Monthly Archives: April 2016

Dab Life And Other Distractions

I’ve discovered that the first week of spring—the first week when people can shed their heavy clothes and enjoy being outside—is one of the best times for street photography. People are happy. They’re willing to stop and talk to you. They don’t mind posing for shots. I had a couple hours yesterday afternoon so I went out into the mid-twenty degree weather and came home with much to show for my efforts.


Traviss in his Dab life T-shirt.

I was first drawn to Traviss because of his T-shirt which happens to include my initials: DAB. Dab Life is a clothing line for people who dab. For more on dabbing, read this.

Brooklyn and Isaac

Brooklyn and Isaac sitting on some steps.

Brooklyn and Isaac were sitting on steps north of Gerrard on Yonge Street, hiding under a map when I approached. The challenge of street portraiture is that, when you approach, people lose the naturalness that drew you to them in the first place. Some people remain stiff throughout the exchange. Others, like this couple, quickly recover and offer you something special.

Street Preacher

Street Preacher at Dundas and Yonge.

And then there are those encounters you can’t interrupt or it would kill the moment. One thing that fascinates me about street preachers is their kinship to grifters and grifting culture. Proselytism is a hustle. People with little religious experience are the marks. Sometimes I wonder if the polite religion of mainstream churches and middle class congregants is any different.

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Breitling Bombshell Followup

Last October, I posted a little rant about the Breitling Bombshell that sits in the Canadian corporate headquarters for a Swiss men’s watch manufacturer. The bombshell is a blonde woman with exaggerated breasts and a skimpy red dress who straddles a large bomb. I think the gist of my rant was: what the hell happened to feminism?

I went back one evening for another shot. The store was closed, but a cleaning lady was working around the bombshell. This was just too good. I rushed to capture the scene. The woman looked up and saw me through the window. I smiled and waved. She waved back, then returned to her dusting.


I think this shot lends a little perspective to my earlier question about feminism. I’m willing to wager my genitals that the bombshell sprang to life from a man’s imagination. It’s a post-war fantasy sequel to Shaw’s Pygmalion: if only the blonde could come to life and keep me warm at nights. Meanwhile, the cleaning lady stares past the unbelievably perky boobs as if to say: for all your fantasies, I still get stuck doing this shit job.

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Shooting at Yonge and Bloor

Reviewing all my Toronto images this year, I discovered that they’re all shot in early morning or daytime. I’ve done no night shooting in 2016. Last night I resolved to remedy that situation, so I set out with my monopod, determined to shoot bright lights and blurry pedestrians. Approaching Yonge and Bloor, I stumbled on shooting of a different sort. My first night out and I come to the scene of a homicide. How am I going to top that tonight?


According to the CBC, a man was fatally shot in the back near the coffee shops north of the Yonge Street entrance to the Bloor/Yonge subway station. Three suspects fled the scene. A police officer asked me if I saw anything. He was especially interested in my camera, presumably because I might have shot something of evidentiary value. If I’d witnessed anything, I would have happily provided information (and photos). But it’s awkward trying to explain that you’re not there to experience some kind of photojournalistic rush; you’re in it for the aesthetics. When you use phrases like “police tape bokeh” they give you strange looks.


At one point, I was kneeling (like the 680News guy shown below) when I heard a voice behind me and a tap on my shoulder. I turned and looked up (and up). It was my nephew. Geez he’s tall. Maybe not basketball tall, but tall by our family’s standards. He had just finished his first class of introductory Italian at a place on Cumberland and noticed all the flashing lights at the end of the street. Walks down to see what all the fuss is about and look who he sees on his knees with a big camera.


When I first arrived, I asked a guy what was going on. He told me he’d heard that someone was shot and that three suspects were on the loose. We looked at each other suspiciously, then I said thanks and he left. Someone asked me what had happened and I said more or less the same thing. And so the game of telephone continued. My nephew and I decided to embellish the story: a drug cartel, a mob hit, a getaway by motorcycle to a waiting helicopter. In truth, the only thing I know for certain is how quickly the narrative impulse kicks in. We absorb the facts into a story line that subtly warps the truth.


One report quotes a witness as saying: “The strange thing was there was no screaming, there was no shouting, there was no running away – people were just gathering around in front of him and in front of the paramedics that were working on him.”

How is that strange? City living desensitizes us. Last week I was walking along with Esplanade east of Sherbourne and heard screams coming from an apartment building. A man was sitting on a bench. Another was paying for his parking. A woman with a stroller stopped. We all looked up, wondering what unit the scream had come from. We fingered our phones. Should we call 911? But why get involved? Getting involved is inconvenient. We’re busy. The screaming continued. Ten. Eleven. Twelve times. It induced a paralysis in us. We shrugged and walked away. This kind of thing happens all the time. If we got worked up every time somebody screams, we’d be emotional wrecks.


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6ix in the city

I don’t know if it’s official, but Toronto seems to have been renamed. Now, thanks to Drake, I live in The 6ix. According to the Urban Dictionary, the new name refers to Toronto’s original area code—416.

Before I read that explanation, I had come up with other explanations that struck me as perfectly reasonable. One is that six is the number of former municipalities that amalgamated to form the current city—North York, East York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, York, & City of Toronto. We live together as The 6ix.

Another is that it has something to do with sex i.e. 6ix is a way to write about sex without actually writing the word sex. Another entry in the Urban Dictionary hints at this. Under the second definition of 6ix (“A post modern approach to spelling the number 6, versus the traditional six.”) we find the following usage: On the Facebook wall, “Dude I had 6ix last night and I was GONE!”

Apart from the fact that the numeral 6 is one half of a simultaneous mutual oral sex act, the written 6ix often incorporates one of the city’s great phallic landmarks. The “i” in 6ix is represented by the CN Tower. Skyscrapers and ravines. Male and female. The modern ankh.


Toronto long had an inferiority complex. How can we possibly have a decent city when a) we aren’t in the US, & b) we’re so fucking polite? So we (or our local politicians) overcompensated for their feelings of municipal inadequacy by authorizing a massive erection. And so the CN Tower was born.

Toronto Skyline viewed from Governor's Hill.

Toronto Skyline viewed from Governor’s Hill.

Whenever tourists come here, they feel compelled to take photos of our massive erection. But typically they haven’t time to take more than a basic shot in midday light. One of the privileges of living in a place is that you have the time to get atypical non-touristy shots. You can scout different locations and can keep going back, day after day, in different light conditions, until you get what you want.


CN Tower reflected in puddle on University Avenue.


CN Tower viewed from Varsity Stadium.

CN Tower viewed from the Don Valley.

CN Tower viewed from the Don Valley.

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Gizmo The Dog

I met Gizmo near the southeast corner of Yonge & Wellesley. Didn’t have much time to interact with Gizmo’s owner because I was crouched on the sidewalk and blocking pedestrians. Plus I rolled back on my heels and ended up on my backside when Gizmo took a run at me. An unlikely attack dog. There were a bunch of guys near the corner with their dogs. Wonder if they meet there every day.


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Get Nik Efex For Free

I guess it’s old news now, but last week Google announced that it would no longer charge its usual $149 for the Nik Collection of image-editing plugins. Now, you can download it for free. Personally, I ignore most plugins because the effects they produce tend to be cheesy. They’re one-off novelties that lose their interest almost as fast as a Rob Ford funeral. However, I do like to play with black and white conversion tools. So I downloaded the collection and applied the Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin to a few images. Here are three samples, each using a different effect:


The first image comes from the Yonge/Dundas intersection. As far as I know, the intersection is one of only two remaining all-way crossings in Toronto. I managed to capture three people moving in three different directions, all moving outward from the centre of the street. The woman in the centre is staring directly at me as she approaches. I think it’s a photo that probably works better in a large format, maybe a 16×24 print. I applied the “fine art” setting in Silver Efex.


I shot the second image at a crosswalk on Sherbourne Street after an April snowstorm. In keeping with the wet, reflective asphalt, I applied the “wet rocks” filter.


The third image comes from the intersection of Bloor and Sherbourne where there’s always a long lineup to catch the 75 bus downtown. I liked the dissonance of the smiling effusive ad face against all the gloomy people in their dark coats waiting to board the bus. I applied the “low key” setting.

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Followup With Scott

At the end of November, I bumped into Scott at the Tim Horton’s on Bond Street. He was working the door for tips. I took a photo of him and promised him a copy for his album, but kept missing him whenever I went back. Finally, I caught up with him the day after what I presume will be the last snow storm of the season. Although it was -5 Celsius, he was dressed in only a sweat shirt. He asked me to watch his stuff while he went inside to leave the photo with a buddy named Willy (?) who was drinking a coffee and keeping warm.


He said thanks for the photo, but I wouldn’t say he was overly delighted. Keeping a photo album reminds him of how much he’s changed, and how quickly, too. Scott’s been sick these past few months and has dropped 70 lbs. He says he could afford to lose the weight, but not like this. Not so fast. He shows me his teeth. They’re falling out. There are three left on the bottom and their roots are exposed. He says he’s given up crack. He threw out his pipes and shit last week and he’s never going back. He’s been getting some, too. Met a woman. She’s crazy for it. Two. Three times a day. He can’t keep up with her. Told her not to come around so much. It’ll kill him. He wonders if maybe he insulted her because she hasn’t come around in a couple days.

Scott got in a fight yesterday. A native guy jumped him from behind. But it turned out all right. He’s still standing. Can’t say the same for the native guy. I ask why the guy jumped him. “He wanted my door.” There’s no way Scott’s giving up this door. It’s HIS door. His and Jason’s. Though he’s thinking of getting out of there, going up to St. Clair.

He can’t stay at the door much longer and wonders what time it is. He has an appointment with the housing people at 11:30 so he has to get back to his room. He pulls the coin from his pockets and counts it, 18 dollars in all. A quarter slips through his fingers and he frowns. He can’t bend down to pick it up. Maybe I could get it for him. I say it’s a good thing they stopped making pennies and he laughs. There was one time in Union Station when he ended up with $15 worth of pennies in one pocket, but the weight of the pennies put a hole in his pocket and they all ran down his pant leg and trailed behind him on the floor. Meanwhile, a bum (he means that in the best sense of the word) was on his hands and knees picking up every last penny. When their eyes met, the bum said thanks; he’d just paid for a couple bottles of sherry wine. “Oh well, I wasn’t mad about it. Pay it forward is what I always say.”

Almost on cue, a well-dressed woman exits the Tim Horton’s. Scott holds the door for her and she hands him a coffee. He doesn’t mention that someone else has just given him a fresh coffee. When the woman is gone, he pays it forward by giving it to me.

When I get home and look closely at the images I’ve taken, I notice the sign on Scott’s door: “Pay With Your Phone.” With dedicated payment apps and secure eWallets, I wonder what guys like Scott will do once we go totally cashless.

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Boiling Sap @Williams_Farm

Sap runs when it runs and nothing–not even an Easter dinner–can keep a maple syrup man from his work. Here are some shots from last weekend’s maple syrup boil.


Above, John Williams inspects the sap lines for leaks. The sap is “encouraged” by a vacuum pump and, if there are leaks, the suction, uh, sucks. This is a Brigadoon moment. Typically, the stream flows only once a year as the snow melts. Because of erratic weather this year, there have been two Brigadoon moments.


After Easter dinner, John goes out to the barn and fires up the evaporator. They’ll be boiling long into the night.


Deer know that something’s up. They appear by the barn’s open door.


Liquid gold! Maple syrup pours out from the evaporator.


John’s father, Howie Williams, gives his nod of approval. He’s the man who first got the family into this.

CTV Barrie’s regional news does a clips on local maple syrup producers, including statements from both John & Oliver Williams.

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Rob Ford Funeral Fotos, Part Duh

Here are some more photographs I shot at the Rob Ford funeral procession, this time without the cultural analysis. I said everything I care to say about this event in my previous post.


Ford Riders of the Apocalypse (and one scooter)


Honour Guard


Jeremy Eastmond,


Shooting Ford Nation


Woman leaving tent on lawn of St. James Cathedral


Woman reading in front of St. James Cathedral


Getting directions


Zanta (David Zancai)

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