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”

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

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 (http://ichingfortune.com/legge-hexagrams/52.php)

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).

The Fallen

Catalog of The Project Examining the Fall

February, 2125

Preface

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?

Conclusion

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

2124

Serenity

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
Thanksgiving

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.

PATH to Emptiness

Photographer’s notes

This series was taken early on a Sunday morning in Toronto’s underground PATH. As I was walking around in the deserted commercial space, I began to see it as a metaphor for the emptiness of our consumer lifestyle.

In all frames, note the hard linear wall surfaces, and the grid of the floor tiles. Nearly every image also holds some commercial signage.

I shot with a high ISO as I had no tripod; the resulting graininess enhances the images. Nothing in any of these images (except The Black Gate) was arranged – it’s all shown as it was. As well, all the images were shot full-frame.

Frame 1: The final rainbows

The bright daylight from beyond the door leaves a spectrum on the floor, echoing the rainbow motif on the wall. The rest lies in shadows.

Frame 2: The beacon

The bright light shines from between the escalators and the stairs. Reflections from the black and clear surfaces continue the scene to the right and through the stairs and escalators. The blue glow is also seen at the end of the series.

Frame 3: The Messengers

The wide angle view emphasizes the isolation of the Messengers near the corner. Their lively colours contrast with the bland setting. They looked like they were waiting to escort me somewhere.

Frame 4: The Black Gate

I had to work at not getting my reflection in the black surface, though I also tried in other images to have my reflection sitting, ghostlike, on the bench.
The image has been reversed to make it look as if the Moneysworth & Best and other stores are behind The Gate. This necessitated re-reversing the logos on the recycling/garbage bin. The low point of view emphasizes the leading lines in the floor, ceiling and lights, and the obstacle between you and The Gate.

Frame 5: The descent

The structure of the lighting is reversed from normal: the near scene is darker than the distance. The lights over the stairs work with the opening to the descending walkway to form a maw, drawing you down the slippery path toward the light.

Frame 6: The holding pen

The black, angled framing emphasizes the glow from the lights, especially the distant blue glow. The chrome chair legs form spiky barriers, but there are clear pathways. And one chair stands ready. Who is it for?

Frame 7: The Empty Throne

Three tables, three chairs, reminiscent of Cerberus. That cold blue glow.

Shows:

This series was first shown together at The Aurora Cultural Centre in 2012. The descent and The Empty Throne were in The Uxbridge Juried Exhibition in 2012, with The descent winning Best Photography.