Monday, September 24, 2018

Thematic Photographic 424 - Green!

Leafy goodness - for now
London, ON
September 2018
Photo originally shared on Instagram
In advance of the Northern Hemisphere going bonkers over the fall colors, I wanted to take one last opportunity to remind myself that green is a color, too, and it also deserves to be celebrated. Mundane and everyday? Yes, that's the point.

It’s also the foundation for this week’s Thematic theme, green. I haven’t focused on colors much, of late, and I’m hoping to change that not only this week, but in the near future. Because there’s something to be said for looking closely at all the shades, tones, and variations of a color and having a little photographic fun with it.

Your turn: So what’s next? Take a pic with green in it. How you interpret the theme is entirely up to you - as long as you enjoy the process, we’re good. Post it to your blog, website or social media account, then leave a comment here to let everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic fun. If you’re into hashtags, spread the word using #ThematicPhotographic. If you're new to this, head here. And thank you for making Thematic such a highlight!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

21 trips around the sun

Serious by the water
Vermilion Bay, ON
July 2018
I'm not supposed to embarrass my kids, so I'll be brief: Today is our daughter's 21st birthday.

Dahlia came into the world a tiny, beautiful being with eyes that wouldn't let go from the moment we first caught her gaze. She's since grown into a less-tiny being, even more beautiful inside and out, and those eyes still captivate.

She's always seen the world through her own lens. Like her mom, she's limitlessly kind, fiercely creative, sharply intelligent, with a wicked sense of humor and an ability to connect with anyone of any age. Watching her with kids reminds me of Debbie - that teacher's gift. She has it.

If she's your friend, she's your friend forever. She's always been something of an old soul, and time spent with her is always time you wish you had more of. Whether it's barely sunrise and we're getting ourselves and the dog ready for the day, or we're running errands in the car on the way home, or we're just walking the beach with our cameras, talking about the possibilities and the technical challenges of bringing decent pixels home, moments with her matter.

Parents are always proud of their kids because, well, they're theirs. But when I get stopped by friends, colleagues and strangers alike so they can gush about what a fundamentally good person our daughter is, I've got to think that somewhere along the way, the universe saw fit to bless us with not just a child, but a truly special one.

I blinked and 21 years went by, but I'm thankful she's grown into such an accomplished, beloved individual. It's all any parent can wish for.

Your turn: Feel free to drop her a line on her Facebook page or Instagram account. Tell her Dad sent you :)

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Thematic Photographic 423 - On the street

Urban chaos
London, ON
August 2018
Photo originally shared on Instagram
I've been doing a lot of walking around this summer. Working in a new neighborhood on the edge of the downtown core has given me ample reasons to wander the streets in search of new sources of inspiration. While some of it is big, brassy, and new, this week's Thematic launch photo suggests that isn't always the case. You're looking at the back of a row of buildings that front onto tony Richmond Street (aka Richmond Row.) IMHO, the front-facing parts don't hold a candle to the laneway you see here.

In fact, the view is often more interesting when you get around the back of a thing and peer beneath the literal and figurative covers. Facades are pretty thin, after all, and all it takes is a quick walk along virtually any street to confirm that very simple fact.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme, On the street, celebrates the random or not-so-random pics we shoot when we're out and about. If it's a street view, we want to see it. Post it to your blog, website or social media account, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to invite a friend along for the ride. To learn more about how Thematic Photographic works, head here. Otherwise, happy shooting!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thematic Photographic 422 - Lights On

Civic Nation, at rest
London, ON
August 2018
I've been staring at lights a lot lately. Like so many habits of mine, I'm not entirely certain why I do so, but the rapid shift in lighting technology - incandescents, halogens, and fluorescents are rapidly giving way to LEDs that are far more energy efficient, significantly more flexible, and way cooler-looking - is literally changing the way we see buildings, infrastructure, vehicles, and anything else that needs to be lit up. Maybe that's why.

Whatever the reason, I had one of these moments with my car a few weeks ago. As I drove home from dropping my lovely wife off at the train station on a quiet Saturday morning, I caught a glimpse of a cool building and thought I should shoot it. When I was done, I figured the car was as clean as it had been in ages, so more photos were called for. I have a thing for Hondas. The lights remind me of parentheses: Perfect for a writer-type like me.

Your turn: Thematic is all about taking a weekly theme - this week's is Lights On - and coming up with cool, creative ways to reflect it in your own photography. Take a light-themed photo and share it on your website, blog or social media account. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. And don't be shy: If you know anyone who loves photography, drag 'em over here encourage them to participate. For more on how Thematic Photographic works, head here. Have fun, and thank you!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Thematic Photographic 421 - Many, many things

Hungry yet?
London, ON
August 2018
Photo originally shared on Instagram
There's a certain hypnotic quality to staring at large amounts of the same thing. Looking into the repetitive abyss can overwhelm the senses, play games with your mind, and generally make you a little bit woozy. Or, in this case, hungry.

Chocolate covered raisins - called Glosettes here in Canada - take me right back to my childhood, when my grandparents would bring us boxes of them whenever they visited. Here's an earlier view through my lens. Sure, any kid would love a sweet treat, but what really fused my brain to this particular confection is that fact that my grandparents knew we liked them, and took the time to pick them up for us. It was an early example of unfettered kindness, and it always made me feel warm and fuzzy.

In adulthood, I've found it cathartic to shoot them - quickly, of course - in the bulk barrel at the grocery store. It's the cheapest form of nostalgia imaginable, especially when I manage to avoid tipping off the in-store security team.

Your turn: Take a photo containing many examples of the same thing. Celebrate repetition in any form, and share it on your blog, website or social media account. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it, and feel free to visit other participants through the week. There's no right or wrong: The whole idea of #ThematicPhotographic is to expand our photographic horizons a bit and have some fun in the process. If you're new to Thematic, click here for more background. Enjoy!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thematic Photographic 420 - Floored

Industrial disease
London, ON
August 2018
Photo originally shared on Instagram
I've been sporadic with Thematic - hey, that has a ring to it! - because life's been a bit busy over the past few months. I quit my old job and started a (much better) new one. We went on an epic family road trip to a faraway place. I pulled waaaay back from my on-air work because I realized routinely getting 3 hours or sleep per night wasn't all that healthy.

As I've adjusted to this new, much more balanced life-reality, I've realized just how much I needed to change. I wasn't riding the bike as much as I should have been. I wasn't taking as many photos or writing as I would have liked. And most critically, I wasn't spending enough time with the fam. They deserved more of me.

Somewhere in that turbulent mess, Thematic got left aside. As I slowly realign my brain to this new routine, I'm finding myself carting my camera along more often. And I'm spending more time at the keyboard not only for work, but also for play. I'm once again letting those voices inside my head create stuff to both read and look at.

This photo reminds me of the need to look down every once in a while. Floors may not get the attention they deserve, but stopping to shoot the usually-ignored steel plate floor during a recent day at a local indoor activity centre was an important milestone in recapturing the spirit that not so long ago defined who I was and how I chose to interact with the world. What seems unimportant and routine is, in fact, the exact opposite, and I'm pleased to be back in the groove, proving that point with every word I write and every photo I take.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is floor. Take a picture of a floor - or the ground, or anything around where your feet would normally be - and share it on your blog, website, or social media account. Leave a comment here with a link letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants throughout the week, and check back here next Monday for another exciting chapter in Thematic history. Because we're back on a weekly schedule, folks. Spread the word. And please accept my thanks for coming along on this journey.

If you're new to Thematic, head here and all will be explained.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Remembering an early-morning drive with my kid

The Grid
Lambeth, ON
June 2018
Photo originally posted on Instagram
The scene: 7:58 on a grey Sunday morning in June. Our daughter has a photo shoot at an arena/community centre in this quiet bedroom community nestled in the agricultural hinterlands that surround London. After I park the car, she heads in to set up with her team. Normally at this point, I'd point the car home and leave her to do her usual great stuff, but a ceramic wall feature on the outside wall has caught my eye.

As you can see from the photo above, it's just a bunch of tiles. But given my long-established propensity to view the world through a somewhat bizarro lens, I can't stop staring at it. I jump out of the car and wander over for a closer look. I like what I see, and out comes the camera for a quick and spontaneous photo shoot. I'm going for straight-on, straight lines, and when I get what I like, I wander back to the car and head back home. There's a puppy to walk and coffee to be made.

As far as photos go, this one isn't all that spectacular. No depth, no perspective, and fairly repetitive. So why shoot it in the first place? Good question, and the answer speaks directly to why I shoot in the first place.

Sometimes, like here, or here, or here, it's because the photo itself is unreal. Or it's fleeting. Or it's just plain thought-provoking. This one, to be frank, isn't. But it didn't need to be. That's because it's a placeholder, or a moment photo, a pic that I took not because it was spectacular in and of itself, but because it captured a moment I didn't want to forget.

And this particular moment was an important one, a reminder of what it felt like to be alone with our daughter in a car rolling quietly through the countryside as we both chatted about the craft of photography, about what lay ahead for her for the day, and why it was worth waking up too early on a Saturday morning.

We've had many of these mornings, the two of us, and as much as I relish my sleep, I enjoy these mornings more. Driving her to wherever she needs to go. Being a dad. It's what parents do, of course, part of the deal we make when we decide to become parents in the first place. But this kid makes them fun, moments to look forward to. To the outside observer, it's just a parent and child having a chat in a car. To me, these moments are everything, and fleeting, and I needed a picture, something, anything, to remember what this particular moment on a particular Sunday morning in a quiet parking lot in Lambeth felt like.

Mission accomplished. Now, when's our next early-morning drive?

Your turn: Do you take placeholder- or moment-type photos? Why?

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Five years on...

Today is a bit of a milestone for me, as it marks five years since my stroke. I generally don’t watch the calendar in search of significant dates, but this significant date is different because it isn’t every day that you doubt you’re going to get another one. And it isn’t every day that you somehow get a second chance.

I’ve had five years to ponder the events of that day (here’s what happened, here’s more background, and here's some more) and I keep coming back to the singular fact that I’m incredibly lucky for so any reasons. That I didn’t die. That I wasn’t left severely disabled. That I was able to crawl back out of the rather deep hole I was in and back toward the life I had previously known.

I know the experience has changed me, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My sense of balance, never all that great to begin with, is even worse now. I won’t be pulling a Wallenda on a highwire anytime soon. Nor will I be jumping out of planes, or scuba diving through underwater caves. I'm good with that. I was never much of a daredevil to begin with.

But here’s the thing: That’s minor stuff. Because it pales in comparison to what could have been if I had bled out, alone on my bike, at the corner of Wonderland and 9 Mile Road, if the tiny clots that landed in a certain part of my brain had landed somewhere else. Or if I didn’t get world-class medical care a mere 10-minute drive from my house. If my wife hadn’t recognized the symptoms and immediately called for help. Or if our entire community hadn't rallied around our little family.

It also pales in comparison to what happens to other stroke victims, folks who aren’t so lucky. Over the past five years, I've heard from so many who have been touched by stroke, and too many of them tell sad tales of ignoring the symptoms, of shrugging off calls by friends and loved ones to get it looked at. Until it was too late. I can't fix them, but I can raise awareness. Heart and Stroke Foundation Canada has a wonderful page on stroke awareness here:

http://www.heartandstroke.ca/stroke/signs-of-stroke

If you do one thing today, please visit the page, read, learn, and share.

I've had five years to count my blessings, but as it turns out I had a lot of early-life preparation. I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child, and learned then that someone always has it worse than you. When I was in the children's ward, my bed was opposite that of Dimitri, a child (we were both about 5 years-old at the time) who broke his leg and was in traction. At night, after the lights were turned down and the ward went quiet, I would slip out of bed and wander the hospital in a wheelchair. I'd tell him about my adventures when I got back. He couldn't move, but I could. That sentiment continually rings through my head every time I’m tempted to buy into the “woe is me” line. I had nothing to complain about then, and that's just as true now.

I still push myself to get out there. I still ride the bike - despite the fact that a bike ride is what touched off this whole adventure. I still write. Still speak about geeky things on-air. Still have a sense of humour. Still shoot the world through a bizarrely skewed lens. Most importantly, I still get to enjoy life with my wife and kids - because, really, what else matters more?

I know I'm lucky to have been given these five years. Indeed, we all are, and you shouldn't have to experience critical illness to come to that realization. Every day is a gift, and there's no way of knowing whether we'll get another one. I'm just grateful to have been given the extra time, and grateful to be able to share the experience with others. Maybe I'll still get to write an update in another five years. That would be neat.

Your turn: How do you cherish every day?


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Babies turn 18 faster than we think


1st drive, Dad's car
London, ON
July 2018
In my mind’s eye, he was just born. But time has a funny way of moving faster than it seems, which largely explains why here we are, 18 years later, wondering how this beautifully perfect little man has morphed into a funny, accomplished, whip-smart and endlessly kind young man.

Noah has always been the kind of kid any parent would wish to have, the kind of person other people like to hang around with, the kind of person who fills the room, changes its temperature and makes you glad you showed up. He’s a great wingman on road trips, a fantastic arbiter of movies and music, and an endlessly loved little brother.

His future is beyond bright, and we couldn’t be more proud not only of who he is, but how he’s become who he is. To say we love this kid barely scratches the surface re. what it feels like to be his parents.

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

Her

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?