Thursday, 23 January 2020

On Drawing Death and Dying: Part Three by Dave Jaffe.

   On Drawing Death and Dying Part Three.

           The invention of the camera in nineteenth century Europe enabled many people to take pictures of the dead. Roger Fenton may have been the first war photographer. He was British and went to photograph the British soldiers in battle against Russian troops in the Crimean war that erupted in the middle of the 19th century.
     Then came technical innovations that made it even easier to record the dead and the dying. "Lightweight cameras came along using 35 mmm. film that could be exposed 36 times before the camera needed to be reloaded," writes Susan Sontag. "Pictures could now be taken in the thick of battles, and exhausted begrimed soldiers could be studied up close."
      Along came the Spanish Civil War in 1936. This was the first war in which war photography came of age. A war photograph by Robert Capa of a Spanish Republican soldier falling and dying on a hillside became famous. The photo took up a whole full page in a 1937 issue of 'Life' magazine. Capa became famous and lived a charmed life,  until he stepped on a land mine in the French Vietnamese War in the early 1950's and died.
    If the Spanish Civil War was the first photographer's war, the U.S. war in Vietnam became the first t.v. war. On the t.v. screen in black and white from about 1963 to 1973, pictures of dead and dying U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese were flashed around the world.  Yet photographs too played a part in shaping public opinion. In fact, in the 1950's, 60's and 70's photographed images of the dead and the dying were everywhere. "These memorable sites of suffering," writes Susan Sontag, "documented by admired photographers were mostly taken in Asia and Africa."
    Art critics like John Berger and Peter Fuller disagreed over whether photos of war swayed public opinion. Berger argued that photos of war casualties had no impact on people's views on war. Fuller didn't agree. He believed that photos of suffering people did turn people against war. Controversies also raged over whether showing pictures of the dead, the dying and even the very old was good. In the 1980's my sister objected to my drawings of my ageing father. "They make him look terrible,"
   she said. "Draw something nice."
     Susan Sontag wrote one of the most important books on photography rightly called 'On Photography'. Yet as she lay dying, her sometime partner, famed photographer Annie Liebovitz took many pictures of Sontag.. Some people objected to this. In the 1970's prominent fashion photographer Richard Avedon photographed his father who was dying of cancer. Here too, some people thought that Avedon was wrong to do this.
     I don't take a stand on this issue . I'm just one of hundreds of thousands of obscure artists who copy other people's styles and my work will never be noticed. In any case, my attempts to draw dying people failed. At this point in what's left of my life I'll stick to drawing people and trees. It's so much easier.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

On drawing Death and Dying: Part Two; By Dave Jaffe

       On Drawing death And Dying: Part Two.

    My first and last try to draw someone dead or dying didn't work out. I took photos from the U.S. Civil War and made them bigger. I thought these photos of dead Union and Confederate soldiers were taken by Mathew Brady.  Yet I was wrong.
    "The Brady war pictures," writes Susan Sontag, "were mostly taken by Alexander Gardner and Timothy O'Sullivan." The pair were working for Brady, Sontag points out.
     In any case I drew two dead men lying on the ground. The men lie in the foreground of my drawing. On the right side of the picture I drew an older woman leaning over one of the dead soldiers. Her arms are outstretched to him showing sympathy.
   I often copy people's photos and change them. "All you want to do is copy," one artist told me years ago. She was right. Yet I still think imitating some other people 's work is the fastest way to learn and do a good drawing. In  any case, the finished picture bothered me. It clearly didn't fit in in my
sketch book that's filled with drawings of trees and o landscapes. Then, too, I don't want to draw pictures of the dead and the dying. Death's presence now looms too close to me. I want to forget it if I can.
    There's another reason to not draw the dead and the dying. For pictures of this sort don't seem to make it into fine art exhibitions these days. They did in the past. Think of the crucifixion of Jesus. This was a very popular subject for visual artists two to three hundred years ago. So were other scenes of the dead and the dying. Yet then along came the Impressionist painters in the last third of the 19th century. "Everybody is prepared to admit that a painting of a fruit can be as important as a painting of a hero dying," writes John Berger. "The Impressionists did as much as anyone to win this previously unheard freedom for the artist."
    Only one famous artist did pictures of the dead and that was Andy Warhol. Yet even Warhol didn't exactly paint pictures of dead people. He silkscreened other people's photos of car crashes, electric chairs and other roads to death. Then he or his assistants just churned out copy after copy of the dead and the dying.
     Now people still paint pictures of death. You can find their work on the Internet. Just Google 'Pictures of the dead'. I did and came up with many works of art. Still, as said, most people who paint and draw don't paint pictures of dying people or those who are dead. So who does? Well, one group of people do give us such pictures and they're war photographers. ' "The camera is the eye of history," Mathew Brady is supposed to have said. This may be true or not.  For now in an age of Photoshop, photos and history can be changed at will.  Yet the invention of the camera in the 19th century did bring many unpleasant things closer to us all. And one of those unpleasant things was people death.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Why I Didn't Draw Death and Dying by Dave Jaffe: Part One

   Why I Didn't Draw Death and Dying by Dave Jaffe: Part One.

          A few days ago my sister phoned me from the United States. "I'm getting a tumour taken out of my breast," she said. Now my sister assured me that the tumour wasn't dangerous. And her husband has e-mailed me that the operation was a success.
     Yet me sister's phone call got me thinking about death and dying. For all around me people my age are dying. Some like me are in their late seventies. Others, I note are way younger than I am.  Some are quite older. Still, very year about 50,000 Canadians pass away. No matter how optimistic I am I have to face the fact that my death looms on the horizon.
     "In the long run we'll all be dead," said the British economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes died over 70 years ago. Now many of my favourte artists and writers like John Berger, Susan Sontag, Margaret Laurence, Linda Nochlin, Robert Hughes and Andy Warhol have all died. Soon I believe I'll be gone too.
       Every other day or so, I draw something or other. When my sister phoned me I was drawing pictures of trees using coloured pencils. After my sister's phone call I thought of drawing something different. Why, I thought, don't I draw or paint pictures of the dead or dying. Yet this was easier thought of than done.
    Now one man who's still around - I think - is the Toronto-based artist Michael Snow. I was reading his biography by James King during and after my sister phoned m. Snow is a multitalented artist. He has painted  pictures, sculpted, made films and played jazz on the piano. He in his nineties and was very active I'm told..
   "Many art starts when the artist is moved by other work," Snow told the art critic John Bentley Mays way back in 1984. Doing art, Snow said, "comes from the desire for originality based on the depth of what was important for you."  Snow is an incredibly original artist who's light years ahead of me in artistic ability. I'm just one of thousands of amateur artists who paint or draw as a hobby. Yet I did want to draw or paint as Snow said, what was important to me. My thoughts had become focused on death and dying which in recent years have been etched themselves into my brain.
      How would I do this. I didn't know. Still, I soon turned to the internet and googled for black and white photos on death and dying people. At least 17 pictures popped up and I told myself, "I'm in business." For the next  or three days I tried to draw from these photos. Yet in the end I gave up doing this. The whole process just depressed me no end. Now I'm drawing pictures of bottles using Michael Snow's abstract paintings as a takeoff point.
      Death is still waiting in the wings. I know this. Yet I'm in no rush to hurry it along. I'll stick to drawing bottles for now.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

was George Orwell Wrong: Part Two by Dave Jaffe

  Was George Orwell Wrong: Part Two

         As George Orwell was putting the finishing touches on his novel 'Nineteen Eighty Four', a communist revolution was about to sweep across China. British troops were clashing with mostly Chinese guerrillas in Malaysia. Communist led Vietnamese were fighting with French troops  who wanted to crush the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. Meanwhile in Indonesia, Dutch armies were trying to suppress the Indonesian fight for freedom from Holland.
     So Orwell's dystopian novel wasn't about the future. It was about the present. As Dorian Lynskey wrote in  a very fine article on Orwell in 'The Guardian Weekly' in May 2019, "Orwell felt he lived in cursed times." He was right. Now the world has changed again. The Soviet Union has vanished. China has now embraced a type of capitalism. Yet new tyrants and right wing populists like Donald Trump in the United States, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and president Duterte in the Philippines win elections and wield power.
    In China President Xi Jinping tightens the lid on his country's people. And in Russia, Vladimir Putin has gobbled up Crimea and parts of the eastern Ukraine. These two men are real tyrants. All over parts of the world, Orwell's prophesies once again seem to be coming true.
    "There are alternative facts," said U.S. president's Donald Trump's aide Kelly Anne Conway to justify her boss's lies. What she said is truly Orwellian. So was Orwell right? Is the world doomed to be run by tyrants and/or far right populists? Yet one trend denies Orwell's pessimism. "It is not wrong to rebel," said the brutal Chinese Communist dictator Mao Tse Tung.. A communist very like Orwell's Big Brother, Mao helped kill millions of Chinese. Still Mao's comment is now endorsed by millions of people.
     In '1984' Winston Smith and Julia are arrested and tortured. In Room 101. O'Brien, who is Winston's main torturer tells Winston that any hope of rebellion is futile.Winston says that 'the Proles' or working class will rebel. O'Brien denies this and finally Winston accepts O'Brien's verdict. He betrays Julia and ends his life a broken man, believing that any dissent in thought or action is hopeless.
      Here I believe Orwell was wrong. People do rebel against tyrants.. In 2015 and later black Americans protested against police who shot and killed unarmed African Americans. In France the yellow vest movement sprang up in 2018 to demonstrate against the crushing taxes that French president Emanuelle Macron slapped on poorer French people. And in 2019 protests against injustice have erupted around the world.
     "Iran gave a glimpse into what might have been the biggest anti-government in the 40 year history of the Islamic Republic," said a 'National Post ' story in November 2019. Hundreds of thousands of people in Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Chile and many other places have taken to the streets to protest unjust rule. Hong Kong, Iraq, Algeria and Iran are basically tyrannies. Yet in these places protesters have frightened the ruling governments. They and others have given the lie to Orwell's pessimism. Here, Orwell, born Eric Blair was wrong.
     At this time, most  of the governments mentioned above are too entrenched to be overthrown.  Still, people do protest injustice and sometimes rebel. Orwell was wrong here. Yet on most other points he was right. This is why 'Nineteen Eighty Four' is still a best seller and will be for many years to come.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Was George Orwell Wrong? Part One by Dave Jaffe

Was George Orwell Wrong? by Dave Jaffe. Part One.

    In 1948 George Orwell was dying. The tall cigarette smoking author's body was racked by tuberculosis. Still, he continued  to work in the bitter cold of Scotland on his soon to be famous novel called 'Nineteen Eighty Four'.
     When it was published a year later Orwell was dead. Yet to-day 70 years after it came out, Orwell's novel  has once again climbed into the best seller's list. Its terms like Big Brother doublethink, Room 101, telescreen ,unperson, and memory hole live on long after Orwell's death. And the term 'Orwellian' has been used many times to describe total lies put out by brutal dictatorships and sometimes popular democracies.
     Quite a few people dished Orwell's book after it came out and for many years after that. The Marxist author Isaac Deutscher thought Orwell was a complete paranoid. The literary critic Walter Allen saw the book as a pessimistic novel written by an unhappy dying man. Raymond Williams who helped set up modern cultural studies dismissed the book.
      Others later on like Allan Bloom and the Czech novelist Milan Kundera thought 1984 was a poor novel. Anarchists like Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian preferred Orwell's memoir of his time in the Spanish Civil War called 'Homage To Catalonia'  to 'Nineteen Eighty Four'.
   "For every one artist there'll be ten critics" a visual artist said in the Vancouver art studio of 'Basic Inquiry' in the 1980's.  Critics continue to put down '1984' and yet it's still popular For Orwell's novel wasn't just about the future. It was close to the truth about the present he was living in.
     As he typed away, the world was dividing into two great power blocs, namely the United States on one hand and the Soviet Union on the other. They had been allies in the fight against German Nazism, Italian fascism and Japanese militarism. Yet now they were poised against each other. Both had combined to crush Hitler's German Nazi machine and now Germany lay in ruins though only after Hitler had killed close to 40 million people. Japan too was devastated and was defeated though it too had killed millions of people throughout East Asia.
     In The Soviet Union, dictator Josef Stalin was planning another  wave of murderous purges in the Soviet Union and thoughout his Eastern European satellites. Meanwhile in the United States, the federal government was setting up the Central Intelligence Agency and other secret organizations that would help overthrow dozens of governments around the world in the next fifty years.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Two Peiople Who Got the 2019 Election Right by Dave Jaffer: Part One

  Two People Who Got the Election Right : Part One

          Two people, a capitalist and a communist did tell  the truth about the just recently finished 2019 federal election.
   The capitalist or businessman if you prefer, Kevin O' Leary told the truth after all the ballots were counted. O'Leary who has been a star of a t.v. show and a very successful entrepreneur made the comment that if Conservative leader Andrew Scheer had gone to the various Pride parades around the country, he'd now be the new Prime Minister of Canada. I think O'Leary was right but I'm glad that Scheer didn't attend the various Pride Parades. Had he done so I'm sure he would have won the election.
      Of course the Conservatives did win 22 more seats than they'd won in the 2015 election. They also won more votes than the Liberals. Yet that didn't translate into more seats than the Liberals. So Justin Trudeau squeaked back into power and now heads up a minority government.
      I still think that Mr. Scheer would have had to explain a little more his stands on abortion and same sex marriage that he personally was against. Yet there's no doubt that his non appearance at Pride Parades cost him a lot of votes - which was good. And this brings me to the communist side of the story.
      Liz Rowley heads up the miniscule Communist Party of Canada. I've never voted for the communists and don't plan to do so in the future. Yet Ms. Rowley held a meeting in Vancouver long before the election of 2019 was underway. A friend of mine went to the meeting and came away terrified at the prospect of a Conservative victory.
     "She said that if Scheer won he'd take Canada back to 1945," he said. "The Conservatives would make savage cuts to every social program they could." Now I tend to feel that communists can be very alarmist. Yet this time I think M. Rowley was right.
     Long before the election started in earnest I wrote Mr. Sheer a letter. "Are you planning to scrap the universality of the Old Age Security Payment?" I asked Mr. Scheer. I also asked him if the would make cuts to the Guaranteed Income Supplement and also raise the age if retirement from 65 to 67.  I waited a few weeks and received no reply to my letter. Then I sent Mr. Scheer another letter with the same questions. Again no reply came my way. I then sent another letter to the Conservative leader on this issue and once again he sent me nothing back.
    While I waited for a reply to my letters on payments to seniors I did receive a letter from Mr. Scheer  which replied to my concerns about the Conservative policies on the environment. All this lack of answers about cuts to payments to seniors confirmed my belief that the Conservatives were planning big cuts to social programs. Yet thankfully the Conservatives didn't win the election.
    Right now the Liberals aren't planning any big cuts in social programs. This doesn't mean they won't make any in the future. After all, the Chretien Liberal government tore big holes in Canada's social programs in the 1990's. So who knows what Prime Minster Justin Trudeau will do in the future? Yet right now most of the federal programs won't be cut.
     In any case Mr. O'Leary and Ms. Rowley were right.  Two people at opposite ends of the political spectrum told the truth.  In the end,Andrew Scheer lost the 2019 federal election and I'm so glad he did.

Friday, 22 November 2019

No Space In A Hosing Co-op by Dave Jaffe: Part One

No Space In A Housing Co-op: Part One.

      Meetings can drive me up a wall. I hate sitting in them and that's one of the reasons I left political parties. Yet there's one meeting I do enjoy going to and that's the orientation meetings at my co-op. Here, often a dozen or so people show up who want to join and live in our co-op. Yet there's a problem  we face as a co-op. We usually have to turn away nearly all the people who show up because we only have one spare apartment in our 42 unit co-op building. 
     At the orientation meeting I and about seven or so others interview our prospective co-op members. But in the end, after the interviews and maybe another hour of discussion after the prospective applicants have left, we have to e-mail most of the people who showed up. The text message usually says "Sorry but you have been refused. We will keep your application on our waiting list for the next year."
     At our last orientation meeting which stretched out over four hours our choices boiled down to two people: a young indigenous male and a an older retired woman. Both candidates were excellent choices to move into our co-op. In the end we chose the senior. Yet all of us felt the indigenous applicant was a good choice too. And there were at least four or five other applicants who could have also fitted into our place .
    So who is to blame for this often agonizing situation I and others find ourselves in? I blame the federal government in Ottawa that hasn't developed social housing in decades. Look at the stats. In 2011 which is the last year I could get reliable figures on, there were about 14 million residences or apartments and houses in Canada. Less than 600,000 or about 4 to 5 per cent of that total were social housing units. This is a very small figure compared to other countries like Singapore or Germany.
   "Nobody's building any social housing these days," one housing activist told me a few years ago.
This was true. The N.D.P. government of John Horgan's in British Columbia has launched a program to build social housing. Yet this is the only government across Canada that's doing this on any scale. Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has pledged to house  the homeless and build social housing and we'll see if the Liberals live up to their campaign promises.
     In the just recent 2019 federal election N.D.P. leader Jagmeet Singh vowed that if he were elected Prime Minister of Canada, his government would build 500,000 units of social housing. Yet Singh's New Democratic Party finished in fourth place and at this time has no chance of forming a federal government.
      After the last three orientation meetings I've ben to, I write letters to the Prime Minister of Canada and urge him to build more social housing. So far my letters haven't had much of an impact. Still, I'm forever hopeful. Anyway who knows? Maybe one day Canadians will elect a government that will build hundreds of thousands of units of social housing. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for that blessed day.