A Skull - A Run Of Logic & Death
Saturday, April 09, 2011
Today was the kind of day that may have a day that Lauren (8) will never forget. It is a day that might help her cope with existence in a healthy way. Today Lauren became aware of death. She is much too young to connect the death of another being with hers. But it has a occurred at a pretty young age. I am sure that children in war zones are probably more adept at identifying the existence of this inevitability than Lauren. But in this safe area that is Vancouver today’s events will have to do.
Lauren was playing in the front garden underneath what she calls “my secret bush”. “I saw what looked like a rock. I picked it up. Come Papi let me show you.” I told her to bring it. It was a skull. To me it looked like a cat’s. The area where Lauren found it was not far from where I buried Rosemary’s cat, Toby on Friday February 12, 2010. I had taken him to the SPCA to be put down as he was very sick and very old (18).
I came home with the dead Toby wrapped in a SPCA towel and inside a cardboard box. I buried him. In the years that I we have been on Athlone Street (1986) I have buried four cats. Toby was my fifth. This was something that Rosemary did not want to know but every once in a while both of my granddaughters would ask, “Where did you bury Polilla?” I can understand their curiosity as we all are aware of death in some way and we are attracted to some knowledge of it.
|Toby, February 2010
I told Lauren, “Pick up Casi (the male cat that is Rosemary’s that took the place of the dead Toby) and let’s open his mouth. Let’s see if the teeth are similar.” Casi ran away but we were later able to ID the skull not only as that of a cat but that of Casi. Rebecca and Lauren went back to where the skull had been and they found several small bones plus some fur attached to hide. The hide was gray. Toby had been gray. Rosemary was shocked and told us to get rid of the skull. Rebecca suggested a respectful burial. I tried to explain that no matter how much we had loved the cat it was an animal and that we could place his (its?) skull were I have Ale’s cow skull (she brought it from one of her trips to the American Southwest) in the back garden.
|Toby, Papi & Lauren Jan 2010
That evening when I was about to take Lauren back to her home from an evening with her at the theatre (tomorrow’s blog will be an account of it) she told me in the car,” I have to tell Mama when I get home what I found today.” I don’t think that the step between the existence of the cat she played with last year and its skull yesterday had quite made the run of logic. It will come to her some day soon. When that run of logic happens it will be something she will never forget.
Le Roi est Mort -vive le Roi!
The Old Is Still New
Friday, April 08, 2011
A few days ago I wrote here
about the 19th century qwerty typewriter keyboard and how it was designed to prevent lockup in conventional typewriters that could not cope with the expert and fast hands of professional typists of the Pitman ilk. I watch my granddaughter text with her thumbs on her phone and I watch my wife type (or attempt to) on the miniature and ill-designed qwerty on her laptop.
Whatever happened to all those lessons of sitting up straight and being told of the precise angle of ones hands in order to use that IBM Selectric? Only those with typing skills using conventional (old style computer keyboards that are set at a slight angle) can type quickly and accurately. All others lumber and must depend on spell check.
In short we in the 21st century must re-design or re-think how we are going to communicate in written form if we are going to improve on the ancient technology still in use. Perhaps voice recognition software will one day make typing obsolete. But we are not there.
I thought about the qwerty when I read articles about Libyan rebels (or if we want to give them a bit more respect, the officially recognized representatives of Libya by France) demanding more and more efficient air support from NATO. What had transpired since the earlier days of Tomahawk missiles raining down on radar sites?
When I read this article by Eric Schmitt, U.S. Gives Its Air Power Expansive Role in Libya
, in my March 28 NY Times
I read it in a perfunctory manner. Only in the last few days did I remember this paragraph:
For the Americans, six tank-killing A-10 Warthogs that fire laser-guided Maverick missiles or 30-millimeter cannons arrived on the scene this weekend. The United States also deployed two B-1B bombers, as well as two AC-130 gunships, lumbering aircraft that orbit over targets at roughly 15,000 feet, bristling with 40-millimeter and 105-millimeter cannons. The gunships’ weapons are so precise that they could operate against Libyan forces in cities, which so far have been off limits for fear of civilian casualties.
In 1966 when I was a conscript in the Argentine Navy seconded to the US Senior Naval Advisory Group in Buenos Aires, the C-130 Hercules transport was used by the US Navy to transport personnel to and from Buenos Aires to the “secret” Panama base where Argentine naval officers and non-commissioned officers (plus those from the other Argentine services, the army and the air force) to train them in anti guerrilla (the word terrorist was still not in mainstream use) warfare. I flew in one of these large transports and by then (1966) they were already not new as they had been designed in 1954.
In multiple visits to air shows since I came to Vancouver in 1975 I have seen, on the ground, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. From the beginning I was not in the least interested in this ugly airplane (equally ugly was its WW-II namesake the P-47 Thunderbolt that was affectionately called the Jug).
Fairchild Republic does not even exist as an airplane manufacturing company even though the A-10 (called, and not with affection, the Warthog). This plane was designed to attack and destroy Russian tanks in a war in which the Russians were to invade Western Europe in a war that never was. The C-130 was designed to transport stuff and be able to land and takeoff in dirt runways.
Of late, articles in the NY Times have pointed out that since the US stopped leading the air assaults on Muammar el-Qaddafi’s loyalist troops, NATO has been unable to attack them if they are too close to civilian populations. What is the reason for this?
The answer is a simple one. The jets flown by France and England (and other NATO nations) do not have the capability to fly low and slow (with an emphasis on slow) and are unable to attack loyalist troops without having “collateral” damage. Those jets were designed to attack other jets(in spite of the fact that some of them are equipped with the so called smart bombs) not tanks and artillery close to city population.
Those A-10s and the gunship variant of the C-130, the AC-130 are really 20th century qwerty keyboards whose usefulness of design has yet to be applied to other aircraft.
The old is still new.
An interesting take on the A-10
Arts Club Theatre's Another Home Invasion - Brutal Realism & Honesty
Thursday, April 07, 2011
|Claire & Wanda Smith
When Rosemary and I moved to our present house in 1986 with our two teenage daughters, we were very happy. Our house was in a nice Kerrisdale neibourhood and it was on a corner lot with a big garden. We were young and most people would comment that I looked younger than I really was. I fell for that trap of eternal youth and the idea that some day I would become old and have pain all over was distantly alien.
We made friends with the Smiths (Wanda and Claire) who lived in a magnificent house across the street. Claire was retired. I believe he had worked at the financial firm Wood Gundy. They were well off. He drove a Cadillac and she had a beautiful Chickering baby grand piano. Slowly, imperceptibly to us, they grew old. My Rosemary says they lived in that house for 60 years. One day Wanda came over to ask me to photograph her husband’s Cadillac. It had been involved in an accident. I did not suspect that Claire was getting too old to drive. Within a month we, Claire and I, were both riding the bus downtown. But Claire was all here.
They decided to sell their house when Wanda told us that Claire wasn’t doing to well. “He has his good days and he has his bad days,” She told us.
They invited us for dinner at their club, the Shaughnessy Golf Club. Claire seemed just fine.
But sold they did, and before they left Wanda gave us a couple of her splendid carpets and told us we could have her piano for $500. Included in the stuff they gave us was a first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea that is as least worth twice what I paid for the Chickering.
We visited Claire at a home past Richmond. He barely recognized but always lit up when I asked him for the ingredients of the perfect martini. He also remembered the Chickering. Wanda, the last we heard, when she was in her mid 90s went to live with her daughter in Utah.
Now both Rosemary and I live that same reality although at the moment seem to be all here even if our memory fails us here and there. I have told Rosemary that we will sell the house when one of us cannot help the other in the garden. I look at all our possessions and wonder about the pain of getting rid of some them that are valuable only to us. I wonder about our books and our precious plants.
When we went to see the Another Home Invasion
, a Tarragon Theatre production at the Revue Stage (Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island) last night we were subjected to a scary and most realistic old woman, Nicola Lipman (Jean in this one woman play). It had such realism that Rosemary looked at me and said, “We didn’t need this today.”
Rosemary and I have been considering our future these days. I have been suffering from the terrible pain of psoriatic arthritis. We are getting old.
Lipman’s take on the reality of living with a husband who is suffering from a slow dementia was horrific. Her quirks of being an old woman clashed in the end when she came back as herself (to a standing ovation) and her back was straight. She seemed many years younger.
I think that this play will help Rosemary and I arrive at a decision of perhaps leaving while the going is good as we wouldn’t:
1. Want to move to Abbotsford or Burnaby (mentioned most seriously by Jean and many in the audience laughed!)
2. Rosemary and I would want to leave and live together in a small condo or small house.
For anybody who might think that youth is eternal, this play is a good antidote and it will help you make a decision before events make the decision for you.
Another Home Invasion
was directed by Richard Rose and the play was written by Joan MacLeod. The play was originally co-produced with Alberta Theatre Project. It runs until April 23.
Some of you reading this might not know that parking on Granville Island after 7pm is free!
A Serbian Cap & Cyclonic Action From The Telus Home Team
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
It was just a few months after I arrived in Mexico City with my mother and grandmother in 1955. We were renting a house in a very nice area of the city called Tecamachalco. I remember the day in question vividly. The doorbell rang and a man holding a vacuum cleaner and big smile told my mother, “ I am your Electrolux salesman and I have something here that will save you from lots of work.” He came inside and within 30 minutes we were the proud owners of a mostly aluminum (it was snazzy) Electrolux vacuum cleaner. The salesman used the time tested trick of vacuuming our sofa and showing us how dirty it was by emptying the vaccum bag. No woman shown this can possibly not feel guilty and ashamed! The Swedish device served us well and I don’t remember when it finally made it to the Electrolux Bin in the Sky.
Sometime around 1976 the doorbell rang in our Burnaby town house on Springer Avenue. Rosemary opened the door to a portly and short Italian who said to her, “Hi, I have here a cyclonic solution to your problem. There is no obligation to buy anything and whichever way you decide I will give you a nice set of steak knives.
The man went through the sofa test. The vacuum cleaner was a beautiful art deco sculpture with an odd tangerine colour. It had cyclonic action, a sort of Whirling Dervish-like whooshing operation in its core that sucked it all gently and efficiently. Half an hour later we were owners of the most expensive steak knife set we ever “purchased” in our life.
The lesson then was to never open the door to anybody you didn’t know. The lesson in our present times is never to answer the phone (particularly if you have call display) if you do not know who is calling.
Until a month ago we had a perfectly serviceable Sony Trinitron TV (not the thin type) and a limited Shaw cable connection. With the TV we could watch the BCC News Channel, TCM, Bravo and PBS. For unknown reasons the folks at Shaw had not charged us for getting TCM and a few more channels up. It all changed when the phone rang and Rosemary answered. A week later we were paying more for the TCM channel (Sorry, madam we made a mistake and we should have charged you for it). We also had an ominous box with a blinking green light on top of the DVD player. We now could get (so they told us) a Latin channel that Rebecca could watch and practice her Spanish. Whenever we subsequently tuned to it they were always speaking in Italian.
Worst of all our three remotes (one for the VHS, one for the TV and one for the DVD player) were now under the the direction of a Shaw remote of dubious efficiency. To watch TV or play a DVD involved higher mathematics (" Tune to channel 3," they kept telling us). It was a mess. I informed Rosemary that if a solution was not found soon I would seek an attorney and file for divorce.
The phone rang and Rosemary answered. It was a pleasant Telus man based in India. He had a proposition that would save us money. Rosemary could not make up her mind. Whenever the phone rang, and it was unlisted one, Rosemary would say, “Don’t answer it. It could be the man from Telus.”
Rosemary made some numbers and realized that if we switched to a Telus bundle (and dumped Shaw) we were going to save at least $25. She called the man, but alas the man from India was not available. She insisted and yesterday Matt and Miki (a Serbian) arrived at the door. Matt had called to say he was coming. I told him he was going to have to deal with my wife. I told him I was pulling a Pontius Pilate. Matt laughed on the phone. He seemed okay.
The two men rang the door. Matt looked like a handsome computer geek and wore a baseball cap. Miki was tall, serious and a wee bit on the defensive when I asked him where he was from. “I am from Serbia.”
The two (Matt's card read Service Technician - Home Tema) confessed that this was their first job together without a supervisor. We were sort of (I suppose) Guinea pigs.They told us that a new heftier cable had to be strung from the back lane into our house and I looked at Rosemary with damning eyes! I was thinking of my emerging hostas they were going to stomp on. They didn't.
I am happy to report that not only does the Telus remote work seamlessly but that the new Telus box enables us to copy anything we watch (if we want to) and store it in a huge hard drive within the box. The boys installed a new router that gives us now a faster DSL. Matt, with the “paciencia del santo” told Rosemary which Telus channel numbers corresponeded to TCM, etc. Both left with smiles after making Rosemary sign a document that enabled Telus to call Shaw to tell them that they were dumped.
Before they left Mikki asked me to photograph him (he lent me his telephone) wearing the Serbian hat I had purchased so many years ago in Belgrade. I told him, “Nema problema!” and obliged.
Addendum: Telus these two guys are great! And any vacuum salesmen out there keep away when my wife is home!
Tito's Blue Bathroom
A Day in Dubrovnik
The Hosta Lady Revisited Via Polaroid
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
The blog for today is about the story behind this photograph below (a scanned 8x10 from my files) which I took in 1992. Of all the pictures of Lisa Montonen posing with a hosta leaf this is my favourite and the favourite of most who see it. The pictures that follow (all Polaroids) lead to it.
In the heels of yesterday’s blog on the wonders of Katheryn Petersen who I must say not only had a fantastic imagination and presence, there was (and is) an air of sexuality in her that seemed to scream to me, “I am a woman,” with an underlying theme of an animal of the female kind. When she looked at me in the eye I felt the equivalent (but male) in me.
|Lisa Montonen & Hosta plantaginea
Lisa Montonen who became my hosta lady in a show I had in 1992 called Shade Fanfare (the name of a particularly fine hosta cultivar called Hosta ‘Shade Fanfare’) was as beautiful as Petersen but in a different way. I saw Montonen less as a woman of the sexual animal kind but more as a remote woman of the feminine kind.
I watched her once at a beauty contest which she lost. I knew her enough by then that she cried in my presence in disappointment. I understood exactly why she had lost. Her competition consisted of sexy, striking and pretty girls (with that emphasis on pretty). Montonen was not pretty (and this I told her) she was beautiful in an unearthly sort of way. I don’t think she understood but I immediately told her I had a project.
|Lisa Montonen & Hosta 'Hyacinthina'
Brian Lynch who in 1992 was the head of the Exposure Gallery on Beatty Street had called me to tell me that a show planned for that summer had fallen through. He asked me if I could put on a show in two weeks. I told him I could.
I explained to Montonen that I had this favourite plant in my garden called a hosta and that their cultivar names (Hyacinthina, Shade Fanfare, Tiny Tears, Krossa Regal, Cynthia, etc) might suggest poses if I brought some of the leaves into the studio. We did the whole shoot in one day (I had brought many leaves and a big vase of water to keep them in). I would tell Montonen, “This hosta is called Blue Boy. What do you think?” In some cases she suggested the pose and in others I did. For every leaf corresponding to a particular hosta I would take a preliminary Polaroid (mostly b+ws ). For simplicity I used only one light a 3x4 ft softbox. My camera was a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-S and the lens was the 140mm macro lens which is very sharp. For film I used Kodak Plus-X in 220 (twice as long as 120) which I processed in Kodak HC-110 in a 1 to 39 dilution at 20 degrees Celcius for 4 minutes and 45 seconds with a reciprocating rotating drum.
Our day in the studio wasn’t long but I do remember that it was extremely hot. She was much more comfortable than I was since she had nothing on. I cannot recall exactly when it happened but CBC arts reporter Paul Grant
showed up. On the phone he had told me (unlike other CBC radio reporters before him and since) that yes radio and photography could work together. He watched part of the shoot and he then interviewed Montonen (who was wearing nothing) and then interviewed me. The story ran on the radio and my show was a success.
|Lisa Montonen & Hosta plantaginea
Lisa Montonen married a plastic surgeon (who must have seen her as a model for perfection) and she lives happily in Los Angeles.
As an addendum I would like to point out that the Polaroids, in some cases they represented that first shot, have that wonderful quality of being what they really are, one of a kind. Sadly that type of Polaroid is no longer available and photographers now content them with the little screen in the back of their camera to check their setup and exposure. But can you hold it in your hands? Scanning them involved removing a bit of the dust that always adhered to the emulsion surface. But aside from that what you see here is what I saw then. And what a sight it was!
|Lisa Montonen & Hosta 'Cynthia'
|Lisa Montonen & Hosta 'Hyacinthina'
More Lisa Montonen
Jeanne Moreau's lips
Don't Purse Your Lips
Monday, April 04, 2011
Ever since I started taking Methotrexate three months ago to control my arthritis I have felt little relief but I have been bombarded by nightly dreams that are so odd and so real that every night before I go to sleep I think, “What’s going to happen to me tonight?” Because of my aging plumbing I must leave the comforts of my bed two or three times per night. The dream is vivid when I wake up and when I find myself back in bed the dream continues. It is much too late in my life to even consider writing a novel based on the idea that dreams are simply a parallel (or parallels) of the reality we all think our life awake is. Many have tackled this before me (inluding Julio Cortázar in Continuidad de los Parques
). And as I have written here before, I am not going to leave a writing pad and pen by my night table like Graham Greene used to do and like him record my dreams. My dreams are odd to me but probably boring to others.
Continuidad de los parques read by Cortázar
I have always believed that women have a greater imagination for originality and by corollary I believe that they might have more complex dreams.
This story begins last Friday when I was teaching my students at Focal Point to take photographs of some models in the school studio. One of our models was a spectacularly beautiful and very tall blonde. Seeing some of the inexperience of my students she volunteered (without being asked) poses and did something that many models do which is to purse her lips. I told her not to do so and I further informed my students that models should do as they are told and they (the students) should not be railroaded into model poses. "You the photographer, are in charge, not the model."
To be fair I think I am only partially right. As I look at the pictures I have taken since beginning in 1968 (in Mexico) I can see I fell for model poses that I thought were model poses and if I took such pictures I would then be seen as a professional photographer.
To my students I always tell them that a backdrop, a model, a light, a camera and a photographer (particularly seen in parallel layers that do not intersect) represent a rapid road to photographic failure.
You need more than a good model and all the above to get a good picture. And to get one you have to justify the pose. My way has always been to avoid the fashion approach and to go the route of the portrait.
If some of my pictures have been good, a reason for it is that I have been lucky to photograph unusually talented models (I prefer the paradoxically more intimate word subject
even if the word can sound so cold). One in particular was my photographic association with Katheryn Petersen who may have been more than uncommonly beautiful. She always brought more than that to my studio. She brought a vivid imagination or what to me seemed to be acted out daydreams.
Her instructions to me (one that I would not hasten to repeat to my students at Focal Point. They must not find out!) were usually, “Alex, load up. Shoot. Don’t ask.” With Petersen I must add here that I really had to use motor drives. And to keep up I needed at least two cameras with drives as I did not want to stop her pattern of action with a, “ Stop, I need to re-load.”
The pictures here are all from one session except for the last one which I simply want to show so you can see the incredible look and versatility of Petersen.
It seems that the morning began with her showing up in a dress (that it was not tight was very unusual) a box, ballet slippers, and sunglasses. I soon found out that the box contained chocolates. She sat on my canvas backdrop and went through a lengthy routine I have never understood. I have pulled some of the ones I like. She also brought some tight jeans and played the conventional model and I took the conventional model shots that are not in the least unconventional because of her look. How could one be that while shooting Petersen? Impossible!
I tell my students that the technical side of photography should always be down pat. You cannot be worried about it if you have to be creative in some way or in the case of shooting Petersen, she does all the work, but you better know what you are doing. I am glad I did even though to this day I have no concept of what those daydreams of hers were all about. Why the chocolates? Why the sunglasses? Who cares, isn’t she stunning?
Angélica de Alquézar
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Angélica de Alquézar
Dama aragonesa, nacida en 1611 o 1612. Huérfana a temprana edad, fue recogida y educada por su tío Luís de Alquézar, secretario del rey. Introducida en la corte, fue menina de la reina. Mantuvo una ardiente y tormentosa relación de amor y odio con Íñigo Balboa, a quien conoció en 1623, la cual tuvo su apogeo hacia 1630-1634. De celebrada hermosura, fue retratada por Velázquez sobre 1635. Murió joven, sin alcanzar la treintena, antes de 1640.
Angélica de Alquézar
A lady from Aragon, born in 1611 or 1612. She was an orphan at a young age. She was adopted and educated by her uncle Luís de Alquézar who was a secretary to the king. She was introduced to court and became a lady-in-waiting to the queen. She had and ardent and tumultuous affair of love and hate with Íñigo de Balboa, whom she met in 1623. The affair peaked 1630-1634. She was famous for her beauty and was painted by Velázquez around 1635. She died young before she was 30 in 1640. Velázquez’ painting was lost, when a ship conveying it sank in the Gualdalquivir River. This middle 19th century Talbotype by an anonymous photographer purports to be a portrait of a young woman that resembled the painting. This is unlikely as the painting was lost in the 18th century.