Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Toronto Zoo

Spent the day at the zoo, the only person there (or so it seemed) who didn’t have little kids in tow. Wandering around with my long lenses, I had to be careful not to be taken for a pervert stalker. The proof is in the photos, which aren’t pervy at all.

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The first image is the result of a happy accident. Bird and child crossed their legs in tandem and I was there to capture it.

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Street Portraits

I’m not much of a street photographer. Purists say street photography requires a kind of invisibility. You have to capture people unposed. The object is to produce an authentic documentation of life on the street. You’re like a birder in a blind. Or an anthropologist in camouflage. Personally, I find that hard to do. Inevitably, I end up connecting with the people I photograph. Things begin with conversation, or eye contact. A mutual understanding. A nod. A moment of release. A revelation. Then again, I think the purists are full of shit. Anthropologists gave up the fiction of objectivity 40 years ago when Clifford Geertz published The Interpretation of Cultures. Why are street photographers so stuck in the past?

So here we have Moses Adolphe. I met him in Moss Park with dozens of other men, mostly homeless, sitting under the trees to cope with the heat. He was staying at the Salvation Army’s Maxwell Meighen Centre. This isn’t a street photograph. This is a me-talking-with-a-man photograph. He tells me something about his situation. I ask if I can take his photo. After I shoot it, he wants to see. The most important part of the transaction comes when I affirm to him that I have heard him and have seen him. Street photography ignores that part of the deal.

Moses Adolphe

This is a cat with its owner. I put the spot focus on the cat’s eye because it’s clear who’s in charge. In the feline world, humans are superfluous. I have no scientific data to back me up on this, but I would estimate that 99.9% of all cat owners are delighted to be photographed with their cats.

Cat & Owner

In a way, the photo below is unposed like a street photograph. A woman approaches carrying drinks from Tim Hortons. I think to myself: this is a good balancing act; I should take a photo of it. I smile as I raise my camera. She smiles back. Negotiations are concluded. Click. She never stops, so the image isn’t as crisp as the ones above. The whole transaction takes less than a second. As an aside, it’s worth noting that, even a few years ago, this photo would have been impossible to take. It’s only with the development of autofocus technology in DSLRs that photographers have been able to pick up their camera, pull the scene into focus, and release the shutter in as little time as it takes to twitch a finger.

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Conundrum

Mixed media artist, David Hynes, has a conundrum. Maybe you’ve seen it. I saw it in the Distillery District as part of Panamania. It’s a canoe with raw hide wrapped taut across the gunwales to form a giant drum. People gather around it with mallets and bang away. It’s fun for all ages and people can drop in and out without interrupting the rhythm. I’m amazed at how the beats emerge. No one person is responsible for it. It seems to arise organically from the group. David has taken it on tour to arts festivals and community events. He also promotes it as a team building and community building tool. If you’re interested, you can contact David through his web site.

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David Hynes plays his conundrum.

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Anybody can play the conundrum, no matter what age.

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When you hit the conundrum, you can feel it throb in your chest.

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The Selfie Stick

I read an article (I can’t remember where) that suggested the selfie stick is no longer simply a fad; it’s gone to the next level and has become a cultural phenomenon, whatever that means. I think what the author was getting at is that its presence in our daily activities is symptomatic of deeper cultural rumblings. It captures something of the zeitgeist. Who am I to argue? As a photographer, I’m committed to capturing the zeitgeist however it might appear in my frame. Wandering through the crowds during the Pan Am Games, I was struck by the truth of the author’s statement. The selfie stick’s time has come.

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Why do people use a selfie stick? One thought that occurs to me is that people want to place themselves in their context. It’s not enough simply shoot pictures of themselves. They want to say: I was there! I was at that place or event! A selfie stick pushes the camera far enough back that it can include some of the place or event in the frame.

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Something I notice about the use of selfie sticks is that it isn’t specific to age or ethnicity. If there’s any pattern I’ve observed, it’s that selfie stick use tends to be a couples thing. People want to be shown together in a place or event. Maybe the next big thing will be the selfie stick break up app that deletes one of the people from the selfie stick photo after they’ve gone their separate ways.

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Panamania Scrapbook

Last night saw the close of the PanAm Games in Toronto. Photographically speaking, they’ve been kind of hard to miss; they’ve formed part of the city’s backdrop for months now. I wasn’t involved in the games. I didn’t volunteer (my wife did). I did go to opening ceremony rehearsal at the Rogers Centre, & the women’s soccer final in Hamilton. But most of the time, I meandered with my camera (as I usually do) and saw what I saw (as I usually do) and traces of the Games inevitably appeared in my frame. Here are some of the things I saw:

The countdown clock in Nathan Phillips Square - 66 days to go.

The countdown clock in Nathan Phillips Square – 66 days to go.

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The Straight Up With James

I was shooting in Callaghan Lane, near Dundas & Parliament, when a guy spotted me and came over to chat. Before he went on his way, I asked if he would pose for me. He stood in the shade against a mural on the south side of the alley. Even though it was bright & mid-day, the lighting turned out to be perfect. The wall on the north side of the alley is white & acted as a reflector, bouncing fill light into the shadows.

Shot in Callaghan Lane near Parliament and Dundas, Toronto

By coincidence, when I got home that evening, I read a piece in I-D about The Straight Up (which you can read here if you’re interested). The idea is that you shoot street (documentary) like a fashion photographer. While I wasn’t deliberately trying to shoot like a fashion photographer, given the lighting conditions, and given the fact that I included his torso, I can see how this almost makes it into The Straight Up aesthetic, or whatever.

Shot in Callaghan Lane near Parliament and Dundas, Toronto

By the way, this is James. He came over to chat with me about photography. He has a Samsung (Galaxy?) with a cracked screen and it’s full of photos he’s taken. He assures me he has a Dropbox account where he backs them up. He wanted to show me the shots he’d taken of the new Ryerson Building at Gould & Yonge St. He likes to experiment with interesting angles and unique perspectives. He likes to experiment with editing apps, too. The building has blue cubes, but he’s processed it with green and purple just to see what the building would look like in an alternate universe.

I need for encounters like this to happen to me again and again. Everyone we meet carries hidden lives, and it takes so little to draw these lives out. Just to pass him on the street, I would never have figured James for man who cares about buildings, and street art, and visual details. But there he is, clicking away.

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Blogging Photography – 1st Anniversary

Today marks the first anniversary of my first post on this blog. More than 200 posts later, I find myself in a reflective mood. Here are a few random (and eerily interrelated) observations which may be of use to fellow photographers, but more generally to anyone engaged in an artsy pursuit.

1. Discipline

The act of posting things on a regular basis gives a self-imposed discipline to your work. The world won’t come crashing down if you miss a self-imposed deadline, but missing it on a blog does provide a sense of public accountability. If you’re like me (i.e. a bit OCD), it will goad you to do more.

Reflection from polished granite, Avenue Road, Toronto

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Wheels, and Wheels and Heels

In Toronto, on the corner of Avenue Road and Davenport, there is a billboard advertising the Galerie de Bellefeuille in Montreal. It’s positioned so that people driving their Maseratis north from Yorkville will stop at the lights and stare at work by the gallery’s latest darling. Currently, it’s photographer David Drebin whose work you cannot find by following the URL on the billboard because somebody fucked it up. Instead, to view Drebin’s work, go here: http://debellefeuille.com/drebin-david-2/ The bio says that his “work combines voyeuristic and psychological viewpoints.” It says that he had a “zeitgeist moment” that “signaled the transformation from a commercial photographer into an art photographer.” It says that his work is “epic, dramatic and, above all, cinematic.”

Wheelchair Passing Billboard at Davenport & Avenue Road, Toronto

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