The Cecil Hotel, One Yugoslavian & 9 English BobbiesMonday, April 23, 2007
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth - I Wondered Lonely As a Cloud
The Cecil Hotel on Granville and Drake was an important location for my career as a magazine photographer in Vancouver. It was the spot of choice for long lunches for Vancouver Magazine editor Mac Parry who prononuced Cecil as sessle. It was here where Parry told me to go home and photograph my cat and make sure his whiskers were sharp. That issue of the magazine (March 82) featured an article on strippers by Les Wiseman. Wiseman and I, who at the time spent much too much time in strip parlours (he drinking beer and me dry pear cider), conned Parry into accepting an article on strippers by stressing its business angle. While we had photographs of our favourite dancers I also photographed the owners of the strip pubs. One of them was the melancholic Yugoslavian Sam Sorich who owned the Cecil Hotel. Of all the Vancouver bar owners Sorich was the one I liked best. He seemed to be honest and the dancers respected him.
A few years after the Vancouver Magazine article Sorich approached me with an idea. At the time the pub was decorated with a very large painted mural of 9 English Bobbies. I had not made the connection and perhaps the connection was only coincidental. Bobbies were also called Peelers after Sir Robert Peel who organized London's Metropolitan Police. Sorich wanted me to make a facsimile of the mural with 9 dancers dressed in Peeler uniforms. Unbelievable but true, Watt's Costumes had 9 complete unforms.
This task was a difficult one. The most trying part was getting 9 women who worked long evening shift to show up at the same place and at the same time. I chose as a shooting location a warehouse on Railway Street that had a painted white brick wall like the Cecil mural. My assistant wondered why I had set up a changing area with some large sheets that gave the dancers privacy. "They are strippers, aren't they?" Even I understood that every profession has its rules and code of ethics and that as human beings we all need privacy in context with the situation. The dancers were not working, they were posing for my camera.
And my camera was a rented Linhof 4x5 inch. Years before I had made up my mind that I never wanted to see the world upside down (as is the case with 4x5 bellows cameras) and that I would never use one. This occasion marked the first and last time I ever used one. I had to use it because the print that was put in the Cecil Hotel (I believe it still is there by the pool table) was huge.
I have kept track of some of my mural subjects and when we reminisce we always remember that onions were being stored in the warehouse and some were rotting. Except for that terrible smell we had fun and the world seemed to be less complicated.
Could that sadness in Sam Sorich's face reflect that he knew it was the end of an era? The Cecil is much too loud now and the dancers are mechanical. Subtlety is long gone.