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


Friday, October 09, 2009

It is scary to go to an opening by a photographer who shoots b+w film and happens to just be one year older than I am.

There are other resemblances but there is one difference that makes Jürgen Vogt unique. This is his penchant and talent for calmness and patience. Calmness and patience are absolutely necessary if you are going to take portraits of venerable Canadian painters, musicians, authors, poets and prima ballerinas with a 4x5 inch view camera. Vogt eschews flash and works with available light. His average exposures are ¼ second at f-8. He shoots sparingly and might have only taken four sheets (4x5 cameras are one shot cameras and you have to load them again after each exposure) of someone like Timothy Findley, Pierre Berton or, my favourite one of them all, a portrait of singer Ian Tyson.

When Vogt traveled to Cuba (there is a fine display of Cuban photographers who photographed Guevara and Castro) he might have felt generous and taken 12 pictures instead of four.

His portraits, at the Eastwood Onley Gallery, 2075 Alberta Street, are digital prints from beautifully scanned large-format negatives. Vogt’s subjects are treated with a respect and elegance rare in this day and age.

I personally think that what he does in the age of Flickr is headed towards rapid obsolescence (redundancy in that quaint British term) and yet he maintains an easy smile on his face and there is no trace of that bitterness and anger present in so many photographers of our generation.

The most striking portrait in the room (after my fave of Ian Tyson) is of the former Cuban prima ballerina and director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Alicia Alonso (her full name Alicia Ernestina de la Caridad del Cobre Martínez Hoya). Not too well known is that this dancer had an acute eye problem and for the many years that she danced she was virtually blind.

There is something Helmut Newtonish about the image, a sensuality, that makes me think that Vogt captured something of what Alonso must have been as a dancer when she was one of the best Giselles in the world.

Best of all for me was to find out that Vogt is already planning his next project.

The Portrait Project is on until October 16 and is open noon to 6pm daily.


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