicking her fingers and looking down at
the diners, who looked up at her from their fodder at the stalls – was like
belly dancing at the stable. Too much wagging in the aisle and Lily’s lace
skirt would be soaked in sauce, but the cash was easily stuffed into Lily’s
belt as she passed. Even the city police came back and poked in the odd five
spot for her seven o”clock show…
While Lily danced,, there was always a pause while the guys
got over their embarrassment and pegged a bill to her belt. It happened as soon
as they saw the women were more enthusiastic about Lily than they were. For
Lily always danced to women, demonstrating what women of her age had, what they
could do with their own belly, if they had a mind to.
Lily of the Belly from The Gift Of Women by George McWhirter
Seen above is Sarita the most beautiful belly dancer that
ever danced in Vancouver during the belly dancing boom of the last century in
the 80s. She will more than do to illustrate the idea of McWhirter’s stupendous
Lily of the Belly who danced in restaurants, given fictitious names but
restaurants that did indeed exist and may have been venues for Sarita.
The book arrived at my doorstep in the hands of McWhirter
In those middle years of the 70s I opened doors for women
and called some of them girls. Nobody browbeat me for doing so. And it was a
bit later when one of the most beautiful women who ever danced (and then took
it all off) would specialize in swinging her long hair so that it would hide
her rear while tickling it. It was Samantha Rae and her song was Roxy Music's Avalon.
, Vancouver's first Poet Laureate a month ago accompanied by a fine bottle of Spanish Tempranillo wine.
Both were a gift for
the use of my photograph in the back inside cover of this splendid collection
of stories featuring (except possibly for two) wayward, assertive, modern, and
a ribald, a word I have no memory of using since reading the Playboy Magazines
of the 80s. The cover of The Gift of Women, an illustration by Olena
Vizerskaya, harks back to the smooth, air-brushed record covers of Roxy Music
with their languid women and in particular that one in Roxy Music Siren.
As I read The Gift of Women some of the stories reminded me
of the erotic stories of Michele Slung's Slow Hand: Women Writing Erotica. Like in Slow Hand McWhirter's women always have the upper hand.
Some of the other stories, are ample proof that magic
realism is not limited to Latin America or in Saramago’s Europe. Perhaps some
of McWhirter’s flights into this realm ( Lily of the Belly features a family of
raccoons and an extremely erotic bath in tub full of tomato juice) may have
come via his friend, Mexican poet/novelist/environmentalist Homero Aridjis,
whose many collections of poems have been translated by McWhirter. I must
assert here that Afran the Kurd barber’s abilities to make bald post grow as he
snips or an ancient aqueduct in Mexico in a land locked state that is able to
flow into the sea are inventions that have no precedent for me.
And the humour of McWhirter, a story, Cup-W, featuring a
French Canadian couple (she is stacked and so is he) and an Anglophone inside
worker for CUPW in Hull written in the English spoken by a French Canadians
reminded me of the poems of Cuban Nicolás Guillén which when read out loud sounded like the Cuban accent. And if that were not enough there is a ghost story set in a
nun’s school for girls in Ireland.
Easily this local book has to be one of the liveliest,
funniest and best written books of 2014 which I have read this 2015. Like many
novels or short stories written by poets (Homero Aridjis is one example) I
found myself reading sentences and paragraphs over and over with McWhirter’s
Ulster accent and cadence in my head.
I had to call up McWhirter to tell him how much I had
laughed reading his book. He answered thusly in an email:
Thank you for your phone call. Making someone laugh makes my
work worthwhile. I’m in the line of James Stephens, Flan O’Brien and that
strain of Irish storytelling. Particularly, Stephens in his autobiography,
which is hilarious. When I read his ‘a horse, some ladies and a rhinoceros’
episode, I was smitten with the spitting image of my own imagination and
hyperbole wielding wit, which I didn’t need so much as emulate in words as to
slow similar words down and write them to a piece of paper. In short, the words
came tripping out of me and I tripped over them.
I’m glad the wine was palatable, but most of all the
stories, and that they tickled you beyond the chuckle into a laugh.
New Year's Reflections - 2015
Thursday, January 01, 2015
|January 1 - 2015- 3pm|
For a while I have meant to do what I did today that is New
Year’s Day. I have noticed this reflection on my bathtub wall many times and
noted when it happens. My intention
never saw fruit until today when I asked my Rosemary to bring me my Fuji-X-E1. She was a bit worried about my having an
accident. But I can report that everything worked find and the camera never
A Triumvirate Of Girls
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
In reference to my early romantic life I have written about
. I wasn’t to know until a few years later how insular the
Anglo/Argentine community was in Buenos Aires.
While in BA during my two year stint in the Argentine Navy
between 1965 and 1966 I fell for three women. That one of them, was my first
cousin Elizabeth Blew, added just the right touch of spice.
I should have known then how it would all end but I didn’t.
The three women, Susy Bornstein, Corina Poore and Elizabeth Blew all had an accent that resembled
that of the Queen of England.
It wasn’t until about 15 years ago the Elizabeth revealed to
me that she knew Corina as both had gone to that private school for girls,
Northlands. In fact not too long ago
both had attended a 50 year class reunion and Corina had traveled from London
What I did not know was that Susy had also gone to
Northlands. When I re-posted this blog
a few days ago Elizabeth decided to facebook
Corina in the following manner (I am recalling it as Elizabeth seems to have
taken down the message):
Corina, Alex and I are first cousins. My mother was a
Hayward. There is this lovely picture of Susy in Alex’s blog. I was unaware that she had died. Here it is.
I berated Elizabeth for his citing that she had previously
told Corina that we were cousins. Elizabeth’s reply:
Give me a break! 50
years later, yes, 50 years later, situations such as this one .... are amusing
. I'm quite aware that Corina went off to art school and Susy was "the
Perhaps Elizabeth had forgotten about this
There is one thing that worries me and that is
the fact that Elizabeth finds my concerns (50 year old concerns) strange. There
must be something wrong with me.
Bjerre My Danish Mentor
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
|Telemachus & Mentor|
My life until now has been populated with mentors who have
guided me on the right paths. Thanks to Google I know that Mentor was the
assigned man by Odysseus to take care and advise his son Telemachus while
father was away in Troy. When Telemachus is grown and his father has yet to
return, he and Mentor go in search. It is
at this point that our Mentor is taken over by the wise Athena giving
even more credence to the important role that mentors play in our lives.
This is a rough list of my mentors up to know:
He died in 1965. More than anything he taught me (not too well) the
value of patience and the importance of avoiding bitterness. His King James
, Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory
, Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities
and Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
have been constant
sources of inspiration. My father once told me, “If you want to learn how to
cook you must first be able to make sauces.”
Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. : I lost Brother Edwin in 2013
and we were friends until then. He once told me, “These two glasses (a small
one, and a big) one, both full of water are equally full. The same can be said
Raúl Guerrero Montemayor: I lost him in 2013. I always went to him for
advice. His advice, “Alex if you think this will make you happy, buy it.”
Juan Manuel Sánchez: This 80 plus Argentine painter now
lives far in Buenos Aires. He once gave me a book, a Chilean translation into
Spanish of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. “Read it.” I did and a lot of my
life changed with that book.
Captain USN Onofrio Salvia. This wonderful man whom I worked
for as a translator while in the Argentine Navy I contacted a few years ago
before he died in his late 80s. His piece of advice has always been with me. “Alex,
it is obvious that you and military life don’t see eye to eye. It is useless to
rebel as they will arrest you and throw you into the brig and you will prove
nothing. Wait until you have reached a position of power and then change what
you do not like.”
I am sure that I may be doing a disservice to women mentors
here and I had plenty of them! They range from my mother and grandmother to my
very own Rosemary.
It has been in the last few days of Christmas time idleness
that I thought of one more mentor. While
I was born n 1942 due to bureaucratic errors my birth was recorded almost a
year later in 1943. This mean that as a conscript sailor I was from Clase 1943
. By the rules of military order a
sailor from the 1942 class outranked me.
I was only a month in my military service when I met Bjerre (of Danish
extraction his name is pronounced Pierre-eh with that initial p pronounced as a
b). He was a handsome and very cool lad. Since we called each other by our surname
I have no recollection of his first name.
Bjerre was in his second year of our
two year conscription period) sailor. We called him and their kind, conscriptos piola
in Argentine slang means quick-thinking, almost sly. He told me, "Those three white stripes on
your collar are in honour of Lord Nelson's famous three victories, The Nile,
Copenhagen and Trafalgar." I have since found out that the British navy
had issued collars with three white stripes before all of those battles. But it
rang true and I have never forgotten. While he might have erred in naval
history his advice was always good enough to prevent me from falling into the
traps that other tenderfoot sailors got into. Once his stint was over and I
lost contact with Bjerre I tried to model myself after the crafty Dane.
I believe that there was one act of personal craftiness on
my part that was directly inspired by Bjerre. I had a cushy job as a translator
of Captain Onofrio Salvia who was the Senior US Naval Advisor. But I was still
subject to those terrible summons for reinforcement of military training or to
the orders of lowly corporals who would make me clean huge kitchen bells (over
huge stoves). One day went into Salvia’s
filing cabinet and purloined a nice 8x10 glossy of the then Argentine Chief of
Naval Operations, Contraalmirante Benigno Varela. I put a dedicatoria i
n one corner, “A mi amigo Jorge Alejandro” Contraalmirante Benigno Varela. I placed the photograph
under the glass of my desk. Within days treatment improved and I was no long
called for duty for military instruction drills.
But my “friend” had limits in a an ability to save me.. I was told by a chubby Argentine
Captain to report every day at 6 am to translate documents for him. I told him
this was impossible as my train from the pension where I lived (this was in
fact a privilege) did not have a train that would get me to the office on time.
The Captain looked at me and it was then that I lost it. I told him in what was
then defined as pure insubordination,” I flatly refuse to obey your order.” The man looked at me and said, “In time of
war I could have you shot. Or I could send you to one of our remote stations in
the Antarctic. Your only contact with the female of the species would be
penguins. But need you. I will have put
in the brig for two weeks and every day you will be escorted here at 6.”
I am sure that Bjerre would have known better. But then
mentors always do.
The Changing Value Of π & A Breakdown Of Security
Monday, December 29, 2014
The one undeniable and irrefutable fact that has emerged in
the chaos that this last week has been has been that pi to four decimal places
is 3.141. My dyslexia and other factors beyond my control should have sent me
to another dimension where that figure would not have been the correct one.
My overture to install a password to my computer a week ago
(the value of pi to four decimal places) caused my computer to crash. My
windows XP is now history and will soon have to deal with the complexity (not
an improvement in my opinion) of Windows 7 plus that I will be pouring out of
pocket for a digital and slightly more impervious solid state hard drive.
In my effort to protect my wife’s iPhone 4 form unwarranted
attention by a visiting teenager I showed how easy it was to install a password
on my iPhone 3G. I keyed in pi to four places and everything was fine for
almost a day. To my horror when I attempted to type 3141 on my phone the phone
told me it was the wrong one. Further attempts led the phone to lock up and
make me weight, 5, 10, 15 minutes and finally one hour and a half. I gave up in
horror knowing the only fix was taking my phone to an Apple Genius who would
electronically dismantle my phone (all data lost).
But in the morning yesterday (I write this on January 1,
2015) I keyed in 3146 and the phone opened. As soon as I could figure it all
out I took out the code and my iPhone is happily working.
The word password has been in my mind now for some days and
I thought about the Spanish equivalents. It is far more interesting in Spanish.
During the long war to push the Moors out of Spain the Spanish army had to
devise safety protocols for sieges and when opposing armies where close to each
other. The first method was to give out a “nombre”. More often it
was the name of a saint that the Moors would be ignorant of. In time that password became a “santo”. As soon as the Moors caught on the Spaniards
imposed a second password, a counter-password or contraseña which was called
santo y seña which was later simplified
I wonder if the banking term to counter sign does not have some relevance to the above.
This has been a week of ever changing passwords (I have
abandoned Eucledian Geometry) as I go from my laptop to Paul Leisz’s-lent computer as I navigate
Twitter, facebook , skype or the dashboard to this here blog. Most of my passwords have involved the name of
long dead cats (and so often remembered during these computer failures).
Perhaps as this new year will bring the almost certain desctruction of all the
former email addresses in my old
computer I will begin the year lightly and treading carefully with my santos y
The Humanity Of Freckles
Sunday, December 28, 2014
|Dana Moreno López - Self Portrait - 2014|
The concept of having a pen pal is lost in this 21st
century. Few now would know that it
involved making snail mail friends with people you had never ever met or
inclined to ever meet in the future.
Having a pen pal was movement that was promoted by many schools and you
would have a pen pal living in the opposite end of the world.
|Dana Moreno López - self-protrait mid 2000s|
In 2001, over those languid Christmas holidays that used to
be a staple of my life and before social media brought banality into our life
full-time I participated in photography forums. In one based in Spain I read a
very good account on how a model should deal with photographers. Dana (at the
time she used the handle Dana Fotera) wrote in detail how the photographer and model
should meet before photo sessions over coffee and how parameters would be set. From
that point Dana and I became friends. She would send me jpgs of herself taken
by very good Spanish photographers. I used to show these pictures to my classes
at Focal Point where my students developed a liking for the in your face girl
with the freckles.
|Dana Moreno López - Self Portrait 2014|
Sometime in the mid-2000s Dana had a heart attack. She might
have been around 21 then. At surgery before any of the knives appeared she
almost died because of a severe allergic reaction to anesthesia. She was told
it was far safer for her to live with her heart problem than to challenge her
chances with an operation. Dana was living at home. She was a kindergarten
teacher and a very good amateur photographer who specialized in photographs of
young female gymnast athletes. I had no
way of understanding on how in the then (and perhaps even now) conservative
atmosphere of Spain she was able to hide from her father her penchant for
posing with nothing on.
|Dana Moreno López - Self Portrait 2014|
She is now one of my fave facebook friends and we have a persistent running little conflict
on the fact that I believe that the best pictures she ever took are the ones
she took of herself. At my age I am no longer impressed by the fashion poses
and fashion looks. But I am impressed by series of underwater pictures her
friend Teco has been taking of her. In all of the photographs, Dana always does
nothing to hide her myriad freckles.
The reason for this blog came about when recently after
seeing one of her breathtaking self-portraits (mostly with window light) I
wrote in Spanish, “Finally I have seen the humanity in you.” Her quick answer was, “We are all human.” I don’t think she missed the point,. I think
she wanted to assert her right to disagree.
By my inaccurate calculations if Dana was 21 when I first met
her in 2001 she would now be around 35. She is much too young for what will follow
below which will be my diatribe on a trend I see in social media and just about
everywhere else. That it is happening at a time when women have been “liberated”
is troubling. It is troubling because the trend seems to be generated by women
|Dana Moreno López- Self-Portrait 2014|
Because of my age, 72, many of my female friends are this
side of 50 and close to mine. In social media they do everything to hide what
they look like now. Some of them post pictures of their offspring. Others pose
behind nets or in distorting mirrors. Yet others use obvious photo “improvement”
programs to eliminate pores, bags, wrinkles and unsightly hair colour. When
these women post these pictures, the superlatives from other women know no
bounds. There is one frequent one that would infuriate me were I the woman. “You
are still beautiful.”
Sometime in the 90s I read a column (a female columnist) in Esquire in which she gave advice to gentlemen who wanted to get to first base with high fashion models. "These women are tired at hearing how stunning they are. Point out their intelligence and they shall be yours."
Why must the posting of female selfies always have to
have statements of agreement on beauty?
Why does this not apply to male selfies?
I used to say that in male portraiture wrinkles gave men character while in women it was
considered character assassination. Nothing seems to have changed. An exception
to all of this is my non-plus-ultra fave Charlotte Rampling who poses exactly how
I can predict that Dana Moreno López will never fall for any
of this. She will always appear exactly as she is with all her proud and very human freckles.
I look forward (if I am still around) to seeing her photographs (preferably
those self-portraits) when she reaches 40 and beyond. That will be on hell of a
|Dana Moreno López- Self Portrait 2014|
|Dana Moreno López & friend - Self Portrait 2003|