Saturday, June 22, 2019
|Rosa 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain' 21 June 2019|
As a Latin American from Argentina having lived in Vancouver
since 1975 I have attempted to adapt and modify my previously macho sentiments.
But the painful process did not begin in 1975. My mother told me to fry my own eggs when I told
her I did not like them with broken yolks. My Rosemary from 1968 on told me to hem
my own jeans and sew on my buttons.
But my other views on women experience culture shock. When I
asked my Argentine nephew why it was that there were large ads featuring women
in bikinis showcasing toothpaste, he rapidly asked, “Are you gay?”
It would be impossible for me to explain to my Argentine
family that I have a friend who is an over 6ft saxophone playing transgender woman.
But there are some opinions about women that are cemented in
both cultures and especially now with our overblown celebrity cult.
I remember seeing the Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 film Starship Troopers
and being shocked at
the perfect (for me almost robot-like/synthetic) look of Denise Richards. Since
then a myriad of US celebrity women have taken up that mantle.
|Rosa 'Mary Magdalene' and a worse for wear Benjamin Britten 21 June 2019|
Even in this era of the Me Too Movement there is no equality
when the looks of women are compared with that of men. Men don’t age. They
gain character and toughness. Women age “gracefully”. Social media is full of
pictures of middle-aged women in which friends and relatives post statements
like , “looking good”(ugh!) or worse “still beautiful”. Nobody comments on pictures
of men who may upgrade their avatar with a more recent photograph. Nobody will care, as they might be having in mind somewhere in their memory that image of the Marlboro Man.
Any classical music program or that of opera will feature
photographs of the female singers taken perhaps after their “quince años”.
Not too long ago Adobe Photoshop came out with an innovation
tool called Diffuse Glow. Since then women’s skin pores have gone the way of
Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. Bags have gone the way of the plastic ones.
As a young magazine photographer (it sort of ended when I
was in my mid 50s) I was assigned to photograph young ballerinas or
actresses. Women would call me up
requesting I take “different
” photographs when I tried to refer them to Sooter’s
|Rosa 'Susan Williams-Ellis' June 22 2019 Note the difference between the new bloom on the left and the later one.|
That has definitely ended in 2019. Such is the obsession of
our time that women have to look perfect, that none will pose for me (even for
portraits) as they are afraid of being exposed to some reality that does not
compare to their own.
This is a shame. When I watch my Rosemary go for her bath
her body is definitely not the one I first saw back in 1968. Rosmary makes no comment when I go to the bath because she is an old-fashioned and polite Canadian. While I am not fat
my skin is beginning to prune up and I will soon have to invest in black turtle-neck
sweaters. . If people ask and tell them I am practicing existentialism they will
not understand. It was not only God that died in the 20th century,
so did philosophy.
In my pursuit of the handsome (in my eyes) and the erotic (in my
eyes) I did manage to photograph a 61 year-old Kay
last year. I had
photographed her when she was 21. This was special for me. It was thrilling and
I applaud her courage.
In the next week I will be taking photographs of a 62
year-old woman who lives in Italy. I photographed her first in 1978 (make the
calculation!). She has told me that she is more sure and proud of her body now
than before. I am not sure exactly what she means or what she will show for my
What will make our session (I hope many more) is that I have
convinced her (suggestion taken immediately) to purchase a Manfrotto (a very
good brand of photographic light stands and tripods) clamp so she can mount her
smart phone to her tripod. Since she is a photographer she also has lights and
I am not going to purchase a ticket to Italy in the next
while. We will connect via Messenger. I will then use my digital Fuji X-E3 to
take what I see on my CRT monitor. Via the sound we will be able to communicate.
But this is much different than having a model (and good
friend) in my studio. There is much more collaboration as it is she who first
decides where her phone is placed and what I see. For me to impose a little of
my own style I will perhaps crop (in camera) the images that appear on my
The whole process has particularly been in my mind post
opening of our garden to the Vancouver Rose Society a few weeks back. The
once-blooming roses are gone and those that will be remontant are in that in-between
stage where spent blooms share space with a few new ones.
I have noticed that many roses, past their peak lose all
their petals. Others deteriorate slowly. Those that do deteriorate slowly have
a beauty in them that reminds me of the many women of that age that I know.
There is one in particular, Rosa ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’ that will age to
dark brown and not lose one petal. And of course that lovely English Rose, Rosa
‘Mary Magdalene’ goes from a flashy pink (you harlot, you!) to a virginal
I am placing these rose scans here and I hope this will
reinforce some women that may see them that Photoshop is not the only solution.
Hooking Horns with my Nostalgia for Texas
Friday, June 21, 2019
In was almost 20 years ago that I realized something that
should be self-evident to most. This is the fact that nostalgia is a longing
for a place you are not presently in when you feel it.
And so from my home in Vancouver, I have worked on photographs about my nostalgia for
my boyhood and adulthood in Buenos Aires and the same for Mexico City and
But of late my nostalgia is for five years that I spent in
Austin, Texas that were formative in my teenage years.
While living with my mother in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila (a
mining town run by American Smelting and Refining Company) the American-based
school finished with the 8th grade. The nearest school was the
Catholic boarding school, St. Edward’s High School in Austin.
I was there for
five years until 1961. It was there where I had my first girlfriend and had the
annoying problem of having to squeeze pimples at night before bed. It was there
where I listened to music that would remain indelible in my brain.
It was there where I experienced Shakespeare’s Romeo and
Juliet at the University of Texas all in a nasal and terrible Texan accent.
It was there that I experienced chomping on a Texas-sized
steak on a metal plate that was so hot that it splattered grease on my shirt
while listening to Bill Black’s Combo.
It was there where we took girls to make out with at the
tower of the University of Texas Library Tower before anybody thought of going
up there to shoot people below.
It was there where I witnessed my first Cotton Bowl.
A few years ago I went to Austin to visit my old friend and
mentor Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. When I deplaned at the Bergstrom Austin
Airport I spotted some young women wearing skirts and cowboy boots. I kind of
new I was home.
In 1991 I photographed Bonnie in my Vancouver studio. She
had an amazing resemblance to Brigitte Bardot. I took many photographs never
feeling an ounce of nostalgia for Texas.
That has changed.
Elsbeth Coop - Compeling Evidence Of Talent
Thursday, June 20, 2019
|HEX Series - Photogravures - 1993|
On June 11th my friend Ian Bateson went to a show at Yukiko
Onley’s Visual Space Gallery.
I wrote a
Even though I knew about Coop’s work I was completely
astounded by the show.
At age 77 I am an amateur photographer. I never went to
school to study the profession which I have practiced successfully in Vancouver
I have photographed modern dancers, ballet dancers,
strippers since 1980. I have gone to countless dance performances and
interviewed dancers. I know nothing of dance. I am not a dance critic.
Since 1989 I have exhibited my photographs in galleries here
in Vancouver, in Alberta, Buenos Aires and most recently in Venice. Some may
say I am an artist. I would not know.
I am not an art critic.
Based on my above ignorance while having been exposed to art
most of my life I can state with 100% certainty that Elsbeth Coop is one of the
most startlingly original artists of our city.
I do not believe that she lives under the shadow of her
better known sister Jane Coop, pianist and music professor at UBC. If anything I believe
that Jane Coop has been instrumental in bringing Elsbeth Coop’s work to be seen
for the first time since the early 2000s.
The Rainbow Christ
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
|Basilica della Santissima Annunziata - Florence|
Here in Vancouver I would have to be an ostrich (since I am
Argentine make that a rhea or South American ostrich) not to know that June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate
the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969 in the United
The worst I could do would be to state here that I have many
friends including family friends who are gay. That amounts to saying that I am
not racist because I have black friends.
There has to be more to that understanding of
the personal acceptance of people, regardless of their race, religion or gender of
As a product of the 20th century (firmly in it
since I am 77) my recollection or doubt about the immutability of sex as that
of female or male happened as a boy of 8 on a bus with my mother on the
fashionable Esmeralda Avenue in Buenos Aires. A little person with mother in
tow boarded the colectivo. This person had very short hair but was wearing a
skirt. This left me with a confusion that lasted for a long time even though I
finally found out about mothers shearing little girl’s hairs with the idea that
the new hair would be fuller. Until then skirts made a person a girl and pants
(particularly short pants since that’s what I wore) a boy.
Things became more complicated when my mother took me to see a film with Katherine Hepburn. This mannish woman wore pants!
For years hence I would often listen to my Filipino
grandmother tell me that my great aunt Pilar de Irureta Goyena who lived in
Manila dressed like a man, rode horses and had been given a trophy for her
riding skills by General Douglas MacArthur. I was not to know for many years
that the expression “dressed like a man” was code that my great aunt was a
When my mother and I were living in the Nueva Rosita, a mining town in Coahuila, Mexico I was 15, I suddenly developed breasts that were awfully sensitive and almost hurt. At night I though about this and felt confused about my sexuality. I finally told my mother who took me to the doctor. I was told that this was normal and the swelling would recede as my body became what it was supposed to be. I was much too young and too in that century to tell him that what he was telling me was politically incorrect. But he did tell me something else. "Not all men have sensitive nipples. Consider yourself lucky."
In the late 50s in my Roman Catholic St. Edward’s boarding
school in Austin the closest I ever got to hear about homosexuality was when my
friends would insult each other with the epithet “homo”. We preferred the word pansy
and we thought our classmate Buddy Lytton was that because he was a male
cheerleader. It never occurred to us that Lytton was no such thing. In a claustrophobic
boy’s school he was with girls from the St. Mary’s girl’s school across the
city. He was smart.
In retrospect one of our dearest teacher brothers, Brother
Dunstan, C.S.C. who taught us English and literature was effeminate but that did not
faze us at all. Perhaps our ignorance of what Brother Dunstan was had to do a lot
with just that, our ignorance.
I remember that whenever we went into the offices of the
brothers who were our floor or dormitory monitors that their door was always
left open. Only in retrospect have I figured out why that procedure was always
If there were any shenanigans happening in those bunk beds
between my classmates I must have been out of the loop because I never knew of
In my two years in the Argentine Navy I never met a
flagrantly gay sailor, non-commissioned officer or officer. But then it is only
in the later part of my life that I figured out that my father’s alcoholism was
not the only kind. There were a few I discovered who drank only when they were
home in the evening. The idea that to be gay is to be effeminate (in that 20th
century meaning of the word) was something I did not consider while I was that
navy conscript. Nor, of course that not all gay women are butch. And then there was Jane Rule.
It wasn’t until a year before I married my Rosemary in 1968,
that in my confusion as to what I wanted to do with my life, our family friend
Raúl Guerrero Montemayor took me under his wing. He invited me to live in his
apartment and he taught me how to teach English and found me a job (where I met
Rosemary!). A cousin of mine suggested I sleep at night with a book on my bum
for protection. I was offended and never told anybody about it. Raúl was one of
my best mentors, he was a witness at our wedding and he was my youngest
daughter Hilary’s godfather.
I went to see him a few years ago when he was dying of prostate
cancer. In tears in bed he told me, “The
tragedy of my life is that I never lived the life of that what I was. I lived another
one and it was a lie.”
I was shattered as I bid him goodbye and returned to
In 1977 my first photo job was working for a gay publication
called Bi-Line. Writer Jack Moore and I were the only straight freelancers. By
1978 I had the need for a good studio flash system. There was one for sale by a
Victoria photographer for $3200.
In my naiveté I went with a pile of Bi-Lines to my Bank of
Montreal branch on Willingdon and Hastings. The loans officer was a
white-haired and dour seeming Scottish woman. She asked me what my collateral
was. I presented her with my pile of publications. She leafed through them.
There were plenty of nude men photographed by one Strut McPherson which was my by-line.
I was given the money.
Here in Canada I had a first cousin who lived in Toronto who
had a higher up job at the Royal Bank. When he was doing his stint in the
Argentine Army (while I was the sailor) we had nothing in common. He would talk
of Wagner operas. I knew nothing of them. By the time we had a long evening at
his apartment in Toronto a few months before he died of AIDS we were good
friends and I was a convert to opera and Wagner. His family in Buenos Aires
invented some esoteric disease which was the one that had killed him.
During my work at Bi-Line it was generally discussed by all
that one of our Prime Ministers had either been gay or bi-sexual. I got to know
city Aldermen (as they were called then) who were gay and in the many times I
photographed Raymond Burr the man who opened Burr’s hotel room door was his
partner in full eye makeup. So loved was Burr by the media that there was never
a peep about his sexual preference.
While working for Bi-Line I was assigned to photograph
a real lesbian "Queen Bee". She was beautiful and all her house work was done by “worker
bees”. While sitting with her at a café before our photo session I felt this
relief that I did not have to prove my masculinity in her presence and that she
was not in the least interested in me as a man. Somehow this made me feel
liberated and that I could just be myself. It is a lesson I have never
Another woman of that persuasion, one likes to wear fake
beards and loves bacon, told me once what nobody has ever told me about my
career. She said, “Thank you Alex for never taking a bad photograph.”
In the many years that I have photographed my favourite Canadian guitarist, composer and rock star, Art Bergmann I began to understand that I had something that was female within me. I understood his electrical and erotic presence. I was attracted to it and I understood why young women were up there watching how he stood while playing his guitar. That finding of the female within me has helped me photograph men rather well. Thank you Bi-Line, thank you Ron Langer (he was the editor).
I have yet to completely ignore when two young men holding
hands pass me by these days. For me it is no different from raising my head to the sky
when I hear an airplane. It is the habit that comes from having lived in
another century. I cannot yet take it all for granted.
In Mexico (to finish this long thing) I had a friend who was
Cuban. He spoke perfect Castilian. We both taught in the same Mexico City high
school. Somehow in some strange way I called him Jorge (his name) and he called
me Jorge (my real first name) and we did this in formal Spanish. We used the
word usted not tu for you.
He was secretive about his life. He was a very good chess
player and partnering with him in bridge we never lost.
Only once did I come to suspect why he was so secretive. In
the Zona Rosa I watched him leave his car with a young man. And I knew.
Not too long ago he visited us in Vancouver. Rosemary had a
real affection for him. When in Mexico, Jorge would call me to find out if my
mother (who was living with us) was deafer than usual. If that was the case
then he would show up as my mother would tell him his fortune. Jorge said my
mother was really good when she was deaf. InVancouver Jorge told me that with his special cocktail he would not die of the AIDS he had contracted.
And for the finish a small explanation of the photograph you
see here. A few months ago Rosemary and I went to Venice and Florence. In a
Florence church the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata I spotted this rainbow Christ. There was no explanation that I
could find. But I think that it is a good way to illustrate this little essay
Dechronization From There To Here & Now – An Admission
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
As a child my mother would often say in my presence, “Hay poca gente fina como nosotros.” By
this she meant that few people at the time in Buenos Aires had her exquisite
taste, elegance and manners. She was a snob.
Thus I had all the elements of becoming one. And so I became
Here in Vancouver while working for Vancouver Magazine
with my In
( a monthly column or rock music) cohort Les Wiseman, he told me, “You must
like Lou Reed and if you are going to listen to heavy metal it has to be
Wiseman was a snob.
When my wife and I began to garden in our corner garden in
Kerrisdale in 1986 the colour of flowers had to be white or blue. She had a
predilection for gray plants which were difficult to water (only under the
leaves). Rosemary was (and is) a snob.
I became a garden snob, too.
One day Rosemary came home to tell me that the hydro wires
had been cut at a house on Cartier. At the time many houses were being torn
down. This was around the late 80s and early 90s. So with wheelbarrow and spade,
in the dark of night we liberated some plants. One was a healthy rose. To
Rosemary’s horror, when it bloomed (we gave it the name of Rosa ‘Cartier’) it
was (for me) a lovely, blowsy but lurid red/orange. Eventually Rosemary
tolerated the rose.
One day Select Roses man, Brad Jalbert came for a visit and
upon seeing the orange rose he said, “Alex I never expected to see Rosa ‘Allthat Jazz’ here
." Not much later Jalbert persuaded me to purchase Rosa ‘Westerland’
an orange floribunda.
This floriferous climber with the scent of synthetic apricot
jam grew on Rosemary. From orange we then absorbed yellow, too. It was the
sight of Rosa ‘Mrs. Oakley Fisher’
in Janet Wood’s garden. This yellow rose is a tea
rose. Since it is not a tea rose this was a plus for Rosemary.
But with the exception of Rosa ‘Westerland’ our garden then
and now has nothing but English Roses, species roses and Old Garden Roses.
There are none of those “questionable” floribundas.
But it was last week that at Garden Works I spotted an deep maroon
rose that was very fragrant. It was Weeks Rose Rosa ‘Ebb Tide’. It seems that
this rose had been for sale at the UBC Shop in the Garden where Rosemary works
on Wednesdays. When I showed Rosemary the rose she told me that she had
instantly liked it and that she had been afraid to mention its existence!
Until I saw Ebb Tide, Weeks Roses was to me an absolute
no-no for anybody with my mother’s (and my) class.
I have to admit now that I have pleasantly downgraded
The Desert Fox is Gone to Soldier On Next Year
Monday, June 17, 2019
|Rosa 'James Mason' 17 June 2019|
In mid-May in our garden there is always that excitement of
plants that begin to Bloom. This is the case with our 40 roses that somehow fit
in our small Kitsilano garden. Then two weeks ago most of those roses were
gloriously in bloom.
Now most that may read this blog know that there are really
three kind of roses. There are those mostly old roses of the 19th
century and beyond that may bloom once. These we call non-remontant roses.
There are others that in late fall come back with a few flowers before they
Modern roses including the English Roses that resemble old
roses are remontant. This means that they flower freely during the summer all
the way to the fall (but sometimes sporadically).
In order to help those remontant roses one has to deadhead
the old blooms. This way the rose does not spend energy converting them to
But it is truly a sad occasion when one cuts the roses of a
rose like this Gallica, Rosa ‘James Mason’. What you see here are the last two
flowers. And so James Mason bids us goodbye until the next year.
blooms sometime in early fall I must prune the bush to size as I cannot allow
plants to be too big in our constrained-for-space garden.
I am sad. At the very least this blog and scans of James
Mason from other years can reside in my memory and I can begin to feel that
hope that all gardens are of renewal in an immediate future.
Roses in spite of being difficult (so do some people say)
are for me something in this world of changes that somehow gives me a stability
to soldier on.