Shelley Berman, A Glass of Buttermilk & Dan Sherrod
Saturday, September 02, 2017
In 1959 I was an unsophisticate of 17 at St. Edward's High School a Catholic
boarding school in Texas. I was in the 10th grade living in a huge
dorm with bunkbeds. Years later when I saw old b+w photographs of the dorm it
reminded me of some German Stalag.
I remember to this day that a fellow student, Dan Sherrod, by his bunk bed
desk, not far from mine, was listening to a record called Inside – Shelley Berman. I will never forget Berman talking about
how disgusting a glass emptied of its contents (buttermilk) looked. This was enough for me
and I can declare here and now that I have never tried it.
, the sophisticate, was from Odessa, Texas. He
was particularly intelligent and looked the part with his glasses. But he had a
way that was not over-the-top “I am superior to you”. One day he gently
corrected me on the pronounciation of that French car (I am sure there was not
one at the time anywhere in the State of Texas) Peugeot.
While most of us read Motor
Trend, Sherrod swore by Road & Track. He would tell me about Formula
One races. Being an Argentine, at least I knew who Juan Manuel Fangio was.
On one weekend afternoon Sherrod was playing a record that I
ultimately bought not too long ago here in Vancouver. It was Peter Ustinov – The
Grand Prix of Gibraltar. This is a
remarkable recording of Ustinov making all the car noises and imitating to
perfection fictitious (based on real ones) F-1 drivers of the time.
Looking back at my boyhood in Texas, today September 2, 2017,
one day after Shelley Berman died, I can pinpoint the young man responsible for
making me the snob I am today (and proud of it!).
|Aston Martin DB4|
I had a telephone chat with Sherrod who told me he
once owned the Aston Martin DB4 his father once (or twice) drove to St. Ed's. We were awed at the car. We were allowed to open and close the
doors that made a thick and rewarding clunk of a sound. He is about to sell his
over 10 year old Corvette and I believe he told me he was going to buy a
Who would have ever suspected that Texas could have
engendered such a sophisticate as Dan Sherrod?
If I ever visit him I will demand he serve me a glass of ice cold
Addendum: Dan Sherrod has communicated:
And, you'll never get any buttermilk from me.
Two Portraits - September 1 2017
Friday, September 01, 2017
|September 1, 2017|
My fine ex-student David Macgillivray visited me today,
the day after my melancholic birthday. It was a far nicer day as David brought a
bottle of Argentine Malbec and some sweets. We chatted for hours and almost
forgot the purpose of the visit.
He was to take my picture and I his. David had
commitments so I quickly set up the softbox and tested the light at f-8 at 200
ISO. Since both of us have the same camera this was simple. I took two shots.
For the first one I forgot to set my f-stop and it was terribly over-exposed.
The second one was just right. I believe that David may have taken three. The
one here is the one he sent.
I will have to wait for him to return from a trip to China to exploit my interest in people with very red hair!
Monica & My Awful Birthdays
Thursday, August 31, 2017
|Helianthus annuus August 31 2017|
Since one of my first birthdays that I can remember, I
recollect that they were awful.
My birthday is on August 31st, 1942 but for
reasons that have never been suitably explained my birth certificate states
that I was born April 18, 1943. If you calculate the difference, that is almost
9 months. My mother’s explanation for the discrepancy was that my father had
forgotten to register me until months later. She further added that the only
proof of my real August birth was to be found in the records of the hospital (Hospital
Anchorena, Buenos Aires).
So for the rest of my life, particularly when applying for
important documents or crossing borders (terrible when I was a small boy) I had
to “lie”about my birthday.
A further problem is that my mother married my father (who
she says was divorced) in a country that did not accept divorce as legal. She
told me that they were married in Uruguay where divorce was legal.In all my
documents I am Jorge Alejandro Waterhouse-Hayward and in my mother’s it was
always Filomena de Irureta Goyena.
Furthermore I hate cake. I hate cake because I had to eat
cake at the birthday parties my father and mother organized in our Melián 2770
garden in the Coghlan neighbourhood.
The horrible birthday party often had to be postponed as
around August 30 there is a bad storm in Buenos Aires called La Tormenta de
Santa Rosa (St. Rose of Lima).
|Mónica & Alex top row fifth from left|
But the most horrible factor of all was a girl called Mónica
who was in my class at school.
She always broke the piñata, my new toys and invariably put
the tail on the donkey and won the potato bag race.
I got even with her on her birthday party. I was picked up
by her father in what was an almost brand new Chevrolet (1949). It had a
beautiful gray cloth interior. Because I suffered from acute motion sickness I
threw up on the way. It was awful and smelly. When we got to Mónica’s party I
became hungry and asked to eat a few slices of the birthday pizza. You can
imagine the negative reaction!
Here in Vancouver today at age 75 August 31st is
about the back to school ads on TV and in the papers. I am melancholy that my
daughters are mature and over 40. I am melancholy that my 15 year-old
granddaughter Lauren is too busy getting ready for school to call me and wish
me a happy birthday. I am melancholy that the older granddaughter Rebecca, 20
has not been taught (could that be the reason?) the propriety of calling a
grandparent to wish him a happy birthday. Would a text have sufficed? I cannot give a conjecture as the text never
But the worst melancholy is the decline of my garden with
the idea that summer is over and fall and winter are around the corner. Only
spring will determine if I will live for another birthday. This is a
longstanding Native Canadian idea that I adopted many years ago as it seems to
be universal as far as the tip of South America.
This melancholy does not prevent me from noticing the beauty
of our Helianthus annuus as it fades
into the fall.
Suicide - My Statistical Anomaly?
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
“En cualquier momento el tiempo me suicida”,
Jorge Luís Borges.
“At any moment time
will suicide me.”
Much was written in the 60s on how increasing leisure
time was going to modify our lives. They could not have predicted that an
evil man, Steve Jobs, would have thought of something that would waste
our time and relieve the pressure on what to do with all that surplus time in the form of the iPhone.
As an obsolete-redundant & retired old man I have
plenty of that leisure time and particularly at night when I turn off the
lights. Last night I was thinking that I knew 10 people who committed suicide.
If there is anything that I learned well at university was a course in
statistics. I look at everything statistically even though as humans we can
always find exceptions in those rules that defy all predictions. I photographed 9 of the 10 and two were married to the same woman.
Consider that I knew and photographed three people, who
did not know each other that died, in separate incidents run over. I wrote
about that here.
My Rosemary says I think about depressing stuff and yet I
cannot understand why the thoughts on those 10 people came to mind. The last
person on my list was J.J. Johnson the ultimate and consummate jazz trombonist.
A few years before he shot himself (they say he could not face a long and
painful cancer) I sat with him for a chat at the Iridium Club in NY City. He was
a gracious and polished gentleman who dressed like one.
Attempting to understand the aftermath of the oblivion we
call death is no less difficult or troubling than trying to understand why
anybody would escape life.
The young woman here, Carmen, was a bubbly ecdysiast friend of
mine who danced at the Number 5 Orange in the late 70s. I will never understand
even though I will keep trying why she did what she did to end her life.
I can only add that sometimes when I am driving on a
curvy road I get this urge to find out what would happen if I pointed the car
straight. My guess is that others get that urge.
Below in Spanish Jorge Luís Borges is asked by a
journalist if he ever considered suicide.
En octubre de 1965, Jorge Luis Borges esperaba recibir
una buena nueva. Su nombre sonaba para el Premio Nobel de Literatura. Sin embargo, la noticia nunca llegó.
Quien sí lo visitaba en un hotel de Buenos Aires era el periodista Rodolfo
Braceli. Llevaba una grabadora. Una de las preguntas fue esta: ¿Pensó alguna
vez en el suicidio? Luego, Borges respondió con naturalidad.
creador de El Aleph se sinceró. Le dijo a su interlocutor que sí. Que un día
había tomado la decisión, pero que luego pensó en que “con tener la idea” era
“Recuerdo que hasta pensé en adquirir una navaja, una navaja de acero de
Inglaterra o de acero de Suecia”, reconocía Borges.
de suicidio era degollarse o bien cortarse las venas. Mientras realizaba tal
afirmación, rectificó. El escritor confesó que, en lugar de la navaja, creía
que sería más efectivo el cianuro, como así ejecutó la trágica acción Leopoldo
“La muerte, sin duda, me está acechando,
para qué tomarme el trabajo. Antes de mi ceguera pensé muchas veces en
suicidarme. Ahora ya es un poco tarde… yo creo que ya no necesito suicidarme”,
continúo Borges con su confesión.
Shades of Gray
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Around 1966 my friend John Sullivan who was conscript in
the Argentine Army when I was the same in the navy, argued with me saying that
the world was not an absolute represented by black and white. He was a year
older than I and much more mature. He understood the value of the middle ground
and the shades of gray.
I remember him now more than ever in this world that has
become so polarized in extremes.
A much less relevant topic for most but important for me is
the gulf that exists in photography between the idea of the digital and that of
I am no longer the idiot purist of my youth who eschewed
putting any kind of filters in my Pentacon F or my Asahi Pentax S-3. I was much
too ignorant to know that a yellow filter made b+w film, which was sensitive to
UV and blue (more so that with us humans), the film more like the rendering of
the human eye. My purist idea was simply a black and white that should have
been a gray.
John Sullivan was right.
I am old enough to remember seeing kits for making analog
computers. Here is a definition by Wikipedia:
An analog computer or
analogue computer is a form of computer that uses the continuously changeable
aspects of physical phenomena such as electrical, mechanical, or hydraulic
quantities to model the problem being solved. In contrast, digital computers represent
varying quantities symbolically, as their numerical values change. As an analog
computer does not use discrete values, but rather continuous values, processes
cannot be reliably repeated with exact equivalence, as they can with Turing
machines. Unlike digital signal processing, analog computers do not suffer from
the quantization noise, but are limited by analog noise.
Analog computers were
widely used in scientific and industrial applications where digital computers
of the time lacked sufficient performance. Analog computers can have a very
wide range of complexity. Slide rules and nomographs are the simplest, while naval
gunfire control computers and large hybrid digital/analog computers were among
the most complicated. Systems for process control and protective relays used
analog computation to perform control and protective functions.
The advent of digital
computing made simple analog computers obsolete as early as the 1950s and
1960s, although analog computers remained in use in some specific applications,
like the flight computer in aircraft, and for teaching control systems in universities.
More complex applications, such as synthetic aperture radar, remained the
domain of analog computing well into the 1980s, since digital computers were
insufficient for the task.
I was a whiz with my simple analog computer that was the
circular slide rule I learned to use at St. Edward’s High School. I did not know
then that it was such a beast, although a simple one.
All the above brings me to the topic of hand, the middle
ground between old technology and new technology.
It may have been Aristotle who observed under a tree
sunlight filtering through close knit leaves and noticing a fascinating
projection of the world beyond the leaves on the ground. It took Leonardo da
Vinci to figure it all out and who is credited with making the first camera
obscura. So, in English that would translate to dark chamber or dark room. Here we had a
dark room without chemicals or enlargers or film. He was ahead of his times. It
wasn’t until 1826 when Nicéphore Niépce’s heliographic image View from the
Window at Le Gras finally combine da Vinci’s dream with his reality saved for
posterity on a sensitized emulsion floating on tar sand.
In photography one (and I) must never forget what came
before. The lastest technology of miniature speakers on the side of a home
computer cannot match the technology of the past in big studio monitors. But if
you have never listened to music with studio monitors then you do have the
ability to judge the quality of music emerging from a cell phone with ear buds.
It took my Rosemary about three and half years to convince
me that needed to get modern or get fu….(the motto of the Vancouver band, The
Modernettes) . And so I purchased a Fuji X-E1and I have been happy since but
without completely abandoning film and metal clunker cameras.
I did (for a short while) adopt the wonders of digital
technology when I purchased an iPhone 3G. I even managed to get the Georgia
Straight to use the photographs I took with it without any comment on their
quality of lack of it. But I soon abandoned the 36 as the Fuji X-E1 was the
better camera and the excitement that some photograph was excellent even though
I had used the 3G wore off. In fact I have not taken one photograph with my
Galaxy phone. Perhaps because the Galaxy has a better camera.
Recently I have gone to my iPhone 3G
files and noticed some nudes I took as an instructor at the now gone Focal
Point. My students mated their digital cameras to a soft-box flash. Not wanting
to intrude I would every once in a while pull out the 3G and take some snaps.
What you see here at the images that can pass muster with the on-line censors.
Notice the neat grain (noise) and off colours. The photographs almost make me
want to pull out my 3G from retirement.
Ample proof that the latest is not always the best. The catch is to remember that past.