Category Archives: Heart

The category, Heart, is for posts that make us feel.

The Quantum Museum

Typically, once a year, when the weather is hateful, when I can’t muster the will to shoot while standing on a street corner in the rain, I go to the museum instead. I tell myself that what I’m doing is shifting my photographic habits indoors. Street photography inside a big building. Capturing people in the act of being people. But when I get there, I discover that what I think I’m doing and what I find myself in fact doing are two different things. Yes, I find myself watching people in the act of being people inside a big building. But this isn’t any big building. This is a museum. This is a repository for our oldest memories. I find myself watching people in the act of brushing up against their collective memories.

Triceratops in Royal Ontario Museum dinosaur exhibit

I can’t remember the first time I came to this museum—this Royal Ontario Museum. I was born in Toronto, and it seems to me that this museum is part of my psychic bedrock, mixed in with my earliest memories. I remember sitting on the family room floor while my mom played the piano. I remember a Hallowe’en night watching from the front window as all the other kids collected candy while I sat in my skeleton costume and tried not to scratch my chicken pox. And I remember the first time I saw a dead person, the mummy (Antjau) in this museum. I remember the horrified fascination I felt as young child staring at the teeth and empty eye sockets, and realizing that these remains had once been a living person, like me.

Walking between galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum

There are many ways in which the museum is the collision of time past and time present, death and life, stillness and motion. Fossils, mummified remains, taxidermied animals, sit in glass cases and testify to times so remote they scarcely seem real. We gaze into the glass and simultaneously see reflections of ourselves. Grandparents pause to catch their breath while the young grandchildren race ahead to see the next exhibit. The building itself—a mashup of architectural styles—embodies this collision. Century-old Romanesque Revival gets swallowed up or overwritten (or enhanced?) by Daniel Libeskind’s Crystal.

Old and new architecture in the Royal Ontario Museum

Carrying a camera to a museum, I feel a kinship to the curators who develop the exhibits. How do we classify a vase or a bust or a coin? By geography? Historical period? Influences? Provenance? Materials? How does it speak to us? What do we discover about ourselves when we examine it? And how do we think ourselves into the future? Something similar happens with my photographs. I don’t shoot the bare exhibit. That’s mere record keeping. Besides, the museum can do a better job of it, with proper lighting and shooting conditions. But what I might be able to do at least as well as the museum staff is observe the way people interact with the exhibits and the enclosed space of the building. When I get home, I have my own curation to perform. How do organize my photographs? By the location of people in galleries? By their age? By whether they’re active or inactive? Distracted or thoughtful? I ask myself how these people make me feel. I wonder what I might discover about myself as I gaze at their images. And I project myself into our collective future.

Sketching Korean pottery at the Royal Ontario Museum

I have a secret theory that the camera was invented by quantum theorists. Niépce and Daguerre and Talbot where really physicists seeking a way to stare into the deepest secrets of the universe. With their early processes—daguerrotypes and calotypes—they discovered that the world presents simultaneously in more than one state. In their images, we see that the world is both living and dead, both in motion and at rest. It turns out that things we thought were dichotomies belong to the same structure. Though we would like to, we cannot capture photographs and present them to the future as a record of our faded world. That future has already come and gone. Its traces are already in the photographs we present to it.

Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery in the Royal Ontario Museum

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The Billboard Angel

Is there a difference between the dirt-smudged smile
pasted to a seven-foot face on a billboard
and a Netflix scientist riffing on the stardust
that lives and moves and shapes our being?
The teeth survive the body; our dentists have seen
to that. But they’re no match for the stars which wheel
through our dreams even as they snuff us out.
Heed the billboard angel versed in her native
hymnody. Hear her praise to gods no more dead
than those our ancestors flung to the stars.
Logistics unseats reason as reason undid faith.
And catacombs once filled with saintly skulls
now store merchandise waiting on pent demand,
order-picked by priestly bots at our command.

Cracked Face Advertisement

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Ruby Reds & The Silver Lining

On a Saturday night in downtown Thunder Bay, Tamiko and I went to The Foundry Pub to hear Ruby Reds & The Silver Lining. No, this was not a random thing. Our daughter is, as Facebook puts it, in a relationship with one of the members of the band, Quintin Golka. They were really good! My impression is that there’s a huge alternative food/lifestyle/economy/music/culture scene in the Thunder Bay area. Musicians draw a lot of people to the restaurants and pubs, the pubs feed people locally grown produce and meat & serve local beers, ciders and wines. Everybody helps everybody else. Win. Win. Win.

Before the show, I asked Quintin if he thought the people at The Foundry would mind me taking some photos. I was thinking of clubs in Toronto where there’s no way you can pull out a big DSLR and start shooting. He smiled and said: “This is Thunder Bay.” When the music started, I knelt right in front of the stage and stayed there for 20 minutes before moving to stairs at the back of the venue. I would never have been able to do that in Toronto!

Outside The Foundry Pub, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Outside The Foundry Pub, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Quintin Golka & Skylar Speer at The Foundry

Quintin Golka & Skylar Speer

Frontman for Ruby Red’s and The Silver Lining

Quintin Golka, frontman for Ruby Reds and The Silver Lining

Frontman for Ruby Red’s and The Silver Lining

Quintin Golka

Ruby Red’s and The Silver Lining, playing at The Foundry

Skylar Speer

 Skylar Speer, Ruby Red’s and The Silver Lining

Skylar Speer, Ruby Reds and The Silver Lining

Skylar Speer playing the guitar

Skylar Speer playing the guitar

Ruby Red’s and The Silver Lining, playing at The Foundry

John Laco, drummer for Ruby Red’s and The Silver Lining

Ruby Red’s and The Silver Lining, playing at The Foundry

John Laco, drummer for Ruby Reds and The Silver Lining

The Foundry Pub, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Interior shot of The Foundry Pub, Thunder Bay, Ontario

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Long Branch Hotel

In May, I documented a visit to an abandoned motel in the small community of Still River on Highway 69 about three hours north of Toronto. I returned there earlier this month and the improbable happened. The owners caught me trespassing. To be honest, I don’t think I’d earn the right to call myself a photographer if things like this didn’t happen now and again.

Entrance to Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

We’d pulled onto the broad stretch of asphalt in front of the motel, weeds sprouting through the cracks. Tamiko was tired and stayed in the car to snooze. As I pulled my gear from the back seat, I heard car tires crunching behind me. I didn’t pay any attention. Cars pull in and out of these places all the time as people stop for a stretch or to run around back for bladder relief. The driver rolled down her window and asked what I was doing. I’m always puzzled by that question. There I stand with a tripod, a big camera bag, and a DSLR slung around my neck, yet people invariably ask what I’m doing. The woman who spoke was older, maybe retirement age, and a man sat beside her in the passenger seat. The man got out of the car and let a big dog out of the back.

Sign for Long Branch Hotel, Dining Lounge, Truckers Welcome

In a brilliant flash of deductive reasoning, it occurred to me that the woman must be the owner of the establishment, so I asked and she nodded: she was indeed the owner of the Long Branch Hotel. The man grinned and asked if I’d be interested in buying. Or maybe I know somebody. In another brilliant flash, it occurred to me that all she really wanted was some assurance that I wasn’t about to smash windows and spraypaint the walls. I surmised (correctly) that if I chatted her up I’d be fine. Pretty soon, I had the story of the Long Branch Hotel.

Interior shot: Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

Vacuum Cleaner in lobby of Long Branch Hotel

At one point, it had been a going concern. You can still see the faded letters of the sign: “Truckers welcome” with the image of a cowboy in chaps. There was the motel, a place for truckers to park their rigs, and a restaurant, one of the few places to eat on the stretch of highway between Parry Sound and Sudbury. But then all the big chains set up in Parry Sound. Nowadays, it’s not good enough to have a room and a bite to eat. People want hot tubs and gyms, too. Their modest roadside motel couldn’t compete with the big chains so they gave up the business.

Until a year ago, they lived nearby, but then they moved to Elliot Lake. In fact, they were just driving down from Elliot Lake when they noticed us pulling in. Since they moved away, people had been sneaking onto the property and vandalizing it, though they’ve never been able to catch anyone in the act, notwithstanding the OPP station immediately to the south. I assured the woman that I wasn’t about to damage her property and politely asked if it was okay to photograph it. She asked what I meant to do with the photos. I told her and she said: feel free.

Interior shot of Long Branch Hotel

She and her husband watched me for a bit as I fiddled with my tripod, fiddled with my lenses, fiddled with my filters, fiddled with my settings. Fiddle fiddle fiddle. Watching a photographer capture an image is bloody boring. I guess they got bored of watching me and drove away. I’m just glad Tamiko didn’t drive away, too. It’s a long walk from Still River to anywhere else.

Rear door, Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

Behind the Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

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Open Streets TO 2016

Yesterday was the year’s 2nd Open Streets TO. Bloor Street from Broadview to Dufferin, & Yonge Street from Bloor to Queen, were opened up to pedestrians, cyclists, longboarders, unicyclists, etc. while the city took a much needed rest from the rumble and rush of vehicular traffic. It was also a good opportunity for photographers. I got to take shots from places that, ordinarily, might cost me my life. Here is a selection:

Barefoot in a suit on Bloor Street

Look closely: the barefoot guy is playing a harmonica.

Texting on a Segway

You can’t drive and text, but I assume it’s ok to Segway.

Filming video from a bicycle

A drive-by shooting. This guy seemed delighted that I was shooting him as he was shooting me.

Ball hockey on Bloor Street

On any other day, this stretch of road is clogged with trucks and cabs.

Posing in front of Louis Vuitton

You can look good without help from Louis Vuitton.

Playing piano on Bloor Street in front of the RCM

I love the longboard propped against the piano.

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Chess in front of Metropolitan United

Fall is approaching, and the weather is glorious. The men who play chess in front of Metropolitan United Church are taking full advantage of the situation. Fueled by pop, they battle through the afternoon. I watch a couple guys play for a time. There’s a break in the play so I ask if they’d mind me taking some shots. I do my best to shoot when it won’t disturb their concentration. I’m not sure it matters. They’re incredibly focused. The play is fast. These guys are good.

Playing chess in front of Metropolitan United Church in Toronto

It’s hard to believe only five months ago the table where they are sitting was covered in snow. Do they play in the winter? Where do they go? I wish I’d thought to ask. Given their obsessive approach to the game, I assume they play year-round non-stop. I expect they see chess boards in their dreams. You don’t get as good as they are without a lot of practice and a lot of reading.

Snow-covered chess table in front of Metropolitan United Church in Toronto

Looking north away from the chess tables is the church entrance. The square bell tower rises above it and watches over the park. How long before the land is parceled off for condos that watch over the bell tower?

Front door of Toronto's Metropolitan United Church in winter

One of these days I’ll shoot a chess game with a tripod and a neutral density filter. I’ll slow the whole thing down so it looks like a sports shoot. A man reaches for his knight and his arm blurs across the board. His opponent answers with his queen. I’ll shoot low from the board like I’m one of the pieces. The queen will land on me in a flash and stomp all over me. Chess as a full contact sport. Mixed Martial Chess.

Playing chess in front of Metropolitan United Church in Toronto

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Poem: Extroverted Summer Days

We’re smitten
by extroverted summer days,
effusive skies,
sunlight chattering through leaves.
Soon it’s time
for the weather to turn,
a seat alone,
rain clattering against the pane.

Man walking in sunlight and casting long shadow

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Chat With Rat Boy

chat-with-rat-boy-564-1

Walking up Bay Street from King, I saw two guys sitting on the sidewalk. It was rush hour and people were pouring from the buildings to make their dash down to Union Station. At first, I didn’t think anything of it: two more kids begging on the streets. But as I passed, I did a double-take. A rat had climbed onto the one kid’s shoulder. I stopped and knelt beside him: “Is that what I think it is?”

He smiled and confirmed that it was a rat. But he was quick to add that rats make good pets. They’re intelligent and loyal. Easy to care for. They’ll eat anything humans eat. Except potatoes. Don’t feed them potatoes. There’s something in the skins that’s poisonous to rats. The only downside to rats is that they eat a lot, almost as much as dogs. As he spoke, I had visions of Willard in my head.

He bought his rat at PJ’s Pet Store. He boarded all the way up Yonge Street to the store north of Lawrence. He’s had his rat for more than a year now. Before that, he had another rat that he bought at the PJ’s in Barrie, but somebody stole it.

“Somebody stole your rat?”

“Yeah. I think because it was black and white. So I bought a brown rat instead. Nobody wants a brown rat. They look dirty.”

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Urban Scenes: Montréal

It’s been a long time since I was last in Montréal. Decades, in fact. As a kid, I’d go at least once a month with my parents to visit my grandparents. One of my earliest memories comes from Montréal: Expo ’67. I don’t remember much about Expo ’67 except that I got my hand smushed by the monorail door. I was staring out the door’s window, hands pressed against the glass. When the monorail pulled into the station, the doors retracted into their slots and dragged one of my hands with them. I remember screaming and screaming. My parents tell me my hand was flattened and stayed that way for the rest of the day. They thought it would never be right. But young bones are resilient and by the next morning my hand had popped back to its normal size. In a sense, Expo was a masturbatory celebration of all things modern—technology, progress, future fetishism, all that sort of thing. I think my hand-smushing trauma may account for my lifelong suspicion of modernism and for my general expectation that it inevitably fails to deliver on its promises. It’s a miracle I can play the piano.

I was in Montréal during the October crisis. I remember how soldiers stopped our car at the Quebec border and questioned my father. My grandfather was a minister and one of his parishioners showed up at the manse in a panic, convinced the FLQ had a cell in her apartment building. My grandfather made a phone call and soon the manse was teeming with police and paramilitary types. I was too young to understand the issues, but I was old enough to understand in a visceral way the meaning of military authority, and the connection between fear and power. In retrospect, I think Trudeau’s War Measures Act was thoroughly reprehensible, but thoroughly understandable in light of the values celebrated during Expo ’67.

A couple years later, my grandfather retired from the ministry. As anglophones in an increasingly politicized and culturally polarized environment, they decided to leave. On his own, I think my grandfather could have adapted quite nicely to life there, but my grandmother was American and had already made one enormous cultural change when she married my grandfather and moved to New Brunswick. I don’t think she had it in her to make another major cultural change. I suspect, for her, the Montréal charge was only ever provisional. So my grandparents moved to Ontario. After that, I only ever visited Montréal on my way to somewhere else—until last week when I discovered how much I miss the city. We visited the offices of McCarthy Tétrault (my wife’s employer) and from the reception windows on the 25th floor of Le 1000 de la Gauchetière I looked out over Habitat 67 and La Biosphère where I had my hand smushed nearly 50 years ago. I looked across the river and thought I could almost see the spire of the church where my grandfather had served. I was surprised at how the view brought a lump to my throat. I need to spend more time there.

Child Crossing Place d'Armes, BMO Banque de Montréal in background

Child Crossing Place d’Armes, BMO Banque de Montréal in background

Sidewalk, Rue Saint Pierre, Old Montréal

Sidewalk, Rue Saint Pierre

Subway station on the Orange Line of the Montreal Metro rapid transit system

Square-Victoria-OACI – Subway station on the Montreal Metro

Garbage residue flowing down Evans Court, Old Montréal

Garbage residue flowing down Evans Court

View from alley onto Metcalfe St., Montréal

View from alley onto Metcalfe Street

Street Art at Boulevard de Maisonneuve & Rue de la Montagne, Montréal

Street Art thru phone booth at Blvd de Maisonneuve & Rue de la Montagne

Poster on Mill Street Bridge, Montréal - Pointe du Moulin à Vent in background.

Poster on Mill Street Bridge – Pointe du Moulin à Vent in background

Pointe du Moulin à Vent, Montréal

Shadows On Silos – Pointe du Moulin à Vent

Shadow of Stop Sign on Wall

Shadow of Stop Sign on Wall

Exterior of Centre de Sciences de Montréal

Exterior of Centre de Sciences de Montréal

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Street Photographs From Montreal

This post is dedicated to my spouse, lover, therapist & best friend, Tamiko, for her measureless patience. When we holiday together, I insist on using my camera, not to shoot the sights like a normal tourist, but to treat our time away as an opportunity to get good photographs. So it was last week in Montreal. It’s an addiction; I can’t help myself. She turns her back for a minute and I’m gone. I get a text: “Where r u?” I answer: “Saw a puddle.” I love puddles. Kids splash in them. I block pedestrian traffic, crouch low, and shoot reflections in them. Bus windows are good for that, too. Kids. Fire escapes. Stupid signs. Bicycles. People on cell phones. People off cell phones. People crossing streets. The occasions for us to get separated are limitless. Tamiko bears it all with the patience of Penelope and I thank her.

Boy plays piano outside Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History

Boy plays piano outside Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History

Puddle On Cobblestone, Rue St Paul E, Old Montreal

Puddle On Cobblestone, Rue St Paul E

Tourists Off The Bus, Old Montreal

Tourists Off The Bus

Drinking a Coke at the Rue de Vaudreuil, Old Montreal

Drinking a Coke at the foot of Rue de Vaudreuil

Man In Parking Lot, Rue de la Montagne, Montreal

Man In Parking Lot

Couple holding hands, crossing street (Sainte-Catherine & Peel), Montreal

Couple holding hands, crossing street

Beer Wine - Poster on Canada Post Box (Sainte-Catherine & Metcalfe), Montreal

Beer Wine – Poster on Canada Post Box

Bicycle Passing Fire Escape (Rue Notre-Dame O), Montreal

Bicycle Passing Fire Escape

Gripping Smartphone

Gripping Smartphone

Intersection At Night (Place d'Youville & Rue Saint Pierre), Montreal

Intersection At Night

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