Sunday, February 19, 2017

Blue morning in Brantford

Trackside, 7:22 a.m.
Brantford, ON
February 2017
Using a smartphone to shoot first light through the smudged windows of an early-morning train isn't exactly a recipe for photographic perfection. But photography - and life, come to think of it - isn't as much about perfection as it is doing the best with what you've got.

So as I stared out the window and wondered what it must be like to live beside such a busy railyard in a southern Ontario town best known as the birthplace of both the telephone and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, I thought less about the photography thing and more about the feel of this place. And in the blue-ish early morning light, I realized this was the photo I was supposed to take all along.

Your turn: Who lives here?

On fear of living

"Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live."
Henry van Dyke

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Waiting for her train to arrive

Catching up
Toronto, ON
February 2017

Thematic. Favorites. Here.
The scene: Toronto's Union Station. We're in the waiting room of this sprawling, crowded, chaotic place. At least I think it's the waiting room, because the station has been under construction forever and you're never quite sure where they'll stick you as you wait for your train to arrive.

I've come here with some colleagues, and we're all on our way back to London after a work thing. While the rest of my team quietly sits and waits for our boarding call - aka normal behavior - I restlessly pace the area, looking for things to record with my smartphone's camera. Why the smartphone? For all its limitations - no zoom, the horrors! - I figure it's a lot less obtrusive to shoot in a public place than the full-on, "real" camera I have in my backpack. So smartphone it is. Gotta love spontaneous shooting.

I can't help but notice the people around us. Each one has a story, and I try to avoid capturing their attention as I stare around the area and try to read the scene. I keep coming back to this woman with the large-ish headphones on her head and the time-worn, taped-up laptop perched expertly on her lap. What's she listening to? Death metal? Post-punk? Hip hop/jazz fusion? What's she doing on that laptop? Emailing her board of directors? Setting up lunch for her team? Breaking into the White House email server?

Whatever she's up to, she's clearly got this Via Rail/road warrior thing down, and as much as I risk crossing the line by surreptitiously pointing my tiny lens toward her, I can't resist. This is the signature memory of the 15 minutes spent here with my colleagues, so I line up the shot and take it.

She never even knew I was there.

Your turn: A photo that pushed your personal comfort zone. Aaaaaand...go!

This same photo in my Instagram
Two ladies chat (January 2007)
A stranger's sojourn by the sea (January 2007)
Strangers among us (December 2011)
A conversation among friends (August 2014)

On remembering to laugh

"The most wasted day of all is that on which we have not laughed."
Nicolas Chamfort
So let's laugh, shall we?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Thematic Photographic 400 - Favourites

Soaked, for now
London, ON
July 2015
This entry marks the 400th Thematic Photographic since it all began right here, on June 4, 2008. We've covered a lot of photographic ground in the ensuing 3,172 days (or, if you will, 8 years, 8 months, and 5 days) but one thing has remained fundamentally clear - why we do it in the first place.

Thematic isn't a competition. It isn't formal. It isn't rigid. It's a simple excuse to get out into the world and shoot stuff we wouldn't otherwise have shot, then share it with others. It's designed to help us push our own photographic bounds, to encourage others to do the same, and to have some fun along the way. Life is serious enough as it is, so a little pixellated fun makes as much sense today as it did then.

Thank you for coming along for the ride: I can't wait to see what everyone has in store for the next 400 weeks.

Your turn: This week's very special Thematic theme is favorites. Or, if you're Canadian, favourites with a u. However you spell it, I hope we'll use the coming week to share our favorite pictures. Comment here letting everyone know where to find your work, and drop by other participants to share your own thoughts. If this is all new to you, here's a primer on how Thematic works. Otherwise, have at it, and thanks again.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

On the difference between opinion and fact

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts."
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Friday, February 10, 2017

Jammed again

Scraping the bottom of the jar
London, ON
February 2017
We all have comfort foods, and one of mine is, strangely, jam or jelly. I think it derives from when I was a munchkin in the hospital and they served it in those plastic-and-foil disposable packets at mealtime. I especially liked the marmalade, and for some reason these little packets became something to look forward to every time the food cart rattled it way across the overwaxed floors into the 6th floor paeds ward.

Strange what we remember, no?

So to this day, I seem to linger over jars of jam at breakfast. I'll often take a couple of jars out of the fridge and plop them on the kitchen table, only to ultimately choose to shmear something else on my bagel. But eating it isn't necessarily the point: Somehow, the mere act of having it nearby is enough to bring comfort before I finish off and head out into the world.

Eventually, however, every jar reaches the bottom. A photo before it hits the recycling bin is a lovely reminder of why a seemingly innocuous breakfast treat deserves to be remembered in the first place.

Your turn: What's your comfort food? Why?


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

On understanding the early riser

"I've always liked the time before dawn because there's no one around to remind me who I'm supposed to be so it's easier to remember who I am.'
Brian Andreas
Maybe this helps explain why I wake up before sunrise as often as I do.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Thematic Photographic 399 - Hat trick

Mannequin challenge
London, ON
January 2017
Since we focused on the things we wear on our feet last time, I wanted to shift to the very opposite this week and point our cameras a little higher. This week's theme, hat trick, celebrates the things we wear on our head. Or, in this case, the thing's we'd like to wear on our heads, but can't, because there's a pane of glass between here and there.

The perils of shopping mall display case photography. And the challenge of shooting fast and spare before store employees figure out what you're up to.

Your turn: Take a pic that reflects this week's "hat trick" theme - or find one you may have posted online - and then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. If it's got a hat in it, or even suggests the very possibility of a hat, we want to see it. We'll be doing this all week, so repeat as often as you wish and feel free to pull in a friend. And if you're new to the Thematic thing, click here and all will be explained.

But wait, there's more: Next week marks a very special Thematic milestone - our 400th since we first started this craziness all those years ago. Because I'm a fan of big, even numbers, I'd like to share our favorite photographic moments. Just wanted to get it out there a bit early so we could all start thinking about what our favorites have been. It's going to be fun!

On making ourselves just a little squirmy

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."
Neale Donald Walsch

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Costco on a snowy night

Getting to the meat of the matter
London, ON
January 2017
The scene: I've stopped into the Costco gas bar on my way home from work to feed some dino juice to my somewhat beloved Henrietta (I name my cars. I'm odd that way.) As I'm filling the tank, I notice one of my tires is a little low, so I ask the attendant (they still employ humans here, bless them) if there's an air pump nearby. No, she answers, but the folks at the auto and tire centre in the Costco store next door should be able to help me out.

So once I'm done with the fuel thing, I pop into the store, explain my plight, and hand over my keys so they can take a closer look at the tire to figure out why it isn't holding air. The friendly mechanic says it'll take around 45 minutes. I thank him and head into the abnormally quiet store. As we've just done a grocery order, I have nothing to do and nothing to buy. I ask myself - silently, of course - how much trouble I think I can get into with the camera on my smartphone. Plenty, I figure.

So with a sly smile and a spring in my snow-covered-boot's step, I pull the smartphone out of my pocket as my eyes begin searching for anything of interest.

At first glance, it might seem like there's nothing worth capturing in a place dominated by concrete floors, steel shelving, institutional lighting and piled-to-the-ceiling merchandise. Then there's the fact that this particular store looks a lot like any other Costco in any other town. It's easy to see why most folks would leave their cameras at home.

But as my brain processes the target-rich world around me, I find myself wishing more folks would grab their cameras alongside me. For anyone who takes the time to slow down and ponder the possibilities, there's good stuff beckoning at every turn, the kind of everyday-ordinary that we see all the time but never really think about.

On the surface, this is a simple picture of packaged meat. On further reflection, it's a glimpse into 45 minutes on a cold, snowy night I wouldn't trade for anything.

Your turn: Where's your next adventure going to be?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

On looking out for others

"Watch carefully, the magic that occurs, when you give a person just enough comfort, to be themselves."
Harper Lee (Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

Terror hits home. We hit back.

By now, news of last night's mass shooting in a Quebec City mosque that ended with six people dead and a right-wing suspect behind bars has gone global. In the ideal world, these things don't happen here, in a city barely two hours from where I grow up, in a place I visited for work, in an everyday kind of neighbourhood that looks shockingly like mine. In the ideal world, these things don't happen at all. To anyone. For any reason. But we've all come to appreciate that the world is far from ideal.

There are so many things that gall me about an atrocity like this that I hardly know where to begin. But the one theme that keeps haunting me is that it could have happened anywhere. Even in my own city. My own place of worship. Or school. Or wherever.

We were in synagogue this past Saturday to watch our daughter recite the passage she originally learned for her bat mitzvah. A week earlier, we were on stage to watch her and our youngest son sing in the choir. They're simple moments, really, milestones in the lives of kids and the community that helped raise them. And as we've done since we moved here, we've gone to this extraordinary place filled with extraordinary, caring people because it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to our lives, an element, a spirit, a certain something that makes this place feel that much more like home. I'm not an overtly religious person by any means, but being part of a broader community somehow makes life warmer, sweeter.

It isn't any different no matter what faith you follow - or even if you don't follow a faith at all. I'm guessing the members of the mosque in the suburb of Ste-Foy sought pretty much what we all seek - togetherness, welcoming, reflection, validation, even refuge. And to be gunned down like farm animals because they dared to attend prayer on a Sunday night is an affront to anyone who values the things that make Canada so extraordinarily special. The gunman didn't just attack a group of worshippers in a single mosque. He attacked all of us.

Which is why I was heartened by London's reaction to this tragedy: Hundreds of members of the community - including the mayor and leaders of all major congregations (including mine) as well as their members - attended a rally today in front of the London Muslim Mosque. The event echoed similar gatherings at mosques across the country, a raw, poignant message from Canadians of all stripes and backgrounds that hatred isn't going to win here.

I don't know if there's enough security in the world to categorically reduce the risk of future attacks to zero. I'm guessing such a world wouldn't be all that liveable. But I do know that fomenting mass hysteria and encouraging unfounded stigmatization of identifiable groups isn't the answer. The socio-political quagmire that seemingly deepens by the hour in Trump's America may very well raise the temperature of zealots on both sides of the border - indeed, the government there perversely used the shooting to justify its just-announced immigration ban. But that doesn't mean that we have to sit around and allow any of this to happen.

There's no such thing as an ideal world. But a kinder, gentler one, where my neighbours stand up for good in spite of everything that swirls around us, feels like the kind of place I'd love to call home. Thankfully the light seems to outshine the dark.

On the card game of life

"You don't have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt.
You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you're holding."

Cheryl Strayed

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

No, Mr. Trump, one is never too many

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, and like many righteous folks - Jews and non-Jews alike - I felt the need to mark it in some way. Originally, it was a simple thing, really: A quick screen grab, shared to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, with a similarly simple set of hashtags:

#HolocaustMemorialDay #Holocaust #NeverAgain

However we choose to do so, we mark the day because failure to do so dishonours the memories of those who died simply because of who they were. As a Jew, it is my responsibility to shine the light on racism wherever I see it. Not only because of what happened - and continues to happen - to my own people. But to all others, as well. Because if we stand by in silence, we may as well be party to the atrocities in the first place. Until, of course, they come for us, too. Take your pick of identifiable groups - gays, Latinos, African-Americans, whoever - and think about how easy we make it for anyone to marginalize anyone else if we fail to step in. It doesn't have to be directed at you for you to take action.

That should have been more than enough. But then the newly minted president (lower-case deliberate) of the United States, Donald Trump, signed another executive order (he really does love those things, doesn't he?) banning anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries -  Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen - from entering the U.S. for at least the next 90 days. The order also indefinitely suspends Syrian refugees from coming to America, and also pauses the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. That last program will be reinstated only following the implementation of a so-called "extreme vetting" process, and even then only for countries that meet the new administration's yet-to-be-shared criteria for entry.

The irony that Trump would sign such an order on Holocaust Memorial Day should not be lost on any of us. Adding another bizarro element to the story was Trump's own statement on the day that left out any mention of Jews. Or of anti-Semitism. If these actions don't make us sick to our stomachs as members of the human race, I'm not sure what will.

During the Second World War, the U.S. famously closed its borders to refugees from war-torn nations. European Jews tried - and failed - to gain admission to the U.S. as the country maintained strict immigration quotas against Jews from Eastern Europe and from Germany in particular. Anne Frank's family tried numerous times to obtain U.S. visas, only to be denied every time.

A ship, the St. Louis, packed with 937 European refugees, mostly Jews, was turned away from the Port of Miami in 1939 after being similarly denied entry in Cuba and Canada. The ship had no choice but to return to Europe, and many of those on-board were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust. This story loomed large in my upbringing, as the phrase "One was too many" echoed through my home every time my parents saw a news report of another country saying no to those in need.

It sickens me to no end to think of what might have been had xenophobia and self-serving silence not prevailed during that era. Of the lives that could have been saved. Of the entire family trees whose branches would have continued to spawn new branches. Instead, they were amputated right then and there, by leaders lacking humanity. And by everyone else who stood by in rapt inaction and let it happen.

Now, it's 2017 and those echoes reverberate more strongly than ever. In the actions of a man who dwells more on the size of the crowds at his inauguration than the profound needs of the country he now leads. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we're willing to stand by in silence. Or do something about it.

One was too many then. And while it may be too many for a certain leader of the free world, it shouldn't be for those of us standing by and watching this seems-like-fiction circus play out in front of our disbelieving eyes. Unfortunately, this time it isn't fiction. And this time we're a little better equipped to get off the sidelines and actually put a stop to this nonsense.

My ancestors weren't slaughtered so that a couple of generations later we could forget they were ever victimized and allow the entire episode to be repeated. When we say Never Again, we mean it.

On being more like Icarus, sun be damned

"There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, 'What if I fall?' Oh but my darling, what if you fly?"
Erin Hanson

Friday, January 27, 2017

On remembering to be kind

"If you work really hard, and you're kind, amazing things will happen."
Conan O'Brien
 I like the "and you're kind" part. Most people seem to forget about being kind. Which is kinda sad.

Footsteps in the snow

Evidence of civilization
London, ON
January 2017
For more footwear-themed Thematic, head here
When I was a kid, I'd often seek out the most challenging route between where I was and where I wanted to go. Never mind that the path had been meticulously cleared with a shovel and hours of sweat and profanity: It was a lot more fun to point myself toward the deepest snow and dive in. I didn't much care how messy I got in the process. Life was short, and snow was awesome.

Adulthood seems to have tempered that feeling somewhat, which is likely why I couldn't understand why an unknown person had walked up the hill through the snow instead of just using the door literally inches to the left of this scene.

This time out, I stuck to the easy route to avoid getting snow all over my boots. But on reflection, maybe I should have been carving my own path through the fresh powder. Adulthood can be such a killjoy.