Tag Archives: Toronto

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.


A serious Beyoncé fan gets out of her limo.


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


Get your Fuck LeBron T-shirt here!

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Dab Life And Other Distractions

I’ve discovered that the first week of spring—the first week when people can shed their heavy clothes and enjoy being outside—is one of the best times for street photography. People are happy. They’re willing to stop and talk to you. They don’t mind posing for shots. I had a couple hours yesterday afternoon so I went out into the mid-twenty degree weather and came home with much to show for my efforts.


Traviss in his Dab life T-shirt.

I was first drawn to Traviss because of his T-shirt which happens to include my initials: DAB. Dab Life is a clothing line for people who dab. For more on dabbing, read this.

Brooklyn and Isaac

Brooklyn and Isaac sitting on some steps.

Brooklyn and Isaac were sitting on steps north of Gerrard on Yonge Street, hiding under a map when I approached. The challenge of street portraiture is that, when you approach, people lose the naturalness that drew you to them in the first place. Some people remain stiff throughout the exchange. Others, like this couple, quickly recover and offer you something special.

Street Preacher

Street Preacher at Dundas and Yonge.

And then there are those encounters you can’t interrupt or it would kill the moment. One thing that fascinates me about street preachers is their kinship to grifters and grifting culture. Proselytism is a hustle. People with little religious experience are the marks. Sometimes I wonder if the polite religion of mainstream churches and middle class congregants is any different.

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Shooting at Yonge and Bloor

Reviewing all my Toronto images this year, I discovered that they’re all shot in early morning or daytime. I’ve done no night shooting in 2016. Last night I resolved to remedy that situation, so I set out with my monopod, determined to shoot bright lights and blurry pedestrians. Approaching Yonge and Bloor, I stumbled on shooting of a different sort. My first night out and I come to the scene of a homicide. How am I going to top that tonight?


According to the CBC, a man was fatally shot in the back near the coffee shops north of the Yonge Street entrance to the Bloor/Yonge subway station. Three suspects fled the scene. A police officer asked me if I saw anything. He was especially interested in my camera, presumably because I might have shot something of evidentiary value. If I’d witnessed anything, I would have happily provided information (and photos). But it’s awkward trying to explain that you’re not there to experience some kind of photojournalistic rush; you’re in it for the aesthetics. When you use phrases like “police tape bokeh” they give you strange looks.


At one point, I was kneeling (like the 680News guy shown below) when I heard a voice behind me and a tap on my shoulder. I turned and looked up (and up). It was my nephew. Geez he’s tall. Maybe not basketball tall, but tall by our family’s standards. He had just finished his first class of introductory Italian at a place on Cumberland and noticed all the flashing lights at the end of the street. Walks down to see what all the fuss is about and look who he sees on his knees with a big camera.


When I first arrived, I asked a guy what was going on. He told me he’d heard that someone was shot and that three suspects were on the loose. We looked at each other suspiciously, then I said thanks and he left. Someone asked me what had happened and I said more or less the same thing. And so the game of telephone continued. My nephew and I decided to embellish the story: a drug cartel, a mob hit, a getaway by motorcycle to a waiting helicopter. In truth, the only thing I know for certain is how quickly the narrative impulse kicks in. We absorb the facts into a story line that subtly warps the truth.


One report quotes a witness as saying: “The strange thing was there was no screaming, there was no shouting, there was no running away – people were just gathering around in front of him and in front of the paramedics that were working on him.”

How is that strange? City living desensitizes us. Last week I was walking along with Esplanade east of Sherbourne and heard screams coming from an apartment building. A man was sitting on a bench. Another was paying for his parking. A woman with a stroller stopped. We all looked up, wondering what unit the scream had come from. We fingered our phones. Should we call 911? But why get involved? Getting involved is inconvenient. We’re busy. The screaming continued. Ten. Eleven. Twelve times. It induced a paralysis in us. We shrugged and walked away. This kind of thing happens all the time. If we got worked up every time somebody screams, we’d be emotional wrecks.


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6ix in the city

I don’t know if it’s official, but Toronto seems to have been renamed. Now, thanks to Drake, I live in The 6ix. According to the Urban Dictionary, the new name refers to Toronto’s original area code—416.

Before I read that explanation, I had come up with other explanations that struck me as perfectly reasonable. One is that six is the number of former municipalities that amalgamated to form the current city—North York, East York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, York, & City of Toronto. We live together as The 6ix.

Another is that it has something to do with sex i.e. 6ix is a way to write about sex without actually writing the word sex. Another entry in the Urban Dictionary hints at this. Under the second definition of 6ix (“A post modern approach to spelling the number 6, versus the traditional six.”) we find the following usage: On the Facebook wall, “Dude I had 6ix last night and I was GONE!”

Apart from the fact that the numeral 6 is one half of a simultaneous mutual oral sex act, the written 6ix often incorporates one of the city’s great phallic landmarks. The “i” in 6ix is represented by the CN Tower. Skyscrapers and ravines. Male and female. The modern ankh.


Toronto long had an inferiority complex. How can we possibly have a decent city when a) we aren’t in the US, & b) we’re so fucking polite? So we (or our local politicians) overcompensated for their feelings of municipal inadequacy by authorizing a massive erection. And so the CN Tower was born.

Toronto Skyline viewed from Governor's Hill.

Toronto Skyline viewed from Governor’s Hill.

Whenever tourists come here, they feel compelled to take photos of our massive erection. But typically they haven’t time to take more than a basic shot in midday light. One of the privileges of living in a place is that you have the time to get atypical non-touristy shots. You can scout different locations and can keep going back, day after day, in different light conditions, until you get what you want.


CN Tower reflected in puddle on University Avenue.


CN Tower viewed from Varsity Stadium.

CN Tower viewed from the Don Valley.

CN Tower viewed from the Don Valley.

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Gizmo The Dog

I met Gizmo near the southeast corner of Yonge & Wellesley. Didn’t have much time to interact with Gizmo’s owner because I was crouched on the sidewalk and blocking pedestrians. Plus I rolled back on my heels and ended up on my backside when Gizmo took a run at me. An unlikely attack dog. There were a bunch of guys near the corner with their dogs. Wonder if they meet there every day.


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Get Nik Efex For Free

I guess it’s old news now, but last week Google announced that it would no longer charge its usual $149 for the Nik Collection of image-editing plugins. Now, you can download it for free. Personally, I ignore most plugins because the effects they produce tend to be cheesy. They’re one-off novelties that lose their interest almost as fast as a Rob Ford funeral. However, I do like to play with black and white conversion tools. So I downloaded the collection and applied the Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin to a few images. Here are three samples, each using a different effect:


The first image comes from the Yonge/Dundas intersection. As far as I know, the intersection is one of only two remaining all-way crossings in Toronto. I managed to capture three people moving in three different directions, all moving outward from the centre of the street. The woman in the centre is staring directly at me as she approaches. I think it’s a photo that probably works better in a large format, maybe a 16×24 print. I applied the “fine art” setting in Silver Efex.


I shot the second image at a crosswalk on Sherbourne Street after an April snowstorm. In keeping with the wet, reflective asphalt, I applied the “wet rocks” filter.


The third image comes from the intersection of Bloor and Sherbourne where there’s always a long lineup to catch the 75 bus downtown. I liked the dissonance of the smiling effusive ad face against all the gloomy people in their dark coats waiting to board the bus. I applied the “low key” setting.

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Rob Ford Funeral Fotos, Part Duh

Here are some more photographs I shot at the Rob Ford funeral procession, this time without the cultural analysis. I said everything I care to say about this event in my previous post.


Ford Riders of the Apocalypse (and one scooter)


Honour Guard


Jeremy Eastmond, aries7media.com


Shooting Ford Nation


Woman leaving tent on lawn of St. James Cathedral


Woman reading in front of St. James Cathedral


Getting directions


Zanta (David Zancai)

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Rob Ford’s Funeral Procession

Yesterday morning I walked down to St. James Cathedral bearing my camera gear like a giant question mark. I wanted to see if I could discern what makes Rob Ford tick—not Rob Ford the man, obviously, since he’s no longer with us, but Rob Ford the cultural phenomenon.


Mourner, hat in hand, waiting for the funeral procession.

I went with a theory: that Rob Ford is an accidental postmodern. The way I understand postmodernism, it began as an intentional critique of the relationship between power and culture and supplemented its theorizing with a set of practical tools for subverting that relationship. It challenged the hierarchical structure of cultural production. The distinction which privileges high art over pop culture is a false distinction. So, too, the distinction which privileges scientific/academic discourse over lay inquiry. Professionalism over the amateur. Religious orthodoxy over grassroots spirituality. Reason over dreams. White over black. Man over woman. Straight over queer. Not surprisingly, the earliest theoretical glimmers of postmodernism coincided with the rise of practical movements: Black Power, Feminism, Gay Rights.

More recently, we’ve witnessed the emergence of cultural phenomena which, while never intended to fulfill a postmodern agenda, nevertheless bear some of its marks. They are accidentally postmodern. Facebook is a good example of this. It has ripped down the walls between our neatly compartmentalized discursive habits. Now, it’s hard to tell whether we’re reading news or advertising, gossip or fiction. Facebook makes it impossible to privilege one discursive mode over another. (The only thing that’s privileged is Facebook itself.) In the same way, Rob Ford never woke one morning and said to himself: Hey, I’m gonna be a postmodern mayor. It just happened that way.


Consider the evidence (or don’t, since that might be too scientific). Ford occupied the office of mayor which, traditionally, evokes a sense of gravitas. The mayor is addressed as Your Worship, and he has all the powers of a Justice of the Peace which entitles him, among other things, to preside over marriages. Tradition treats it as an office marked by dignity. People loved Ford for the fact that he was accessible and casual. He was hands on. Accessibility may have come at the expense of dignity. Everybody knew he was smashed on the job. Everybody knew he worked while driving. Talked on his cell phone while driving (gave a woman the finger when she told him to hang up). But so what? He demystified the aura that enshrouds the mayoral office.

He blurred lines. With him, it was impossible to tell whether he was politicking or entertaining. The conflict of interest scandal that nearly cost him his job underscores this blurring of lines. He didn’t appear to understand that it might be inappropriate to solicit funds for a personal charity on City Hall letterhead. But why should he when such distinctions belong to an earlier time with its archaic assumptions about propriety? Or consider his personal wealth which suggests white male privilege. And yet he styled himself a man of the people. A mayor for the little guy, enormously popular with working class and Black voters. Never mind his union busting, his racist rants, his groping and butt patting, his refusal to attend LGTQ events. One could call him hypocritical or contradictory. But I wonder if, maybe, he occupied a Both/And cultural space that gave him an extraordinary sense of freedom.

Clowns in gowns pretend to be officiants at a religious service.

Clowns in gowns pose as religious officiants.

At Jarvis & Adelaide, I cut through St. James Park. I remember when this was a tent city during the Occupy Movement. Although I was early, a line had already formed in front of St. James Cathedral, members of the public hoping to get inside for the funeral. I crossed to the south side of King Street and positioned myself across from the front door. Beside me, the media had set themselves up, talking heads, live commentary, drooling experts. A man in shorts and a Santa Claus hat was posing behind them. I laughed. It seemed perfect. I squinted at the man with his goatee and cigarette. Wait a sec. Isn’t that Zanta?

Have you heard of Zanta? He’s something of a fixture in these parts. You can read more about him on his wikipedia page, but the short version is that, 16 years ago, he fell down a flight of stairs and may have suffered neurological damage. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. His name is David Zancai, but he has adopted the performing name of Zanta. His performance involves wearing a Santa hat, doing a lot of push ups, posing (totally ripped), and wishing people a Merry Christmess on any day of the year (except Christmas).


Zanta (David Zancai) kneeling in front of St. James Cathedral.

Zanta lay down on the street in front of the church and started doing pushups. When he finished his pushups, he lay his sweatshirt on the pavement, pulled out a magic marker, and started writing a message on it. Three police officers stepped onto the street and encouraged him to leave, forcing him to the eastern edge of St. James Park where he simmered for a time on a park bench. I spoke to the police officer who led the push to expel Zanta. If I was going to play amateur photojournalist (or whatever the hell I thought I was doing), it seemed a good idea to do some fact checking. The police officer confirmed that, yes, the man is Zanta. He rolled his eyes. He’d had dealings with Zanta for probably 10 or 12 years now. But they had to get him out of there. It was important for the funeral to go off with some decorum.


Police remove Zanta from the scene.

Later, I spoke to Zanta. He was pleased to hear that my name is David. He asked me if my parents are alive. Yes. Grandparents? One. How about the other ones? Well, um, uh, no (logic didn’t appear to be one of his strong suits). He said he’d tell me where they are. His rambling boiled down to this: my deceased grandparents are with Rob Ford. No doubt they’re delighted to have his company. He talked in a wandering way. It wasn’t an associative wandering. More a string of non sequiturs. It was impossible to have a rational conversation with the man.


The pipers piped. The honour guard marched. The hearse arrived and pulled to the front door of the church. And behind it all, the rabble. People with their signs and little flags declaring their allegiance to Ford Nation and proclaiming Rob Ford the best mayor ever. They were loud and unruly. They shouted their non sequiturs, their contradictions. I turned and Zanta was gone. I caught sight of his white hood disappearing into the mob. He fit right in. So much for the police and their decorum.


It would be easy to ridicule the Ford Nation phenomenon. I was born into a modern world, but educated into a postmodern sensibility, so I tread on fractured ground. The reasonable me, the one who likes neat categories and well-reasoned arguments, would very much enjoy running Ford Nation through my privileged blender. But the unreasonable me recognizes that my reasonable upbringing is intimately tied to stories of unjust relations. With time to reflect on the photos I took of Ford Nation’s citizens, I’m reminded of the Black Lives Matter tent city at Police Headquarters. These are not two separate groups. They merge like a Venn diagram. Their points of intersection are messy but they need to be acknowledged. As for Rob Ford, I wonder… Privileged white man with a penchant for hypocrisy? Or could he, indeed, have been an ally? And what does that make me if I dispute those who claim he was?


Citizens of Ford Nation follow the funeral procession.

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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.


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Homeless On Bloor

I’m working on a photobook tentatively titled The Disposable City. It’s a vehicle for exploring urban concerns like ephemera, waste (garbage, demolitions, pollution), and the commodification of everything, including people. Every now and then, I do another spread, then let it sit for a time to see how I feel about it. A while back, I did one on a homeless woman who camped out for a few weeks in a doorway across from me. It seems like a reasonable piece to post on Good Friday. I’ve included the text and a few images below, but for the full impact, you can download the two spreads in pdf format.

From The Disposable City:

I live high up in a condominium on the north side of Bloor Street. Across from me on the south side, one by one, the retailers are leaving their shops as a new owner—a developer—prepares to demolish the existing structures and build a 49-story tower in their place. A homeless woman has started camping out in a doorway. The sight of her greets me in the morning as I eat my breakfast, and again at night as I get ready for bed. Each day, out of curiosity, I lean out my window and train a long lens on her. I want to know if people interact with her as they pass on the sidewalk.

What I have learned is that most people barely acknowledge her existence much less interact with her. On the preceding page are 25 shots of the same scene. In all but one, the people passing don’t appear to see her. A small child, maybe seven years old, is the only person who turns her head and looks directly at the woman. Later, another child waves from his stroller.


It would be easy to sentimentalize the scene, maybe read something Biblical into it—you must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. That sort of thing. I dismiss my observations as coincidental. Like so much of photography, it’s a “framing” issue: I’ve watched for only a short time and this has allowed me to be selective in the sliver of time I choose to capture the interactions of pedestrians and a homeless woman. Those interactions just happen to play out in a way that evokes a Biblical aphorism. If I watch for long enough, my sample size will more accurately characterize the interactions. They will become more statistically representative and less Biblical.

The next morning at breakfast, I look out my window and note that a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses have set themselves up within spitting distance of the homeless woman. The scene suggests to me a story about a certain man who lay injured in the street and the pharisees who passed him and did nothing. So much for being statistically representative!


Over the days and weeks that follow, I watch the homeless woman from my perch. I’m disinclined to suppose that my observations become statistically representative of anything. But they do become more complicated:

A man approaches from the east. He sees the homeless woman. He stops in front of her. He leans in and speaks to her. He pulls a five dollar bill from his pocket and offers it to the woman. They exchange words and then the man walks away. I’m a long way off and can’t infer much from their exchange; I assume the man asked the woman how she was, she answered, and he (taking pity on her) gave her a five dollar bill.


It isn’t until I examine the exchange on my computer monitor that I realize something different has happened. The man palmed the bill as he walked away. The homeless woman refused the offer of charity.

What a different impression of the parable we would have if the injured man lying in the street had told the Samaritan to go fuck himself.

Then again, that story may have no relevance to the scene on the street far below me. After all, the story was first addressed to a lawyer and so was told in terms he could understand. It was reasonable. Logical. And it was told in answer to a question about the definition of a word (neighbour) and not, as we usually suppose, to encourage acts of charity.

If we want to learn about charity, the stories we hear are anything but reasonable. Emphatically illogical. A woman wants to douse her master’s feet with a valuable perfume. Judas, the greatest villain of the Western canon, makes the reasonable suggestion that they sell the perfume and give the proceeds to the poor. I think it’s important to remember that it is Judas who endorses charity. Maybe it’s his unassailable logic that makes him so villainous.

In the movie, The Unforgiven, William Munny points the muzzle of his rifle. Cowering in terror, Little Bill looks up and says: “I don’t deserve this.” Munny answers: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” He pulls the trigger. If he weren’t a murderer of women and children, Munny could be a religious man explaining the dark underside of a theology of grace. It’s deliciously unreasonable. And terrifying in it’s consequences.

If I am to be gracious, then I must be unreasonable. I find myself asking: what is the unreasonable way to view myself in relation to this woman? What is the unreasonable thing to expect me to do (or not to do) in answer to her presence?

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