Monday, January 23, 2017

Thematic Photographic 398 - Footwear

Hey now, you're an all-star
London, ON
December 2016
Some designs are timeless, and I'm going to go out on a limb and conclude that the Converse All-Stars fit the  bill. These are the running shoes - sorry, sneakers - we all wore before athletic shoes became a multibillion-dollar business, before triple-digit prices for the latest superstar-endorsed Nikes became the norm.

But here's the thing: Those old shoes never quite went away. And while I'd never consider pairing up some LeBron-themed kicks with a suit, I did come [this close] to wearing red All-Star hi-tops - like the shoe on the right - to my wedding. Somewhere in our album, there's even a picture of me wearing them. My wife wisely suggested I change out of them before the actual ceremony.

So, back to this week's Thematic theme, footwear. Shoes don't just protect us from stepping on icky stuff on the streets. They tell stories about us. They evoke powerful memories. They make us smile. And for the next week, I hope we'll be able to return the favor with a few pictures.

Your turn: Take a picture that supports this week's footwear theme, then share it on your blog, website or social media account (or simply point to something you may have already posted.) Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Repeat through the week, and pop in on other participants to spread the photographic joy. Click here if you're new to Thematic. Otherwise, have at it. And have fun!

On the power of the gentle word

"A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles."
William Hazlitt
Something to keep in mind as this rather notable workweek gets underway. Despite it all, it all starts with us, with simplicity, with kindness.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Have I got a deal for you

Sleepy retail
London, ON
December 2016
On Christmas Day, my daughter and I wandered around Dundas Street for a bit. The light was iffy, and between icy sidewalks, marauding drug dealers and suspected prostitutes, we didn't hang around any longer than we needed once we were happy we had enough on our memory cards. I posted my first image here.

The experience left me ambivalent. On the one hand, this once-bustling retail street has struggled mightily to rise from the ashes as new business owners have moved in and tried to lay down substantial roots. There's an energy in the pockets of investment that dot this landscape, from the pub owned by the twentysomethings who enthusiastically greeted us on the sidewalk, to the food hub a block away that's redefining how communities are built and served.

On the other hand, the pub and the food hub are only two bright spots in a landscape that's been overwhelmingly ground down by decades of neglect and mismanagement. There's Just So Much Decay that a couple of examples of goodness can't be expected to repaint the entire neighborhood with a similar brush. At least not yet. Renewal takes time, and there's going to be a lot of messiness along the way.

Which brings me to this picture, a deliberately dead-on shot of the streetscape. It's obviously seen better days, but it also contains flashes of life that simply don't exist in a newer, tonier environment. I doubt I'd be pondering the history of a strip mall in a more conventional suburb - at least not to the same degree.

I want to come back here to see what else I can see. And feel. And what other flashes of life I can find along the way.

Your turn: Would you come here? Why? Why not?

On passion and possibility

"From passion, all is possible."
Tory Lanez
I think I'm going to rubber-stamp this one onto every visible surface in my home and office. Definitely words to live by.

Your turn: What's your passion?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Kids in the Hall would be proud

Hand signals
London, ON
December 2016
Sometimes I get bored when I'm sitting in the stands, surrounded by masses of hockey fans who may or may not have had too much to drink, and may or may not be screaming advice to their favorite players in the futile belief that a) they can actually hear them and b) they actually care.

Don't get me wrong: I love the game. I'm Canadian, after all. But the culture that surrounds it can often be, shall we say, disquieting to those of us who don't drink, don't offer unsolicited advice to players, and just want to watch the game in relative peace.

Nope. Not here. So sometimes I play with my camera to pass the time. Any guesses what I'm doing here?

On Bryan Adams & social media

"Social media is a giant distraction to the ultimate aim, which is honing your craft as a songwriter. There are people who are exceptional at it, however, and if you can do both things, then that's fantastic, but if you are a writer, the time is better spent on a clever lyric than a clever tweet."
Bryan Adams
I've always admired Mr. Adams for his quintessentially Canadian approach to songwriting, and his kindness in supporting the music community from which he grew. He never forgot where he came from, and given his global success, that speaks volumes about his character.

I kinda like his perspective on social media, too.

Friday, January 20, 2017

May I please have some mayo?

London, ON
January 2017
There are times when a jiggly mess of mayonnaise on a paper plate (don't worry, I cleaned and recycled it afterward) just begs to have its picture taken. So please allow me to submit that last night, 7:06 p.m., was just such a time.

Perhaps when we shot with film and had to haul out the big camera bag, weird and inexplicable photos like this one would have never been taken. But we live in the age of digital, and the cost - in processing, time and overall energy - has drifted close to that magical zero mark. Now, a flash of an idea quickly becomes pixellated reality thanks to the camera-equipped smartphone that's almost never out of arm's reach. And an understanding wife who appreciates the fact that I have a creative addiction.

We were (obviously) eating dinner. I probably could have taken the time to fetch the "good" camera, but in addition to being disruptive to my ever-patient family, it would have also defeated the purpose of the thing. Simple, fast scenes with virtually no rationale behind them - that's what the world needs more of. I've got to do more of that. Because it tickles the soul and hopefully makes everyone else smile and think when otherwise they might not be smiling or thinking. Who's with me?

P.S. No, I won't post anything about the Trump inauguration. Everyone else is talking about it, and I doubt I'll add much to the discussion. Our souls need more moments with jiggly messes of mayo, and not bigly moments of brag-filled narcissism. 

On one particular presidential nightmare

"Sometimes I wake at night in the White House and rub my eyes and wonder if it is not all a dream."
Grover Cleveland
Or, you know, a nightmare. Here we go, folks...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

On dogs' short lives

"Dogs are a really amazing eye opener for us humans because their lives are compressed into such a short period, so we can see them go from puppyhood to adolescence to strong adulthood and then into their sunset years in 10 to 12 years. It really drives home the point of how finite all our lives are."
John Grogan

Missing our buddy

Kids' best friend
London, ON
October 2016
It's been a month since we put Frasier down, and echoes of this crazy puppy who changed our lives continue to reverberate through our home. I still look for him when I wake up in the morning, still schedule my evenings around walks that no longer happen, and still think I hear him trying to break through the baby locks we once kept on the kitchen cabinets.

It's still sad. Not lose-an-immediate-human-family-member sad, of course, but a loss to our family all the same. And we often find ourselves tumbling into spontaneous conversations about what it was like to have him, and how much we miss him.

But then I come across pictures like this one - taken on Zach's birthday - and I can't help but smile. He added an incredible dimension to our kids' lives, and he helped make them better people by teaching them what huge, ongoing responsibility looked like, and what empathy and unconditional love felt like.

As hard as the silence can be, we're glad we had him at all, because these three amazing not-so-little people will always carry those lessons forward. And if a single picture can capture that, I suspect this one does.

When a dog's life ends
Canine muscle memory
Pondering Frasier's handiwork
Where we take a walk in the snow

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On stubbornly holding onto hope

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."
Anne Lamott
For reasons that I don't fully understand, but nevertheless feel compelled to honor, I think today is the perfect day to share this. Extra points if you blare Keep Hope Alive by Crystal Method while you read it. Here's a handy link.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Man shot on Dundas

I'm sure I didn't win any parent-of-the-year honors for taking our daughter to this stretch of Dundas Street for a quick Christmas Day photo shoot. While we were here, we witnessed a definite drug deal in an alley, a possible case of a prostitute turning a trick, and a cop hauling an abandoned pickup truck off of a filthy snowbank. All fairly predictable fare for this down-on-its-luck stretch of road just east of downtown that was once the city's prime shopping district.

So we were careful in our choice of subjects, because I'm guessing the drug dealer with the cheesy mustache didn't want his face shared on social media.

I normally wouldn't shoot a stranger on the street, but this particular scene seemed to capture the mood of the place, the stoic sense of the day-to-day that seems to define a part of town where nothing comes easy. The people who just want to lead their lives seem to wear that reality on their faces, and even in the way they stand.

As we finished shooting, put our cameras away and headed back to the car, I quietly wished to myself that they wouldn't have to endure the grit forever, that things would begin to change here.

New year, new hope, right?

On finding our path through darkness

"When autumn darkness falls, what we will remember are the small acts of kindness: a cake, a hug, an invitation to talk, and every single rose. These are all expressions of a nation coming together and caring about its people."
Jens Stoltenberg

Monday, January 16, 2017

Thematic Photographic 397 - Messy

Electronic interchange
London, ON
December 2016
Take a look at the pics we share online and one thing becomes instantly clear: We're pretty careful about curation. We choose the prettiest compositions, with the least amount of clutter or messiness. We avoid sharing anything that makes us look less pristine, less put-together, less perfect. Sharing ourselves in this age of social media has little to do with painting a complete picture. It's all about crafting the ideal image, and hoping that's enough to convince everyone else that we're worthy of their attention.

Kind of a waste, isn't it?

Which is why this week's theme, Messy, might be a bit of a challenge. Because it involves sharing photos we might normally avoid sharing, and showing strangers things we normally wouldn't choose to show. We're not looking for the pristine, put-together and perfect poses. We're looking for the stuff that usually gets edited out, that wouldn't normally see the light of day. If it's chaotic, askew or, yes, messy, please share it.

Your turn: Take a photo that suggests this week's "messy" theme - or find one from your archives - and post it to your blog, website, Facebook page, or any related online resource. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic fun - and feel free to post additional pics through the week. Each theme runs for one week, and new themes go live Mondays at 7 pm. For more info on how Thematic works, just click here.

Water frozen from above

Thanks, gravity
London, ON
December 2016
I thought I'd take one last kick at the Out the Window theme - follow this link home if you'd still like to share yours - before the new Thematic goes live tonight.

Icicles have always been a thing for me*. We've been lucky so far this winter, with crazily variable weather that's made them fairly common over the last few weeks. I've kept telling myself I should throw the "good" camera - as opposed to relying on my trusty-but-still-ultimately-limited smartphone - so that I'd be ready if the temperature gradients and light conditions made a quick out-the-window shoot feasible.

The conditions weren't exactly ideal, as the grey skies and dull light made it a bit of a tough sled. But in the end, I ended up with a series worth adding to the keeper pile, and a reminder that nature never loses the ability to blow us away. The mechanics of icicle formation may be well understood, but that doesn't make them any less amazing to the eye. Or the soul.

Enjoy the new week, folks!

Related entries:
More icy goodness, February 2007
Water in any form, January 2010
Frozen wonderland, lost to time, June 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The icicle works, redux

Everything is temporary
London, ON
January 2017
Not too far from our house, there's a bike path that runs underneath the bridge that cuts across campus. If you want a closeup view of the river that defines our city, this is as scenic a spot as any. As a cyclist, I whiz by here hundreds of times every season. But for most drivers, it's a spot that slips invisibly, 30 feet beneath their tires, permanently out of sight and out of mind. To them, it may as well not exist. Funny how that works, isn't it?

So on this sunny Sunday morning, I found myself doing what parents of teenaged kids with busy schedules have been doing since the beginning of time: Bringing them back and forth from one event to another. And as I returned home from the first of many of today's scheduled trips, I thought of this little spot, and how it would probably be especially worthy of a look given the stormy, rainy and alternating cold-and-warm weather we've had in the last few days. With the water running high, it was anyone's guess what it looked like down there.

So I parked the car nearby and took a walk. And sure enough, the crazy waters, insane winds and wildly fluctuating temperatures had left fascinating-looking ice formations on the riverside branches. I carefully wandered around the still-frozen grounds and captured what I could. Because it was only a matter of time - precious little time - before it would likely change again. And all this wonder would be gone.

Makes me feel a little sorry for the drivers who had no idea I - or this - was even there. Their loss, I guess.

Your turn: Where else should I look for hidden inspiration this week? Where will you look for it?

Related: Icicle works, February 2006

On sunrises and sunsets

"Get outside. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel big or tiny? Because there's something good about feeling both."
Amy Grant
Note to self: Get outside more. Shoot more. Feel more. Sounds like a plan.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Orange you glad I didn't say banana?

I have a confession to make: I like to take pictures in grocery stores. Well, I like to take pictures pretty much everywhere, and of everything. But grocery stores have had a special appeal to me ever since I first realized I enjoyed looking at the world through the barrel of a lens.

Perhaps it's because of the sheer inappropriateness of it all. Grocery stores don't exist as ersatz studios for budding photographers. You're supposed to go in, get your food, pay for it, and get out. Spontaneous photo shoots aren't supposed to be part of the experience. Yet in my strange little world, they are.

I can't explain it now any better than I could when I first started pulling my camera out in the fruit-and-vegetable section. Maybe I should spend less time explaining and more time shooting.

In the meantime, here's a bunch of bananas. Because bananas are always up for a little optical adventure. The real question, however, is: Are you?

On tenacity and timing

"On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died."
Adlai E. Stevenson
In other words, never give up. Works for me.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Foggy tower

This is the transmitter behind the TV station. It's the tallest structure in the city, and I often find myself subconsciously looking for it when I'm out on my bike.

In engineering terms, it's a simple antenna. But in the mythology of the broadcast entity at its base - the building, the newsroom, the teams that support it, the people who make this place come alive and connect with viewers for hundreds of square miles around - it's often referred to in reverent tones as "The Big Stick."

Whenever I'm in the parking lot that sits in its shadow, I like to stand and listen to it. You can hear the wind as it makes its way through the guide wires and the open structure, an almost constant song that reminds you of the looming giant overhead. It almost feels alive. Given the amount of energy pulsing through it, it kind of is.

But on this day, when the cloud cover closed in and turned the top half into a foggy abstraction, it seemed strangely silent.

Didn't make it any less fascinating, mind you.

On the things that protect us

"There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America."
Otto von Bismarck

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Keep looking in the margins

The other night, I found myself in the parking lot of the TV station I call home. I had just finished my Sunday night tech segment and was on my way home. It had snowed earlier (see here) and the plows had thankfully already been here.

I often pause before I get into my car - or any vehicle, for that matter. I use these little slivers of time to think about where I am, where I'm headed, and why I'm out here in the first place. I close my eyes and wish for a safe journey. I try to freeze the moment in my mind. Because, you know, you just never know.

And as I paused on this clear, cold, snowy night, my eyes were drawn to the edges of the parking lot where the now-departed plows had left their piles of snow. I walked over to them and stared intently at the rugged surfaces. The looked like moonscapes, something a NASA probe might have beamed back. The otherworldly scene almost begged to be recorded in some way because a) it was otherworldly and b) it was destined to hang around only as long as fickle Canadian weather allowed.

As I tried to compose the most abstract-looking perspectives while simultaneously willing my exposed fingers to not freeze and/or drop my smartphone, I thought about the seeming ridiculousness of a spontaneous photo shoot in the furthest streetlit corner of an empty parking lot.

This was as close to the margins as I had been in a while, and the mere thought of it made me smile. Because that's where you see the stuff you might have otherwise missed. And where you learn why we all need to put life on hold every once in a while and poke around its edges for a bit. At the very least, you end up with pictures and stories to bring home.

I hope you'll try it, too.

On writing & tenacity

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."
Richard Bach

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Stop and freeze the sky

The day dawns on campus
London, ON
January 2017
For more Thematic out the window, click here
This wasn't the right morning for a photo shoot. After a large weekend snowstorm (more on that here), followed by an epic rainfall yesterday afternoon and overnight, topped off by intense winds and a rapid drop in temperature, our fair city woke up covered in black ice this morning.

As the kinderlings needed to be dropped off at school, we needed to head out before sunrise. Being paranoid, I left lots of extra time in the schedule in case the car needed to be de-iced, or in case we needed to drive at 20 km/h to keep from sliding off the road. Thankfully the car was ice-free, the roads were better than expected, and we got to Fanshawe with lots of time to spare.

Which left me with a bit of extra time to get over to the office. And as I waved goodbye and turned my now-empty vehicle toward work, I noticed a lovely burst of salmon/pink light in the eastern sky. I figured life is short and you don't always get opportunities to remember moments like this, so I parked the car and reached for my camera.

The straight-on shots from the "real" camera were merely okay, but only after I got back to the car did I notice the reflection. My brain started to churn, and I thought a smartphone grab to Instagram was in order. Because if I was feeling inspired by the gathering day, I was pretty sure I wasn't the only one. Sharing the moment seemed like the most appropriate thing to do.

Your turn: Do you ever put the day on pause when inspiration presents itself? How do you "make" moments happen?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On happiness and seasons

"People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy."
Anton Chekhov
Given the weather we've been having in this neck of the woods of late, I'm just going to quietly leave this one here.