Sprawled on Black Satin
Saturday, October 28, 2017
In youth ideas come charging into the mind (out of,
perhaps?) like locomotives in that other railroad century. This particularly
happened for me in the waning decade of the 20th century.
In 1986 Rosemary, our two daughters and I moved to a big
house (corner garden) in Kerrisdale. It had lots of shade. I discovered by book
research (pre Google) that hostas were shade tolerant (no plant is shade
loving) perennials. In 1992 I decided to combine the variety of hostas (over
4000 cultivars) with my love of the undraped female form.
It just so happened that a show had fallen through at the
then happening photo gallery, The Exposure Gallery, on Beatty Street. Brian
Lynch, the curator, called me up and asked me if I could put up a show within
|Hosta 'Yellow River' October 28, 2017|
And so as explained here
, and here
, I combined the magnificent Lisa
Montonen with my hosta leaves and used one softbox in my studio on Robson and
Today I scanned some hosta leaves to show that it’s not only
falling leaves from trees in the fall that have interesting colours. These
leaves, 2017 and my hosta photographs with Lisa Montonen shockingly tell me
that a quarter of a century has passed.
Because in 1992 I was obsessed with the undraped female form
the majority of the photographs show bits and parts that I cannot place here
but served me well at the Exposure Gallery.
This one of Montonen sprawled on a sofa (I borrowed it from
artist Rodney Graham whose studio was across mine) worked out nicely. I did
something which is usually verboten. To place a black cloth (in this case black
satin) under Montonen to hide the sofa (I believe it was orange) usually works
in the opposite direction as a reflector. Had she not had a perfect body the
cloth would have added nasty shadows.
To light her with the softbox I suspended it from a boom so
that my camera would not “see” the light stand.
|October 28 2017|
That Feminist Subtext
Friday, October 27, 2017
admired the feminist subtext to your female portraits, & I'm not being
John MacLachlan Gray
Sometimes in my doldrums of depression and attempting to
not be convinced that I am obsolete-redundant & retired I am saved as I was
this week by a comment from my friend, novelist/essayist/musician/composer/etc John MacLachlan Gray.
Not too many people ever look at my female portraits
beyond that of free titillation. But it seems most likely that MacLachlan Gray
indeed has noticed what I so often inject into my portraits. I have a few
1. I never ask anybody to do something that I would not
do (and yes if there are any photographers who would like to photograph me
undraped I am game).
2. For me models are subjects. The word model
objectifies. As subjects I am forced to see them as human beings facing my
camera. I understand that his can be stressful in the confines of a big studio
or in my smaller and most intimate Kitsilano studio.
3. My role model is and always has been (since I discovered
him so many years ago) Helmut Newton. He always injected grace, elegance and
respect into his photographs even if in some cases he had a model riding
another on a saddle in a living room.
4. Some photographers that I have known have used
subterfuge to make their subjects shed clothing. They thought loud heavy metal,
wine and pot would do the job. I prefer to be up front and I ask at the very
5. In this atmosphere of October 2017 so much of what
photographers used to do and still do could be defined as sexual harassment.
Some might argue that a woman or a man not wearing much might be unable to
object to further escalation.
6. When I was taking photographs of women in tubs for a
show some years ago I had my older daughter demand to be part of the series. My
Rosemary was shocked. I thought at length as to what to and finally I had
another of my subjects who was the same age as my daughter to help and pose (independently)
7. Taking photographs of some ecdysiasts to be dressed as
London Bobbies for a large format photograph to be converted into a mural for a
local club I set aside an area with blankets and sheets for privacy so my
subjects could change. I remember my assistant telling me that this was silly
as these women were used to taking of their clothes in front of men. I tried
vainly to explain.
8. I had one subject who wanted to be photographed in a
series involving hand cuffs and being tied down. As I was taking these
photographs I told her that I felt sorry for her. She responded with a laugh
and said,”That is not precisely what I
want to hear from you.” I took that
photograph immediately and for me my sequence of five photographs make sense
with that last image with the laugh.
9. All photographic sessions have to be seen as a
collaboration. This means that you have to listen for suggestions and
10. Because I mostly relie on eye contact in my photographs, by that very nature most of my photographs are as MacLachlan calls them, portraits.
I thank Mr. MacLachlan Gray for noticing.
A Glock In the White House
Thursday, October 26, 2017
What happens when an a NY City ex-Police Commissioner
becomes President of the United States and walks into the White House with a
A Mona Lisa Called Cheri
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Why do eyes follow you in paintings and photographs?
I have asked myself this question many times but thanks
to Google I finally have the answer below.
My first practical experience in this not-so-rare
phenomenon started by my going in the late 70s to what was then in Vancouver
called a show lounge. This was a euphemism for a strip joint. And the dancers
in stripper joints were called exotic dancers. The first dancer I saw at the
Drake that first time was called Emma Peel. She was just about 5ft tall in
later years when I got to know her I found out everybody called her English Anna.
But it was another dancer, Cheri that immediately caught
my eye. She had bangs and the longest legs I had ever seen in a creature
besides the-to-me familiar Argentine ostrich. In fact some years later she
managed to break her nose with one of her legs and aided by her extreme
I was able to photograph her not soon after in my crude
Burnaby basement studio. And that is when I took the picture you see here in
which her eyes follow you.
Why do eyes follow you? I found it here
The answer is
simple: photograph, or paint, the face looking straight out. If it’s a
photograph they must look straight at the lens of the camera. In the words of
James Todd of Ohio State University, one of authors of the study, ‘If a person
in a painting is looking straight out, it will always appear that way,
regardless of the angle at which it is viewed’
How does it work?
First of all, this is only possible because pictures and paintings aren’t 3D.
They are semblances of 3D on a flat surface. This stops our brains calculating
depth by comparing the images in the two eyes (how our brain calculates depth in
images is covered in the book). Instead, our brains rely on other cues to
depth, such as shading (the use of shadows to imply depth) and movement (all
this is also covered in the book).
lies in how we interpret three-dimensional objects portrayed on a flat surface.
Real three-dimensional objects look different depending on the angle because of
the changing way light falls across them. But on the flat canvas, shading and
light are fixed and the image looks the same from every angle. If the face is
looking straight out from one angle, it will appear to be looking straight out
at whatever angle it is viewed at.
In fact the only
clue that the object in a picture isn’t really looking straight out is that the
near side of an object should get smaller if you look at it from one side. This
doesn’t happen in a natural way with a painting. Theoretically your visual
system could use this information to figure out that pictures of objects aren’t
real and thus the eyes aren’t really following you around the room, but it
appears that they don’t. The contradictory information is either overridden or
There is another reason why I am placing these two
photographs here. The first I shot with my Mamiya RB (6x7 cm format) with
colour negative film. The second is a 35mm Kodak Ektachrome 64 slide that I
purposely overexposed to get a milky skin. In 1978 photographers did not have
computers or Photoshop.
And thanks to my 13 year-old Photoshop and its patch tool
I have minimized the two bits of her chest. Cheri had the loveliest chest
around and a smile that could conquer deep depression in anybody. Best of all
Cheri danced to the music of one of my favourite Vancouver pop bands of the
time Maurice and the Cliches.
I am now 75 and I have photographic information in my brain
that I believe I will die with. That seems to be a shame. In the 80s and 90s I
was constantly phoned by young photographers with questions on how I had done
this or that.
These days I get calls from 800 numbers and I am being
offered burial plots at a bargain!
These Cheris and many others of those late 70s and 80s
were the only way that at the time I could experiment with figure photography.
These exotics were extremely patient and with them I honed my lighting
techniques, tried out different films and cameras, and learned stuff that I can
now apply without thought as it is wired into my brain.
of a place bounded like a dream
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Both my mother and my grandmother were snobs. I was raised
to be one and I will not deny it.
Often my mother would say, “Hay poca gente fina como
nosotros.” This translates to something like, “There are few people who are
elegant and well-mannered as we are.”
Because my grandmother worked for the Filipino Legation in
Buenos Aires and then at the Embassy in Mexico City, both my mother and my grandmother,
went to many parties. Some involved events in which Diego Rivera, Alma Reed and
well known Mexican actors were attendees.
This meant that I would watch them choose dresses and the
proper jewellery to wear. A little dab of Chanel Number 5 and off they were.
Even I, about 13 years old, knew elegance when I saw it.
Lisa Montonen, who rarely uttered words was elegance at a
I have chosen Jorge Luís Borges's poem A un gato (To a cat)
because his words describe something about cats that I marvel at always. Just
seeing Casi-Casi, Rosemary’s cat, sprawled on our bed, his paws in elegance that
only a ballet dancer could mimic for me is like Lisa Montonen, a definition of
elegance and grace.
más silenciosos los espejos
furtiva el alba aventurera;
bajo la luna, esa pantera
es dado divisar de lejos.
indescifrable de un decreto
te buscamos vanamente;
remoto que el Ganges y el poniente,
la soledad, tuyo el secreto.
condesciende a la morosa
de mi mano. Has admitido,
esa eternidad que ya es olvido,
de la mano recelosa.
tiempo estás. Eres el dueño
ámbito cerrado como un sueño.
Mirrors are not
creeping dawn more secretive;
moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight
of from afar.
inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you
even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
yours is the
solitude, yours the secret.
allows the lingering
caress of my
hand. You have accepted,
since that long
the love of the
You belong to
another time. You are lord
of a place
bounded like a dream.