A Negative, a Scanner & No Whiskey
Saturday, March 03, 2018
W. (William) Eugene Smith was a famous American
photographer of the 20th century. In a Popular Photography Magazine article about him that I read
in the early 70s I will never forget that he said he adored going into his darkroom (a
very messy one) with some negatives, good music and whiskey.
For many years until about almost two years ago I did that but
minus the whiskey. Until the late 1990s (when I quit the habit) I used to smoke my pipe in that
darkroom (which had no ventilation). The smoke shared time with developer and
fixer fumes and most importantly with the bath of selenium toner that I used to make
my photographs archival. This latter product is a known carcinogen.
I must have a most efficient and charitable guardian
angel. I am pretty healthy for my age.
When my Rosemary and I moved to our current Kitsilano duplex
I had to give up that darkroom. It was a brutal feeling of loss which somehow I
have managed to rationalize by the fact that I shoot a lot with my digital
cameras and my very good Epson scanner does wonders with the b+w negatives and
colour negatives that I load my 35mm and 120 format cameras. These digital could not have been handled in the classic darkroom.
The output of a scanner is digital and with my Canon Pro-1
printer I can print to my heart’s content in a room full of light (no music)
and with fresh clean air.
While W. Eugene Smith might not have agreed with my present
situation, I do like to sit at my computer after picking a negative I have not
done anything with. I then monkey with it with the help of a scanner and my 13
year old Photoshop.
What you see here is a Polaroid Instant b+w negative that is
7x7 cm in size. My subject was a beautiful woman called Belinda Carr who was my
model for a seminar I gave many years ago on figure photography.
I projected on her with an optical spotlight that had a gobo of a
night skyline scene. I gave her the print (which had to be coated!) but
kept the negatives (3 in all).
When I scan anything with my Epson I scan it in three
colours. Since the negative does not lie completely flat on the glass you get
the odd colours.
I enhance those colours by going to Photoshop’s
Shadow/Highlight tool. This tool is the most useful tool as it will bring back
shadow detail (that has always been there!) that old commercial printing papers
could never really handle. When I abuse this tool the pleasant (to me) colour
shifts happen. I up the sharpness and contrast with Corel’s Paint Shop Pro X2
photo program. In my opinion this
program is excellent (and cheap!).
On a nice Saturday afternoon where I can see the sun on my
deck and the birds hanging out in my bird feeder I believe I am as happy as W.
Eugene Smith ever was.
Friday, March 02, 2018
Mérida, the capital city of the State of Yucatán is perhaps
the safest city in Mexico and one of the safest anywhere. The people are
friendly because as Mayans they inherited the peaceful philosophy of the
Feathered Serpent god Kukulcán. Unlike the Aztecs, who worshiped Huitzilopochtli
the god of war, sun and human sacrifice, the Mayans were far gentler. The
smiles on their faces reflect their rosy point of view.
Mérida is safe from most theft and there are few people
dying as the result of guns. I believe that the “narcotraficantes” are not yet
doing business in Mérida.
While waiting for our bus on Calle 60 with Calle 37 we
spotted this gentleman in his crisp Yucatecan guayabera. Could this be the
beginning of the end for this fine city?
I tried to take this photograph on the sly but the man noticed and he threatened me verbally. I told Rosemary to hold my hand and we moved away to where there were a group of people. We felt safe as the sun set over lovely Mérida.
No Attitude But Perhaps Edgy
Thursday, March 01, 2018
|March 1 2018|
My career as a magazine photographer has been a balance of
dealing with some of the best art directors around and with some that insisted
in using words I had no concept for.
When I showed my portraits that were attempts to fashion to
the latter art directors they would use an expression, “Your photos need to
When I showed my well lit portraits to them they often said,
“These are too well lit. You need to be edgy.”
When I showed those portraits in which it was obvious I had
used a stylist and talked at length with my subjects they would say, “You need
to be a fly on the wall and shoot.”
There was no way I could ever satisfy them. Now being 75 and
obsolete, redundant & retired I need not shoot anything where I have to
please any of those guys. I must interject that I did deal with a fantastic
woman magazine art director called Barbara Solowan
. She would send me faxes
with her drawings. Once the instructions were, “Make believe it is a cover for
For many years I have been dealing with a personal interest
in shooting images that are erotic. In my waning life I have found that Eros is
more subtle. This means that fewer private parts (if any) have to show. I have
discovered in shooting that if the message is confusing and difficult to
interpret, it is all for the better. I believe that I have found (finally!) an awareness of what those
guys meant when they said, “Shoot edgy.”
I still don't know what they meant by "attitude".
Jane Rule - The Spider Spins Her Web
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
When I received a Manila envelope from Herizons Magazine
today I knew what I would find. That did not diminish the excitement, enjoyment
of seeing one of my portraits in print. I remember my first one sometime in
1976 for a Vancouver travel magazine that featured my cover of a Mayan ruin in
Yucatán. Since then I may have had at least 300 covers and countless two-page
spreads and full bleed pages. But that excitement always seems new.
This time around it was about a portrait I took of Jane Rule
some years ago for Books In Canada.
I wrote about being scared of facing this
woman and how she won me over here
. I have been told that this portrait became Rule’s
That the envelope containing the magazine, also included a
check (a strange event in this day and age!), was even more thrilling.
But the biggest thrill was reading (yes we photographers do
read) the interview of Rule by writer Keith Louise Fulton in 1993 that had
Keith Louise Fulton: Are there problems writing fiction that
includes lesbians, when literature has left out lesbians’ life experiences? Did
you try to make your own audience, or were you just having to deal with the dilemma
of being understood?
Jane Rule: I wanted to be clear. But I also didn’t want to
be interrupted by being concerned about people misreading my work. I didn’t
want to be distracted. It’s easy to be silenced or to cater in wrong ways, and
I thought my job is to make the worlds I see as clearly as I can. If people
come of good will, they will be welcome. But I am not writing books for my
enemies. I’m not writing books for anybody but me. I mean, it’s the function of
the spider to spin the web, and I had to make a world I could live in. And I
think that’s the basic impetus to write – Because there isn’t a found world. I
don’t know, but I think I was stung into writing and required for life to
write, to make a world I could live in.
Jane Rule's Brownies
Two Grescoes & Dan Rudnicki Dissipate My Inertia
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
|Paul Grescoe & Mark Budgen's hands|
Since Rosemary and I returned from a week’s trip to New York
City almost three weeks ago, I have been plagued by a terrible respiratory
disease that unfortunately never deteriorated to pneumonia (I have had that
twice in my past). Had I had pneumonia an antibiotic would have stopped it. I
have been feeling in what seems for three weeks of not wanting to do
anything, read anything or even write a blog. I wrote about this feeling here
Today I feel a tad better and I am writing this because of a
shot in the arm that came from Paul Grescoe. Who is he? Read here
. But that
entry does not really explain all that Grescoe and wife Audrey did in
Vancouver to make the magazine milieu of the 70s, 80s and 90s in Vancouver to
be as terrific as it was. It was Audrey Grescoe (and Andrew Scott) who transformed Western Living
into to the
success that it has even today in spite of the decline in print.
|Audrey & Paul Grescoe|
But I must also point out that my career as a photographer
had its downs. Often when I was really depressed I would call Paul Grescoe who
would gently (with a voice that could sell thousands of used cars) give me gentle
advice (very good it always was) that mostly involved having patience.
Their son Taras started a career as a free-lance journalist
that at one point when he wrote for the Guardian included my photographs in that
publication for a first and last time. Few in Vancouver would know that many
times Taras Grescoe would step in for William Safire’s column On Language in
the Sunday New York Times Magazine.
Like his parents Taras Grescoe is prolific from his base in Montreal.
I must also record here a little article that Paul Grescoe
wrote for Homemakers in which he wrote about the safety virtues of building
cars that would have their headlights one during the day!
Today he sent me an email after years of having lost touch
perhaps because the Grescoes live in Bowen. It has been another well placed
Grescoe shot in my arm!
It's been years, but I wanted to contact you to say what
And how informative and astute your commentary continues
Audrey and I are still on Bowen (but thinking of moving
this year to be near our daughter Lara). Aud is editing a
book and I'm partway through (finally) a third Dan
where he finds out who killed his wife.
We'll be celebrating our 55th this May, after which we'll
Montreal to be with Taras, Erin and their two sons (6 and
Keep blogging, Alex.
It is in relation to Paul Grescoe’s Dan Rudnicky
mysteries that I photographed him many years ago in an East Vancouver back
alley with the help of our mutual friend Mark Budgen’s
Madame McIntosh In France
Monday, February 26, 2018
Guest Blog: Barbara-Jo McIntosh
My Garden, in my village, in France
Today, February 28th, 2018, marks one year that I shuttered
my beloved bookshop [in Vancouver]. The closing was
emotional, exhausting, and beautiful. I
said farewell to twenty glorious years, years of interacting with wonderful
folk from all over the world, who shared the desire to cook and eat well. And reading, the joy of reading real
books. How I lament losing my superb
collection of books! It was truly a
source of knowledge and comfort for me as well as a resource available to the
community. For all of you who miss my
shop and library, I mourn with you.
But time and tide wait for no man or woman, especially one
who doesn’t care to sit quietly. So, I took an enormous leap of faith and found
myself in France, renovating an old house.
Many of us dream of moving to a village in Europe, old and storied,
quaint and pretty.
What a delight to
purchase a house with hundreds of years of history and memories.
The residue of other people’s lives clinging
to the walls.
And a garden, a private
I am still in disbelief that
this house is actually mine. I am the owner of a house in France, with a desire
to leave my notch in the annals of its existence.
I did not set out to purchase a house in France.
Oh, I had an odd thought about it from time
to time but I never seriously inspected the idea.
But one day, in this village, I was enjoying
a glass of wine with friends and someone mentioned the house across the rue was
Madame had passed and her
family was going to sell the house she had lived in for 50 years.
Someone else expressed the desire to see the
house and I said I would tag along.
walked through a dark house with many rooms and stairs.
We exited through the back door of the big
house, into a courtyard which has a small house attached.
I saw two doors and one window.
One door opens to a well that is shared with
The other door opens
to a room containing a large old concrete sink and a door leading down to a
large cave. The stairs to the top floor of this “atelier” are on the outside.
We climbed the stairs, turned left and
continued along a short passage until we found a door that opens to a
This was where Madame’s
husband had obviously spent many happy hours with a massive collection of tools
and a well used work bench.
To the right
of this workshop door are a few steps that take you into the garden.
At first glance, I noticed that the north
side of the garden is protected with a very high wall.
The other side features a view of sloping
roof tops that shelter houses along another rue.
At the back of the garden is a structure
resembling a cloister and, to the far right, there is a gate to a back passage
which leads to another rue.
As I stood in the garden, I began to tremble. A vision seared into my brain, swift and
clear. I had found a house, with a
garden, that I believed I could renovate into a home for me, to share with
One might think that when a cautious soul has made a
decision to buy a home in a community, she would take the time to see what else
was on offer in the neighbourhood. Not
moi. I knew this was the house for me
and I bought it. Now, I find myself
ensconced in the incredible adventure of renovating in a culture that is
different from what I have understood, learning to speak the language that has
reared this country, and wondering why it is so difficult for a tradesman to
accept that I don’t want a closed door in my personal quarters between the
chambre and the salle de bain!
And as is wont to be, life is everywhere. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the
ugly. To date I have experienced much
joy, some sorrow, and yes, I am exhausted!
But the vision is strong. Spring
is around the corner, and when the planting begins I envision a new life
evolving for le jardin, la maison, et
I will keep you posted as the world according to this
Madame, moves along.
And if I work my
luck well, there will one day be an interesting old house, in a quaint town,
ready for lively encounters with good folk who love to read, cook, eat, and
Barbara-Jo's Booking & Cooking