The idea of this great anguish of living between two worlds has diminished somewhat for many immigrant people…Not that there is not some uneasiness, but it is no longer the single most urgent anxiety of every immigrant’s life. And honestly, maybe it never was — except perhaps in literature.
Last night I read Frank Bruni’s OpEd column in the NY Times on Denver Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning, Muturity’s Victories. Bruni, is an ex NY Times food writer and an avowed gay man. He is one of my fave columnists up there with Maureen Dowd, in my estimation.
Bruni finishes this lovely piece on the merits of aging athletes with this:
He’ll step onto the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., not as just one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football. He’ll step onto the field, with his thinning hair and awkward gait, as a poster boy for the march of time.
Of late after my three week trip in September 2013 to my native Buenos Aires and feeling alienated in a place I could almost not recognize, a place full of ghosts from my past and then feeling the same out-of-placeness in Vancouver, I came to the conclusion I don’t belong anywhere. My mentor Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C, died this year in Austin. I don’t have a desire to go back to the city of my 50s youth. My mentor Raúl Guerrero Montemayor died early 2013 after I visited him at his bed in Mexico City in 2012. With no friends or relatives in Mexico City the city is just a geographical location in my head.
And yet Bruni’s piece has made me change my mind about being the only male of the species who will not watch the Super Bowl today.
His warm essay made me think of yours truly sitting in the stands of the stadium at the University of Texas in 1961 and watching running-back James Saxton outrun his competition as one of the most successful “rabbits” in the football of his era. I remember that huge bass drum (carried on wheels) and the giant Longhorn mascot of the University of Texas Longhorns. I remember languidly looking to my sides at the beautiful bobby-socked UT girls, much more attractive than those of St. Mary’s Academy that frequented the sock hops at my school, St. Ed’s High School, up on the hill of South Congress Avenue in Austin.
I remember eating steaks (rarely as I had little money) in a café across the street from the school while listening to Bill Black’s Combo on the jukebox.
I remember going to 6thStreet, careful not to be rolled by marauding pachucos (or spics) to get my haircut at the Barber College. I remember having cherry vanilla floats at the Austin Hotel Drug Store before going next door to see Raintree County at the Varsity. But not before buying a little jar of Top Brass green stuff to keep my flat top neat. I remember, too pushing specially treated saw dust on Brother Hubert’s pristine varnished floor before a basketball game. I was in charge in policing people who just might step into the floor with their shoes. I have vague memories of exciting games that have become blurred with time but I can still see in my mind Judi Reyes’s legs and more as she jumped up for a Tiger’s cheerleading chant. Right after we (I was in the school band, I played the alto sax) had finished with that tune, Indiana.
Those memories do not quite clash but sort of blend in with being 17 and going to Torta’s Armando on Avenida Insurgentes Sur, in the same building as the Art Deco Cine Insurgentes and ordering a torta de pierna with lots of guacamole and with a large chipotle for spice. I remember going with my cousin Robby to a game of the Mexican League’s Diablos Rojos play against the Tigres in a stadium that was not far from a cemetery. You could see the crosses from our seats. On other weekends I might put on a coat and tie and try to sneak in (they allowed me in most times) to watch jai alai at the Frontón México at the Plaza de la Revolución. I loved watching my fave player Chicuri who was deemed a fenómeno. I also frequented the bullfights. I did not have enough money to buy tickets for sombra (shade) so I sat on the sunny side to watch. I remember with delight watching the great rejoneador Álvaro Domecq fight bulls on his beautiful white (and prancing) horse. I had no compunctions on the rights of the bull.
Those memories of Mexico (and baseball with the Águila de Veracruz in the humid stadium of Veracruz) seem to be far away from watching Boca Juniors play Club Atlético River Plate at the Estadio Monumental while tanks rumbled outside on their way to yet another coup d’état. On a different occasion River played Santos of Brazil. Santos was all dressed in brilliant white. One of the players, called Pelé, dribbling the ball on his way to the goal area was faced with three defense men. He kicked the ball up and forward with his heel, and ran through the defenders in time to catch the falling ball which he then deftly directed into the goal with his outside heel.
By the early 70s everybody in my block in Arboledas, Estado de México was a Dallas Cowboys fan. I opted for the Oakland Raiders because I loved George Blanda who had replaced the musically-sounding named Daryl Lamonica as quarterback. We would watch the Super Bowls with lots of rum cokes and tacos. My block friends shared my liking for the Oakland A’s as we all agreed that we liked Rollie Fingers’s moustache.
In Vancouver I have watched hockey from the best seat in the house which is in the booth where the CBC Hockey Night in Canada directs (multiple screens in front of him) the action (his multiple cameramen including the stellar Mike Varga). But that is almost equaled in being at my first hockey game, perhaps in the early 80s with my friend Paul Leisz. It was then that I smelled that peculiar smell the hockey arena ice seems to have and heard (not to be heard as well on TV) the noise of the puck being hit or its sliding on the ice. In the 90s sports writer Richard Dal Monte took me to see his brother play in our local lacrosse league.
At about that time I photographed a poet, I did not know at all at the time, throwing up a baseball into the air while sitting on the home plate of Nat Bailey Stadium. Since then George Bowering and I have shown a predilection for the Xalapa Chileros.
So I will be watching today’s Super Bowl, not knowing where I belong but at the very least having some fun in between moments of confusion and angst.
For reasons that I do not understand I have never warmed up to the Vancouver football and soccer clubs, Lions or the Whitecaps.
The Next Big Portrait
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Many years ago I posed the following question to my Mexico City high school class.
What would happen if we were to mount a camera on a tripod in a studio and mark a spot when any of you would stand facing the camera? We would then bring in, one at a time (and without moving the camera in any way) your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, you boyfriend, your girlfriend, your postman, your best friend, the teacher you like, the teacher you don’t like, the sports coach, the principal, etc? Would you then, after shuffling those photographs (all glossy 8x10s) be able to pin down who took which one? Of all those photographs which on would be the real you? Would you say that they all added up to a complete you? Where we to insert them into a special computer (this was 1970), press a button, would the resulting one image be a complete you (almost complete as more within your circle had not photographed you)?
I have always maintained that a portrait is special for one particular reason. The word in English, portrait comes from the French which means a likeness in a drawing or painting (much later a photograph) of a person and especially if it is a head and shoulders likeness. I believe that French word probably came from the Latin. In Spanish that link is direct. Retrato (portrait), retratar (to take, make, paint or draw a portrait) comes from the Latin retractus which means to go back, to take back or as I see it to peel from a person something of their essence. And by essence, in Platonic terms what makes one individual not be another.
It is obvious that one’s essence is a most personal and treasured possession. We rarely lower our guard to show anybody who we really are. In fact we may not be aware of who we really are so we show the world who we think we are. A good artist (portraitist) is perhaps at the very least able to penetrate the smoke and mirrors.
Thus a good portrait is a blend of who we think we are, what we want the world to know we are and what that portraitist may understand (or perhaps not) see in us. A portrait, a good one, is a battleground.
Annie Leibovitz — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward As a bit of evidence I have placed here two portraits of former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm shortly after he resigned in disgrace in 1991. Equity Magazine, a business magazine at the time obtained an exclusive interview with Vander Zalm in which he had stipulated that the article be generally favorable and that the portrait of him be a pleasant one. Shortly after I took the pleasant (colour) photograph I decided to take another in b+w for myself. Which one of these two portraits is the real Vander Zalm?
Before the advent of photography (and specifically portrait photography) in the 1840s, there was a big industry of portrait painters and miniature portrait painters. The latter were not necessarily short painters but they painted small, almost always oval-shaped likenesses who many years before Photoshop liquefied, diffuse glowed, healing brush tools, removed unsightly bags and paunches, etc, idealized would-be partners in a potential regal matrimony contract.
Except for the very rich who could afford these pioneer air-brushers photography killed their business. By the 1860s, if you did not have a business-card-sized carte de visite you were a nobody. It was equivalent to living in the 21stcentury and not having a either a web page (a remnant of the 20thcentury) or selfies to post in facebook (notice that the word has to be written in lowercase).
Photography took over and the portrait photographer became king (an excellent and talented exception being Julia Margaret Cameron).
In Canada the concept of a photographic portrait is moribund if not dead. A happy exception is Ottawa photographer Paul Couvrette who photographs Ottawa politicians, Papal Nuncios and many others working in the political bureaucracy of our capital.
My portraits of people from the past (and my past) are often seen surrounded by black ribbons in funereal memorials. Sometime in a very near future those funereal memorials will either feature selfies or facebook captures of the dead one.
With all that in mind I read with interest, shock, amazement on how photography has changed to the point that this article (I have cut it out from my hard copy NY Times and placed inside one of my best photography books, Photo Historica — Landmarks in Photography- Rare Images From the Collection of The Royal Photographic Society), text by Pam Roberts) that photography as a branch of art at the Museum of Modern Art, and other important museums might just drop the term completely.
At age 71 I do not particularly care in what direction photography ends up or in its languid process/transition. But I did note that the article does skip one important branch of photography and that is the portrait. I believe that the folks at the NY Times and the museums they write about must next tackle the subject The Next Big Portrait
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.