The Beauty of Ugliness versus the Beauty of BeautySunday, August 11, 2019
I was in my early 20s when my grandmother and I went to a gallery opening in Mexico City of a young Filipino painter whose name has faded in my memory. We faced a very large painting featuring a Mexican huarache. My Abuelita summoned the painter and said to him, “This is very ugly. Why would you paint this?” The artist without missing a beat and with a smile on his face said, “Ah! But the beauty of ugliness!”
I have never forgotten as I have always gone against the grain of that young man and always admired and photographed beauty.
A few days ago Curtis Daily, my baroque stand-up bass player and friend went to the liquor store to buy a good bottle of Argentine Malbec. We chose a Catena Zapata. We went to the register and in front of us was a cute and hippy looking woman who was a bit confused. She placed a big pile of bills on the table. The cashier mentioned that it was a lot of money to have placed so loosely there. It was at this point that I interceded and said, “She has all that money because people pay her lots to count the freckles on her face (she had many).” Luckily the young woman took this well and she smiled. Outside she told me, “If you have any money you can count my freckles.”
Curtis told me that I was on the limit or border of impropriety. It is difficult these days of political correctness to ever tell a woman or a man (I do that too) that they are attractive. In Spanish we have a special word for this, piropo. It seems that piropos and opening a door for a woman are verboten.
These changes have happened in the last 25 years. I remember being at the Railway Club in one of our Thursday noon gatherings where I spotted a splendid blonde woman who always ate alone on those Thursdays. We talked among ourselves wondering who she was and what she did.
This time around I decided to not delay any further what had been nagging me for so many weeks and months. I went up to her and said, “My name is Alex Waterhouse-Hayward. I am a photographer and I would like to photograph you undraped.” She looked at me and said, “Sure. I will give you my phone number and we can make arrangements.”
These days I am sure this would be seen as harassment. It could even get me into trouble.
A few days ago I wrote this blog that contained images I took during a hot summer’s day in Lynn Canyon some 25 years ago. I look at them and I feel lucky that I took them but have little memory of the process. I do know that the camera in question was a heavy Mamiya RB-67 on a tripod, the exact same camera for the pictures seen here. In both instances it was Susan F. I had met her at a party and I was struck by her beauty. So I asked her.
I find it impossible to figure out how a pair of eyes, a mouth, a nose, two ears, hair and everything else can combine to produce an unearthly beauty that has no comparison with any of the other photographs that I have taken of a pair of eyes, a mouth, a nose, two ears, hair and everything else.
Beauty is overwhelming while being unique, every time. In these times with so much ugliness (even if huaraches are rarely seen) I cannot stop in admiring beauty and wanting to record it on film or on those little storage cards.
The pictures here I scanned as documents on my scanner. I placed the negatives on the flatbed scanner and put a silver card on top. I scanned them from the bottom. The scanner inserted the purplish colour (randomly?) and I liked it.