Mirror of no Return
Saturday, April 28, 2018
I had lunch today at the Sylvia Hotel with friends who were
friends of Mark Budgen who died a few years ago.
Paramount to everything we talked about was for me the
salient thought of stuff that we would never do together again.
In American Air Force display flights when one of their
squadron has died the formation will have that one slot with a plane missing.
Without Mark Budgen all those moments we shared in work and
play can only return in our memories. As the mutual friends diminish (there
were only four of us) those memories will fade to black.
In photography I sort of feel the same when I look at any of
the pictures I took in my past (even a recent one). The three pictures here,
all featuring a mirror have their flaws. Two in particular have feet cut off. One has neck folds (a
Could I retake these photographs? No. I would probably not
be able to find my subjects and if I did they would refuse. Time will have passed
and they will no longer feel comfortable shedding clothes.
In my photography I must continue upwards (I hope). But
it would be nice to shoot these again from a point of view of now (perhaps)
knowing what I am doing.
Odalisques & Post Odalisques Odalisques
Friday, April 27, 2018
|Nu couché (sur le côté gauche)" (1917) - Amedeo Modigliani|
Sotheby's has announced that "Nu couché (sur le côté gauche)" (1917) by
the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, which depicts a naked French woman
in repose, will lead its Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
on May 14 with an pre-sale estimate in excess of $150 million -- the highest estimate placed on an artwork at auction.
I have always been fond of Modigliani's nudes but I never thought that in trying to imitate one as I wrote here
that I would find something interesting about the man.
But I will repeate myself here briefly. When taking photograph of a friend in a Modigliani pose I had the problem of making the face small, the neck long and the bum large.
In my attempt I saw the light. It is commonly believed that camera wideangle lenses distort. Perhaps they do in ways that we photographers call lens aberrations. In a wide angle lens (particularly a really wide one) anything circular in any of the four corners will appear egg-shaped.
But wide angle lenses will make anything closer to it look bigger. And this is correct and true. What the average person does not take into account is that our brain tells us, "The nose in that selfie is not that big. It looks big because the smart phone is not that smart." And so our brain corrects our perception and the nose looks almost normal.
I learned from my experience that Modiglini sat (or stood) very close to his subjects. And his vision was superbly accurate and so bums looked larger, necks look slimmer (an thus longer) and faces were smaller.
|A pinhole camera odalisque|
The other artist who had a similar vision was van Gogh. His painting of the chair in his room looks like a reproduction of a photograph taken by a 28mm lens really close!
In English there aren't too many euphisms for that portion of the body that is always so much larger in Modigliani nudes. In Spanish we have many demure ones. My favourite is one by my grandmother who used to say of it:
Donde la espalda pierde su nombre. Because espalda is a precise word for that part of our body below the neck and above the bum the meaning of "where the back[espalda] loses its name," has a special ring to it.
My grandmother also called it "la cara fea" or the ugly face. Of the orifice she would tell me, "el ojo que no ve." That translates to "the eye that cannot see."
In Mexico dishes to be washed are trastos or trastes. In Argentine we laugh at this as a traste (root to behind) is that ugly face. Curiously a capotraste (in English it is usually called a capo) is that device used in a guitar's fingerboard to lower or raise its tone.
In the 19th century Odalisques became popular. Originally this was a Turkish word for the maid to a sultan's wife or concubine. In some of those odalisques you could spot her in a corner while the woman she served lounged on a bed or sofa. Soon enough the maid was history and the odalisque became the nude woman reclining on the sofa.
Braguetas, Braguetazos & Mangueras
Thursday, April 26, 2018
|14th century Spanish hose|
In 1968 in Mexico City I saw a woman in a miniskirt, with
long blonde hair and splendidly shaped legs. I saw her from behind. Soon after,
I married Rosemary.
I have always been keen on beautiful legs because my mother
had them. Her sister Dolly, while a lot slimmer, also had lovely legs. In those
years in the 50s and 60s when passengers deplaned on the tarmac I always knew
(especially when they deplaned on the other side of the aircraft) which one was
She told me that I had inherited her legs and also her
swimmer’s feet. Neither of us ever had corns and we could easily find shoes
that fit us. I may look 75 but when I show off my feet as I did once at an all-female
pedicure place in a resort in Florida the women were amazed on how young my
feet looked (and still look).
I like legs. I love legs. And at about this time with the
weather inching up towards summer I cannot stop looking at all those women in
shorts. Those shorts have been creeping up in the back in the last three years.
I feel that not only are my feet young but something in my mind that keeps
getting excited by lovely gambas (a word Argentines like to use for legs which
they borrowed from the Italians).
I told my almost 16 year-old granddaughter Lauren today that
I do not understand why we men cannot
wear Lululemon yoga pants (Lauren prefers the word leggings). I explained that
men in the medieval ages wore hose. In many cases they wore a codpiece. Why cannot
we men, particularly those of us that have lovely (but manly) legs not wear
hose? Unisex fashion was popular years ago. I think the time has arrived that I
try on a pair. Lauren told me that should I do so that I must not go to any of
her Arts Umbrella Dance performances as I would embarrass her beyond belief.
Now, curiously hose in English is the same word for a garden
hose. In Spanish that is also the case. Medieval hombres wore mangueras. I had
no idea what codpieces were called in Spanish. The word used is bragueta. This
word is an interesting one.
A bragueta is also the zip up and zip down device that men
have in the front of their pants.
In baseball we all know what a fly ball is. In Mexico in the
late 50s there was a rise in nationalism and in keeping Mexican Spanish free of
anglicismos. They failed miserably with baseball terms. Left field became
jardín izquierdo so a fielder became a jardinero (gardener?). But it was with a
fly ball where they got it all wrong rather nicely. A fly ball is a braguetazo
(the wrong fly here).
Should I go out and buy myself a Lululemon legging? I don’t see why not.
As for a homerun the formerly nicely sounding jomerrón has been replaced by the most boring cuadrangular (all about four bases I suppose).
Glykysides & That Captured augustinii
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
|Rhododendron augustinii 'Marion MacDonnell'|
On March 28, 2015 I wrote this blog
titled Glykysides in
Our Garden. The plants in questions were peonies. We did not bring any of those
featured in the blog to our new home in Kitsilano. I showed the blog to
Rosemary who expressed sorrow over the fact that we do not have those plants
Two weeks ago we returned to our old house. It is empty but
it is sometimes occupied on weekends through Airbnb. I would not think of going
into what is left of the garden but I did this time. Rosemary returns sometimes every week. The
garden has been mostly plowed over (this I noticed two weeks ago).
On the lane
garden there were three roses which we liberated from the soon to happen
demolition. One of the roses went with my eldest daughter to Lillooet. Two
others are languishing with us. The moving should have been made a month ago
when the plants were dormant. I believe that at least one of them will survive.
Going to our old garden was more than sobering. I felt
melancholic as I remembered what it looked like in its prime.
But there is one happy thought here. And I will use that
21st century term for taking a picture – to capture.
In the above-linked blog the peonies are there to be seen because
I scanned them. I have a record of almost all the plants (with corresponding
flowers) in my hard drive and in CD and(!) in a duplicate exterior drive.
I feel that I have captured their botanical soul. The garden
may be gone but the plants remain in my memory, my visual memory and my memory
visual (if you get what I mean).
One plant that did move with us and is blooming today is Rhododendron augustinii ‘Marion MacDonnell’.
It is now a tree. Some years ago our friend Alleyne Cook brought a small pot
and told me that it was the closest rhododendron to being blue. It is thriving
in a sunny spot in our garden.
The plant was named after Dundee-born Augustine Henry and it
is supposed to be quite sun tolerant as most rhododendrons prefer shade.
With all that visual memory for our former peonies this
Rhododendron is one that I can touch.There is something positive about that.
Cleopatra & Bitumen of Judea
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
|Jennifer Lines as Cleopatra - iPhone3G|
Bitumen of Judea
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bitumen of Judea, or Syrian asphalt, is a naturally
occurring asphalt that has been put to many uses since ancient times.[vague] It
is a light-sensitive material in what is accepted to be the first complete
photographic process, i.e., one capable of producing durable light-fast
results. The technique was developed by French scientist and inventor Nicéphore
Niépce in the 1820s. In 1826 or 1827, he applied a thin coating of the tar-like
material to a pewter plate and took a picture of parts of the buildings and
surrounding countryside of his estate, producing what is usually described as
the first photograph. It is considered to be the oldest known surviving
photograph made in a camera. The plate was exposed in the camera for at least
The bitumen, initially soluble in spirits and oils, was
hardened and made insoluble (probably polymerized) in the brightest areas of
the image. The unhardened part was then rinsed away with a solvent
Niépce's primary objective was not a photoengraving or
photolithography process, but rather a photo-etching process since engraving
requires the intervention of a physical rather than chemical process and
lithography involves a grease and water resistance process. However, the famous
image of the Cardinal was produced first by photo-etching and then
"improved" by hand engraving. Bitumen, superbly resistant to strong
acids, was in fact later widely used as a photoresist in making printing plates
for mechanical printing processes. The surface of a zinc or
other metal plate was coated, exposed, developed with a solvent that laid bare
the unexposed areas, then etched in an acid bath, producing the required
|World's first photogaph on Bitumen of Judea by Nicéphore Niépce - Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas|
Because I am a photographer of the last century I know
who Nicéphore Niépce
was and how he took what it probably the world’s first
photograph, in 1826 or 1827 from his kitchen window.
In Mexico as a young boy of 15 when I played on the street
my friend and I would break out pieces of tar from the concrete built streets
and chew them like chewing gum. In Mexico it is called chapopote (from náhuatl chiapopotl). We were told by some
elders that the stuff helped keep our teeth white.
I really never made the connection with bitumen of Judea until
A few years back (2011) I read Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy
Schiff . In it I found out something most interesting
about the sticky product. Cleopatra was a rich and shrewd woman. She was aware
that the Roman fleets (particularly those of her buddy Marc Antony) used bitumen to caulk the planks and
hulls of their ships. She also knew that most of the bitumen of the time came from
the Roman Province of Judea. There was a problem in that the man in charge in
Judea was Herod the Great. Cleopatra asked Antony to intercede for her so that
Herod would cede the bitumen (of Judea) exploitation rights to her. And so it
With my preoccupation (with my Rosemary) on the affairs
of the world gone Trump mad I have read about Alberta’s bitumen and wonder if
their female Premier doesn’t have a little Cleopatra in her.
There are two extremes to this argument on the fate of
that bitumen. Perhaps some sort of pragmatism will in the end resolve the
problem and no asps will have to be imported.
Monday, April 23, 2018
had lunch with Tim Bray, a guru on all things interent, digital, etc. I tried
to convince him on my theory that our ability to associate is what makes humans
different from other lifeforms on our planet. It was not to be and with a simple
smile on his part we went to other things.
Yesterday I posted this blog (to
fill a gap some months ago that was empty as Rosemary were in New York or in
Mérida). In the same set of negatives I found the one you see here. I
immediately associated the hand to Spanish mano.
Mexico friends call each other by that word. “¿Cómo estás mano?” It seems that mano is
simply short for hermano. Would this mean that Mexicans started the
contemporary “bro” thing in the last century?
One way streets in Mexico are simply called tránsito. The
word implies that traffic (tránsito from the verb transitar) goes only in one
direction. In my Buenos Aires a different expression is used, contramano or
against the direction of my hand.
Both Emily Dickinson and Julio Cortázar (and obviously
others) have written about the human hand. I like this particular one by
Cortázar (with an English translation byTamara Pearson) who many think may have influenced or inspired the TV program The
Twilight Zone. The poem by Dickinson I have referenced before but here it is
de la Mano
carta tirada sobre la mesa sale una línea que corre por la plancha de pino y
baja por una pata. Basta mirar bien para descubrir que la línea continúa por el
piso de parqué, remonta el muro, entra en una lámina que reproduce un cuadro de
Boucher, dibuja la espalda de una mujer reclinada en un diván y por fin escapa
de la habitación por el techo y desciende en la cadena del pararrayos hasta la
calle. Ahí es difícil seguirla a causa del tránsito, pero con atención se la
verá subir por la rueda del autobús estacionado en la esquina y que lleva al
puerto. Allí baja por la media de nilón cristal de la pasajera más rubia, entra
en el territorio hostil de las aduanas, rampa y repta y zigzaguea hasta el
muelle mayor y allí (pero es difícil verla, sólo las ratas la siguen para
trepar a bordo) sube al barco de turbinas sonoras, corre por las planchas de la
cubierta de primera clase, salva con dificultad la escotilla mayor y en una
cabina, donde un hombre triste bebe coñac y escucha la sirena de partida,
remonta por la costura del pantalón, por el chaleco de punto, se desliza hacia
el codo y con un último esfuerzo se guarece en la palma de la mano derecha, que
en ese instante empieza a cerrarse sobre la culata de una pistola.
A hand’s lines – Julio Cortazar
Translated by Tamara Pearson
From a letter thrown on the table, a line extracts itself
and runs along the pinewood then goes down a leg. If you look closely, you can
see the line continue along the hardwood floor, climb the wall, enter a metal
plate that is reproducing a painting by Boucher, trace the back of a woman
reclining on a sofa, and finally escape the room by the roof and descend a chain
of lightning rods to get to the street. It’s difficult to follow it because of
the traffic, but if you focus, you’ll see it climbing the wheel of the bus
parked on the corner that goes to the port. There it gets off the bus on the
nylon stocking of the blondest passenger, passes through the hostile territory
of customs, and crawls and zig zags to the wharf, and there (it’s difficult to
see it, only the rats follow it to get on board) it gets on the boat with the
loud turbines, runs along the first class deck, overcomes with difficulty the
main porthole, and enters a cabin, where a sad man drinks cognac and listens to
the farewell siren. It climbs the lining of his pants, then his vest, and
slides along towards his elbow. Then with one last effort, it takes refuge in
the man’s right hand palm, which in that instant starts to close on the butt of
Part One: Life - Emily Dickinson
I TOOK my power in my hand
And went against the world;
’T was not so much as David had,
But I was twice as bold.
I aimed my pebble, but myself 5
Was all the one that fell.
Was it Goliath was too large,
Or only I too small?