Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 4, 2004

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by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

© Alex Waterhouse-HaywardIn 1943 the burst of a photographer’s magnesium flash in a Buenos Aires hospital recorded the birth of Alex Waterhouse-Hayward. He knew then that someday he would be a photographer. But it wasn’t until 1975, after teaching ancient and history and algebra in a Mexico City high school, when he moved with his Canadian wife and two Mexican daughters to Vancouver, B.C., that the ‘flash’ became a fact.

Starting as a stills photographer for variety shows at the CBC, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward eventually decided to focus on editorial and magazine photography. In what has been thus far a prolific career, he has shot and written for most Canadian magazines and national newspapers. His work has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, in the New York Times and several European magazines and newspapers including Stern, the Guardian and the London Times. For 13 years his photography has been on permanent exhibition in Vancouver at the Simon Patrich Gallery, Exposure Gallery and Presentation House Gallery. For the last four years he has been working on collaborative work with Argentine painters Juan Manuel Sanchez and Nora Patrich.

“Gillian”, (first reproduced in Saturday Night in February, 2001).
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Not too long ago a young woman came into my studio and had me tie her up and lock her hands behind her back with police cuffs. She then lay on my studio couch, which I had purchased from a retiring psychiatrist, and asked me to photograph her. Tied up as she was, she wasn’t able to hide her nether parts. I told her, “I feel sorry for you in your helpless and precarious pose.” She retorted: “You have it all wrong and what you have said has taken all the fun out of it.” At the time, I had no idea how right she was, and I must admit that, to this day, I have no fetish for fetish.

However her comment provided the incentive to try to find out if there were a pattern, or repeating motif in my photography. And sure enough, I discovered that I am indeed normal and I do have a weird side, however this so-called ‘weirdness’ is not by any means unique.

“Carolina en la Tina”
(“Carolina in the Tub”), 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

It was in the mid 70s that I learned about an interesting facet of some Canadian men. I had a friend who was a color negative printer in a very large commercial lab. She showed me a book (of photos) that she and her co-workers had compiled. The material was certainly illicit and I told her so. She told me that this was a most innocent activity as these books were routinely scrapped and superseded by new ones and that it was a favorite pass time in many labs.

In any case, I learned that many Canadian men photograph their wives nude while pregnant; apparently around the 8th month they suddenly feel compelled take pictures of junior. My friend’s thick scrapbook was proof that many pregnant wives agree to be photographed in shower stalls and bathtubs.

“Joel”, 2003.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

I started taking tub photos in 1978. While I never did photograph my wife pregnant in a tub, I did manage to photograph one pregnant woman. In 1989 I had a show of tub portraits that included, among others, both my daughter Ale and a young redhead Joel. Joel called me up in 2003 to photograph her again, this time pregnant. It was strange to have her in the same tub again. While she was bigger her smile had not changed. I know it’s only a matter of time before I return to my beloved tubs.

“Jill II”, 1979.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

My interest in tubs and bathrooms goes way back to my childhood in Buenos Aires. I was fascinated by the very large convertible buses called bañaderas (bathtubs) zooming through the streets with happy tourists. It was in my own bathroom where I noticed a contraption my mother called a bidet. It could squirt water and hit the ceiling with enough force to punch a hole. I was severely punished for playing with it and I can only guess that my obsession with bathrooms and tubs began then.

Photographically there are three very good reasons why tubs work so well. First, even without water (especially without water) the sides of a tub reflect light back and forth and provide the human figure with good modeling light that has almost no shadows.

“Jill”, 1979.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Second, water counters the effects of gravity on a body and that curious flattening effect, which is ever present when you photograph people on their back, is minimized.

“Alejandria”, 1988.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

And the third reason which is also the most important, when I was looking for suitable models for my 1989 tub show, I would call up my potential candidates and ask them if they would pose in my tub. I had a 100% success rate which I can only attribute to the fact that, while it was understood that they would be nude in the water, I didn’t have to stress (or even use) the word nude.


“Madonna en la Tina”, 1989
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Ale”, 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Joel”, 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Inga en la Tina I” (“Inga in the Tub”), 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Inga en la Tina II” (“Inga in the Tub”), 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Alejandría”, 1988.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Jillian”, 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Katheryn”, 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
“Katheryn’s Tub”, 1989.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

A year ago I met Dana Moreno, a Madrid photographer, in a Spanish photography forum. We compared notes and exchanged photographs by e-mail. I told her about my passion for tubs. I must have been persuasive as she sent me a delightful self-portrait. While the photograph arrived without comment, Dana might have been implying that my passion for tubs is a desire to return to my mother’s womb. Maybe not. That Madrid tub is awfully small.

“Dana, self-portrait”, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

To see more of Alex's Waterhouse-Hayward's photography click HERE.


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