Category Archives: Elbow

The category, Elbow, is for posts that make us laugh.

Ass Detection Software

I have a great idea for a new tech startup and am thinking I could finance it with a kickstarter campaign. Maybe $10 would do. I want to develop ass detection software. A specialized algorithm would scan digital photographs and identify all asses. Once the algorithm had learned the generalized task of locating an ass, it would go on to the more specialized task of identifying the “owner” of the ass. I’m proceeding on the assumption that each person has a unique set of identifying markers: shape, roundness, proportions, depth, that sort of thing. I expect my algorithm could map an ass (make an assessment, if you will) in much the same way that NASA programs have mapped the terrain of Jupiter’s moons, converting 2-dimensional images into 3-dimensional topographic representations of hilly regions and crevices.

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Such an algorithm would have obvious applications for social media platforms, allowing users to identify friends from photos of their asses and, of course, allowing advertisers to more precisely target their marketing dollars based on ass identification markers (AIM). Naturally, the details of this procedure cannot be laid bare at this time as they might compromise certain trade secrets.

My project could also have applications for law enforcement since it is the ass that police officers get a good look at as the suspect flees the scene of a crime. Ass lineups at the police station have never been particularly successful. Few eye-witnesses ever say: “Yeah, I’d recognize that ass anywhere.” But an effective algorithm could be a real game-changer.

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One impediment to success is the fact that some people prefer to wear baggy clothes and this tends to obscure the contours of the ass. Athletic wear is this project’s friend; hip hop, on the other hand, poses challenges which may prove insurmountable. As for the burkini, don’t even get me started.

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However, this challenge is not unlike the issue which has plagued facial recognition programs when people wear masks to parades and scarves to protests. In such cases, the solution has been simple: make up some bullshit about how obscuring faces poses a threat to public safety, then get the legislators to ban it. They could do the same thing in this case. Baggy pants upset the public order; burkinis undermine social mores. Therefore we must outlaw ass-coverings in public places. Force everyone to go au naturale. It might get cold in the winter, but why worry about a consequence that’s way in the future. Who needs to think that far ahead? In situations like this, few people ever do.

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Instagram Photos & Mental Health

I finally relented and set up an Instagram account. So far, I’ve been posting portfolio quality images and some of the best from my latest street shots. I have NOT been posting selfies with famous people, me getting wasted with friends on a Saturday night, or shots of whatever I happen to order at my favourite restaurant. My aims are simpler. I love photography and want to share it with like-minded people. I hope that they’ll share with me, too.

But today I learned from M2 (New Zealand’s only men’s lifestyle magazine) that “Your Instagram Photos Speak Volumes About Your Mental Health”. So says a study by two researchers who are, like, you know, reputable and stuff. Using a computational diagnostic tool, the researchers analyzed 43,950 photos posted by 166 individuals and compared those results to the diagnostic opinions of human mental health professionals who examined the same photos. The upshot is that the computational tool was more successful than the humans at diagnosing depression based on posts to Instagram. While their finding is interesting, what caught my attention is their methodology, how they analyzed the photos. As the abstract indicates: “Photos posted by depressed individuals were more likely to be bluer, grayer, and darker.”

Should I be calling my therapist? Reviewing my posts to Instagram, I note that I frequently desaturate my images. Citing other studies, the authors state that “healthy individuals identified darker, grayer colors with negative mood, and generally preferred brighter, more vivid colors. By contrast, depressed individuals were found to prefer darker, grayer colors.” Shit, maybe I’m in trouble. Take a look at three images I processed from yesterday’s foray into the streets of downtown Toronto. Although it was a sunny day, I transformed them into dark, even gloomy, scenes.

Man crossing street at Bathurst & Bloor in front of Honest Eds

Then again, I often process my photos while bearing in mind well-established conventions within the genre of street photography and filtering those conventions through personal aesthetic aims. Colour is often a distraction. Typically (but not always), it improves an image to strip away unnecessary elements. Unless colour has something to do with the point of the image, it’s one of those unnecessary elements. High contrast black and white often delivers more impact. Or maybe I’m just making a sorry attempt at rationalizing away my own depressive tendencies. Maybe those at risk of depression naturally gravitate to modes of expression that include conventions that also serve as markers of depression. I could argue with myself all day over this one. I wonder if arguing with myself is a symptom of anything.

Man pulls pallet up Spadina Avenue, Toronto

The study used social engagement as the other major marker of depression. The authors state:

Depression is strongly associated with reduced social activity (20,21). As Instagram is used to share personal experiences, it is reasonable to infer that posted photos with people in them may capture aspects of a user’s social life. On this premise, we used a face detection algorithm to analyze Instagram posts for the presence and number of human faces in each photograph. We also counted the number of comments and likes each post received as measures of community engagement, and used posting frequency as a metric for user engagement.

On this measure, I’m screwed! Sure, I post lots of photos with people in them, but the people aren’t people I know, and the photos can’t be taken as evidence of how socially engaged I am in my life. Quite the opposite. Street photography is an intentional exercise in observation. When I engage in it, I have no life; I hold myself apart from the world and simply observe. The lens often functions as a barrier between me and the world. As for likes and comments, my Instagram account is pathetic. Please go there and heart me. Pretty please.

The authors seem to imply that the more engaged with social media, the better a person’s mental health. They treat online social interaction as if it were equivalent to real world social interaction. I find that premise suspect. Although I’m not a practitioner of the social sciences, I would wager my 5DS that there are a bucketload of studies to support my suspicion. Online social and community engagement is not the same as in the real world. They’re horses of a different colour greyscale.

Man washes cement mixer in Chinatown, Toronto

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Photography Betrays God’s Creation

Photography Betrays God’s Creation – or at least that’s the sort of statement that could have served as the headline for an article published in an 1839 edition of a German newspaper in response to rumours that a new process had been invented. The author writes: “To fix fleeting images is not only impossible, as has been demonstrated by very serious experiments in Germany, it is a sacrilege. God has created man in His image and no human machine can capture the image of God. He would have to betray all his Eternal Principles to allow a Frenchman in Paris to unleash such a diabolical invention upon the world.” Cited in Photography & Society by Gisèle Freund. Maybe it was a Lutheran thing. Roman Catholics certainly didn’t share these concerns. Freund reports that in 1867, the Alsatian photographer, Adolphe Braun, persuaded the Vatican to allow representatives from his studio to photograph the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The project took 6 months to prepare and 2 years to execute. Freund notes: “Even the Pope, it is said, became interested in the Alsatian’s work, and visited the chapel several times a week to prowl around the scaffolding and to chat with the photographer.”

Meanwhile, I continue in my diabolical ways, as evidenced by this photograph I shot last week in Montreal, a discarded paper Pepsi cup in front of the Notre-Dame Basilica.

Pepsi cup in front of Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

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Speaking Scottish

While (or is it whilst?) visiting Glasgow & environs last week, I was introduced to the sitcom, Still Game (available on Netflix). It’s about two widowers who share a council flat on the outskirts of Glasgow. They frequent the local pub where they round out their geriatric adventures with a few pints and, like all Glaswegians, the more they drink, the broader their accent. There is banter that, to my North American ear, is  incomprehensible. That pretty much matches my real-life experience as a guest in Kirkintilloch with a room full of locals chatting up their Canadian friend while polishing off a couple bottles of Laphraoig. Apparently, they were speaking my mother tongue. They themselves acknowledged that it might sound foreign to me. That’s an understatement. There were times when I thought I was on another planet.

Tying Up The Steamship, Sir Walter Scott

I love to go into Glasgow for the street photography. One morning, while (or is it whilst?) ambling down Sauchiehall Street, I noticed a man on a bench who was engaged in an animated conversation with a can of lager. It was all in that broad Glaswegian accent so I had no idea what he was saying. I doubled back for a better shot, at which point he caught sight of me and turned. At first, I thought I had captured yet another Scotsman on his way to a day-long bender with a siesta in an alley. It wasn’t until later, when I examined the photo more closely, that I realized something else might be happening. You will note the books peeking out of his coat pocket. The closest is a dog-eared copy of Shakespeare’s MacBeth, the Scottish tragedy. He wasn’t having a conversation with his can of lager; he was reciting lines. It got me to thinking about the performances of MacBeth I’ve seen, how the leading role is always played by a grand Shakespearean actor delivering his soliloquies in the Queen’s English. But really, wouldn’t it be more true to life if MacBeth were seriously pissed and spoke in a broad incomprehensible Glaswegian?

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Accents and dialects are local. Like a pin on a map, they fix a person to a particular region.  I’ve read statements from other photographers who extol their craft as a kind of universal speech. They tell us that images are like music: they are accessible across cultures; they bridge barriers of language. I’m not sure that’s a virtue. Maybe universality is possible only when it engages us in acts of erasure. A man walks down an alley with a cell phone pressed to his ear. Click. I catch him as he passes. The resulting image is easy to read. Perspective lines draw our eyes to the lightest part of the image somewhere at the end of the alley. The man is following those lines to that light place. Lines of perspective are a universal phenomenon. The alley could be anywhere, Manhattan, Kowloon. The movement from darkness to light has a Jungian appeal. But the image erases the gritty particularity of that locale off Buchanan Street. The smell of an old industrial town. The speech into the cell phone. Low. Not posh, like in Edinburgh. The distinctive traces of a paradoxical place that rejected independence from the UK, but also rejected the UK’s call to leave the EU. My image trashes all of that and leaves you with a simple (almost numbingly stupid) message.

Off Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Scotland

A man reading a newspaper raises similar issues. A mass-media rag owned by which corporate conglomerate? With headquarters where? Paying dividends to shareholders around the globe? It offers local news, but filtered through a formula that gets applied on every continent. I critique what I see, but how am I any better than the rag? I internalize big media’s visual formulas and filter everything I see, even everything I see critically, through its assumptions. In the background, a kid plays a guitar. Maybe he’s like me. Maybe he craves to maintain his status as an outlier, to sing with integrity, to honour his local culture. But he can’t help himself. He’s listened to too many top-40 radio stations (or the online equivalent). He’s internalized the demand for slick mediocrity.

Reading Newspaper on Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Scotland

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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.

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A serious Beyoncé fan gets out of her limo.

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

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Get your Fuck LeBron T-shirt here!

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Singapore’s Arab Town

I’ve already noted the disneyfied feel to much of Singapore. Arab Town is no exception. When I first saw the Sultan Mosque, I expected Iago, the parrot from Aladdin, to swoop down from the roof.

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The people there look real enough, but, for all I know, they could have been planted by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Men in Arab Town, Singapore

Maybe it’s like West World. When all the tourists go back to their hotels, the technicians come out from secret hatches to service the robots, upgrade their software, oil their joints.

Man in Singapore's Arab Town

The children robots are especially cute. Having them play with toy airplanes is a nice touch.

Child With Toy

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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.

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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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Over-exposure

Now, as the weather turns colder, one must take precautions against over-exposure. Photographers, of course, are concerned about over-exposure all year round. Photographers tend to think of over-exposure as the presence of too much light space in an image, but over-exposure can just as easily result from the presence of too much dark space in an image. Watch out for dark space. If handled poorly, it can ruin your photograph.

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Mike

This is Mike. He was waiting for a bus on the northeast corner of Bathurst and Dupont. He was sitting with his back to the window of the Vesta Lunch shop. A low November sun shone full in his face. There was a backlight, too, reflecting from the shop window.

Mike

Mike invited me to a party. He said there’d be a girl there. The whole thing would be recorded on video. Streamed on the internet. I could wear a mask if I liked. I don’t know why, but while he told me this, I was wondering who he voted for in the last federal election. I didn’t ask, of course. I didn’t want to make him feel awkward.

Mike

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Signs Of The Times

A selection of signs in downtown Toronto:

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No Smokin or Standing at Psychic Entraence!!

I don’t see that a psychic has much to complain about in this situation; she should have foreseen the problem before she set up business. Also, I would have thought psychics are better spellers than this. Couldn’t she “travel” to the library & consult the OED before she tried a tricky word like “entrance?” When people consult her, does she put them in a traence?

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