Night Streets

Ottawa night cafe

I’m not out much at night, but when I do go, I like to take photos. I am lucky to have very steady hands, so I can take clear images at unusually low shutter speeds. I do have a tripod – good one, too – and a monopod, but I rarely take them with me.

You’ll notice that there are not many people in my photographs, and this is true at night as well. Somehow I’m just inhibited about that…

Modernism and Colonialism

Photo of a steam engine's driving wheels

Modernism asks us each to take our own lives in both hands, to accept responsibility, to make change in the world. I believe that initially it was understood that if you shed tradition and became modern, the changes you would make in the world would be for the better. While some wonderful things have come out of that, there have been problems, too. Modernism and colonialism have been a particularly toxic mix. Continue reading “Modernism and Colonialism”

A Day in the Dump

Three Fridges Outside Orrville Ontario

At the cottage near Orrville, we have to take our own recycling & trash to the dump ourselves. There’s even a Dump Store – a local attraction.

I recently talked the guy working the dump that day into letting me go in & take some photographs. Here are a few. You can see that I had fun, seeing the usual as unusual.

Update: My Aging Eyes

I went to see an eye surgeon today, so I can update my earlier post on the problem with my aging eyes.

It turns out that the operation to clean up my retina (a vitrectomy) would do some good, but improve my vision only somewhat. And much as it bugs me, my left eye isn’t really that bad. In fact, if I had only that eye, I would still pass a driving test.

So: some improvement but marginal.

On  the other hand  it’s surgery. As in cutting open the eye, sucking out the fluid, removing the gunk from the retina and putting it all back together. Six months to heal. Cataract within a year, guaranteed.

So: worse, then better (but not completely), then worse, then better (with an artificial lens)  but still not what it was.

At this point I think I will leave well enough alone. Maybe of I develop cataracts later in life I’ll get the vitrectomy at the same time. Maybe there will be a better process by then.

Read more on vitrectomy at Wikipedia

Newmarket Graffiti

Graffiti freestyle with metallic paint

I actually found some graffiti in Newmarket that I could enjoy! Most of the graffiti around here is really poor – kindergarten stuff – runny tagging, boring, blech!

What I found actually has some freestyle along with layers other work. Even the setting is interesting – much as I dislike litter, the discarded spraycans add to the image.

For more of my thoughts on graffiti, see my earlier post: Photographing Graffiti

Digital Primer

A few years ago I wrote up a Digital Primer to help one of our nieces learn how to use her new camera. In it, I explained the camera in terms of various Components, explaining what each is, and what factors have to be considered for each.

Here’s a sample:

Component: Lens

What: That glass thing in front that forms the image, just like you study in science class


  • Focal length – measured in mm
    • a longer focal length brings objects closer (telephoto) but takes in a narrower view
    • a shorter focal length is the opposite – smaller objects but wider view
    • telephoto lenses have less depth of field, meaning there is more in front of and behind the subject that will be blurry. You can use this to isolate the subject e.g. portrait in focus with flowers etc soft-focus in behind.
    • A zoom lens has a range of focal lengths, usually from somewhat wide to somewhat telephoto – good all-purpose compromise
  • Quality – almost any modern name-brand camera will have a good-quality lens, and you can upgrade over time

You can download the complete pdf here: Digital camera primer

Kalishnikov’s Dream

Until a couple of years ago, the Ontario Society of Artists’ annual Open Juried Exhibition (OSAOJE) had a theme each year. In 2013, the theme was Unintended Consequences, and that tied in with some things that were running around in my head at the time. For some reason, I had read the Michael Kalashnikov regretted inventing the AK-47, as it had been used for so many awful things that he never intended. Not everyone believed his regrets, but still – interesting link for Unintended Consequences.

Here’s the final image. I’ll go through my thinking and some technical aspects below. Note: All the images are from the Internet; I was unable to get clear attribution on any of them, since various organizations had re-posted the images without attribution.

A photo collage of Mikhail Kalashnikov & child soldiers with an AK47
Kalashnikovs Dream

From the beginning, I wanted the child soldiers represented in overlapping ranks, with colouring that would look like a flag. I started with a single image and trimmed out all the background. Overlapping was much harder than I expected, especially since I wanted the central child soldier in each rank to be in front of those to each side, as you can see. There was a lot of positioning by pixel coordinates, then grouping, copying and pasting in new positions. The colour bands are rectangles, sized by pixel dimensions and partly transparent. I also checked to make sure that the colours I had chosen did not match any existing flag, because it’s not about any specific conflict.

The AK-47 is simple isolated from its background and given a golden glow so it floats above everything else.

My original thinking for the left side was to have a map of Europe at the end of the Second World War, with AK-47s pointing out from the USSR like the defensive line Kalashnikov wanted. There was a little infographic comparing intended defence and unintended child soldiers. It just didn’t work.

Then I got the idea to have the 3-frame graphic novel you see in the final version above. Turning a photo into an image that looks like it’s from a graphic novel took a lot of interesting learning. Here’s a clip showing the third frame’s layers.

How I made Kalashnikov Frame3
How I made Kalashnikov Frame3

You can see that there are two layers with the base image of his face (which I tilted to reflect how traditional portraits are made, and to add a sense of motion). The upper layer is partly transparent so that, when the modifications are added, the unaffected bottom layer still shows through. This adds a little definition to the final result. The three adjustment layers are, in order, brightness/contrast, threshold and posterize. Together, they create the pen-and-ink effect I wanted. The top two layers are for the thought clouds and text.

This is one of my favourite images, not just for the technical difficulty and the learning I had to do, but for all the thinking I had to do to relate it to the OSAOFE theme. I hope it makes you think, too. I doubt it will ever sell, though.

(BTW, I have another Unintended Consequences image in mind, based on the American Constitution’s Second Amendment, layered with their Founding Fathers and maybe a single day’s worth of American gun violence.)

Prospect houses

Prospect House 1

Newmarket’s Prospect Street has many lovely houses. It is a troubled street, though, required to handle many more cars, trucks, emergency vehicles and, recently, GO buses. Between Timothy and Queen, the section I live nearest to, the road  is narrow, even though you can see that it was widened in the past to accommodate cars. On top of that, there’s on-street parking. It’s a hard street to walk beside, let alone cycle on.

There are many rental housing units in converted houses on this stretch of Prospect, as well as a number of group homes and a seniors’ residence. Quite a few locals do not drive, and some have mobility issues.

I suspect that over the next few years we will see houses in this area torn down and replaced with condos. I wonder what will happen to the current residents; where will they live? Will the Town and Region (and Province) strengthen requirements for affordable housing?

These photos are just sketches really, quick images taken over a few days in Winter, with the thought that the “real” pictures would be taken in the Spring. But now, when I worry about the possibility that the houses may not last, maybe quick sketches are best.

Movements of the Heart

Back in the mid-1970s, when photography was still pretty new to me, a collection of a dozen images came together and crossed paths with an ancient Chinese oracle.

This was shortly after graduating from university with my BSc (Physics), while I was at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Education in Toronto. I was living near High Park, and photographed there pretty often. I created some images of rocks and trees in the Park, and moisture on my apartment windows, and I felt that they were all strongly related in both composition and mood. There were four each of rock, wood and water. Not only did each image have a flow, leading the eye in a particular way, but also a kind of visual energy – a dynamism. The four images in each set (rock, wood, water) held a story arc through conflict, separation, coming together and resolution. It was as if the four sets were telling a repeated story.

I wanted a title for the twelve images, and came up with a working title of Movements of The Heart.

(Continued below image)

Oracle Movements of The Heart
Movements of The Heart

Around the time, someone gave me a copy of Legge’s I Ching, The Book of Changes. It’s an ancient Chinese guide to proper living, based on tossing coins to produce patterns. I have no idea why it was given to me, mysticism being pretty far from anything to do with me. Anyway, I decided to toss the coins, with the question in mind of what the title should be for my set of twelve images. Note that I had already found my working title: Movements of The Heart

The diagram that resulted was Hexagram 52 – Keeping Still, Mountain (

Oracle I_Ching Hexagram 52
Hexagram 52

Here are a couple of excerpts from the interpretation of the hexagram:

The Mountain denotes stopping or resting; resting when it is the time to rest, and acting when it is the time to act.

The heart thinks constantly… but the movements of the heart – that is, a man’s thoughts – should restrict themselves to the immediate situation. All thinking that goes beyond this only makes the heart sore.

So that kind of surprised me – having my working title appear word-for-word in the hexagram I had thrown as a lark. I have always loved coincidences like this, but this one has really stuck with me over the decades – 2/3 of my life at this point.

And I still love the images, and even though I still have some original prints (produced with my enlarger on a folding table perched over my apartment’s toilet, where I had to time my exposures for when the streetcar wasn’t shaking the building) I am happy to be able to scan the negatives and make new prints.

I even found a fourth set.  I had originally hoped for 16 images back then, because there are four chambers in the heart, and 16 images would be four images in each of four sets. If you look at the set “Flow”, you will be among the first ever to see them. I didn’t print them back then, and I still haven’t (Jan 2018).

My eyes are aging

My eyes are aging – it happens to us all – but not gracefully. In 2014, while cycling in Germany, something a bit drastic happened inside my left eye. It quite literally, or at least physically, changed the way I see the world. And not for the better.

Here’s what happened, how I felt at the time, and what I now know, and how I feel about that, too.

First – a coincidence. I love coincidences. In the morning of the day – June 20 – I first noticed that my left eye had a problem. There was a huge floater spanning the entire height of my visual field. I have always had floaters, but this was something else! I was pretty worried, but didn’t think I needed to do anything until we were back home. Now for the coincidence. Have a look at this picture:

See that little blob top-centre? That’s actually a bit of crud that got into my camera and settled onto the sensor. It happend with cameras with interchangable lenses. But it looks like a small version of the floater that had appeared that morning. Wierd, eh?

So anyway – back home in Ontario, I went to see my optometrist right away, and they sent me to a local opthalmologist. That doctor took me to the local hospital for some immediate laser surgery to weld tears in my retina. Seems that back in Germany. One of the roots of the vitreous humour – the goo inside the eye – had ripped through the retuna and torn it.

Not done yet…. After that (i.e. same night), I had to go to St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and get a lot more eye-welding done. Like over 100 laser shots, I think.


Since them there have been no straight lines in my left eye’s vision – everything is a bit jagged and crooked. And a bit blurry, and the huge floater is still there, with lots of little friends. Oh – and double vision, too, can’t forget that… The blurriness and double vision come and goes, though. And the right eye is just fine, and I am very right-eye dominant, so that’s good.

So if we’re talking and you see me start to close my left eye a bit, I’m not nodding off (usually) – I just see more clearly that way sometimes, when my left eye is being bad.

Recently I went to see another opthalmologist for a follow-up examination, and learned some interesting things. First, some scans of my right eye’s retina:

You can see the dent that is the central part of the retina – the most sensitive part – and the network of veins around it. That’s how it should look.

So here’s the left eye:

You can see how the central part has no dent – it has a thick layer over it, in white in the images, hence the blurring etc. Seems that was caused by cells leaking through from behind the retina when the root tore through – they colonized the front of the retina and grew there.

Anyway, it turns out that I could have that surgically removed, and that might even take out the big floater! Huh! What do you think?