Pancho & La Santa Muerte
Saturday, March 18, 2023
compartirás la clara luna ni los lentos jardines. Ya no hay una luna que no sea
espejo del pasado, cristal de soledad, sol de agonías. Adiós las mutuas manos y
las sienes que acercaba el amor. Hoy sólo tienes la fiel memoria y los
desiertos días. Jorge Luís Borges
You will no longer share the clear moon nor the slow
gardens. There is not moon that is not a mirror of the past, a glass of
solitude, a sun of agonies. Goodbye to the mutual hand and the foreheads that
love brought close. Today you only have the faithful memory and the desert
days. My translation.
When I was 8 my mother took me to an open casket wake of the
young son of our neighbours who crashed his Vespa at a level train crossing.
All I could see was a bandaged head and a pair of hands held together. I then
understood that death and those who won the lottery were always neighbours and
By the time I was 21, I buried my father. In 1972, my
mother died in Rosemary’s and my presence. Death then became a personal
exposure to my inevitable one.
When Rosemary died on December 2020 she and I knew we would
never meet again. This is something we knew deep inside. It is one of the reasons why my grief will not go away.
At the same time this idea of the inevitability of death was
somehow softened, for both of us, by the fact we had lived in Mexico for 8 years. Mexicans talk
about death and even make fun of it.
A year before my friend Abraham Rogatnick died (he told me
he was going to pull the plug on his prostate cancer treatment) he gave me his Mexican
papier-mâché skeleton which I subsequently named Pancho. Since then Pancho has
resided on a lovely windsor chair in our dining room. Rogatnick attached a hangman’s noose to
Pancho’s neck because he would then display him outside his home on 9th
Avenue on Halloween. There is a connection with Rosemary as Rosemary also
placed around Pancho’s neck the little bells she put around her ankles when she
went ice skating.
Both Lauren and Rebecca have often posed with Pancho.
The photograph of my León, Guanajuato friend Ivette
Hernández is my version of La Santa Muerte , the patron saint of drug traffickers
in Northern Mexico.
My Mexican friend poet, novelist and environmentalist, Homero Aridjis, wrote
a novel called La Santa Muerte.
políticos, delincuentes, empresarios y policías rinden culto a la Santa Muerte,
la imagen de la muerte violenta, para que los proteja de sus enemigos y les
otorgue poder, impunidad y dinero.
Narcos, politicians, delinquents, businessmen, cops all worship
the cult of la Santa Muerte, an image of violent death, so they will be
protected from their enemies and give them power, impunity and money. My
Playing with Dolls
Friday, March 17, 2023
When I would tell Rosemary that I needed to buy a particular
kind of photographic equipment she would say, “If you need it buy it.” I knew
that because she was always in control of our purse strings (I could never
understand what compound interest was) she would have to adjust her budget to
allow for the purchase of my usually expensive equipment.
When we never attempted to save money was when we bought
plants for our garden. We bought the best. She was a very good travel agent so when we did travel, particularly
with our two granddaughters she knew how to get the best deals.
On my side of all this is that with the exception of the
trips she made to Europe with buyers from the company she worked for Mariposa
(she supervised the trips) she would buy her own shoes and lovely Italian
leather handbags I sometimes did the helping of dressing her up.
|Mexico City 1979
When we travelled together I liked to play the game that
I was not allowed to play in what we would now define as a macho period of the
20th century, particularly Buenos Aires in the late 40s and early
50s. I was jealous of the girls that played with dolls. It was only when we came to Vancouver, and I
became a magazine photographer, that I had to find people not only to do the
makeup but to supervise the wardrobes of the women I photographed. Finally vicariously, I could dress up grown up dolls.
With Rosemary it was even more fun. From the very beginning
she would take my advice on buying dresses and shoes. Her wedding dress, one
with blue birds, was one I chose for her. Most fun was buying shoes with her. I
would point out the shoes I liked, I would ask her to sit and I would ask for
the shoes.I remember taking apart one of her bras and panties and then cutting a pattern . We then chose a black vinyl material and we made her a sexy bikini. I did some of the sewing as I know how.
|Rosemary shortly after we were married in 1968 in the blue bird dress.
The shoe in this scanned composite photograph is one half of
the shoes that we bought at a store on Calle Corrientes in Buenos Aires. The
colours and the style scream “my Rosemary”.
In Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which she
began to write two days after her husband’s death she was able to take most of
his clothes to a store in NY City where she knew the owners. His shoes remained
in the closet and she writes that she feared that if she got rid of them he
would not come back, ever.
Some of her shoes our youngest daughter Hilary has
appropriated. But these Argentine shoes (all Rosemary that they are) will stay
in the closet until I meet my personal oblivion.
The framed photographs, there are many on the walls, too, are
a constant reminder of her and I cannot avoid looking at them every day when I walk
around our little house. I have a very good memory of how and when I took every
portrait of her.
It may have been a about three weeks after I first met her
that I remember we were at a gathering at Raul Guerrero Montemayor’s house in
Mexico City (we slept in the upstairs loft on the floor) that she was to one
side of a fireplace with that little almost smile on her face. I was mesmerized
staring at her. That little smile of hers is in that photograph with the paper
flower taken by my friend Andrew Taylor at the Botanical Garden of the
University of Mexico.
To this day, particularly my Argentine friends ask me how a
person like you could have landed a woman like her. I don’t know.
But I was lucky. And even luckier to have her by my constant side for 52
Gravitating to a Smiling Dead Horde
Thursday, March 16, 2023
|DonTirso de Irureta Goyena - Manila
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.
I have been haunted for some time by Richard Avedon’s
observation on taking portraits of people in his studio.
During the last couple of nights I have gone further with the
idea that I may not know well not only the people I have photographed but even
(and this is what troubles me) those who are my close relatives like my
daughters and granddaughters. I stare at the many framed photographs of them in the house. They look back at me and I feel cold.
The photograph here is of my maternal grandfather Don
Tirso de Irureta Goyena – 1888-1918.While he died at the age of 30 he managed
to publish a book of poetry, be a commanding lawyer and perhaps the only member
of the Real Academia Española residing in the Philippines.
I never did ask my mother where he had been born and now
my curiosity can never relieved because all who might know the answer are dead.
My mother died in 1972 and my grief has dissipated with
time. I now remember her smiles and her kindness to this idiot that I am.
But getting back to the idea of not knowing people around
me I have discovered that now I feel an extraordinary kinship with my long lost
relatives. I almost think I can remember (impossible as I never met him) Don
Tirso’s voice and recognize his almost nonexistent smile.
Of Rosemary I cannot escape my thought of her anytime
during the day and worse at night. I know her but in a different way that I
know and recognize Don Tirso.
I believe that, Alex here, between long dead relatives
and the few living ones is gravitating towards a smiling dead horde who seem to
be beckoning and welcoming me to join them.
They are incorporeal. My daughters and granddaughters are
corporeal. I am desvaneciendo
(dissipating, disolving) into being the incorporeal Alex and I will reside in
whatever family album of the future my daughters will have. Will they also go
through the process?
Meanwhile my Rosemary is in some sort of transitory limbo, in my head.
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
|Mexico City circa 1978-79
Until the late 1870s there was no practical way to
reproduce a photograph in a newspaper or a magazine. This meant that all those
American Civil War photographs would have been seen as etchings or up on a wall
at a gallery. There was a method used to reproduce photographs in books (usually appeared
as a frontspiece) that was called the photogravure. Because of its intaglio
type of printing they could not be placed in normal publications.
With the advent of the halftone process, a series of
black, gray dots and white spaces, finally photographs were appeared in newspapers.
This innovation marked the beginning of a long relationship
between photographers and magazines and newspapers. Until the collapse of
journalism in this 21st century , publications vied to have original
photographs and photographers were sent all over the world to take photographs
that were original.
In this 2023 photographers post photographs I social media
with little explanation. They think that the photograph can stand on its own.
They forget that photography from that first photograph of
the Steinway Building appearing in a long gone NY newspaper has always been a symbiosis.
Perhaps these lonely photographs are the product of laziness
or not wanting to write on a phone keyboard.
I will not rant about the above and I will continue to mate
my photographs with my writing in my now my 5759 blogs.
Many will skip this blog and they may like the image which
is a scanner sandwich of two colour negatives.
I believe that the story behind it is interesting.
When Rosemary, our two daughter and I left Mexico City for
Vancouver in 1975 my neighbours kept telling me to stay as I was making a good
living taking photographs of wealthy Mexican families with my 35mm Pentacon-F
and Pentax S-3. The film was Kodak Tri-X and I would process the film in my
little bathroom darkroom in our Arboledas, Estado de México little brick home.
I did not have lights but I had a very good light metre. I
took my photographs in low contrast situations.
Judging by the fact
that the photograph of this woman (filed under Mexican Girl) is a 6x7cm format
it tells me (I have a hazy memory) that sometime in the late 70s I went back to
Mexico on assignment for the then Mexicana de Aviación. At the time I only had
a 65mm wide angle for my Mamiya RB-67. This meant I could not take tight
portraits. I have no idea if I took more pictures. The file only has 6 frames.
The above photograph reveals a few interesting facts. One is that I had yet to learn that you never cut off hands in portraits. On the positive note the painting by Luís Strempler (1928 -2002) is dedicated to Francisco Alonso y Alonso. He would have been the girl's father.
Somehow I must have contacted the family of the girl and
they hired me to photograph her.
At the time, as in most Latin American countries there is an
endemic racism. The family of the girl would have been proud that she was “blanquita”
and had blonde hair.
When I shot these photographs I was not yet established as a
magazine photographer in Vancouver. I took many photographs of our daughters.
This led to my specializing in portraiture. I have not looked back since.
At age I am shooting portraits. And I am proud to write here that I provide content to my photographs.
Juan Manuel Sánchez - A Man Obsessed
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
|Juan Manuel Sánchez in his Vancouver studio, 2006
In 2006 I met an Argentine artist, Juan Manuel Sánchez. We
collaborated for about 8 years in Vancouver in tandem with his wife, also an
artist, Nora Patrich. I visited him in Buenos Aires, a few months before he
died October 5 2016.
This man was a commanding influence in my life. Before I met
him, even though I had shows in galleries with my photographs, I considered
myself a competent magazine photographer. Sánchez convinced me that I was
indeed an artist.
While he was older that I was, we shared that now forgotten interest
in depicting a woman with little clothing.
Sánchez was a man with an obsession. He painted every day
and his subject was the woman of his imagination. He would start with a blank
canvas. He told me that when he stared at the canvas he had a problem that had
to be resolved. His problem was the task of reducing the woman to a Platonic
essence. How much could he remove from his painting and still have the woman? The Spanish word "resolución" is much more mathematical in its meaning than resolution.
One day I said, “Juan if one day you stare at your canvas
and then mark the centre with a point, will that be the essence you are looking
for?” With a smile on his face he answered, “Perhaps.”
The Essence of a Woman
Over coffee in Buenos Aires, in 2016 I told him that the
next time I visited him…he did not allow me to finish, saying, “I will not be
here when you come.”
Sánchez told me that my own obsession of taking photographs
of women, many without clothes was a perfectly natural thing to do. When the
man telling you this looked like a portly Picasso you tended to believe his
word. I did.
Now in this century, the many photographs I have taken and
keep taking can never be shown anywhere in this city.
I am not bitter about this as I take a cue from American
photographer Garry Winogrand who when he
died hundreds of undeveloped rolls were found in his house. Winogrand liked to
take photographs. That was enough for him.
I share my photographs with my subjects and when I fix them
before I send them by email I enjoy the process. That is enough for me.
Of late I am approaching the Sánchez problem of a
resolution. My photography is going into a direction of minimalism.
While I do not believe in ghosts, I can almost sense
behind me, Juan Manuel Sánchez and his smile, telling me, “Sos un artista.”
|C - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward