With Obama, the Personal is Presidential
Saturday, July 16, 2016
|Plaza de Mayo -1955 - Buenos Aires - the fall of Perón|
Fortunately my Rosemary and I (48 years together) see eye to
eye politically. We are definitely left-wingers. We adore MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow
and we both think that President Barak Obama is a peach.
I have some experience in the mechanics of politics as I
participated actively (under orders) as an Argentine Navy Conscript on a
military coup d’etat on a cold but indifferent (particularly the inhabitants of
my Buenos Aires who didn't seem to care) winter morning of June 28 1966. Members of the armed forces
(the navy, I was in the ranks with my circa 1911 Mauser, the army and the air force) surrounded the Casa Rosada (the
government palace from which Peron and Evita would talk to the Peronists masses
years back) and gave the freely elected country doctor, Arturo Illía an hour to
leave the premises. This he did in a cab.
I experienced a wonderful education in history and civics in
my four years at the Roman Catholic school St. Edward’s in Austin Texas in the
late 50s. In fact that education at my young age has made me (my personal
belief) into an honorary American citizen.
Rosemary and I read daily our delivered NY Times so we
are up and up on American politics. I am able to explain to Rosemary the
machinations of the American political system thanks to Brother Francis
Barrett, C.S.C. who taught me American History and to Mr. Marshall who taught
But neither man taught me how to cope with the fact that
many of my Texan fellow students became gunslingers with right wing red neck
Last year I wrote a blog
which landed me with protests
and hysterical emails from some of these former classmates of mine.
Today (I am writing this on Saturday July 16, 2016) I
read a column by Timothy Egan called With Obama, the Personal is Presidential
It is nicely written and he pretty well elaborates on the fact that Obama is
I don’t buy magazines much anymore. But I recall the
Esquires of the 50s, 60s and 70s and I see President Obama as an Esquire kind
of a guy. He is elegant, polite, well spoken, well read and the kind of guy I
would enjoy being in a desert island with.
Just like I do not understand how my former classmates
became what they are now I cannot understand Americans who have fallen under
the spell of Donald Trump.
Photography - The Limited Range of Our Memory
Friday, July 15, 2016
In my current state of photographic isolation I have
found out that a lot of stuff stored in my head has some redeemable value. As
things disappear the concepts behind them vanish, too.
My present obsession with Jorge Luís Borges
(magnified from an erstwhile interest that bordered on obsession) reminds me
that Borges often said that our memory is based on what’s left of all that we
As an example I noticed a recent and very popular essay in
Medium.com (I write for that blog platform, too) about improving one’s art and
photographs by following rules. The most obvious one, which I used to teach at
least 30 years ago was that the centre of attention should not be in the
centre. Another is the so-called rule of thirds. Most very good painters and
photographers instinctively grasped the concept of composition.
The problem now is that with so much bad photography, a
newer generation has no memory for what may have been good.
As an example there is this striking photograph that was on
the front page of my NY Times (hard copy) today (I am writing this on Wednesday
July 13, 2016). It is a remarkable photograph that has no photo credit except
for NY Times.
The most major problem in photography until most recently is
that the human eye always exceeded film and videotape to discern information in
the shadow parts of a photograph. The shadow parts are magnified in high
contrast situations like a person’s eyes (and eye sockets) at noon with the sun
overhead. Between the light on the face and that of the black eye sockets the
difference is much too much for film. Our eyes can adjust and as we shift from
that person’s face to the eyes our eyes will adapt and show us the eyes in
enough detail. Photographers in the past used what was called fill flash. This
is the reason why you so often see wedding photographers using flash on
perfectly sunny days.
Photographers, cinematographers and painters know that sunny
days reduce the ability to recognize those middle tones. Those same
photographers, cinematographers and artists know that cloudy days will show the
most gradations of colour and shade.
Digital cameras have the same problems. Since
contemporary (and young) photographers are used to high definition, ultra
sharp, punchy and contrasty colour images they do not notice the detail lost in
the shadows of their pictures.
Which brings us to the picture in the NY Times that many
years ago would have been impossible to take. Film could have never rendered
the woman in the doorway, the shadows in the street and the darkening sky
|Cuba - NY Times|
Contrast has always been the enemy of photographer. A
good photographer will grasp the existing contrast situation before snapping a
shutter. Sometimes the scene can be lit to reduce contrast or camera settings
adjusted. In times past slide film was less generous with showing detail in
shadows. Colour negative was better. Fast film of any type was worse.
And worst of all the methods used in the past to print
colour slides and negatives on colour stock always added contrast and reduced
detail in the shadows. The modern combination of a good scanner and film with subsequent
printing on a quality ink jet printer has remedied the situation a lot and to a
The photograph taken in Cuba at one time would have been
called extended range night photography. I was pretty good at it (the one below I took and the sky was pitch black. The film saw the clouds to my surprise) but I was
limited to only doing it in b+w. With the advent of digital cameras, photographers
could take separate photographs of the bright spots, the middle spots and the
dark spots and combine them in one image. This kind of photography is called High
Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.
|Burrard Street Bridge - Vancouver|
A pioneer in night photography before digital, was photographer Arthur Ollman
who later became the head and curator of the excellent San Diego Museum of the Photographic
Arts. I remember seeing some haunting photographs that he took of Southern
California and Tijuana houses at sundown. I suspect that his technique was
either the double exposure or very long exposures at sun down.
You may wonder what the pictures of Bronwen Marsden here
have to do with it all. They are here because I am digressing to the concept of
forgotten memory. These pictures have a certain charm because the colours are
not accurate. I mixed too many kinds of light sources with a Fuji Superia 800
ISO colour negative film that simply could not adjust it all. There is a charm
to shooting a sequence that is planned not one where on is indiscriminately
shooting with a high-speed motor drive. And there is a charm, too of being a
voyeur with previous permission.
Exclusive as a Mailbox
Thursday, July 14, 2016
"She's dark and lovely and passionate. And very,
"And exclusive as a mailbox," I said.
"The Little Sister" (Chapter 19) - Raymond Chandler
The Viola da Gamba
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
My granddaughter Lauren is here today (Monday July 11, 2016). She uses her poker face to ignore all my puns. I pun in her presence because I do everything possible to press her button. But it does not work and only Rosemary gets upset. Lauren is helping Rosemary pick up stuff. She is a great organizer. Rosemary will give her some spending money for her forthcoming week at camp. I am in the refuge of my oficina. What used to be the garage of our duplex was changed into an office by the former owner. In that office I have all my negative files, my computer, my scanner and my new Canon Pro-1 printer. There is a separate little room behind that is now my intimate studio. Because the garage door is permanently closed I have planted some nice roses, a couple of columnar yews and some sunflowers. I sweet talked the garbage men who smiled at me and said they would do everything possible not to throw our bins back against the door. They have been true to their word.
As a retired and obsolete and former magazine photographer I can safely say that not much happens and I read a lot. I have caught up with my blog and filled all the empty holes that were there during my trip to Buenos Aires in April and the days I spent in the hospital seeing to solving the problems of the lower countries.
Every once in a while I like to go through the files - Marsden, Bronwen
who is one of the most dazzling of women that I photographed in my many years as a photographer. There was a session where she brought her violin. One that I never noticed until today is the one of her standing in her little black dress holding her violin bow. I could not resist making the little joke, the title of this blog as justification for putting it up.
Since my memory is not what it used to be I searched for a poem by Emily Dickinson that might mention the violin so I could justify placing here the second image. I went to google and to my surprise I found:
the music in the violin does not emerge alone
- Emily Dickinson
But sequence ravelled out of reach
A parasol is the umbrella's daughter
Without the power to die
Lessons on the piny
Ample make this bed
But Sequence Ravelled Out of Reach
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
I felt a cleaving in my mind - Emily Dickinson
I felt a cleaving in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Only Butter is Butter
Monday, July 11, 2016
In the last few days I have been listening to four CDs True Blue – 75 Years of Blue Note Records
on my stereo. I
have not been using headphones (I do not own any) but sitting back and wowing
myself with the sound of my JBL Studio Monitors. The sound in our Kitsilano
living room is outstanding. The old-fashioned separation of old-time stereo
sound is startling.
It makes me understand and appreciate this kind of home
sound as opposed to that of the “Enjoy the show,” overly loud surround sound from a Multiplex salon
with the accompanying and lingering smell of popcorn.
I enjoy driving my six cylinder Malibu that has an automatic
transmission with three speeds and I wonder how you handle the new cars with
automatics that have six or seven forward speeds. If you are young and have no
arthritis, the latest Aston Martin with seven-on-the-floor must be a treat but
I wonder how it would perform on the afternoon traffic across the Lions Gate
Bridge in our increasingly more congested Vancouver.
I remember back in the late 70s when I photographed a lumber
baron called Thoma who lived in North Vancouver. He commuted to work every day
in a helicopter.
All the above has been in my head while listening to the
Blue Note collection. It is amazing how understated (some of those duos between
a muted trumpet and a restrained alto or tenor saxophone) and how elegant jazz
in the 50s was. There is that special Autum Leaves
from a Cannonball Aderley (1958
) with Hank Jones, Sam Jones, Art Blakey and (I repeat and)
I was telling my Rosemary that by 1957 this was the kind
of music I listened to. I would buy my records at a supermarket in Mexico
City. I cannot imagine that now but then the Blue Note collection I found
buried under contemporary (21st
century) stuff at the Kerrisdale
While listening to Autum Leaves Rosemary asked me what
boys my age (then) listen. I have no idea. Then I went upstairs and brought a
free (at London Drugs) photo magazine called Photo News. It is glossy and the
articles are what we used to call in the 80s service pieces. Now we are more
up-front and we call them advertorials. I showed her the full page ad for a new
Olympus Pen-F digital camera that looks like an old-fashioned film camera. I
invite you to read the copy.
As far as I am concerned while I admire the qualities and
capabilities of my mirrorless Fuji X-E1 I can emphatically state that only film
is film just as only butter is butter.
Below is a picture I took in 2013 of my friend Yuki in
Buenos Aires. I used Fuji Superia 800 ISO colour negative and my camera was a
Nikon FM-2. The lens was either my f-2 35mm or my f-1.4 50mm.
A photographic memory
Hypertext Borges & Hopscotching Down the Banister
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Around Christmas 1938 Jorge Luís Borges had an accident
while climbing the stairs of a house with a broken elevator. By 1938 Borges’s
sight was fading. He did not note a ventilation window that was open and he hit
his head. For weeks he suffered a high fever. He was delirious and had horrible
visions which he later (according to Alicia Jurado’s biography Genio y Figura de
Jorge Luís Borges
) included in his story El sur
(The South). He convalesced
after an operation and he began to write his first stories of fantasy. Jurado
does not dare (but still mentions) that there might have been a nexus between
the banging of his head and his venture into literature of fantasy. His first
story (one of my favourites) once he was well was Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.
From beginning to end, from the middle to the beginning
and vice versa Borges has always been a wonderfully problematic labyrinth, an Orson Wellesian hall of mirrors.
Tonight it hit me (a minor but not actual bump of my
head) as I navigated from the little Alicia Jurado biography to all the
mentions of quotes, stories, poems, etc from a huge pile of Borges books on my
Jurado cites his El jardin de los senderos que se
bifurcan (The Garden of Bifurcating Paths) and there I am re-reading the story
from my Ficciones which I bought in 1969. I remember that I had a small group
of male Palmolive executives whom I was teaching English to. They were
intelligent and awfully demanding. In the last 15 minutes of our hour classes
they would attempt to translate into English my ficciones in Spanish.
In this site
you will find a pretty short and easy to
understand definition of hypertext. In the 80s the idea of hypertext novel was
a novelty, the latest, at the time new sliced bread. Few at the time were aware
that in 1963 Julio Cortázar had published Rayuela
(Hopscotch) which was a
very early hypertext novel that could be read in many ways and that depending
on how you read it (whatever order you chose) the ending and the beginning
would be in question.
It was around 1950 that Cortázar would visit my father in
our Coghlan home. I remember in particular the winter visits as both would sit
in our kitchen. The oven of the large black iron gas stove would be on and the
kitchen was the only warm room in our very cold house. Enilse (our housekeeper’s
sister) would add little drops of water to a Nescafe grounds and she would beat
it for long minutes until it became a smooth paste. I think she also added
sugar to the mixture. When she slowly added hot water the coffee would have a
thick foam on top. It was then that my father and Cortázar would light up. But
often Cortázar was out of cigarettes and he would not abide in even puffing one
of my father’s Players. So I would be sent to the corner store to buy Arizonas.
It was one of those evenings when I was sliding down the
banister that Cortázar came up to me and whispered in my ear that one day, on
any day, one that I could not predict, the bannister would become a Gillette
When I read Hopscotch in 1966 in Buenos Aires my memory
of Cortázar’s voice haunted every page. I must admit that in that youth of mine
I was conservative and I did not venture in reading the novel in any way but
the conventional one of reading all the chapters as written.
But now I see myself jumping back from one poem to a
story, to a quote, to an idea, back to figuring out where the idea was. The
more biographical tidbits I read like the ones that not only did Borges fear
mirrors but as a very small boy he was afraid of seeing his reflection in the
polished dark mahogany furniture of his parent’s house, the more I jump back to
a particular poem (there are many particular) about mirrors.
Borges is obsessed with circular time, with infinite
series, with libraries that have all the books ever written and yet to be
written but already written as time for Borges is an eternal present in which
we all remember only that which we forget.
Perhaps my sanity is not in question as I have nobody
with whom to share my present obsession with Borges. Will I ever stop jumping
back and forth? Would the sudden change of the bannister that my house does not
have but could have in a future present put a finish to my curious version of
Or I could again explain my largish Mario Vargas Llosa collection. When I visited him in Lima and interviewed him for Books In Canada
I asked him why so many of his novels were difficult to read. In particular I cited Conversación en la catedral
where the protagonists have different names or nickname depending who is talking to them. He told me that he had been influenced by Faulkner and particularly by the story The Bear
. He told me that in this way the reader was part of the creation of the novel. The reader had to participate and an effort was shared with the author.
I may add here, if I may be allowed to diverge that my copy of Faulkner's Go Down Moses (which contains The Bear) was given to me by one of my students with whom I read Ficciones back then at Colgate Palmolive.
Wolberg y la guitarra