Snapshots

At home, 2018

I TAKE PHOTOS ALL THE TIME. Especially since the day I noticed I had a camera on my cell phone, long before I got the Fuji X30 that’s become my favorite camera. My hard drives are full of random folders of shots – pictures taken as I make my way through the world.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Kodak kid, but I’ve been fascinated by snapshots for years – since before I ever took photos seriously. I’m not sure if most photographers feel this way, but I always want to find a way to tap the artless feel of snapshot photos for my own work (when appropriate.) I think I’ve been doing this too long to really take what most people would call a snapshot, but I love the snapshot aesthetic too much to take that option off the table.

AGO, 2016
Willowbank, 2016
Edwards Gardens, Toronto, 2017
Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, 2019
High Park, Toronto, 2016

These shots are an informal, pick-and-mix record of things I’ve seen and places I’ve been for the last three or so years, back to when I was still doing my old blog and not really sure where all of that was leading me. At some point my friend Jonathan Castellino loaned me his Leica V-Lux 4 for a few weeks, which produced the next four shots:

Chinatown, Toronto, 2016
High Park, Toronto, 2016
Black Creek, Toronto, 2018

These photos were taken “off the clock” – while out with my family, or killing time wandering around town. The Black Creek shot was taken while Chris Buck was taking my portrait; the shots below at Oshawa Autofest, where I was helping my friend Alex sell t-shirts at his booth.

Oshawa Autofest, 2016

I guess I have some pretty predictable obsessions – clouds on the horizon, behind bits of skyline or parkland or striking intrusions, like the camera cranes at an auto race. These are notes – visual post-its; I see these things all the time, so I feel pretty happy when I have the wherewithal to capture them with a camera every now and then.

Honda Indy, Toronto, 2018
University Avenue, Toronto, 2016
Port Credit, 2018
Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, 2019

And every now and then I get to indulge the street photographer I’ve never really let myself be, like at the Yayoi Kusama show at the AGO with my family. I can’t help but catch these scenes out of the corner of my eye; sometimes I remember to bring a camera.

Yayoi Kusama, AGO, 2018
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Motorama

Motorama 2018, Toronto

I REALLY NEED TO LEARN TO DRIVE. Never mind the inconvenience of being wholly reliant on public transit, hired drivers or the generosity of anyone with a car; it’s getting tiresome having to explain my obsession with automotive design and motorsport – never mind photographing cars in almost any setting – with the proviso that I have never had a driver’s license.

It’s why, even more than when I do my annual pilgrimage to the auto show, I feel like an impostor at collector car shows like Oshawa’s Autofest or Toronto’s Motorama, annual events for petrolheads and grease monkeys who, at least to my eyes, look like they’ve been taking apart carburetors and replacing blown pistons since before they had their G2 (or equivalent.)

Motorama 2018, Toronto

I could take pictures of cars all day; zooming in on the details of even some banal old family sedan or weathered panel van, it’s the forms and textures that draw me in over and over. The great thing about car shows like Motorama is that they’re self-selecting – everything on the floor is there because some car nut has lavished endless hours on its restoration or improvement, or some critical mass of gearheads acknowledge a particular make and model to be worth collecting.

Motorama 2019, Toronto

Some cars on the floor are true unicorns, like the 1959 Chrysler Imperial (below) that someone decided to transform from a massive four-door sedan to a sleek sports car. Pretty much every race car is a unique vehicle, and even the most average truck becomes an incredible palette of colour and texture with wear and care. And I have to thank every hot rodder, low rider and car geek at shows like Motorama for providing me with an endless supply of subjects.


Motorama 2019, Toronto
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The Discarded

THE DISCARDED RELEASED THEIR THIRD RECORD – AN EP – LAST MONTH. It was also the third record I’ve worked on with Joel, Jared and Caden, a collaboration I haven’t had with anyone since Jane Bunnett in the ’90s. There’s something altogether pleasant about working with an artist on their visual image over the long term, and only part of it has to do with a sense of trust that’s probably felt disproportionately by the photographer.

I’d known Joel since the heyday of the the Queen West music scene here in Toronto – a community of groups that I always felt would have been better known, in a different city, in a place where major record labels weren’t branch plants of their parent corporation, or during (and not before) the digital revolution that changed the way music is made, distributed and marketed. After Joel ended up living with his two oldest sons after a divorce, they pulled a sort of post-indie Partridge Family and formed a punk band. When a record was imminent, he contacted me about doing publicity photos for his group.

Not From This Town is the first part of an ambitious project – the first act of a punk musical, or what we children of the ’70s used to call a “rock opera.” I’m not sure if it was meant to be this explicit, but the cover of act one ended up pulling in the influences and anxieties experienced by any new group; the Abbey Road visual shout-out was definitely something Joel and I talked about when planning the shoot, but the reference to The Who’s My Generation cover only became apparent when the band had moved a couple of blocks up Bay Street and I framed them standing in front of Old City Hall.

We ended up taking care of the two big shots in almost no time – the advantage of a bit of planning, I suppose. But with the rest of a weekend morning to burn, we headed out to other locations, like the front of the Concourse Building on Adelaide West, an art deco gem that was very nearly demolished a few years ago, J.E.H. MacDonald murals and all.

Out next stop was the ferry terminal by the foot of Yonge Street, where we had a vague plan to get shots of the band with the skyline of “This Town” behind them. We bought tickets and rode back and forth to Ward’s Island while I shot the band in various spots around the boat. My favorites turned out to be one along the railing, the band as weary and wary as any band will look, and another underneath the ceiling stuffed with flotation vests.

Back on shore, we wandered back to the car, where I posed Joel and his sons with one of the old island ferries in the background and I shot them having a moment probably as much like a family as a band.

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Roses

Rose, March 2019

I HATE WINTER. Which means that, from December to March, I’ll do pretty much anything to avoid leaving the house unless it’s strictly necessary. That means mining inspiration from my hermit-like existence, and that means still life work.

I am also a creature of habit. This year, like last year, I bought my wife roses for Valentine’s Day, and just like last year I asked if we could let them sit and dry out in their vase to provide me, once again, with a subject for some still life shooting.

At work, Feb. 22, 2019.

A week or so after Valentine’s Day I decided to take my first shot at my wife’s roses, which had just started to dry out at the edges of their petals and drop their leaves, though the hearts of each flower retained some moisture and colour. I set up in the kitchen again, only this time I had new pieces of gear I didn’t have last year – a macro ring for my Fuji X-T2, a cable release and a lightweight travel tripod with a ball head.

Roses, Feb. 2019

Locked off and holding my breath, I was able to shoot at much lower ISO speeds than I had a year previous. It took a while to get used to the macro ring; the autofocus on the Fuji needed to be disabled to find the sweet spot on each flower, and I had to pace myself to let the camera and the flower stop moving after I composed and focused, breathing in and out before I triggered the cable release. As the afternoon light in the kitchen started to dim, I pulled out a pair of LED mag lights and used those as hard light sources.

At work again, March 7, 2019.

Two weeks later, after the buds in the vase had dried out even further, I got back to work with a black backdrop instead of the white. By this point the pink roses had faded while the red ones had darkened considerably. I started earlier in the afternoon to use as much natural light as I could, which meant that by the time I probably should have pulled out the mag lights, I had been at it for a couple of hours and felt inspiration waning.

I know I’ll be at it again, same time next year no doubt, though earlier if my wife gets roses for her birthday. One day, God willing, I’ll be doing this work in the studio I long to build out back in the garage. It’s hard to describe how immensely satisfying shooting this work feels.

Roses, March 2019.
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