Tag Archives: Urban

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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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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Speaking Scottish

While (or is it whilst?) visiting Glasgow & environs last week, I was introduced to the sitcom, Still Game (available on Netflix). It’s about two widowers who share a council flat on the outskirts of Glasgow. They frequent the local pub where they round out their geriatric adventures with a few pints and, like all Glaswegians, the more they drink, the broader their accent. There is banter that, to my North American ear, is  incomprehensible. That pretty much matches my real-life experience as a guest in Kirkintilloch with a room full of locals chatting up their Canadian friend while polishing off a couple bottles of Laphraoig. Apparently, they were speaking my mother tongue. They themselves acknowledged that it might sound foreign to me. That’s an understatement. There were times when I thought I was on another planet.

Tying Up The Steamship, Sir Walter Scott

I love to go into Glasgow for the street photography. One morning, while (or is it whilst?) ambling down Sauchiehall Street, I noticed a man on a bench who was engaged in an animated conversation with a can of lager. It was all in that broad Glaswegian accent so I had no idea what he was saying. I doubled back for a better shot, at which point he caught sight of me and turned. At first, I thought I had captured yet another Scotsman on his way to a day-long bender with a siesta in an alley. It wasn’t until later, when I examined the photo more closely, that I realized something else might be happening. You will note the books peeking out of his coat pocket. The closest is a dog-eared copy of Shakespeare’s MacBeth, the Scottish tragedy. He wasn’t having a conversation with his can of lager; he was reciting lines. It got me to thinking about the performances of MacBeth I’ve seen, how the leading role is always played by a grand Shakespearean actor delivering his soliloquies in the Queen’s English. But really, wouldn’t it be more true to life if MacBeth were seriously pissed and spoke in a broad incomprehensible Glaswegian?

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Accents and dialects are local. Like a pin on a map, they fix a person to a particular region.  I’ve read statements from other photographers who extol their craft as a kind of universal speech. They tell us that images are like music: they are accessible across cultures; they bridge barriers of language. I’m not sure that’s a virtue. Maybe universality is possible only when it engages us in acts of erasure. A man walks down an alley with a cell phone pressed to his ear. Click. I catch him as he passes. The resulting image is easy to read. Perspective lines draw our eyes to the lightest part of the image somewhere at the end of the alley. The man is following those lines to that light place. Lines of perspective are a universal phenomenon. The alley could be anywhere, Manhattan, Kowloon. The movement from darkness to light has a Jungian appeal. But the image erases the gritty particularity of that locale off Buchanan Street. The smell of an old industrial town. The speech into the cell phone. Low. Not posh, like in Edinburgh. The distinctive traces of a paradoxical place that rejected independence from the UK, but also rejected the UK’s call to leave the EU. My image trashes all of that and leaves you with a simple (almost numbingly stupid) message.

Off Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Scotland

A man reading a newspaper raises similar issues. A mass-media rag owned by which corporate conglomerate? With headquarters where? Paying dividends to shareholders around the globe? It offers local news, but filtered through a formula that gets applied on every continent. I critique what I see, but how am I any better than the rag? I internalize big media’s visual formulas and filter everything I see, even everything I see critically, through its assumptions. In the background, a kid plays a guitar. Maybe he’s like me. Maybe he craves to maintain his status as an outlier, to sing with integrity, to honour his local culture. But he can’t help himself. He’s listened to too many top-40 radio stations (or the online equivalent). He’s internalized the demand for slick mediocrity.

Reading Newspaper on Buchanan Street, Glasgow, Scotland

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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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#BLM & the Toronto Dyke March 2016

Once, Pride was Protest. Pride was Social Action. Pride was a Play for Justice. The whole Loud and Proud and Out in the Streets thing was a strategy to draw our eyes from the centre to the margins. Now it’s a party. It’s a celebration. It was one thing. Now it’s something else. Each thing lives inside its own neat box. One sits on a shelf with a label: Historical Pride. The other dances in the street.

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#BLM came to Pride and put its Protest, and its Social Action, and its Play for Justice into the party box. Oops. That would be bad. People shouldn’t get angry at parties. It’s against the rules. We need rules. Without rules, our boxes would get full of crap that doesn’t belong in them. I don’t know about you, but when my orderly boxes get filled up with crap that doesn’t belong in them, I start to feel uncomfortable.

When the people from #BLM brought their anger to the party, it made me feel uncomfortable. I just want have fun. Don’t ask me to think, especially on a weekend. Worse yet: don’t ask me to empathize with your situation. For me to empathize with you would take a lot of imagination and emotional maturity. I’m not up to it. Just leave me with my doobie (is my age showing?) and let me shout incoherent shit at nobody in particular. That’s all I ask of the world.

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The curious thing is that, after a smooth time at the Dyke March, the next day #BLM got its own boxes all mixed up. At the Pride Parade (I’ll post photos tomorrow), it held things up for half an hour and made demands of the Pride organizers not least of which was that Police should be prevented from marching in next year’s parade. People (mostly white?) went into conniptions, pointing out that the Police box has a lot of other crap in it, you know, police who are LGBTQ, police who are Black, police who are LGBTQ & Black, etc.

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My impression is that everybody would like their boxes to be neat and orderly. The Pride organizers would like their boxes to be neat and orderly. #BLM would like its boxes to be neat and orderly. I’d certainly love it if my boxes were neat and orderly. There’s a phrase that describes this propensity to keep boxes neat and orderly: black and white thinking.

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To mark all the black and white thinking that’s been swirling around the latest #BLM controversy, I decided to post only black and white photographs. I’m sure many of them would show better in colour, but one of the great features of black and white thinking is that denies people a richer view of their own experience.

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To be fair, a moratorium on police in the parade is a good idea. So you know somebody who’s black or gay who serves on your local police force. Don’t try to forward that fact as proof that things are getting better. What kind of “contract” has your black or gay friend entered in order to function within the culture of that police force? Don’t know? Of course you don’t know. That information doesn’t exist. And a complete absence of transparency means that it won’t exist for a long time to come.

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Personally, I don’t think #BLM went far enough. Let’s ban banks. Let’s ban the political hucksters right up to the PMO. Let’s ban that great bastion of regressive taxation, the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation. How about Home Depot? Air Canada? They celebrate your Black body, your Gay body, your Oppressed body, but only as a site for marketing and winning votes. Once you strip away all the sponsors and political interests, what are you left with? Maybe five people walking down the street holding hands?

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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.

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A serious Beyoncé fan gets out of her limo.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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CN Tower reflected in puddle on University Avenue.

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CN Tower viewed from Varsity Stadium.

CN Tower viewed from the Don Valley.

CN Tower viewed from the Don Valley.

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