And I Am Still
Saturday, August 26, 2023
|December 1949 - 26 August 2023|
Because I took all of the philosophy classes that Ramón
Xirau gave at the University of the Americas from 1962 to 1963 in Mexico City, I became well versed with
Traditionally I take a self-portrait on the date of my
birthday, 31 August. Today I decided I had to preview that operation.
As my thoughts, every day circle around my memory of my
Rosemary, I have noticed that as soon as I think about her I get memories of my
mother. My mother and Rosemary got along wonderfully and Rosemary was present
with me when my mother took her last
breath in 1972.
Why is it that suddenly my mother is up there in my
remembrances of Rosemary? How is my memory shifting in its content?
There is one certainty (I am almost sure of this) that I can
equate the two photographs of me in this blog. The first one was taken for my
train carnet in December 1949. The event I can remember in explosive certainty
may have happened a year before when I was 6.
My mother taught physics and algebra at the American High
School that was but a block from the Belgrano R train station. She had
connections with the American Embassy so she brought all kinds of delightful
stuff that could not be found in Buenos Aires. This included Bazooka chewing
gum and Jell-O (lime flavour was my fave).
One day, the surprise was something she called candy corn.
She would give me a few and then would place the bag in her armoire. I could
not resist one day when she was not around to open the armoire and to help myself
to a lot more of this wonderful golosina.
I opened it and inside there was a top to bottom mirror.
I stared at myself. It was then, right then, that I thought, "That is me. I am that
That event is, I believe, my first awareness of my
personal and unique consciousness.
From that point on, as I go through all the events of my
life in different countries, and those 52 years with Rosemary, I will admit that
I am a lot older but I have to assert with confidence that I have not changed
in being who I am.
Sartre denied that anybody had to find themselves. Sartre
simply said we had to be. We could not become. I was, in that fateful day in 1948.
And I am still.
Scale - Mexico
Friday, August 25, 2023
|Jorge Marín in Monte Albán, Oaxaca circa 1987|
|Guanajuato, Guanajuato 1962|
Today I talked to an old friend I had not communicated for
years. His name is Jorge Marín. He lives in Guadalajara, Mexico. He has been married 3 times but has been with
his present wife for 32 years. He was amazed that I remembered his first
wedding. It was in the house of a former
president of Mexico, Adolfo López Mateos. The ceremony was in a living
room the size of a big yacht that had numerous side living rooms and each one
had a volcano painting by Dr. Atl.
Marín, and my long-time friend Yorkshire-born Andrew Taylor,
had a company called Empac that manufactured machinery to bottle liquors and medicines.
Marín remembered a photograph that I took of him at Monte
Albán in Oaxaca a site of wonderful ruins built by the Zapotec Indigenous
Peoples. He has a copy of that photograph. It set me to thinking about this
Marín told me that the site was empty when we went to it and
somehow because they believed I was a journalist they let us in. He poses by a
stella that he says is now protected by metal fencing.
The photograph works because of its sense of scale.
Another photograph came to mind, one I took in the city of
Guanajuato in the State of Guanajuato in 1962 when I was 20. She may have been
8. There is nothing in this photograph that might indicate how tall or short
she was. There is no scale. The photograph is framed going up the stairs to our
guest room. I always stop and stare at it.
She would be 12 years younger than I am (about to be 81) at 69.
I wonder if she is alive and if she is still living in Guanajuato?
I took the little girl’s photograph with either my Pentacon
F or with my Asahi Pentax S-3. My friend Robert Hijar, who came along to our
University of the Americas photo safari lent me, or a friend of his, a 135mm
Steinheil telephoto for this photograph.
When we returned to Mexico City I entered my Guanajuato
street photographs to the university’s art contest that included painting, sculpture
and photographs. I won (the only time in my life that I did) the overall prize
and my diploma was signed by no less than by Rufino Tamayo.
My Rosemary and Mexican Art
There is simply something about Mexico that I cannot see in
my Vancouver except in my studio. On the street I am not inspired.
I will be going to Mexico City in mid October, invited by
the Fondo de Cultura Ecónomica to show my author photographs and to chat about
them in two places. One is at the Zócalo (the centre square of the city) where
they will be holding the week-long Feria del Libro. The other location will be
the Fondo’s bookstore named after a Mexican female poet called Rosario
Castellanos. At one time in 1961 I was living on Avenida Tamaulipas , in the
Condesa Colonia. My mother, grandmother and I were one block away from the the
Cine Lido, a neighbourhood movie theatre. It is now that bookstore!
I will be taking my portable studio light so that I can
photograph the up-in-coming and contemporary Mexican authors. Perhaps I might
even take some street photographs.
Saudade & an Absent Presence
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
|Rosa 'Buttercup' 23 August 2023|
Today is a grey day and I am wearing a long-sleeved flannel
shirt. I felt a tad low but I improved a bit when I went out to the deck garden
and noticed that the English Rose, Rosa ‘Buttercup’ was in bloom.
My Rosemary banned yellow from our garden until she saw the
single tea rose, Rosa ‘Mrs. Oakley Fisher’ bloom and then I used it to
photograph our granddaughter Rebecca with it.
Paradoxically I now associate yellow; Buttercup is a
gentle yellow, with my gentle, petite and classy Rosemary.
But beneath my smile at spotting Buttercup I am consumed by
an unending melancholy caused by my defining term, an absent presence.
People may have a family album and they might open it every
once in a while. I have large family portraits and portraits of Rosemary
hanging on the wall. I cannot escape them. Every object, furniture, towel, our
two cats, are all reminders that she is no longer with me.
There is something indelible about a portrait of my wife,
the memory of when I took it and the circumstances that brings with it a
nostalgia better defined by the Portuguese saudade which while difficult to explain exactly it is
about a sad nostalgic longing for something (in my case a person) that cannot
be brought back.
Accuracy, Beauty & Respect in My Scanographs
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
|English Rose Rosa 'William Shakespeare 2000' & Hosta 'Island Breeze' 22 August 2023|
Sometime in 1987, about a year after Rosemary, our two
daughters Alexandra and Hilary and I moved to our new house in Kerrisdale,
Rosemary informed me that we were going to a meeting of the Vancouver Rose Society
at the Floral Hall of Van Dusen Botanical Garden. It was walking distance from
our house on Athlone Street.
I was subjected to sitting on an uncomfortable chair and
watching 100 badly taken slides of roses. It was then that I swore I would
never photograph roses. But I did.
It was not until the summer of 2001 that bored on a sunny
day I came up with the idea of placing a rose (Rosa ‘Reine Victoria’) on my Epson scanner. I had
beginner’s luck and my scan was beautiful. Since then I have been actively
scanning not only the roses of the garden but any other garden plant that I
find interesting to see scanned. I have over 3000 of them.
From the beginning I imposed on myself standards. I would
scan the roses (and other flowers) at 100% size, be very careful to get
accurate colour, and to add the day’s date.
This continued for many years. But it was when we moved to
Kitsilano, about 6 years ago, that not having a large garden imposed a room
problem with our roses. With Rosemary we put many of the roses in large
terracotta pots and tried all kinds of companion plants to hide the dirt under
the roses. This worked very well and I am continuing that tradition with my
Rosemary not around to give me advice. I am learning.
The scanning evolved to the idea of combining the companions
in my scans. My favourite combination joins roses, hosta leaves and hosta
The results are a bit beyond floral accuracy and become
For a few weeks I have been thinking of the main topic of
this blog. In social media, those bad rose slides at the Floral Hall, have been
replaced by digital camera or phone snaps on macro. Many of these pictures are
taken at noon which is not the best time to photograph any flower. To make it
worse for me, rarely are these plants identified by their correct botanical
When people ask me of my approach to scanning I tell them:
“When I walk around the garden, the roses, especially talk
to me and tell me that they look very good in that moment and that I should
snip them and scan them.”
“I treat my roses and other plants with what I call
botanical respect. Yes I try to be accurate but sometimes I scan roses past
their prime as I believe that even then there is beauty in them.”
Identifying them with their botanical nomenclature and
writing about their history is part of this respect that I have for them. And
because my roses bloom and bloom, I know they appreciate my respect.
Part of the respect for botanical accuracy is that species names are always in italics.
Pushed into a Personal Discovery by Béatrice Larrivée
Monday, August 21, 2023
|20 August 2023|
One thing is humility of the kind where the person blushes
when overly praised.
I am not that kind of person because I accept that if I am a
good photographer, little of it has to do with my personal talent. It has more
to do of getting a good education (full in some cases of what could be seen
by others as useless facts) and by having met many mentors who pushed and inspired me even
when I did not want to budge.
For most of my years in Vancouver I dealt with art and
design directors who either inspired me or forced me to do stuff I did not want
to do. They were always right.
Splendid art director Chris Dahl (Vancouver Magazine &
Equity) was my best pusher/mentor in Vancouver. One day he called me and said, “Alex
I want you to shoot some city scapes for me. I want you to use your swivel lens
panoramic Widelux and to jiggle it as
you use it.” I reluctantly did as told and the result (see below) is one of the
many cityscapes I am most proud of. Are they good photographs because I am a
good photographer? No. They are good photographs because I followed directions.
For many years I shot portraits of dancers and I was
reluctant to photograph one in a studio up in the air in frozen motion. I
preferred to shoot dancers dancing in performances. Soon I was using slow
shutter speeds and getting what I called whirls. Whirls
I am now extremely happy to report that thanks to Béatrice
Larrivée who danced yesterday and on Saturday I have taken some photographs
that are sending me in an exciting direction I had no idea existed.
Béatrice Larrivée I
Béatrice Larrivée II
Béatrice Larrivée III
Béatrice Larrivée IV
Béatrice Larrivée V
Béatrice Larrivée VI Béatrice Larrivée VII
Because I photographed her Saturday show, when I returned
yesterday with my granddaughter Lauren, I had an idea of what I was going to
see and I could anticipate those moves and positions. So I took chances. That paid off.
Béatrice Larrivée's show to me was modern dance gone beyond
what most would define as modern dance. I would call it theatre with
movement. Why theatre? Because Larrivée and her dancing partner Noa Lee
Ashkenazi showed passion, sorrow and emotion while dancing.
What I saw for the second time and while editing
today the pictures with my 19 year old Photoshop 8, I have come to a new personal
world of my photography in which I just pressed the shutter but the two dancers
on the Arts Umbrella Dance Company theatre stage did the necessary pushing in
Thank you two.