Of Darwin, Cardoons and Juan Manuel de Rosas
Saturday, February 24, 2018
We Argentines (I am a Canadian citizen but I was born in
Argentina) have the good luck, unlike Canadians, of having several poems and
novels that are about the country. We have several definitive Argentine novels. One of them
is the 19th century Martín Fierro by Martín Hernandez. Argentines of
my generation have all read the long poem about a doomed gaucho during the war
when the Argentine army pushed back the native Argentines west and south to almost extinction.
I also love re-reading Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the
Beagle in which I learn and fondly remember how Darwin befriends an as yet to be strongman Juan Manuel de Rosas. They galloped together in
the southern Pampa where Darwin noticed the cardoon growing in every direction
he could see. The cardoon is the wild version of the artichoke so Darwin
declared. To this day any spiny plant is called a cardo in Argentina.
El gaucho Martín Fierro
José Hernández, publicado en 1872
Y al que le toca la herencia,
donde quiera halla su ruina:
lo que la suerte destina
no puede el hombre evitar,
porque el cardo ha de pinchar
es que nace con espinas.
Canto III - 451 y ss.
La vuelta de Martín Fierro
Winter Wise At Old Age
Friday, February 23, 2018
|Friday February 23, 2018|
As a person born in Buenos Aires where I never did see snow
except in photographs of the Andes or a rare snowfall in Mexico City at the
higher Desierto de los Leones, snow has been something strange, wonderful and
We (that includes my Rosemary) have trumpeted that silly
(stupid) idea that it never snows enough in Vancouver to warrant the expense of
My first experience with driving in the snow happened around
1977 when Rosemary and I in our Mexican-made Beetle drove by Vancouver’s back
streets (my brilliant idea) from downtown to our Burnaby home. Driving on a
parallel street to 12th Avenue we went as far as we could until we
reached Rupert. Then I turned to go down on Rupert. Our car slid down to meet
up with about 12 others. We got out pronto before a dump truck slid down to hit
the mass of cars. Our Beetle was totalled.
After other snowfalls we usually took transit but I must
admit that I felt pretty confident in our Audis with Quattro drive and with all-season
Now in 2017 I came up with the obvious fact that at age 75
our 2017 Chevrolet Cruze will be the last car I drive. I decided, then to buy
four snow tires.
I was disappointed that it did not snow enough in December
but I was happy with Friday’s snowfall. I took Rosemary around to her gig as a Mast
gardener at the Home Show. I felt confident and looked at other drivers sliding
with their all seasons as idiots!
|Our Cruze with four snow tires photographed with my Fuji X-E3 and pinhole lens cap|
My Lust for Heat
Thursday, February 22, 2018
Most people when I tell them that I love the heat they reply
that this is because I come from a tropical country. This is not the case.
In my boyhood Buenos Aires, when summers can be past a humid
40 winters can be as cold as in my Vancouver. It never snows but those winters
are rainy or humid. The humidity comes from the nearby River Plate. In that
boyhood we did not have any kind of heating. The warmest place in our house was
the kitchen where we would keep the gas stove oven open in the evenings. In bed
I was either given a hot water bottle or a hot brick wrapped in a thick cloth.
I remember that we had upright kerosene stoves in which we would place a pan of
water to boil off the smell of cedrón leaves
The most common complaint on the street in the winter was of
women comparing the chilblains in their hands.
When I returned (from a warm Mexico City and warmer
Veracruz) to do my military service in the Argentine Navy we had navy blues for
winter and summer whites for the warmer seasons. These uniforms were most
adequate except for the determination of the seasons by some forgetful admiral.
This meant that in warm springs we sweltered in our blues
and in cold falls we froze in our whites. My sailor mates complained and marvelled
at the fact that I never seemed to sweat in in the summer or suffer in those
blues in hot springs.
I have no idea why I do not seem to perspire a lot. I do
know that I love the heat and I can tolerate extreme heat with equanimity. It
is the cold that I cannot tolerate. I may have poor circulation but when I
happen to touch Rosemary under her chin (she hates this thus…) she jumps and
tells me my hands are ice cold.
Shortly we will be escaping the cold rain (and snow) of
Vancouver for the 35 plus heat of Mérida in Yucatán. Rosemary will stare at her
morning papaya with a big grin and I will do the same over my huevos rancheros.
I long for that extreme heat in the ruins of Uxmal.
The photographs here illustrate not that kind of lust that
some of you might be thinking about. I look at them and all I can assert is
that I lust for heat.
From Glamour to Not
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
I cannot speak for other photographers but I can assert that
this one has gone through many stages. When I look back at some of them I feel embarrassed
and think, “Did I used to do that?”
Before Rosemary, our two daughters and I moved to Vancouver
from Mexico City I was already making very good money taking family pictures of
wealthy Mexicans. I had two cameras, three lenses and no flash. I used Tri-X
and processed and printed the film in my home darkroom which was the bathroom
in our garage shop.
I lusted at having powerful speedlights (as flashes were
called then). And I worshipped an American photographer called Peter Gowland.
(April 3, 1916 – March 17, 2010) was a famous American glamour photographer and
actor. He was known for designing and building his own studio equipment and was
active professionally for six decades.
Gowland shot more
than 1,000 magazine covers, mostly glamour shots of female models but also
portraits of celebrities including Rock Hudson and Robert Wagner. His covers
included Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Modern Photography. He invented elite
cameras and equipment that he used to shoot pinups and magazine covers. In the
late 1950s, Gowland also invented the twin-lens Gowlandflex camera, which used
4-by-5 inch film for high-quality pictures. The camera has since been used by
such photographers as Annie Leibovitz and Yousuf Karsh.
Gowland grew up on
movie sets and worked as film extra in his youth. He learned photo lighting and
techniques from watching movies being shot. The son of Gibson Gowland and
Sylvia Andrew, both actors, he acted in at least 12 films, mostly uncredited.
He had a small part in Citizen Kane.
|Photograph by Peter Gowland|
I particularly lusted after the women he photographed in
the slightly conservative style of the times. His technique was to place his
model by surf on the beach and he would blast them with a powerful electronic
flash. The pictures were obviously lit. It was much later that photographers like
Annie Leibovitz pioneered using the indirect light of large softboxes with the
technique of giving the background a darker exposure. A similar and obvious, Gowland technique (obvious that a flash was used) were the magazines Beautiful British Columbia (which I looked at while in Mexico) that features proud fisherman holding up a fish while in a canoe.
By the time we arrived in Vancouver I realized that
Gowland’s photographs were cheesy. I preferred the ones taken by Bunny Yeager
who made Betti Page famous.
Both photographers paraded the idea that these women were
beautiful but not sophisticated. They were healthy girls from next door.
Sometime in the late 80s I found the Bunny Yeager book in
a used bookstore in Terrace. I love the book but I no longer wanted to imitate
the look that Americans called glamour (with a u!). Glamour somehow was not
quite pornographic but then it wasn’t straight portraiture.
In the modern times of this 21st century
glamour is represented (and yes, they too are cheesy) by those who specialize
in boudoir. I do believe that some wedding photographers also cross into that
Around 1977 I was an habitué of Wreck Beach and it was
there where I photographed my first nude. I did not use a flash and went for
the shape of the woman and did not show her face. I was into the overall idea
of a nude in a landscape being part of the landscape.
From there I graduated (evolved?) into the female (and
some males) body as landscape within a studio. From there they became nude
portraits with a further deterioration (?) into sexy nudes – erotic nudes to
But there is one feature of my style that I have adopted
all along from that first nude on Wreck Beach of the woman called Apri. The
sand on her feet somehow feels odd to people who see the photograph. I like
Now in this new year that is 2018 I am working very hard
to go for that oddness. It is sort of like having a perfect photograph where
there is an element that is not quite right or out of context.
Or somehow edgy.
Two Fish in the Water for 50 Years
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
The last few years of my life have been plagued by the death
of friends and relatives with whom I conversed. Increasingly I feel isolated in a cold city
of cyan or gray skies. I find myself looking back at faces of people gone.
The story of the fish (a sentient one) that is approached by
a scuba diver who tells him, “You, fish, are surrounded by a colourless
substance that wets that is called water,” is well known. Perhaps as well known
as the fish’s answer, “You are full of shi.”
I am that almost sentient fish now living a wonderful
awakening to the fact that water exists. She is called Rosemary.
My suspicions were aroused when we drove to Seattle in early
January to see the Andrew Wyeth Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum.
Rosemary had a smile on her face as she took in the show. It was a pleasant day’s
Without too much pressure I was able to convince Rosemary
that we should go to New York City later in January to see the special Michelangelo
exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
We arrived at the museum at 10:30 and left at 5. I was exhausted but
Rosemary was ready for more even though we had also seen the Rodin and the
David Hockney exhibits. I asked Rosemary if she were interested in the section
of the museum that had medieval armour. I could not believe how she enjoyed it and
then took countless iPhone photos of the horse armour.
My suspicions and a glimpse of something I had not known
about Rosemary were there in plain sight. Then she loved the Frick and smiled
But it was finally this Sunday when Rosemary and I went to see Spielberg’s The Post at the 5th Avenue Cinema that it all hit
home with a thud in my head.
Rosemary was as interested as I was in all the goings on
that led to the release of the Pentagon Papers. But then both of us read our
daily NY Times hard copy watch Rachel Maddow every day faithfully.
It was my Rosemary who had the idea that we should leave
Mexico City in 1975. It was Rosemary who forced us to buy a corner lot home in
Kerrisdale in 1986. We were paying a monthly mortgage of $3600 then. Now that
decision of hers has us comfortably living in our Kits duplex with money in the
bank. We are able to inherit our daughters while we are still alive.
For years, with little protest Rosemary financed my many
photographic exhibitions. Once in a while she would show me the framing
expenses or might have pointed out that nobody had bought anything.
In silence she has suffered all these years of my bringing
young women to pose in my studio undraped.
And I could go on. I could mention that Rosemary is the one
with the financial savvy in our family. With little prodding on her part she
brought me on board her interest in plants and gardening. Gardening has been
one more activity that we have shared. In fact for some years Western Living
paid me good wages to write a gardening column. Who would have known? Who would
have suspected that my interest in roses would lead to the Canadian Postal
Service to issue rose stamps of roses that I had photographed?
Even when money was tight Rosemary played with numbers and
had us going to Argentina, Uruguay, Washington DC, Mexico and Europe with our
daughters or our granddaughter Rebecca in tow.
Rosemary, my Rosemary, our two daughters and I lived our
first years of marriage in Mexico City with my mother. How did wife and
mother-in-law deal with each other? They got along splendidly and never had any
differences. When we could not pay the rent one month my mother sold her piano.
It broke our heart.
Somehow all the above rushed to my head when I opened our 50th
wedding anniversary gift from Bruce and Hilary (our youngest daughter) Stewart.
It is a lovely wooden memento box with a metal plaque that reads:
Alex & Rosemary
Rosemary has always been there. I might not have noticed before. But she is a companion I can talk to, share ideas and face a comforting and exciting future knowing that she will always be there..
For both of us.
While we were watching The Post I found the actor who played Robert McNamara familiar. I had photographed Bruce Greenwood many years ago in Whistler!