I have been informed by friends that Kathleen O’Byrne died in her sleep the day of her 60th birthday this past Wednesday the17th.
Most who knew her called her Fleen. Because she was an ecdysiast she went by the name of Topaz.
I knew her as Miss Mew. She had an almost smile when she danced (ever so slowly) and she made sure to look at you. She had a preference for the music of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
My friendly relationship began one evening when after seeing her perform at the Number 5 Orange I left to attend a Subhumans (a fabulous Vancouver punk band) concert at the nearby Carnegie Centre on the corner of Main and Hastings.
To my surprise she was walking in the same direction. I asked if she were going to the same concert I was. Her pleasant affirmative began my following of this woman that all my friends would kid me about me since I would often say, “This afternoon I have to go to see Miss Mew.”
Writer Les Wiseman and I convinced Malcolm Parry, Editor of Vancouver Magazine to run a piece on Vancouver exotic dancers with the angle of the business side and of the money that was made. Of course Miss Mew made it to our choice of dancers and that may have been the first time I photographed her.
But there is another story to this that attests to the
presence, personality and gumption of Miss Mew. I was taking photographs of
several women in domestic circumstances while doing it in the nude. This
included painting kitchens and posing with a dog by a fireplace. The show at a local gallery I called Homebodies.
One day I received a phone call from Miss Mew who told me, “Alex, just because I live in a fleabag hotel (the Niagara) does not mean that I do not live at home. It is my home. So you should photograph me in it.”
This I did and she prepared a window with her pumps, an
apple and a vase with flowers. She then posed for me in a most vulnerable and
sad position. I will never forget. The photograph is at the end of this blog.
In later years she would come to our Thursday noon gatherings at the Railway Club and that is when I noticed that this woman with alabaster white skin had been hiding a myriad of freckles for years!
She moved from Vancouver and through social media (we were friends) I know that she cleaned up her life and worked for the film industry.
As a photographer in Vancouver I was lucky to penetrate all social strata. I knew politicians, businessmen, lawyers, policemen and policewomen, detectives, hoods, punkers, journalists, prostitutes, bus drivers, etc. I could go to the Marble Arch and sit at the bar and the man behind, Jorge, would say, “Alex, your usual?” And he would serve me a soda water. I felt like Humphrey Bogart in a noir film. It was my life as a photographer in Vancouver that made me feel that this was my city.
The many ecdysiasts,that were my friends, patiently posed for me while I learned my techniques of taking photographs of women that I held on a pedestal. These techniques served me well in my career.
Miss Mew was such a woman.