Helmut Newton - Subtlety, Elegance & Gone
Saturday, August 13, 2016
|Helmut Newton - London 1988 - Photograph Lincoln Clarkes|
Picture this. I am in pretty good health and I look a few
months younger than I really am (about to be 74 in a few days). Money problems
are gone as Rosemary and I sold our valuable West Side house and now live ensconced
in a small (everything works and does not leak) duplex. The Malibu drives
nicely and we could get a few more repair-free time out of it. Our cat, Casi-Casi,
12, is no longer radioactive as his Iodine 131 treatment for a hyperthyroid was
successful. Eldest f
daughter Ale is happy
in her one acre in Lillooet and Hilary, husband and youngest daughter Lauren
are established in their new digs (with a community pool) in Burnaby.
|Helmut Newton - 1975|
The only besmirching of this ideal situation is our oldest
granddaughter Rebecca who is on an apparent dive to more problematic
My friends keep telling me to continue plugging with what I
do. This is easy but also paradoxically difficult.
It is easy because I think that I am taking the best
photographs of my life. On the negative (and with a smile of sorts) I may commission
someone to write me a country song with the title of Obsolete, Redundant &
In the previous century, any experimental photographs I took
sooner than later were re-adapted to magazines I worked for which had
enlightened art directors who liked to push boundaries.
In that last century there was the Exposure Gallery
Beatty Street where I participated in countless erotic group shows. Also in
that past century I had exhibits (including a one-person one) in various very
good galleries. I had some pictures up in the Presentation House. My guess is
that was a passing exception to their “rule” that the photographer has to be
dead, or be foreign or to produce work that had to be explained with a massive
The internet has changed all that. The last time I attended
a show at Presentation House I was introduced by the chief curator as a good
portrait photographer (what was really meant was a good commercial portrait
photographer).The decline of magazines has meant that there is less money for photographers and for daring work. The avenues left are flickr, Instagram, Tumblr and others. To me even if good photographs can be found they are hidden by a waistland of banality and mediocrity. There are too many found photographs. Few are created in some form of pre visualization (as Minor White
would have said).
And style the likes of Penn and Avedon
seems to have disappeared to this ex-photographer.
And so I take lots of photographs that will never see the
light of day as hard copy and, most that do appear on some web page, I censor
so that I will not offend the onerous rules of 21st century
So going back to my relative calm life in my Kitsilano
duplex I must find some meaning for existing further, for taking photographs,
for wanting to wake up tomorrow to see what the day will bring.
I have been plagued by a recent desire to stay home and not
go to concerts and plays or to see the latest films at a pop corned Multiplex.
My age makes it difficult for me to find models to undrape.
I am no longer a passably attractive young man of 37.
I have no recollection when I first heard this:
A woman is as old as she looks. A man is old when he stops
Forget the idea that driving in Vancouver with cell phone in
hand is dangerous. Much more so is the recent explosion of women wearing shorts
that expose the gluteus maximus
. This distraction is very dangerous and I find
it hard not to want to look.
What all that means is that I have a desire to photograph
women of any age (preferably over 30,40 and over even better). I don’t want to document fire plugs,
Vancouver sunsets, Vancouver skylines, my cat or the food I cook or eat at a
restaurant. My desire to take selfies only applies when I can find a beautiful
woman to pose in front of a mirror with me squeezing the shutter on the side
(and almost hidden).
This desire seemed unhealthy or at least it was the reaction
indicated by some of the people I confessed my problem to.
The unhealthy factor changed the moment (it happened twice)
at the Vancouver Art Gallery Picasso show. Watching Picasso, with a whimsical
smile on his face in a lovely video where he does quick line drawings with a
paintbrush and white paint and which all end up being unclothed women seemed so
No I am not Picasso. But the show (a show of his
relationship with the women of his life) stressed to me an obsession of the
male painter, and sculptor to document the female body since that first little
fat and pregnant statuette in our human pre-history.
Either they were all sick, (and that includes
the relatively more recent photographic manifestations of the undraped female
body), or it is perfectly natural and healthy! For my own sanity I will opt for
the second part of that choice.
|Olena - August 17 2016|
In the past century I had the assignment to photograph a
new cutting edge painter called Lincoln Clarkes. The write was Les Wiseman for
Vancouver Magazine. Shortly after, Clarkes shifted to photography and began to
photograph a lovely, slim model called Elizabeth Mazzoni. One that I
particularly remember was of her undraped by the side of an antique bank vault
(it was in a property owned by Uno Langmann, downtown). The photograph looked
like a photograph of Helmut Newton’s. In fact for a while I thought Clarkes was
the Helmut Newton of Vancouver! But Clarkes diverged into other topics and only
recently did I notice his habit of taking pictures of women in skirts riding
For better or for worse I have been emulating my own
versions of Helmut Newton while trying to make sure that my photographs do not
champion the objectification of women. I do not photograph them in a demeaning
way and I always ask them to be in control. I want to think that at the very least Newton and I share some good taste and elegance with a side of occasional subtlety.
These photographs (the film ones) will go to my extensive
metal cabinet files. The digital ones to an exterior hard drive. And meanwhile
when I ride a bus I can smirk at people who might think, “That’s an old man.”
More correct would be, “That’s a dirty old man.”
Emily Dickinson's White Dress & A Hunter of Lost Souls
Friday, August 12, 2016
During these last few months my late evenings in our
Kitsilano home have been spent either reading Jorge Luís Borges in Spanish or
Emily Dickinson in English.
For reasons that I cannot fathom by the time I had amassed a
collection of 400 hostas in our old Athlone home I only had one of the only two literary
hostas. In our new home I brought with me the slow growing Hosta ‘Robert Frost’ but no Hosta
‘Emily Dickinson’. My guess is that when I first stumbled upon this narrow
leaved hosta I was not all that interested in Dickinson.
That has all changed and I am having lots of fun
illustrating Dickinson poems with photographs from my collection. The links to them are bellow.
My interest in Dickinson ballooned when my friend writer
Jerome Charyn published his Secret Life of Emily Dickinson
in 2010.This fine book
is what I call a first person autobiographic novel as Charyn writes it in the
After A Secret Life I became a daily Dickinson reader. This
has become even more intense since I purchased Charyn’s most recent A Loaded
Gun which is a biography (with lots of subjective interpretation) on Dickinson
paints Dickinson as a smoldering un-spinster whose
poems reveal to him (and many other biographers) a strong overt sexuality of
the woman who dressed in black, but did not.
That one famous photograph of a young Dickinson taken in
1847 has her in a black dress. But it seems that later in life she strictly
wore white. One of the dresses still exists and you can read about it here
Last Thursday when my friend baroque upright string bassist
Curtis Daily and I were taking photographs of the blue-haired Olena (wonderful
she is) she put on a chemise like dress that was not quite white
. Olena looked
exotically erotic in it and the first thought in my head was that somehow
Dickinson had traveled to our day to my house to pose!
That is far-fetched and certainly not true. But in the scan
of that Fuji b+w Instant 3200 film print I see a luminosity that shines in the
same way as my mind does when I
If I am allowed to admit my obsession for Dickinson, it is a tame one in contrast to Charyn's. In his Author's Note
I couldn't let go. I'd spent two years writing a novel about her, vampirizing her letters and poems, sucking the blood out of her bones, like some hunter of lost souls. I'd rifled through every book about her I could find - biographies, psychoanalytic studies of her crippled, wounded self, tales of her martyrdom in the nineteenth century, studies of her iconic white dress,
accounts of her agorophobia, etc. I shut my eyes, blinked, and wrote The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson
(2010) like a boy galloping on a blind horse. I never believed much in her spinsterhood and shriveled sexuality. Yet she was a spinster in a way, a spinner of words. Spiders were also known as spinsters, a like a spider, she spun her meticulous webs, trapping words until she gathered them in a a Lexicon that had no equal.
|Jerome Charyn - the blood sucker|
Olena - The Woman With Blue Hair
Thursday, August 11, 2016
I consider myself an awfully lucky man to get my hair cut at the Richard Jeha Salon
in Kerrisdale. The man himself (Jeha) told me,"I want you to meet my assistant. Her name is Olena and she speaks Spanish." At the time Olena was wearing her glasses and her hair was not yet blue. I asked her to pose for me. I hope to keep taking her pictures until I am blue in the face.
My taste for androgyny
From Olena to Modigliani
All about Curtis Daily's baroque bass in the photograph
The ghost with the purple hair
John Oliver - Marina Hasselberg - The Warmth of Electronic Music
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
|Marina Hasselberg, John Oliver - Dominion Building - August 6 2016|
I am not a friend of electronic music. But I have a
Vancouver friend who is a new music composer who composes electronic music. His
name is John Oliver
. You might expect someone who does what he does to hide in
a scowl behind thick and round rimless glasses like Shostakovich. But that is
not the case. Oliver always smiles and he is so enthusiastic with what he does
that I believe I have an electronic music virus rampant within me.
For many years during my ignorance of youth I thought Walter/Wendy Carlos Switched on Bach was electronic music. I did not know then that Carlos was well ahead of his/her times.
German/Portuguese cellist Marina Hasselberg
(one of the
few cellists I know who plays both the modern and the baroque cello) is
lovely and has one of those aw-shucks kind of voices that border on the
cutesy. But when she sits down to play you are not inclined to laugh.
- video by Hasselberg/Oliver
|Cameron Ward in his Dominion Building office|
By combining the warmth of the wooden instrument with an
array of electronic equipment the Oliver/Hasselberg concert partnership at last
Saturday’s concert at the newish (but very old!) Gold Saucer Studio (in winter
the plumbing adds interesting noise to concerts) proved that there is warmth
and little dissonance in new music and electronic music. That's one point for Oliver.
My friend Ian Bateson and I thoroughly enjoyed the four
pieces (as per almost usual there are no printed program notes). In fact I
really don’t miss them since sometimes program notes can read like those artist
statements one finds in Vancouver gallery spaces.
Both Bateson and I are fans of Hasselberg’s playing and I
can safely say that in John Oliver I have a brand new friend who might just not
short circuit my present liking for electronic music.
Part of the charm of a concert at the Gold Saucer Studio
(attended by a chunk of the Vancouver avant-garde and yes it does exist) is that
the venue is in a building with lots of Vancouver history.
My friend lawyer Cameron Ward
used to have a tiny office
there. The door with the frosted glass window reminded me of images I could see
in my mind while reading Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett thrillers. So did
my friend, free-lance writer Mark Budgen
who died last year.
In the late 70s I photographed a man who shot up in fame
as a promoter of rock band concerts in Vancouver. His name was Norm Perry and
his company Perriscope Productions handled venue tickets in Vancouver before
the Ticketmaster mafia took over. My photograph of him resembles the portrait I
took last Saturday of Hasselberg and Oliver. I do not believe it was in the
exact same spot. Strangely enough Vancouver Magazine art director Rick
Staehling must have noticed Perry’s right hand. There were five other pictures
(I only took 6) where the hands were just right.
|Norm Perry at the Dominion Building circa 1978|
so that our hands would meet - para que nuestras manos se encontraran
Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Causas – Jorge Luís Borges
ponientes y las generaciones.
Los días y ninguno fue el primero.
La frescura del agua en la garganta
de Adán. El ordenado Paraíso.
El ojo descifrando la tiniebla.
El amor de los lobos en el alba.
La palabra. El hexámetro. El espejo.
La Torre de Babel y la soberbia.
La luna que miraban los caldeos.
Las arenas innúmeras del Ganges.
Chuang-Tzu y la mariposa que lo sueña.
Las manzanas de oro de las islas.
Los pasos del errante laberinto.
El infinito lienzo de Penélope.
El tiempo circular de los estoicos.
La moneda en la boca del que ha muerto.
El peso de la espada en la balanza.
Cada gota de agua en la clepsidra.
Las águilas, los fastos, las legiones.
César en la mañana de Farsalia.
La sombra de las cruces en la tierra.
El ajedrez y el álgebra del persa.
Los rastros de las largas migraciones.
La conquista de reinos por la espada.
La brújula incesante. El mar abierto.
El eco del reloj en la memoria.
El rey ajusticiado por el hacha.
El polvo incalculable que fue ejércitos.
La voz del ruiseñor en Dinamarca.
La escrupulosa línea del calígrafo.
El rostro del suicida en el espejo.
El naipe del tahúr. El oro ávido.
Las formas de la nube en el desierto.
Cada arabesco del calidoscopio.
Cada remordimiento y cada lágrima.
Se precisaron todas esas cosas
para que nuestras manos se encontraran.
The Causes - Jorge Luís Borges
The sunsets and generations.
The days and none was the first.
The coolness of water in Adam's
throat. Orderly Paradise.
The eye deciphering the dark.
The love of wolves at dawn.
The word. The hexameter. The mirror.
The Tower of Babel and pride.
The moon that Chaldeans gazed at.
The innumerable sands of the Ganges.
Chuang-Tzu and the butterfly that dreams him.
The golden apples on the islands.
The steps in the wandering labyrinth.
Penelope's infinite tapestry.
The Stoics' circular time.
The coin in the dead man's mouth.
The weight of the sword on the scale.
Each drop of water in the clepsydra.
The eagles, the auspicious days, the legions.
Caesar on the morning of Pharsalia.
The shadow of the crosses over the earth.
The chess and algebra of the Persian.
The footprints of long migrations.
The conquest of kingdoms by the sword.
The relentless compass. The open sea.
The clock's echo in memory.
The king beheaded by the ax.
The incalculable dust which was armies.
The nightingale's voice in Denmark.
The calligrapher's meticulous line.
The face of the suicidal one in the mirror.
The gambler's card. Greedy gold.
The shapes of a cloud in the desert.
Every arabesque in the kaleidoscope.
Each regret and each tear.
All those things were necessary
so that our hands would meet.
Freckled Devon Cream
Sunday, August 07, 2016
With few exceptions when I locate in some long forgotten box
a photograph I took a long time ago I recognize it as my own. This is different
when I look at something I have written in the past. I re-read the stuff and it
seems alien as if someone else wrote it.
Just a few days ago I re-published this blog.
I was struck by
this very Borgesian content:
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.
Today I found a box with medium format transparencies of
dancers I photographed in the early 80s. There is one photograph of a dancer
that was called Topaz but if you knew her well you could address her as Fleen
(her real name was Kathleen). I gave her my own name. To me she was Miss Mew.
Often while walking the short distance from the Number 5 Orange on a Saturday
to a punk concert at the Carnegie Library on Main and Hastings (it was not the
scene that it is today) I would walk behind Miss Mew who during an in-between
period between her dances, she too would go to a D.O.A. or a Subhuman concert
as I was.
In fact you could easily categorize at the time two types
of dancers. One, Miss Mew who danced to the music of Lou Reed, and the rest,
My co-ecdysiast interested (fans!) friends could not
understand my preference for Miss Mew. They liked the voluptuous ones with big
chests and raunchy acts. Miss Mew and her Lou Reed
did not move much on stage.
It was the eye contact and skin like Devon cream that did it for me. And to top
it all she had a Lauren Bacall type of smoky voice.
Miss Mew is doing well these days and I often spy
something she may have posted on facebook.
But I realize that those memories that I have of her are
as I wrote in that blog:
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.
And when I look at the Ektachrome transparency of Miss
Mew I realize that I could never take an equivalent photograph now (of anybody)
in the same way. I could never (or could I ?) in this 21st century
go up to some woman and say, “You have a glorious chest. Could I take some
photographs of you?”
The time is past for all that. All I can do is savour the
memories and once more gaze at that glorious chest.
Photographers my age would comment, "Alex you used a burst of blue gel on that background!" In those days we especially used those blue gels for backgrounds involving businessmen in the high tech industry. Business magazines demanded that "high tech (blue) look." To me blue represented the outward demeanour, cold, of Miss Mew that hid a warmth and friendliness that was inside. And it was only a few years later when I saw her in the light of day at our table at the Railway Club that her face had always been covered by delightful freckles.