Saturday, January 18, 2020
| Basilica della Santissima Annunziata - Florence 2019|
A few days ago my Rosemary and I watched Ulu Grosbard’s 1981
film True Confessions. My Wikipedia labels it an American neo-noir crime film.
It stars Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall as the brothers Spellacy, a priest
and police detective. It is adapted from the novel of the same name by John
Gregory Dunne, loosely based on the Black Dahlia murder case of 1947. Dunne
wrote the screenplay with his wife, novelist Joan Didion.
We enjoyed the complexity of this film that really is one of
those buddy movies. Watching Robert Duval I could not but recollect that years
ago when I was taking portraits of Willford Brimley, he told me that Duvall was
picking up where Spencer Tracy had left off when he died.
|Basilica della Santissima Annunziata - Florence 2019|
But the film, since I was raised as a Roman Catholic and
educated at a Catholic boarding school in Austin, Texas, St.Edward’s, showered
me with moments of that past when life was as simple as telling yourself that if
something was much too complex to fathom you just believed it on faith.
|Buenos Aires - Photograph John Anderson|
I was lucky enough to have had a teacher/mentor/friend,
Brother Edwin Reggio,C.S.C. of the Congregation of Holy Cross who taught me
religion via theology and philosophy. He taught me how to fend for myself with
logic. It was a logic of acceptance through give and take and a smile.
The film also brought me visions of the unease I had to face
as a teenager when I had the personal responsibility of making a confession (sometimes
this Sacrament of Confession is called of Reconciliation). This unease I can
strangely compare with Rosemary and I having had some loud spats (mostly from
my side) in our first years in Vancouver so we decided to see some marriage
councillors. We had to iron out our
problems by ourselves as we found ourselves making answers (ahead of time) that
we would use for the questions asked!
In the same manner before going to confession while kneeling
at a pew in preparation for the embarrassing ordeal (“Bless me father for I
have sinned.”) I had to reconsider and figure out what my sins were and how I
was going to frame them for the priest.
|Venice - 2019|
But after that ordeal, in those years of my youth, there was a
pleasant levity (certainly not at all like St. Teresa of Ávila who was said
sometimes floated at Holy Mass). I felt clean.
I sometime wonder what Freud or Jung may have written about
the spiritual release of telling someone (not only your psychiatrist) of your
As someone who no longer goes to Mass and has not confessed
for more than 50 years I suffer that Roman Catholic guilt that when things go
well they may foreshadow some impending doom.
As a form of confession I find myself in this 2020
attempting to locate friends I may have offended. I am ordering as well as I can my
photographic output and do my best to criticize less and to praise more.
But I can still remember many of those confessions. I can
understand why in the film The Two Popes
much is made of the young Jorge Bergoglio going to confession at the St. Joseph
Basilica in Flores, Buenos Aires. Francis had a spiritual awakening as a young
|Venice - 2019|
The scene in the film is a marvellous parallel to all the
confessional scenes of True Confessions. It is in one of those scenes that the Monsignor
(De Niro and did he wear purple socks?) has his spiritual awakening and stops
making the motions and becomes the man he was yet to be.
Venecia - 2019
Friday, January 17, 2020
pasado mi Rosemary y yo fuimos a Venecia. Hoy en día ir a un lugar tan popular
dificulta la idea de catalogar una impresión diferente a la de las demás
personas. Rosemary me persuadió a usar mi Galaxy 5 para tomar fotos además de
usar mi mejor Fuji X-E3. Tomé como 30 (aquí seleccioné las mejores) fotos pero me desbordé en los museos de
Florencia y Siena. No pude encontrar una versión en inglés del lindo ensayito que
escribió Borges sobre Venecia. Hay en esa ciudad un laberinto dedicado a él que
tomé con mi buena cámara.
peñascos, los ríos que tienen su cuna en las cumbres, la fusión de las aguas de
esos ríos con las del Mar Adriático, los azares o las fatalidades de la
historia y de la geología, la resaca, la arena, la formación gradual de las
islas, la cercanía de Grecia, los peces, las migraciones de las gentes, las
guerras de la Armórica y del Báltico, las cabañas de junco, las ramas
entretejidas con barro, la inextricable red de canales, los primitivos lobos,
las incursiones de los piratas dálmatas, la delicada terracota, las azoteas, el
mármol, las caballadas y las lanzas de Atila, los pescadores defendidos por su
pobreza, los lombardos, el hecho de ser uno de los puntos en que se encuentran
el Occidente y el Oriente, los días y las noches de generaciones hoy olvidadas
fueron los artífices. Recordemos también los anuales anillos de oro que el Dux
dejaba caer desde la proa del Bucentauro y que, en la penumbra o tiniebla del
agua, son los indefinidos eslabones de una cadena ideal en el tiempo. Sería
aquí una injusticia olvidar al solícito buscador de los papeles de Aspern, a
Dandolo, a Carpaccio, al Petrarca, a Shylock, a Byron, a Beppo, a Ruskin y a
Marcel Proust. Altos en la memoria están los capitanes de bronce que
invisiblemente se miran desde hace siglos, en los dos términos de una larga
observa que la independencia de la antigua república de Venecia ha sido
declarada por la espada y puede ser justificada por la pluma. Pascal escribe
que los ríos son caminos que andan; los canales de Venecia son los caminos por
los que andan las enlutadas góndolas que tienen algo de enlutados violines y
que también recuerdan la música porque son melodiosas.
|El laberinto de Borges en la isla de San Giorgio Maggiore en Venecia - Fotografía con la Fuji X-E3|
escribí en un prólogo Venecia de cristal y crepúsculo. Crepúsculo y Venecia
para mí son dos palabras casi sinónimas, pero nuestro crepúsculo ha perdido la
luz y teme la noche y el de Venecia es un crepusculo delicado y eterno, sin
antes ni después.
|Emanuela Vozza y Claudio Ronco|
|Claudo Ronco en el Ghetto|
Once Upon a Time in the 20th Century
Thursday, January 16, 2020
In this new year of 2020 I have come to the calculation that
I have lived 75% of my life in the previous century. It was one where my mother
bought ice from the street for our icebox and I had no idea what a telephone
Now I have a digital camera, a heated toilet seat, a rear
view camera in our Cruze plus burn your butt seats for cold days. And would you
believe the steering wheel warms up, too?
These late 20th century innovations and the many
in this one very quickly take over and you have no idea how you did without
them. I tend to avoid our ground floor guest bathroom because I am not used to
the shock of a cold seat.
While I never walked miles to go to school, I do remember
that in kindergarten we had short siestas. I also remember that in that Buenos
Aires kindergarten, the then famous Argentine quintuplets (three girls, two
boys) the Diligenti quintuplets, were in it and also in the first grade. They
separated them after that in individual schools for each one of them.
This boy in kindergarten had two desires. One was to play
the wood blocks and not that boring triangle in the class band. The other was
that I really liked María Fernanda (one of the quintuplets) so whenever I could
I would hike up her skirts. What would be done to me if I were that little boy in a Vancouver school? Would I be sent to counselling?
I was thinking of that last night when my Rosemary and I
watched Sergio Leone’s 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America inTCM. Because it goes
back and forth in time from the moment our hero (anti, too) Robert De Niro is
an early teenager there are many moments that I could associate with my Buenos
But I will digress and state that it is only recently that I
came to conclusion that the film which started in the early 20th century, is no less an art form than opera, ballet, modern dance, painting, sculpture,
theatre and music (although this 77 year old man would deny rap to that lofty
pantheon). And like all art it challenges and it is not often easy to understand it.
The idea that film is a relevant and important art form hit
me hard last night as Rosemary and I marvelled at the almost-difficult-to-understand back and forths or to suddenly listen in a film of Jewish, Bronx
punks in the 20s and 30s, a Muzak version of Lennon & McCartney’s Yesterday.
How many in this century would know what Muzak is?
To be precise the film left me uneasy and Rosemary slept
badly as she ruminated and all those flashbacks.
It left me troubled at finding pleasure in remembering that
events in the film coincided with those of mine. I was 10 when an American girl
of similar age and her mother came to visit my mother. I was told to play with
her. Somewhere in this I have the memory that she asked me, “Do you want to see
it?” And I did. That moment has an identical incident in Leoni’s film. I smiled
(sort of) as the scene brought memories of a young boy a few years past hiking
skirts in kindergarten.
Then our principal protagonist Noodles watches the lovely
Jennifer Connelly dance ballet through a little hidden window in a kitchen. It
seems that Connelly’s protagonist is aware of the spying so in the end she
changes and moons.
Obviously there is an attraction between Noodles and
Connelly’s Deborah. And to me it was perfectly understandable. I was attracted
to women at a much younger age.
Connely’s eyes are so beautiful that you almost do not
notice that she is in fact only 12. Should one not look? It was 6 years before
that Louis Mall’s Pretty Baby shocked the world with Brook Shields who played a
young child prostitute when she was 13.
It is at this point that I would like to wonder if any of
these two films or another The Night Porter would be made in this century?
Would they be toned down? What would feminists say?
In Once Upon a Time in America the women are raped,
assaulted, hit and told to shut the fu..
up. I wonder what Elizabeth McGovern would say now about the rape scene in the back
of an automobile?
Could any younger people (than this old man) watch these
films without flinching? Is it important to see such films?
While the women in Once Upon a Time I America do not fare
well, other men, not the gangsters, might have treated them with respect. Is it
respectful to open the door for a woman?
In short how would our present day culture treat Leoni’s
It was 20 years ago that on a trip to Buenos Aires I told my
nephew (he is 2 years younger than I am) that I could not understand all those
huge billboard featuring women in bikinis advertising toothpaste (I guess I
already had a Canadian approach to this sort of thing). His quick reply was, “Are
I have a niece, also in Buenos Aires, who is a strict and
devout Roman Catholic, She is 23. She is going to a Catholic university and is
studying history of art. Is she eventually going to have a problem balancing
her faith with the art she is being exposed to?
Is it possible for a 77 year old man to put himself in the shoes of Noodles and watch that 12 year old dance without feeling guilt? The scene takes me back to a youth when I did not comprehend things then as I do now.
It was in that 20th century where we could call a woman a nymphomaniac but there was no equivalent epithet for a man. I was warned by friends when I started a relationship with a lovely Argentine girl (in that century we could call women girls) that I should watch out as her mother was a nymphomaniac.
It would seem that in this century only Sally Mann can look at boys and girls (her children) as boys and girls in cusp of being adults because she happens to be their mother. A father would be crucified.
Flattering This Old Man
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
|Captain Beefheart in tweeds|
Soon after we arrived to Vancouver from Mexico City in 1975
I made a valiant, but ultimately useless attempt of getting a photography gig. The
last place I tried was the London Drugs photo department. The man behind the
counter asked me what my expertise was. I answered, “I am a portraitist.” In
sheer amazement he countered with, “I went to McGill to study photography and I
don’t call myself that!”
Since the beginning of 1977 I was hired by several local
magazines to take portraits. Through the years, art directors at Vancouver
Magazine, Rick Staehling and Chris Dahl gently (and sometimes not so) pushed me
into not falling in the rut of doing things in the same way. I tried Hollywood
lighting techniques (George Hurrell), dramatic grid lighting, natural light,
beauty dishes, etc.
Now as an obsolete, redundant, retired and otherwise
inconsequential former “portraitist” I have noticed a definite decline in good
portrait work with a definable style. At one time you would have known
it was a Bert Stern, a Helmut Newton, an
Irving Penn, an Annie Leibovitz or a Richard Avedon. Those days are gone.
|With Les Wiseman|
Les Wiseman, my former Vancouver Magazine collaborator (he did the
writing and I took the photographs) is the man that at one time I would have hired as my lawyer.
He often sends me examples of how people use the photographs from my
blogs. Here is one that I kind of like.
It does not take much to flatter an old man.
Another troubling trend is to be asked (often) to provide one
of my portraits for someone who has died.
I often tell people that I feel like Ukraine. This country,
perhaps because of a lack of high mountains, suffered numerous invasions from
west to east and vice versa. It seems that through the years, thanks to a then
healthy magazine and newspaper journalism many people passed and stopped at my
Jann of the Arden Heart II
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Jann of the Arden Heart
In that long-gone 20th century in which I was raised and lived
most of my existence, there were fewer famous people, fewer critically-acclaimed
people and fewer award-winning people. Foreign (outside the United States)
films did not exist or were not noticed and we only had the Oscars. There were no glimpses of cleavage-on-a-red-carpet yet. That was to come.
When rock music burst the movement was too new to have a rock’n roll hall of fame.
Thanks to Andy Warhol (a fixture of that 20th) we
are now all famous and we are all award-winning in spite of taking medicated (a
meaningless word coined in that 20th) remedies. If we are not yet
critically-acclaimed we are up&coming thanks to that pill.
I remember that in that 20th I was nominated for
that then prestigious prize called a Webster Award. I did not win so I can
proudly say I am not an award-winning photographer. As for being critically-critically,
in this 21st century you have to be first remembered. I am not.
Only once in my life did I feel noticed (probably just
rampant paranoia). My portrait as an Argentine conscript sailor (taken by a
really critically-acclaimed renaissance man – Malcolm Parry) appeared on the
cover of Vancouver Magazine. I felt it necessary to navigate my then Burnaby
digs wearing sunglasses.
But it spite of all those negative vibes I can safely say
that I feel very lucky to have lived the life I have. It happened when
journalism was important and there was money to keep it lively and moving
forward (a hackneyed term coined and important, with politicians in this 21st).
Because journalism was influential some soon-to-be
award-winning persons, who were yet to be critically-acclaimed, faced my camera
for publications that were critically-acclaimed and award-winning.
One such person was Jann Arden. I am sure that few south of
the 49th parallel knew who she was at the time, November 1994.
Today I have found out that she is going to be inducted to
the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
In my increasing age my memory cannot be critically
retrieved with ease. I do remember that she was sweet and a real pleasure to
Her interview was held by the Globe and Mail’s
Dafoe who was so good at what he did that he could have made Maria Callas sing
on a day when she had lost her voice. Arden was,thus, ready to face my
big-on-steroids Mamiya RB-67. Below is the original blog
from December 23,
She got her first guitar when she was 15 and wrote her first song not long after. By
the time she was 22, she’d abandoned plans to go to university and become a
teacher. Instead, she left home to pursue a musical career, leaving her mother
crying in the driveway.
– The Globe and Mail – Saturday November 19 1994
Perhaps this blog
has no particular Christmas theme if one at all. And yet this woman's
(Jann Arden), badly spotted and streaked 8x10 glossy (one that went
from Vancouver to the Globe and Mail's photo desk in Toronto and back
has languished (beautifully) in my files until tonight December 22,
It looks the way it
does because in those years Ilford made a paper that was on a plastic
base. It was easy to print and it produced beautiful jet blacks. But the
paper (Ilfospeed) was unstable and even if not displayed to light but
stored inside my metal files, sometimes it would develop these nice (to
my eyes) colours.
It was tonight that
I read in Facebook (I landed in Jann Arden's page by accident) her
account of looking at herself in the mirror. It is honest, beautiful and
wonderful. It has over 1000 comments.
When I read it I felt uplifted. If anything this makes this a most adequate Christmas blog!