|With Rosa 'Bathsheba' 27 August 2023|
As a joke in some of my bios I write:
My birth was recorded on August 31, 1942 by the blast of a photographer’s magnesium powder flash. I knew then that someday I would become a photographer.
It is patently false but there is still some truth to it.
I may have been six in Buenos Aires when I became aware of my personal consciousness and individuality. I wrote about it here And I am Still .
Not long after, a neighbour’s son crashed his motor scooter
on train at a level crossing. I must have been 7 and my mother took me to the
open coffin ceremony next door. The young man’s face was all bandaged up. My only conclusion now is that my mother wanted me to be aware of what life was all about even at my young age,
A few months later, some neighbours across the street won the lottery. It was then that I concluded that the only people who died or won the lottery were neighbours.
I accompanied my mother, when I was 8, to the Philippine Legation that was downtown on Calle Florida, in the same building as the American Embassy. The American Embassy had a novelty in Argentina at the time. Its Lincoln Library (hosted by those crafty spies of the U.S. Information Service) allowed members to borrow books and take them home.
I was left there by my mother and the first book in my hands was either a magazine or a book called American Heritage. In it I saw photographs taken by Timothy O’Sullivan during the Civil War. I stared at the photographs (perhaps the first photographs I ever saw) which featured dead soldiers. They looked very much like the men walking outside on Calle Florida. I thought to myself that these men in the book had at one time been alive and were dead. And they had been dead 85 years. My concept of only neighbours dying changed for me that day.
It was then that I began my journey of looking at portraits. By 1958 I was taking them in my Catholic Boarding school in Austin, Texas
with my first real camera, a Pentacon-F. My portraits to this day are my efforts at getting inside my subjects and sharing the humanity that they allow me to look into.
The eyes of my portraits, in my Kitsilano home, look straight at me. I cannot escape their gaze. Much worse is the stare of my Rosemary in the frames on my walls. I go through that same process that I did so long ago at the Lincoln Library and think, “She was alive when I took that photograph.”
I have no idea if other photographers have the same feelings
and thoughts of the life in a portrait of person that is now dead.
I cannot resolve this conundrum in my head and it follows me all day as I feel and note the absent presence of the woman that was my wife for 52 years.