Tag Archives: Portrait

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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Ross

I met Ross on College Street in front of Fran’s. He asked me directions to Women’s College Hospital. He said he had an x-ray booked there. He’d just come into town from Saskatchewan.

I think my photo might create a false impression of him, like he’s tough or disagreeable. Speaking to him, it was quite the opposite. But he was stuffing his mouth with food, so when he posed for the shot, he clenched his jaw shut to keep the food from spilling out. I think it’s the clenching that creates an impression of toughness. Or maybe it’s something else, something obvious that I’m missing.

Ross

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Adam

Welcome to 2016. After a break for the holidays, I’m back at it. I hadn’t expected to do much street photography in January, but, apart from one day, the weather has been extraordinarily accommodating.

At the beginning of December, I took some shots of a guy named Scott who was working the door to the Tim Horton’s on the Ryerson campus (Bond St. north of Dundas). I’d promised to give him a print so I went looking for him. A different guy was working the door. I showed him the photo. He knew Scott and suggested I go over to the Timmies at Jarvis and Dundas.

In the meantime, I had a camera slung around my neck and a willing subject standing in front of me, so we got talking, and I did what I do. This is Adam:

Adam

I showed him some of the shots and he was pleased. I think he was worried about how he’d look because he’s missing some of his top front teeth and the bottom ones aren’t anything to write home about. I wanted to send him a copy of this shot but he couldn’t think of how that would work. In the last month, he’s had two cell phones stolen, plus he can’t use his email account anymore. His ex-girlfriend is a computer programmer and, like, psycho. She’s hacked all his passwords. He’s got to figure out something else for email.

I’m not sure how we got around to it — maybe something to do with work troubles — but his health hasn’t been great. A guy stabbed him in September. Maybe I heard about it in the news? He was in the Leslieville Value Village and this guy attacked him with a steak knife. He told me to look it up, so I did. The blade broke off and was lodged in his abdomen. They rushed him to the hospital. Major surgery. It was more than a month before he was on his feet again.

I had no reason to disbelieve him, but maybe there was something Thomasish in my expression. He lifted his jacket and shirt and showed me the scars, a small one from the steak knife, and a large one from the surgery. After things healed, he got a tattoo to cover the entry wound: a Jason character with a hockey mask and a big knife.

Knife wound

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