A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Nina Gouveia - Mano A Mano
Thursday, May 03, 2007

Some 12 years ago I received a phone call from Adrian du Plessis who wanted a favour. He had a friend who had the ambition of being a photographer and he wondered if I could help her. That is how I met Nina Gouveia who ended up being my Tina Modotti.

As a young teenager I had lived with my family on Avenida Tamaulipas in Mexico City, about two blocks from Avenida Yucatán where Edward Weston had taken a nude photograph of Tina Modotti (Tina on the Azotea) on the roof of the house he was renting in 1924. Only now do I understand the wonderful significance as I treasure Edward Weston's Daybooks. Through the years I have read them often and I was jealous of his bohemian existence and of being able to ask the beautiful Modotti to follow him up to the roof for some photographs.

Nina may have learned some photography from me but it all happened because she faced my camera and only rarely did we take photographs together. The first time, when she came to my studio we had a mano a mano with my camera. I would take a picture of her and then she would immediately take a picture of me until we exhausted a 20 exposure roll. Here are two from that series (the one with her upturned hat above). We also photographed her friend Bif a couple of times. In one of the sessions we used Toni Ricci's excellent penthouse in his Marble Arch Hotel (the Paris Hilton of our fair city) as seen, below.

Nina was quite short and darkish. She had been born in British Guiana and I always suspected her parents were gypsies because they moved a lot. Nina always looked ten years younger than she really was. I always made fun of her taste for big boots which always made her look even shorter.

Because she was a yoga instructor she had tremendous flexibility and strength for posing and for keeping her poses.

Luckily I did realize from early on that she was a photographic treasure and I photographed her often but not as often as I would have wanted until she and her family picked up sticks and moved to Spain.

My friend, Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sanchez loved to work with Nina and we did several joint projects that we called "colaboraciones". He said that Nina was very "plástica" by which he meant her flexibility and tone. Nina not only posed in silence but she also had her own ideas.

In one she wanted me to photograph her with a strippers's tassle. We also had great fun transforming her old apartment on Maine Street into a temporary 1940s Mexican house of ill repute just for an afternoon and just for my camera.


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