Las palmeras salvajes
Saturday, September 29, 2018
ciudad adoptiva de Vancouver pocas palmeras pueden sobrevivir el clima frío
aunque esté algo templado (por una corriente cálida que proviene del Japón) en
comparación con el resto del Canadá.
Pero ir a
Buenos Aires en la primavera (nosotros fuimos algo temprano hace una semana) es
imposible no notar las palmeras de la ciudad a pesar de los brillantes azules
de las jacarandás en flor.
En mi niñez
teníamos dos enormes palmeras en el jardín en nuestra casa en Coghlan. Mi máma
en la noche con una vela y tijeras iba en busca de las babosas que comían las
plantas. Sin querer acercó la vela a una de las palmeras y se prendió fuego
instantáneamente. Los bomberos llegaron y pudieron apagar las flamas y salvar
es interesante que Jorge Luís Borges en 1940 tradujo la novela de William
Faulkner, The Wild Palms (Las palmeras salvajes) del inglés al castellano.
La foto que
ilustra esta bitácora la tomé en Buenos Aires el 29 de septiembre de 2018 muy
cerca del zoológico y la antes jaula de los tigres, lugar favorito de Borges.
The Sometimes Excellence of Age & Experience
Friday, September 28, 2018
This is going to be a gentle rant so please be forewarned.
Because my father left our house in Buenos Aires when I was
8 and my mother was a high school teacher working hard to make ends meet, my
grandmother Dolores Reyes de Irureta Goyena was the great influence of my life.
It was only around 1969 when she returned from a trip to Egypt that I finally
lost touch with her. She had advanced dementia and did not recognize me.
She raised me in a surprisingly modern way. She never told
me, “Alex don’t do that.” Her way was, “Alex, if you do that, this is what is
going to happen.” She somehow knew all the advice on record in Cervantes’s Don
Quixote uttered by Sancho Panza. To this day, I too remember most of the advice
that came my way via the ultimate Spanish novel.
But what most stays in my mind is that this woman, who was an
artist, defended me from all kinds of punishment by pointing out, that I, too, was
an artist. I cannot remember when she and I would have been at odds and when I
might have lost respect for her or considered her to be an old woman with no
relevant information that could make my life better.
Perhaps it was the old school dictum that you had to respect
your elders because they were so.
The picture you see here I took in September 28 of this
year. I can see in the picture influence and experience that began in 1962. How
In 1962 my artist friend Robert Hijar and I were attending Mexico
City College in Mexico City. Since he was in the art department he had access
to the college dark room. It was in that darkroom (while Robert played StanGetz/Eddie Sauter’s album Focus
on his reel to reel), that I would place my
negatives into the enlarger and figure multiple ways of cropping the
It was not until I started shooting for Vancouver Magazine
in 1977 that I learned that art directors were the boss and that they could do
anything with my photographs. It was then that I learned to crop my photographs
in camera and have all that was important there. Cropping the picture (and I
shot both vertical and horizontal versions) would eliminate important and
necessary parts and take away the relevance of the image. Art directors rarely cropped my photographs. They had little choice.
It was around 1977 that my Rosemary said, “Alex you are
never going to learn to print colour negatives and colour slides. This Monday
you start a colour course at Ampro Photo Workshops on West Broadway." Thus I
learned to print and to note the difference between photographic blue and
photographic cyan or the difference between yellow and green. In colour correction these colours can trick one.
That information, thanks to my Rosemary, helps me in this 21st
century to colour balance both my scans of my film negatives and slides but also
of my digital pictures.
It was at Vancouver Magazine that excellent and inspiring
art directors (not to mention the editor) pushed me to shoot beyond the established parameters. There
always had to be a different way of shooting the cliché. To this day I will not
shoot anything without finding some roundabout way of making it different.
My contemporaries, who shoot digital, use a system which creates
huge files called RAW files. They tell me that with these files a lot can be
done to correct minor and even major mistakes of exposure.
The magazines of the last century expected all colour
photographs to be taken with slide film. Slide film has a low tolerance for
exposure mistakes (the technical term is latitude). Once you overexposed an
assignment, and before scanners and Photoshop were around, you threw the slides
away and started from scratch. This taught all magazine photographer to be
precise in exposure.
Then the automatic cameras happened. The reason these early
automatic cameras worked so well is that photographers used colour negative
film which had a very good latitude for exposure mistakes. They were the RAW of
The picture that illustrates this blog came about from
seeing in Vancouver countless extremely sharp dance pictures everywhere. In
frozen motion, motion is not noticed. It is the blur that suggests motion. I
learned the technique of using shutter speed of 1/5, 1/8, ¼ and even ½ second
attending Sunday performances of the Arts Umbrella Dance Company.
After learning to dance the Argentine Tango some years ago I
gave myself a magazine-type assignment. How could I shoot tango in a different
is what I did.
So on September 28 in the evening at Lavalle and Florida in
Buenos Aires where a dance troupe performs every evening I decided I was going
to only shoot their legs.
And this I did, proving that this picture began its creation
sometime in 1962 on the highway from Mexico City to Toluca.
And yes experience and age do sometimes add a bit of
No Shingle to Hang - Alas!
Thursday, September 27, 2018
It was the 20th century ambition of any photographer to have
a studio separate from where one lived.
My first studio was the basement in our Burnaby home
beginning in 1975. The restriction was the low ceiling. But I had a darkroom
that was clean, bright and spacious and came with its own bathroom.
Between 1980 and until around 1995 I had several studios
which I shared with other photographers.
Then I had my own studio, all for myself on the corner of
Robson and Granville which served as my headquarters away from our home in
Kerrisdale. It was downtown and I felt I as in the thick of things. Ballet
dancers would come to my studio as they were blocks away. It was a comfortable
studio with old radiators. I shared the floor (not the studio!) with noted
artists Neil Wedman and Rodney Graham. While I might have been considered (and
still to this day) as a commercial hack I felt slightly artistic - a hack
wanting to be an artist.
At one point around 7 years ago (when journalism and
magazines was dipping into oblivion) money entering my Farmer Building studio
was not exceeding money going out. My Rosemary thought that closing my studio
at that time would have affected my morale. But it was in the books and I
finally closed the studio and the building was soon torn down.
There was something about having a studio not in one’s home
that brought a creativity that somehow came in during the trip to the studio. I
would arrive early look at my lights and equipment and somehow inspiration
would seep into my brain.
Letting go of the studio was heart wrenching especially when
you look back at a career and you realize as I did that the work I was doing
and the trappings of doing that work were gone.
An older contemporary, a much older contemporary, Fred
Schiffer had a lovely studio under the parking bridge on Seymour by the Hudson’s
Bay Company. Sometime in the early 90s he saw the writing on the wall (he
photographed the powerful men of Vancouver and their families). He closed his
studio and purchased compact flash equipment and began (before anybody else)
the photography in the homes of his clients. In his prime, before digital
cameras took over, Schiffer was the most expensive wedding photographer in
Two years ago the final nail on my way of life came to end
when we sold our large Kerrisdale home.
It was there that I had a comfortable darkroom. I never expected the magazines
that hired me to print my negatives. I printed them myself and since I began
printing around 1961 I think I was very good. I came to understand that an art
gallery print and one for reproduction in magazines or newspapers were two
distinct entities. My photographs always looked good in publication.
Now in our little Kitsilano duplex (the darkroom long gone)
I have a little studio and “oficina” in what used to be the garage. It is comfy
and warm. The studio is intimate but really the correct definition is that is
it just plain small.
I sit at my antique Edwardian desk with my computer and
scanner on my left. I can look out on our deck garden. Behind me are 7 4-drawer
filing cabinets that contain my life’s work in negatives, slides and prints.
The bigger prints are inside two new Opus-purchased flats. The oficina is
carpeted but I have a small Persian carpet on top of that. Like a sore thumb
there is the presence of my bike. I have no other place to store it.
What is important for me is to cross that deck in the
morning to open the door of my oficina/studio. It is not the same as driving or
taking the trolley as I used to in my trips to Robson and Granville. But it
will have to do.
With money in the bank and two brand new but lovely brother and
sister cats, Rosemary and I, who are in good health, really have no worries
except perhaps that of fussing over our two daughters and two granddaughters.
We can plan trips abroad in Mexico, Argentina, New York and perhaps soon to
Barcelona and to Guadalajara.
But in my present life in which I seriously tell everybody
that I am obsolete, redundant & retired crossing that deck to sit down and
write this blog seems to be the only thing going for me.
Sometimes I feel sad and sometimes the lack of stress feels
But I have to admit that the lack of stress can be
Heren - ヘレン
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
|Cyanotype by Katsushika Hokusai ( woodblock print circa 1833)|
In our recent trip to Buenos Aires we were not able to go
to the San Telmo (the oldest neighbourhood of the city) Sunday market. We
managed to go the day before. Amongst all the stuff, I spotted what looked to be
a pristine cyanotype in an 6x7 inch size. I bargained and got it for the
equivalent of $10 US.
Imagine my surprise when I investigated (I contacted my
former Japanese student Hiroshi Suyama who is now a curator at the Tokyo
Metropolitan Museum of Photograpy) and found out that it was a cyanotype circa
1833 probably done by Katsushika Hokusai.
Suyama told me that the print if it is the real thing
could be worth many thousands of dollars.
My Incurable Voyeurism
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
The word voyeur in its Frenchness sounds romantic. It may be
a word used to describe a man like me who formerly as a young boy could have
been considered as such.
Perhaps a key element of the voyeur is an inability to
communicate with the person one is watching (spying?). In my case my voyeurism
was all about my shyness in thinking I was a nerd (before that word came to be
coined). I sometimes wonder if my voyeurism could have become dangerous. Was I
When I was 16 and living in Mexico City I went in buses.
In some buses young girls, pretty young girls leaving their private schools
would be on the bus at the same time every day. I would sometimes take a bus
knowing my adored vision would be on board. I would stare on the sly and
imagine what it could be if I could only come up to her and say, “Soy su admiradora.
¿Cómo te llamas?”
One particular vision of
my delight was a young woman with
very white skin and black hair who always would get off her school bus
the corner from my house. The school bus was for the Colegio Hebreo
She was as exotic as my concept of the Jewish Spaniards who had been
so many years before by Queen Isabella. I never had the nerve to speak
to her or to meet her eyes if she happened to look at me as I "casually"
walked by the bus that had stopped at her house.
By the time I was in a boarding school in Austin, Texas I
avoided the school dances or sock hops as they were called because I did not
know how to dance and I was much too shy to talk to girls.
But I did manage to find a girl that I could talk to who
talked back to me. She was a very short Mexican/American cheerleader called
Judy Reyes. Because I played the alto saxophone for the school band I could spy
on her while playing with the band at school football games. The girls from the
Catholic school across town called St. Mary’s were the girls we were supposed
to associate with.
I believe I may have found the nerve to dance with Judy a
couple of times and I even remember that the song (one for slow dancing) was
called A Summer Place which was sung by Sandra Dee.
Until I was able to extricate my shyness in one very important occasion and talk to that
lovely long blonde haired (with lovely legs) Rosemary Healey who became my wife
in 1968, all my previous girl friends were women who aggressively picked me up!
These nights at age 76 I sometimes dream of these women and
I wonder if looking back at them is somehow a version of my incurable
Monday, September 24, 2018
entonces las vírgenes
a sus novios
de sexo básico
las casas vienen
hombres de empresa
tus dos palabras
son una sola.