The Darkroom & the Glove
Saturday, November 03, 2018
Thanks to a very long magazine career that spanned
Vancouver, the rest of Canada and many magazines from abroad I have a huge file
of negatives, slides and prints that nobody I know is aware of its size with
the exception of perhaps my Rosemary.
Then in and around 2000 when I embarked in a new career
of thinking myself to be an artist I took many and many more photographs. I
shot lots of film previewing without knowing the era of the
On a rainy and dreary Vancouver evening (today), what
could be better than to cross my garden deck into my oficina and take out a
file at random. And of course, not so random it is. I am not about to go to my
files in search of lawyers when I can randomly search my files of women.
In years past it was expensive. I would make a large mug
of tea and go to my darkroom. I would pour the fixer, stop bath and
photographic developer into the proper trays. I would then go to my negatives
just as I am doing now. I would slip my choice into my enlarger negative
carrier and print until I was satisfied that I had the best print.
Now I can scan negatives and slides, colour negatives and
6x7cm transparencies. If I want to I can then look at the image in my Dell CRT
monitor and press print. Out of my Canon Pro-1 a few minutes later I would get
as perfect a print to my personal satisfaction and standard.
Beauty in Fall Decay
Friday, November 02, 2018
|Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii' November 2 2018|
queda el fuego en la chimenea. Si arrojamos esta rosa a las brasas, creerías
que ha sido consumida y que la ceniza es verdadera. Te digo que la rosa es
eterna y que solo su apariencia puede cambiar.
de Paracelso – Jorge Luís Borges
The wood still burns in the grate. If
you cast the rose on those embers, you
will believe that it has been consumed,
and that the ash is all. I tell you the rose
is eternal: and only its appearance can
change. The Rose of Paracelsus – Jorge Luís Borges
|Rosa 'Benjamin Britten' & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii' Ocotber 11 2018|
Years ago when I photographed Swedish actress Viveca
Lindfors she told me that I should do nothing to soften the age in her face.
She told me something like, “This is my face and I am proud of it.”
A few weeks ago I looked her up on the web and found that
she had died on October 25 1995 when she was 75. This can be sobering when I
note to myself that I am now 76. Many of my Vancouver friends have gone at an
earlier age and others are struggling with life threatening diseases.
As a little boy and even as a young man the only people
who won the lottery or died lived across the street.
Rosemary and I are putting our Kitsilano deck garden to
sleep for the winter. Many of the plants do not look at all like they did in
their prime. And yet I see lots of beauty in the decay. Unlike humans of my age
these perennials will go into a deep sleep called dormancy and emerge in the
At about this time in our garden some of my roses have
buds that will not open and get spots from rain damage. I see beauty in them.
In our society men and women are given different standards
on their appearance as they age. Men have character lines. Women don’t. I find
this unfair. My Rosemary (and her husband) does not look much like she did when
I first saw her in Mexico City in 1968. But I am attracted to her now (and I
will not use that offensive adverb still).
I am attracted to her in the same way that I learn to adjust to a brand new car
that ages comfortably. That car can never be as they say in my native Buenos
Aires, “cero kilómetro”. Nothing is new for long.
But as I have observed above humans and perennial plants differ
in that we cannot renew ourselves except perhaps upstairs in our brain.
For years I had the ambition to go up to a woman of a
certain age and say to her, “I want to photograph you. I want to photograph you
undraped just as you are now. I see in you the beautiful fall colours of my
plants as they begin to disappear and only my memory will remind me what they
looked like then.”
If I even approached such a woman and use the word decay
or the drooping of a body being affected inexorably by gravity, I would be
slapped, or ignored.
|Rosa 'Benjamin Britten' November 2 2018|
I am happy to report that I have found such a woman. I
photographed her when she was 22. She is now 61.
I have been having bouts of insomnia as I think of
techniques to be considered. In this insomnia there is also the consideration
of how lucky I am and how I can look forward to a project that Viveca Lindfors would
approve of. As she said to her interviewer, John Lekich and this photographer, “Actors
act, writers write and photographers photograph.”
Thursday, November 01, 2018
My Christmases in Buenos Aires (I left in 1954 when I was
12) seem unreal every time Christmas is in the air in Vancouver. Some of the hottest
days of the Buenos Aires summer happen around Christmas. It can be 40.
It seems more so that we used to spray our trees with a
product my mother would bring from her friends at the American Embassy. It was
called Noma and it was labeled as snow.
Before globalization took a firm grip Santa Claus in my Argentina was not all that
well known. We called him Papá Noel. Much more exciting for us was the Epiphany
on January 6 which in Latin America is called el Día de los Reyes (the Three
Kings Day). On the fifth we would put shoes outside our bedroom door. The next day
the shoes would overflow with toys, not the practical clothing we got on Nochebuena ( Christmas Eve). Christmas Eve was celebrated by going to Misa de
Gallo (midnight Mass) and then at around 1:30 in the morning we would return to
I did not have the ordinary Christmases that my friends had.
Because of my English father and the fact that my mother had friends in the
American Embassy, I was given really nice toys for Christmas.
My parents would
have never dared give me the wooden toys that Eva Perón would send us on
January 6. Had I kept those terrible and useless wooden toys they would not be
worth a lot of money.
My father’s most memorable gift was a red Schuco wind-up
racer that had a real suspension and and steering. It was not long after I
opened the box containing this exciting toy that I lost the key. I cried. But
my father miraculously removed another key from his pocket.
From my mother my favourite gift as an American version of
the English Meccano (and far better) an Erector Set. It had nuts and bolts and
all kinds of metal pieces that I could have swallowed and died on the spot. It
was marvellous! It came with an electric motor. I remember that I made a robot
which I called Gilbert that would roll along.
I am happy to report that the Erector Set is available in
the expensive Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue.
But in this day and age I would probably not find any kid
with my Buenos Aires age who would be excited. When was the last time any kid
you know state that when they grow up they wanted to be an engineer (of a train
or of the other kind)? The kid would be disappointed not to get a smart phone
or computer game.
All the above is another reason why I get depressed on
Christmas Eve. I miss the Buenos Aires heat. I miss my parents and the
excitement and challenging strain of attempting to stay awake at Midnight Mass.
In those long gone days we were careful in opening our
gifts. Now my granddaughters rip off the gift wrapping that my Rosemary does so well.
And finally to end this pre-Christmassy rant I have to point
out that when I arrived in Vancouver in 1975, while watching TV I found out
something about myself I did not know. I told Rosemary who was in the kitchen
(or somewhere else), “Rosemary, according to this TV ad it seems I have
something called dyslexia.”
If I were to start again on my career in Vancouver I
would become a lawyer and sue Toys Are
Us for their backwards R.
No Tigers, Clowns or Brass Bands - Backbone a Circus For This Century
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
|Backbone - October 30 2018- Vancouver Playhouse - Tiger - Buenos Aires Zoo - 2017|
Tumble: Perform acrobatic feats, typically handsprings and
somersaults in the air.
Being an old remnant of the 20th century that I am from, my
idea of a circus is based on a past when circuses came to town, pitched a tent
or two and featured elephants, lions, tigers, horses and (once for me!) a
boxing kangaroo. I have always loved in my memory the smells of those animals.
While my mother would say that any orchestra that played out of tune sounded
like a circus band, I have liked that sound with its brass instruments.
My granddaughter Rebecca, 21, as a little girl we visited
Morelia, Mexico. On our way to town I noticed a sign advertising the best known
Mexican circus, Circo Atayde Hermanos. I asked Rebecca if she would want to go.
Her answer was short and furious, “No I don’t want to go to a circus that
It was Rebecca whom I took to the Vancouver Aquarium years
ago and I especially made sure we sat on the first row. In our family she was
the last to be splashed by a killer whale in captivity.
So with my eyes focused now on the idea of a 21st
century circus I want to point out that I hate:
1. Tumbling especially since as a little boy tumbling made
With that all in my mind my Rosemary and I attended the
Cultch presentation at the Vancouver Playhouse of Backbone – Gravity &
Other Myths (Australia), directed by Darcy Grant, that featured 10 flexible and
strong human beings and two musicians. One Christopher Neale on drums (I am not
sure if he alternates with drummer and composer Elliot Zoerner) and Shenton
Gregory who plays electric piano and a violin which he holds in a most unusual
position. We did not know what to expect.
I am pleased to report that there were no jugglers, almost
no clowning, and that the music was never intrusive or loud. It was just right.
Lighting (and stage design) by Geoff Cobham was magnificent
but never over the top. The dancers/tumblers/gymnasts (what else can I call
them?) threw something that looked like dark sawdust on the floor from shiny
new buckets. I later found out that it was not sawdust but little pellets made
from re-cycled car tires.
As for the show itself that had 7 men and 3 women, I have
to redefine my idea of what the show was really about. Off the top the show is
beautifully and elegantly choreographed. Yes it is gymnastics. Yes it is
tumbling and yes there is some balancing of long poles and (yes!) people on
heads, hands and feet so that there could be a semblance of juggling. But most of all because I am a modern dance enthusiast I saw a lot of that in Backbone.
The 80 minute long show, which has to be one heck of
physical trial for the performers who never stop, is delightful and fun to watch
because those 10 performers do all their stuff with enthusiasm and smiles.
The sweating and effort somehow is balanced by a tad of
humour. Best of all while Backbone is certainly not a circus it featured
something of circuses of old. This is the idea of the three-ring circus. At any
moment there was a lot of stuff going on stage. If you looked at something on
one side there was something else happening that I did not want to miss.
Rosemary and I left the show soothed, relaxed and pleased. I
did not miss the tigers, lions, elephants and horses.
But I think I still miss the smell of a circus. The
recycled car tire pieces might have been mixed with hair from the Ornithorhynchus
for a scent of the truly Australian.
Béatrice Larrivé - a Ghost at the Vancouver Playhouse
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Rosemary and I are not living the normal life or retirees
who have been married for 50 years. We are mostly in good health and there is
sufficient money in the bank for whatever may happen to us physically.
We are not living the normal life of retirees because
increasingly being “wired” in this 21st century brings us instant
information (CNN’s breaking news) which since most of it is terrible and
illogical it tries our patience for the normal world of our past that we think
A few years ago when I arrived at a relative’s house from
the Buenos Aires airport my relative asked me in Spanish, “How is your black
monkey friend doing?” I could not reply and did not. Then I have friends living in
that city who are at an opposite side of that spectrum in a fanatical way.
It has been a long time and I have mostly kept my word not
to press the buttons of my extreme friends and relatives. I believe that
particularly in social media my view or politics and religion are extremely
personal. I do not wish to “share” them.
I believe that fanatics from both sides of that blurry
middle line are not aware of the meaning of pragmatism. They “share” their
views with friends who nod in approval.
I believe that these political, religious and views on
female decision on what concerns their body are to be kept personal. Pushing
buttons in social media is sort of like demonstrating on the street while being
comfortably ensconced in a cozy bed while drinking a latte.
If there is hate in this world to the quantity we have now I
believe some of it may be due to these social media evangelists (remember and
evangelist strictly speaking is a letter writer).
I turn myself off and never comment. I prefer to think about
music, art, literature which since I now mostly read in Spanish I can only
As an example when I looked at this photograph of Béatrice
Larrivé a dancer from Arts Umbrella that I photographed at a Vancouver Playhouse
performance in 2015 I think immediately of the people who have passed
(performed ) there in all these years I have been in Vancouver. Their presence,
since it is in my memory, means that while they may be gone they are there if I
look with the effort of remembrance.
I see her as a passionate ghost that I hope will keep the
passion of dance so that perhaps in a near future when I turn on my Samsung
phone in the morning CNN will not have breaking news that will make my heart
flutter in stress.
And yet as I gaze on this photograph, in some way my
Costumbrismo - Laurence Gough, Mario Vargas Llosa & Jorge Luís Borges
Monday, October 29, 2018
|Laurence Gough - 1993|
“It’s a small ice-cream parlor which has been there for
many years. It’s on Bolognesi Street, a street I know very well because when I
was a kid I knew a beautiful girl who lived there. She had the improbable name
of Flora Flores. I’m sure the ice-cream parlor was there then and I went in
with the beautiful Flora Flores to have a sundae.”
Life of Alejandro Mayta – Mario Vargas Llosa
“El roce de las personas en la calle Florida
corroe sutilmente las mangas de los abrigos, el dorso de los guantes”.
una libreta – Julio Cortázar
San Juan y Chacabuco se cruzan
azula la esquina”.
ángeles - Jorge Luís Borges
“Beach View Towers was on Beach Avenue, naturally enough.
The building overlooked False Creek was three long blocks from the closest
actual beach, and was a little too close to the noise and dirt of the Granville
Street Bridge to command top dollar.
Heartbreaker (1995) – Laurence Gough
In the beginning of 1990 Books in Canada
dispatched me to
Lima, Perú to photograph and interview novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. He was
running for president of the country and fortunately for those who read his
novels (me!) he lost so he has been writing since. But this was unfortunate for me
as Condé Nast Traveler
was interested in my proposed story of featuring
photographs of the locations mentioned in two of his Lima-based novels,
Conversación en la Catedral (Conversation in the Cathedral), Historia de Mayta
(The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta)
plus the military school in Callao, Leoncio
Prado which Vargas Llosa attended and became the scene of his first 1963 novel, La Ciudad y los Perros
(The Time of the Hero
). I did get to all the
places including an ice cream shop from Alejandro Mayta. I wrote about it
. And for Books in Canada here.
But there was one location that I
found that resulted in me getting a real fright. This was the Castillo
Rospigliosi which plays an important part in an invasion by the United States (novel!) in
The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta.
|Castillo Rospigliosi, Lima 1990|
I arrived at the scene of this castle looking
out of place in urban Lima. I took some preliminary photographs and when I got
close some men on the parapet signalled me to stop. I ignored them. Lost in my
picture taking I suddenly heard automatic rifles (they were AK-47s I noticed
later) cocked. I turned around to find four soldiers who signalled me to follow
them (two were behind me). Inside the castle I was met by an officer who asked
me to explain myself. I was worried. But somehow when I mentioned my purpose, and
uttered Mario Vargas Llosa, I was able to discern a smile and I was let go.
Birds may be modern dinosaurs but I also believe we humans
have birds in us.
Consider the idea of a Vancouver street corner. For me there
are two. One is Robson at Granville where the Farmer Building used to be. My
studio was on the upper floor.
corner in my memory is Davie at Richards. That is where for many years my
assignments for Vancouver Magazine
came from. Both buildings are long gone. But
when I approach those corners something in me makes me recall that the place is
the place and of my involvement with it.
|On the roof of my former studio on Robson and Granville - The Farmer Building|
Birds use landmarks for migration and I believe that they
may have some human in them (or simply it is the other way around) as with
landmarks gone they must instinctively know their way.
In my native Argentina we have something called “costumbrismo”
. It could be translated to
even though that word does
not exist. The concept is mostly a literary one. In Argentina Jorge Luís Borges
wrote mostly about his city of Buenos Aires. He wrote about the zoo and its tigers,
of street corners and landmarks and how other Argentine writers had written of
Rarely did he leave the city
into the provinces.
Argentine Tango (while some say it originated in Uruguay) is
the music of one city, Buenos Aires. The lyrics rarely mention other places in
Argentina. Folkloric music is the music of the interior of Argentina and it has
no connection with the tango. The same can be said of Astor Piazzolla’s “Nuevo Tango”. The music oozes Buenos
I have attempted to find writers and composers who
represented the confines of one city and have not found any that had the
determination of Borges, Piazzolla and the composers and lyricists of the
Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti exiled himself for some
years to Buenos Aires and he, too wrote about the city.
Perhaps Vancouver (my city now) is a young city. As my
friend Ian McGuffie often says, “Vancouver was born with a photograph of its tent
city hall in the 19th century. Vancouver was born with photography.”
Every time I return to Buenos Aires the city is mostly the
same. A 1930’s ornate French style building on the corner of Corrientes and Florida now houses a Burger King,
but it is still there and recognizable.
But not so in Vancouver where buildings disappear or facades
hide the fact that what is behind is not what once was behind. While strolling with Rosemary on Plaza de Mayo I told Rosemary that we were not far from Alsina and Defensa and that there was supposed to be a café, La Puerto Rico
, mentioned in Leon Tenenmbaum's Los Olores de Buenos Aires
. It was there. Tenenbaum also wrote Buenos Aires - Tiempo de Borges
which is all about Borges's city with a luxury of detail.
Then here in Vancouver there is the slow deconstruction of buildings until the
idea of the structure as conceived by its architect is gone. That was the fate
of the hated (but the architect was the renowned Argentine Cesar Pelli)
Eaton/Sears building opposite my studio on Robson and Granville. The current
iteration Nordstroms’s has nothing of its original design.
For some years the main post office attempted to hide its
soaring ceilings with cloth tents. What will happen to the building when Amazon
takes over is not something that makes me feel optimistic.
Our city then seems to be a constant progression into the
future that hides the past. Will the twisted pseudo-skyscrapers of our near
future survive or will, they, too, remain in the memory of a few?
Costumbrismo is not always something that writers in Latin
America will acknowledge. When I told Vargas Llosa that I had found the
ice-cream shop where Alejandro Mayta had worked in his novel he was visibly
bothered. I found out quickly that some novelists do not like to admit
autobiographical material in their books.
|The ice cream shop mentioned in Vargas Llosa's The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta|
But in the middle of the night a few weeks ago when I was
concocting the idea of this blog I remember that in 1993 I photographed Vancouver
writer Laurence Gough who was writing a series of crime novels (13 in all)
featuring Vancouver detectives Jack Willows and Claire Parker. I read two of
the novels and liked them but in the end I thought (stupidly!), “Why would I
want to read about crime novels set in Vancouver when I can read those set in
Venice or London?”
It was 7 years before I came to realize that nostalgia is a
shifting feeling of longing that happens only when you long for the place you
are currently not in. And so while in Buenos Aires this past September I had
nostalgia for my now adopted city of Vancouver.
Perhaps another reason for this lack of costumbrismo with
Gough’s extraordinary exception in that many of the street corners in Buenos
Aires (like many in Paris) do not end on a point. They are trapezoidal and are
|An ochava on Córdoba & Córdoba|
The original purpose was to help horse-drawn carriages in the
century to note in advance what was coming from the other
street. Because of that flat “corner” there are many restaurants, cafés, etc on
the ochavas. And it was in these corner “boliches
” that writers like Borges,
Cortázar and others congregated and then wrote about them. The book I cite below has a whole chapter noting all those corners that Borges mentioned in his stories and poems.
When I finally talked to Gough on the phone he promised to
send me a few locations from his novels. I took 7 of his books from the
Vancouver Public Library and in short order found many locations mentioned.
Of the Vancouver Public Library Gough writes in Memory Lane (1996):
Digesting Ross walked briskly east on Georgia for two to three blocks and then veered towards the new downtown library, which to his untutored eye looked like a big sand castle artfully crossbred with a fragment of a Roman Coliseum. Sort of like a leftover Star Trek set. One of those not-quite-parallel-univoerse situations. He strolled across a forecourt of interlocking concrete paving blocks, subtly guided by the architecture towards a wall of plate-glass doors.
But there is another extraordinary fact about these
locations. I called up our first Canadian Poet Laureate, George Bowering and
asked him about costumbrismo and about Gough. He told me, “I have read all of
Gough’s books and there is one in particular that mentions a Chevron gas station
on Broadway that burns to the ground. I went to look for it and sure enough it
had not burned to the ground!”
Since Gough has been living in the last 25 years on the
Westside I believe that the gas station was (it is gone!) is the one on Alma and
Finally Gough sent me this email:
A couple of
locations... I found, poking around, that fairly often I was deliberately
vague, probably trying to avoid abandoning my desk, or taking the time to
unfold a map. I remember sometimes my deadlines were pretty ferocious - publish
or die. Anyway, hope this is the sort of
thing you wanted, and is helpful. If not, gimme a shout.
"Carlos drove to Denny's on Broadway, where they
stayed long enough to gobble an early breakfast and undertip the
waitress." Chapter 37, 2nd page, 'Funny Money'
When Jan and I saw
that the Denny's was doomed, we vowed to stop by an dig in. But then, suddenly,
it was too late. A life lesson learned - not for the first time, or the last.
"The City Morgue is situated in an old orange brick
and mullioned-window building located on a Cordova Street, just around the
corner from 312 Main." Chapter 5,
3rd paragraph, 'Serious Crimes'
I don't remember
when the morgue left Cordova Street. I believe it was long before the series
was first published. If memory serves, I liked it where it was, so left it
And I cannot finish this without concurring with Gough
about that Cordova Street morgue. Read here.
|Glen McDonald - City Coroner on Cordova Street circa 1979|
I have some Vancouver costumbrismo to catch up on thanks to Laurence Gough.