Monthly Archives: October 2014

Scary Photos for Hallowe’en

It’s October 31st, the day of the night when the dead cast off their shackles and mingle for a time with the living. To get us into the mood, a few scary photos:

Sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle (detail), GOMA, Glasgow

Sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle (detail), GOMA, Glasgow

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Graffiti as Political Speech

One wonders if some of the usual hostility towards graffiti doesn’t stem from the fact that it’s a kind of political speech. As illustrated below, there are times when the political content is overt. (I note that there isn’t a lot of graffiti conveying conservative sentiments. I wonder why that is. Where are all the spray-can wielding, weed-smoking members of the Young Conservatives caucus?)

Stop Harper - Sign in Bobcaygeon

Stop Harper – Sign in Bobcaygeon

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Lloyd Mangal, Poet

When I see someone panhandling, or simply sitting there, obviously homeless, my usual response is no response at all. I stare straight ahead and direct all my energy to reaching a point further along the sidewalk. I pretend there is no hand outstretched, no voice asking if I can spare some change. On the odd occasion that I do acknowledge a panhandler’s existence, it’s as a member of a category. The Homeless. Capital letters. The category is a kind of evasion.

When I see someone panhandling, or simply sitting there, obviously homeless, and I have a camera in my hand, my usual response is something like: “Look at the photographic opportunity” or “Isn’t this visually interesting” or (if I’m struck by a sudden liberal sentiment) “Here’s a chance for me to document homelessness in the city.” In photographic terms, I commit the same kind of evasion as when I consign people to a category. I look, but I don’t see. Like the eye, the camera looks; it’s the heart that sees.

Here is a photograph of Lloyd Mangal. Lloyd is a poet. If I were to look at him as a member of a category, I might say he’s one of The Homeless. But I’ve learned to think of him as a poet.

Lloyd Mangal

I’m a relative newcomer to a small spiritual community. It doesn’t hold property, and is committed to social activism & general shit-disturbing. It leases space in Trinity-St. Paul United Church on Bloor west of Spadina. A lot of people drifted in and out of the building. When I first saw Lloyd, I assumed he was one of those people who drift in and out. Maybe he showed up for the food. I expected him to disappear when he’d had his fill. These are the sort of conclusions I draw when I look but don’t see. It turns out Lloyd has a long-standing relationship with the community.

The next time I saw Lloyd, he was carrying a plastic bag. It was full of chapbooks. He’s written a poetry chapbook, Urban Emanations, and he sells it for $5, though sometimes people will give him more. To date, he’s sold more than 4,000 copies. Joe Fiorito has written about Lloyd (and his poetry) for the Toronto Star. As Mr. Fiorito points out, two copies gets Lloyd a bed for the night at the Maxwell Meighan Salvation Army Shelter. Lloyd has also used some of the money to pay for dental work and to buy fresh produce. One of his complaints about food banks is that you can’t get fresh produce there. I guess you could say that, for Lloyd, there is a clear connection between poetry and good health. There’s also a clear connection between poetry and dignity, not just because it earns Lloyd a little extra cash, but because it becomes a way for people to see him. He is a person who thinks and feels, who has depth and a spiritual life.

Excerpts from Urban Emanations:

Your flower garden delights my eye
Soothes and eases my troubled mind
More than consolatory it charms and buoys me up
Wispy essences that counterpoint
The lingering effluence of carbon monoxide
A stark contrast to the recalcitrant cement
Pervasive in the city’s centre
It becomes my secret haven
Unique amid standard structures
Cement blocks quadrangles of glass and street
That dwarf the human spirit

(from Your Flower Garden (for Inge))

You took your stand, your refusal to conform.
Many winter storms and summer suns
Have grizzled your features and your skin
Is now burnished as leather
Your undaunted spirit forges oneness.

(from For Gil (The Original Panhandler))

I am not obliged to compress every moment into an achievement
Or mesmerize the neighbourhood with spectacular feats
Times are dull, times are enhanced and momentous
It’s a pleasure to prepare a meal
Rather than have one served up
A long walk even in adverse conditions
Beats enrolment at the gym or aerobic classes
When I am involved in an activity
I infuse it with the stamp of my personality
These hands are a precious utility, an endowment
Useful to fashion my world, my life.

(from Primary)

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Event Photography – Sidgwick Salon

As a rule, I don’t do event photography. I prefer tramping around alone in a landscape (forest/urban/whatever). But every rule has its exceptions. Because of personal affiliations, I end up doing some events. For example, I sing in the Orpheus Choir of Toronto. Orpheus sponsors a scholarship program for voice students (the Sidgwick Scholars). We pay them a stipend to sing with the choir. They get experience singing choral music and blending their solo voices with an ensemble. We get the benefit of their leadership and expertise. Everybody wins. Each year, Orpheus holds a Salon to beef up the scholarship fund. The scholars perform, and when the audience sees what amazing performers they are, they write cheques. I go with my camera and capture the fun.

As I view it, a photographer has a twofold job at an event like this. The first is to get the shots that the organization wants: the key people, the images that might end up in publicity material. The second is to keep an eye open for the unscripted moments that nevertheless capture something of the organization’s spirit. In a way, the second is like street photography. Below are two photos from this year’s Sidgwick Salon which I particularly like. The first is of baritone, Tristan Jones. As the MC was making a few remarks, I noticed Tristan leaning against the wall behind me, waiting to be called forward. Light was streaming through the windows and caught him full in the face while leaving the space behind him in shadow. I liked the contrast and the colour of the bowtie so swung around and got this shot.

Tristan Jones - Sidgwick Scholar

This year, Orpheus held the Salon in the upstairs lobby of Koerner Hall. It faces east over Taddle Creek and the ROM. It’s all glass which, photographically speaking, is both a blessing and a curse. There’s lots of light. But it doesn’t necessarily shine where you’d like it. And, of course, you can’t use a flash when you’re aimed 90 degrees to a window. But you work with what you’ve got. In the photo below, bass-baritone, Ronan MacParland plays to members of the audience. Although scripted, this performance was a surprise to the audience (and to me). I don’t remember exactly what he sang although I suspect it was from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

Ronan MacParland, Sidgwick Scholar

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Photo Flick: Smoke

There are a surprising number of movies in which photography has an important role. Like writers who write novels about novelists, it’s almost as if film-makers need to engage in the same self-reflexive practice. What does it mean to see the world through a lens? Why do we do it? Why do we care? These questions come up quite pointedly in Smoke. Harvey Keitel plays Auggie, who owns a tobacco shop in New York. One evening, as he’s closing up, Paul (played by William Hurt) runs up, hoping he’s not too late to get some cigars. Auggie lets him into the shop, and as he’s getting the cigars, Paul notices a 35 mm camera sitting on the counter. He assumes another customer has left it behind, but Auggie tells him that it’s his camera. He spends a little time each day taking photographs. In fact, there’s a little more to it than that; Auggie has a personal project and pursues it obsessively. Every day, at the same time each day, he stands outside his shop and takes a photograph across the intersection.


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Random Arrows Popping Up In Toronto

Is this a thing? I’ve noticed random arrows popping up. White arrows on an orange background. They don’t really point at anything. Or maybe they do. I don’t know. Maybe I’m supposed to follow them. One is stapled to a tree on a residential street. They other is tacked to a pole on the beltline trail beside the Bayview extension. The person who did this could have saved a lot of money by printing all the arrows in the same direction instead of some pointing left and some pointing right.



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Who Is Fario?

The name, Fario, keeps popping up on walls in downtown Toronto. But who is Fario? I first encountered the name last year while standing at the corner of Gerrard and Parliament. Looking up, I saw a big “Fario I fucked your mom.” It disappeared a week later, but not before I immortalized it with my camera:

Fario I fucked your mom

I wonder what Fario’s mom thinks about this. Or not. Anyways, once I saw one wall, I saw a bazillion of them. Here are some samples from my growing archive …

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Guelph, Ontario

Took a walk around Guelph the other day. Was there to pick up my daughter from school, so didn’t have a lot of time. Just used my little mirrorless camera. Must go back with my full frame some time. Anyways, here are a few shots worth sharing.

Outside the employment centre on Wyndham St. N.

Outside the employment centre on Wyndham St. N.

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Birds: Pretty/Disturbing

Photos of birds are supposed to be pretty, right? The bird sits on a perch, soft light, blurred background. We sigh at the beauty. We say: awww. Take, fr’instance, this American tree sparrow I shot in Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks:

American Tree Sparrow

But sometimes the natural world defies our expectations. Certainly that was the lesson from a hike through Tommy Thompson Park when I saw something hanging high in a tree. Zooming in, I discovered that it was a cormorant, neck broken, head wedged in a forked branch.

Dead Cormorant

How does something like this even happen? Does the bird get depressed and decide one day to end it all? Life’s such a puzzle.


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Tommy Thompson Park

One place I like to go when I need to scratch my photographic itch is Tommy Thompson Park on the Leslie Street Spit. It meshes nicely with my personal mandate to document “this made-up world of ours.” It illustrates how our world is flipping upside down. Typically, we think of ourselves as occupying the natural world. We live on top of it. It supports us. But the longer we live in this world, the more we lay down an unnatural foundation which supports an occupying natural world. The Leslie Street Spit is a breakwater more than 5 kilometres long composed entirely of material dredged from the Toronto harbour and from surplus fill. Some of its shoreline has been exposed for nearly 60 years, now, worn smooth by the waves of Lake Ontario. Ecosystems have risen up from rubble. We tend to take it for granted, but it really is a bizarre landscape.

Tommy Thompson Park

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