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?

The Fallen

Catalog of The Project Examining the Fall

February, 2125


We do not know the population of the Earth. We do not know the breadth of the empty lands or whether other areas thrive.

We are 2,537.

Protected by lakes and frequent rains that keep our forests from burning, we are safe and often comfortable. We are able to endure the storms and other unpredictable weather. Like children, we have known no other lives, yet we are often reduced to tears of loss and loneliness.

That is the purpose of our project – to examine what we know of what we have lost, what was taken from us long before our births. How do we know what we know? What are the puzzle pieces and how do they go together? And why, after all this time, do we all care so very much?

We are gleaners. Shuffling through the scraps and waste of those who fell, we find things. And here, even though all the roads were long ago dug up, wanderers find us. Almost all stay. Almost all carry some paper, some fragment or scrap, burned, torn, soiled and somehow holy, blessed by mere survival.

We have books from before the first fall, many from the time of the slide. We have scraps of writing – magazines, newspapers, even personal notes and images – that survived, somehow, even through the collapses and the burnings. Most of what we have are just scraps.

When the Project began several years ago, we had one central question: What happened? How is it that we are living in the remains of a civilization that fell to this, our current state of living close to the land, close to the bone, far from others? We hoped that we could sort through our collected books, papers, pictures and scraps, develop explanations and interpretations, and then figure out what happened, what caused the fall.

As we worked, as we learned more and more, as we came to prove that the clear signs of global climate change had been ignored until it was far too late, we saw that it no longer matters just what happened – our climate is different from before, our civilization is different from before, this world is just our world.

We shared our scraps, and talked and debated their meaning, and our central question became this: Can we forgive? If we cannot forgive those who brought about our current fallen state, will we ever be able to learn to live our lives in circumstances as they are?

The Works

Beauty, it seems, has often been paired with temptation and destruction.

In Copper Sky, you see soaring towers carrying wires across the sky, transporting electricity to light up their lives, while clouds loom, both beautiful and threatening. Now, perhaps more than then, we are in awe of the power of storms, both for their beauty and their power.

Too Cheap To Meter and Base Load show us how the night sky glowed then, with wasted electrical light. The texts displayed with them tell of the hubris, the folly, of those who truly believed, even after it was known that the climate was changing, that they could live like that, forever.

Base Load is also accompanied by a fragment from the time of the Slide, when rumour became news, and any sort of study, scientific or social, was nearly lost.

In Melt My Ice Cream, a rant against the ruination of the Earth is made of ideas that were “in the air” early in this century. It was recovered by researchers mining data from a web archive server found at facilities in Los Alamos in what was the state of New Mexico. The date of its writing, about 2015, was, according to our research, about the time it became too late to do anything, as the threshold to runaway climate change was passed. Was the anger found in this rant a portent of the violence that was to come?

And what are we to make of the small sculpture depicting a hooded prisoner, apparently representing Nature, attached to electrical power lines?


We print on paper we make, with machines we have salvaged and kept working. Paper fades, and our future is still uncertain. We have made copies etched in glass. If you are reading a glass copy, mourn our passing, and celebrate your survival.

The Archivists of The Project



I often talk that art should challenge, make you think. Edginess has always been important in art, and some of my work certainly is. But serenity is important, too.

In Kalashnikov’s Dream, I use his own words of regret, combined with images of child soldiers.

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

If I could but lift this jewelled veil and set thee free again – what more can I say about this blue heron, found dead after the remnants of Superstorm Sandy blew through Newmarket? The only manipulation here was to deepen the red colour of the leaf that seems poised to pierce the bird’s breast. (The use of direct flash at night was an homage to Weegee.)

Photo of a Blue Heron, found dead after the remnants of Superstorm Sandy passed through Newmarket
If I could but lift this jewelled veil and set thee free again

But a lot of my work is also serene, such as my florals.

In this image, Floating Dock, a dock seems to float on clouds, as well as on the lake.

A dock seems to float on clouds, as well as on the lake.
Floating Dock

Simple foods is just that – a simple composition of bowls with flour and hummous and a couple of pita chips.

Photo of bowls with flour and hummous
Simple Foods

In Thanksgiving, I reflect on how much I have to be thankful for. It was taken on Thanksgiving, and I love the Autumn.

Photo of a yellow Muskoka chair with autumn leaves

The Wedding Tent is a deceptively simple composition. I had to position myself so the lighting on the tent was right, then wait for the little clouds to move where the tent’s peak would be in front of them, seeming to hold them.

Photo of the peak of a large white tent with blue sky and clouds
The Wedding Tent

So – edginess is important, but I also understand that art should be enjoyable. Serene images can be part of that enjoyment.

Modern landscapes

Photo of trees seen from a speeding car

I have been investigating how we see landscape now. In the past, in Canada and in North America, landscape imagery has had a heroic aspect. Landscape paintings, mainly by the early Group of Seven, have formed our concepts of who and where we are. In reality, very few of us have been to the places shown, and nowadays we see landscape, if at all, whizzing past our car windows.

It’s not just that I used a low shutter speed here, about 1/6s. I had to use a wide-angle lens with a neutral-density filter, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get that low a shutter speed.

To me, a photographic artist tries to show things not normally seen, or to show the mundane things we overlook. With the Modern Landscape series, I’m trying to do both: show you the landscapes you drive past, but make you realize that they are worth looking at.

New square work

I’ve been working pretty hard getting ready for the 2017 NGA Studio Tour. Matting and framing, mainly; learning how to use the new grids I bought. Printing greeting cards. Finding old work and re-framing some of it – I swap frames a lot (doesn’t everyone?)

So – why am I making new work? It’s so time-consuming, even for a photographer. I get it that painters, stained-glass artists, jewellers etc have even more reason to try to avoid new work, but still – it’s work. And while I’m asking myself this, why am I blogging?

Thing is, I had a couple of 20×20 square frames that had work I don’t want to show this year, so I thought I could sub in some new stuff. I usually shoot full-frame, so not much of my work is open to radical re-formatting to a new aspect ratio.

So – meet “Afternoon Lily” – Peggy tells me it’s a Montego Bay.

Photo fo a Montego Bay lily blossom
Afternoon Lily

Printed, it has a luminosity that doesn’t really come across on the screen, which is pretty unusual. It works in square format because that allows the blossom to burst out of the frame.

And meet “Pitcher Plant” too. It’s a Sarracenia purpurea. I took the photo up near Parry Sound. Again, it works square because it pops out of the frame.

Photo of a Sarracenia purpurea pitcher plant
Pitcher Plant

When I showed Rachel “Afternoon Lily” and we talked about the square format, constraints, coming out of the frame, etc, she said: “It’s like the world, isn’t it?”

I can’t add much to that.

Moving panorama shots

Photo made with panorama from a moving car while passing a truck

In photography, showing motion and time is usually done by controlling the shutter speed to blur motion or freeze it, or by creating a series of photographs. I have done all of these, but new technology brings new techniques, and recently I have been shooting from moving cars and trains, using the camera’s panorama settings. The motion is too fast for the camera’s processor, so I get the slicing you see here. This gives a time-sliced, jittery view of the passing world: a sequence of suspended motions.