Aja’s Back & the Memory of Hot Summer Sand

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Since the man with the orange hair was elected south of the 49thparallel, my Rosemary and I have not had a normal life. The first thing I do very early in the morning (sometimes 5:30) I check on CNN in my Samsung to see what has transpired since the evening before. More and more I don’t wait for my NY Times to crash on the front door at 6:30 in the morning. I use the phone around 10 the previous evening to read the editorials.

The only relief from the madness happened in September when we were in Buenos Aires for two weeks. With spotty WiFi we simply did not want to know what was going on in the Northern Hemisphere.

When Rosemary and I with our two daughters arrived in Vancouver in 1975 I did not get work as a photographer immediately. I did not even understand at the time that there was such a profession as that of a magazine photographer. And so I worked first washing cars at Tilden-Rent-A-Car and then as a counter clerk. On some of my days off, in the sunny days of summer I became an avid enthusiast of Wreck Beach, Vancouver’s clothing optional beach.

I was not to know at the time that the photography of undraped women and men would in many ways help me to overcome my shyness and give me an edge in magazine and even in annual reports. The edge came from my continuous pressing of my camera shutters and the experimentation with different films (Kodak Special Order 410 and 115 and Kodak Black & White Infrared film, three examples).

With my two young daughters, not at Wreck, I shot slide film and had it processed as colour negative film with startling results. Without knowing I was developing what now would be known as a cutting edge style and approach.

At the same time as our Vancouver fall inexorably shifts to the cold and rain of winter I have been looking at the pictures I took so many years ago (1978 perhaps?) of Aja. I remembered her recently when I found some of her pictures and wrote this blog.

It seems and I don’t know quite the connection but in my pictures of her at Wreck Beach my files mark her as a friend of Richard Bond. Bond was a handsome but very thin hairdresser with a healthy/natural eating habit but who smoked a very expensive brand of American cigarettes called Sherman’s. For a while he cut both Rosemary and my hair until his hours of operation being in the late evenings finally made us look elsewhere. The bathtub shots of Aja I do remember in that I took them in the bathroom of my writer friend Mark Budgen (who never did go to Wreck Beach). It would thus seem that in our small city Aja happened to know both men for different reasons.

Aja & Statically Moving Towards Death

In what may be either a concerted effort on my part to avoid very intimate parts of a woman or simply the idea of telling myself, “I am going to concentrate on Aja’s lovely back and just do that,” That’s what my three rolls of b+w film represent.

One of the rolls was Kodak Black and White Infrared Film and the other two Kodak Special Order 410. This second film was targeted by Kodak to be used scientifically to photograph solar flares. But as soon as photographers understood that the film had an extra sensitivity to red they (and yours truly) immediately realized its capability for portraiture and figure photography. Its sensitivity to red made it render anything red in a lighter shade. This made skin luminous (much like the similarly red sensitive but coarser grained infrared film) and skin imperfections simply disappeared. The paradox though was that the film was extremely sharp so some skin imperfections like stretch marks would be in evidence.

Working with this film helped me learn what was later to be my guide in editorial photography which was to make people as good as they looked and when possible better. In an era before Photoshop (and airbrush artists were expensive and hard to find) taking photographs that did not need too much fixing was a plus for any photographer trying to get paying work.

As I look at these pictures of Aja I remember how angry Rosemary would be with the fact that I was, “Wasting my day on the beach,” when I could be doing something more productive like looking for work.

The job at Tilden was the short of shift work that meant that if my days off one week were on Monday and Tuesday, the next would be Wednesday and Thursday. This gave me few weekends with my family. We tried to keep a pattern of having breakfast and dinner at the table with the whole family.

Eventually my magazine and annual report work kept me very busy and slowly my trips to Wreck Beach diminished. At some point the idea of spending all day attempting to get a suntan became something that was irrational and stupid. I do remember that in those days Kodak marketed Ektachrome film that came with a built-in sun tan for portraiture. In those days a tan was a healthy look.

Now when I shoot undraped creatures of the opposite sex I glory at skin that never sees much of the sun.

But it is difficult not to look at these pictures of Aja and not imagine the feel of the hot sand under my feet and the casual approach of instructing her to move a tad to the left or the right. And in a world before digital the idea of driving home and wondering what the latent images on my exposed film would be like.

Yes, it is drizzling outside. But the warmth of my oficina heater and the look of these pictures almost take away the arthritis pains of this old man.

Link to: Aja’s Back & the Memory of Hot Summer Sand


Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.