El Sexo DébilWednesday, September 30, 2015
It was not too long ago that they stopped calling women “el sexo débil” in Mexico. There was a saying that I would think would infuriate all feminists that was like this, “A lady is a woman who makes a man feel like a gentleman.”
In this 21st century no man with any kind of sensitivity would call a woman a lady. That epithet of questionable meaning can only be used by other women in the same way that Native Canadians can use the I word and black people the N word.
It was only today that I watched the thrilling Nicholas Meyer 1979 film Time After Time with Mary Steenburgen, David Warner and Malcolm McDowell. McDowell, who plays a time traveling H.G. Wells invites her (from 1978) to travel back with him and live in his own time. Steenburgen firmly tells him that her work is most important and she would not want to lose all that back in the 19th century. Wells could not understand the concept that a woman would find her work that important.
But some of our views (or at the very least my own) that are based on that passing 20th century still affect how I perceive women and all things women. When Rosemary and I, in bed, look at big male Casi-Casi and at delicate and much smaller female Plata we talk to them as if they are a man and a woman and we impose our perceptions even when we baby-talk to them. I see my Plata as elegant, feminine and graceful.
There is a paradox for me that that hackneyed “A man is a gentleman when…” definition of a higher-up idea of a woman on a pedestal came to mind for me memorably when I photographed gay writer Jane Rule. Imagine if a current editor of any Canadian magazine would say what the Books in Canada Editor told me when he phoned me with the assignment. “How would you like to photograph a 6ft lesbian?”
You must imagine what went through my mind minutes before Jane Rule painfully (she had severe arthritis) came up the three flights of stairs to my studio.
Rule charmed me and I took her most favourite portraits. After we finished she said, “Alex, could you help me down the stairs a flag me a taxi?” I felt like Lord Wellington.
I have never ever had any ambivalent ideas of my true sexuality and I can assert here that by kindergarten in Buenos Aires I was fascinated and attracted to women. I have fond memories of hiking up the skirts of the three female (there were two additional boys) Diligenti quintuplets.
My whole world collapsed twice before I understood the truth. Perhaps in the first or second grade I saw a woman with a big stomach (I did not know about storks yet) get on a Buenos Aires colectivo with a little creature in a dress but with a shaved head. What was this, a boy or a girl? The second event that troubled me was going to see films when I was 8 with my mother. Some of them had Katherine Hepburn wearing pants. Was she really a woman I wondered?
In my photography of women, even in my more erotic ones I always try to give the woman control and I never photograph a woman in any way suggesting that she is submissive to anything. I try to respect the humanity and dignity of the woman.
It was my religion teacher Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. who told us that every human being born was born with the grace of God and had something that he called “inherent dignity.” He told us that in spite of everything they had committed both Hitler and Judas had to be respected as human beings. They, too, had that inherent human dignity. We tried to argue against his case but he never let up on this.
Which brings me to the subject of the M sisters, Carol and Anastasia. They are both beautiful. The former has a bubbly but incisive personality with the low voice of a female alto. The latter is just plain enigmatic and glides (does not walk) on miniature ball bearing joints. The former considered me (and perhaps still does) a crass chauvinist pig. She did not like my overtures in wanting to photograph her lovely cleavage (the best cleavage, for me, happens when breasts are not generous). The latter never said much and accepted my request to photograph her in the best room of the seedy Marble Arch Hotel. She knew what I liked so she made sure her stockings were torn.
Looking back at these pictures of Anastasia. This was not her original name and decided to change it and impose on her new name a personality that made anybody who met her wonder who she was.
These photographs I took with a sadly discontinued a long time ago film called Kodak Technical Pan. This film was agonizingly slow (25 ISO). It was extremely sharp (in fact the sharpest b+w film ever made). I used two cameras. A large medium format Mamiya RB-67 was the principal one but I squeezed two with my German Gevabox box camera that shot instead of the 6x7 cm negs of the Mamiya, negs in a 6x9 format.
Many of the pictures exhibit some of my early ways of conveying Eros without taking into account that some of the poses were far too model poses. Part of the problem was that Anastasia kept giving me those poses. Nonetheless I think that there are some striking photographs in our collaboration.
The interesting problem for me with a woman like Anastasia is that you never know if you must think when addressing her of the femininity of my female cat or the masculinity of Rosemary’s cat. There is that enigmatic and nebulous and most wonderful lack of definition. She is in a category all her own.