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


Saturday, February 21, 2009

All my blogs on the Why Do I Blog? theme have featured a photograph of my granddaughter Rebecca who is now 11. This time around I have also placed a picture of her sister Lauren who is 6.

I posted my first blog, with no picture on January 20, 2006. On February 24, 2007 I wrote a blog that I projected while speaking at Northern Voice 2007, a blogging conference held at UBC. On February 23, 2008 I also spoke at Northern Voice 2008 and again projected a blog that day.

This year I will not be attending Northern Voice 2009. The conference sold out much too early and I was left out. The pleasure of chatting with like-minded souls will not come my way. I have decided to take advantage of the opportunity that this loss provides me to reflect on that initial question that I made and tried to answer back on February 24, 2007 - Why do I blog?

On that date the hot topic was Twitter. It took a couple of years for Twitter to make the mainstream. Last year cloud computing was the item of discussion in all corners of UBC's Forestry Sciences Centre where Northern Voice is held every year. In many respects this amateur blogger who does not understand the difference between Apache and Java, or what they are, knew that I was getting inside information before the hoi polloi (οἱ πολλοί) did.

But as I feel saddened by not seeing my friends this coming weekend I realize why I blog more than ever. The reasons I had before are still in effect. I want to write about my family and my granddaughters. While Rebecca (note her picture here) still looms large I have found a delightful interest in her sister Lauren. Lauren looks at me straight in the eye. I love her for it.

This blog is a safety valve for the frustrations I feel as a soon-to-be former magazine photographer and writer. I took pictures for magazines for many years and and when the market began to downturn I discovered that writing and taking pictures extended my worth just a bit more. I was paid less for the photographs and less for the writing. Adding both cheques made my earnings a bit more substantial. But that is rapidly ending when you consider that culture and the arts are now buried in our Vancouver Sun in the food section. The Vancouver Sun discourages freelance work, too. It was not too long ago that the travel editor for the Sun, after running a story I wrote about traveling with Rebecca to Argentina (the editor ran it front page with lots of pictures) told me that she didn't want to hear from me again as she had her little stable of writers.

Before I started this blog, my frustration in not being able to take pictures or to write was pushing me into a dangerous zone of bitterness. Bitterness and self-employment can be a devastating cocktail. The blog dissipated it, steam was released and I now feel much better for it. It is not important that I keep a count (I don't) on who reads or if anybody (as long as some of my family and friends do that's all that matters) reads this blog. Not having a comments section certainly diminishes the blog's chance for more popularity. But I have seen how comments have corroded away initial optimism of such good BC-based online news magazines like The Tyee. I would not want these ranters to contribute to my blog.

The blog gives me the opportunity to post pictures (I take many of them exclusively thinking of the blog) that magazines would not want to run with copy that might be too personal for mainstream magazines. In short I write about anything I want to write about and place pictures to accompany copy. It fulfills my desire to tell a story which I believe has to be a trait that is hard-wired in all of us.

In my 35 years in Vancouver I have amassed a huge archive. My eldest daughter Ale began for me some years ago the necessary and useful task of putting some order into it. I am not sure that my archive has any value except to my own self-worth but one has to soldier on in the same way that a friend of mine soldiers one with a novel knowing that finding a publisher in today's climate will be very tough. One has to make the motions if one is to get up from bed every day. This blog has helped me put an order into that archive. Sometimes I look through my files randomly for a blog idea. Sometimes I conjure it in bed in the middle of the night and rush down to look for the picture in my files. Right now Rosemary and I are putting our family pictures into files by year and in some cases in themes such as Christmas or self-portrait.

While the writing jobs are all but gone I find that I can write much more quickly today than I did three years ago. It was writer James Ellroy who told me, "Sometimes I open my manuscript in the morning and change a comma. And that's all I do for that day. But that is writing. And you have to write every day if you want to be a writer. Changing that comma is writing." He was right.

Most important, I blog because I value content. I value long, well written articles by professional journalists who work for hard copy dailies like the NY Times, the online Guardian and the Argentine La Nación. It is hard for me to find this content in Vancouver. The comments section of the Globe & Mail is as scary as any other. The fact that anybody can give an opinion does not necessarily make that opinion a good one.

Imagine a book conference that featured all you ever wanted to know about the making of paper for the books. A conference that would tell you about pagination and the cutting of pages and the stretching of cloth for cloth-bound books. If you were interested in the physical properties of books you might find the conference to your liking. If you were looking for lectures on the actual content of those books you might be a bit on the disappointed side. Similarly my only complaint for the yearly Northern Voice Blogging Conference is that there is too much emphasis on the mechanics of blogging and the computer language that supports the structure of a blog. The conference is a bit short on blog content. Next year I will make sure to sign up early so as to not be disappointed. I also hope that this year and next year they bring back a bit more as to why we blog and what we blog about.

I first heard of the concept of citizen journalism when Paul Sullivan (I worked for him when he edited West Magazine) talked about a site he had started Orato.com. The site coincided with the opening of Robert Pickton's trial and Sullivan hired former prostitutes and working prostitutes to cover it. I thought the experiment was interesting because I thought I respected the meaning of that serious sounding word citizen. The word being used these days does not sound so nice. Citizen journalism is now touted as amateur journalism.

I am not suggesting that my blog has content. I am suggesting that my blog is not a rehash of, "I read the other day that the city is going to enlarge left-turn lanes. And that is one terrible idea..." Just go to any Vancouver blog aggregator to see such mindless amateur journalist regurgitation of our daily news. You can look into food blogs that are ample example of why food photography is a difficult art. Digital photographs of stews or beans are always going to look like a digested and extruded dog's breakfast. While my deprecation on the value of amateur journalism could be contested few would argue that amateur food photography has a long way to go before it becomes an attractive medium.

At best magazines have always been a symbiotic relationship between copy and pictures, be they photographs or illustrations. At one time when I was assigned to take pictures for a magazine the editor would send me the copy to read. This would help me in being able to secure a photograph that would go hand in hand with what was written. Now I rarely get sent copy. More often than not I photograph people before they have been interviewed. And that interview can many time be on the phone and now, with increasing frquency, online. While I cannot vouch for the quality of what I write I can vouch that some of my photographs do have value and particularly now in an age when cameras have built-in telephones.

"We read not only because we cannot know enough people, but because friendship is so vulnerable, so likely to diminish or disappear, overcome by space,time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life."

I have inserted that quote from Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why many times in these blogs. When I first read it, it hit home. There are a few former friends of mine with whom I have consciously broken off after many years of knowing each other. In some cases circumstances of work produced this distancing. I wrote about that here

But read Bloom's sad apology for fading friendship while replacing read with blog. It makes as much sense. As my circle of friends fades, disappears, dies off, etc I could always resort to social networks. I could make new friends with Facebook or participate in forums (These degenerate into insults very quickly!) in photography web sites. I could tell people (and all those who would "follow" me with bated breath) what I am doing right now with Twitter. But I will not. I cannot abide with the idea of making friends with people I have never met and then exchange pleasantries with them on the net.

These social networks, with their false sense of intimacy, remind me of the glory holes of the pre AIDS era. Glory holes first became popular in San Francisco. Gay men would go to these establishments and enter compartments that sported a smallish hole on the wall. The man would insert his male member and someone on the other end would indulge him with intimacies of a paradoxically anonymous kind. In the mid 50s women would call us on the public phones that we had on each floor of our Catholic boarding school, St. Ed's in Austin Texas. They knew we were all boys, locked up for a week and probably also knew that the only woman on campus was an older cook. They would sweet talk us for hours. We would try to get an address, a return phone number and perhaps a date. But it was to no avail. They would hang up with the promise that they would call again. How were we to know that we were experiencing (without the use of a credit card, and at the time the only one was Diners Club) that yet-to-be-developed phenomenon that is phone sex?

As I read my New York Times (the one made from forests) in bed in the morning, every morning, not having to see if anybody has left me any texting messages in my cell phone (It can but I don't let it.), I understand that I am a living anachronism with a memory for Plymouth Furies, Studebaker Golden Hawks and Packard Clippers. I know that the hottest Bond woman was Ursula Andress (photograph by Bunny Yeager), ample proof as to why the Swiss invented perpetual wrist movements for their chronometers. I know that I am an anachronism when I am wowed by the body of Esther Williams in Million Dollar Mermaid . Whom could I possibly call besides that other living (and much younger) anochronism friend of mine, John Lekich, who knows you never wear a button-down shirt with a bow tie? Who else can I tell that all my life I hated Esther Williams films with all that stupid (but now wonderful) synchronized swimming and that silly and perpetual smile of hers and that late in life (this past Tuesday) I have suddenly discovered she had a body to kill for?

As my world shrinks, blog I must.


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Hitherto Unknown To Texans

The Snowdrop

Komochi Konbu & Native Royalty

Method Acting Meets Dracula

Blue Angels & The Amateur

The Skyhawk & HMSS Coventry

Erik Satie, Jamie Reid, No Performance Today & A ...

A Texan Lazarus & 10 Cases Of Toilet Paper

One Philanthropist Of The Arts

Gran Desierto de Altar

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