Sunday, December 31, 2006

Life is like a box of chocolates

Chocoholic's dream
London, Ontario, December 2006 [Click to embiggen]

The calendar tells us that we're about to hit another one of those once-a-year milestones that'll prompt predictable reflections on the year that's past as well as resolutions for the year to come. Before long, all of this wll be forgotten as we dig back into the routine of everyday life.

And when I feel I'm falling back into that relentlessly gray routine, I'll think back to this picture, to the moment when I took it, and the reason why colorful images like this can spark the imagination in ways that can't be predicted.

Over the past year, I've evolved this blog from one that's been primarily focused on writing to one that peers more deeply into my evolving passions of photography, journalism, and technology analysis. My camera has become an everyday companion - and a day on my blog isn't complete without a new picture to share.

On the work front, I ratcheted up the media thing - getting onto the CBS Evening News last summer and being in the middle of the exploding laptop battery controversy was a serious highlight for me - and left a whole lot of career doors open for myself.

I wrote, I captured, I enjoyed the journey. And I got to share it all here and, in the process, I met some genuinely kind, intelligent, good folks. If you're reading this, thank you for sharing in my crazy husband's/dad's/writer's/photographer's/cyclist's world. I'd do this anyway even if I didn't have an audience. But a party is always more fun when the room is full, and I very much appreciate your making this such a rich experience for me.

As in past years, I'm making no new years resolutions. I'm a daily-resolution kind of person, and as this day ticks into the next, I resolve to seize tomorrow just as I seized today and yesterday.

The journey isn't always comfortable or safe, but it's unique to me, and I'd change nothing if I had to go through it again. I'm blessed beyond description - a beautiful wife, three healthy, smart and squabbling kids, a comfortable home, a challenging and rewarding career, and a strong sense of control over where our life goes from here. I'm not filthy rich (yet) but I suspect that few financially rich folks are as pleased with their lot in life as I am with mine.

I hope that in 2007, my wife and I get to grow everything we've managed to build thus far. And I hope you'll continue to share in the journey by reading my blog and leaving your thoughts along the way. May 2007 be a blessing to you and everyone who matters to you.

Your turn: What's going through your mind as 2006 segues into 2007?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Final gear

Dead on the sidewalk
London, Ontario, December 2006

When you're walking to work with a camera slung over your shoulder, you tend to view the world differently because you have the means and the ability to capture it. Of course, when you find something interesting to shoot, you stare at your watch and quickly calculate whether or not you have enough time to grab the picture and still make it to the office on time.

Time. Who needs it? But I digress...

I came across this sad sight on a very busy corner - Oxford and Adelaide - and thought it was almost too coincidental. As a cyclist, this struck me as a poignant image of a road now ended, an inglorious end to a life of travel. Or maybe something less glorious...whatever, I felt the need to take the picture.

To get the low-angle image, I carefully lay down on the sidewalk. I know, I'm weird that way. London motorists apparently agree, as more than a few of them slowed down to watch the crazy guy in the grey trench coat play drunk on a cold city sidewalk.

Your turn: This image speaks of sadness and loss. What else does?

Update from the future: On October 6, 2013, on a rainy, gloomy Sunday morning, an accident between a police car and a civilian vehicle sent one of the cars careening into the building on the very corner where this photo was taken. As I stared at the picture in the CTV report from the scene, I realized the car came to rest virtually exactly where I had gotten down on the sidewalk to take this shot. Sigh...we live in a dangerous world.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Leaves, left

Traces on Dufferin Road
London, Ontario, December 2006

Everywhere I walk in the historic neighborhood near my office, I come across imprints of leaves that months ago fell to the ground before disappearing for good. Correction, the leaves may have disappeared, but their traces live on in the ghostly acid-washed sidewalk images left behind by a warm, wet autumn.

It's enough to remind me that history has a way of keeping us honest, for just because something no longer exists doesn't mean that it can't impact your life in some small way.

Your turn: Do you believe that the ghosts of the past can influence our present and future? Does history matter to you?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Icy squared

The Covent Garden Market in downtown London has been a fixture since 1845. They rebuilt it in 1999, and it has served as the anchor of the city's often-sputtering plans for the rejuvenation of the core district.

The square out front hosts a farmer's market when the weather is warm, and a smallish skating rink when it gets cold. On this day, it was too warm to skate, but I thought the ice would still be able to tell a story.

Up top, I went close in to capture the traces of long-gone skaters in the corner. Down below, I looked long for a somewhat more reflective view of a place that, no matter the weather, always offers a comfortable place for city dwellers to stop and hang out for a bit.

Your turn: Why do public squares matter as much as they do?

Kids' candy - leaded or unleaded?

News just in from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it will be tightening the amount of lead allowed in children's candy.

[Carmi pauses to shake his head and bemusedly mutter a three-word obscenity starting with "what the..." There, I'm over it. I'll continue.]

I simply want to know who allowed lead in kids' candy in the first place? What other noxious stuff is going into their - and our - food?

Please let me know if I'm the only one who finds this somewhat - OK, extremely - disturbing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Waffley goodness

And in the morning, I'm making waffles...
December 2006

My aunt makes waffles that make you wish every meal could be breakfast. Before I tucked in this morning, I wanted to grab a picture of it so that I'd remember the moment. Doesn't this make you want one of your very own?

Your turn: If you could meet my waffle-wizard aunt, what would you tell her?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pierced darkness

Exit door
December 2006

Walking back to the car, I caught a glimpse of light out of the corner of my eye. I hadn't noticed that steel door at the top of the stairwell when I first arrived a few hours before. It was still daylight then, and the door kind of faded into the background.

Now, bathed in an ethereal white security light, I found myself staring at it, fascinated by the way the oblique rays lit the door and the adjacent concrete wall. It almost reminds me of a bad gangster movie.

I didn't have my tripod with me, so I hand-held the shot, taking a few extra images just to be sure. I've been taking a lot of images in darkness of late. Long ago, night-time was off-limits to captivating photography. I always worried that the images would be dull. I'm starting to change my mind.

Your turn: Should I keep heading out at night?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Lonely light

Courtyard from a sixth-floor balcony
Laval, QC, December 2006

This is another one of those images that haunts me. I love the way the light paints the stark, artificially-conceived landscape before it drops off toward the edges. I love the lines of the lamp standard. This is an image that sticks in my mind, and I hope it sticks in your mind, too.

Your turn: I believe any given photo has a message. With that in mind, does this image say anything to you?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Facade shields the darkness

Mother Corp, lit up
December 2006 [Embiggening will result from a mouse click. And "embiggen" will be a dictionary word someday if I have my druthers.]

Yesterday marked ten years since we first pulled our snow-covered car into London. I relocated my family from Montreal so that I could work in the place pictured above. A little under seven years after our almost-Christmas-Eve arrival, I came to my senses and quit. Seven year itch? Quite possibly. But I'd been itching for some time.

Every stereotype you can imagine about the soulless, bureaucratic corporation would likely apply here. I've got at least one book in my head, and likely more. Dilbert has nothing on some of the folks who work within these walls.

Yet it's a part of my history, and as such I don't regret having worked there. Our coming to this town opened up doors that I likely would never have even known existed had we stayed put. And as boneheaded as some of my colleagues - mostly supervisors/leaders - were, I also had the privilege of working with some of the smartest folks I've ever met. Good and bad: no different than any other company, job, or life event.

Still, every time they turn on the lovely lights in the leadup to Christmas, I think of how a beautiful facade can be used to mask the darkness inside. Strange, isn't it?

Your turn: Got any big-company-job horror stories?

Technical update: I'm spending somewhat more time disconnected this weekend than I usually do. No worries: all is well. I'm just enjoying some much-needed quiet time with the folks who matter most. Comments are, as always, on moderation. So if you post a comment and it takes the better part of a day for it to appear on the site, please don't be alarmed. I'll do my best to approve submitted comments at least daily.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Reflective river

Christmas lights on water [Click to embiggen]

It's late on a clear night. I'm heading home, but I find myself staring across the river at a brightly-lit condominium building. I had seen it earlier in the evening and made a mental note to return. I'm here now, but I'm wondering how smart it is to be out alone on a cold night in a dark, strange place. I pull my trench coat tighter to ward off the damp chill as I set the camera up on its tripod and meter the scene. I take a few images of the building, but am uninspired by the results.

I stare closely at the surface of the water exiting from the bridge to my immediate left. It spins and ripples in an endless series of eddies. The gentle reflections of the building's colorful lights make a compelling scene, but there's no way to capture them as is. There isn't enough light for a fast enough shutter speed. So I go the other way, figuring a long exposure might result in something worthwhile. I set the camera for a 30-second exposure, then wait - careful not to breathe lest I fog the lens with condensation.

Here's the result. Long exposure turns the water's surface into a glassy mirage. The branches provide a fragile-looking frame. The image I thought I wanted ended up being something completely different. Happy with the result, I pack up the camera and head to my warm car, and home.

Your turn: Should I bring home more abstracts like this?

Pause for technical malfunction: I inadvertently clicked on the option to turn comments OFF when I first posted this entry. It was late (or early, depending on your perspective), and in my fatigue, I likely should not have been wielding a mouse. My apologies for the confusion. I've re-enabled comments on this entry. All other entries seem to be functioning normally, my ineptitude notwithstanding.

Carmi + Television = 1 cool day

I headed out to CKCO, the CTV television network affiliate in Kitchener, earlier yesterday afternoon to do a live interview on Research In Motion. This is the company that makes the BlackBerry mobile device, and I've been researching the firm and the mobile space as part of my day job.

It aired on Report on Business Television (ROBTv) and the link to the video stream can be found here. Pat Bolland and Lisa Oake were the interviewers, and as always, it was an incredible experience.

Your turn: When a guy who takes pictures, blogs, and plays with his kids ends up ruminating on mobile messaging and application platforms on national television, wouldn't you say that's coolly surreal? Sometimes, I swear I lead the life of Brian.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Taking pictures with my dad

Ghostly reflection
Havre des Iles, Laval, Quebec, December 2006 [Click to embiggen]

On a cold, clear night, I stand alone on my parents' high-rise balcony and stare out over a quiet landscape. I hover over my tripod-mounted camera, scanning wordlessly and hoping something will soon catch my eye. My father steps outside and pulls on his jacket. He immediately begins pointing out scenes of interest. I nod my head dismissively as he rattles them off: Houses with Christmas trees? Check. The highway in the distance? Got it. The hydro towers? Sure.

The photographer in me takes note of his suggestions. Truthfully, none of them would have occurred to me to begin with. They strike me as standard, cliche-type images, and at first I don't much see the point.

But as we continue to toss ideas back and forth across the tiny balcony, it dawns on me that this isn't about photography at all. Sure, I'm taking pictures, but I'm having a moment with my father that, frankly, I have never had. Suddenly, the pictures no longer matter as much as the fact that I'm able to share something I love to do with him.

So I begin to work my way through his suggestions, composing each one carefully, metering it, then stepping aside so he can take a look through the viewfinder before I trip the shutter. Afterward, we review each one on the camera's screen, then I adjust the settings for subsequent exposures. As I work the controls, I explain what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and what I hope the outcome will be.

After I finish capturing the last of his suggestions - a series of lights beside the water - I notice a tree immediately to the right of that spot. It's almost imperceptibly lit by a security light across the water. I can barely see it, and it's anything but spectacular. But my eye likes the way it reflects out over the water, and the way it covers an abandoned dock. My gut tells me I can get the shot. I share my thoughts with my father.

Dad: No way you'll ever get that picture. It's too dark.
Me: Wanna bet?
Dad: [Smiles]

I set up for a 30-second exposure, and the result appears above. The invisible became visible. The impossible became possible. And I came home with far more than a mere picture. Looks like I'll be going back to my parents' balcony soon.

Your turn: Photography is usually a solitary activity. But do you shoot with others? What's it like?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Flashed fountain

Water caught in midair
December 2006, Montreal, QC [Click to embiggen]

I hover closely over our kids whenever they use water fountains. I worry about them slipping and falling face-first into hard metal. I also worry about them - horrors - touching the faucet with anything but their hands. After 12 years as a parent, this is one of the few things that can still make me squirm.

So while attending a family gathering, I followed our munchkin into the hall and stayed close as he got a drink. Bear in mind that six-year-olds take their sweet time. As he slurped and slurped, I watched his face and wondered how I would be able to record the moment.

The layout of the wall made a well-composed picture an almost impossible task. There just wasn't enough room for me to get it all in. So I did the next best thing and asked him to keep the fountain running while I shot from in front and below.

The result stunned me. I have no idea where the little flame-like thing at the top came from. But I won't complain. This is a perfect example of the virtues of direct flash. I usually prefer to bounce it, but that'll have to wait until Hannukah Harry delivers me an external flash unit. For now, I'm using the built-in flash on the D80. And while conventional flash doesn't always make for effective macro images, I thought it might do the trick to freeze the fast-moving stream.

I also learned the virtues of a great assistant. I could have never shot this alone, and I hope I can involve our kids in future shoots as well. Looks like we'll all be hanging around water fountains again.

Your turn: Are you liking this image? Should I keep playing with water with my kids?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Very berry

Berries and snow
Waterloo Street, London, Ontario
December, 2006 [Click to embiggen]

Long after the last of the season's leaves have fallen, brilliant color continues to call out from the bare branches. You miss stuff like this if you drive a car or ride a bike. But when you're walking, as I was on this brilliantly sunny afternoon, scenes like this just jump out at you and beg to be pondered.

As you can see, I heeded the call. I'm glad I did: mere minutes after I snapped this and continued on my way, the largest snowstorm in years moved into the region and shut everything down. I made it back to the office just as the worst winds and blowing snow descended on me. The weather never ceases to amaze.

Your turn: What thoughts does this image bring to mind?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Little man at rest

There's something about a sleeping child that makes a parent stop and wonder about the magic that makes little folks possible. I could sit and stare at his face forever because he reminds me of so many things: innocence, happiness, and a mirror of my wife's features when I look at him just so in the shadows of the bathroom light that spills into his room and gently lights his bed.

When Noah is awake, he moves at the speed of light. He doesn't walk anywhere: he runs, usually on the balls of his feet. Just before he falls asleep, he often becomes so full of beans that it's impossible to imagine him ever falling asleep. But after a few minutes of quiet, his huge eyes close and silence descends for the night. Sometimes he'll even snore - like someone else we know - but in his case, it's cute.

I often wonder what he's dreaming about. Then the morning comes soon enough, and he once again wakes up happy, ready to absorb and attack the next day as enthusiastically as he did the day before. I'm certain his dreams were sweet. As were mine, as I drifted off and wondered what ever I did to deserve any of this.

Your turn: Thankfulness. Please discuss.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Busted by the grocery police

In the Not-Wal-Mart dairy case
Somewhere in Ontario, December 2006

Remember the old saying that folks buy SLR-type cameras and then watch them gather dust at home because they're too large to conveniently cart along? I humbly beg to differ.

Since first bringing the new wonder machine home a couple of months back, I've taken to slinging my beaten-up old Tamrac camera bag over my shoulder whenever I head out of the house. It could be for something as routine as dropping the kids off for a playdate, going to fill the tank with gas or, in this case, getting some milk from the grocery section of the newly-expanded Super Evil Empire Retailer in an unnamed burg somewhere within the Province of Ontario. Wherever I'm headed, the bag is ideal for carrying the camera and the rest of my collection of electronic tools (yes, I'm a only gets worse with time.)

I've ofen fretted about getting caught with said camera in a store. Well, I need fret no more. The eagle-eyed sentries who guard the hundreds of security cameras hanging down from the ceilings of a certain unnamed Evil Empire Retailer are very clearly earning their keep, as they saw fit to dispatch not one, nor two, but three nattily-dressed managers to intercept me in the dairy section.

I could hear them coming from a half-mile away - Head Manager #1 (HM1) was wearing the kind of clip-cloppety heels that bring back bad memories of school marms on power trips. Her two assistants (HM2 and HM3) looked very stern as HM1 initiated her interrogation:

HM1: "Can you please explain what you're doing with your camera?"
Me: [Pause to bite lip before I say something really caustic]. "Why, yes, ma'am. I'm taking pictures of your lovely milk cartons."
HM1: "You're not allowed to do that. Our rules explicitly state that you are not allowed to take pictures inside the store."
Me: "I'm so sorry. I was not aware of your rules. Are they available on your web site?"
HM2 & HM3: [Nod] [Frown]
HM1: "Yes they are. I suggest you read them. No cameras are allowed in the store. There are no exceptions."
Me: "OK. It won't happen again."
HM2 & HM3: [Simultaneously furrow their brows]
Me: [Walk away really slowly, watching out for burly men. They never arrive.]

What I wanted to say instead of the "won't happen again" part was something akin to a smarmy, "And what do you want my wife and I to do with the basket laden with hundreds of dollars of fine slave labor-produced goods that we had intended to purchase from your store?"

But I resisted this, of course, because visions of minimum-wage-paid hands grabbing the memory card out of my camera danced in my head. And I really wanted to get these pictures home so I could share at least one on my blog.

I learned a lesson on this day, and it has nothing to do with power-tripping store employees taking down a sarcastic, camera-wielding journalist in the dairy case. It has everything to do with a little word my mother taught me when I played hide-and-go-seek in the dairy case of a much smaller and friendlier grocery store in my neighborhood: please.

Your turn: Does this mean the end of my storebound photographic adventures? Any advice on what I should have done - or what I should do next time I go shopping - would be most welcome.

In related news: I came across this piece, The Right to Bear SLRs, on Kinda timely, I think.

Quick program note: I'm scheduled to participate in Report on Business Television's look-back at 2006 tonight (Monday) at around 8:37 p.m. The actual show runs from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern time, and will feature a bunch of experts and related folks speaking about the companies that made headlines this year. I'm part of a three-person panel discussing Research In Motion (RIM, the BlackBerry folks). If you're in Canada and subscribe to cable or satellite service, you can watch it live on TV. Otherwise, I'll post the link to the show once it's posted on their web site. Should be fun!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Little boy, shorter hair

Our kids have two personas: the at-home one, and the in-public one. When we're home, they can fight like cats and dogs and prompt us to wonder why we ever decided to become parents. When we're out and about, however, they are, in my totally-biased father's opinion, the best-behaved people on the planet. So much so that friends and strangers alike will stop us and rave about how polite and kind our kids are.

Which answers the why-we-had-them-in-the-first-place question quite nicely, I think. They pick their spots and come through when they need to.

Such as at the hairdresser. Ours has converted her living room into a studio. It overlooks a lovely porch in a quiet neighborhood of the city. Often, her dog will meander in and say hello to the kids. It's the kind of place where I feel comfortable pulling out the camera and capturing some of the festivities. Here, it's Noah's turn. Interestingly enough, he wasn't upset in this image. He was his typical happy self, and had simply scrunched his eyes shut as the scissors worked their usual magic.

It's a moment in his life that I like to remember: not because it was spectacular or massive, but because it was a real experience in his life. I hope he chooses to add stuff like this to the growing list of memories that he's building in that agile and perceptive brain of his.

Your turn: A supposedly minor moment from your childhood. What was it, and how do you remember it today?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lens meets mirror

Nikon D80 gazes upon itself for the first time
Westminster, Colorado, November 2006 [Click to zoom in]

I've often written about what I like to do in hotel rooms (I know, this sounds bad. Bear with me, as I'm not being a perv.) The silence of these places can often be deafening. And as much as I enjoy the peace and quiet as a buffer against the unsettling feeling of being far from home and on my own, I feel the need to fill the space with familiarity. Lately, the camera has been just that

While I was in Colorado last month, I found myself with about 2 minutes to spare one morning. This was my new camera's first big trip, and I wanted to capture it in a self-portrait. Using an improvised tripod - the inverted cover allows fairly precise adjustment for better composition - I played with the mirrored door in the bathroom until I had the composition I wanted.

I know. Most folks see this and think it's time I find a real hobby.

Your turn: Do you turn your camera on itself?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Shaken, not stirred

Well-run conferences recognize that attendees need to snack and rest at various points through the day. Simple, wholesome foods work best, and are most welcome when you're zipping from one session to another. While in Colorado last month, our hosts set up large tables in the middle of the hall near the event site. As we came out, smoothies awaited us - a lovely little touchpoint, in my view.

I wasn't content to simply drink mine. No, that would mean I'm conventional. And by now you likely know that I'm not: This blog is littered with examples of my photographic restlessness. Pretty much anything I see, touch or encounter is fair game for a picture.

So when I saw the covered-up piano off to the side, I thought the angles and sunbeams would make a nice backdrop to my smoothie. It tells no story beyond the fact that I felt compelled to remember that moment. Sometimes, that's a good enough reason to take the camera out and have some fun.

Your turn: Is this making you hungry or thirsty? Come on, be honest!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Barrier to entry

Chain link fence
Lyle Street, London, ON, December 11, 2006
[Click to embiggen]

Fences like this are everywhere, especially in run-down areas where business owners and homeowners alike try, usually unsuccessfully, to keep the riff-raff out. The building inside this compound was dead silent in the middle of the day, likely another victim of time. The fence stood silently, keeping watch over an uncertain future. I thought that was rather poignant, so I focused on the perimeter instead of the building itself.

Your turn: What comes to mind when you come across a fenced-in, dead-silent old building?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Quoted - Globe & Mail - The Year Ahead

It's been a while since I posted links to my "other" life, the one that says I'm a tech analyst who, when not writing about geekdom, chats about it with journalists from near and far. I've been too busy to post the links here, but if you search for me in Google News, you'll see what I've been up to.

Got some good news today: I've been rather extensively quoted in the Globe & Mail for a piece that looks ahead to 2007. It's entitled A year for launches from the big guys and it was published in the special Globe Outlook 2007 section.

The sub-head is: Apple could turn the PDA world on its head, and Microsoft will finally get serious about security. Byline is Simon Avery, the paper's technology reporter. It was also included in the paper's print edition (page E2). That link is here.

I'll hang out here while you read it. Take your time: our furnace's pilot light blew out last night and I'm too much of a chicken to re-light it (yes, natural gas frightens the bejeebers out of me.) So while we bury our kids in layers of excess clothing and turn it into an overnight adventure before the repair folks get here tomorrow, I'll make a giant mug of tea and hang out on the blog. Say hi when you check back in.

Your turn: Do you agree/disagree with my predictions? Why/why not? Do you have any other cold house survival tips? Do you have any idea why my technological wizardry can't extend to the furnace room?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blue brick, yellow brick

Contrasting Brick
Lyle Street, London, ON
, December 11, 2006
[Click to enlarge the pixels]

We don't tend to give too much thought to brick. It's a timeless building material that can either look really rich, or really destitute.

While wandering the neighborhood just east of my office (see this entry for the back story), I found myself standing next to a building that had clearly seen better days: Windows were either boarded up or left open the elements, water streamed from a leaking pipe, and the brick was crumbling in places. The owners resorted to the long-held tradition of painting the brick at the somewhat-more-serviceable front of the building. This is a short-term fix at best, for the typical paint succeeds only in suffocating the brick and locking in moisture, which only accelerates its decay.

Still, the ill-planned but well-intentioned shade of blue contrasted nicely with the traditional yellow brick behind it. And when a smiling white-bearded gentleman carrying used furniture emerged from a door around the corner happily wished me a good day as he carefully walked past me, I figured this building had some life in it yet.

Your turn: From the looks of my stats, I've been getting lots of readers, but few commenters, of late. If you're lurking, I hope you'll take a moment to delurk and share your thoughts on the bricks in your neighborhood, and the stories they tell.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Doorway to nowhere

Abandoned doorway on Lyle Street

My office is located in a fascinating part of town, on the very eastern edge of a district known as Woodfield. Some of the oldest buildings in London are found here, and it is here where London's ruling elite first built homes in the 1800s. Walking the streets here is a lesson in history and humility.

Just to the east lies a neighborhood that is just as old, but nowhere near as lovingly preserved. Known derisively by Londoners as East of Adelaide - or EOA, for short - this half of the city is often considered the place that time forgot.

Of course, it's easy to make black-and-white assumptions about a neighborhood. Sure, the shopping strip along Dundas Street has seen its better days. And, yes, the streets that adjoin the main drag can be forlorn to the uninitiated. But the photographer in me thinks there's a hidden story in this place, a glimpse into a world most of us from the so-called right side of the tracks would almost never take the time to explore.

But explore I will. If I've got some time over lunch and I happen to have my camera with me, I'll wander the streets and capture whatever scenes speak to me. The poignancy of a decaying urban environment has always been a strong interest of mine. I don't know why. Maybe because it's different. Maybe because no one else takes the time. Whatever the reason, I hope it lets me grow as a photographer.

About this image: A forgettable one-storey painted brick building houses a place called Bingo Country. It's right across the street from The Adult Superstore (go ahead, use your imagination) and even on a sunny day, it's a miserable and gray place to be. This door likely hasn't been used in years. One wonders what lies behind it. Or maybe it's better that this question remains unanswered. Either way, its stark lines remind us that not all doorways are welcoming to passers by.

Your turn: Urban decay. Why do you feel this has appeal to the storytellers among us?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Little man learns from failure

I wrote this a couple of months back when our kids finished their most recent set of swimming lessons. I often write about the milestones of our children's lives. Sometimes, I even write about their disappointments. I hope you enjoy it:
Learning from failure
October, 2006
By Carmi Levy

Failure has a funny way of introducing itself to a child. And despite a parent’s best effort to cushion the blow, it isn’t always enough.

As I walked with our three kids into London’s Canada Games Aquatic Centre on a cold and gray October afternoon for their final swim lesson of the term, we talked about not expecting too much, about how proud my wife and I were of their effort since starting lessons a few weeks earlier. As a former lifeguard, it’s always been important to me that our kids become comfortable in and around the water. And whatever happened that day, I wanted them to know that we cared about much more than whether they were promoted to the next level.

As they got changed, I coached them against getting their hopes up too high. We’d been subtly and none-too-subtly saying pretty much the same things all week long, trying to prepare them in case things didn’t go their way that afternoon. And it was our youngest son who was the most adamant of all that he would be happy no matter what happened.

“I’ll be OK, Dad,” he insisted. “I know I’m a good swimmer, and I don’t need a badge.”

“So you won’t be upset if you repeat this level?” I asked carefully.

“No Dad,” he said, slowly and confidently, reinforcing his words by locking his eyes onto mine.

Barely an hour later, our six-year-old came back empty-handed. He had made solid progress this term, but he still needed to work on building confidence while swimming on his own. Just a couple more tick marks on his progress card and he’d be there. But six-year-olds don’t appreciate perspective and context all that well: all he heard was that he had failed.

“I quit,” he insisted, as he sadly walked away from his instructor for the last time. His progress card was filled with words of praise for all of his accomplishments this term. But it didn’t have that all-important badge attached. “I’m never going back for swim lessons again,” he barely blurted out before dissolving in tears. I wrapped him in a towel and held him tight.

The irony of that moment was that my wife and I have never been more proud of him. In a few short weeks, he transformed from a virtual non-swimmer with a consistent fear of the water and mistrust of instructors to a kid who couldn’t wait for his lesson to begin. He learned to enjoy being in the pool, and he regularly did virtually everything the instructor asked. He far exceeded our loftiest hopes for him.

But at that moment, he didn’t have a badge, and his older brother and sister, who had passed their respective levels, did. He said it wasn’t fair, and in many respects, it wasn’t: he worked just as hard as they did, and he got nothing in return.

Since that fateful day, we’ve continued to repeat our already oft-repeated message that not everyone makes it on the first try. We’ve shared stories about the value of persistence. We’ve explained how failure is often a good thing because it teaches us to try harder next time. I’ve told him how many times I failed to advance in my own childhood swimming lessons, and how I learned to swim at the ripe old age of 10. He’s slowly learning that life isn’t always fair, and that we don’t always get everything that we want.

Eventually, we’re certain he’ll get over it. Time has a way of softening the edges out of childhood disappointment. But I won’t soon forget watching the first moment in my son’s life when he strove to succeed and failed to do so. Nor will I forget how I wanted to make it all better for him, and couldn’t. As much as I wished I could wave my hands and make the sadness go away, I knew it was just as important for me to stand back and let him learn about disappointment first-hand.

In a society that seems to value only the tangible trappings of success, the more subtle achievements of incremental progress are often ignored. This is virtually impossible to explain to a little guy who thinks he didn’t measure up, but we’ll keep trying because that’s how he’ll learn and grow. Just as we encourage our kids to never give up, we must always challenge ourselves to find new ways to explain the unexplainable, to gradually help them explore more of the chaotic world around them.

After he fell asleep, I tip-toed into his room and kissed his forehead. I wondered what he was dreaming about, and hoped it was a happy dream.

Given enough time, he’ll no doubt forget this speed bump of childhood. Amid all the success and achievement that my wife and I hope lies in his future, we know that he’ll also experience disappointments that will make this one seem relatively insignificant. But everything is significant to you when you’re six years-old. And going through it for the first time means this is only the first scar of many to come.

They didn’t tell us this when we decided to have children. Then again, they likely didn’t tell our parents this, either. Or our grandparents, for that matter. And even if all of our ancestors had been better informed about the challenges of parenthood, I doubt that knowing all this in advance would change anything anyway. We seem to be writing and rewriting the parental manual on an almost ad hoc basis.

As I held his crying little form and helped wipe the tears away from his face, it dawned on me that a parent’s role won’t always be to simply provide protective comfort. At some point, I’ll have to let him go as well. And I hope I don’t fail to do all the right things to prepare him for that day.


Your turn: Thoughts?

The morning after

Click on all images for extreme closeup. Click here for part 1 to this snowy story and here for the night-time imagery.

Covered deck

I took this picture immediately after we got word that the entire city was shut down. Schools, businesses, even the transit system...all going nowhere. We received anywhere between 2 and 3 feet of the while stuff, and it still snowed lightly through the morning as if to remind us that we were still at the mercy of the weather.

The kids were thrilled. My wife was thrilled. I was glad I had a camera with a fully charged battery and a large, near-empty memory card. So many experiences to capture...

View from our kitchen window

This is where I often set up for my closeup/macro pictures. The light from this south-facing window is always just right for whatever I'm shooting. On this morning, the venue became the subject.

There's something comforting about sitting here and watching the world unfold over breakfast. When the usual external responsibilities that pull us out of the house have been put on temporary hold, we have a chance to sit here and linger.

They play

I remember a winter storm when I was about 3 years-old when the snowdrifts were taller than my parents. When the raging snow and winds subsided enough for us to get out of the house, I remember feeling very small amid the towering sea of snow. My parents dug us out. My older siblings (a brother and sister) and I played. And someone took a picture of us amidst the unique wonder of it all. I don't know where that picture ended up, but it remains burned in my memory. Funny how that works.

I thought back to that moment as our kids wrapped themselves in their warmest winter clothes and charged out of the door. I thought about how I wanted to capture their utter joy at being outside in a veritable wonderland. I moved fast and did my best to keep the camera from catching any snow.

BTW, the famous Levy family maple tree is at the extreme right of the image. The huge rock is to its immediate left, buried under an impossibly thick layer of snow. It didn't take long for the kids to clear it.

Your turn: What is it about a snowy winter's morning that brings out the kid in all of us? Do you have similar recollections from your own past?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Scenes from a snowy night

Note: Click images to embiggen

When an intense snow storm began its dramatic march from Lake Huron this past Thursday, I wondered how I would be able to record the experience with my camera. I happened to be outside early in the afternoon when the first squall swept in off the lake and turned a brilliantly sunny scene into something like Dante's Inferno. I was carrying my camera at the time, but I didn't dare take it out of its case for fear of coating the lens with flakes. Not my idea of photographic excellence.

So I went home and tossed it around my head some more. Outside, the winds picked up and the snow intensified. Our kids tucked in for the night, unaware of the adventure that awaited them the next morning.

Just after 1 a.m., my wife and I were still awake. We opened the drapes in our room and marvelled at how much snow had already fallen. Then it hit me: just put the camera on the tripod and take some long exposures out the window. Longish - 6-second - exposures would allow decent depth of field and give the security light on our street a chance to cast a subtle glow over each image.

These images were shot from our bedroom window. Shooting through windows isn't always an optimal solution, but it beat standing outside in howling winds. These images were only possible from a sheltered, interior vantage point.

Eventually, the plow came by to dig our little neighborhood out. I thought it might be neat to leave the shutter open for 30 seconds or so to see what cropped up. I've been thinking about head- and tail-light tracks lately, and this capture is my first crack at it. I think I'll be staking out late-night street corners in the near future, so expect to see more ghostly tracks of light before long.

The last image is my favorite: a wide shot of the maple tree that protects our kids' beloved giant rock on the front lawn. I've captured it many times before on this blog. As I've noted before, the same subject can serve as the basis of dramatically different pictures depending on when and how you shoot it. This time, our beautiful tree didn't disappoint.

Your turn: How would you record a winter storm in progress? Did you enjoy these? (I've got more from the next morning, which I'll upload in a subsequent entry.)


Columns and light [Click to render image more closely to your retina]

Not a day goes by when we shouldn't be inspired by something. I walk through these columns every morning on my way into a building that can only be described as a lovingly restored example of a past none of us ever got the chance to witness. But as you step through this building, you can almost hear whispers of what it must have been like over a century ago when these elements were first built.

The irony that our raison d'etre is to research the latest technologies in use by modern businesses is not lost on me. It's another one of those neat things I keep in the back of my mind as I work my way through another professionally challenging day.

Your turn: Does architecture speak to you? How?

Friday, December 08, 2006

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot

Parked [Click to embiggen]

Considering the fact that the world around me is suddenly buried under a few feet of snow, I find myself sifting through pictures taken barely a few weeks ago that depict a massively different reality. The world changes so quickly that it's sometimes difficult to keep up: taking pictures of the overlooked surfaces of our world helps me keep track of it all.

This image, taken in the parking lot of one of the local big box stores, is little more than a simple exercise in composition. But anyone who knows me knows that I like these kinds of studies. Painted lines shouldn't be interesting in and of themselves. Yet when viewed through a camera lens from an unusual perspective, I suspect they are never perceived the same way again.

Your turn: The camera can make the boring seem unboring. Please discuss.

Snow: 2 feet, counting

Looks like London is going to be snowbound for a while. We've received between 2 and 3 feet of the white stuff over the last 18 hours or so, and it continues to fall. Squalls continue to roll in off of Lake Huron. We've lived here for ten years, and we've never seen anything like it in this part of the world. Cool!

The city's shut down. The kids have a snow day, so they are, as one might expect, giddily gleeful. Watching them bounce over to the window for a first look at the world of white was a joy to watch, one of those moments where you're glad you became a parent.

I'll work from home because writers with laptops, high-speed wireless Internet connections, remote desktop and a host of other tech goodies can't use the weather as an excuse. In the meantime, if anyone needs a pseudo-scientific explanation of the term "lake effect", e-mail me.

Pictures to follow....

Your turn: What's Ma Nature doing in your part of the world? Want us to send you any snow?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lens turned inward

One of the pitfalls of being the designated photog of the family is the relative paucity of pictures that include me. I'm not complaining, mind you, because frankly I hate being in pictures. I'm not comfortable in front of a lens: I never know whether I should be serious, silly, or somewhere in between. The whole smiling-for-the-camera thing strikes me as unnecessarily artificial.

I'm much happier when I'm behind the lens, where I have a lot more control over the outcome. Maybe it's the storyteller's wish to never be his own subject. Whatever the case, it's amazing what a few inches of distance can do to one's psyche.

Despite my discomfort, I sometimes take self-portraits because I can't think of anything else to shoot at that moment. The self-portrait is a whole other animal, because I don't have to rely on anyone else's shutter finger. I don't have to stare at the photographer and second-guess every compositional and technical decision he/she makes. I don't have to fret over having my head cut off or my nose getting caught at the wrong angle. When I'm doing my own shooting, If I hate the outcome, I simply blame myself. Then I delete the offending file and try again.

So when I found myself in front of a mirrored door with a few minutes to burn off, I turned the lens on myself and had a little fun. I like this one because I'm not trying to be someone's subject. I'm simply doing what I so enjoy doing. After all, that's what a picture should capture, right?

Your turn: Do you do self-portraits? Why/why not?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lesbians have kids, too!

Sometimes, all it takes is a headline to make my head snap. ran this one earlier today:
Vice president's lesbian daughter pregnant
Funny, but I wasn't aware the Mary Cheney's sexual orientation was worthy of a leading-story headline on a global news site. I didn't think that the fact that she's gay qualified as news any more than the fact that I'm straight would have garnered me similar headlines when our kids were, um, conceived.

I'm tempted to draw parallels between this story and three recent issues of orientation and race:
In the case of the first two, is hurling the n- or the j-word at a crowd or at a cop any different than tossing the l-word into a headline? Do they not all qualify as examples of highlighting minorities for no beneficial purpose? Although these examples were anger-fuelled and the CNN posting was not, I can't help but think that there's an air of darkness associated with pulling the definition into the headline as justification for making this "news".

In the case of Mr. Harris, why on earth would we care who he's having sex with? When I was a kid and my cultural tastes were somewhat less baked, I liked him in Doogie Howser, M.D. I think he's grown into a versatile actor with good timing and a solid future. Beyond that, as long as he isn't holding up liquor stores and carjacking grandmas, I simply don't care what he does on his own time - and neither should anyone else.

Someday, we'll move past the point where the "who a person sleeps with" question matters to us as little as what he/she drinks for breakfast in the morning. In my case, it's orange juice, and I expect you care about that as little as you care about who I sleep with.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wounded bird

I took a walk over lunch yesterday. I headed a couple of kilometres west of the office to the river (the Thames, big surprise) that cuts through the center of town. I had it in my head that I would take a few pictures of whatever birds were hanging around the park before the inevitable freezing of the fingers would drive me back to the office.

I tossed my camera bag over my shoulder, buttoned up my trench coat and headed out into the off-and-on snowfall.

When I got there, I saw the usual noisy band of ducks and Canadian geese hanging around the riverbank. They were fighting over scraps of bread, which made it easy for me to take my camera out and start shooting without frightening them. As I shot - and shot, and shot, and... - I moved from left to right to change up the perspective. After about a minute or so, I had what I thought I wanted. Then I noticed a lone bird off to the side, down on the pavement.

As I walked closer, the bird eyed me, but did not move. It was clear that something wasn't quite right. My hunch was confirmed as I continued to quietly step to the right and caught sight of a flash of bright red on the goose's feathers.

Wounded bird. I didn't know what to do. Not being an expert birder, approaching it seemed like a rather silly and dangerous thing to do. So I let my zoom lens do the talking for me: I used it to reach across the gap to capture this poor thing as it watched its compadres frolic in the nearby water.

I took my pictures then quickly headed back to the office. As I walked back, I felt frustrated that I knew so little about helping an injured bird, that I was unable to help.

Then I started wondering about the other wounded birds around us. They're not always birds, though. They can be people, children, strangers, people we work with, family. They are found everywhere and anywhere. But who is looking out for them? How will they make it in a world that seems to be built only for those of able body and mind? Who's there to help them when they can't help themselves?

So many questions. Sadly, I don't have any answers. Just a simple hope that a bird I met yesterday was able to survive the cold day and night, and that those around us who find themselves hurt and on the fringe can somehow find their way back to the flock.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Going to see a man about a horse

Early Morning Exercise
Mohawk Raceway,
Campbellville, Ontario
November 9, 2006

I was on my way to Toronto with a colleague to meet some clients - about a two-hour drive from London. We stopped for gas just off the 401 and we noticed we were right next to the racetrack. I took out my camera and shot through the fence. Somewhat oddly, I felt a sense of peace as I tripped the shutter. Maybe it was the gray morning. Perhaps it was the constant thrum of hooves on dirt. Either way, I felt like I was a temporary witness to a very different world, and I wanted to remember that moment.

Part of me felt like I was intruding. Another part of me felt whoever this gentleman was, he was probably used to being in the limelight. Regardless, no words were exchanged, and I barely got a sideways glance as he impassively rode on past. I wonder what he was thinking.

Your turn: So what was he thinking? Feel free to use your imagination.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Memorable nuggets

Chocolatey goodness, November 2006

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to bring us snacks when they came to visit. Although I'm sure they brought a variety of treats over the years, the only brand that sticks out in my mind is Glosettes. They're chocolate-covered raisins or peanuts, and they are something of a Canadian confection tradition.

We don't often have Glosettes in the house, but every time we do, I think back to when I was our kids' age. So when they showed up in the treat bowl a few weeks ago, I tossed them onto the kitchen table and let my lens do the rest.

It's funny how a simple kind of food can evoke such powerful memories. Something tells me my grandparents would appreciate that a small gesture would lead to this.

Your turn: Do you have a food from childhood that takes you back every time you have it? I hope you'll share your story.

Really expensive bread

Focaccia, London, Ontario - click to embiggen (extra points if you pinpoint the source of the word)

Where we shop for food is often one of the most local, personal decisions we will make in our day-to-day lives. It's no different in my neck of the woods. Like most cities, London's got a fairly broad array of supermarkets. From low-price-leaders to upper-end gourmet-focused specialty shops and megastores, we're never at a loss for places to forage for our next meal.

As I cruised the aisles of the neighborhood Loblaws last week, I came upon a sample lady offering focaccia. I'll admit right now that I'm a sucker for these kiosks. As long as it's not massively treif (read shellfish, meat, mixes meat and milk, or made of anything from a pig), I'll bite. Then I wonder if it's polite to eat and run, as if I'm somehow more compelled to actually buy the product now that I've had a free sample (yes, I have a guilty soul.)

So as I happily gobbled my free sample of focaccia and smiled broadly at the lovely taste and texture, my wife asked if I wanted to pick up a package. Thoughts of sweet, fruit-filled pastry-like bread for breakfast danced in my head as she nodded and picked up a package.

Fast forward to the checkout aisle. Six dollars for a tiny loaf of fruity pastry. Six bucks! But the next day's breakfast beckoned. Yes, I am a sucker.

For six bucks, you just know I needed to take a picture of the thing. But I'll be watching those sample ladies with a much warier eye on my next trip into these hellish bastions of consumerism.

Your turn: What do you do when you encounter the sample ladies at the supermarket?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sunset over a church graveyard

Arva, Ontario, December 2, 2006, 4:47 p.m.

The kids had a playdate this afternoon just north of the city. As I turned off the main road into the subdivision on my way to pick them up, I noticed the sun setting behind the church on the corner to my west. It glinted off the gravestones and served to highlight every subtle nuance in the old stonework - at least that what I gathered as I took a mental snapshot from the wheel of the car (you didn't think I'd drive off the road while scoping an image, did you?)

I knew I had to come back before the sun went below the horizon. So after I collected the munchkins, I drove back, wondering how I'd capture the scene I'd seen so fleetingly from the road.

When I arrived, the fast-moving sun was too low in the sky. The gravestones were mere silhouettes, and my earlier plan was toast. But a flock of Canadian geese was practicing its formation flying. Around and around they flew, their honks echoing off the silent gravestones. I levelled the camera against the adjoining fence and started shooting. Birds don't really listen to
instructions all that well, so I held my breath and hoped against hope that they'd add just the right finishing touch to the scene.

Your turn: Does this graveyard merit a return visit?

One more thing: While I captured this, the kids waited in the car and ruminated on the creepiness of where they were. They're used to this sort of thing by now, and I'd like to think having an eclectically photographic father will give them some interesting and memories as they grow. And if it inspires them to follow the road less travelled every once in a while, then I guess I'll have done an OK job as a dad.

Pretty front porch

I took this one as I wandered back to meet my wife after shooting my railroad images (here and here). Porches speak to me because they remind me of a lifestyle, a neighborhood that no longer exists.

People used to sit in front of their houses, actively contributing to the life of the streetscape. Now, they drive up, hit the remote control garage door opener and drive on in. Front porches have all but disappeared from new homes. The few times that we do go outside, we use the back deck because it ensures privacy. Community has been replaced by isolationism.

At first glance, this was a quick shot of a predictable geometric pattern. It was so cleanly pretty that I just had to have the picture. But after I got it home, I looked more closely at the image and discovered that uniformity often hides details.

Your turn: I hope you'll explore the picture a little more closely (click on it to enlarge). Not all is as pristine as it seems.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Shattered and forgotten

Abandoned building, William and York [click to enlarge]

This picture was taken just beside the railroad tracks that define the southern border of London's downtown core. The richness of the worn red brick startled me when I first saw it, and I tried mightily to get the wall and the adjacent tracks into the same shot. In the end, the lighting didn't work. Neither did the composition. I was trying to tell two different stories, and that isn't always feasible in the same frame.

[Please see my earlier entry, Wrong side of the tracks, for the other side of this story.]

So I stood on the tracks and shot straight north. The resulting image of ruined architecture haunts me. I know that society has its fair share of tangible and intangible fringes. I generally keep such thoughts in the back of my mind, namely to ensure I don't end up on the wrong side of the tracks at the wrong time of day. But the fact that they are off-limits makes them a source of curiosity to those of us lucky enough to have a warm home to return to.

They had to have been livable and nice at some point in time. The area wasn't always populated by drug users and other seeming castoffs of society. What happened to precipitate these buildings' - and the people who lived and worked in them - decline? Can we learn anything by heading down there and taking a look?

I don't have the answers. But I do know that I need to look at the uglier aspects of our world a little more often through my lens. Whatever stories lurk there, I hope to reflect them in some way here.

Your turn: What are your perspectives on ruined architecture?

100 bottles of beer on the wall...

Sitting at lunch with my colleagues recently, I noticed a strong shaft of sunlight beating down on a glass of beer. The colors and shadings grabbed my attention, and although metering a severely backlit subject is difficult at the best of times, it wasn't as if I was wasting film in the process. So I pulled out the camera and, to the good-natured banter of my compadres, set up for a few quick captures before our lunch was served.

I've commented previously on how light can make the same scene appear completely different, and this truth holds when looking at - or through - any kind of liquid. It's a scene I've photographed before, but one I think I'll be returning to when I next see a flash of light through a glass. I'm strange that way.

I couldn't pick my favorite of the two, so I posted both.

Oh, one more thing: the beer wasn't mine. I was driving that day, so it was iced tea for me. Not as photogenic. Thanks to Mark for allowing me to hijack his beer momentarily.

Your turn: I'm taking suggestions for beverage types and vessels for possible future picture-taking. Go nuts!