Sarah Moon, Bruce Webber, Arthur Elgort & Guess Who?
Saturday, May 14, 2011
|Kate Davitt by Alex W-H
In September 1985 I had one of my very favourite spreads in Vancouver Magazine
. Malcolm Parry (the editor) and the art director Chris Dahl had dispatched me to photograph three beautiful Vancouver women and one handsome male body builder to illustrate an article by Les Wiseman on diets. The article would purport to explain that the people I photographed looked like the way they looked because of their diets. As I left with my assignment Mac told me, “Try, if possible to get them to pose with as little as possible."
The best of all the shots is the one I took of Kate Davitt. At the time she was one of the hottest of all the local models. I felt very lucky to have her pose for me and so I took a photograph that I would be proud of.
Today in a moment of idleness I tried to find her whereabouts. She has not been around or searchable for some years now. But this time around I found a website that had pictures of her and I was amazed how good a model she had been in Europe at least five years before she posed for me. Previously to her shoot with me she had posed for what in my opinion is the best fashion photographer Vancouver ever had. This was Howard Fry. In fact it had been Fry who had suggested to Les Wiseman for his piece on diets.
From the Peter Marlow Composite Archives
I have discovered that photographers of note had photographed Davitt. But you cannot imagine my surprise and sheer pleasure to learn that three of those photographers were photographers that I have always admired. One was Sarah Moon and the other Bruce Webber. But it is the third that made my jump with joy. That photographer is Arthur Elgort one of the most elegant fashion photographers of all time.
Handsome remuneration has never been one of the salient features for a magazine photographer in Vancouver. But some of the fringe benefits, like this one, of knowing that in a small way I was in the company of three big fashion photographers, make it all worth it.
Two very feminine women
Kate Davitt under the boom
Brother Anton Mattingly, C.S.C. In The Land Of El Quijote
Friday, May 13, 2011
name: Álvaro Gómez Gómez
comments: Estimado señor: 36 años atrás tuve la oportunidad de ser profesor invitado de español en Holy Cross High School, Ill. y mi supervisor fue el Bro. Anton Mattingly. Yo continué comunicándome con él, pero con el tiempo perdimos contacto y, mire usted por dónde, buscando en internet supe que el Hermano Anton había fallecido años atrás y, además, y no sé cómo encontré la conexión entre usted y el hermano Anton. En verdad no sé que quiero al escribir esta nota, pero en el fondo es el agradecimiento y admiración que tuve al hermano Anton, y leyendo sobre usted, como profesional y artista me di cuenta que ustedes tuvieron una gran afinidad por lo de la fotografía. Bien, nací en Colombia, pero después de estar en USA me vine a España.
Un cordial saludo y si en algo puedo ser de utilidad para usted, con mucho gusto aquí tiene una casa donde llegar en esta tierra castellana del Quijote.
My web page has something called Contact Submission by which most spammers are blocked and the few who might make contact with me can do so. I received the above contact submission a few days ago. I will translate it below. This is the sort of communication that I occasionally get that confirms that my blog may have some practical usefulness that compensates for the flagrant narcissism that a blog really represents.
Name: Álvaro Gómez Gómez
Comments: Dear Sir: 36 years ago I had the opportunity to be professor of Spanish by invitation to Holy Cross High School in Illinois. My supervisor was Brother Anton Mattingly, C.S.C. I pursued my communications with him after my period at the school but with time we lost touch. But look sir how by looking in the internet I found out that Brother Anton had died years back. I don’t know how I found the connection between you and Brother Anton. To be truthful I am not sure why I am writing you, but in the end it is my gratitude and admiration I had for Brother Anton, and reading about you, as a professional and an artist I realized that the both of you had a great affinity for photography. I was born in Colombia, and after being in the USA I came to Spain.
A warm greeting to you and if in any way I can be useful, with pleasure you have a home here in this Spanish land of the Quijote.
is the blog that Álvaro Gómez found in the internet.
6 brothers of Holy Cross chip in to my photographic career
Bob Mercer Dreamt Of Tigers
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Oh incompetence! Never do my dreams bear forth the wild beast I yearn for. A tiger appears indeed, but autopsied or flimsy, or with impure variations of shape, or of an implausible size, or far too fleeting, or with something of the bird or the dog.
Dreamtigers, Jorge Luís Borges
Translated by A. Z. Foreman
|Crystal Pite, styling by Maureen Willick
Silk dress from Obaki, shoes by Hugo Boss from Gravity Pope
I often tell my students who want to be photographers (and heaven forbid! Magazine photographers) that there are few advantages, especially financial ones and they might consider more lucrative professions like plumbing.
But there is one exquisite pleasure in magazine photography and this is the fulfillment of a dream that more often than not results in real tigers not the incompetent Borgesian ones.
Consider this: Think of something. Plan it and weigh it your mind. Execute it and then wait a week (if the magazine is a weekly) or a month to see your dream come true. There are the disappointments like your first magazine cover not being attributed to you because a printer was drunk when the magazine went to press. Or the cover could be over inked or under inked or, even worse, the editor pulled the cover at the last moment and ran another story. While all the above has happened to me, in most cases the dreams of my imagination all became true. I have had at least 600 covers in my years of being a photographer but the thrill of seeing the cover on the day the magazine is out is a thrill that has never diminished for me.
I have worked with very good editors and art directors. I have worked for an art director who shouted at me and I have worked for a few incompetent ones. But the shine is never off that thrill of seeing the sketches of a picture in one’s mind and then to see it realized on a newstand.
Of all the magazines I ever worked for there was one, quite a recent one, where I had one hell of a good time.
The funny thing is that the editor was the art director and both the art director and the editor often apologized for being neither one! The man, Bob Mercer, the son of a preacher man (Nelson Mercer, United Church), which probably explained his taciturn and almost bleak demeanour, was the one responsible for all my fun. Mercer's magazine was called VLM.
And best of all he proved to me that when other magazines thought I was a photographer ready for deletion, that I still had some of the best photographs of my career in me to be developed by his gentle push.
Mercer ran his magazine with an extremely small staff and he did mostly everything. To his advantage he dealt with a modern, state of the art printing company that produced covers in which my photographs could not have looked any better had I printed them in my own darkroom with premium photographic paper.
Unfortunately Mercer’s own dream went the way of a Borges dream of tigers and he folded his venture after a couple of years.
One of the best of his spreads is the one you see here. It was a complete surprise to me as I expected that he would use only one of my photographs as a full bleed vertical page (picture only on one page). He used both my pictures and the result is one of my favourite interpretations of my photos by any of the many good art directors I have worked for.
I have never ever considered myself in having what it takes to be a fashion photographer. In fact I started at Vancouver Magazine
thanks to the recommendation of fashion editor Gabriel Levy who gave me his card to present to the art director Rick Staehling. After looking at my pictures Levy said, “You are a good portrait photographer but you will never shoot fashion.”
I had to photograph dancer/choreographer Crystal Pite
for a cover story I had written for VLM on the movers and shakers of the local arts scene. My secret weapon was stylist Maureen Willick
who has a touch of elegance with no match in Vancouver. I went to Gravity Pope on 4th Avenue with Willick to pick up the shoes you see here. During the shoot Willick suggested a head to toe shot to emphasize her figure and show the shoes. I was most reluctant since I like to shoot tight portraits. Willick insisted. It was a hot day in the summer so I turned on the fan to cool Pite. Then I noticed the movement of the dress and chose to use a long exposure of 1/4 second. My camera was a Mamiya RB-67 with a 250mm lens and I placed the camera on the floor and looked through its waist lever finder. My film was Kodak Plus-X. I almost always used softboxes with flash in my studio. For these I used God's light coming from across the street, the white wall that is Sears. The son of the preacher man certainly approved.
Gina Daniels, The Vampire & My Golden Rocking Chair
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
In June I am receiving an honorary rocking chair award for my contribution to magazine photography in Vancouver. This is the sort of award that sometimes makes me think that after receiving it I can go home all washed up and ready to die. Against what many might think there is still life in this photographer and I am not about to fade like a poorly fixed print.
But the anticipation of the golden rocking chair has made me think of what has transpired since magazines using a system called the halftone
. This was and still is (the tiny dots that from a distance disappeared and looked like a fairly sharp photograph but now if you check a Vancouver Sun
photo you will note that the dots are multicoloured) a reprographic system used since the late 1870s to place photographs and illustrations on to magazines and newspapers. Newer methods aren’t quite halftone but do use ink. This is now becoming irrelevant as images are now appearing on web magazines. As we go from ink to pixels we live a transition that nobody can predict where it is headed. But I can look back to that golden era when halftone had no competition. Yesterday's blog on the Teutonic chap and his Mercedes was a look at how magazines in the late 70s in Vancouver managed to have editorial articles that still were partially ads or in the parlance of the day, service pieces.
One way to camouflage the ad aspect of what was supposed to be an article independent of advertising was to assign a photographer (in this case yours truly) to shoot pictures that looked editorial. By this we meant that the pictures did not look like glossy ads.
In 1979 I was working for a gay tabloid called Bi-Line
and the advertisers of the day who dared advertise in such a publication liked to appeal to the readers. In those days the gay scene in Vancouver was out of the closet and living mostly in the West End. Many of the advertisers were high-end stereo equipment stores. The folks living in the West End spent lots of money on these elaborate stereo systems. The editor of Bi-Line
, a crafty Ron Langen asked me to shoot some ads for the tabloid. One of my first ads was my favourite. For more, look here
. My subject was Gina Daniels who was the hostess of local cult TV show called the the Gina Show
The folks at Vancouver Magazine
by 1984 had service pieces like the one here that were about the latest stereo/video gadgets. To mask the service side of the articles I was assigned to create ever more elaborate photographs that in many ways were edgy but still glossy ads. The one for the Canon VC-30A camera with a VR-30A portable recorder involved me having to locate a theatrical coffin and to have an actor made up to look like a vampire. Because there was no Photoshop yet, an air brush artist had to create the sense of movement of the bobbing apple of my photo.
I sort of hated these jobs but I always bragged about how difficult they were and how they did not pay me enough money for their execution. But as I look back now I can see that these ads were fun and challenged my imagination. I am a better photographer for it and that is why when I get that golden rocking chair, I will store it in the basement and go out and take more pictures.
The Gina Show
The Teutonic Gentleman & His Mercedes 450 SEL
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
In recent months I have written here about my enthusiasm for my present car, a 2007 Chevrolet Malibu which I call the Rocket because of its V-6 engine. I like that it is a plain domestic car with few of the trappings of the cars from Japan. I believe that some of us have to begin to buy domestic and bring back an era when stuff was being built (not software or the transfer of mutual funds) – just plain stuff.
In the late 50s I was obsessed with cars. While in Austin Texas, my friend Steve Burdick and I would go to all the car dealers and tried to convince (and we generally did) the salesman to give us the glossy brochures of the new cars in the showroom. I particularly remember the beautiful ones which showed the hugely long Lincolns and such jewels as the Chevrolet Corvair Monza (Nader had not arrived yet) or the Chrysler Imperial with the two lights sitting on top of its fins
The mystique of cars is now behind me. It has been my Rosemary who still grieves the Audi A-4 we could not afford to buy when its lease was up. She expected we would buy a clunker but was almost pleasantly surprised by the fact that our Malibu is not in the least a clunker.
When I drive our Malibu down Hemlock Street and cross West Broadway going north I always glance, and smile at the Mercedes dealership on the corner. It has been there, at least since 1978.
It was around then but probably in 1979 when Rick Staehling, the art director of Vancouver Magazine
dispatched me to several automobile show rooms in town to take pictures that were going to illustrate a article on the coming crops of cars.
I have long forgotten the name of this very Teutonic and elegantly trim general manager who posed by his best car.
At the time I was obsessed with the no grain and extreme sharpness of a Kodak film that had the nondescript name of S (Special) O (Order) 115. It was a film that had to be special ordered at places like Lens & Shutter. The film had been designed for the specific and most scientific use of taking photographs of solar flares. The folks of the big yellow box had given the film an extended range into the red spectrum and had made its emulsion the sharpest of any film of the time. It didn’t take long before photographers of the less scientific kind to find other uses for the film. SO 115’s predecessor had been S0 410 and I had taken some spectacularly sharp nudes with it. The skin, because of its red sensitivity made skin look like Carrara marble.
For me this film, with its far from flat increased contrast (I had to use a special slow working developer to reduce its inherent high contrast) had a look that I though would set me apart from other photographers then trying to muscle into the fairly lucrative field of magazine photography. This film enabled me to take pictures that looked like they were taken with 4x5 view cameras without the hassles of using such big cameras and their heavy tripods. In fact I used a lowly Pentax Spotmatic-F while my competition indulged in Nikons and the medium format Hasselblads.
I took the two pictures here using a fine 20mm rectilinear wide angle lens. I was careful not to distort the Mercedes too much but I went wild with the Ferrari when I noticed that the lens rendered the car into a flying saucer.
In those heady days of fine magazine photography, magazines competed for originality and would have never considered using any handout photographs provided by the car manufacturers. At the time an article on the new crop of cars would have at least tried to show a considerable editorial independence. In 2011 many magazines now use “provided” photographs and in some cases the writers get tickets to travel to the locations by the companies they are writing about. In my time, in 1979, that would have been anathema. By the mid 80s there was a bad expression being used by writers. Some of these articles that they were writing were not fully independent editorially. The expression used then was a “service piece”. If the term seems confusing think of product placing in film as an equivalent example.
There is no way my picture of the Germanic gentleman and the Mercedes could possibly compete with a photograph of a modern Mercedes taken by an advertising crew in some beautiful and exotic location.
But as I look at these pictures I see in them an honesty of the time and I regret that those times will probably not come back.
Only Butter Tastes Like Butter
Monday, May 09, 2011
|Quilla, Kodak Tri-X
This blogger happens to be a photographer who shoots with cameras that I load with film. I use film because the digital camera revolution happened when the sun was setting on my magazine photography career. My wife urged me to switch to a digital camera not knowing that at the time the only way I could get results close to my medium format’s camera was by getting a digital scanning back for my Mamiya RB-67. I calculated that I would have had to invest in the neighbourhood of $45,000 between the software and the hardware needed.
I also knew that for the bulk of the work I was doing my 35mm cameras were just fine so investing in a $3500 Canon super digital camera was also not in my budget.
My wife was right in that I did lose quite a few jobs were some of my clients (the ones that did not know me well enough to chose me for my style) demanded I use a digital camera. Some of these clients were events clients (ones I generally avoided) who wanted me to shoot an event and then retire to a nearby room with a portable digital printer from which I could then provide the guests with instant pictures. Losing these jobs did not upset me as much as they upset Rosemary who would always look at me with a face that silently screamed, “We need the money.”
Some six or seven months ago I did get an unusual (unusual because they are so rare now) request from the Georgia Straight to take an actor’s portrait. I satisfied their request and they unusually sent me an email telling me how much they had liked the portrait. I did not tell them until much later that I had taken the shot with my lowly 3G iPhone. In spite of the fact that I had used the iPhone the picture was still within my style since had used a portable softbox in which I had used the continuous light of the quartz modeling light and had not used the flash simply because there was no way I could sync it with my iPhone’s camera.
|Quilla, Kodak Tri-X on Ilford paper
If anything the exercise proved to me what I had been telling my wife all along. I had been telling me that I was usually hired because of my style and not because I used film or a digital camera.
The digital camera has pretty well evened out the playing field of photography much as the Colt Peacemaker made the talented gunfighter irrelevant by the latter part of the 19th century. More shots could do the job of one well-aimed shot if done quickly.
But digital photography still seems to be mired with the past. The question of 10 years ago when someone showed you a pristine print was, “Was this taken with film or with a digital camera?” Now that question is moot as few shoot with film or process the film and print it themselves. And especially now most photographs are seen on monitors and ever so rarely are they printed as inkjets.
With the increasing possibility of the demise of the digital point and shoot because the camera in hand is now usually also a telephone, apps are being offered that mimic the look of film. These apps, in an age of seamless perfection, made more so with the overuse of Photoshop and similar photo programs, provide the modern photographer with the random look and imperfection of film with the now, suddenly, popular overexposure, badly processed film look, and out of focus effects of cheap plastic lenses of the Chinese film cameras of yore like the Diana. These apps can mimic the look of fading Polaroids and a more recent crop of apps imitate the look of at least 50 kinds of film, many of which are no longer made. One of these programs is called Exposure 3
and it provides a photographer with “film filters”. The program is not cheap as it costs somewhere around $250 and is what you call a plug-in. This means that you must first have some version of Photoshop as it cannot be used independently.
|Exposure 3 can be used to mimic various types of film. Clockwise from top left,
Agfa APX, 25 Kodachrome 35 mm, Kodak HIE and Kodak Ektachrome GX.
To me this almost sounds like good news. Could it be that the hand of God is going to suddenly push up my sun as it plummets into sundown mode and give me a few more years of photographic life? I don’t think so. But as fewer and fewer photographers use and process film and print it onto photographic paper, like the butter ad that says, “Only butter tastes like butter,” I can say, "Only Kodak Tri-X is Kodak Tri-X."
My Mother's Poem To The Son She Did Not Like
Sunday, May 08, 2011
On September 1, 1965, I was in Buenos Aires serving in the Argentine Navy as a conscript sailor. My mother was in Veracruz, Mexico teaching in a one room schoolhouse to the American children of the engineers of Alcoa Aluminum. Her school was called Aluminio School. It was sometime around 1974 after my mother had died that Rosemary and I decided to have her poetry notebook bound in leather. It was then that I found this poem she had written to me.
I will only translate the last paragraph as it is the one that has haunted me all these years. She had told me many times stuff like, “You are not as intelligent as…” or once when I was 21 she said, “I have always loved you because I am your mother. Mothers love, by nature, their sons. They have no choice. But I have never liked you. But I sense that you have changed for the better and I am beginning to change my mind.” She told me that I had one very positive quality which she said was integrity. Sometimes this weighs on me like a ship’s anchor but lately I have been wondering if I should leave instructions in my will that my tombstone should read, “He died with integrity, the only talent this man had according to his mother.”
Dear son, may God bless you
May the Virgin Mary protect you
So that you will always remain
Good, equanimous and whole
All this and much more I wish for you.