Georgian Bay

On Georgian Bay, 2019

THE GREAT THING ABOUT MY WORK is that I occasionally get paid to do something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve had my eye on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry for years now, but I was recently hired by the Alternator Group on behalf of Owen Sound Transportation Company to spend a weekend on the boat between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island, take some photos and write a few stories.

My motel, Tobermory, ON, 2019

Cottage country is a big deal up here – not just in Canada, generally, but in Ontario particularly. My family never owned a cottage – we rented one for a week, once, when I was a boy – so I’ve spent my meagre time there as a guest. I’m not a driver, so I had to hire a car to get me up to where Ontario Highway 6 turns a corner by the Bruce Anchor Motel and pauses at the ferry docks in Tobermory.

Tobermory, Ontario, 2019

The ferry takes up where the road leaves off, moving cars across the mouth of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island, where the highway continues across the island, over the North Channel via a swing bridge before ending in McKerrow. I was only concerned with the highway’s path over the water on the Chi-Cheemaun, however.

MS Chi-Cheemaun arrives at Tobermory, 2019

I arrived in Tobermory with just enough time to check in to the Bruce Anchor before wandering down to the dock to watch the Chi-Cheemaun arrive from its morning voyage across the bay. Since I wasn’t booked on to the boat until the evening sunset dinner cruise, I had an afternoon to kill in Tobermory, which I did with my camera – a warm-up before I had to get on the boat and get to work.

On deck, Georgian Bay, 2019
Manitoulin Island, 2019

I like boats. I like anything that takes me anywhere, but boats have a clear lead over planes and a narrow one over trains. Going somewhere on a boat feels like a voyage, and thanks to ever-changing conditions on the water, each trip feels different than the last. The Chi-Cheemaun has been making itself a destination on its own for many years, but its branding got a boost when the bow and funnel were decorated with murals inspired by local woodland aboriginal artwork.

On Georgian Bay at sunset, 2019

I used my main camera, a Fuji X-T2, to take the portraits and reportage I needed for the commissioned stories, but as usual I took my much-loved X30 with me to capture the sorts of shots I’m always collecting when I travel. The return journey from Manitoulin was dominated by a long sunset that seemed to change every time I thought I’d shot enough and went inside again. A glimpse out the window would reveal another different combination of sky, water and colour, so out I’d go again.

Ferry terminal, Tobermory, ON, 2019

The last embers of the sunset were still burning away when we docked at Tobermory for the night, lining the horizon out towards the mouth of the bay. The sun disappeared and brought a night of rain, which carried in a day’s worth of fog that covered the lake from the moment we left the next morning, hiding the islands on the way out of Tobermory in wisps of steaming mist.

I actually enjoyed my two trips on the Chi-Cheemaun through the fog more than the spectacular sunset cruise the night before. The lake was definitely choppier and visibility was down to a few dozen metres for most of the trip, which meant that the ship’s horn would sound regularly, its muffled echo rolling back through the fog. But the views from the deck were more primal and mysterious, land glimpsed only occasionally through cool fog, the water raked with waves.

Leaving Tobermory, 2019
Manitoulin Island, 2019
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Elora again

Elora Mill Inn, Grand River and the “Tooth of Time”

I FINALLY GOT TO STAY AT THIS PLACE. Elora is probably my favorite small town in Ontario, and I’ve been there a few times now, the last two on business. The Elora Mill Inn & Spa was still being renovated when I visited last year, but I’ve been angling to get a night there since they gave me a tour. A couple of months ago I got my chance.

The mill is as old as the town, and it’s been the star of its scenic views for as long as Elora has been hosting visitors, for more than a century. It’s amazing to think that the “Tooth of Time” – a little flowerpot island that sits in the middle of the steepest part of the rapids by the mill – is still standing. The spring melt had swelled the Grand River when I visited, so the water was raging through Fergus and Elora the whole time I was there.

Time was tight while I was in town so I had to do some planning. I already had the postcards, but I needed to nail down sunset and sunrise while I was in town and figure out where the light would be. I knew I wanted to get a long exposure of the water flowing past the mill, and thankfully this time I had all the gear I need to pull it off – a lightweight travel tripod, a cable release and a set of neutral density filters.

Taking the shot with all the gear

The sunset was a bit muted when I set up on the patio outside the spa – as close as I could get to the spot where some anonymous postcard photographer set up for their shot over a century ago. I’m still not sure about shooting long exposures, but it’s a look I’ve never seriously tried before with landscapes and this seemed like a good place to give it a shot.

Room with a view, Elora Mill Inn & Spa

My room was visible from the patio – on the left side of the new glass addition, just above the restaurant and below the balconies of the deluxe suites. The hotel was nice enough to give me a suite with a fireplace, which I enjoyed the hell out of. I was in town to write a couple of travel features about Elora, but I knew that I’d try to get a post for my own travel blog about the hotel while I was lucky enough to enjoy their hospitality – and the spectacular view:

I did a bunch of interviews for the travel features, which gave me an opportunity for some portraits. Elora’s been a hub for artists since at least the ’70s, and they’ve formed a community whose work has become a key part of the town’s business and identity. I handed in colour shots for the stories, but I took some versions of my own, pretty sure they’d end up being processed in black and white.

David Cross, blacksmith and sculptor, Elora, Ontario
Neil Hanscomb and Gisela Ruehe, glass artists, Elora, Ontario

The whole Elora/Fergus area is ridiculously photogenic, so I ended up with a lot of “end cuts” even after handing in my two features and posting to my travel blog. My visits to the area, while enjoyable, are always too brief. One day I’d like to spend a few days exploring with my camera, though I doubt if my lodgings will be as luxurious.

Ruin, Elora, Ontario
Templin Gardens, Fergus, Ontario
Grand River in the spring, Fergus, Ontario
Grand River at Wilson Flats Access Point
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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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Mexico 2018

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018

MY SECOND TRIP TO MEXICO IN TWO YEARS took me to a very different place than the first. This time I was sent to the Mexico most tourists would recognize – beaches and resort hotels; sun and sand. As I wrote when I posted the second of two stories on my travel photo blog (posted after the stories that paid for me to be in Mexico were printed) I’m not much of a beach person, so nearly a week on the Mayan Riviera felt very much like anthropology to me.

Our group made our way from the airport in Cancun to Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo province over the course of one very long day. The sun was down when we checked into our hotel, but I managed to get away one morning for a walk around the town by the harbour. No one would mistake Chetumal for a tourist hot spot, but it’s not a bad little city if that’s not what you’re looking for, and the waterfront has its particular charm.

Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018

The real discovery of the trip was the Laguna Bacalar – the Lagoon of the Seven Colours – and its still relatively undiscovered attractions. (Undiscovered, that is, by North American tourists; the place was full of Mexicans and South Americans.) As I wrote elsewhere, it put me in mind of a tropical Lake Como where big houses and old hotels hug the shore. In other spots, the vast, shallow shoreline and clear water had a meditative quality I don’t think you get next to an ocean.

Laguna Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018
Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018

That was underlined during a lightning visit to Tulum, where the hipsters holiday, or so I am told. Tulum also provided a perfect snapshot of the tourist experience as it was often revealed to me. We were able to get a bit more time before that in Bacalar, where a trip to the town square to get money from the ATM turned into a sunset walk around the perimeter of the town that gave me some of my favorite – and least touristy – photos of the trip.

Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018
Grand Velas Maya Riviera, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018

Our two nights in the five star, luxury all-inclusive Grand Velas Maya Riviera was very different. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to loving the comfort and grandeur of a place like the Grand Velas, from its impressive front gates (very photogenic, especially at sunrise) to its wide halls and public spaces to its carefully manicured beach and excellent restaurants. It was as close as I’ve ever come to The Village, where Patrick McGoohan’s Number Six was very comfortably confined in The Prisoner. I always thought the place looked rather pleasant, and sometimes felt Number Six complained a bit too much.

Grand Velas Maya Riviera, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018
Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018

Cozumel, very nearly the tourism ground zero of the Mayan Riviera, was actually quite lovely. I skipped the snorkeling – it was useless to take up space on the boat with a non-swimmer – but I was able to kill time in a manner better suited to my temperament, with a cold beer under an umbrella looking out to sea.

We ended up back where we began – in the party town of Cancun, at another all-inclusive resort, albeit one much better suited to the voracious vacation schedule of the young and resilient. Lizards marched slowly across the manicured lawns and the Caribbean beat restlessly against the beach under a dramatic sky on our last morning. The red flags were out to warn swimmers of treacherous waves, but for someone like me who doesn’t take off their shoes, it was all just more great spectacle, and the sort of thing that makes travel irresistible.

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Nov. 2018
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