Miss Havisham on my Wall
Thursday, January 03, 2019
I first fell in love as a little boy with Estella of Great
Expectations. Since I was then a proto-nerd, I was used to being rebuffed by
the little girls in my class. Estella's remoteness was attractive. I learned to
dislike Miss Havisham but I have been lightly obsessed with her image in my
One of my Miss Havishams hangs on my living room wall. Not too long ago
the afternoon sun shone on it and I could not resist snapping a photograph.
that I am 76 and no longer having to worry about my advanced nerdness I can
plan to photograph some willing but outwardly woman to pose for me as the older
Estella who might have dumped Drummle and married Pip.
Collins, a close friend and author of The
Woman in White, objected to the not-happy ending Dickens first wrote for
Great Expectations; Estella has remarried and Pip remains single. Dickens then
wrote a more conventional ending, which suggests that Pip and Estella will
Dipping into Heraclitus's River
Wednesday, January 02, 2019
I can remember distinctly, exactly (well almost!) how old I
was (6), when I looked at myself and understood that I was me and that, somehow, I
then had a blurry idea of my individuality. Now 70 years later I find it
incomprehensible but easy to see how 70 years slipped by without me really
stopping (Heraclitus would have told me that would be impossible) time to
think, “How will I perceive or re-live this moment in a near or even distant
My Manila-born grandmother (but educated in 19th
century Spain) often told me, “Nadie te quita lo bailado.” This does not
translate so nicely into English as,”Nobody can take away the dances you have
Thus I can look back at the many varied experiences that I
have had while living in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Veracruz, Nueva Rosita,
Coahuila, Austin and now Vancouver.
Obviously I am a product of a different
century in which as a boy we had an icebox, no telephone or TV, no car and milk
was delivered by a horse-pulled cart. I flew in C-47s and DC-3s, 5s, 6s, 8s,
Comet 4Cs, Constellations and Super Constellations, Convair 990s and briefly in
the back seat of a A-4 Skyhawk of the Argentine Navy.
In this century I cannot understand how journalism and
photography is taught in universities or technical colleges. When these folks
graduate where do they get jobs?
In that past century I was paid to go to Europe, South
America, Mexico and the US to take photographs. I managed to get $3500 day
rates in the 90s to shoot annual reports for logging companies that are now
But more than anything is this Hegelian back-and-forth of
this time with that time, and a synthesis for this present, as I write this, I
marvel at what seemed simple things then that now are not only unattainable but
impossible.The times that created them are gone.
Consider this photograph of Salem getting ready to dance at
the Marble Arch. In my time I was privy to at least 8 changing rooms for
strippers in this city and a couple in Las Vegas.
In the political milieu of the times now, none of this would
have happened nor would you now be able to munch on a hamburger and sip on a
beer while watching a lovely woman take it all off. And when I did this in that
past, I did it without an ounce of guilt. Could that happen now?
My grandmother had it right. Those memories I had cannot be
taken away. All I can do is experience them and consider myself lucky and
thankful that I was able to dip (as Heraclitus would have said) into those
A Stanley Park Rape, Bill Evans, a Cop & a Methadone Clinic
Tuesday, January 01, 2019
There are those who say that good skiing is better than sex.
I beg to differ.
Better than anything is to be given a manuscript and asked
to illustrate it, all to be done with definite parameters and in a short period
Malcolm Parry, my friend and former Vancouver Magazine Editor, told me many
times that working on a winter issue of the magazine that would have a skiing
cover was readership death. I never shot a skiing cover for him.
He told me many times that putting an animal on a cover was
readership death. I was assigned in different years to photograph my cat
(not for long) Chow puppy.
I never enquired about the popularity of those issues.
But there was one Vancouver Magazine cover, September 1980,
that has been one of my favourites. More than anything the cover shot and very
big two-page spread (of the same shot) arose from conflicting views on how it
was to be done.
Rick Staehling gave me the manuscript and said that I should
find some young woman to run in Stanley Park. He suggested I use a long
telephoto lens to give the impression of someone spying from afar or behind a
tree. I chose a different one.
I decided that an extreme wide angle, a 20mm on my Pentax
Spotmatic-F panned at 1/15th of a second, with me being very close it would make it seem like the rapist was about to
I waited for almost a month ( the anticipation was part of
the pleasure of shooting for a magazine cover) and was most pleasantly
surprised by the technique that Staehling used of putting the photo small on
the cover surrounded by the copy of the first paragraph of the article.
The woman in the picture I believe was called Lorrie. She
had reddish hair and was an absolutely beautiful ecdysiast. When possible I
would use ecdysiasts as models for my magazine assignments as the magazine
would pay them rather well. Lorrie was one of the faves of travel writer Gary
Marchant who when not in Antactica or in Namibia would ask me if Lorrie was
I found out about Lorrie’s previous life to 1980 from her
friend (and partner for a time) Steven Drake
an American-born, Vancouver musician and virtuoso
electric guitar player who now free-lances and produces records.
It is difficult for me to explain that I do not believe
in having lots of patience to wait for the decisive moment. This is why I
dislike street photography. In my magazine work the decisive moment only
happened when I looked through my camera at my subject and I knew I had the
shot and I could quit. This process beats sex and skiing.
Sometime in the late 70s Lorrie lived in Los Angeles. Her
boyfriend at the time was pianist Bill Evans. When he was in his last legs he
had to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. His friends, Drake’s parents were to
drive him to the concert. But there was a problem. Evans needed a methadone
fix. He did not want to play. The Drakes insisted and decided to look for a
methodone clinic in LA that would prescribe Evans the drug. They went to many
and they were soundly rebuffed. Finally they found one. Evans got his fix. By
this time there was almost no time to get to the concert. Traffic was terrible.
Mr. Drake sped when he could until he was stopped by a policeman. They explained
to the policeman the problem. The cop told them to follow him and with lights
sirens going full blast they got to the concert on time.
Looking Back at 2018
Monday, December 31, 2018
If there is any expression, overused in 2018, that has grated
my nerves to the utmost, that has to be “move forward.” This expression is a favourite of
Obviously crabs will never make it in politics.
One of the least understood chess moves by those who do not
know chess is called En passant. And chess castling also involves chess pieces
that move sideways.
All those end-of-the year picture essays and or articles
called “the year in review”, etc I avoid like the bubonic plague. Perhaps it is
because I “look forward”.
And yet in these last days of 2018 I must reflect and I
think of all my friends and relatives who died or who have disappeared. In
particular I think of my friend and mentor Raúl Guerrero Montemayor, who days
before he died and already in his deathbed he cried as he explained to me that
he never did take the plunge to be who he was, a gay man. I do not think I
could be staring at the ceiling in my deathbed and cursing my regrets.
Yesterday, December 30th I felt a small
tightening in my chest which I dissipated with a large glass of fizzy pop (it
works every time). With the lights out I asked my Rosemary if she planned to
hold my hand as I lie in bed in my last minutes of life. She answered, “Yes,”
and I fell asleep.
The end of the year is not a time to be morose. It is a time
not “to move forward” but to remain enthusiastic about being alive even if that
means pulling a crab.
Our granddaughter Rebecca texted early today to tell us she was much
too tired to have lunch with
us at her fave Cactus Club. Rosemary and I, without really consulting each
other because we were bang on what we were going to do, went to the Superstore
and purchased stuff that we knew would make Rebecca happy. We went to her and
dropped off the stuff. Without asking she placed a cup of coffee with lots of
whipped cream in front of me.
We left with satisfied smiles knowing this is what makes
life worth living. That my Rosemary and I both agree is what makes it all that
As we drove back I told her that I had no desire to go
shopping at a bookstore or a camera store. I told her I was satisfied with my
computer as it is. Who cares if it is a tad slow! Not wanting stuff is a way to
diminish ones desire to consume. We can now spend time consulting with our cats
and perhaps find out what it is that makes them avoid stress.
I look forward to traveling places with my best travel
partner, my Rosemary. No stress will be upon us with cats. We will place them
for a vacation at the Kerrisdale Feline Hilton on West Boulevard. We will lock
up our little duplex and perhaps have some lemon sherbet in Mérida.
One of the best moments of 2018 came when I found out that
any image of mine that I saw on my monitor would print exactly as I see it
minutes later. With not too much Catholic guilt involved I will have to adjust
to the fact that some things in life can be easy.
As for the justification behind posting the photograph of
Lizbit here? The answer is an easy one. I am simply looking back as I prepare
to move forward in 2019.
Ellen Morton, Georgia O'Keefe & Anne Brigman
Sunday, December 30, 2018
Ellen Morton at Silver Bay, Lake George, ca. 1914; gelatin silver print; University of Virginia Art Museum (1989.23.2)
In 1987 on my first trip to New York I saw a photograph (above) at
MOMA that impressed me and which I have not forgotten. Other variations of the above photograph say Steiglitz's subject was Georgia O'Keeffe
It came to mind on Saturday night when I was reading the
Sunday New York Times
(it crashes onto my door at 7:30 in the evening). I read
a fine essay on almost forgotten American photographer Ann Brigman written by
Rebecca Kleinman. The story is here
What took me back to that photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe
taken by Alfred Stieglitz was this quote:
“She never really fit in whit Stieglitz’s salon and city,
seeking a breath of fresh air in Maine. He bought the theories of Havelock
Ellis, the founder of modern sexology, that linked artists’ works and their
sexuality, particularly concerning female artists . But eroticizing nudes wasn’t
her thing. Brigman went back to the West Coast for good, and Stieglitz
eventually fulfilled his Pygmalion fantasy with the more compliant O’Keefe."
“The Cleft of the Rock,” circa 1907.CreditThe Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust
There was something else in the essay that to this
photographer needed some explanation. Kleinman points out that Anne Brigman’s
nude photographs are self-portraits.
These were taken between 1905 and 1909. Self-timer shutters were not yet
invented. The only way she might have taken her self-portrait was with a long
rubber cable which ended by a bulb that when pressed tripped the shutter. I am
convinced that someone, and not Brigman, was responsible for that.
In photography lore the person who presses the shutter is
the photographer credited. There are those who might say that Richard Avedon
might have set up a photograph and its lighting and then an assistant would
shoot it with Avedon getting the credit. In 1905 I have no idea what the
standards of procedure were so I am left with a question mark.
There are some that believe that Brigman's photograph The Cleft of the Rock (above represents a vulva in the same way that O'Keeffe's paintings of flowers do). I am not so sure.
Kleinman writes of Brigman and O'Keeffe:
Both women artists defended their non-sexual intentions, that sometimes a flower, and a tree or a rock is also just that.