Lisa Milroy — My Personal Gioconda

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

My guess is that many of my blogs in the last year all start with the fact that I am an old man. I am now 77.

A word I have never used in any of my 4865 blogs (does not include this one) is recapitulation.

This involves looking back. In our little Kits duplex with my separate oficina and studio this means I will sit at my desk and think. Because I happen to be a photographer (alas like the shoelaces of my black leather brogues not in much use) I sit and think. Because I am still not an active but a latent heterosexual this results in thinking about a woman.

Many years ago my grandmother (an artist and coloratura soprano) attended the opening of a young Filipino painter in Mexico City. On a wall he had a very large painting of a Mexican huarache. My grandmother faced the painter and asked, “Why would you paint something so ugly?” The artist immediately answered, “Ah but the beauty of ugliness.”

While I might concur with the man in this world that if you really look there is so much ugliness but, again if you look there is so much beauty.

I choose to look in that direction, that beautiful direction.

It was in 1982 when I met Lisa Milroy. I wrote about her here. Today I read an essay in the NY Times where they suggest that Leonardo’s Mona Lisa should be retired. I happened to have seen it with my wife and two daughters back in the early 80s before the smart phone unleashed throngs of people who wanted to take selfies to prove they had been there. What is the connection between Leonardo’s painting and Lisa Milroy? She is my Gioconda, my personal Gheradini.

As I thought of that I reflected on all the beautiful women I have photographed in my life. I thank the God or the gods that I was never a plumber. I cannot imagine going up to a lovely apparition of a woman and telling her, “I am a plumber and I would like to show you some of my work. You should see my kitchen sink.”

As a photographer (and I am not shy) I have been able to photograph women not in kitchens sinks but certainly in bathtubs.

In 1982 when I photographed Lisa Milroy my personal style was crude and not yet established. In her file I found three contacts sheets. In two I shot two complete rolls. That’s 72 photographs. On a third roll of Kodak b+w Infrared Film I shot a whole roll of 20.

After careful inspection of all those photographs I found one closed eye one. The rest are all so beautiful that I was hard-pressed to select the ones you see here.

I had a British friend, Mark Budgen, who died a few years ago with whom I would converse. We once discuss the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dogson (Lewis Carroll) who in today’s Me Too atmosphere would have been locked in jail. We came to the conclusion (and considering when Carroll took out Alice Liddell on a boat they were always accompanied by a sister or cousin of hers) that Dogson’s simply found young girls beautiful and he genuinely wanted to tell them stories.

When I first saw Lisa Milroy it was a feeling of facing ultimate beauty that rendered me breathless (but certainly not speechless). No, I don’t want to photograph huaraches. And I never did. I want to photograph beauty. Beauty transcends conflict and worry. Beauty pushes us towards believing that nature, A Spinoza nature, is responsible for that unique inspiration, beauty, to our souls.

Lisa Milroy lives in London. My Wikipedia says she is married and has two children. Her web page is this one. Info on her is that she specializes in landscapes. If she were to someday decide on portraits I would think all she would need would be to look at herself in a mirror.

Why have I tinted these photographs blue? My reaction to Lisa Milroy’s beauty when I first saw it was that of a pure beauty. Having been raised a Roman Catholic I know that the Virgin Mary’s colour is blue.

Link to: Lisa Milroy — My Personal Gioconda



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Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: