Monthly Archives: May 2016

Religiosity On The Streets

There’s a breezeway between St. James Cathedral and what I presume to be the admin building for the Anglican Diocese. Photographically speaking, it’s interesting because it has a glass ceiling (for the men to walk on?) that produces good reflections when you shoot from underneath it towards the street. The other evening, I was standing there, amusing myself, when someone nearby started picking a guitar and singing. I poked my head around the corner and found a man sitting on a stone bench. The church’s exterior wall has a lot of angles that provide secluded alcoves. I asked the man if he was practising. He said yeah, he had a gig across the road, just one song but he wanted to get it right.

Shot NE corner of St. James Cathedral

I asked if he’d mind me taking shots of him while he practised. He said sure, but he figured it was probably worth the price of a beer. I said I figured it was, so he did his thing and I did my thing and we both were happy. Mike speaks with a bit of a twang so I was expecting him to sing in a nasal Willie Nelson voice. Mercifully, he’s sings much better than that and his picking is fantastic. You can see from the photos that he plays a mouth organ. I grew up calling it an organ, but he calls it a harp. He plays a Lee Oskar. He doesn’t like Hohner; he says they just don’t hold up.

When it came time to make good on my promise, I realized I’d made a mistake. Normally, when I go out, I load my pockets with twonies. But this evening I’d forgotten. Well, I thought, a deal’s a deal. I held up a twenty dollar bill and said it’s all I had. Mike turned all obsequious on me and it made me feel awkward. He pressed his hands together like he was Gandhi. “Oh man, all I wanted from you was a twonie for a beer. Tell me, are you a Christian?”

Shot NE corner of St. James Cathedral

I hate when people ask me that question. I don’t want to disappoint them. At the same time, I don’t want to be taken for a bigot or an asshole. To be honest, I don’t know what I am. I suppose I’m happily in limbo. I ended up telling Mike that I grew up in the United Church of Canada but I’m a bit lapsed these days. “Lapsed” describes most people who grew up in the United Church of Canada. “Well bless you anyways,” he said.

One day, my photography habit is going to turn me into a bona fide sociologist. I’d love to conduct an investigation of religiosity on the streets. While mainstream media keep harping at the secular/humanist/agnostic shift of the mainstream-cultures/middle-classes/people-who-pull-twenty-dollar-bills-from-their-pockets, that shift doesn’t appear to have touched those who live in the margins. In part, it may have something to do with the fact that a lot of front line services are run by notoriously evangelical Christian organizations. But nowadays even those organizations are under pressure to keep religion out of it. Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, but leave their souls to the great whatever.

So where does it come from? Does it ooze up from the pavement? Is it prompted by the simple fact of poverty? Is it (consciously or otherwise) a way for those living in the margins to distinguish themselves from the secular lost and their barren normativity? Does my vocabulary and academic/investigative posturing merely underscore the barrenness?

Shut up and shoot, Dave. Shoot like it’s a prayer. Share like it’s a sacrament.

Shot NE corner of St. James Cathedral

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Beyoncé, Gomez, LeBron

You suddenly realize you’re middle-aged when you’re standing by the Rogers Centre and say, in a big voice, geez, girls these days sure are dressing up for the ball games, totally unaware that the girls are there for a Beyoncé concert. Last evening it was busy in the 6ix with a Beyoncé concert at the Rogers Centre, a Selena Gomez concert at the ACC, and the bars full of people watching the Raptors take a beating in Cleveland. Beyoncé concerts must be an expensive undertaking for fans. There are the tickets, the dress, the shoes, the limo, the after-party. Makes me wish I’d bought shares in Louis Vuitton. I’m particularly amused by the middle-aged man selling the Selena Gomez T-shirt. He clearly has no grasp of his target demographic. They’re not interested in T-shirts; they’re interested in Versace. But who am I to offer advice. I thought everyone was going to a ball game.


A serious Beyoncé fan gets out of her limo.


Hawking Selena Gomez T-shirts while a Jehovah’s Witness looks on.


Get your Fuck LeBron T-shirt here!

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Buildings In Thunder Bay

The last time I was in Thunder Bay, I overheard someone say: “For a city in the middle of so much natural beauty, it sure puts up some ugly buildings.” I’m not sure if that’s entirely fair. For one thing, the place has some serious weather. After a long winter, exterior surfaces can start to look worn. While there are brick buildings, especially in the downtown part of Port Arthur, a lot of houses and smaller businesses are wood frame and painted. To my mind, the challenge is maintenance. The local economy struggles, and where businesses go under, buildings get neglected. Thunder Bay is also a university town with a transient student population and large rental market. Landlords may not have a commitment to regular upkeep. That, of course, is just an impression I get as I pass through. I could be dead wrong about the state of affairs in Thunder Bay. Maybe I’m just photographing buildings as a way to confirm my already-held assumptions.

Red River Road/Court Street - Thunder Bay

The Loop Clothing, Red River Road/Court Street

Algoma Street South at Night - Thunder Bay

Algoma Street South at Night

Dufferin/Algoma Street South, Thunder Bay

Dufferin/Algoma Street South

Wilson/Court Street South, Thunder Bay

Windswept House – Wilson/Court Street South

Secord Street/Cornwall Avenue, Thunder Bay

Church Door, Secord Street/Cornwall Avenue

Algoma Street South near Dufferin - Thunder Bay

Green Garage, Algoma Street South near Dufferin

Court Street South, Thunder Bay

Use South Side Door, Court Street South

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Long Shadows

The light is different in Thunder Bay. That’s someone from Toronto—a southerner—talking. I’m used to the moderate light of Toronto’s gentler seasonal variations. In Thunder Bay, during the summer, the evening light lingers and casts long shadows down to the lake.

But let’s put things in perspective here. While we from down south tend to think of Thunder Bay as somewhere way up in the north, viewed on a globe, it’s apparent that Thunder Bay sits at a latitude between Paris and London. Meanwhile Toronto, way down in the south, is in line with Cannes on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. All of which is to say that although places like Toronto and Thunder Bay are in Canada, that fact alone doesn’t place them particularly north of anywhere.

Even so, the light is different in Thunder Bay. Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with latitude. But I feel it. Me and my camera know that it’s true. We step outside after dinner and the light blazes down from the northwest. It tears straight down Red River Road and throws shadows over everything.





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Sunrise In Thunder Bay

I’m not usually one to post photos that evoke sentiment and tug at heart strings, which is what seems to happen with sunrise images especially over water. Personally, I’m less into sentiment and more into fart jokes. Nevertheless, when a gigantic fiery fusion reactor explodes over the horizon, who am I to argue with a little sentiment? Below are four photos shot from Prince Arthur’s Landing in Thunder Bay. The first two I shot last September. The last two I shot this May. I’ll introduce the photos with some technical info about each of the four different lenses I used. If technobabble doesn’t kill sentiment, I don’t know what will.

For the first, I used a 24mm F 1.4 prime lens (Sigma Art). The wide angle accounts for the distortion to the edges (e.g. the leaning grain elevator). Note that the “bloody sky” is emphatically not the result of colour enhancement in post-processing. What you see is what I saw.

Sunrise In Thunder Bay

The second photo looks a bit like a cropped detail from the first. In a way it is. I shot the same sailboat with a 100mm F 2.8 IS USM macro lens. Who says you can only use a macro lens for close-ups and portraits?

Sunrise In Thunder Bay

I shot the 3rd photo with a 50mm F 1.4 prime lens (Sigma Art). There is far less distortion to the edges than in the 1st shot. I also used a polarizing filter to tame the light a bit.


For the final shot, I used a Canon 70-200mm F 2.8 L USM telephoto lens to capture the grain elevator and its reflection in the harbour while the sky was still washed in pink hues.

Also, I should mention that for each shot, I froze my ass. To be factual, I froze my fingers. Freezing one’s ass is just an expression. My ass was quite warm.


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Katherine Cove

When I drive up the eastern shore of Lake Superior, I usually pull into Old Woman Bay. With its wide vista stretching out into Superior, it’s a perennial favourite with the tourists. However, photographically speaking, she’s a bitch. Maybe not a bitch. She’d be interesting as a bitch. Mostly, she’s boring. It’s all very beautiful, scenic, expansive, colourful, etc. But so what? Far more interesting, to my mind, is Katherine Cove which lies a little to the south on the same shoreline.

I first stopped at Katherine Cove in May of last year. There were chunks of ice still washing ashore, as I documented in an earlier post. This year, I visited at the same time, but the winter had been too warm. There was no ice. In fact, the water was much lower, and more of the granite outcropping was exposed.


As an urban soul, I don’t do a lot of landscapey stuff, not unless it supports my general aim of exploring the divide between the natural world and our cultural accumulations (e.g. Tim Hortons cups discarded in the forest). I think these shots qualify if I anthropomorphize the scenes. The granite (ancient lava flows later worked over by glaciers and waves) has a sensuous quality. Where it’s worn smooth, it suggests a form that’s vaguely human. Where threads of hardened magma remain, they look sinuous, like exposed muscle.



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Pruce’s Motor Inn

At the 1224 km marker north of Sault Ste Marie on Highway 17 there is a small community called Heyden. One of the most notable buildings in Heyden is (or was) Pruce’s Motor Inn, but 3 or 4 years ago it was destroyed by fire. Ironically, the motel stands next to Heyden’s only other notable building, the fire station. I posted images of the motel last September. It wasn’t a hard winter, so there are no great changes since then, only a subtle drift into dereliction. Unlike my previous post, I chose to present this ruined motel in colour. I’m undecided which is a better mode for ruination: black and white, or colour. However, I do think a yellow chair needs to be in colour.

Pruce's Motor Inn

Pruce's Motor Inn

Pruce's Motor Inn

Pruce's Motor Inn

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Still River Motel

A hundred kilometres south of Sudbury on Highway 69 is a small community called Still River. On the west side of the highway, as you breeze through, is an abandoned motel. In front stands a broken up sign that declares (somewhat prosaically): MOTEL. On our drive up to Thunder Bay, this is where my son and I stopped for our first pee break.


For me, spaces like this evoke feelings of sadness. They are haunted. I hear voices. I enter a room and see where lovers lay. Maybe lovers is too charitable a word. I hear children laughing, but mostly complaining. After a long drive, their mother wants to get to sleep. She has no patience for their whining. There’s a tailgate party a few doors down. It goes long into the morning. Someone breaks a beer bottle and the sound of glass on the pavement offers up a hint of violence.

Still River, Ontario

The violence never comes, of course. The only violence here is the slow violence of decay. If we could speed up our observations with a time lapse video that matched geologic time, the motel’s fall would seem the result of a hammer stroke. Edgar Allen Poe could do no better. But we don’t experience time as gods do, and so the motel’s fall is languorous, almost stately.


All the windows are broken. All the doors hang open. Wind whistles down the central hallway. The blinds clack whenever a breeze plays on them.


In one of the rooms, a mystery. Why is there a ladder here? It’s longer than the room is high. You couldn’t stand it upright to use. Insulation lies heaped in the middle of the room. I surmise that the roof leaked, water accumulated in the insulation until it grew so heavy it brought down the ceiling. The ladder lies on top of the insulation, so it came afterward. Maybe it’s decorative, someone following the aesthetics of abandonment.


For me, photographing doorways is a challenge. Ideally, the centre of your lens should be aligned with the centre of the doorway and the camera should be positioned in relation to the door at precisely 90 degrees. Otherwise the door doesn’t look square in the photo. I never get it right. But that doesn’t seem to matter here. None of the door frames is square by any measure. If you find things wrong with these shots, blame the building.


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