Helen of TerpsichoreSunday, July 30, 2017
Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
As a boy before the beginning of the mid-20th century I had heroes who were either in comic books or on the radio. So there was, the Llanero Solitario (the Lone Ranger), Roy Rodgers, Gene Autrey, and Tarzan (on the radio). Somehow I must have learned in school about the ancient Greeks because my other hero was Achilles.
In 1956 I saw Robert Wise’s Helen of Troy and fell in love with the lovely Italian woman Rossana Podestà who played Helen. I particularly liked Stanley Baker’s Achilles.
Now at age 75 I can assert that I have read the Odyssey and the Illiad a couple of times.
Inspecting some of my files today I noticed the file called Christine Chipperfield. I wrote about her here.
In the mid-80s she was on my top 10 list of one of the most beautiful women of Vancouver. I met up with her in 1995 when she was the cover photograph for an article in the Georgia Straight of her battle with ICBC over a car accident that had crippled her back and she was in constant pain.
When I looked the pictures today I noticed her hair and I immediately thought of Helen of Troy having gone back to Greece with her husband Menelaus (who had forgiven her for escapade with Paris) and aging into an even more beautiful woman perhaps unleashing another fleet of ships.
For the cover of the Georgia Straight I worked hard because the editor Charles Campbell liked his photographers to try stuff that was different. In my studio I photographed Chipperfield with next-to-no makeup with a ring flash. I took 9 shots and I picked one where she was looking up (heroically or tragically, you decide). I then made a b+w lith film transparency that was 5x7 inches in size. I glued its corners to my living room window and re-photographed it with the same medium format camera (a Mamiya RB-67) so that the vegetation, sky and houses of my front garden would be rendered as blurs. The reason why this contact sheet scan is blue is that I improperly fixed (or did not wash the negatives enough) so they have a pink/brown town that reverses to blue when I scan it.
In an age before I even knew the existence of Photoshop it was elegant to try stuff that nobody had tried before. I used the same treatment of a portrait I had taken of Robertson Davies.
A Jorge Luís Borges poem that mentions Helen of Troy (alas only in Spanish)