Monthly Archives: December 2015

Ode To Spot

In the 6th season of Star Trek TNG there is an episode called “Schisms” in which Data delivers a poetry reading. While he recites an ode to his cat, Spot, listeners squirm in their seats.* Data has enough insight to recognize that his poetry makes people feel awkward, but not enough insight to understand why. After the poetry reading is over, Data coaxes Geordi La Forge to explain things to him. Data understands all the formal properties of a poem—metre, rhyme, stanzas, specific formats like sonnets and odes—but he hasn’t the slightest idea what a poem is for or what effect it’s supposed have on a listener. His intelligence is like the intelligence of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome—formal intelligence without emotional grounding.

Cat & Owner

I think a lot of photography (including a lot of my own) is the sort of photography Data might make if he ever decided to wander through the Enterprise with a Nikon D810 or a Canon 5DS slung around his neck. He would have a grasp of all the formal properties that contribute to a good photograph. He’d know all the “rules” about focus, depth of field, white balance, saturation and composition. And he’d have instant access to all the great photos shot by masters of the discipline. All of the hardware, rules, and historical knowledge would allow him to make technically correct images. But so what? Without more, those images would be the visual equivalent of his Ode To Spot.

In an age when it’s increasingly easy to make technically “perfect” images, it’s correspondingly easy to be complacent about whether or not those images do what images are supposed to do. Do our images merely allay anxieties around formal requirements? Or do they satisfy deeper needs? While the two are not mutually exclusive, there are many photographs that move us deeply even though they are deeply “flawed”. I think it would be an accomplishment to make even one such photograph.

A flawed photo.

A flawed photo.


*Felis Cattus, is your taxonomic nomenclature,
an endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature?
Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses
contribute to your hunting skills, and natural defenses.

I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
a singular development of cat communications
that obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
for a rhythmic stroking of your fur, to demonstrate affection.

A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
you would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aide in locomotion,
it often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.

O Spot, the complex levels of behaviour you display
connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.

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Holy Merchandise

There’s a shop on Parliament Street south of Wellesley that sells religious merchandise. I’ve featured the front window before; I had been drawn to it by a notice posted in the window. I now realize this is a shop I’m going to have to track over time. Interesting things happen here.


The other day, I noticed how sunlight was shining through the front window and illuminating a statue of (I presume) Joseph holding the baby Jesus. I stood to one side so I could include the Beer Store sign across the street (these kind of juxtapositions amuse me). Then I waited for people to walk past. When I was satisfied that I had a decent shot, I continued on my way.

It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, as I was returning home, that I noticed something else. There was a rock inside the fenced-in area in front of the shop. The rock and its sign present something of a tautological puzzle. As far as I can discern, the only reason for the sign is to keep the stone in place. And the only reason for the stone is to keep the sign in place. Could this be some kind of parable I don’t yet understand? I must investigate further.


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The Military In Its Proper Place

There’s some food photography I want to do, but I’ve decided I should practise my setup before I undertake anything complicated. So, on an overcast day when the light was soft, I put a table by a window and spread some jelly beans across a sheet of foam-board. I stood two more sheets of foam-board on end to act as reflectors to soften the shadows. Then I went to work with my 100mm f2.8L macro lens.


Satisfied with the way my jelly beans were looking, I took things to the next level. I’d picked up a few plastic soldiers when I was at Sugar Mountain. Why, you may ask, does a candy store sell plastic soldiers? Good question. Maybe to indoctrinate children. Kind of fucked up if you ask me.


Happy with my machine gunner doing point in a jelly bean wasteland, I added rice to the mix. You can move rice around to give it shape, geologically speaking. Along with the rice, I added a few more military personnel since my green soldier was all alone and getting anxious. One of the jelly beans could be a mine. Step on a red one and it might blow off the poor guy’s leg.


Things were looking austere, so I added a dark background to give things a sense of foreboding. Because I’m using a fairly tight DOF, the background is blurred, so you can’t see that I’m using a painting – a drizzle experiment in acrylic – by Ethan Hanzel. A couple years ago, he posted a photo of it on his Facebook page and asked for bids; we won the auction, which means we’re the proud owners of a Hanzel original.


It’s a jungle out there, and a couple wild gummy worms took out the orange infantry guy. The other military types look on, helpless. With all the gummy worms lurking under the rice, it looks like jelly bean mines are the least of their worries. BTW – does anybody know what kind of a gun the green guy is carrying? It looks like it could do some serious damage, but still no match for a hungry gummy worm.


For the final shot, I added a glass insulator from a high-voltage transmission line. It’s the blurred thing behind the green soldier. I swapped out the red/orange gummy worm for a green/yellow worm; it was harder to see the downed soldier in the previous image. I gave the red/orange worm to the blue soldier. I also gave the image some “atmosphere” by shooting jets of steam into the scene from a little steam cleaner we use for our floors. I had thought I’d be able to recover all the rice and cook it for dinner. Unfortunately, the steam melted the jelly beans and their colour bled into the rice and made it sticky. I like sticky rice, but not when it’s dyed red and green.


The whole set up, including foam boards, foodstuffs and plastic soldiers, cost me about $25. In my view, that’s all any military budget deserves.

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Dull Day – Brilliant Faces

Was out Sunday afternoon with my camera and, dull weather notwithstanding, people were chattier than usual. Maybe it has to do with the approach of Christmas. Or with the fact that Christmas is still far enough away that people aren’t feeling stressed by it.

At Sherbourne and Wellesley, I met a woman waiting for the bus. She said her name is Rhiannon, like in the Fleetwood Mac song. But not a witch. She laughed. She was headed up to the rink at North York Civic Centre.


On Bond Street north of Dundas, Scott posed for a photo. It was important to him that I get the Tim Horton’s sign in the background. He says I can find him in front of the Tim Horton’s every day; he’d like it if I could print off a copy of the photo for him so he can stick it in an album he keeps. The Ryerson Image Centre is just across the street so I expect a lot of people take his photo.


Finally, a brief encounter at Yonge and Wellesley. Not even enough time to exchange names. Just a tap on the shoulder while we’re waiting for the light to change. “I like your hat. Mind if I take a shot?” I raise my camera. He smiles and says “Sure.” A quick shot, then the light turns green and he’s gone.


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