Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A facade hopes for more

Mixed message
London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I walked by a tired building on a tired street on a bitterly cold day, and was drawn in by the facade. I find old brick to be a fascinating surface. Every crumbled corner tells a story. Faded and cracked paint speaks of futile efforts to halt the effects of the ravages of time. You wonder what this building must have looked like when it was new, and what kinds of things – routine or not – went on within its walls and on the street outside.

All I can see now are echoes. The street is almost empty. Even on a good day, this is a barren stretch that seems to have missed out on the good life. But a brightly colored sign suggests not all is lost. Hope, it seems, is never all that far away.

Your turn: What’s this image telling you?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


London, Ontario, February 2007

This image is more about mood than anything else. The dim light combined with a lack of a tripod to necessitate a wide aperture. This reduced depth of field to the point that I wasn't sure the shot was even worth taking. But in the end, I liked how the light played on the flat and curved surfaces of the wood.

Although I didn't originally set out to capture this particular composition, I'm glad it jumped out at me while I stood by the covered window and mulled over the possibilities. I love when a scene presents itself almost out of nowhere.

I'll have to try the scene again with a tripod to see if a greater depth of field would change the end result.

Maybe I'm just overthinking it.

Your turn: How is it that a photo can alter one's mood?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Fires in the sky

New Year's Fireworks
Delray Beach. Florida, January 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

Warning: stream of consciousness-like post coming up. I'm feeling verbose this evening. Stick with me, though, as there's method to my madness.

Working with the new camera over these last few months has been an extended exercise in figuring out what's possible. For the first couple of days, I left it on auto-everything as I tried to get a feel for how it worked. Gradually, I became more comfortable with taking chances, and started to dig into the more arcane features of this endlessly complex piece of machinery.

The bottom line is a happy one: Turning off all the automated doodads and playing with the controls has allowed me to learn what works and what doesn't when the situation is more challenging than a basic snapshot. I've discovered that a computerized program doesn't always know how to take the best picture; that sometimes I need to go manual and go with my gut. I've accepted that I'll be learning, both the craft and the tools with which I practise it, for the rest of my life. In the end, that's what makes it such a joy.

Unfortunately, this long-term learning curve seems to have turned me into a bit of a photo addict. Actually, my wife would agree that I'm a major photo addict now. I tend to view everything in terms of how it might be viewed through a lens, often musing openly about what settings I'd use, and what outcome I'd hope to achieve. This isn't ordinarily a big deal, but when I dreamily wax on about how cool it would be to explore the neighborhood supermailbox with my lens, I know I've crossed some sort of line. Are there any Photographers' Anonymous chapters in my town?

I know it's all part of the learning process. Because I wield a pen for a living, I often draw parallels between my writing and my photography. They're two halves to my creativity, and I can't imagine not having both tools at my disposal. I can hear my introduction to the PA meeting: My name is Carmi Levy. I am addicted to words and pictures because they make me happy.

Sounds like a plan to me.

But enough of my artistic musing. You want to know about the fireworks. Well, these pictures exist precisely because of this crazy learning process. See, whenever I'm looking for something new to record, I first imagine a scenario that, by all rights, I have failed miserably to photograph in my earlier life. High-speed bike races? Yes. Aquariums? Check. Birds in flight? Yup. Then I figure out how to successfully shoot them. It involves many sets of trial-and-error shooting. And many, many really awful pictures that you will never see. Ever.

The granddaddy impossiblest scenario of them all is the fireworks display. Before this evening's festivities, I had never brought home a workable picture of fireworks in my life. I believe I made Kodak shareholders very happy with my efforts, mind you. From lighting to focusing to composing, I just couldn't get it right. I'd read books and go online for advice, but nothing worked. I was a firework/photographic spaz. By any sense of logic, I should have given up long ago.

But I figured if the principles of Kaizen were enough to bring Toyota from engineering has-been to global dominator of the automotive industry within two generations, then I figured I had it in me to get a good picture of some colorfully explosive gunpowder.

So just after the stroke of New Year's midnight, when a few neighbors of my aunt and uncle decided to cook off a large-ish box of firecrackers in the middle of their development, we all ran to watch. We stood on the sidewalk, safely away from ground zero, and watched these three very friendly guys light off round after round of incendiary joy.

Their approach gave me ample opportunity to preset the camera and think through my composition, exposure and focusing strategy. After each round was finished, I'd quickly review the results on the camera's screen and figure out what worked, what didn't, and whether I was moving closer to photographic nirvana. I'd make a quick decision on the settings for the next round, and by the time I dialed 'em in, the guys were ready to light off the next set.

It was as close to on-the-fly photography as I've had with this camera, and it was a heck of a lot of fun not necessarily for the outcome, but for the process I followed to get there.

After the last embers flickered out and fell from the sky, I strolled across the street, introduced myself and showed them some of my handiwork. I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to capture their fun before we all formed up and walked the few hundred feet back to the house.

Your turn: Celebratory pictures. Please discuss.


Really red radishes
London, Ontario, January 2007

As I stare at this image, a surprising thought occurs to me: I don't even like radishes. They're such subversive little root-things that, on their own, don't taste all that great (I know, this'll get me some hate mail. Bring it on, Mom.) Still, you've got to admire the texture when they lay out a particularly fresh pile underneath the fluorescent light.

Some history: If you're new to the blog, you may want to click the following links for past grocery store adventures: apples, peppers, yellow peppers, still more peppers, fish, and leaves. As you can tell, I'm somewhat obsessively drawn to fresh produce at the grocery store.

A technical note: Ideally, I'd be able to bring in my tripod and take some longer-exposure images of these things. Then I'd have as much time and depth of field as I'd need, and life would be photographically good. But I never know when a grocery store cop (GSC, because I'm a geek and I'm addicted to short-forms) will show up from nowhere and bust me. Really, it's happened: click this entry, Busted by the grocery police, for the ugly details of my grand adventure at the not-Wal-Mart.

In the wake of that experience, I worry constantly about getting caught. Thus I'm forced to shoot fast. I preset the camera as best I can before going into the store. When I approach my fruity target of opportunity, I compose the shot in my head, then yank the camera from its bag and trip the shutter as quickly as I can before stuffing my optical weapon back into its bag and assuming the usual glassy-eyed stare of the brain-dead grocery shopper.

Zero to sixty, and back to zero again. No one ever said the life of the surreptitious grocery store shooter would be an easy one.

One last thought:
"Fruity target of opportunity," "Brain-dead grocery shopper," and "Grocery store shooter." I suspect these will get the search engines wagging.

Oops, one more: Long ago, I posted this image of radishes as well. I apparently have no qualms about returning to the vegetables that have been good to me in the past.

Your turn: What's my next vegetable of opportunity? What do you want to see?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Caption This 7

[Please come up with a caption for this photo...see details below]
Mallorytown, Ontario, December 2006 [Click to enlarge]

Sometimes, when you see a crisp apple lying forgotten on the ground in the middle of a highway rest stop parking lot, you feel the need to get down on the ground to capture the moment. I've learned to not ask why I so often feel this need.

If you're new to the Caption This feature here on Written Inc., please click here to read the rules, such as they are. Click here to see all CT entries to-date. Last week's entry was the sixth in our increasingly popular series. This closeup of a glass goblet's stem attracted some of the most varied responses thus far. Interestingly, it also marked the first time some readers actually voted for someone else's submission! (I thought that was kinda neat...feel free to toss in a vote, if you wish.)

In the end, I was swayed by Judy's perspective. She saw in this image something I had not seen when I first composed it, namely a schematic of the female reproductive system. She challenged us all to look at it in a very different, and very funny way. That's the magic of photography, in my book, and it's why her caption takes it this week:
"Marian loved being a woman so much she had her womb memorialized in glass".
Judy is a gifted florist and hands down one of the kindest bloggers you'll ever have the pleasure to read. If you haven't visited her site, Imagine What I'm Leaving Out, you're certainly missing out on a treat. Please tell her hello from me when you visit.

Your turn: What caption would you give to the poor-little-apple picture above? I can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Improbable landscape
London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I've been taking walks through the neighborhood at lunch lately. It gives my eyes a chance to rest from constantly staring at the screen, which helps me clear my head and set the stage for a productive afternoon. I've been taking my camera with me not because I have any preconceived notion of what I'll see, but because I never know when something worth shooting will crop up. I hate being somewhere, standing in front of something photoworthy (yes, I invent words), only to be frustrated that my hands are empty.

On this viciously cold day, I ventured down a bleak-looking side street because I felt a need to be in a sad place (don't worry, I'm not depressed, but I enjoy walking through crumbling urban vistas. I'm strange that way.) On a forlorn stretch of pavement that could easily be mistaken for a back alley, I found myself standing between a curling club on one side and an adult superstore on the other. Cars slowly idled into the alley as their drivers pathetically attempted to avoid making eye contact with me.

At least two cars circled the block when they saw me with my camera, thinking that perhaps I'd be gone upon their return. I wasn't, of course. I smiled at them, almost as if to let them know I didn't really care how they got their jollies as long as they stayed away from me.

When I tired of making these pseudo-pervs feel guilty for not downloading it from the Internet, I turned to face the curling club. An ice-encrusted pipe stretched from ground to roof. There was so much ice around it that I didn't want to get too close lest it crack and fall on me. So I stood back and zoomed in. Normally, I'd let my eye linger in the viewfinder, moving the camera around to compose the most artful perspective. But it was reaaaaaallllly cold, and I couldn't feel my hands anymore (I apparently spent too much time laying the guilt on the pervs) so I tripped the shutter on a few different compositions and called it a day. I breathed repeatedly - and futilely - into my mitts as I walked back to the office.

As I look at this image, I think about the grotesque underbelly of humanity that I witnessed in the moments before I captured it. And I realize that a little slice of landscape-like magic was happening right under my nose. Another case of inspiration in the most unexpected of places.

Your turn: If you've got a smut-busting story, I hope you'll share it.


Snowy travels
Ridgetown, Ontario, January 2007

Sometimes, you find yourself sitting in an airport shuttle in the middle of a small town that would easily fit into the parking lot of the average Wal-Mart. It begins to snow, and you think about how depressing it is to be surrounded by strangers far from home on a bitterly cold, gray day.

Then you look out the window and think that the tire tracks made by the locals on their way to , well, wherever look somewhat interesting to the eye. You don't want to freak your fellow passengers out by pulling out your large camera from the hidden space beneath your trench coat-covered legs. But you don't want to miss this moment either, because it reminds you of a lonely silence while moving between places that are somewhat less isolated.

By now, I suppose you've guessed that I risked it. No one freaked. They did smile, however, which was nice.

Your turn: Do you have any images from a small town knocking around your memories? What is it that is so compelling about these scenes, about these places?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Leaving in silence

It's always sad when a life ends. Death is always tragic. Yet some endings seem somewhat more tragic when they occur in virtual silence. We often ask whether a tree that falls in a forest makes a sound if no one is around to hear it. One can say the same thing about a life.

Before I continue, a little level-set: I'm going to break a longstanding position on my blog of not writing about my extended family. While I write extensively about my wife and children, and the crazy little family unit that we've created, I am decidedly silent on the other folks who have cycled in and out of my life since I first came into the world. As such, you don't hear a whole lot, if anything, about cousins, siblings and other extendeds. It's not my place to write about them.

That'll change, temporarily, today. My father's cousin, Carol, died this week. She had celebrated her 62nd birthday before going to sleep. Just after midnight, she quietly passed away, leaving two children, both in their thirties. Her husband passed away years ago.

She lived a hard life, struggling with her weight, her health and life in general for as long as I can remember. Although as a child I didn't often appreciate her precarious position in life, I came to see glimpses of it in the few times I spoke to her as I got older. She would refer to us as the haves, with houses, cars and opportunities that she never had. She seemed sad that her life never seemed to gain the traction that mine so clearly did. I never knew how to respond. There was no way to reach through the gap between a charmed life and one decidedly less so. I could never find the right words.

It has been years since I saw her. We moved away, got busy, built a very different life in a very different place. We'd hear from extended family members every once in a while who had seen her in passing, but that was about it. Now this.

I write this because when I went to my hometown paper's obituaries page to read the death notice, I saw that there was none. When I continued on to the funeral home's site, her name was there, along with the date and time of the service. Nothing else. No words to remember her by. A half dozen other poor souls had passed away this week, and each one of them seemed to have left something behind. My cousin's page was empty.

It gnawed at me that someone could leave this planet with nothing more than silence, and I thought some words on my blog might ensure she isn't forgotten.

My cousin Carol lived a difficult life, one that wasn't always understood or appreciated by those whose lives she touched. She leaves two children who will doubtless miss their mother's influence as they chart a life without her.

Your turn: What do we leave behind? Please discuss.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

More icy goodness

Iced joint
London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to enlarge]

This is another in a series of photos of the icicles dangling from the roof over our front porch. You've all enjoyed my other ice photos so much that I thought I'd continue the theme. Hope that's OK with you.

My philosophy was simple: Every night, I'd step carefully onto the cold concrete and grab a few pictures before heading back inside. I thought that as long as they were around, I'd keep shooting them.

My timing was opportune, because in the few days since I took this image, the temperature has warmed up, and the meltoff has begun. This icicle no longer exists, which makes this picture of it all the more memorable.

Your turn: What's worth shooting in front of your nose?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Quoted - The New York Times

It's turning into quite the significant media day! It turns out that in addition to being quoted in today's Boston Globe (see earlier entry), I've also been picked up by the New York Times. The story is entitled Shift on Antitrust Issues May Aid Sirius-XM Deal. Byline is Andrew Ross Sorkin. He ended the story with this perspective from me:
Of course, perhaps the largest factor in their decision will be the precedent regulators want to set. “If the Federal Communications Commission grants a green light for this transaction, the brakes will be off for similar telecommunications industry hookups,” Carmi Levy, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, wrote to clients. If so, perhaps Mr. Ergen will get a second chance.
It should be illegal to enjoy work this much.

Your turn: If anyone has a copy of today's NYT, please let me know.

Quoted - The Boston Globe

I have a pretty cool job. I'm a senior analyst for a technology research firm, which means I get to write all about the technologies that companies use to stay ahead and stay alive.

Sometimes, those technologies and the companies that create and use them end up making the news. When that happens, I often get asked by journalists to share my analytical thoughts on what this means and why it matters. Sometimes the call comes from a significant media outlet. Yesterday's call came from the Boston Globe, and the resulting article is in today's paper. Here's the link:
A matter of competition: Approval of Sirius-XM deal will turn on how FCC sees radio marketplace
The byline is Hiawatha Bray, and the piece is published in the business section. The story is all about the proposed deal between satellite radio providers Sirius and XM. I apparently had a lot to say. Here are some snippets:
Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ontario, Canada, believes the companies must join forces to survive. Both companies have lost billions and neither has turned a profit.

"Left on their own," said Levy, "both of these companies are likely to implode."

One satellite radio firm, even a monopoly, is better than none, he added. "I have a funny feeling that even if the FCC frowned on this, it will have no choice," Levy said.


Even if the merger goes through, Levy isn't sure satellite radio has a future. He said XM and Sirius have not fared as well as cable companies in convincing people to pay for better programming .


Levy thinks that whether or not Sirius and XM merge, they'll need new sources of revenue. For instance, they could market their offerings to earthbound radio stations for broadcast on their new HD radio channels.
Your turn: Two things actually...
  • I'd like to hear your thoughts on satellite radio. Despite subscribers' rabid faith in the service, I'm not convinced the majority of the population will ever warm to the prospect of paying for radio. I believe if the business model was so strong, the two companies wouldn't have faltered so badly (losing $7 billion combined over the last 8 years) that they'd have to join forces.
  • If you live in the Boston region and have a copy of today's Globe, I'll be forever thankful if you could scan the article and e-mail it to me.
Update - Feb. 22: The article has been picked up in the International Herald Tribune, using the original sub-head as the headline: Approval of Sirius-XM deal will turn on how FCC sees radio market. Also see this blog entry about my being quoted in the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Icy spine

London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to embiggen]

Sometimes, all you need to do is look out your front door for a bit of inspiration. Because we'd been having a series of bitterly cold nights followed by very bright, sunny days, the eaves on the edge of our roof froze up solid before gradually melting under the warming sun. It was like an ongoing ballet of opposing forces, and the net result was a collection of really chunky icicles.

I popped the external flash onto my camera - it puts out a prodigious amount of light, which makes for much brighter surface detail than I could ever get with the camera's little built-in flash. I suppose I could have done a long exposure, but I wanted to play with artificial light, and figured the optical equivalent of a sledgehammer was as effective a strategy as any. (See this entry for an earlier, daylight perspective from the same place.)

Your turn: I'm still playing with ice, apparently, and I suspect there are more ice pictures in my future. Why does frozen water beg to be captured in this way?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sealed with a kiss

London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to enlarge]

When I was a kid, I would often wonder if all the great songs, stories and books had already been written. I found it incredible to imagine that someone could come out of nowhere and create something that had never before been done, something that would supplant all the great works that were already out there.

Of course, the music charts continued to reflect a never-ending flood of new music, and the local library always welcomed the best new works from famous authors, some of whom I had never heard of. It seemed the ability to create greatness was not limited by all that had already been created.

And so it is when I carry my camera along with me, I carry on a little debate with myself over whether I'll find anything interesting to shoot. I wonder if all the great images of this place have already been taken. I doubt whether I'll be able to conjure up a fresh perspective on what is otherwise an average-looking place that's been scoured by so many others so many times previously.

Then, something flashes in my mind and I realize there's always something new out there. And a steel-raftered gymnasium with banquet tables covering the floor manages to give up another scene worth remembering, whose colorful texture reminds me that I need to keep looking for inspiration in even the most mundane of places.

Your turn: Please describe the most everyday place where you have done great, creative work.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Caption This 6

Please name this image [See below for the lowdown on this weekly feature]
London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Welcome to another chapter in the new Written Inc. adventure known as Caption This. If you're new to the game, please click here to read the first entry, or here to see all Caption This-labelled entries to-date.

Long story short, every Sunday, I post a picture and ask my readers to come up with the most appropriate - or crazy, whatever - caption for it. I announce the winner the following Sunday, at which point I post a new photo as well. It's great fun.

Last week's photo of an abandoned storefront on a bleak downtown street attracted a lot of attention, and I'd like to thank you all for your creativity. I had great fun sifting through the submissions, and in the end chose Mike's phrase:
"Ghost Town of the Modern Day."
Mike Althouse is a California-based journalist whose words and images are always thoughtfully composed and packaged. If you haven't read him, click here and let him know I say hi.

Your turn: I hope you'll put on your creativity hats and come up with a catchy phrase for this week's image. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Beauty in a forgotten place

Back alley art
London, Ontario, February 2007

I've written about London's murals previously (see here). I don't quite know why there are so many of them in our burg, but I'm glad that folks have taken the time to paint them. They brighten our world and force us to think about our own contributions to its beauty. Or at least they should.

I particularly love our murals - and I say "our" because, frankly, public art really is a collective thing - because they're often found in otherwise forgotten, forlorn places: Parking lots, loading zones, alleys, anywhere you would find a sad-looking concrete-block wall.

And so it was as I walked past this alley less than a block away from my office. I was doing my best to keep my fingers warm in the -30C chill. The wind cut through my coat as I thought how depressing this environment was. Everything looked gray, featureless, bleak.

Then I spotted this colorful landscape. And I was once again able to see colors, to feel some warmth. A thin layer of paint on a forgettable surface had managed to transform my mood.

To the unknown artists who shared their vision in a decidedly unconventional place, thank you.

Your turn: Can public displays of art improve our well-being? Can they improve your well-being?

Friday, February 16, 2007

In the shadow of champions

Skating under the rafters
Waterloo, Ontario, February 2007

RIM Park is a multi-use facility on the northern edge of this mid-sized Ontario city. RIM refers to Research In Motion (corporate site, wiki entry), the folks who make the BlackBerry. The firm's HQ is not far from here, and its influence is everywhere as students from four area universities and colleges walk the floor of the annual career fair.

Unlike most fairs, the folks here are focused and serious. Before the doors open, they stand outside the hall, sharing notes on the companies inside and strategizing how they will approach each one. They prioritize their lists and double-check their questions and application packages before heading inside. It's inspiring to watch.

On the way to lunch, we pass over the massive ice pads on the western edge of the complex. Banners of past national and world champions hang over the ice as the future stars of tomorrow relentlessly push themselves through yet another training session. They fall, brush themselves off, get back up, and try again. They repeat the process under the watchful eye of their coach, under the silent gaze of those who have traced arcs across this very ice, who have managed to mount podiums and bring home medals and, yes, banners.

Like the soon-to-be-graduates at the other end of the building, these folks, too, are inspiring to watch. Perhaps their names will hang overhead someday. Perhaps not. Still, they skate. And fall. And rise again.

Somewhere in there lies a lesson for those of us who watch.

Your turn: Pushing the envelope. Pushing your envelope. Please discuss.

Cling wrapped building

Ivy in Woodfield
London, ON, November 2006 [Embiggen by clicking]

There's something magical about an old brick facade covered by ivy. It has so much more dimension than most other unadorned building surfaces. It invites the eye in for a closer look, almost beckoning passers-by to take a moment and wonder about this curiously symbiotic mixture of architecture and nature.

Which is what I did as I strolled through this historic downtown neighborhood on a quiet weekend afternoon a few months back.

Your turn: What is it about ivy that compels us to look?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

French danish

A mother's treat for her son
Laval, Quebec, December 2006 [Click to embiggen]

Food underpins so much of who we are and how we choose to lead our lives. We often live from meal to meal, lamenting the fact that it's been so long since we last ate, and counting the minutes until we can get to the pantry and start the process all over again.

At least that's my reality. I eat a lot. Constantly. And I can't gain weight. I know, you hate me already.

But enough of my digression. I'm sharing this because I'm trying (badly, it seems) to explain why pictures of food keep showing up in my photo archives. Here's the rub: Essentially, when I'm looking for interesting things to capture, my eye often settles on whatever's on the table at that moment. More so than many topical choices, food is instantly relatable. A picture of it seems to draw us in. It invites us to consider what it must be like to eat, and when we're going to try getting some for real.

All that from a simple two-dimensional picture. Neat.

Your turn: Please click the image to load the high-resolution version. Then come back and share the first three words that occur to you as you take it in.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ice and sun

Dripping icicle
London, Ontario, February 2007

Bitterly cold nights and sunny days have resulted in a fairly consistent collection of icicles on the eaves of our home. This particularly nice example of a dripping icicle grew right over our front porch, and stared me in the eye as I headed out the door on Saturday. So I did the usual thing and pulled out my camera.

A simple icicle is a lovely creation. It's fragility guarantees its relatively brief existence. If it doesn't thaw into oblivion, some neighborhood kids - or, horrors, our own - will see to its demise before long. I've been coaching the kids to not go near the icicles out of fear of getting hurt (note to parents: irrational fear of gravity is a temporarily effective form of behavioral control.)

I've also been out at night, using both long exposure and on-camera and external flash. I'll keep shooting the hanging slices of frozen water until they disappear, and will post more images from the series if enough folks tell me they like 'em

Your turn: Should I share more icy photos in the days to come?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Through the looking...plastic
Waterloo, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to embiggen]

Ever notice the linear-meets-curved pattern in a bottle of bottled water? I had never paid much attention to these mundane icons of modern-day life until once recent afternoon when, lacking anything else to do in that particular minute, it dawned on me that these things looked sort of interesting.

At least I thought they did.

Your turn: Do they? What other packaging might be worth a picture?

Monday, February 12, 2007

A new day dawns

Sunrise over the 401
Woodstock, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to embiggen]

Photography from a car moving at 110 km/h (roughly 68.3508 mph) is challenging on the best of days. It's even more difficult when you're driving.

I'm kidding, of course (put the phone down, Mom!) I would never shoot while at the wheel. And neither should you. End PSA.

I took this as a passenger while driving with colleagues to a career fair last week in Waterloo. While we all animatedly chatted about the day ahead, my mind wandered as I took in a sky that looked like it had been painted. I grabbed the camera and shot many, many pictures, hoping to capture that elusive glow that comes with the dawning of a clear, cold day.

I've been trying to keep the camera close by as often as possible. I believe it's allowing me to take pictures that would otherwise never be taken. Logically, I figure it expands my horizons as a photographer. It also lets me measure the responses of total strangers, which is always a heck of a lot of fun.

Your turn: Let's talk about the sunrise, and what it means to you.

Rusted and forgotten

Surface decay
London, Ontario, February 2007

I shot this picture on the same walkabout I wrote about in this entry. The wind chill hovered around -30C as I slowly walked down a near-deserted street of long-closed storefronts and snowy, weed-strewn alleyways. I cradled my camera inside my trench coat because constantly removing it from the camera bag dangling from my shoulder was chilling my fingers to the bone.

Note to self: get a pair of fingerless gloves, because big mitts just don't work when the temperature dives. End digression.

The rusted top of a long-abandoned fence attracted my eye. The bright color of the underlying, ruined metal was just about the brightest thing I had seen since I first stepped outside. The entire area, it seemed, was cloaked in a sheen of dullness. Even formerly bright colors seemed to be dimmed down by the years of neglect.

I wondered about that as I headed back to the office. My fingers ached from being cold-soaked for the better part of an hour. My head, on the other hand, ached from the overwhelmingly hopeless world that began mere steps away from my office. I could take pictures of it all until time immemorial, but I knew that nothing, not even the attention of my lens, would ever change the stark and ugly reality of this place.

Still, as I write this, I feel the need to return. It's a place that begs for more attention from a world that seems to have forgotten its existence.

Your turn: Would you return to this place? Why?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Caption This 5

Caption to come...thanks to you!
London, Ontario, February 2007 [Click to enlarge]

First things first, thanks to Sara for coming up with this lovely phrase to describe last week's Caption This entry. Here's her perspective on the footprint in the sand:
"Gone but not forgotten."
I had a difficult time choosing, because so many of you submitted such thoughtful suggestions. This is getting harder with time, and I'd have it no other way. Thank you, again, for making the Caption This series such a success. Please follow the link to Sara's blog and thank her on my behalf.

Now, on to this week's image...

I took a walk on a bitterly cold afternoon last week. I headed east through the depressed main drag, Dundas Street, that used to be the retail lifeblood of this neighborhood. I saw people with nowhere else to go huddling in doorways in a futile attempt to escape the chill. I saw ruined, abandoned storefronts standing silent guard over streets that most people would rather not walk. I saw a part of town that had been utterly forgotten by time, forgotten by anyone who lived somewhere else and didn't need to be here. I saw the wispy ghost of a city. I saw intense sadness.

So I walked along the southern sidewalk, shooting the ruined facades on the north side of the street and hoping to capture some of the morose thoughts that were racing through my head in an image or two. A woman walked up to me and asked me if I was taking pictures of the area.
She: It's too bad they won't ever fix it.
Me: I don't think that will happen anytime soon.
She: They'll spend their money on other things that don't matter so much.
Me: Sadly, I think you're right.
She nodded her head in agreement and continued on her way, a single plastic grocery bag rubbing noisily against her snow pants.

This is a neighborhood with lots of sighs, lots of swinging grocery bags, and lots of empty storefronts. I thought this week's Caption This image should reflect that.

Your turn: If this is your first time reading about Caption This, click here to read what it's all about. Click here for all Caption This entries to-date. Please submit your suggested caption to this photo in a comment, and I'll post the top response next week - along with yet another new image for you to mull over. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lunar landscape

London, Ontario, August 2006 [Click to dig in]

Our children, bless them, have embraced the bone-chilling weather that we've been experiencing of late. When you wake up in the morning to frenzied radio announcers talking about the dangerous wind chill, it's easy to feel bummed about the whole living-in-a-wintry-climate thing. But then you wander into the kids' rooms and find them eagerly looking out the window, bouncing up and down as they count the minutes until they can go outside and enjoy the frozen landscape.

It's inspiring, actually, all the more so because I'm really not a morning person.

So when they ask for ice cream, it's easy to forgive their apparent seasonal disconnect. Little man's logic is rather sound:
Noah: Dad, can we please eat some ice cream?
Me: But it's minus a bazillion degrees outside. Wouldn't you rather have something warm?
Noah: It's only cold outside the house, not inside.
Me: Makes sense to me. I'll get two spoons, then.
Thanks to our children's wisdom, we went to the local Loblaws and bought President's Choice Cookies & Cream ice cream. It is, in a word, delicious. I would have it for breakfast if I could. (Wait, I did!)

In the end, I know it looks odd to the outsider. But on a cold weekend's afternoon, this very simple decision made our children happy. And I'm sure they'll long remember us allowing them to have ice cream when the temperature outside suggested a somewhat more sober dining choice. Sometimes, the obvious parental choice need not be the most conventional one.

Your turn: Kids, their strange culinary choices, and the parents who allow it to happen. Please discuss.

About the picture: This is a closeup of grape ice cream (seriously!) that I captured last summer. It comes from a delightfully independent local ice cream maker, and reinforces my belief that the franchised chains haven't totally killed off homegrown uniqueness and spunk.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Driving in the rain

I don't drive much during the course of my everyday life. When the weather's nice, I pedal pretty much everywhere. When Old Man (Woman? Person?) Winter closes in, I walk. The sole exception to this rule is when my wife and I pile the little folks into the wondervan and drive long distances. Then, I turn into a driver. I guess it's all part of my extreme need to have control over my environment. I use vacations as an excuse to get behind the wheel, crank some tunes and see the world.

But even I have my limits. The drive down to Florida is some 2,400 km (1,491.29 miles for the metrically challenged), which over two days means we're spending around 15 hours in the car each day. Even I need a break every once in a while.

So after I tossed the keys toward my wife and took the passenger seat, I found myself strangely looking for something to do (not a whole lot of need to navigate when you're driving the same direction on the same highway you've been on practically since you left home.) I grabbed the camera and went to work. Please come along for the ride (and click all images to enlarge)...

18 wheels of misery
Somewhere on the I-75 in Georgia, December 2006

Trucks freak me out. Part of it has to do with their sheer size. But worse, when the weather closes in, they're often the only ones still exceeding the speed limit. Are they somehow immune to the basic laws of meteorology and physics? Can their drivers magically see through the murk? Will they even notice when they crunch some poor Honda-driving motorist?

Same highway, same day

This photo is proof that you can indeed take a weird-looking close-up picture without a tripod at 120 km/h (yes, my wife was speeding. Yes, she'll kill me when she reads this.) I think the gray, the diffused headlights and the chaotic water dancing on the windshield make this a wonderfully moody shot.

Looking forward, sideways and backward...
Yup, still heading southeast on the I-75...

It's amazing what you can see when you take the time to look out your windows and use your mirrors. I was trying to share this wisdom with the drivers around us - mostly through hand signals and smiles - because it was quite apparent that the majority of them seemed to be more concerned with their iPods, their drink holders, and the fighting kids in the back seat. Everything but their driving.

Your turn: What do you do when you're a passenger in a car?

Transient droplet

I've been hanging around water for a good part of my life. So when I happen across a fountain in the mall, I’m naturally intrigued.

By now, you’ve likely read my perspectives on suburban shopping malls (Godless temples to conspicuous consumption) and the suburbs in general (soulless examples of humanity’s ability to efficiently ruin the landscape.) So I hope you’ll appreciate my general disdain for these places. I go to the mall only when I need to get something. I get what I need, then get out before I break out in hives.

There are some exceptions to this in-and-out rule of mine. When the dreaded Santa’s Village is finally removed from its temporary quarters over the boarded-up fountain, I finally have an excuse to return. See, as awful as the mall is, its fountain offers a controlled environment to take pictures of flying water. I’ve posted about this before (here, here and most recently here) and I’m doing it again this time, alas with a twist.

The picture in this entry is a heavily cropped image. Notice the pixellation and general graininess (click to enlarge.) It won’t win any awards, but I love it all the same because it represents a fleeting moment in time when I was lucky enough to capture something not otherwise visible with the naked eye.

I’ll go back to that fountain in the middle of the Godless, soulless, consumerist palace. I’ll take out my camera and attract the stares of bystanders. I’ll avoid the grasp of the security guard. And hopefully I’ll come home with more memorable images from an otherwise forgettable place.

Your thoughts: Beauty in a decidedly mundane place. Please discuss.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Dead

It's a sign of our times that most of us first hear of news like this not from television, radio or newspaper, but from the Web. And we don't hear about it at 6 or 11 p.m., or when we first wake up and trundle out to the front porch. Rather, we hear about it almost as soon as it happens.

[My point being that old media is increasingly irrelevant to all of us. New media now rules. End of diatribe. On with this entry...]

I'll admit to being slightly more than mildly annoyed by the breathless tone with which so-called entertainment "reporters" cover the celeb beat. Let's face it, I don't really care that some starlet went skiing in Vail over the weekend. It's pap, not news. And Mary Hart's cloying voice is enough to make me want to break a mirror with my bare hands and eat the shards, one by one.

Which is why I find the circus surrounding Anna Nicole Smith's life and death to be more than a little odious. The net result is a complete whitewashing of the fact that someone has died. It's a perverse exclamation mark on a life that was lived with difficulty and was ended before its time.

In the days to come, much will be written about Ms. Smith's passing. The only thing that sticks in my mind is a five-month-old baby girl who will never know her mom except through the tabloid-tinged recollections of a world that viewed her with scorn. I pray for that child, and wish her a life of happiness and charm, something her mother was never able to attain.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Things to do on a plane

Down the aisle
Northwest Airlines 757-200, Boston to Detroit, January 2007

When I fly, I'd much rather sit by the window. It allows me to see where we're going, to entertain myself, to avoid being rooked into a two-hour conversation with a photo-wallet-toting grandma. Make no mistake, I think photo-wallet-toting grandmas are sweet. But I don't want them bending my ear for hours on end when all I really want to do is get home.

Yeah, I'm ornery that way. I expect a nasty letter in my mailbox before long. But I digress.

So there I was in the plane on the way home from Boston. I had been mistakenly assigned an aisle seat and was something less than thrilled with Northwest's policy of charging passengers a $15 fee for the privilege of reassigning their own seeats. On principle, I silently told them they could keep their $15 and boarded the plane.

As I sat enjoying the non-existent in-flight entertainment and the occasional bursts of noise from the hyperactive group of 10-year-old boys a few rows up, I eyed my camera bag under the seat and considered my options.

The image above is the result. I got it into my head that long exposures on a plane might be fun to try. You don't want to know how hard it is to pull off a 25-second exposure in the middle of a single-aisle aircraft. In a post-9/11 world, I am now left wondering whether the airline has now flagged my name for future reference. Likely.

Your turn: Obviously, no snakes on a plane this time out. Still, I'd be interested to know what you see in this image. And when I say "see", I mean really see. Look hard and use your imagination.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chrome mystery

Vail, Colorado, November 2006 [Click to embiggen]

I like chromed, bright surfaces because they seem to show up especially well through a camera lens. So while walking through the ski village - no, I didn't bump into any celebs, as it was a week before the ski hills opened for business - I came across this small detail that caught my eye.

Any guesses?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Scenes from a diner

Time sits still
Pompano Beach, Florida, December 2006 [Click all images to enlarge]

The diner is as classic a component of American culture as you're ever likely to find. Even though these places pay homage to a time that existed long before my wife and I were born, our kids somehow connect with the diner experience. They come by it honestly: When we first moved to London, we found a place called the Five and Diner on a cold and lonely night in a lonely new town. Our then-two-year-old son made himself at home that night and never quite let go of the place.

After a few years, the restaurant closed and eventually reopened as a high-end Italian eatery. Our burg no longer has anything like it, and our now-12-year-old son still looks back at the vanished diner with fondness. Some things you just never forget.

So when we had an opportunity to go to a diner, Ronnie B's Taste of the 50s, with my in-laws, we jumped at the chance. We knew the kids would love being there, and it would be one of those simple experiences that they'd be able to hold onto long after the warmth of their time in Florida had faded.

I quietly took pictures as we waited for our meals to arrive. Joy was our server, and I'll remember her for her near-militant insistence that adding fluoride to municipal water systems is the work of the devil. I forget how we ended up on the topic, but before long she was bringing a binder full of research to the table for us to read. Weird, I know, but in an endearing way. Would you ever have such an experience at a Burger King? Didn't think so.

As I snapped away, I tried to capture the feel, the soul of the place. Diners are all about colors and textures that are no longer part of the modern palette, and I often wonder what it is about this particular era that drives these powerful and long-lived images. Between the pastel-colored vinyl seats, brushed chrome chairs and formica-topped tables, curved and frosted glasses, ubiquitous neon and endless posters on the walls, it was difficult to tear my eyes away from this unique place. I guess I've got a nostalgic soul, because it seemed comforting - this despite the fact that I never experienced the era in the first place.

Maybe we all wish we could go back to a seemingly simpler time. Maybe we view places like this as oases from a world that seems to become more frenetic with each passing day. Where we can return for a simple meal in a homey place, and friendly service from folks we won't soon forget.

Whatever the draw is, I can't wait to go back. Neither can our little folks.

Your turn: '50s nostalgia. Please discuss.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Institutional green

Since photography is in many ways the art and the science of light, I hope you'll come on a little exploration with me. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is simple: Take a look at this picture, then come on back to this one (you can click it to enlarge, if you wish.)

Both of them were taken in front of the same building in a condo development in Florida. The green paint on the stairs of the initial image is the same as the green paint on the ground in this photo.

Yet the stairs almost leap off the screen with a sense of pastel-soaked vibrancy. The green here, on the other hand, combines with the dull-ish white on the walls and the faded-yellow security lights to suggest something more akin to the long, lonely halls of a deserted hospital ward.

It isn't really like that, of course, but it exemplifies how an apparently minor change in lighting and composition can so completely change the tone. It reminds me that a picture isn't an absolute truth, but is an interpretation of reality that can change based on the photographer's perspectives and biases at the moment the image was taken. All is not always as it seems in a picture.

This photo doesn't exude brilliance like the first one. I almost deleted it off the camera when I first took it. But the more I looked at it, the more I was drawn to the intricacies of photography that made this such a different storytelling experience this time out.

I decided it made sense to keep the image. I liked the geometry, I liked the mood, and I liked the idea that I could always return to this place and tell another story on a brighter day.

Your turn: How does light influence you?

Caption This 4

[Caption to be provided by...YOU!]
Lake Worth, Florida, December 2006 [Click to enlarge to size 13 or so]

The majority of respondents to last week's Caption This entry were touched by how sad the subject of the picture looked. I was heartened to receive this feedback, because identical thoughts raced through my head as I raised my camera and took the shot.

Moon came closest, in my opinion, to capturing the dark thoughts surrounding this image. Her suggested caption - ''If I could do it over again'' - hit the emotional target.

I don't know where the subject of my surreptitious photo is now. Likely still floating up and down the street that sits between the beautiful beach and the somewhat dodgy neighborhood just across the bridge. Wherever she is, I hope she finds comfort from her sadness, from her transient life.

This week's image was taken just across the street from where this woman sat as she stared endlessly at the endless ocean. Footsteps in the sand have a poetry all their own; they're there, and then they're not. I thought this image would be a great candidate for Caption This.

Your turn: If you haven't played Caption This before, click here for the rules. Click the CT label in the sidebar for all entries to-date. And have fun with your submission!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Remembering the dead

On my way home from dropping the kids off at a playdate last week, I took a few minutes to stop in a church graveyard. It's the same place where I snapped off this image last December, and the contrast in tone was stunning. The last time I was here, the place was bathed in the warm orange glow of a setting sun. This time, I was there on a bitterly cold, snowy and gray afternoon. I had no agenda beyond briefly walking around the place and looking for something to inspire my eye. It didn't take long to find two scenes worth remembering.

Flowers on a headstone
Arva, Ontario, January 2007 [Click both images to embiggen]

It's obvious that these flowers aren't real. But that does little to hide the contrast between the gray-white monotony of the graveyard and the flash of color atop this headstone. As soon as I saw this bouquet, I wondered who left it there, and when. I wondered about the life story of the person being remembered. And the feeling that here behind a silent church on a winter's day, all these souls seemed to have been forgotten.

Tomb of the unknown...
Arva, Ontario, January 2007

An ancient-looking headstone stands guard over the others. The lettering on all the graves faced away from me, and from my vantage point on the pathway surrounding the site, I felt it would be disrespectful to proceed further (of course, one could always say I was being disrespectful in the first place by simply being on the periphery, but a photographer has to walk a fine line, and I felt I had gone far enough.)

So I shot from the back and hoped the forlorn shapes and forms would effectively evoke the feeling of this timeless place. After I captured this image, I tucked the camera back into my coat, buried my now-frozen hands in my pockets and headed back to the car. I wondered how long it would be before I'd feel compelled to return.

Your turn: Would you shoot in a graveyard? Does it push the moral bounds?

This just in...

I've been quoted in today's New York Times (!) in a piece by Brad Stone. The piece is entitled Cellphone Envy Lays Motorola Low (alternate link here.) The article is about Motorola's recent difficulties - operating margins crashing, profits under siege, layoffs, etc. - and the possible reasons behind them. Here's my snippet:
Analysts and consumers view many of these new phones as mere Razr knock-offs, with derivative, vowel-challenged names like the Pebl, Slvr, Rizr and Rckr.

“Phone manufacturers are only as hot as their last major hit — if they haven’t smacked it over the fence in a while, they’re in trouble,” said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst for the Info-Tech Research Group. “Motorola failed to follow it up with something similarly as big as the Razr.”
It's been a good media week, and I'll post links when I have some time. For now, Google News is a pretty good tool for keeping track of where my name pops up in the world.

The article also appeared in Friday's International Herald Tribune, entitled Motorola's fortunes plunge as Razr loses must-have status: buyers pay more to look hip. Other papers running the article include The Wilmington Star (NC), The Times Daily (AL), The Ledger, and the Spartanburg Herald Journal (SC).

I guess I'll be buying a copy of the paper in the morning!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Light from above

Hanging lamps in a beloved place
Laval, Quebec, December 2006

When we take the kids to see their grandparents, we always take them to their favorite breakfast restaurant known as Allo Mon Coco, which translates directly as, "Hello, my coconut," but in Quebecois slang is actually an endearing way to greet someone - coconut being analogous to sweet.

We've evolved something of a tradition: on the morning when we head back home, we go out for breakfast there, then say goodbye to everyone from the parking lot. I suppose we could go to any old breakfast place, but the kids really love AMC and clamor to be taken there. While I'm sure it helps that the servers are extremely gregarious and friendly, and they indulge our kids as if they were their own, I suspect there's more to it for them: Our munchkins associate this homey place with their grandparents, with a comfortably predictable time and place that they can count on every time they come to visit. In many respects, it's more than just breakfast to them.

Just before we hit the road on our most recent visit home, I captured this image of the lights that hang over the tables. It was handheld, so I was forced to use a wide-open aperture that minimized depth of field. But I liked the composition, the way it led the eye diagonally toward the back of the image. More importantly, it takes me back to a place that never fails to make my kids happy.

Your turn: Photos can take us back to places and evoke strong feelings. Please discuss.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Gecko adventure

Here's a picture of a little critter I met one warm night in Florida. The kids found him in the house, and I got it into my head that I should try to get the tiny, harmless lizard out of the house without reducing him (her? I never know...) to a flattened mess.

We've got precedent in our family: to the best of my ability, I try to return spiders safely to the lawn because killing them seems to send the wrong message to our kids. I figured this was the right time to practice my gecko-wrangling skills.

So with the kids watching my every move, I chased the fast-moving gecko through the den, carefully moving furniture every time he/she scooted to a new location. After what seemed like an eternity but was likely no more than a couple of minutes, I managed to corral him/her into a plastic grocery bag. As I quickly walked toward the front door, I hastily grabbed my camera before going outside to set him/her loose.

I snapped this picture just before the munchkin disappeared into the grass. The dustbunny was a nice touch...I hope it shook itself off before long.

Your turn: Do you squish interlopers, or do you try to save 'em? Why/why not?