Sunday, July 15, 2018

When we dare to walk behind the supermarket

Load me up
London, ON
July 2018
Photo originally shared on Instagram
I found myself with a bit of extra time to kill on an intermittently raining Saturday morning, so I grabbed my camera and wandered through the neighborhood. I didn't have any set idea of what I was looking for. Instead, I figured the inspiration would hit me as I walked toward it.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before I stepped in a puddle. Some cursing may have been heard as brackish water that may or may have been contaminated with ickiness soaked through my left sock, but I soon refocused on the photographic task at hand. Wet feet may suck, but puddles offer up some pretty cool reflective surfaces.

This one, if we're being brutally honest, it's terribly fascinating. A loading dock at the back of a supermarket doesn't exactly scream, "Shoot me!" But that's why I decided to take the shot anyway. Because it isn't conventionally photo-worthy. Because no one ever wanders back here and takes the shot. Because places like this never get any attention because we've deemed them not worthy of it.

And yet - I say these two words a lot - I found myself drawn to the wrong side of the store. I never even bothered to walk around to the front. I'm sure plenty of other photographers have already picked that side clean.

Your turn: Do you focus on things others might ignore? Please share...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Watching a stranger wait for his wife

Biding his time at the IHOP
Delray Beach, FL
December 2017
Photo originally posted to Instagram
Every photographer has a weakness, and mine is strangers. I routinely shoot strangers from afar in public places because simply watching people go about their daily lives isn't something we tend to do much of anymore. We're so buried in our smartphones that we miss the comings and goings of daily life that are happening, quite literally, right in front of us. So I make a conscious effort when I've got a camera to break out of the heads-down mode and people-watch a bit.

I appreciate that my photographic strategy, such as it is, crosses a line. I should probably be approaching my subjects first and asking them to sign a release. My failure to do so probably adds a few more points to my bad-boy report card, but I continue to shoot quickly and quietly, almost always using a longish lens to reach into the scene without the subject ever knowing I was there.

On this Sunday morning in an International House of Pancakes (IHOP, and we'll leave the "International" part of its name for discussion another day), I saw this gentleman and his wife having breakfast. As he waited for her to return, I found myself staring at him, entranced by the way he occupied his time in her absence. He was super-focused on his coffee, carefully mixing in milk and sugar letting it cool while he patiently sat. He only started to drink it after she returned, which I found incredibly sweet - a gesture you don't see much of anymore.

My never-let-them-know-you're-shooting approach means we'll likely never know who this gentleman is. But in this hyper-connected era where anyone can be found on Facebook in seconds, there's some comfort in the fact that this man could be any of us, and I learned something about decent human behaviour by watching him on this slow-moving day in a South Florida restaurant.

Your turn: Do you take pictures of strangers? Why/why not?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Thematic Photographic 419 - Red

Mom told us to eat our vegetables
London, ON
May 2018

Photo originally posted to Instagram
My old BlackBerry - a Priv - gave up the ghost last week, so I replaced it with a Google Pixel 2. I did so for two reasons: It's a powerful, no-compromise device that runs an unadorned version of raw Android. And its camera is, according to the reviews, pretty slick.

So I left the world of BlackBerrys behind for the first time in 11 years (heresy!) because I figured a great camera more than offset the fact that I'd have to get used to thumb-typing on glass.

After an initial spontaneous photo shoot (fruitography!) in the neighborhood Sunripe grocery store, I'm inclined to think it was the right choice. Which means joy has returned to the pixelated land, and grocery stores throughout London and beyond are now on alert for a strange-looking nerd with a photo fetish. At least I say "thank you".

Your turn: As this is Thematic Photographic, you're probably asking about this week's theme. It's red. As in the color. Like the red radishes above. Or whatever else tickles your eye over the next week. By now I'm sure you know the Thematic drill. If not, click here and all will be explained.

The Cole's Notes version is this: Take a pic that evokes this week's theme. Post it to your blog, website or social media account. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to return/re-post, and drag a friend kicking and screaming into this. Looking forward to seeing what you all come up with. In the meantime, I'll be in the corner over there nibbling on a salad.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Almost every day during the work week, Debbie sends me what we jokingly call her daily selfie. In the middle of her building the minds of tomorrow and me being a nerd in a studio, it's a critical reminder of what really matters in life - in my case, her - and why we always count the hours until we can be together again.

She's been the centre of my world for most of my life. And even though I was a 17-year-old slacker when we first met, even then I knew my world changed when I first saw her.

So many years later, things still change for the better every time I see her face. She keeps me, the kids, and our entire home in balance, and has set the tone - firm, kind, warm - for our kids their entire lives. They are the sweet, sharp, empathetic and ultimately successful people that they are because they've simply followed her lead.

Seven years ago, I wrote this about Mother's Day - A day like any other. And like no other. - and I still feel every word I wrote then:
Mother's Day is, like so many other days on the calendar, a manufactured holiday, a cheap marketing ploy designed to sell more stuff. I'm not against the concept of valuing mothers (or dads, or love, or even the jolly red guy and the egg-dropping rabbit, if they float your boat), but I do feel somewhat uncomfortable when quite legitimate sentiments are force-fed to us in the interest of filling more boats with inventory and more cash registers with plasticized cash.
From where I sit, this regularly scheduled commercial imperative takes the focus off of the thing that matters and instead puts it squarely on the gift, the thing you buy, the guilt that wraps around you if you don't. And what of the other 364 days? Well, Mother's Day coverage doesn't deal with those: all that matters is today.
Not in my world. Every day matters. And while it's nice to have one day where you make a special effort to remember, it's even nicer to find small ways to deliver the same message every other day of the year. Because if you save it up for this one day, you're kinda missing the point.
Less than two years after I wrote it, my wife lost her mom. Days like today, manufactured as they have been to cash in on a crass commercial need to sell more stuff, seem to ignore the collateral impact on those who don't fit the stereotypical ideal, who no longer have their moms, who never had them to begin with, who aren't parents, or who were, and lost a child, or who are lost, period.

So tomorrow, like we did today and like we did yesterday and the day before that (and...) I'll open up that text from my wife and smile. I'll subconsciously reach for her hand as we walk through the grocery store parking lot. I'll stop what I'm doing and look at her. Or think of her. Or talk to her. And listen. Because all we really have, on this day and any other, is time.

And if you choose to spend it wisely, you might find yourself lucky enough to spend at least part of this journey with some truly extraordinary people. And it doesn't matter so much what we call them, but that we make the effort to connect with them in the first place. Which, on reflection, is a pretty good gift for us all.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Take this snow and shove it. Or...

I live in southern Ontario, a part of Canada where the weather can be somewhat unpredictable. And since this is Canada, it should surprise no one that this winter has been a pretty crazy one. Tons of snow, lots of storms, and unrelenting cold long after the calendar ticked over into spring.

To wit, we woke up this morning, April 6th, to a few cms of snow on the ground. After I walked our silly little pup, Calli - she loves snow, and bounds through it with an energy that reinforces my belief in the goodness of all dogs - I came back into the house for a quick breakfast and peek at my phone before I had to head out into the real world.

I immediately regretted my choice to read my social feeds. I saw post after post in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about how awful the weather was, how unfair it was that Mother Nature decided to make it snow on April 6th, how terribly upset they were that they had to pull on their boots and woolies. The horrors!

So I picked up my phone and jotted this, because when I'm disappointed in the human condition, I like to write. Here's what I shared on Facebook:
Hey #LdnONT, it snowed last night. As much as I'd like to join the FFS-it's-April-6th-enough-winter-already brigade, I won't. I'll happily brush the car off, shovel the walkway and drive more slowly than usual on the office commute.
Because I, like you, got another day today. Maybe not the sunny, warm, picture-perfect day we all hoped for, but a day nonetheless. I'm not in hospital today. I'm not worrying about a loved one's - or my - next 12 hours. I can walk, talk, and write whiny posts on social media. I'm not redrawing the rest of my life based on a conversation I might have just had with someone who knows far more about medicine than I do. 
I'm just cleaning my freaking car and going to a workplace where I get to do neat things with neat people. A little snow doesn't change any of it. 
Happy Friday. Shabbat Shalom if you're into it.
I've been getting comments all day. Some funny, but all positive. And the word that keeps coming back to me is "perspective". Because the world needs more of it now than ever before, and not only when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as a little bit of snow this late in the season.

Your turn: Why do we care about the weather so much?

Monday, April 02, 2018

Thematic Photographic 418 - Trees

Where the fog paints the trees
London, ON
February 2018
Photo originally posted to Instagram
The world isn't always as clear as it could be. But if you peer through the murk, your path eventually becomes clear. Or so I'd like to believe.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is trees, because it occurred to me as I was cycling to work this morning that they're about to put on something of a show - at least in the northern hemisphere. So I hope over the next week you'll get out there, shoot pics of trees, share 'em, leave a comment here letting folks know where to find your awesome work, and then visit other Thematic participants, because sharing and learning are what this thing is all about. Are you in? Still need convincing? Go here to learn more. Or just grab your camera and have at it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Thematic Photographic 417 - Dirty

Please wash me
London, ON
February 2018
Photo originally posted to Instagram
Canadian winters are notoriously hard on cars. Road grime makes them relentlessly icky, while road salt tries to return them to dust from whence they came.

And yet, dirt can make for a fun photo - but only if you take the time to shoot it in the first place. Which on this cold February day in the middle of my snowy, messy driveway, I did. Now it's your turn.

Your turn: Take a photo that celebrates, evokes or otherwise reflects this week's Thematic theme, Dirty. Post it to your blog, website, or social media presence, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy. Head here if you're new to this - and all will be explained. Most of all, have fun with it.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Shooting strangers...again

Doing just fine
Okeechobee, FL
December 2017
The scene: The Fort Drum Plaza in the middle of Florida's Turnpike. We've stopped here en route to our final destination a few hours south of here. We've been on the road for the better part of two days, and I've been trying to fast-shoot the fleeting moments of the journey when I'm not at the wheel.

I'm admittedly punchy as we finish our last meal of the trip and exit the building on our way back to the car. It's our final stop before we arrive, and we're all feeling pretty good about how easy it's been so far. I spot a lone woman ahead of us, and before my inner filter tells me to leave her be, I'm reaching for my smartphone and stabbing at the camera app icon. I've been doing this ever since we left home, stealing visual snippets of strangers without them even knowing I was there.

I realize I'm probably stretching the line of what is/is not photographically acceptable in this day and age. Sure, it's a public space, so anything should go. But still, I figure most folks would feel a little off if they knew they were on the receiving end of a spontaneous photo shoot from afar.

But still I take the shot. Because it's always been who I am and what I do. Because this moment is part of the story, and will become another memory among many that we're trying to lay down on this much-needed time away from life back home.

As I tuck the phone back in my pocket, I wonder who she is, where she's going, and how much gumption it takes to take on life when your body doesn't want to cooperate. I silently wish her a safe journey and a good life as we leave this place behind and continue on our own way. I hope her story, too, is a happy one.

Your turn: Do you take photos of strangers in public places? Why/why not?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

On ignorance and stupidity

Every once in a while, I like to share a quote that inspires me. I do so because I hope it'll inspire you, too. Yes, I'm just naive enough to believe that words can still change the world.

I find today's quote particularly resonant given the generally sad state of the planet. In light of the passing of Stephen Hawking, it's rather timely. And Dr. King, as he always did, nailed it.
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
Martin Luther King Jr.
Your turn: Got a quote you'd like to share? Let's start a QOTD collection!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

11 years on...

We brought this little guy, Frasier, home 11 years ago tonight. I've missed him every day since we lost him just over a year ago, and every time a milestone date rolls around, I ask myself if it's appropriate to keep bringing it up.

And almost as soon as I ask the question, I answer it. Indeed, it is appropriate. Because memory isn't merely appropriate; it's actually a fundamental basis of life. Because if we don't take the time to remember the stuff - and the people, and the moments, and , yes, the pets - that mattered, then what exactly was our purpose in being here, anyway?

I'm glad we had him. He was my first dog, and while I'll probably be accused of dog-owner bias on this one, he was a wonderful pup. He had a kind heart, always looking out for us, and he added a layer to our family that we'll always feel even though he's no longer here. And despite the fact that we now have Calli in our lives, I still often find myself looking at her through the Frasier lens, because everything I learned about a good dog's life I learned from Frasier.

Miss you, buddy.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thematic Photographic 416 - Water

Frozen in time and space
Jensen Beach, FL
December 2017
Originally posted to Instagram
I have a bit of a thing for water, especially when it's in an ocean and it rolls onto a sandy beach as a wave. Bonus points if it's especially windy, or around golden hour, or both.

If you're shooting water through a lens, you never quite know what you're going to come up with. And every shot is absolutely unique, never to be repeated. So you stand there with your feet dug solidly into the soft sand, planted just enough apart to fight off the wind as you scan through the viewfinder for the next wave, the next moment that'll present itself, then disappear, in less time than it takes to blink away the spray from your eyes.

If I lived here, I'd be here every day with a fully charged battery and an empty memory card. But I don't, and am only here for a blink before I have to rejoin the fam. So I shoot fast and try to remember as much as I can from this abbreviated experience. Because the sound of the pounding surf, the feel of the spray on my face and even the faintly salty smell of the crashing waves will have to live in my memories until I can return to this hallowed spot.

For this week's Thematic theme, water, my wish is that you can find that similarly special spot from which to shoot, and think about the stuff we don't always have time to think about. But should.

Your turn: Take a picture that evokes, suggests or supports this week's theme, water. Post it to your blog or social media account, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to further spread the photographic joy. If this is your first Thematic experience, head here to learn more about our weekly photo sharing insanity. Otherwise, grab your camera and enjoy.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A sudden burst of at-work photography

Please take oneices
Toronto, ON
February 2018
The scene: I'm attending a work conference, surrounded by hundreds of colleagues from the eastern half of the country. The company has arranged a buffet-style lunch in the lobby outside the auditorium, and we're all lined up, plates in hand, waiting for the teeming, hungry masses ahead of us to load up and move on.

As you might expect when colleagues from near and far reconnect with each other, the noise level is off the charts. The line is moving slowly, which means lots of spontaneous discussions between strangers and friends alike. The line I'm in grinds to a halt near the drink section, and I find myself suddenly inspired to pull my phone from my pocket and line up a shot of the cans.

It doesn't take long for smiles to be cracked as good-natured questions and comments get tossed my way:

"Where's that shot going to turn up?"
"How do I find you on Instagram?|
"Want me to take the picture so you can get into the shot?"
"What are you doing?"

The discussion flows animatedly as I snag three fast frames and then tuck the phone back away. Almost as soon as the moment materialized, it recedes as the line begins to move again and everyone moves in to finish the original task at hand. I pick up the rest of my lunch and melt back into the crowd. I'm pretty sure more than one of my newfound friends thought I was more than a little weird.

I'm perfectly fine with that. Because if a hastily taken photo manages to make others smile, then it's totally worth it.

Your turn: How can photography connect people?

Monday, March 05, 2018

Thematic Photographic 415 - Junk Food

That's so twisted
London, ON
February 2018
I may have been silent here on Written Inc. these last few months, but I was out there almost every day with a camera. And as has long been my habit - or obsession, I'm not entirely sure which - I took many weird photos along the way. Like this pretzel at a London Lightning game at Budweiser Gardens. It was the last one they had, and for reasons I still do not understand I felt compelled to remember how it looked before I brought it back to our seat.

Yes, it had too much salt on it. No, I didn't feel guilty. Some days, you just have to enjoy the moment.

And speaking of moments, this photo kicks off this week's Thematic Photographic theme, Junk Food. What's Thematic? Only the most fun you can have with a camera and an Internet connection this side of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Thematic is our weekly photographic sharing and learning activity. Read on for instructions. Or head here for background.

Oh, and the good guys won the game. Must have been a lucky pretzel.

Your turn: Every Monday, I share a theme (this week's...Junk Food.) Then you take a pic and share it online somewhere (blog, Facebook, Instagram, wherever) and leave a comment here telling people where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy. Repeat as often as you wish throughout the week. Use the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag and don't be shy. The only rule? There are no rules. Just enjoy.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Where we contemplate playing ball

You gonna throw that thing?
London, ON
March 2018
When we last posted, Calli Finnegan was barely a puppy, and she was just figuring out the subtleties of not peeing on the floor or chewing on furniture or waking up in the middle of the night. Thankfully, she's sleeping better, and she's pretty much house-trained. She wasn't the worst dog in our puppy training classes, and she's gotten pretty good with the sit, stay, come-when-I-call, give-paw thing - when she isn't distracted, mind you, which is often. But the furniture chewing and general mayhem-causing nature of a miniature schnauzer puppy are, shall we say, works in progress.

And yet. I find myself saying those words often. And yet. Also, "But still." And for good measure, "She's so damn cute. She's lucky she's so damn cute. And we're even luckier to have her.

The world can be a challenging, frustrating place sometimes. Working in media, some days it seems I spend much of my day witnessing more than the recommended daily allowance of unkindness. But then I come home to a puppy who doesn't know any better, doesn't know any different, just wants to play and slobber on and lie half-on, half-off her favorite people, her family.

Somehow puts things back in balance, doesn't it?

Your turn: What's she thinking?

Please Note: Thematic Photographic will return Monday evening, 7pm Eastern.