Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Like most people, I seem to want more than I have. I spend more time thinking about the things that I aspire to than the things that are already under my roof. Even my roof isn't good enough, apparently: I want a bigger one that covers more rooms. I spend a lot of time working on career-related stuff so that we'll be able to afford that bigger roof someday soon.

But then I'll cross paths with someone who wishes he had a roof to begin with, who has no hope of ever being able to do the kind of work that will help him achieve that within his lifetime. And suddenly my life seems much more charmed than it did just a moment before.

Your turn: What are you thankful for? Why do we seem to forget about all we have as we dream about what we don't?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Two birds, two altitudes

I spend so much time shooting closeup objects that don't have the ability to run away that sometimes I forget what it's like to shoot in the wide open spaces.

I saw this scene in, of all places, the parking lot of the nearby Wal-Mart. To regular visitors, I know this seems like a recurring theme: when I find myself in the middle of retail hell, I turn to my lens for a little bit of cultural salvation.

Whatever the source, it often leads to workable pictures. In this case, I thought the thin, high-level clouds made for a neat vista. My intention was to simply shoot the sky in the hope of getting a decent backdrop for my Windows desktop.

But plans are always subject to change. An invisible airplane drew a contrail across the sky, and then the gulls started to criss-cross the asphalt wasteland. With a bit of wide-angle and some patience, I had my keeper image.

It isn't much useful for the desktop of an operating system. But I think it's a neat picture anyway.

Your turn: How do you cope with the boobs who seem to populate the aisles of your local Wal-Mart, Target, or [fill in your own oversized retail big box store here]? Does common courtesy disappear as soon as folks take control of a shopping cart?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Scenes from a restaurant table

We went out to dinner the other night to celebrate Zach's birthday. He chose Jack Astor's, which is a fairly typical family-style restaurant that differentiates itself with a kinda-fun, slightly irreverent attitude and tables covered with barely-recycled paper that invites kids and not-really-kids to draw all over the place with crayons.

It's far from fine dining. But the food's good, and It Absolutely Is Not McDonald's. So it was, by definition, a very good choice. Like many restaurants these days, they turn down the ambient lighting. Way down. Either they want to make it look more dramatic, or they want to hide the dirt. To compensate, they have bright, focused directional lighting over each table. The lighting fascinated me, so in the few minutes before our food arrived, I took my camera out and played a bit.

The three images below are all related topically. My only goal was to explore the light. The subject matter was decidedly regular. But that was the point.

Image #1 above was a fun one. I had forgotten to bring my tripod, but the lighting was too dim to allow handholding. I didn't want to use the flash - because that would pretty much defeat the entire purpose of exploring the neat lighting. So I balanced the camera and its rather longish lens on top of an upturned pile of bread plates. I used the shoulder strap to keep the thing from shifting, and finally used the self-timer to ensure a steady 2.5-second exposure.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I noticed a friendly face in the final result. Our daughter, who always takes the routine and makes it special, managed to do it with this image as well.

The glasses fascinated me because of their color and texture. Disclosure: they weren't glasses. Rather, they were plastic. But that didn't make them any less neat to look at, especially under that light. So I composed close-up and hoped for the best.

Salt and pepper shakers lead a sad little existence. We're usually in such a rush to prepare our food and wolf it down that we don't pay any attention to their form. I'm not a fan of salt and/or pepper, so I tend to pay even less attention to them. But under the light, these almost asked for a picture. I'll keep an eye out for more shakers in future: I like this one.

As I become more comfortable with the new camera (it's a Nikon D80, and most of my images are shot with the Nikon 18-135 ED lens), I'm starting to feel more happiness with the results I'm bringing home. The images are starting to more closely reflect what I originally set out to capture. The tool is starting to become familiar, and I've got to admit that I'm enjoying it immensely. I hope you are, too.

Your turn: I've enjoyed wrapping a blog entry around more than one picture; so much so that I'm going to try more explorations-of-the-ordinary in upcoming posts. Do you think this is a good idea? Did you enjoy this one? Do you have any routine kinds of topics that I should try in an upcoming post? Where should I take my camera and my pen next time out?

Stare out the window

I had every intention of getting outside today. But Mother Nature apparently had other plans. It didn't just rain. It rained almost sideways, driven by a wind that spawned wind warnings across the province and made me wonder whether or not I had remembered to tie down the umbrella.

[Note to my wife: I forgot. We'll need a new umbrella next spring. Yes, I feel guilty. But I digress.]

As much as I wanted to take the camera outside to capture the fun, I realized that wind and rain do not mix well with electronics. Yes, folks, like a high-strung warplane that can only be maintained in a pristine facility staffed by clean suit-wearing technicians, my vaunted new piece of photographic wizardry isn't waterproof.

So I did the next best thing: I walked around the house trying to figure out where the wind was coming from. When I determined it was rolling in from the north, I set up the tripod by a particularly soaked window and focused rather tightly on the streams of water cascading down the outer surface. I tried a few aperture/shutter speed combinations before settling on f/10 and 1/15 sec as the optimal balance of sharp water and moody/muddy background.

My daughter, who I had asked to scooch over from her comfy spot on the floor so that I could plant my tripod at just the right spot, was not impressed.

Your turn: Are you? Is shooting out the window a worthwhile thing to do when you can't go outside and play?

Quick photographic-tech note: This is a color shot that looks b&w. Anyone who's been reading me long enough knows I go through phases like this every once in a while. Anyone who hasn't been reading me long now has an excuse to dig into the archives. Go ahead, I'll wait :)

One more thing: The title of this entry is significant. Care to venture a guess?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hanging on

It's a sad day when we realize the colors of autumn have peaked and all that's left is a headlong rush toward a landscape of bare trees under a steel-gray sky. I suspect that day might have already happened here in the wilds of southwestern Ontario, but I don't much worry about it.

Even if the season is about to take a monochrome turn, I figure it's simply another palette to explore, another challenge to take on through the lens. And if I find myself wanting to see some color, I can always click on the archives here for a quick dose before returning to reality.

Your turn: What will you be capturing this autumn and winter? How will you keep it interesting?

Friday, October 27, 2006


Sometimes, you take a picture not because it's spectacular, but because it is not. Because regardless of whether you choose to actually take the shot, the scene will nevertheless play out in front of you again and again. So you either ignore it and go through the motions with each passing day, or you capture it tangibly so that you can explore it with a little more thought and grace the next time you sit down for your tea.

The choice, as always, rests with you.

Your turn: Scenes of the everyday. Which one will you capture next? Why?

Eat your greens

My wife and I spent some very rare time alone in the grocery store last week (read about it on her blog here.) It was nice to walk quietly among the obscenely packed rows of food, holding her hand and not having to chase after the little folks. Of course, we adore our little folks, but we also adore the very occasional times when we get to be a couple again.

When I wasn't holding her hand, I was fiddling with my camera, looking for new targets of photographic opportunity. I found it in the kale bin, just after the automatic sprinklers had done their thing. Wet leaves seem to have a texture all their own, don't you think?

Your turn: What does being alone mean to you?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Almost a teenager

He's been a pre-teen for longer than I can remember, yet it still seems like yesterday that we first drove him home from the hospital.

As our eldest son, Zach, celebrates his 12th birthday today, I find myself asking how 12 years managed to fly by so quickly, and I wonder if I've done a good enough job trying to capture it all.

We became parents when we had him, and we learned the ropes as he outgrew one stage and transitioned into the next. He taught us to trust our instincts as parents, to have confidence in our ability to shepherd him from newborn to almost-adult - and eventually beyond. We worried at first that we'd somehow break or damage him by doing the wrong thing. But somehow, we miraculously got him to this stage, to the point that he's beginning to spread his own wings in his increasingly expansive world.

He seems to grow taller with each passing day, and will likely be looking down on his mother before too many more birthdays have passed. But as much as we try to remember what it was like to cradle him in our arms and revel in the newness of parenthood, we realize the true magic of our collective journey lies in his ability to take increasingly large steps on his own, to establish himself not only as our son, but as his own person.

Which he will no doubt do as he continues to grow. He's smart, sensitive, and caring. He's big brother to his brother and sister, who despite the usual friction that accompanies sibling relationships, look up to him and play happily in his orbit. He's a good kid, one any parent would be glad to call his or her own. Which we do. Happy birthday, not-so-little-man.

Your turn: What would you wish for Zach on his birthday?

But wait, there's more: In case you haven't read his 11th birthday entry from last year, click here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Branching out

Life is full of small joys that, while they don't always garner headlines or make for great discussion fodder at a party, seem to drive home rather effectively why it's a good thing that we're spending time on this planet.

The neat thing about so many of these so-called little joys is that you never know when they'll present themselves. You don't plan for any specific one: you simply open your eyes a little more and hope that you'll know what you're looking for when it crosses your path.

One of my recent small joys is that I get to walk our eldest son to school. He switched schools this year, and although we all worried a bit about the size - it's ten times the size of his old school - and the overall degee of change, it's turned into a blessing. He's settling in, making friends, and enjoying the process of learning and growing.

I also get to walk him the few blocks to school before I head to work. It's a quick walk, and at the age of 11 - 12 tomorrow! - he can easily do it himself. But I'm happy to make that walk with him for as long as he wants to because it's easily one of those little, quiet joys. And when he surreptitiously tells my wife that he really likes when I walk with him, I know we've struck a happy nerve, and I'd be silly if I didn't hold onto this gift of some alone-time with our son for as long as possible.

I pondered the importance of all of this yesterday morning as I left him in the playground and turned for home. As I exited the school grounds, I noticed berries on an almost-bare tree, dripping with water from the rains that have blanketed our area for days. Only they weren't really dripping: the drops were simply hanging, glistening in the dull sun that managed to peek through the thick clouds. It was an unexpected, inspiring sight. And I had no camera, so I made a mental note to return.

As I rounded the last corner beside our house, I noticed another tree, this one with water hanging off the branches. Same thing: sun and inspiration. Only this time, I was mere steps away from my camera. So I fetched it, and snapped off a few fast ones before heading to work. There's no real artistry or preparation here: just a picture of a small moment when everything seemed to make sense.

Your turn: What does one of your small moments look like?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crime creeps closer...

Periodically, ideas pop into my head, and I soon find myself reaching for my laptop and tossing words on the screen. It's part of my bizarro writer's ethic that ensures every day, I write at least one thing that is personal, unstructured, and unassigned. It's like exercise, and it follows advice I received years ago that likened the gift of writing to a muscle, and it must be used and pushed every day.

So here's a piece that may or may not evolve into something at some point. But I liked how it evolved, and thought I'd share it here:
Nowhere to Hide
By Carmi Levy

In the end, we’re all the same.

When we first hear about a murder, rape or other violent crime in our city, we play a quick game of criminal geography. We read a few paragraphs down to determine where the crime occurred.

Then we begin to rationalize. It didn’t happen here. It was in the east end of town, where most people rent their homes, take the bus to work, drive beat-up old cars, and lead otherwise working class lives. We concoct any number of misguided black-and-white assumptions about the people who live “there” and not “here” as we blindly try to make ourselves feel better about our places in an increasingly chaotic world.

We heave a sigh of relief, comfortable not only that it can’t happen here, but that once again it didn’t.

That sense of security is, of course, false. It can indeed happen here. It can happen anywhere. And no amount of social climbing or silent elitism can change that fact or otherwise enhance our personal safety.

Violent crime isn’t supposed to happen in rural Pennsylvania, least of all to highly religious, clean-living and peace-loving Amish. Yet five Amish girls died last month when a deranged gunman lined them up against the wall of their one-room schoolhouse and executed them.

Violent crime isn’t supposed to happen in my old school, in a downtown Montreal college cafeteria. A promising 18-year-old woman who loved pink isn’t supposed to be shot dead by a gun-toting, goth-worshipping freak. Yet she was.

Violent crime isn’t supposed to happen in a quiet, leafy suburb, just down the street from my sleeping family. Yet when gunfire erupted in the middle of an August night, it did.

Assuming that good neighbourhoods somehow offer more protection won’t make us any safer. Stigmatizing those who live east of Adelaide – a longstanding yet unwritten London tradition – hardly keeps crime away from other areas. Yet we continue to believe in this separatist ideal, if only to make ourselves feel better that we made better choices than the poor, lower-class souls who got shot, robbed or assaulted.

In so many ways, society’s condescending way of viewing victims of violent crime and the neighbourhoods where these crimes occur is a large part of the problem. We separate ourselves, physically and psychologically, from those with whom we share our city. We don’t ride the bus because it’s somehow below us. We avoid our downtown like the plague because we can’t – or won’t – face the sometimes-ugly realities of living in a mid-sized city.

Yet it is this very strategy of exclusion that lies at the root of today’s decay. We spend so much time trying to get out of the wrong neighbourhoods and into the right ones. Once we arrive, we drive up to our snout homes, barely pausing in the driveway to give the automatic garage door openers enough time to work. We live alongside neighbours who we barely know because we no longer take the time to learn their names. How can we when we no longer walk the streets where we live?

The idealist in me believes that the isolationist ideals at the core of suburban and exurban society need not be our ultimate destiny. My rose-colored view of the world includes next-door neighbours who no longer stare awestruck into the local television cameras and blindly proclaim that the kid who just shot up the local school seemed like a good kid from a quiet family. Maybe if we all took a little more time to speak across the fence, gun-toting freaks wouldn’t fester silently before exploding tragically.

Sure, it’s a laughably utopian way of thinking. But it has to start somewhere. Otherwise, violent crime will continue to creep ever deeper into the areas we always thought were safe. And we’ll continue to shrug our shoulders as we seek yet another magic solution to a problem that seemingly offers none.

Your turn: Are there any solutions? Can there be true safe haven from crime? How does your response make you feel?

Monday, October 23, 2006


This is what happens when a well-meaning wife and mother allows her husband to go to the mall with his camera. This is what happens when said husband decides to practice some high-speed imagery at the mall.

Thankfully, no security guard happened upon said husband while he was busy with his photographic play session. The results, alas, likely would not have been pretty.

Your turn: What's there to see at the mall?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A photographer grows

I've written before about how our eldest son, Zach, has been nurturing a growing interest in photography. I've been quietly assembling some of his work, and I'm posting the first example in this entry.

This is a view of Gibeau Orange Julep in Montreal. It's what you see here, a giant orange. The place is famously known as "OJ" or "OJ's", and it is a mecca for folks looking for a quick drive-up snack. They sell all sorts of junk food - hot dogs, sandwiches, fries, etc. - but their signature is their namesake drink. Drinking an OJ is like drinking a little piece of heaven. And every time we return home - well, to our former home - a pilgrimmage to OJ is usually on the agenda.

Zach captured this view of the back side of the building, late in the afternoon. We were there with my mom, who stayed back in the car while we walked slowly around the parking lot and looked for things that interested us. He managed to snag a stark, simple vision of something that's been a part of our family's life for longer than he's been alive. His vision is, in so many ways, precisely like mine. Which means he'll likely exceed me as he gets older. That would be a blessing indeed.

Your turn: What advice would you give my son if you could speak to him?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Layered mystery

I took this picture on Wednesday evening. The kids were at an activity, and I had been running all over town so that I could be there to watch them, then zip home to do a live radio interview (CFRB 1010 in Toronto) and then head back to them before they were done. It made for a really stressed couple of hours, but in the end I managed to be a dad, pull off the interview and generally keep all the balls in the air.

In the middle of the insanity, I grabbed my camera bag. I wanted to capture pictures of the kids, and thought I'd be able to sneak some images in when I wasn't otherwise busy cramming for the interview or watching them. It was multitasking, but I didn't want to miss out on some of the scenes from a memorable moment with the little folks.

I shot this one just as we were getting ready to head home. It was finally quiet, and I had a couple of minutes to look around for interesting scenes. I found this one and zoomed in on it.

Can you guess what it is? Can you tell us what this reminds you of?

Update - Sunday 10:15 a.m. - The Answer
Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to wonder about and ruminate over this image. Looking through the comments, I am amazed at how creative you all are. This is the kind of picture that really makes the mind wander, and you all proved yourselves eminently capable of that.

The activity in question was swimming. The Canada Games Aquatic Centre - formerly the London Aquatic Centre - is not far from our home. It features a pretty striking architectural design. To describe it briefly, it is like a giant Quonsett hut, somewhat squared off at the edges, set at an angle so that one end of it is quite a bit higher than the other. Either end is capped by a giant wall of windows. It's a striking building that looks especially impressive at night, when the light from inside turns it into a beacon for the neighborhood.

As you can imagine, a giant metal tube-like structure with two giant pools inside can be a tremendously noisy place. So to keep the sound in check, they've hung big strips of fabric on the ceiling. They're attached at various points along their length, reminding me somewhat of the bunting that graces almost every American political function. To capture this image, I simply braced myself against the side of the building, pointed up, focused, and shot, gently.

In the absence of context, the picture can quite literally be of anything the imagination believes. This is why I love photography. I've pasted a few images of the broader scene to help place it all in its appropriate context.

Thanks again for playing along. Although I realize the whole suspense thing can be a little on the frustrating side, I hope you'll agree that it is, all things considered, a pretty neat learning experience. The question remains, should I keep doing this?

Friday, October 20, 2006


Because everyone should turn the marmalade jar on its side and see what it looks like from underneath. Because some things beg to be looked at from a different perspective. Because it tastes better after you've seen the subtle shades of orange cast through it by the morning sun. Just because.

Your turn:
After seeing this, what are you going to look at differently?

But wait, there's more: I posted a followup entry containing another image taken during this series. It's called Jammed redux. I hope you enjoy my not-quite-surreptitious peeks at the breakfast table.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A picture is worth a thousand words

This is Dahlia just after she had her hair cut. This is me capturing Dahlia in a picture just after she had her hair cut. This is Dahlia giving me The Look as I captured her in a picture just after she had her hair cut. I love this picture for so many reasons, and hope that you do, too.

I know that having a camera almost constantly in my hand is a source of occasional annoyance to our kids - especially to our daughter. But I also know that it allows us to create a record of our lives that we never had as kids.

Sure, photography existed in the pre-cambrian era that defines my childhood. But our parents tended to see photography as a special-events-only thing. The camera came out on birthdays and holidays, for the most part. It stayed tucked away for pretty much the rest of the year. When it made its rare appearances, the same poses were arranged. We weren't supposed to make funny faces or otherwise compromise the precious image.

Of course, I always made a funny face. And the relatively few pictures from my childhood are dotted with poses that some would say "ruined" the picture. But that was - and is - me. And photography isn't about perfection anyway. It's about capturing the nuances of life, even if they fall a little short of the mythical bar set by the person taking the picture or by others who view it.

I hope our kids have a much bigger database to draw from when they're older. I'm privileged to have the opportunity to make it happen.

Your turn: Photography as a life-storytelling endeavor. True? False? Why? Why not?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Free bird. Distant sun

Pretty soon, they'll all be gone, likely sitting on a warm beach somewhere far away. I'd sure like to join them. I suspect everyone who reads this will reach a similar conclusion.

Your turn: This picture says "distance" to me. What's it saying to you?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Death of a soldier

I published this in the paper last month. I share it now because yesterday, London's first soldier to die in Afghanistan was laid to rest here (more background here and here.) Trooper Mark Andrew Wilson was 39. He leaves a wife and two sons, 17 and 11. I can't stop thinking about his family, about his 11-year-old son who no longer has a father. About my 11-year-old son who does, simply because I chose to pick up a pen for a living while another man alternatively chose to risk his own life.

I thought it would be appropriate to post this now, because the consistent pace of Canadian dead (now up to 42) from a conflict whose basis is murky even on a clear day begs us to question the why behind the sacrifice.

Note, you can easily replace "Canadian" with "American", and substitute in "Iraq" wherever you wish. This is an issue that sadly knows no national limits, a pain that touches too many lives in communities that already live with enough hardship. I don't take sides in the issue as much as I feel compelled to serve it up for discussion. We'll see where it goes from there.
Task in Afghanistan ignores a duty here
Published Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The London Free Press
By Carmi Levy

Many of us have driven cars that spent more time being repaired than on the road. We eventually realized any more investment would be a waste of money, so we cut our losses and just let them go.

Canada lost another four soldiers in Afghanistan yesterday. A bicycle-riding suicide bomber attacked them as they reportedly handed out candy to children. It makes me wonder if our mission there has passed that shadowy point of no return.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week Canada owes it to the people of Afghanistan to "help them finish the job." But she didn't say precisely what that job was. She failed to define what success means in this land that breeds terrorists and stubbornly clings to its opium-producing economy.

I'm not sure we owe anything to people who may not want to be saved. I think our government owes it to the people of Canada to define how much we're willing to sacrifice before we decide the so-called "job" may never be possible to complete.

Your turn: War (actually, this war.) Our involvement in same. Please discuss.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Morning on the front porch

While fetching the paper at breakfast last week, I decided I liked the gentle pinkish hue of the morning sky. I fetched the camera and quickly grabbed the moment before it disappeared. I didn't want to even bother setting up the tripod. I just sat down on the front stairs, braced my arms as best I could, and gently squeezed off the shot.

There isn't anything earth-shattering about the composition, but sometimes photography is more about remembering a point in time than achieving the pinnacle of artistic excellence. Or something like that.

Your turn: I hope you'll share a fleeting moment in a comment. Even better, I hope you'll keep this entry in mind the next time one of these moments presents itself to you.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Beauty in a forgotten place

I went on a walkabout yesterday around lunchtime. The new camera gives me many built-in excuses to try it out, to grab snippets of the world around me in the name of learning my way around this strangely magical black piece of glass, plastic and technology. My wife, thankfully, is highly understanding.

My goal this time: A ravine near my house that's chock full of trees. My intent was to capture some brilliant colors before the whole works came tumbling down. I left the house with visions of coming home with scenes of spectacular yellows, oranges and reds.

As I meandered through the mucky path in search of my colorful prey, I couldn't help but notice the depth of leaves already on the ground. Unlike a city-owned park or a private lawn, this wasn't some pristinely cared-for, sprayed and raked stretch of grass. It was nature as it existed long before we came along.

In the end, I brought home some images that scored off the color charts. But it was this one that stuck with me; a forlorn leaf, sitting forgotten amid layers of other forlorn leaves, ignored by everyone who passes by in search of the more glamorous ones. An analogy of life, perhaps.

I snapped this one quickly. The light was iffy due to the still-thick canopy above and the thick cloud cover that occasionally and unpredictably gave way to brilliant sunshine. I didn't even bother with the tripod: I just stooped down, composed and shot. The image shouldn't have even come out. But it did, and I found myself staring at it on the camera's screen as I trudged the last couple of blocks back to my house. The yellows, oranges and reds may get all the headlines, but this is fall to me.

Your turn: Why are the plain janes of our world so much more interesting to contemplate than the debutantes? Why do the debutantes still garner the most attention? What does it say about us that this is so?

A critter visits

Some days, I absolutely love living in a mid-sized city with a perpetual inferiority complex. London seems to be perpetually trying to prove that it's world-class, that it ranks with the biggest and the best, that is has the heft to attract big stars and assert its influence on the rest of the planet.

We did, after all, recently hold a Paul Haggis Day to welcome our prodigal, Oscar-winning son back home. This was front-page news for days as everyone from politicos to journos fought to wave the I'm-with-London banner. It was amusing to watch, but was it news? Although I was a die hard Due South fan, I concluded not so much.

Inevitably, we're so intent on proving ourselves that we end up looking small town-ish. True stars never have to act as such. They simply are, and the rest of the world comes to them. It's a lesson this city might want to study.

All of this makes for an interesting backdrop to the latest debate to rock our town: that of our official city rodent. There's a move afoot to have the black squirrel declared our official mascot. The letters pages in the paper have been filled with pro and con opinions about what this would or would not say about our city.

So while the kids were getting haircuts yesterday, I noticed a chipmunk on the balcony outside our hairdresser's home. I had my camera with me (y'all know me by now, right?) so I captured the little critter before he (she? I can never tell) skittered away.

The debate over official civic vermin can continue. Something tells me this little munchkin couldn't care less.

Your turn: Does your city/town/county have a similar complex about its place in the world? Should animals be held up as mascots, or do we all have better things to do with our time?

One more thing: Do you like the picture? Should I continue to stalk small animals?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Nutritionally balanced breakfast

As a native of Montreal, I've long believed that Montreal bagels are pretty special. When we lived in town, it wasn't unusual for us to make late-night bagel runs to Fairmount Bagel. They were so hot and fresh that we often had considerably less than a dozen left by the time we made it back home.

When we moved to London, we came to a city whose idea of a bagel is a roll with a hole in it. There are no real bakeries here (I know, shocking) and that likely won't change given this burg's whitebread sheen. Montreal bagels are, frankly, in a league of their own. We often load up on them whenever we visit the old country, and carefully parcel them out to ensure they last.

A good friend was kind enough to bring us some Fairmount bagels after a recent trip to Montreal. I felt that if we ate them without additional fanfare, we'd be missing an opportunity to capture the magic. So I took a little time before breakfast today to capture them in all their glory.

Your turn: Does this picture make you hungry? Do you do bagels, too?

Friday, October 13, 2006


LaGuardia Airport, September 7, 2006, 9:14 a.m.

I was pleasantly surprised by everyone's response to my winding road entry, so I thought I'd continue the theme with this next image. I captured this image as I headed home from New York City last month. I always tend to get reflective on these journeys, so when I saw the brilliant sun and its shadows on the polished floor of the corridor just before the security area, I thought it was worth remembering.

As always, it begets another question...

Your turn: Where are you headed today (be literal, be figurative, or be whimsical...go nuts.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Slightly curved country road

I faced an interesting conundrum with this one. I really wanted to break out the tripod so that I could use a longer exposure - and hence a smaller aperture for greater depth of field*. Problem was, I was concerned about being flattened by a passing vehicle. It's a country road, so there isn't usually a whole lot of traffic. But all it takes is one to thoroughly ruin your day, and it's easier to scoot to the side of the road if you're handholding than if you're dragging a camera on a tripod.

So handheld it was. I shot quickly before retreating to the safety of the shoulder. In the end, I rather liked the final composition; the narrower DOF makes the distant road look more distant. Which tells a better story. I think.

Your turn: Why do roads beg to be photographed? Where is this one going?

*See here for some photo-definitions.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A toast to NYC

I don't enjoy drinking wine as much as I enjoy taking pictures of it. So when I found myself on New York's Chelsea Pier with some of the smartest folks in the technology industry, I did what most normal folks would do: I put my wine glass down and pulled out my camera.

It attracted a bit of attention, as my lens-based antics so often do, and the ensuing discussions with the aforementioned brilliant people will resonate in my mind far longer than the effects of the wine would have. I highly recommend hanging around intelligent, dedicated souls, because it makes you a better person in the process.

Your turn: How do you get yourself noticed at parties?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fading green

Summer's greens are rapidly turning into autumn's brilliant yellows, oranges and reds. Yet for all the short-lived and colorful drama at the end of the season, it's the simple scene of backlit green leaves that sticks in my mind.

I've always found it odd that our landscape is a verdant green for well over half the year, yet our cameras don't come out until green gives way to every other color in the spectrum. I thought I'd balance things out a little bit, and remind myself what our world will look like in six short months - and for six full months thereafter.

Your turn: Are you sad, happy or indifferent that the leaves are falling along with the temperature? Will you be capturing some green along the way?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Where Carmi becomes a podcaster

Last week, I was interviewed by Rob Snow from CFRA, a major news/talk radio station in Ottawa, Ontario. I've spoken with Mr. Snow on many occasions about all things tech, and this time out we spoke about the rumored Google buyout of YouTube. (I initially posted about it here.)

In addition to being our national capital, Ottawa is known as Silicon Valley North, Canada's version of a high-tech corridor. So when tech news hits the headlines, I often get called to chat with him because it's especially meaningful to CFRA's audience.

I've been looking for a better way to host audio content on my blog, and I think I may have found the answer in podcasting:
I've posted the interview from Friday, and will continue to upload more audio content as it hits the airwaves.

Your turn: I'd be interested to hear what you think - both about my somewhat experimental podcasting solution and about this interview. Can you hear everything OK? Does it demand any twiddling or fiddling on your end or is it fairly straightforward? Do I sound like a dork? As always, thank you so much for your feedback and support.

This just in (4:30 p.m.): It's official. Google will proceed with a $1.65 billion buyout of YouTube.

Oeuf means egg

The shell of an egg is a perfectly engineered example of nature. Lightweight and incredibly strong in precisely the right places, it protects and nurtures its precious cargo before it gives way and allows new life to take flight.

I was being my typically annoying self in the kitchen this weekend when I spotted a few eggs in the fridge. Before I could stop myself, I popped them into a bowl and brought them to the table. Our kitchen has a south-facing set of windows, so anything that sits on the happy end of the table is bathed in nice, even light. Just right for my strange brand of still life photography.

I tossed the camera on the tripod and experimented with some long exposures (this one's a five-second shot). All I wanted was a simple, monochrome illustration of shape and texture. Yet for some reason, the simplest compositions seem to be the ones that I stare at for the longest period of time. What gives?

Your turn: What's in your fridge? Is it photo-worthy?

Your turn #2: Bonus points if you can identify the source of this entry's title.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rusting pipes

There's an old strip mall a few blocks away from our house that is home to, among other things, our neighborhood supermarket, video store, Tim Hortons (for coffee addicts), and library. It's your typical suburban strip mall architecture that was forgettable when it was first built, and is even less memorable now that its been worn down by a few decades of routine existence.

As Zach and I were out on our capture-the-fall-colors walk yesterday, we thought we'd reward ourselves with a stopover at Tim's. There's something nice about sitting down in the local coffee/donut shop on a quiet afternoon and chatting with your son about the pictures you just took and the ones you've yet to take. It's the kind of moment that doesn't happen as often as it should, and I was reminded yesterday that I need to increase the frequency.

As we approached Tim's, we walked along the side of the strip mall, and passed an otherwise forgettable assembly of pipes. They're slowly rusting into oblivion, yet they continue to - somewhat frighteningly - supply natural gas to the entire facility. We've never stopped to look at them before. But in the late afternoon sun, Zach liked the forlorn look of them.

He's learning an important lesson early: Even when the architecture is old and forgettable, there's always something of interest to capture. Sometimes, it just takes a little digging.

Your turn: What's the first thing that comes to mind when you see images like these? What is it about them that attracts your attention?

Capturing fall's colors

I went for a walk yesterday with our eldest son. Zach is 11, and I've written previously about his growing interest in photography. We bought him his first camera last winter, and since then he and I have taken periodic strolls with no agenda beyond capturing whatever jumps out at us along the way. It's a thrill for me to see him talk his way through a picture: in so many ways, I'm watching myself learn the ropes all over again.

We set off late in the afternoon in hopes of capturing some of the deepening colors of fall. The setting sun was something of a double-edged sword in that it added drama to the landscape, but the shadows it cast made that drama tough to capture. Was it too much for a new photographer? Maybe. But it gave us lots to talk about as we slowly made our way through the neighborhood.

I found this forlorn pair of leaves along an almost-forgotten pathway. I'm keenly aware that a black-and-white picture defeats the whole purpose of capturing autumn's brilliant colors. But it was the composition and simplicity that got me. Here we were, enjoying a quiet and simple experience. So I thought the image should reflect that.

Your turn: I've got more b&w images in my archives that I'll upload if you're game. I'd appreciate your feedback.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Flower power

When I first got into photography, I would often pop the camera onto a tripod and take pictures of flowers. In addition to offering a rich palette of color and texture, they didn't run away from me like my kids now so often do. The experience allowed me to learn the intricacies of photography, and to take my time doing so. Of course, with film, this could get expensive because I often shot roll after roll and brought home only a few really spectacular images.

Yesterday, I noticed a bouquet of flowers glowing in the midday sun at the end of our kitchen table and thought they would look nice in pictures. I didn't have a whole lot of time before I had to get back to work, but I figured a quick shoot would give me an initial taste of macro photography with the new camera. Although I was done in just a few minutes, I think a few of the images were rather interesting, and I'll post them to the blog over the next few days.

Your turn: Please look around the room where you are. Is there anything there that would be worthy of some close-up attention from your lens? Why? If you're feeling particularly inspired, I hope you'll take a picture, post it to your blog and share the link here. Isn't photography better when it's shared?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Google buying YouTube?

Rumors are flying that Google is in talks to buy the YouTube video site. Last night, Michael Arrington posted the following on TechCrunch: Completely Unsubstantiated Google/YouTube Rumor.

But the Wall Street Journal is now reporting it (Google in talks to buy Web video site YouTube). And we know they're always right. Or so it seems.

Your turn: Let your creativity soar as you consider the possibilities. What would a GoogleTube (YouGoogle?) entity be able to accomplish? What would you call it?

But there's more: See this later-posted entry for a link to the podcast of a radio interview I did.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Breakfast of champions

A brightly lit table. A fresh mug of whatever warms your soul. Someone who matters with whom you can share the experience.

Not a bad way to start the day.

Your turn: Your ideal day starts with...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Making hay

I liked the geometry of this scene as I spied it from the side of the road. Living in London, we're blessed to have farm country so close by. I really must spend more time exploring and capturing.

Your turn: Why do we enjoy getting out of town? If we all love farm country so much and we seem to despise the craziness of urban life, why is everybody flocking to live in the city?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

As the rush comes

Our eldest son had a playdate on Sunday. His friend lives just a few minutes out of town, so I found myself alone on a country road as I returned home after dropping him off.

I had, of course, tucked my camera bag into the van before we left. You never know when inspiration will strike, after all. So as I cruised along a quiet country road, I idly spied the farms alongside and thought they'd do just fine for my first road trip with the new camera. I parked alongside the road and went to work.

I've always wanted to shoot bullrushes. They grow wildly beside the highway, but it just never seems feasible to stop and capture them. This time out, however, it did.

My goal: slowly learn the ins and outs of this impossibly complex piece of equipment, and try to come home with some workable images in the process.

Your turn: Please click on the image to pull out the high-resolution version. I'd be interested to hear whether or not you like what I came home with, and why.

One more thing: I suffered my first photography-related injury while capturing this series. I was standing on the deep, soft grass on the side of the road, doing my best to stay out of the muddy ditch below. While composing, I put my foot back to steady myself and quickly realized there was no ground there. As I went tumbling down, my first instinct was to hold the camera up and keep it from harm. Mission accomplished: not even a blade of grass came near it. I wrenched something in the process, however, and figure I either bruised or cracked a rib - or two...who knows.

Being a guy, I haven't yet gone to the doc. I simply popped Tylenols and tried to not move too much while sleeping. I guess I'll move more slowly for a few days; no worries. Still, I'd go out on another photographic adventure in a heartbeat. Wouldn't you?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Flashy Benz

I've long envied the photographers who work for car magazines. They spend all day hanging around vehicles that most of the teenagers who buy these rags will likely never be able to afford. They also don't have to contend with tempestuous diva-models who throw hissy-fits because someone forgot to toss a hint of grenadine into their Diet and Caffeine Free Pepsi.

The truth is that cars make great subjects. You can walk around them for hours, examining their myriad curves for just the right combination of light and perspective. And since I don't work for an automotive magazine, I don't have to worry about what those drooling teens would want to see.

I found this curvaceous Benz in the parking lot outside my office. Its gracious owner liked the results, so I suspect there might be more automotive photography in my future.

Your turn: Why do cars so fascinate us? They are, at the core, mere forms of transportation. Yet they are often elevated to paragons of art and culture. What gives?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

First light

After 15 years, I took my cherished Nikon SLR out of my well-worn camera bag on Friday night and replaced it with a new one. I've been planning for this for ages, agonizing over models and specifications, waiting for the stars to align - and for my pennies to accumulate - so that I'd be comfortable with my final choice.

Once I got the new camera and lens home, I continued to agonize, this time over the first picture that I would take. Astronomers call it "first light". Whenever they build a new telescope or observatory, first light refers to the first image that it takes. It's usually fuzzy and not very significant. It's often used to calibrate the instrument and set the stage for more meaningful observations down the road. Yet it's the one that garners all the applause, that reveals to the world that this thing is indeed alive and vital.

I realize I know nothing about this pristine-yet-alien machine that now sits in my scuffed old camera bag. I realize it will take months for me to explore and internalize its controls, to commit their use to the muscle memory that so connected me to my old camera. Which makes its first light all the more difficult to plan. I want it to be a meaningful picture, one that sets the stage for all the amazing moments and scenes that I will capture in the years to come. But how can it be a good picture when I haven't yet mastered the device? A conundrum, for sure.

I ultimately decided that first light should feature my wife. She is the one who allows me to lag behind when a certain scene catches my eye. She tells me when my pictures are worth keeping, and why. She tells me when they're substandard. And why. She stands behind my rather oddball pursuits when pretty much everyone else would otherwise be calling me, well, an oddball. I wouldn't be able to shoot or write the things that I do if it weren't for her life-long influence and encouragement. My vision is my vision because she's been my guiding partner for what seems like forever.

So my camera's first light is a picture of my wife. She has been my muse, my filter, my sounding board, my best friend. In so many ways, I view life through her eyes. So it's only fitting that the first thing that I see through this new camera and lens is her.

I'm thrilled to share this image, and I hope everything I capture from here on out does her justice.

Burned sky

As I write this, the window to my right reveals a foggy, gray and damp scene. The world outside seems muted, closed in, somewhat slower and calmer than it usually is. The kids are playing quietly downstairs. I'm watching my wife sleep, trying to type quietly to avoid bothering her, as another Sunday slowly breaks in our house.

Strangely, I find myself thinking of the exact opposite kind of day: Oppressively hot and frenetic, the kind of day that northern hemisphere-dwellers won't see for anothe nine months.

I thought a stark scene of a burning hot sun cooking through a translucent umbrella would serve as a nice counterpoint to the moment that I'm witnessing now. I took it less than two months ago, but it may as well have been a lifetime ago given the difference in temperature and mood.

Your turn: Photography can take us back to a very different time and place. Agree/disagree? Why/why not?

One more thing: Happy new month! I always wish this to those around me whenever the calendar page needs a flip. I often get strange looks, as if it's some kind of bizarre thing. I figure it's better to have a happy occasion 12 times a year instead of only once.