Monthly Archives: April 2015

Bathurst Street Bridge

For the first time in years, I walked under the Bathurst Street Bridge. This is the old iron bridge that goes over the rail lands south of Front Street. Now, a chain-link fence blocks access, but there’s a gaping hole in it that looks to me like an invitation.

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While development around the bridge is rampant, the bridge itself remains unchanged, almost timeless.

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There’s still the graffiti, the makeshift shelters, the firepits, the pallets that serve as beds.

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For now, at least, it stands as a monument to gritty industrial Toronto while sleek corporate/commercial Toronto looks on. Given its proximity to old Fort York, maybe it should be turned into a museum.

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Men At Work 2

More men at work to supplement a January post on the same theme:

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Directing cars into parking lot at Front & Spadina.

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Holy Ferrari!

I’ve lost my faith. Once, I believed as most believed. It would be a virtue to own a Ferrari. It would be a sign that the gods had smiled upon me and blessed me with prosperity, or at least with the right to carry huge debt servicing charges. But the central myth that fueled that belief has fallen under the march of modernism. A fundamental tenet of my faith was the conviction that our resources are limitless. Always, there will be gasoline to power our Ferraris. Always there will be landfill sites to receive their worn-out bodies. Always, the planet will forgive our excesses.

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But the demystifying light of modern reason has blasted our primitive assumptions to smithereens. We could well exhaust our oil fields. We could easily turn our planet into a giant garbage dump. And, as recent extreme weather events have shown us, the planet is not as forgiving as we might wish.

Like most who lose their faith, I grieve, and I grieve in all the ways that grief manifests itself. I deny that anything is wrong and fantasize about a day when I, too, will get my Ferrari. After all, the gods have not forgotten me. Then I grow angry. I blame all the stupid people who have contributed to the problem, who drive their Ferraris like there’s no tomorrow. All the while, I ignore my own bad habits, like the two truckloads of garbage I shipped to the dump the last time I moved. When the anger subsides, I resort to bargaining: please, oh god of the Ferraris, at least let me have a Tesla. If not a Tesla, how about a Prius?

When oh when will acceptance come? When oh when will I accept that the old gods of the Ferraris are dead? Why can’t I simply accept that the modern world can easily accommodate feet and bicycles?

Sometimes, especially when I loll in a haze of nostalgia, I remember the good old days when the world was a simpler place, when my faith was true and my future certain. But after I’ve snapped out of it, I realize that it would be horrible to own a Ferrari in these times. I would have to drift in a state of perpetual delusion, believing that all those people who stare at my sweet ride and photograph me as I whiz past churches are staring in admiration instead of quietly thinking to themselves: there goes another Luddite asshole clinging to his primitive religion!

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College/Spadina Streetcar Track Repair

The College/Spadina intersection was blocked this month for streetcar track repairs/upgrades so I went over a couple times to catch the mess.

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It occurred to me that the city’s online archive might have older photos of the intersection, so I did some digging, and while I couldn’t find anything precisely at the intersection, I did find a photo of the original streetcar line construction work on College Street a little to the east at McCaul.

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7 (non-photographic) things you can do to improve your photography

The following are suggestions (not prescriptions) and are highly personal. They reflect what I would describe as an emerging philosophy of seeing and engagement with the world. In particular, I preach a holistic gospel of photography: photography works in service of the whole person. For that reason, the whole person needs to be enlisted in the service of photographic practice. That’s why seemingly irrelevant activities might benefit, and even improve, your photography.

1. Meditate

By meditation, I don’t mean that you should embark on an elaborate pilgrimage to a Tibetan monastery. I mean something simpler. Breathing. Mindfulness. The work of becoming awake. The discipline of meditation can provide the foundations for a discipline of seeing. You walk down a street and are more alive to the visual possibilities that present themselves. You may have walked down the same street a hundred times, but because you have become habituated to that walk, you cease to notice the wonder of its particularity. It’s as if you are sleepwalking. The thisness of its place and time have vanished. Wake up!

Time to wake up!

Time to wake up!

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Splashing through Nathan Phillips Square

What a difference seven weeks makes! After February’s Icefest 2015, I walked south to City Hall and shot people skating on the ice rink in Nathan Phillips Square.

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Seven weeks later, I caught a little girl splashing in the water that remains after all the snow and ice has melted. City workers were cleaning things up before they set up the fountains and fill it with water. In the spring, they fill a rink with water. In the winter, they freeze a pool for skating.

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Plastic Mystery

Now that winter is over, Toronto sits in a brief seasonal limbo. Although it’s warm, the buds haven’t come out yet, so the trees are winter barren. City workers are scurrying to clean up all the residual grime that settles after snow melt. Earth day is here and people are gathering up the last remaining garbage. But what about the trees?

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I’ve never noticed so much shredded plastic hanging from the trees. It’s as if some malicious prankster has TP’d the city. Where did it come from? Did somebody deliberately put it there? Or did this happen “organically”? Will people remove it? Or will people do nothing, assuming the plastic has disappeared once all the trees come into leaf? It’s a mystery to me.

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Here’s NYC’s solution to the problem:

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People In Yellow Creek

Despite the luridity of Toronto’s literary imagination (I know there’s no such word as luridity but it seems to work), its ravines aren’t always the dark repositories of our unconscious desires. In a previous post, I wrote about how (literary) bodies end up in Toronto’s ravines, as one did in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and another in Timothy Findley’s Headhunter. I’m also mindful of Paul Quarrington’s novel called (surprise, surprise) Ravine in which a childhood trauma in a Toronto ravine affects relationships and behaviour in adulthood. While a novel may map the topography of literary worlds, one should be wary of drawing too literal a connection between that topography and the ground we tread in our everyday lives.

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For example, the other day, I encountered a young man playing a mandolin near the entrance to the culvert that diverts Yellow Creek under Mount Pleasant Avenue. Stumbling on a guy playing a mandolin in the woods is a far cry from stumbling on a body. I wanted to interrupt him and explain that, only a couple hundred metres to the north, Laura had plummeted into the creek and died in a fiery wreck. The fact that Laura is a fictional character seems a mere technicality. And yet it’s an important technicality, especially if I want to avoid strange looks from young men playing mandolins in the woods.

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In The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan challenges the idea of the unconscious mind. According to McLuhan, the shift to predominantly visual media (like photography, text, video) has come at the expense of other media. As we have lost the capacity to express ourselves in non-visual media, we have constructed a repository for all our inexpressible desires/fears/rages/demands and called it the unconscious mind. What would have seemed natural as poetry or a fairy tale seems inaccessible or emotionally violent, so we go to a therapist instead and enlist professional help to name what we have lost the capacity to name.

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I don’t know how much credence we should give to Marshall McLuhan these days. But I do know that it’s far cheaper simply to walk through a ravine than to spend an hour each week with a therapist.

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Richard

This is Richard. I was climbing the stairs from Ted Rogers Way to Huntley Street and he was sitting on the top step so I stopped and we chatted. The conversation was rambling, driven by a free-association game that Richard seemed to be playing with himself. Commercial vehicles would zoom past on the road below and their signs and logos would set Richard off on some new observation. Despite the fragmented nature of his patter, it took on a strange coherence.

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Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

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Wildlife As Street Photography Training

I forgot to post some images from my recent trip to Florida. I don’t regard myself as a nature or wildlife photographer. For one thing, I don’t have the proper equipment for it, namely a fast long lens. Maybe one day when I have an extra couple of mil to drop, I’ll pick up that 1600 mm lens I’ve been hankering for. In the meantime, I make do with my 70-200 mm lens with 2X extender. For another thing, I live in downtown Toronto and so most of my photo opportunities (and my love) belong to urban spaces. Nevertheless, one kind of photography doesn’t preclude the other. And skills applied in one are transferable to the other.

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For example, in the cases of both wildlife and street photography, the aim is to capture a dramatic moment, something in process, a narrative. It isn’t good enough to shoot a bird on a branch and offer it as an instance of a pretty bird on a branch. The pretty bird on the branch has to be doing something. In the same way, it isn’t good enough to shoot a static picture of a person staring at the lens like the subject of a 19th century portrait. The person has to be engaged (and engage us) in something more.

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In both kinds of photography, capturing that dramatic moment means that you have to be on edge. At any second, the drama may present itself and you have to be ready for it. The heron may lunge. The man may shake his fist.

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As a corollary, both kinds of photography produce a lot of garbage. Wildlife and people (especially children) move around a lot. They’re unpredictable. You may shoot a series in continuous mode, a rapid burst that gives you nothing, one decent shot if you’re lucky. You have to reconcile yourself to the fact that your one success will be ushered in on a thousand failures.

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There are differences, of course. In street photography, there are conventions that, for practical reasons, haven’t caught hold with wildlife. One is the tendency to work exclusively in black and white. In wildlife photography, colour is often the point and converting to black and white would only undermine the work. Also, street purists frown on those who use anything longer than a 50 mm lens; you have to get in close and personal. In wildlife photography, that simply isn’t possible, especially if you’re shooting alligators or rattle snakes. Well, it’s possible, if you don’t mind putting an abrupt end to your career.

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