Summer still life

Peony, June 2020

LOCKDOWN IS ENDING, GRADUALLY, BUT I’M NOT SURE WHAT’S LEFT ON THE OTHER SIDE. I’m hoping there’s work – assignments, maybe some travel – but it’s still too early to know. I have a box of books and another of envelopes, ready to send out to art directors and photo editors, but I have no idea if they’re in their offices, or if they’ll ever return to them. This would be a great time to be anxious, but I’m not sure what that would accomplish.

And so I return to still life work – the great discovery and consolation of the past five months. With summer came flowers, the first real blooms, lush and vibrant. The poppy came from a plant that persists in the most inhospitable spot in our front yard. Most years it never blooms, but this year it gifted us with two brief, beautiful blossoms, one of which I sacrificed to the lights in my kitchen studio.

Poppy, June 2020
Poppy, June 2020
Peony, June 2020

The peony came courtesy my colleague and neighbour Steve Stober, who gifted it to me just after I took delivery of a new set of lights – a pair of LumeCubes that I’d had my eye on for months. Shooting up close in the kitchen studio had made me long for very small point source lights I could modify and shape easily, so I took the plunge and invested in a kit that came with a bunch of tiny gels, diffusers, grids, snoots and barn doors.

And as usual, the flowers looked just as interesting after their blooms had dried out or died. At least to me.

Peony, June 2020
Poppy, June 2020

Food and cooking remain a preoccupation as long as dining out in a restaurant is either inconvenient or a risk some people are unwilling to take, so our regular deliveries – products of a system that seems to have created itself and matured in what seemed like weeks – are a constant source of subject matter.

Mushrooms, June 2020
Lemons, June 2020
Savoy Cabbage, June 2020
Blood oranges, June 2020
Savoy cabbage, June 2020

We were once worried about shortages. Now there’s sometimes so much that regrettable spoilage happens. No matter – more subjects for the kitchen studio.

Rotten apples, June 2020
Rotten citrus, June 2020

With July came my birthday, and a bouquet of flowers from my wife. Like any flowers that come into the house, they end up in front of the camera at some point, either while fresh or (preferably) while their bloom begins to wane. A gift of birthday money from my in-laws turned into another new toy: my first real macro lens, a 7Artisans 60mm that provided a new luxury – being able to change framing without swapping out macro extension tubes, and the ability to come in really, really close.

Rose, July 2020
Dahlia, July 2020
Rose, July 2020
Delphinium, July 2020

This year has been full of surprises, most of them unexpected and unwelcome. I think most of us would agree on that. But when I put on my (mostly unused) optimist’s hat, I have to admit that it’s given me the opportunity to explore and refine still life work more than ever before in the nearly 35 years I’ve been taking pictures.

And since it would be a shame to waste the brief, fine summer weather, I went out into the back garden with my camera, backdrop and stands to find subjects among the flowers, veggies and weeds. 2020 has been a year that few of us will forget; I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that, when it ends, the round of musical chairs we’re playing with the economy will still have a place for me.

Allium, June 2020
Thistle, August 2020
Walking onion, June 2020
Thistle, August 2020
Coneflower, August 2020
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Pears (Gossip), Toronto, May 2020

NOT LONG AFTER THE TOILET PAPER PANIC, WE ALL STARTED WORRYING ABOUT WHAT WE WERE GOING TO EAT. Which sounds, on the surface, like we had things backward right from the start. It remains to be seen if lockdown will have long-lasting effects on the way we consume things – whether the supply chain and retail have been transformed, and whether what and how we get the things we need will be different in ways that weren’t predictable, or were going to change anyway, just not as quickly.

The first few weeks were very improvisatory, involving furtive trips to the grocery store with masks and gloves, and random tests of various grocery delivery options. Some were already established, others still finding their legs when owners of storefront businesses had to pivot to a new business model. Eventually we settled on a whole range of services, from a major home grocery delivery service we’d used before, to new ones set up by our local Italian deli/bakery, and a business just up the street that, until the lockdown, sold mostly to restaurants. Even beer and coffee was being delivered, courtesy local suppliers, many of them friends.

At work in the lockdown kitchen studio, May 2020.

It wasn’t long before these deliveries became the source of my still life subjects, after I’d shot all the flowers (dead and alive), skulls, scrapbooks, spring foliage and trash I could find. With so little else to think about, groceries became central to our lives within these four walls, so it seemed fitting (to me, at least) that they should be immortalized as they came over the threshold.

Pears, Toronto, May 2020
Beets, Toronto, May 2020
Avocados, Toronto, May 2020
Garlic, Toronto, May 2020
Apples, Toronto, May 2020
Asparagus, Toronto, May 2020
Sweet Peppers, Toronto, May 2020

Every new box presented a challenge – tableaux or high-key? Portrait lighting or product? Soft light or hard? I hadn’t shot this much still life work in decades, so every session over the course of a busy month was a new technical challenge, and I had to dust off lighting schemes I hadn’t worked with since I had my old studio in Parkdale.

Carrots, Toronto, May 2020
Button mushrooms, Toronto, May 2020
Onions, Toronto, May 2020
Potatoes, Toronto, May 2020
Shiitake mushrooms, Toronto, May 2020

I often had just an hour or two to work with my subjects, not as much because they’d lose their freshness under my studio lights – I’m working with LEDs, so heat from light sources isn’t the issue it used to be – but because they had an appointment with the oven and stove just a few feet away from where I was shooting. On at least a couple of occasions, I’d finish with a subject, wash and chop it, then have it sauteing while I worked with another new setup on the kitchen table.

Pear, Toronto, May 2020
Asparagus, Toronto, May 2020
Boston lettuce, Toronto, May 2020
Carrots, Toronto, May 2020
Sourdough bread, Toronto, May 2020
Sprouted garlic, Toronto, May 2020
Ciabatta loaf, Toronto, May 2020
Sweet potatoes, Toronto, May 2020

With all this time to experiment, I had an opportunity to play around with my new pinhole “lens”, and with another new bit of gear acquired during lockdown – a plastic lens off of a Holga camera, fitted with a mount for my mirrorless digital camera. The results, sometimes uneven, were intriguing when they worked – something close to that painterly look I’ve been painfully edging toward for years.

Apples (pinhole), Toronto, May 2020
Button mushrooms (Holga plastic lens), Toronto, May 2020
Pears (pinhole), Toronto, May 2020
Sweet pepper (Holga plastic lens), Toronto, May 2020
Avocados (Holga plastic lens), Toronto, May 2020
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Trash (Card Party), Toronto, May 2020

LOCKDOWN WAS REALLY JUST AN EXCUSE FOR ME TO FINALLY START THIS SERIES. There’s a whole list of still life subjects I want to shoot, but this one got bumped to the front of the line by quarantine. I really had a good time taking these photos – they’d been thought about for so long that taking the shots went by too quickly. To get the full effect, click here or here and turn up the volume to have some idea what was playing in my head while I was shooting.

I collected my subjects several weeks ago, at the end of a two-week self-quarantine. Someone in our family came down with suspicious symptoms. (Thankfully it was only a false alarm.) We dutifully stayed inside, and by the end our world had shrunk to our property boundaries. Most of it came from the alleyway behind the house – one of the miles of parallel streetscapes here in Toronto.

It’s a whole other world in the alleyways. At night it’s mostly owned by feral cats, raccoons, and the pack of coyotes that recently moved into the cemetery behind our street. During the day it can be a low key party – people working on cars and other projects, or just enjoying an increasingly illicit smoke, an energy drink, a beer or two, or that most Canadian of beverages – Tim Horton’s coffee.

Trash, Toronto, May 2020

At first I just wanted to document each item like an artifact. But I can’t deny that Irving Penn’s street material still life series was an inspiration for all of this, so it was inevitable that groupings began suggesting themselves, little portraits of the detritus from all that back alley life.

Trash (Coffee Break), Toronto, May 2020

Trash is a snap shot of a time and place – Penn’s street material is full of paper takeout containers and blue and white “Greek deli” coffee cups. I suppose one day my plastic water bottles and energy drink cans will evoke an era in consumer waste.

Trash, Toronto, May 2020

Penn’s cigarette trash is also peculiar to a time and place, featuring brands like Camel and Chesterfield. I haven’t smoked in years, so I was taken aback by these crumpled packages, obviously Canadian, perhaps local, and strangely generic. I can’t imagine how they’d entice anyone to want to smoke.

Trash (Smokes), Toronto, May 2020

Picking trash like this can be called premature archaeology. When I was a boy I wanted to be an archaeologist, before I learned that most of the time I wouldn’t be digging up tombs but sifting through dirt for pot shards or evidence of ancient privies. Today that sounds exciting.

I found these pieces of tile in the gutter down the street. Rubble left over from a kitchen or bathroom renovation, they were missed by the garbage men; to my eye – trained after watching weeks of Time Team episodes during lockdown – they looked like tesserae, the busted floor of some Roman villa or a bath house on the other side of the ocean.

Trash (Archaeology), Toronto, May 2020

It might be harder to identify this metal disc. I know that I found it in the parking lot by the Portuguese karaoke bar at the bottom of my street, a piece of hub cap flattened by countless car tires. And perhaps I’ve lived in cities too long, but a little grouping like the one below is what I expect to see in the heavily-trafficked margin where constrained nature meets my street.

Trash (Windblown), Toronto, May 2020
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Spring #1 (from a neighbour’s tree), Toronto, May 2020

SPRING HAS BEEN TEASING US WHILE WE’RE STILL LOCKED DOWN. They say April is the cruelest month, but May is trying to compete, alternating between a few lovely warm days and then sleet, wind chill and frost warnings. There’s some sort of end in sight – maybe – which somehow makes the budding trees and early perennials pressing forward despite the weather even more poignant.

For weeks, of course, it was all just grey dirt and unraked leaves and the dried husks of last year’s flowers, still standing after the snow. They felt appropriate at the start of the era of social distancing.

Spring (coneflower husk), Toronto, May 2020

And then the first buds started to appear in the parks and yards, looking as surreptitious as we felt, breaking quarantine and heading out to get some sun and air.

Spring #2 & #3, Toronto, May 2020

I’ll give the lockdown some credit – I never would have noticed all this abundance, in all of its shapes and colours, if I hadn’t been stuck at home, desperate for material to photograph, and strangely, newly aware of everything I was seeing on my walks and hikes.

Spring #4, Toronto, May 2020
Spring (Blackcurrants), Toronto, May 2020
Spring #5, Toronto, May 2020
Spring #6, Toronto, May 2020
Spring #7, Toronto, May 2020

I’ve been desperate for subjects, and having run out of flowers I went for a walk with a pair of secateurs to harvest some cuttings in our backyard, and off the trees and bushes along the rail corridor by our house. Without their leaves, I couldn’t tell you what you’re looking at – perhaps a botany enthusiast reading this could hazard some guesses. Everything here was photographed in the lockdown kitchen studio, even if it might look like it was taken outside against a cloudless sky.

Spring #8 (before), Toronto, May 2020
Spring #9 (after), Toronto, May 2020

The two frames above are a testament to how robustly the new life is seeking a fresh start – the second photo is of the same cutting after spending a few days sitting in a glass of water in our kitchen. Even without roots, the imperative is to bud and grow, in whatever circumstances might be even slightly optimistic.

The shots below are little personal landmarks. The cutting from a neighbour’s tree was taken with his permission – it’s a tree that explodes in flowers every year when spring is finally established, covering the sidewalk with confetti-like petals just before the lilacs start to bloom. The one at the bottom is our own apple tree, a multi-grafted sapling that I planted a few years ago, in honour of the one my grandfather planted in the backyard of our house in Mount Dennis.

Spring #10 (from a neighbour’s tree), Toronto, May 2020
Spring #11 (Apple blossom), Toronto, May 2020
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Orchids, Toronto, April 2020

IF THIS THING KEEPS GOING INTO THE SUMMER, the best thing I can hope for is that at least I’ll have some things I can shoot growing in the garden. My next post will give you some idea of how desperate I’ve been to find subjects for my still life kitchen studio. When the lockdown started all I had was a vase of already dried-out flowers from Valentine’s Day. They were great, patient subjects but I finally had to admit that I’d squeezed everything I could out of them. Here’s a little Instagram tribute to those wilted blossoms:

Thankfully, a friend generously dropped off a bunch of surplus bouquets – roses, orchids and tulips. I hadn’t photographed newly cut flowers since last year; the best comparison I can make is doing portraits of young people versus older people. There’s a freshness and even beauty with youth that seems to make getting a flattering picture easier, but it doesn’t take long before you realize that the results can be a little generic. Real character emerges when the bloom starts getting overripe, and by the time the petals are brittle and wrinkled every flower head has its own personality.

Rose, Toronto, April 2020
Tulips, Toronto, April 2020
Rose, Toronto, April 2020

This was my first time shooting orchids, which are both proof and exception to this rule. They’re a lush, striking flower – it’s hard to find a bad angle on either a single orchid or a thick bunch like these ones. The petals are meaty but the interior of the blossom has the look of a predator insect or an alien pilot. They do most of the work for you, so I felt obliged to feature a single wilted bloom on a thick stalk of flowers, just to provide some contrast.

Orchids, Toronto, April 2020

Very much like tulips, orchids live only as long as their blooms are fresh, and their demise is both quick and total. Roses remain my favorite flower, though – the buds are demure, even coy, but as the petals open and then begin to subtly curl and discolour at the edges they become more interesting, with more surfaces to catch light. The sepals, with their serrated edges, curl and pull away from the petals they protected.

Rose, Toronto, April 2020

I’m shooting as much as possible with my new Kamlan 50mm f1.1 lens, both to get used to it for portrait work, and because it has a character of its own as a close-up optic, especially when wide open. I’ve noticed the glowing penumbra it produces when out-of-focus highlights contrast against a darker background, but something about these shots, seen through the viewfinder, stirred a memory that made it easier to decide to press the shutter.

Roses, Toronto, April 2020

It took me a while to realize that the colour palette in these shots came straight off the cover of Todd Rundgren’s classic 1972 double album Something/Anything?, which was once one of my favorite records to play during long overnight darkroom sessions in my old Parkdale studio.

After about a week the orchids were dropping flowers and the tulips were just past their peak. Tulips are fairly generic when we find them for sale in florist’s shops, tight buds distinguishable only by colour and varieties of petal shapes in fancy varieties. In front of my camera, they always appeared at their most vegetal at this stage (look at the photo near the top of this post.) It’s easy to see that they’re from the same family as garlic and onions, with their thick stalks and meaty leaves.

Tulips, Toronto, April 2020

Now overripe and wilting, this is my favorite time to photograph tulips, but it only lasts about a day. A week previous they’d been a huddle of buds standing alert; in the shot above they look more like a selfie taken at a raucous party.

Tulip, Toronto, April 2020

Hours away from dropping their petals, tulips finally become really expressive and much more graphically interesting. A single line thrusting upward gives way to curves in several different directions, and the anthers, stigma and ovary are fully exposed.

Aoi Yamaguchi, “Kun-puh”

This is a kind of photo I’ve been trying to take for years now – since (like so many other people) I became interested in Japanese art in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and in particular shodo calligraphic art. Back when I was looking for a way to clean up and simplify my compositions, I found inspiration in these kanji characters, quickly and economically rendered with brushes and even mops. I’m always looking for a way to reduce a photo to just a few, or perhaps even just one, simple line.

Rose, Toronto, April 2020

Finally, I thought it was time to start experimenting with colour. I began with red and green gels on LED lights aimed in a crossfire – a classic setup that used to be big back in the days of pre-grunge indie rock and cross-processed film. On a red rose, however, this is hardly a complex lighting equation – the petals absorb the red light while the green only renders on highlights before it plunges into black in the shadows. I might need to play around with other colour combinations – or get my hands on other colours of flowers.

Roses, Toronto, April 2020

In the meantime, the roses are drying out, in anticipation of at least a couple more weeks in lockdown and their next moment in the spotlight in the kitchen studio.

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Skull and onions, Toronto, April 2020

THIS ISN’T MEANT TO BE MORBID OR PROVOCATIVE. Or maybe it is and I’m just unable to acknowledge it for myself. The truth is that I’ve had a list of still life subjects pending for a long time now, and with the pandemic lockdown in effect, that list has suddenly been given priority, along with subjects like this one – a human skull I have had in my possession for at least twenty-five years now.

I bought it from an antique and interior decor store across from my favorite record shop on Queen West. I had wanted a skull for many years, ever since I became fascinated with vanitas still life paintings and the whole idea of the memento mori. I had a bit of extra money and, to be blunt, the price was right. It came home, wrapped in newspaper and carried in a shopping bag and it’s sat on my desk since then.

Skull #1, Toronto, April 2020
Skull #2, Toronto, April 2020

Shooting happened, as usual, in the kitchen – my lockdown studio for the duration. I worked late at night, over the course of two days when everyone was asleep, not because I thought the subject matter was disturbing but because I didn’t want any stray light from the kitchen windows to interfere with the very controlled setups I planned on using. One night was devoted to a more painterly lighting setup, the other to a brighter “high key” look. Over the course of the two nights I used every LED light I had along with all the gear I could find or build.

I’m a portrait photographer who has no subjects, so I felt obliged to get up close with the thing that’s always there, just underneath the skin of everyone I photograph. The skull has enormous resonance, as a symbol and an icon, but it’s a remarkably generic object at first glance – it’s hard to tell them apart without special knowledge of anatomy and forensics. I ended up concentrating on the peculiar textures of this skull – the cracks and seams and sutures. And I ended up with one shot that reminded me of the cover of Isaac Hayes’ 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul.

Skull close-up, Toronto, April 2020
Skull dome, Toronto, April 2020
Coronal and Sagittal sutures, Skull, Toronto, April 2020

I’m not superstitious about the skull. I’m aware that it was once part of a person, and I’m sure the supply chain that delivered it to my was probably pretty dubious, but if you believe in a soul it’s hard to imbue much to the bits and pieces we leave behind. I try to treat it with appropriate respect. (Though I haven’t given it a name – I’m not that much of a ghoul.) But it’s hard to resist the temptation to create my own simple vanitas, albeit with the scant supplies in the larder during this lockdown.

Skull and onions #2, Toronto, April 2020

There’s no great implied meaning to these photos. Of course people are dying – this week has been notable in my own circles for the passing of John Prine and Hal Willner due to Covid-19. So it’s inevitable that this choice of subject will have some inescapable resonance. If I was a medieval painter or a monk illuminating a book the message would be clear enough. And it occurs to me that this post is going up on Good Friday; as a churchgoing Catholic I guess I just have to say “Golgotha” and let that hang in the air. But I can’t control what meaning someone might read into an image, so here’s this week’s contribution to this brief, uncomfortable but vivid moment in history.

Skull #3, Toronto, April 2020
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Victorian Scrapbook #1

THEY SAY THIS THING COULD GO ON FOR ANOTHER TWO MONTHS, MAYBE THREE. I can’t say we’re suffering here – I’m one of those insufferable Gen-X types who can brag about social distancing since I was a kid. (Being a misanthrope also helps.) But my big worry is running out of things to shoot. That’s the one thing that could end up making me long for a “return to normalcy.” I don’t miss people, but I sure miss doing portraits.

I started collecting old scrapbooks and other paper ephemera a while back, when the potential of Mrs. Edward Cross’ address book became obvious. I found this one at an old paper show; they’re harder to find than you think – most people just throw them out when going through the hoarded belongings of dead relations and estate sale job lots. Photo albums have been hot for a while now, but as a photographer I don’t get much spark from shooting other people’s photos. Scrapbooks are another thing altogether.

(click on any image to enlarge)

I’m assuming it was put together by a young lady – probably unmarried, but I could be wrong. The book itself started life as a Province of Ontario geography textbook, and part of its charm is how the old maps and text peek through behind the pasted-in poems and newspaper clippings, engravings and scraps of colour product packaging, all carefully cut out and assembled according to a logic only the original owner could explain.

(click on any image to enlarge)

What always draws me into these old scrapbooks are the accidental juxtapositions, left stranded on the page long after context was obvious. It’s the sort of material that artists like Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell would refashion into surrealism, using the same sort of paper ephemera, back when the pre-WW1 world still resonated in living memory – past, but not distant past.

(click on any image to enlarge)

Now, of course, this is the very distant past – as far back from our world today as the French Revolution was from the person who put this together. It’s tempting to try to understand a scrapbook made when mass media was mostly printed matter as a sort of proto-Pinterest. My wife pointed out that this is also the sort of project that would get started during not-infrequent periods of isolation and quarantine – slow-moving summers away at a cottage or relative’s house by the seashore or in some distant rural enclave, or when an infection was suddenly raging away either locally or nationally, in an age before widespread vaccination and herd immunity. Which makes this all feel at least a little timely.

(click on any image to enlarge)

It’s hard to ignore the feminine preoccupations throughout this scrapbook – the sentimental poems and illustrations, the pictures of babies, kittens and puppies, the recurring interest in fashion, courtship, marriage, faith and family. It’s not fashionable to talk about gender stereotypes these days, but they’re hard to ignore as you go through these pages looking for some particular clue to help make the person who assembled all these scraps and clippings come into focus.

The only glimpse of an actual person appears just once – a pencil doodle of a shifty, skulking figure in the margin of a page. It might not have been put there by the owner of the scrapbook – it’s probably an artifact of one of the original users of the volume when it was still a geography textbook. Apart from that, the only other evidence of the book’s provenance or past is near the front, where bookworms or some other bugs have made a meal of the corners of several pages, creating another accidental juxtaposition in this ragged cross section of pages.

The book looks and feels undeniably late Victorian. There’s almost nothing to give it a specific date except for the inclusion of an anti-Boer poem, “Kruger and the Lion,” on the last page before the back cover – a little sliver of Imperial jingoism aimed at Afrikaaner politician Paul Kruger, “Slippery as a wiggling eel” and a “cowardly lion” according to the poet, one Linton West, himself now utterly obscured by history. It could, of course, have been made later, from piles of already-yellowing newspapers, magazines and catalogues pulled down from an attic by a bored young woman staring down many endless days with little to occupy herself.

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Rose, Toronto, March 2020

PRETTY SURE MOST OF US DIDN’T SEE THIS COMING. By which I mean being voluntarily locked down at home, testing the technical limitations of telecommuting and the strength of the emotional tether connecting us to our loved ones. We had to cancel a family trip to NYC at the last minute and go to earth with everyone else. I am not, by temperament, a people person, so the emotional hardships have been marginal for me. The challenge, of course, is staying creatively occupied.

Which for me means still life photography. If I could have predicted self-quarantining lasting weeks, even months, I might have laid in a supply of subjects for the duration – a quick trip to a florist, or to the bone and taxidermy shop downtown. In any case, there was a vase of roses drying on a shelf in the kitchen – the Valentine’s Day bouquet for my wife, ready and waiting to become the focus of so much pent-up energy.

Roses, Toronto, March 2020

Before the social distancing got serious I managed a trip to the craft store for black foamcore and Home Depot for plywood and hinges. The foamcore was intended to build a selection of light baffles; since the kitchen table had to become my studio, I needed walls and bounce panels and modifiers to shape the rather broad light coming from my Westcott LED heads. I’d had an idea for an adjustable baffle for months, sketched on a desk notepad – time to build the thing.

With all my previous kitchen floral still life sessions, I’d been working up the complexity of my lighting – from natural light, to single soft sources to spotlighting with LED flashlights. At this point I’m treating each dried flower like a portrait subject, working to find that point where their best side meets the nicest light. In a portrait session that means manipulating light and shade and backdrops over a whole room; at home it’s a matter of moving panels on a tabletop a few inches, and shifting my light behind a thin slit cut into a board until it falls on the right bit.

Roses, Toronto, March 2020

I spread these shots over two separate sessions a week apart. At the end of the second session I ran upstairs to grab a new toy – a Thingyfy Pinhole Pro X that I ordered from Kickstarter last year and only received in the mail from China a couple of weeks before the lockdown hit. I fitted it to my Fuji X-T2, pulled the light in as close as possible to the rose I had on the table and calculated an exposure of about 30 seconds.

The results are … intriguing. Not what anyone would call sharp, but technically in focus, which is the peculiar quality of pinhole photography as I understand it. I never went to photo school, so I didn’t get to build a shoebox pinhole film camera in first year or any of those elementary exercises. Thirty-five years later I get to play with the most basic kind of camera of all, and I have all the time in the world to see where this leads.

Rose, Toronto, March 2020
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Motorama, Toronto, March 2020

JUST A DAY BEFORE THE CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN STARTED TO TAKE EFFECT, I went with my friend Alex on our annual pilgrimage to Motorama, the big local custom car and hot rod show. It’s a good thing we went on the first day, because the organizers decided to close the doors on the third day under pressure from the authorities. It was a big hit for them, and for the vendors and exhibitors – I hope they can all recover from it. So if you wanted to go but couldn’t make it, here’s my little digest of what were, to me, the highlights, as seen through my camera.

I’ve come to enjoy Motorama more than the big, established auto show just a month beforehand every year. I certainly ended up with more shots worth sharing this year – the usual little details and near-abstract shots that I’ve been drilling down on since I started shooting cars a bunch of years ago. This is where my eye is always being drawn – to the angles and surfaces and colours that I’ve found captivating since I was a kid checking out the rides parked in my neighbours’ driveways in Mount Dennis.

A family trip we planned to NYC this week was postponed, naturally, and school has been canceled for a further two weeks after March Break as governments act with what you might consider either panic or prudence. In any case, it doesn’t look like like we’re leaving the house much for the next few weeks, which means a whole bunch of still life work in the kitchen for me. Stay tuned – and if you’re stuck at home, too, now’s a good time to buy some of my photo books. Links in the sidebar and below.

Motorama, Toronto, March 2020
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Rose, Feb. 2020

THESE ARE THE SAME FLOWERS as the ones I was shooting two months ago, even drier and more sun-bleached. Valentine’s Day is coming up so I needed to clear out the vase for the next bouquet. It’s winter – I’d rather do this than shiver on some hiking trail by the bluffs or windswept street down by the harbour. And frankly a day will doubtless come when I’d rather do this than anything else. Stay tuned.

My tabletop studio was mostly built from old clothespins and about twenty-five bucks worth of foamcore and construction paper from Michael’s. That’s the dirty secret of still life work – unless your subject is a car you can do it for pennies. The light sources were also low budget – a pair of LED flashlights. Work is slow right now so I’m experimenting on a very modest scale; let’s see where this leads.

Rose, Feb. 2020
Baby’s breath, Feb. 2020
Rose, Feb. 2020
Carnation, Feb. 2020
Rose, Feb. 2020
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