Tag Archives: Advertising

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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Random Acts Of Creativity

The old house was the same, droopy and sick, but as we stared down the street we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.

Somebody cut a few sentences from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and pasted them to the side of a booth in a parking lot. Why would they do that?


I like to get up in the morning and follow more or less the same routine every day.* Mostly I get dressed by starting with my underwear, though, if I throw caution to the wind, I might start with my socks instead. I eat my cereal with a sliced banana on top and wash it all down with a glass of grapefruit juice and a mug of black coffee. I eat my lunch at noon and my supper at six. I go to bed at eleven so I can have a good night’s sleep. I like the regularity. It never occurs to me that I could disrupt this well laid pattern by snipping up a novel and pasting bits of it onto carefully selected surfaces. It might make me late for lunch.

In the same way, it never occurs to me to stay up past my bedtime, sneak through the dark streets, and peel selected letters from a shop window so the remaining letters offer an entirely different message.

Adulterated Shop Sign on Queen Street West, Toronto

I think it has something to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I’m a closed system with no energy from outside sources, so I wind down as the energy dissipates. One day, I’ll be old and doddery. I’ll hobble around on a cane and yell for everyone to speak up. People who design and print stickers of stylized hotdogs, then run around the city looking for places to stick them, are people who have mysterious reserves of energy. Their creativity defies the fundamental laws of the universe. They are demi-gods creating ex nihilo. They are ageless.


But the execution (of a creative plan) accounts for only half the energy. Before the snipping or the peeling or the designing or the printing or the running around, there’s the imagining. There’s the decisive moment when a person says “aha, I could really DO that.” For ordinary mortals, that imaginative act draws GigaWatts from the grid, but for creative demi-gods, the “aha” moment arrives with a lightning bolt and, for that reason, has its own power supply. Even the simple act of giving a stone figure a cigarette catchlight leaves the traces of an autocatalytic impulse.


Something you should know about random acts of creativity (RACs for short): they haven’t been vetted or approved or officialized by an authoritative curator type. That means not everybody is happy to see their appearance in public spaces. If RACs could be curated, then everybody would be happy because they would have the assurance that, somehow, the RACs had a proper place in the big picture; they might even have an economic rationale which, no doubt, is the true raison d’être of all creative undertakings.


Something else you should know about RACs: they are ephemeral. One day, I passed a brilliant treatment of James Dean. The next day, I passed and it was gone. Someone in authority had obliterated it with whitewash. Why do we put up with such vandalism!

Rebel With A Cause

These ephemera are the shadows of consumerism. Like all consumer goods, planned obsolescence is written into their DNA. Some of them shine at us like glossy advertising. We note them with a two-second flick and then they turn invisible to us. We become desensitized to their impact, just as we lose our urge to spend money once a marketing campaign has petered out. What are we being asked to buy? What urge are they stimulating in us?



* I apologize for the redundancy: “more or less the same” is what makes it a routine. (I apologize doubly for the incoherence: nothing can be “more or less” the same; either it is or it isn’t.)

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The Breitling Bombshell

The Swiss watch manufacturer, Breitling, has opened its official Canadian distribution headquarters at 250 Bloor St. E. I wouldn’t have noticed except for the bombshell sitting in the front window and blazing red in the late afternoon sunlight. They’ve propped up a life-sized, or somewhat (ahem) larger-than-life, mannikin of a blond woman in a red dress and riding a bombshell in much the same way as Slim Pickens rode the H-bomb to his doom in Dr. Strangelove. I wouldn’t have cared except the question kept nagging me: what does this have to do with watches?


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Wheels, and Wheels and Heels

In Toronto, on the corner of Avenue Road and Davenport, there is a billboard advertising the Galerie de Bellefeuille in Montreal. It’s positioned so that people driving their Maseratis north from Yorkville will stop at the lights and stare at work by the gallery’s latest darling. Currently, it’s photographer David Drebin whose work you cannot find by following the URL on the billboard because somebody fucked it up. Instead, to view Drebin’s work, go here: http://debellefeuille.com/drebin-david-2/ The bio says that his “work combines voyeuristic and psychological viewpoints.” It says that he had a “zeitgeist moment” that “signaled the transformation from a commercial photographer into an art photographer.” It says that his work is “epic, dramatic and, above all, cinematic.”

Wheelchair Passing Billboard at Davenport & Avenue Road, Toronto

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Why are all the mannikins white?

In Toronto, there is a generally held belief that we are a culturally and ethnically diverse city. Canada has a long-standing official policy of multiculturalism and nowhere is that trotted out more often and with more self-congratulatory pats on the back than in Toronto. But a survey of our shop windows tells a different story:


Where are all the black mannikins? The Filipinnikins? The First Nationikins?

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Putting Up Wall Advertising

The other day, I was eating lunch and looked out the window into a dreary rain/snow mix. I stepped to the window (as I always do when I’m wondering if I should grab my camera and go outside) when I noticed someone on the roof across the road. (I live on the 15th floor and the building across from me is 6 floors, so my view of the roof is a bird’s eye view.) The man was lying prone and leaning over the edge. It looked cold and damp.


Below him on the adjacent roof, two men were bundling up an old ad that they’d just pulled off the wall and they were prepping something new to hoist up the side of the building.

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Retail Lurking

Sometimes I wonder what the mannikins think of us as we walk by their windows. I’ve tried to put myself in their position (to empathize, if you like), but store clerks don’t like when I do that.

Calvin Klein mannikins

If a mannikin is young, shouldn’t we call it a kiddikin?

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The Grammar of Photography

Do photographs have a grammar?

For more than 10 years, I’ve kept a blog called nouspique. I use the blog as a tool to explore more wordy pursuits. That’s understandable given my education (degrees in English, Law, & Theology). I am particularly fascinated by acts of interpretation (how do words mean what we say they mean?) and by the ways we deploy power to determine meaning. Despite my fascination, there are times when it exhausts me. All those words chattering in my head! I have to get away from it, so I turn to my camera. I’ve gone one further and have created a web site to display the images I find. In fact, it’s become quite a distraction and interferes with my writing.

There is an irony in this: images are interpretable in their own right, and the very challenges that hound my writerly experiences now howl loudly in the midst of my quiet photographic contemplations. I may have misunderstood the situation when I launched this web site.


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Shooting Street

There are all sorts of debates around street photography. One of them is the colour/black and white debate. There’s a convention that street photos should be in black and white. My own feeling is: it depends. Sometimes, like at the Pride Parade, colour is part of the point. Other time’s, a photo cries out to be processed in black and white. Here’s one I particularly like. I shot it late in the day near Bloor & Yonge. Given the direction of the sunlight, their faces should be in shadow, but they catch reflected light from the building. The high contrast makes the image ideal for black and white.


Here’s one I took in front of the Calvin Klein store. You can see the reflection of a person taking a picture. He’s standing under a poster for the Stanley Kubrick exhibit, so a crazy-eyed Jack Nicholson looks over the scene. Meanwhile a mostly naked couple embrace in the ad.




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Men’s Clothing Store Poster On Bloor

This poster came down last week. It was on the south-facing wall of the new Holt Renfrew Men’s clothing store on Bloor Street. (In case you need to know, like for some trivia game, Holt Renfrew is ultimately owned by the Weston family.) For months, this guy’s been staring down at all the people passing on the sidewalk. Kinda makes you wonder what he was thinking. I have some theories, but your suggestions are welcome:

– Look at all these little people. I could crush them.

– I’m chafing. Wonder if anyone would notice if I stuck my hand in my pocket, shifted it a little to the right, and scratched.

– When I applied for the job, I thought they said I could be a poser, not a poster.

– Okay. Who’s the asshole who parked his van on the sidewalk … and right in front of my …

– If I look serious enough, people might not notice that I’m a total airhead.

– Nice bike. Wish I wasn’t stuck here on this wall.

Ad on Bloor Street

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