Category Archives: Heart

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

Go To Where Luck Is

I once had a professor who was the most humourless man I’d ever met. Do you remember Kingsfield from The Paper Chase? My professor was like Kingsfield. He seemed to delight in grinding students into piles of dust through inquisition-sytle interrogations and public humiliations. Yet one day my professor cracked a joke. Apropos of nothing, he said to the class: “As my uncle Max once told me, never marry for money; go to where money is and marry for love.” Most of us were too stunned to laugh. Our jaws fell open and we let out choked gurgling sounds.

I wouldn’t mention the joke except that it illustrates an interesting point that’s transferable to photography. Sometimes, it seems that what makes an image interesting has little to do with skill, and everything to do with luck. A preacher is talking to his acolytes and turns at just the right angle so that the cross dangling around his neck catches the sunlight. It looks as if a holy light blazes from his chest. A one in a million shot, or so it would seem. And yet these one in a million shots are more like one in a hundred shots. They happen again and again. The reason, I think, has something to do with uncle Max’s advice.


Street Preacher at Yonge & Dundas.

Except for B & W conversion, this image has not been retouched.

Detail. Except for B & W conversion, this image has not been retouched.

In photography, never rely on luck; go to where luck is and rely on skill. Or, to put it differently, an essential part of the photographer’s craft is to engineer luck. In the genre of street photography, a good way to engineer luck is to place yourself in a heavily traveled public space when the light is good and shoot and shoot and shoot. In Toronto, one of those lucky locations is the southwest corner of Yonge & Dundas Streets. There, it’s easy to shoot people in a crowd (fish in a barrel, as they say). The challenge is to isolate an individual, or a discrete interaction, so that they don’t get lost in the onslaught of people.


Man carrying suitcase and garment bag.

People are streaming across the intersection. Every third change of the lights is an all-way crossing for pedestrians. They head north to the movie theatres or the HMV or the liquor store or the Ryerson campus. They head south to the Yonge/Dundas Square or the Eaton Centre or the Hard Rock Café. A break appears and a young man emerges from the crowd. He carries a suitcase and garment bag. More distinctive, though, is that fact that he wears a vest and carries a pocket watch. It’s as if he’s stepped from a time warp and into my frame.

After dark, as I’m walking home from a film, I pass through the same corner of the same intersection. Three men are playing drums. That in itself isn’t particularly interesting. Buskers form one of the many tired clichés of street photography. I’m prepared to ignore them except that the crowd encircling them isn’t watching them. I follow their stares to an older man in hospital garb and blue booties who has set his cane to one side and is dancing to the rhythms. I use the term “dancing” loosely. A teenager drops a coin in the bucket and swings around the old man. What is happening here? Where has the man come from? The drummers call him by name. Is he a regular? And what about the audience? Many of them have smartphones raised to shoot pictures of the old man. Do they care about him? Do they feel concern? Or are they voyeurs? Are they the sort of people who would cheer at a train wreck?


Man in hospital garb dances to drummers.

Speaking of voyeurs, I’m fascinated by tourists. They ride around in their red double-decker buses. Here’s the museum. There’s the CN Tower. Look at Casa Loma up there on the hill. It strikes me as a rather sanitized way to view things. At a granular level, things are not so pretty but they are definitely more interesting. Step out of the bus and meet real people! Or are you afraid that would that shatter your pleasant idealized view of the city? Below, a red tour bus passes a man as it pulls to its stop on the southeast corner of Yonge & Dundas. I wonder what they think of this man. I wonder if they even see him.


Tourists in their safe red bus.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

A couple weeks ago, we went early into Glasgow, found a place to eat breakfast (that played ’70’s rock as background muzak) near the foot of Byres Road, then walked along Dumbarton to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. We didn’t plan to stay long. Just long enough to check in on some old friends. Since admission is free, it’s easy enough to pop in for a few minutes, then continue on to somewhere else. Our old friends include a painting, Dali’s St. John of the Cross, and some sculptures shown below.

I like John Cage’s approach to music and think it’s equally applicable to other media. During a performance, Cage would open a concert hall and allow all the ambient noise—honking horns and jack hammers—to impinge on the scored music. He saw no necessary distinction between the “official” music listed on a program and the other sounds we encounter in our daily lives. In the same spirit, I see no necessary distinction between the curated works of art that appear in a gallery and the visual gifts that appear in my camera’s lens. And so I include in this post images of a garbage can in front of the museum, a discarded piece of plastic by an exterior wall, and a notice to “Mind The Step” outside the entrance.

Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

Return To Sender, 1996, Mixed Media Sculpture by Sean Read

Return To Sender, 1996, Mixed Media Sculpture by Sean Read

Floating Heads, by Sophy Cave

Floating Heads, by Sophy Cave

The Harpy Celaeno, 1902, Marble Sculpture by Mary Pownall

The Harpy Celaeno, 1902, Marble Sculpture by Mary Pownall

Garbage Can in front of Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow

Garbage Can in front of Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

Plastic Food Container In Puddle

Plastic Food Container In Puddle

Mind The Step, Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Mind The Step, Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

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Scottish Scenes

Some of these images are exercises in poor-weather photography. Overcast sky. Threat of rain. Absence of shadows. The last image stands as proof that the sun can indeed shine in Scotland, though not reliably. All these images, regardless of weather & lighting conditions, have at least one thing in common. They all break a basic “rule” of photography: don’t run the horizon line through the centre of your image; place it on one of the lines dividing the image into thirds. It’s a tiresome rule and I recommend breaking it. The reason for the rule is valid enough: a horizon line through the middle of a photograph can make it look static and bland. But there are plenty of other ways to introduce a dynamic feeling into a photograph without manipulating the horizon line.

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Tree on Milarrochy Bay, Loch Lomond

Detail of valve on steamship, Sir Walter Scott

Detail of valve on steamship, Sir Walter Scott, on Loch Katrine

Shot near Kirkintilloch, Scotland

View from towpath, Forth & Clyde Canal, near Kirkintilloch

Beach south of Dunure, Scotland

Rock In Water, beach south of Dunure, Scotland

Near Maidens, Scotland

Culzean Castle

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Glasgow Street Photography

Over the past year, I’ve had the good fortune to find myself in some of the world’s best locales for street photography: Manhattan, Hong Kong, & Singapore. Although Glasgow is much smaller by comparison, it shares the vibe that makes these larger cities such great places to shoot. From a technical perspective, Glasgow works well because the weather sucks; on any given day it’s even odds the weather will be overcast which means you don’t have to contend with deep shadows; and rain turns pavement into a reflective surface that produces a feeling of intimacy. The city also has great high-traffic public spaces. Only an hour away, in tourist-infested Edinburgh, the people are genteel; they tuck away their idiosyncrasies. By contrast, Glaswegians are blunt; they won’t leave you in doubt about who they are or what they’re thinking. Chutzpah is a phrase that comes to mind. Bluntness cuts both ways for street photographers. On the one hand, if they don’t want you taking their photo, they’ll tell you. On the other hand, pointing a camera is a blunt communication in its own right, and more often than not Glaswegians will respect that.

Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Scotland

Woman With Canes, Sauchiehall Street

Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Scotland

Think Before You Step Out, Sauchiehall Street

Glasgow, Scotland

Bus On Ingram Street

Argyll Arcade, Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Scotland

Setting Out Jewelry, Argyll Arcade, Buchanan Street

Argyll Arcade, Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Scotland

Idle Beadle, Argyll Arcade, Buchanan Street

Mitchell & Gordon Streets, Glasgow, Scotland

Pedestrians at Mitchell & Gordon Streets

Walking In Rain along St. Vincent Place, Glasgow, Scotland

Texting & smoking in the rain on St. Vincent Place

Glasgow, Scotland

Woman Smoking In Rain, Looking Down Exchange Place to Buchanan St.

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Last week, we stayed overnight at a beach south of Dunure on the west coast of Scotland. At low tide, we were able to walk along the sand to Culzean Castle. If we’d been more ambitious, we could have continued along to the village of Maidens where Donald Trump has lent his name to a luxury resort. If we’d been really ambitious, we would have duffed golf balls through the windows, but why waste perfectly good balls?

Algae & Seaweed

What caught my attention most were the jellyfish washed onto the beach. It gave me the perfect opportunity to play with new gear. I was putting a Sony Alpha A7 II through its paces and brought along a Metabones adapter so I could use my Canon lenses with it. Yeah, whatever. I used a 100mm f/2.8 macro for the jellyfish. The great advantage of the Sony body is that the rear LCD monitor tilts so that you can place the camera on the ground or, in this case, on the wet sand, and shoot low without getting a soaker every time you try to frame a shot.


I took my first shots in the late afternoon. I shot into the light. The translucent jellyfish bodies acted as a natural light filter, adding a tinge of purple to the images. Reflections from the background water produced a nice bokeh effect. As an aside: in some places there were so many jellyfish, we had to watch where we were going. Stepping on a jellyfish is a bit like stepping on a cow platt.


The effects of backlight & bokeh were more pronounced when I went out at 9:30 pm as the sun was setting. That introduced oranges to the purples.


Shooting jellyfish seems a far cry from my street photography but, maybe, from a jellyfish point of view, these are candid portraits capturing life in the raw. I walk along the beach like some gigantic—I don’t know—two-legged oppressor?—and all the jellyfish scream in terror as they catch sight of me. I capture the panic in their, um, eyes, or whatever. Oh the humanity! Oh the snot-like goo!


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Toronto Pride Parade 2016

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve decided to present all my images from Toronto’s Pride Parade(s) in black and white to mark the black and white terms that seem to have corseted the Pride/BLMTO conversation. I’m not sure representatives of either group speak for much beyond the right to make themselves the targets of corporate marketing in heavily sponsored parades. I get tired of the polarized terms of public conversation and the acrimony they engender. So I go for the photo-ops and leave the acrimony to other people. I get in close. I guess it’s a species of street portraiture. Make what you want of my images. I decline to interpret them.








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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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