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


Exotic Russian Ladas & Living Edward S. Curtis Photogravures
Wednesday, March 04, 2009

When I visit Alleyne and Barbara Cook’s North Vancouver garden in June I automatically rush to gaze and smell a Damask rose called ‘Ispahan’. It was brought to Europe in the XIII century. Named after the ancient city in Iran this wonderful rose transports me into the exotic times, and places of the stories of Scheherazade. The last thought in my mind as I take in the wonderful fragrance of this pink rose is a huge building with thousands of spinning centrifuges enriching uranium to atomic bomb grade.

In the late 50s and even into the 60s I would often take a look at the bottom plate of my Pentacon F 35mm SLR and read with wonder, embossed on the strip of real black leather, Made In USSR Occupied Zone. It wasn’t too long ago that if I spotted a clunky Russian Lada I would stop and stare and examine its metal as if steel from the USSR were as exotic as the rings of Saturn.

My vision of Mexico in the 50s was of Aztec priests ripping open the chests of beautiful dark Tlaxcalan virgins with an obsidian knife and tearing out the still palpitating hearts that were then offered to that nasty and blood-thirsty war god Huitzilopochtli. I had no vision of white sandy beaches and piña coladas.

Before you could order chili-avocado sushi at a Tacubaya Starbucks in Mexico City, the exotic for me was the remote, the romantic and the unknown. The world for me was a plate of roast beef, mashed potatoes and salad on one plate, but all in their separate sector. I was careful that the gravy would not spread in the direction of the salad. As the world has become more the same in a globalized blend there is little left that is exotic.

In 1999 I was assigned to photograph five female Native Canadian filmmakers. Alas, the one I knew, Dana Claxton was a no show. The four that showed up at my studio (on separate days) were like Ispahan roses. I was an awe of them. I had never been this close to a Native Canadian except for a few snaps of Chief Dan George many years before at a CBC variety show.

When Loretta Todd opened a box that contained a turquoise necklace, its colour made me think that I was on acid (an experience of my imagination since I never touched the stuff).

But it was when Arlene Bowman, a Dine (Navajo) from Phoenix, Arizona came into my studio that I thought I was staring at a living and breathing Edward S. Curtis photogravure. I had to photograph her in profile. I was magically transported back in time.

Now in the year of 2009 I search for the wonder of the exotic. Should I run into a blank, June is around the corner and Rosa ‘Ispahan’ beckons as I think of sipping cool pomegranate juice while being told wondrous stories by a beautiful veiled maiden.

Native Canadian Princesses


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