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.