George Bowering - The Great Contrarian
Saturday, March 25, 2023
I will never know how I became so fortunate to have poet friends.
One of them is the former Parliamentary Poet Laureate, the
first one! (2002- 2004) George Bowering. If you do the homework and go to
Wikipedia you will find that Bowering is 88.
While I have known him for many years (1987) it is only of
late that we talk at length at least once a week. I can attest that his brain,
his sense of humour and his memory are all here. But there is another quality
(I am not sure I can use that word) that came to light when a package came in
the mail in late 2019. I opened it. It was a George Bowering book (published by
New Star Books) titled Writing and Reading. The cover was not mine. As I was
getting to throw the package away, My Rosemary said, “Alex there is a cheque
I could not figure why I was being paid. I looked inside and
one essay, a two page one had my portrait (originally in colour) of Bowering.
In the essay he rejects that my portrait is of him. I will not go any further
as you can read the essay in my scan here.
I have a friendly moniker for my friend. I call him the
great contrarian, and sometimes the wise contrarian.
He speaks fairly good Spanish. He has been to Mexico many
times and he has mostly avoided beach UV light. He has told me that he
purchased a book of Leonard Cohen’s poems in Spanish near the Mexico City
Zócalo and remembers exactly where the bookstore is.
He knows I like to stay at the Zona Rosa Hotel Géneve and
guessed that I had never been to the bar that is decorated with old phones. He
Hotel Geneve - Homero Aridjis (poem translated into English by George McWhirter)
Hotel Geneve - Sniffing my Rosemary
He even knows stuff, that thanks to him, I became friends
with the Bishop of Xalapa.
The Bishop of Xalapa & Sherbet with Rosemary
I have no idea why he and former Vancouver Poet Laureate
George McWhirter are not advertising Prevagen. I have no idea why the lovely
but tragic poem by Susan Musgrave, in this blog is not better known.
For Sophie Alexandra Musgrave Reid (January 4,1989-September 8, 2021)
Poetry is just part of a the culture of a city that has a
poor memory for its past.
Poetic Justice in Vancouver
Nostalgia & Association
Friday, March 24, 2023
Many times in this blog I have stated that what makes us
humans is our ability to associate.
My blog is a Bunny Watson one inspired by the Bill
Richardson’s CBC Radio program of that name. It was produced by Tod Elvidge and
Jennifer Van Evra and it aired beginning the summer of 2004. I began blogging
January 2006 and I followed the idea of going back and forth on stuff that did
not seem to have anything in common but did in the end.
Bunny Watson - William Richardson & Our Shameful CBC
Tonight as I was resting on my bed with my two cats at my
side I kept thinking on the significance of one of the photographs that I took
of the León, Guanajuato-born Ivette Hernández. We collaborated on a series based
on our mutual nostalgia for Mexico.
More Ivette Hernández
And more Ivette Hernández
The one in my memory and attention now is called El
Evangelista. In Spanish that’s evangelist but in Mexican Spanish it is about
men (only men) that sit at corners of city centres with a typewriter. They
write love letters or whatever other communication those who cannot read or
We slicked back Hernández’s hair and she is wearing a
suit I bought at a famous downtown Mexico City department store called El
Puerto de Liverpool. My grandmother’s Remington Portable – Model 5 with a
Spanish keyboard she bought in the mid-20s in New York City has a letter that
was mailed to me by a writer from the LA Times thanking me for having sent him
my portrait of Mario Vargas Llosa. The typewriter is sitting on my mother’s
There is one item in the photo that is a personal private
joke. Hernández is wearing a Fraser Institute tie (an extremely conservative
Vancouver group). I used to wear it to NDP functions and they would always be
amused when they noticed it and this they always did.
It was only about the
year 2000 that in working in collaboration with Argentine artists Nora Patrich
and Juan Manuel Sánchez on the theme of Argentine nostalgia that I figured out
that to experience nostalgia you must not be in the place you have nostalgia
for. Thus if I were to return to Venice and live there for a while I would want
to find a Canadian woman from Vancouver and photograph her under an umbrella.
Whatever it is that makes me associate nostalgia with
photographs, it enables me to keep busy and distract myself a tad from my grief
for the loss of my Rosemary.
Would it be possible for me to take photographs of my
nostalgia for Vancouver while living here?
Hybrid Photography & No Black Dial Phone
Thursday, March 23, 2023
|Courtenay - Mamiya RB colour - Mamiya RB b+w - Fuji X-E3 - iPhone 3G|
friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick told me a year before he died, “I am not long for this world and I am glad
am a product of an era that had black dial phones that I always answered when
they rang, I am feeling that I do not belong now in this century. A century
where people post (the word has lost its magical meaning that involved licking
a stamp) photographs in something called social media with no comment or reason,
or even worse wish long dead people a happy birthday. And if they happen to
kept busy with many projects. One involved convincing the powers that be that
the Vancouver Art Gallery should stay where it is. He died because he had
advanced prostate cancer.
have that concern yet so I keep busy taking photographs and exchanging caricias with my cats. My daughter Hilary
calls me every day and manages to visit me once a week. My other daughter while far in Lillooet calls me too.
While I am
mostly in a melancholic mood, I do pride myself in pushing the boundaries of
see here I call (a boring epithet, but it will do) hybrid photography. By this
I mean that I have incorporated in a session machinations that would have been
impossible in the era of black dial phones.
Courtenay was close to the gray wall of my small Kits studio. On one side I had
what is called a beauty dish light (I did not use the flash, only its built in
modeling light or hot light).
In front of
her I placed my iPhone3G (has no SIM card) pointed at her. In front of the
iPhone I had my Mamiya RB-67 medium format camera. It was focused on the iPhone
screen. I had two film backs one with fast colour negative film and the other
with b+w film.
de résistance became my Fuji X-E3. I used it to photograph what I saw through
the Mamiya viewfinder.
results (results that satisfy community standards) are not quite as good as I thought
they would be. But with time in our hands we can go for another session.
Rosemary's Garden - A Landscape by a Portrait Photographer
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Going back to old blogs (5763 of them) means that I
forget what I wrote in most of them. This particular blog contains, in the beginning,
and extraordinary paragraph by American photographer Richard Avedon in which he
explains how after connecting in a studio with a person all that remains of the
experience is the photograph:
On Photography - Candice Bergen - My Failure
I always prefer to work in the Studio. It isolates people
from their environment. They become in a sense…symbolic of themselves. I often
feel that people come to me to be photographed as they would go to the doctor
or a fortune teller – to find out how they are. So they’re dependent on me. I
have to engage them. Otherwise there’s nothing to photograph. The concentration
has to come from me to involve them. Sometimes the force of it grows so strong
that sounds in the studio go unheard. Time stops. We share a brief and intense
intimacy. But it’s unearned. It has no past…no future. And when the sitting is
over- when the picture is done – there is nothing left except the
photograph…the photograph and a kind of embarrassment. They leave…and I don’t
know them. I’ve hardly heard what they’ve said. If I meet them a week later in
a room somewhere, I expect they won’t recognize me. Because I don’t really feel
I was really there. At least the part of me that was…is now in the photograph.
And the photographs have a reality for me that the people don’t. It’s through
the photographs that I know them. Maybe it’s in the nature of being a
photographer. I’m never really implicated. I don’t have to have any knowledge.
It’s all a question of recognitions.
| Negative scanned today|
When I walk around my Kits home I pass walls and walls of
portraits I have taken of my family. I look at them and I get the same feeling
that the past memory of the portrait is now disconnected in my mind. They
almost look like strangers.
I have a very good memory and I can retell what the
persons facing my camera might have told me. I have thousands of photographs but there but a few where I have forgotten their name. They stare at me from
the contact sheet and I feel sad and blank at my act of eliminating with my
memory the existence of a human being.
There is a landscape taken with my Widelux swivel lens panoramic
that hangs in my guest bathroom. It is titled “Rosemary’s Garden” and dated
The reproduction I have here to illustrate the blog does
little to highlight the fantastic effect of having used a now long
discontinued photographic paper called Agfa Portriga. When immersed in Kodak
Selenium Toner (a known carcinogen, touch wood now that I am 80) it resulted in
what we darkroom photographers called split toning. Adding to the effect is the
film I used, Kodak B+W Infrared Film.
What is the significance of Rosemary’s Garden which is a
photograph I took in VanDusen Garden on a cold January winter?
While I had previously taken scads of photographs of our
lovely Kerrisdale garden this photograph is really my first landscape. I must
insist in pointing out that I am a portrait photographer.
It all began when Rosemary said, “Alex let’s go to
VanDusen.” I told her that it was cold and the weather was lousy and that there
would be nothing to see. She insisted so I picked up my Japanese Widelux and
loaded it with the infrared film.
I took many pictures but this one had something that I
immediately thought was unique.
This photograph became the first of a series shot in the
same way in all the Vancouver botanical gardens and it became a feature in the
then thick and wonderful Western Living.
There is more to the photograph. It launched my personal
career in shooting landscapes wherever Rosemary and I travelled. Because I have
a Russian version of the Widelux called a Horizont and a German Noblex that
loads with larger 120 film, Rosemary taught me the wonders and the restful
pursuit of the landscape that rarely brings into mind anything that might have
troubled Richard Avedon.
And wonderful to me, is that every time I look at Rosemary’s
Garden, can hear her gentle voice telling
me to do something that much later I will think back, “Rosemary you were always
A Feline Appreciation & a Lesson Learned
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
|Niña & Niño|
Sometimes I have discovered important matters, that suddenly
come up to my memory, when the people who might satisfy my curiousity are all
dead. That is frustrating. It can be worse but there is a pleasant salving
solution at the end.
We humans have statistically longer lifespans than dogs and
cats. My Rosemary and I had many cats beginning in 1977. Like all pets they
invariably went to their maker and I found myself burying them in our garden
inside a shoe box. We quickly found out that the quickest solution to a dead
cat which ameliorated our grief was a brand new SPCA cat.
Now at age 80 I look at my 10-year-old Niño and Niña and
wonder who will go first, they or me.
But this process has given me a reward. I lived with
Rosemary for 52 years and while I wrote a blog about which one of us would go
first, I thought as I did when I was 8, that the only people who died or won
the lottery were neighbours.
Who Will be First?
Who Will be First? She was.
Who Will be First? She was II
When Rosemary died on December 9 2020 I immediately realized
that I had almost taken her for granted and did not regularly tell her about my
love and affection for her. It was her death, her loss, that brought this
terrible sense of guilt.
But with Niño and Niña, who patiently let me sleep in the
morning, cuddle by me when I turn off the light in the evening; how I feel
guilty if I don’t take Niño for his daily walk around the block, I now
understand that not only do I not take them for granted but I consciously appreciate
and note their presence at all moments. I feel good and happy about it.
I have a regret as I alluded above. I wish I had known
that when Rosemary was alive.