A Stellar Night With the Petit Avant-Garde
Saturday, April 14, 2018
“You have to be with other people, he thought. In order to live at all. I
mean before they came here I could stand it... But now it has changed.
You can't go back, he thought. You can't go from people to nonpeople." -
|Stefan Smulovitz, April 13, 2018|
Philip K. Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
After having returned from a week in NY City in January and
having seen the Michelangelo exhibit at the Met, Vancouver more than ever feels
provincial (in the old meaning of the world).
I am not attracted to local art/photography shows. They seem
mediocre and banal with too much of that (to me) nasty concept of conceptual.
But then I am rewarded by Turning Point Ensemble concerts,
Early Music Vancouver concerts and Sunday Series dance performances courtesy of
that gem that is the Arts Umbrella Dance Company.
But rarely am I really impressed to the point of saying to
myself, “In Vancouver, only? Pity!”
Since I arrived in this city I 1975 I have noticed a
cultural underground that I have labeled the Petit Avant-Garde. In the 80s by
word of mouth there would be Art Bergmann concerts in houses or locations in
West Hastings that I knew about simply by word of mouth. These one-of events
happened only for one night. They were never advertised in standard
media. Perhaps it had to do with serving booze without a license or simply
making a lot of noise.
I went to one such event last night in an unmarked location
in East Vancouver not far from the former sweets refinery.
I went with my friend and music connoisseur, graphic
designer, Graham Walker. We braved walking many blocks in a constant rain
reminiscent of what we were going to experience when the show finally began at
We were seated in a comfortable leather sofa. In front of us
there was a jumble of electronic equipment and assorted musical instruments. On
the wall there was a rumpled white sheet.
Walker and I were there to witness a performance that would
be laudable anywhere else in the world. The musicians were skilled. One of them, Stefan Smulovitz,
had done this sort of thing hundreds of times before. But there was an
enthusiasm in his face that almost seemed fanatical.
The lights went out and Ridley Scott’s 1962 Blade Runner was
projected on the sheet with subtitles. There was no film sound. There was no
Vangelis soundtrack. What we had was music improvised by two musicians who had never
played together before.
Stefan Smulovitz - laptop, violin, Kenaxis, various sound
Jeff Younger - guitar, electronics, found sounds
Smulovitz’s original career instrument has always been the
viola. He originally wanted to play the trombone but his mother insisted that
since his grandmother had played the streets of Stochholm with a violin that he
should play a string instrument, too. The night’s performance was on that very
At first I noticed the music. It was very good, not pleasant, edgy, but just right and matching the striking scenes of a film I had almost
forgotten I had ever seen. After a while the improvised music was not
emanating from the musicians in front of me but somehow from the film. Walker
whispered in my ear, “This is really a silent film performance.”
I used to say that my proof for the nonexistence of a higher
being was that Art Bergmann never became a world-famous millionaire.
Last night listening and watching an event with no parallel,
all I could think was that a higher being was asleep at the wheel.
Barrie Clark - 27 November 1932 – 16 March 2018
Friday, April 13, 2018
It was a
few years ago that as I was driving through a back alley in East Vancouver I
noticed a gull thrashing on the ground in its final moments of life.
I felt sad
in that I could not comfort the bird and that the bird was going to die alone.’
relate to those Hollywood films with the dying man (more often than not a man)
on a hospital bed or on a war zone area about to breathe his last? Is the dying
man getting any comfort from not being alone? Will it make any difference on
the other side?
product of my age (75) I often look at the Vancouver Sun’s obituary page. The little
photographs of people that I know are all dead (all smiles or in their best
WWII uniform best) remind me of the dying gull. They died alone as we all die
alone. Hand in hand two dying persons go their separate ways.
In the 19th
century photographers using the new invention of photography believed that if
they parked their camera, bedside by a dying man (many children, too) they
might capture that moment between here and there. Of course that never
happened. We will all die not knowing.
read the little box in the Sun informing that radio personality Barrie Clark
I was not
there when he died but somehow my portrait of him taken in the early 80s for a
Vancouver Magazine article on radio announcers (they were all men) makes me
think that I was and am a witness to a man who few will ever get to know.
80s Vancouver Magazine and its editor Malcolm (Mac) Parry was Vancouver’s Ukraine.
Ukraine? I have been told that Ukraine has mountains but I believe that they are not high enough to stop
invading armies going west or east. It seems that Ukraine was a carpet for
invading armies. In the same way Vancouver Magazine and Parry’s office was such
a carpet. Prostitutes, actors, actresses, journalists, politicians, hoods,
illustrators, photographers, wrestlers, boxers, real estate tycoons,
businessmen, policemen, detectives, comedians, musicians, chefs, all visited
and sat in Parry’s office.
year, 2018, the local media has withdrawn and I have my doubts that I will read
an informative obituary anywhere about Barrie Clark the man.
myself lucky that in my portrait I can see intelligence and humanity. That it is
gone is a shame but then that is an irrevocable path that I, too, must travel.
From Wikipedia there is this:
Barrie Aird Clark
(27 November 1932 – 16 March 2018) was a Canadian politician and broadcaster.
He began his broadcasting career in 1949 in Kelowna, and served brief
stints in Ontario and London, England before settling in Vancouver. He
was a popular radio personality and parlayed his popularity into
politics, beginning in 1963 as an alderman in the District of North Vancouver
Clark was elected to the B.C. Legislative Assembly
as a Liberal
in the riding of North Vancouver-Seymour
, and was re-elected in 1969
. He was defeated by Colin Gabelmann
in the 1972 election
The following year he was appointed B.C.'s first Rentalsman by Premier Dave Barrett
; he served in that position until 1976.
Clark then returned to radio as a talk show host in Vancouver, and in
1988 he returned to Kelowna to host a show on radio station CKOV
. In 1999 he was elected to Kelowna city council and served there until his retirement in 2008.
Sometimes in my magazine assignments my subjects would ask to be photographed with someone. I found this negative in my Barrie Clark file. I have no memory as to who it was.
That Bad Weed - Taraxacum officinale
Thursday, April 12, 2018
|Taraxacum officinale, April 12, 2018|
expression, “Mala yerba nunca muere,” or bad weeds never die, has suffered a
transformation in the last few years.
expression was all about the dogged resilience of garden weeds to survive in
spite of everything the gardener might do to eradicate them. Now this bad weed
refers to drugs. At least three films in Spanish have been made (beginning in
1920) with the theme of a bad weed being a person with no redeeming quality.
Now there is a play on Broadway on the theme of drug lord.
persistant politician of ill- repute would not go away in Latin America we
would often repeat the mala yerba refrán. Or when people ask me about my
Rosemary’s health I repeat it!
In my 80s
past when I was obsessed with having the perfect English lawn I resorted to a
fertilizer (no longer sold in our pesticice/heribicide weed Vancouver) called
Weed’n Feed. A few years later I understood the damage I was doing to the
environment and I used a very reliable and rewarding task of removing in
particular the common dandelion which has the interesting botanical name of
late teenagehood I was obsessed with reading science fiction. I read everything
by Ray Bradbury that I could find including Dandelion Wine. This is what
Wikipedia says of this fine novel:
Wine is a 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the
fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, based upon Bradbury's childhood home of
Waukegan, Illinois. The novel developed from the short story "Dandelion
Wine" which appeared in the June 1953 issue of Gourmet magazine.
title refers to a wine made with dandelion petals and other ingredients,
commonly citrus fruit. In the story, dandelion wine, as made by the
protagonist's grandfather, serves as a metaphor for packing all of the joys of
summer into a single bottle.
character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely
patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of
small-town America, and the simple joys of yesterday.
2018 at age 75 I find myself troubled by the simple removal of the dandelions
in my Kitsilano laneway garden. Any living thing, including weeds that are so
persistent in existing require some respect. I feel guilty removing them by digging
underneath with my rose secateurs.
But I take them
out anyway. I hope my life is as equally persistent.
The Darkroom from Wet to Dry
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
|Beneath the Chickering - Fuji Instant Film FP-3000B January 9, 2018|
There is a
lingering memory that I have treasured all these years about projecting a b+w
negative with an enlarger on photographic paper and then inserting into a tray
of developer. Then to see that image slowly emerge was thrilling magic. Since
that event, 1961, to about two years ago I never lost my thrill for working in
my darkroom. The smells of chemicals never bothered me and the magic was always
magazine photographer (I began around 1977) I always processed my b+w film and
printed the 8x10s that art directors wanted from me. The idea of depending on a
lab to interpret my negative was anathema.
magazines started demanding colour. I shot Ektachromes and Kodachromes. These
originals were then made into was then called colour separations which were
then printed onto magazine pages.
director, in particular, Chris Dahl (an artist in his own right) one day said
this to me, “You always print your b+ws to your own satisfaction. I want you to
print, now, colour negatives, big ones, at least 11x14inches using all those
burn and dodge techniques you use for b+w. Since I already knew how to print
slides and colour negatives this was not that much of a chore but a chore it
ago a few weeks before we moved to our present Kitsilano duplex my darkroom
flooded. Before it did I was printing as much stuff as possible using every
available package of paper that I had at my disposal. The flood cemented in my
mind that my darkroom days were over. I grieved.
did not last all that long. In the interim I have been shooting lots of
discontinued Fuji Instant Film in b+w and in colour. This film fits my old
Mamiya Polaroid back. The results I scan. Because these scans are digital files
there really is no practical way of printing them in what we used to call a wet
darkroom (even wet before a flood!).
I have had
for some years an excellent flatbed scanner that scans photographs, slides and
negatives (and my plant scans!). It is an Epson Perfection V700 Photo. Not far
from it is a Canon Pro-1 inkjet printer (prints up to 13 by 19 inches)
suggested by Jeff Gin from Leo’s Camera on Granville.
This is what I have discovered. There is a thrill at seeing my photograph on my
Dell Cathode Ray Tube Monitor (accurately calibrated it is) and then press
print and get (after a few delaying minutes) a print that is exactly like the
one on the monitor.
photographs I take with both my Fuji X-E1 and X-E3 and with my dedicated,
camera only iPhone3G could never be printed in that wet lab. I have adapted to
But I must
now interject something that perhaps is not known by too many people.
past photographers like Ansel Adams or Edward Weston would sign in pencil the
back of their photographs. What this meant was that the print was printed by
the photographer who took the photograph.
I am having
a show in Buenos Aires at the Vermeer Gallery in the first weeks of September
of this year. All my inkjets will be signed in pencil in the back.
persists even if it has been modified.
Addendum: I print with only one kind of paper, Hahnemüle Fine Art Bamboo Natural Warm Tone. In my magazine days I always went for accuracy and I used photographic paper that gave me absolute whites and blacks that were black because I dipped my prints in Kodak Selenium Toner (a known carcinogen. At age 75 I may be a lucky man). But now with age I prefer not a stark white but a warm tone one. I like the heft (290 GSM). Prints look like the real McCoy. And they are!
Retiro - The Train Station
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
All my life I have been attracted to and savoured being in a
It all began because the English built a train system in
Argentine in the 19th century.
The first trains I remember were electric. The coaches must
have been made in England, mostly of wood with elaborate wrought-iron luggage
racks. Both the lead car and end car looked much the same except that on one
side they had a compartment for the engineer/driver.
These trains stopped at train stations that looked that they
could have been anywhere in England. They had huge wooden framed clocks and the
ticket stations had little windows that were also wrought iron.
The conductors (still the case in the trains in New York, so
we found out in January in our visit to the city) all had a personal stamper on
their click machine which they used to punch your ticket when on the train.
For me those trains meant two things. Either they took me
one station up from where we lived, Coghlan Station
, to Belgrano R where my
school was or much more exciting to the end of the line station of Retiro which
was downtown. Going there was always with my father who would take me to see a
movie on Calle Lavalle. When we would arrive at Retiro (very much like a main
station in big English cities) we would take escalators down to the subte and
we would get off at Lavalle.
In Retiro which is cavernous now but much more so then when
I was a little boy there was a large glass case framed by wood that contained a
locomotive that was about five feet long. If you put a coin the wheels would
turn and there was a red glow on the tracks under the fire box.
Retiro has been recently restored to its past glory but
there are two items that have not been restored or retained. There was a huge
wooden wall with gold lettering that had all the information on trains leaving
and returning. The odd-numbered times of 20:13 meant that these trains usually
arrived on precise time even though Mussolini was not in charge but Perón was.
The other item was a café/restaurant that in the morning
serve café con leche and tostadas. Tostadas are an Argentine version of toast.
The loaf itself might be the size of a large ham. So the toast pretty well
covered the plate.
When I arrived early at Retiro in the mid 60s on my way to
my “job” as a conscript sailor at the office of the Seniour US Naval Advisor
not far from the Secretaría de Marina I would linger there with buttered
tostadas and the café. The restored restaurants now would not have tostadas in their menu.
And I would linger. I had befriended the Retiro Station
schedule man and he would sign me a certificate with the information that my
train had arrived 30 minutes late. I would present the certificate to Cabo
Moraña who I am sure knew about my trick.
But there was one event that happened, as the train was
about to arrive at Retiro that I will never forget. I was standing in my
uniform with my sailor hat (very much like a WWII German submariner’s hat)
under my arm. A man in civies came up to me and told me to put my hat on. I
refused. He produced an ID that stated that he was a general in the SIDE
(Servicio de Información del Estado). He demanded my name and my Military ID
Number (I still remember it 588737). When I arrived at the office Cabo Moraña
had a grim face, he asked me,”Que hiciste ché?” There was an arrest order for a
Here in Vancouver I sometime linger in the CP Train Station
downtown (no longer a train station) and imagine my grandmother, mother, aunt
and uncle, sometime in the early 20s walking by on their way to take a train to
Montreal and from there switch to a train to New York City where they would
live for some years in the Bronx.