Monday, November 30, 2009

Urban renewal

What does this button do?
London, ON, July 2009

As much as we'd like to think that buildings last forever, they don't. This particular example wasn't all that old. It was an otherwise forgettable two-storey office/strip mall kinda thing on the edge of a major - and failing - shopping mall's parking lot (Westmount Mall, for all you Londoners.) And for whatever reason, the powers-that-be decided to junk it and build something new and fresh.

We're still waiting to see what that new and fresh vision is. But I'm willing to bet it'll look pretty much like similar buildings in Stratford. And Toronto. And Montreal. And...

Eventually, the only way to tell you're in London will be by the GPS coordinates attached to the photo. Yippee.

Your turn: How do we decide what's worth keeping and what isn't?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Caption This 139

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
New York, NY, November 2009

About this photo: This picture supports this week's Thematic Photographic theme, buildings. Click here to dive in.
The scene, earlier this month: My son and I are walking up New York's 5th Avenue. As we pass the New York Public Library, we notice the somewhat odd spectacle of a guy in minimal superhero-like garb, pacing rather anxiously atop the broad staircase that defines the building's entranceway. The steps are a beehive of activity on this crisp, brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoon, and only a few people bother to watch this guy.

Zach and I stop and wonder what his deal is. Street performer? Narcissist? Disturbed individual? Combination of the three? Either way, we conclude it's too cold to be outside wearing so little. We mull over the spectacle for a few minutes before we continue on our way, another indelible New York Minute in a day that seems full of them.

Your turn: Please come up with a caption for this image. Simply click the comment link and submit as many suggestions as you wish. You can be funny, smart, irreverent, or any combination of these. All I ask is that you have fun - and spread the joy. For more background on how Caption This works, please click here.

About last week's photo of a pedestrian crosswalk signal: No one ever wants to be out of time, especially with three lanes of cars waiting to turn you into an urbanized pancake. Mel Fraase takes it with "Saved by zero."

If you haven't yet met her, Mel is a professional photographer, wife and mom whose work will utterly blow you away. She doesn't simply take pictures: She tells life stories through her lens. A definite must-visit.

Building an unseen future

Meeting in the sky
Laval, QC, August 2008

About this photo: It's Thematic Photographic's building week. Click here to share your building-related vision.
It was a topic on which my father and I had long ago agreed to disagree. He always waxed poetic on the pace and scope of urban development. During our visits back home, he never missed an opportunity to talk me through the new areas being carved out of the bush, the ongoing miracle of urbanization.

Similarly, I never missed an opportunity to lament the loss of pristine fields where I had played as a child, quiet forests where entire species once lived. Somewhere between our perspectives lay a balance that our planet needs to figure out, but for as long as I'd known him, we enjoyed staking out our respective spots, then not budging from them. Secretly, I think he enjoyed winding me up. And also secretly, I think I enjoyed the process, too.

So on this early morning, as I walked the quiet streets near his house, I thought about the huge development going up nearby, the two cranes they had brought in to finish the job, and how happy he was to see yet another undeveloped area become a centre of activity and civic life.

The project is now nearing completion and the skyline is forever changed. The next time I walk these streets, I'll look toward the spot where these cranes once marked the sky and imagine that my father would have enjoyed the view.

Your turn: And he would say...?

Friday, November 27, 2009

An ordinary building on an extraordinary day.

491 11th Ave
New York, NY, November 2009

About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores buildings, of all shapes and sizes, all week long. Click here to share your own.
This isn't a particularly noteworthy or memorable building. I kept reminding myself of this as I stood under the entranceway and took the picture. Not everything, after all, is capable of standing out from the crowd, making the evening news or being the star.

But a neat thing happens when you scrunch your eyes just so, turn your body just a little or otherwise look at something ordinary through a wonky lens. You see the ordinary in a whole new light. Which, in this case, allowed the dueling voices on opposing shoulders to quiet down just long enough for me to capture the angles just so.

In doing so, I sealed, for myself, anyway, what it felt like to be walking back from Pier 88 on a cool, sunny autumn morning. I had just seen the U.S. Navy's newest ship, the USS New York, on the morning that she was to be commissioned. Between the extraordinary and the ordinary, it felt good to emerge from the pall of sadness that had been enveloping me and my family until that day.

The clouds are still pervasive, and they continue to coat my days in grey. But every once in a while, they break. And when they do, I hope there are lots of ordinary places like 491 11th Ave for me to hoover into my mind before the sky closes back in again.

Your turn: Finding joy in the ordinary. Please discuss.

Alone time

I think I'm becoming somewhat antisocial in my old age. There's no way to tell how losing a parent will affect you, of course, but as time slowly, painfully marches on to a point where most folks would say "I'm back", I'm beginning to realize that I'm nowhere near as far along the process as they seem to want me to be.

As an example, I offer my apparent desire to not be around people. It's selective, of course. I enjoy hanging around my wife because, let's be honest, who else will listen to my never-ending techno-journalistic-analytic-social-media drivel? I also enjoy hanging around our kids because they're little packages of goodness who remind me that life does indeed go on. I also like the sound of their voices, but that's a story for another day.

But the everyday stuff - meeting other parents at school pickup and dropoff, attending meetings, even picking up the phone - riles me more than it ever has. Most days, I don't feel like talking. It's not that I have nothing to say. Anyone who knows me knows that I can talk pretty much endlessly. But I often find myself simply not wanting to.

And it's not because the folks I meet are inherently icky. In the classic "it's me, not you" spirit, I rather like most of them. I just don't want to hear the sound of my own voice, I don't want someone else to share yet more bad news with me, I don't want to take on yet more weight on my shoulders, and I just want to return to my quiet office at home so I can be alone with my words, my tunes and my dog.

I'm sure this, too, will eventually pass. I know at some point I'll go back to not giving it a second thought as a friend or a stranger approaches me when I'm out and about and starts yakking in my ear. I know I'll eventually come out of my self-imposed cocoon and revert to the somewhat interactive social being I've always been. I think I just need a little more quiet time to figure it all out.*

Your turn: Ever feel the need to get some distance? Do tell...

* But don't worry. I'll keep writing. That particular voice seems to be unaffected.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The One Thing

London, ON
September 2008

[See here for more Thematic]

On a quiet downtown London street a year ago September, a few parents waited for a birthday party to finish at the adjacent laser tag facility. Not everyone knew each other, so the familiar ones gravitated into separate groups of two or three and chatted idly in the late summer sun.

I pulled out my camera and trained it on the biggest thing I could see. Our friend wandered over and asked what I was up to. He wanted to know what I was looking for and what I did with it once I found it. I showed him the results on the camera's screen and he told me to keep shooting the ordinary from a not-so-ordinary perspective. It wasn't anything more than a friendly conversation between friends, something he and I had done so often as we crossed paths in our typical suburban existence. And as I fetched my daughter and loaded her into the van, I didn't give it much more thought.

Fast forward a few months and our lives changed forever with news that our friend had suddenly passed away. I thought immediately of that moment on the downtown sidewalk, of how what had once seemed ordinary would forevermore be anything but. This building, the very epicentre of our town, is now a beacon for that fleeting shared moment. Every picture I take of it instantly reminds me of him, and why I need to fight just a little harder to hold on to the ordinary, the mundane, the routine, the forgettable.

Because on reflection, nothing is ordinary, mundane, routine or forgettable. Life, which can - and does - end in a blink, compels us to treat such moments with more respect and awe than we already do. You can't thank those who have passed away for the lessons they've taught you. All you can do is apply those lessons forward. And so I am...

* One London Place

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thematic Photographic 77 - Buildings

Facade. Reflected.
New York, NY, November 2009

I returned from our quick trip to New York* earlier this month with a newfound respect for architecture. While most of us are too busy moving through the day-to-day challenges of life to stop and appreciate the impact of an unseen architect on our not-so-routine journeys, it doesn't hurt to slow things down and look around every once in a while.

Which is what I did when we were in New York. For a few minutes, anyway. And what I saw inspired me to select buildings as this week's Thematic Photographic theme.

This particular photo, taken on 5th Avenue in the shadows of the Empire State Building, has a neat backstory: I noticed an immaculately clean Cadillac Escalade parked illegally on the corner. So clean was its hood that the building above it reflected almost hypnotically in the pristine black paint. So I lined up and grabbed the shot. Only after I had the lens cap back on did I realize the driver was sitting inside, watching my every move. Oops.

Your turn: If it's got a foundation and takes up a slice of the sky, we want to see it. Over the next week, feel free to share as many building-themed photos as you wish on your blog, then leave a link to them here in a comment. For more on how Thematic Photographic works, please click here. And thank you for making it as much fun as it is.

*For more photos from this journey, please see my Facebook album here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Animated thirst

Pop goes the world
London, ON, July 2009

Every time I look at this photo, I think back to the episode of The Simpsons where Principal Skinner implores Groundskeeper Willie to keep watering down the orange drink as a means of maximizing profits. The quote that comes back, in his inimitable Scottish accent, will probably resonate in my head forever:
I have watered her down as far as she'll go. I cannot water no more
(Sound bite here. Others here.)
Note: Yes, I quote Simpsons. Prolifically. Hope this doesn't disappoint you. Next...

So as we continue our exploration of all things orange (see here for more) I offer this rather neon-ish take on the color that can make even the curmudgeonly among us happy, if only for a moment.

Your turn: Color as a catalyst for happiness. Please discuss.

Talking on the radio about Facebook

The story of a Quebec woman, Natalie Blanchard, whose insurance company cut off her disability payments after seeing pictures of her on Facebook, is getting a lot of headlines this week. That's likely because it illustrates, rather starkly, the perils of social media, and our seeming inability to understand them.

I've gotten a few phone calls from journalists about this. The Canadian Press published this piece by Sidhartha Banerjee, Quebec woman's Facebook insurance battle highlights need for online prudence. Precis published here as well.

I'm busy on the radio front, too, with an interview scheduled with 4fm, an Irish (!) radio station at about 1:15 p.m. EST today (Update: bumped to tomorrow...more details as I know 'em. Update 2: Interview airs WEDNESDAY at 1:15 p.m.) I'll be speaking with Tom McGurk, host of McGurk on 4. The station doesn't live stream over the Internet, but its shows are archived here. (Update 3: The producer has confirmed that they do, in fact have a live stream...I seem to have lost my vaunted ability to find resources like this online! To listen live, click here.)

In other news, I'll also be on-air with 570 News Kitchener's Jeff Allan at 11:05 a.m. EST to talk about new Canadian legislation that could require Internet service providers to spy on customers and snitch to police if they detect activity related to child porn. The Canadian Press also quoted me in a piece by David Friend and Diana Mehta, Ciena wins bid for Nortel's optical unit, offers jobs to 2,000 employees.

Facebook, porn and optical networking...should be a fascinating day indeed!

Your turn: Do you worry about Facebook, Twitter, blog and other social media postings coming back to bite you?

Monday, November 23, 2009

We didn't start the fire

London, ON
October 2009
[Click photo to embiggen]
About this photo: It's all orange, all the time. Well, at least until this Wednesday, when I toss a new theme at ya. Suggestions welcome if you've got 'em. Orange-themed sharing welcome here otherwise. Captioning going on here, too.
First things first: I'm not a pyromaniac, an arsonist, or someone who is otherwise obsessed with fire. Still, as a photographer, it's a subject I've explored off and on (see here, here and here for previous examples) and it's one of the few subjects that eludes me insofar as bringing home The Ideal Photo.

But I keep trying, as evidenced by today's pic. Our son, Zach, inspired it, as we had all gone to a local restaurant to celebrate his birthday. As we waited for the server to arrive, he noticed the fireplace beside our table and we immediately began discussing whether it was wood, natural gas or electric. We concluded it was gas, because the thought of servers taking time out from running between guests and the kitchen to throw another log on the fire just didn't seem to fit.

It was a quiet night - Mondays are off-peak in the food services biz...who knew? - so before we headed home, we went over to the fireplace and took a bunch of pictures. It's the kind of thing where you don't compose as much as you meter, shoot a bunch, meter again, shoot a bunch, and repeat the process until you think you've got a reasonable chance of bringing one salvageable picture home. Even if the pictures were meh, the moment of curiosity and insight from a relentlessly growing almost-man was anything but.

Your turn: What does this picture remind you of? (To my high school English teacher, yes, I ended the sentence with a preposition. I know...I'm so busted.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Caption This 138

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
Montreal, QC
October 2009

About this photo: It's orange. Well, at least part of it is. If you're feeling in a particularly orange mood, Thematic Photographic hopes to hear from you. Right this way...
Montreal isn't known for being pedestrian-friendly. Its drivers, legendary across the continent for their often misplaced aggressiveness, tend to see the average biped as an annoyance, something standing between them and the cold beer waiting at home.

Like many cities, Montreal's been installing timers and pedestrian lights at major intersections. They won't stop a two-ton missile from plowing through the crosswalk, but they're better than nothing. And they can be entertaining when you're waiting for the munchkins to get back to the car so you can get on your way.

Your turn: It's been a while since we captioned. Sometimes, life gets in the way. It's still in the way, of course, but I figured now would be as proper a time as any to restart Caption This. If you've got a witty title for this pic, click the comment link and have at it. Head over here for background on how Caption This works.

About our last Caption This photo: I posted it September 20th - a lifetime ago - so I'm under no illusions that anyone even remembers this sad scene of a building in the midst of demolition. But in the hope that folks are ready to tune back in, here are our honorable menschens:
  • Jean: "Door to nowhere."
  • Emme Rogers: "Urban genocide."
  • Thom: Destruction for progress."
Steve Gallow takes it for "My door is always open for you." I like how you can read that in any number of ways. Steve is in the midst of a year-long personal challenge to not only post a photo per day, but to explore the lessons learned each time out. His photos are wonderful, and the stories behind each one will keep you coming back for more. Please drop by and congratulate him.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Taking a moment

Transitional sky
London, ON
September 2009

The interview (with CTV, on Twitter) was done. It had gone well, and after chatting with the producer I wandered into the parking lot. The studio sits at the top of a hill, so I had a perfect view of a post-sunset sky that while I was inside had been painted with colors that seemed to be new to me.

Instead of just driving home, though, I lingered. There's something to be said for taking your time when transitioning out of one thing and into another. Skipping a beat along the way gives the old brain a chance to reflect on what just happened, to file away the feeling and meaning of the experience before calling it a day. It's how I remember life.

This was one of those "before" days - my father died less than a week after this was taken - and as I reflect back on this serene moment alone on the top of a hill, I'm thankful that I slowed things down just long enough to remember what life was like before it changed for good.

Your turn: Do you take time-out moments? Why?

Please see here for more orange...

Paying homage to OJ

Take a bite
Montreal, QC, October 2009 [Click all images to enlarge]
About these photos: We're sharing orange-themed pictures all week long as part of Thematic Photographic. And it doesn't get bigger than Montreal's OJ! Please click here to share your own orange vision.
On a busy street corner beside the trench of a highway known as the Decarie Expressway sits a giant building that's shaped like an orange. Officially, it's Gibeau Orange Julep. But no one calls it that. It's embedded itself into Montreal's culture simply as "OJ". Long ago, you'd drive in and hostesses on roller skates served you in your car. Those days are but distant memories now, but pulling in here for a quick bite on the way home is still something special.

The food - mostly hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries - isn't really worth writing home about. And I'm sure your cardiologist wouldn't approve of your being here in the first place. But there's something about sipping the flagship drink - best known as "OJ", I think it's orange juice mixed with a bit of egg, then mixed continuously into a frothy mess - while sitting in the car that reminds me of what life must have been like for my parents when they were young. Indeed, it's one of those rare cultural icons that ties my generation to theirs: It was as important a milestone of my teens and early twenties as it was of theirs.

So even though we don't live here anymore, we bring the kids because we want them to know what a truly unique experience this is - and we want them to experience it before the inevitable march of time claims this special place, too. More importantly, every time we drive by here, we find ourselves in need of some happy. That's because this place is barely three kilometers away from the hospital, and we always pass it on our way back home. This has become our comforting antidote to the often jarring visits to a place no child should have to witness except to be born.

In the silence in the car after we first come down from the hospital, I often wonder what they're thinking, how the just-completed experience has changed them. They've been here so many times already that they're old pros - they know when to wear masks, when to clean their hands, when to stay back from the patient's bed, how to behave, etc. Yet still I wonder if being so familiar with illness and endings has aged them somehow, has taken away their grasp of childhood innocence.

As OJ looms in the windshield, I like to suggest stopping there. Even if I'm not hungry, just immersing ourselves - and most notably, them - in the experience of this place helps escape the sadness for just a little while. Over the somewhat greasy fare, we recount the stories of mommy's and daddy's earliest dates here, we speculate over what might be inside the orange, and we muse about the person who concocted this place all those years ago. Their faces light up, if only briefly, as we all manage to forget reality for a few minutes.

I guess we find our balm wherever we can, even if it comes in the shape of a tattered old, iconic orange building. I wish I could take this place with us when we head back to London.

Your turn: Odd, memorable, iconic places. And why they mean as much as they mean. Please discuss.

Oprah quits. World stops spinning.

So the big news of the day is that Oprah will end her long-lived talk show, the Oprah Winfrey Show, in 2011. I know this because my BlackBerry lit up with all sorts of "Breaking News" alerts yesterday afternoon.

Breaking news? Give me a serious break. A fire that injures or kills people would certainly qualify. So would a military coup somewhere, as well as a mudslide that buries the world's last remaining significant eucalyptus tree reserve and threatens a rare community of pygmy koala bears. You know, important stuff that permanently changes our lives could all logically be thought of as breaking news

But this? I risk the wrath of Oprah superfans by saying this isn't news, much less breaking news. And it doesn't rank up there with koala extinction.

She isn't retiring. She isn't disappearing. She's simply taking her brand off of broadcast television and moving it over to cable. There are enough media channels in the universe that anyone who needs an Oprah fix will easily be able to get it after September 9, 2011, when her current show fades to black.

Remember when we all held our collective breath before Jay Leno signed off of the Tonight Show earlier this year? Well, now that he's essentially rubber-stamping the same show at 10 p.m. every night, we've all gone back to ignoring him. Life went on after Jay. It'll go on after Oprah, too.

I've always respected Oprah for trying to improve our world. In a media landscape marked by self centredness and pettiness, she's consistently kept her focus on helping those in need and inspiring the rest of us to follow along. But turning what is essentially a career strategy decision into a cultural milestone smacks of overkill. Can we please get a grip?

Besides, we still have Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz to fill our keep-it-simple, feel-good pipeline of middle-America pablum. Whether we like it or not, her legacy will outlive her show by a long shot.

Your turn: When we take TV too seriously. Please discuss.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pieces of orange

ET would be proud
London, ON, November 2009 [Click photo to enlarge]

About this photo: We're celebrating all things orange all week long. With any luck, you'll be celebrating, too. Head here for more.
My wife knows "the look" almost before I finish making it. When something catches my eye, I furrow my brow and begin looking at it from all angles, often involving my hands to help the composition along. Before long, the camera comes out. She's used to it by now, and thank goodness accepts me for the flawed individual that I am.

So while chatting with my mom on the phone in the kitchen one bright afternoon, she barely batted an eyelash when I started removing the yellow and brown Reese's Pieces from the pile. With a slightly exasperated smile in her voice, she told my mom I was at it again, and then continued with their conversation.

Another moment in another day. And somehow she helped make it more memorable to me than just another closeup picture of junk food. How does she do that?

Your turn: My next foodie pic should be...?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thematic Photographic 76 - Orange

When the game ends
London, ON, June 2009

About this photo: This entry launches our new Thematic Photographic theme, orange. To be a part of the fun, simply post an orange-themed pic on your site, then leave a comment here so everyone can find it. Repeat as often as you wish. Click here if you'd like to learn more about Thematic Photographic.
I'm not sure why I stuck around the playground at our kids' school after the bell rang and everyone headed inside. I had a camera and a few extra minutes before I needed to get on my way. I guess some days we all need a little quiet time before diving into the day.

The basketball, sitting alone in the middle of the court, seemed lost in the asphalt, suddenly forgotten by the boisterous kids who mere minutes ago were fighting each other to get it through the net. They'd be back at recess, but for now it was just me, a ball, and a whole lot of sunshine-drenched silence. I'm glad I hung back.

Your turn: Got something orange in your archives? If so, I hope you'll share it here. If not, you've got the perfect excuse to head out with your camera and bring home something orange. We're at it all week, so have fun with it!

Stars & Stripes Forever

Flag day
New York, NY, November 2009

I wanted to share one last travel-themed moment before we go orange (check back at 7 p.m. for that.) Why? Because I came home from our lightning-quick visit to New York with hundreds of pictures and no idea how to efficiently share them all. Ideas welcome, btw.

Just before I took this shot, I was walking down Broadway doing my best to drink in what made this place such a global magnet of attention. I don't think I was ever able to really figure it out. On the surface, the buildings, stores and people look much like they do in any other major North American city. But look a little deeper and the combination of factors sets this place apart. The buildings are just a little bigger, just a little more architecturally fascinating and imposing on the streetscape. The people are just a bit harder edged and a bit more big-hearted - all at the same time. It's subtle, but enough to imprint itself on your soul.

The sum of the parts can't be found anywhere else. And even on a relatively quiet morning, you can close your eyes and feel the energy of this place. As I caught this total stranger sitting alone in a spot where everyone is typically on the move, I wondered what he was thinking. The moment-in-time quality of the scene almost compelled me to take the picture. So I did.

Your turn: So, what was this guy thinking?

Striking stupidity

The transit strike that's gripped our city this week has forced a mad scramble for alternative means of getting to work and school. The University of Western Ontario and its student council combined forces and launched a "community van" program where volunteers drive rented vans between seven points throughout the city. Sounds simple enough, right?

Not so much, apparently. Since no transit strike would be complete without a healthy dose of stupid behavior, the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents the transit workers, has called for an end to this shuttle service. They've predictably called it "union busting".

Somewhat more surprising is the response from unions representing university workers. The president of the UWO staff association says the volunteers represent scab labour becuse they're replacing regular workers. Even better, if the bus drivers start picketing the campus, they'll refuse to cross the picket lines. I guess solidarity to students doesn't rate in the average UWO prof's world view.

So, from where I sit, a volunteer-based, alternative means of getting around town that has absolutely no connection to regular bus service is at risk of being shut down because unionistas call it "scab labour". I suppose, then, that my own volunteer-based, alternative means of getting around town would also qualify:
  • I rode my bike to and from a couple of appointments this week. Since my legs did the work normally done by a bus driver, I guess they now qualify as scabs.
  • I drove the kids to school, and later to their gymnastics class. I think I passed a bus stop along the me a scab.
  • I walked the dog along part of a bus route last night. I suppose that, too, makes me a union-busting scab.
At the end of the day, transit workers have decided that the only way for them to score a better deal is to walk off the job. Whether we agree or disagree with them, that's their choice.

But they're not the only one with choices - or needs. As citizens, how we move around the city in their absence is entirely our choice. I'll be damned if some union leader decides for me how I can and cannot get myself and my family from place to place. Call me a scab if you wish, but please don't call me a transit rider when this thing is over: By then, I may just decide to stick with my hastily-arranged choices in union-busting, self-provided transportation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Filling up. Looking back.

Locust Grove, GA, January 2009

About this photo: Thematic Photographic's travel theme continues. Please click here to share your own travel vision. I'll launch a new theme tomorrow (Wednesday) evening. I'm thinking it should be orange. Does that sound like a decent choice?
I know it's a forgettable piece of architecture in the middle of a forgettable town late on an otherwise forgettable night. But I have an annoying habit of retaining the forgettable.

We were on our way home from vacation, and were finishing up our first long day in the car. Debbie and the kids had gone inside to fetch snacks and stretch muscles, while I stayed outside and filled the tank. When I was done, I found myself alone with the wondervan in a darkened parking lot, so out came the camera.

Some background: I tend to get reflective when we're in the middle of a long journey. I feel responsible for shepherding my brood safely to our destination. Before we set off, I often spend a quiet moment during which I'll touch the car, close my eyes and wish for an easy, predictable trip. Along the way, I look for fleeting alone moments, and I look for ways to remember that feeling of responsibility, of being the dad of a family, of simply being somewhere new and exciting. Or, as the case may be, not-so-exciting.

I know these trips won't last forever. I know the kids will grow beyond the point at which they want to sit in a car or spend hours on end with mom and dad. I won't always be responsible for them from the beginning to the end of their journey. And I'll miss what it feels like to wait for them to return to the car so we can get back on the road, together.

Your turn: What do you think about in the middle of a long journey?

Monday, November 16, 2009

High school not-so-confidential

So I missed my high school reunion. While it would have been lovely to catch up with folks who in many respects defined an important period of my life, I realized that now is just too soon. I don't know how long is considered "long enough" after someone close to you dies before you feel right attending larger events, being among people and generally being your usual smiley-happy self. But I do know that I'm not quite there yet.

We attended a family wedding in New York last week. It was probably too soon, as well, but it was my cousin's wedding, and being there was incredibly important for us all. Her mom, my aunt, is my late dad's sister, and in an extended family where not everyone seems to appreciate the fact that we are, indeed, family, my aunt and uncle were - and still are - always there and always a central part of our and our kids' lives. It was tough to be part of a celebration so soon after losing my father, but I'm so glad we went.

As we wrestled with whether or not to also attend the reunion, we realized it just didn't rate on the same plane as my cousin's wedding. At the risk of offending the organizers - and I'm sure we did, but whatever - we simply didn't see ourselves pretending to be happy shiny people at this thing. Had the timing been different, we would have been there in a heartbeat, and I would have come back with a memory card filled with photos and a head full of fond memories to boot.

But the timing wasn't different. Life sucks that way, sometimes. And as I endure the torrent of "gee, you should have been there" e-mails, Facebook messages, Tweets and IMs over the next week or so, I'll have to keep in mind that not everyone gets that being among the crowd is the last thing I want or need at this early stage. Some folks get that some days I still need to be alone, and some folks don't. And some folks don't bother to take the time to read.

I'm learning, slowly, that I don't necessarily need to waste cycles trying to make everyone aware. It just doesn't matter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Going postal

When light does its dance
Toronto, ON, January 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic is all travel, all the time - until next Wednesday, anyway. Head over here to share your own distant vision.
When you're early for a meeting in a faraway city and you've got a bit of extra time on your hands, it's only natural to want to pull out your camera and grab a few frames. Never mind that the temperature's cold enough to turn your fingers white: There's a certain appeal to shooting in the crisp, clear air that results.

Two things that I remember about this rather frigid moment:
  • Architecture was a lot nicer way back when. I'm sorry more examples like this haven't survived through time.
  • Surprises - especially pleasant ones like this delightfully reflected light - can happen any time. We need to keep our eyes open as a result.
Your turn: Something you didn't expect to see while on a trip. Please discuss.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ocean ranger

Destination unknown
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008

It's as long as a skyscraper is tall, yet on the horizon it slips by, barely noticed by the folks frolicking on the beach. Except my daughter, who sees it first and tells me to get my camera out.

As we sit on the sand and watch it slowly make its way across the seeming edge of the planet, she muses aloud about where it might be going. She rattles off a list of potential destinations, all touristy places more likely to be visited by a cruise ship than one carrying cargo containers. I correct her. She rolls her eyes, reminding me she was kidding, and she knows full well it's a cargo ship. Smart girl.

We decide we like its blocky, built-for-a-purpose form. You know full well what this thing was built for. We wish we could get a little closer to it, get some answers about what it's carrying, where it's headed, what it's called and who sails on her. But for now, we're content to watch this mysterious leviathan continue on its way. Answers may come another day, if at all. But for today, we're content to sit on the beach and just be.

Your turn: When you took a small moment to talk about big things...

About this photo: It's travel week all week long. To dive into the thematic soup, so to speak, click here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Early morning on Market Street

Down low in Frisco
San Francisco, July 2008

About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores travel-themed scenes all week long. If you have something from your own travels, please share it here.
The scene: It's early on a grey, damp, miserable morning, and I really should be back at my hotel getting ready to fly back home. Instead, I'm zipping through the streets, power-shooting whatever I see because, well, I don't want to return home without a tangible memory of my all-too-brief time here.

I'm manic like that.

Your turn: This streetscape seems to be telling so many stories. I hope you'll pick one and share it in a comment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Images that haunt

I've started going through my photo archives again. It's something that I had always done regularly - it helps me learn from my experiences and (hopefully) improve my photography - but I stopped after my father's passing. I was afraid of coming across a picture that would send me spinning back into darkness.

Earlier this week, though, I ventured back into the sequentially dated, painstakingly edited and sorted folders on my backup drive. I wasn't looking for anything specific. I simply realized that sooner or later I'll have to come face-to-face with what we'd lost. And I can't avoid the stories - literary, oral, visual or all three - that I've long used to mark my and my family's journey through this world.

As I slowly clicked through the photos from the past number of years, I noticed a recurrent theme: hospitals. We'd spent so much time visiting my father there, and since I had decided to take pictures when most other folks would have left their cameras at home, I ended up with countless visions into a journey both he and we wished had never been taken.

I find myself hovering over photos of him in his hospital bed, of our kids gathered around him, of my mother's look of concern, of his hands holding get well cards from our son, of whatever trivial-at-the-time moments I decided to grab with my lens. Maybe trivial then, but certainly not now.

It's jarring, upsetting and more than a little haunting. I want to move back the clock, or at least PhotoShop some of the images so they don't appear quite so stark. It was hard to accept his getting sick, and then sicker. It's even harder looking back at this now that he's gone.

I don't know what I'll ever do with the pictures. I don't know if I'll ever post any of them online - for now, it feels like the kind of thing that will cause others more pain than joy. I guess I'm learning the flip side of my decision to use photography to tell my and my family's story. Sometimes, the story hurts too much to share. Sometimes, you wonder if you should have even brought the camera at all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thematic Photographic 75 - Travel

Madison & 29th
New York, NY
November 2009
[Click photo to enlarge]

Sooner or later, we all have to leave home. Whether we do so for work, for family, for adventure, we invariably end up seeing things we'd never see from our kitchen window.

That's what I'm looking for with this week's Thematic Photographic theme, travel. If you've been away and took pictures, we want to see 'em. See the Your Turn section below for more. And happy shooting!

About this photo: Early morning from our 9th floor hotel room (FWIW, the Carlton on Madison Ave.) The kids were still asleep, and I, as ever, couldn't sleep. The soft light beckoned through the closed shades. So I peeked out the sides and liked what I saw: Slices of shadow and sunlight on an urban landscape that could only exist here in New York. A lovely and memorable way to start the day, don't you think?

Your turn: If you brought home pictures (plural deliberate) of strange new experiences from faraway places, please share them on your blog, then paste a link into a comment below. Click here for more background on how Thematic Photographic works.

Never forget

Red badge of courage
London, ON, November 2009

I tweeted this earlier today as I walked the dog in my quiet neighborhood and pondered the kinds of not-quite-adventures my suburban existence would serve up before bedtime:
The price for freedom is paid not only on Nov 11th. Their sacrifice will be just as meaningful - and worthy of thanks - tomorrow.
I shared this from the comfort of my BlackBerry because I admit more than a little discomfort at the once-a-year outpouring of affection for our veterans. I know it's human nature to store it all up and then blast it all out in one brief day - witness Christmas, birthdays and wedding anniversaries - but I still find it sad that we share our thanks, thoughts and feelings so rarely.

If anything, we should celebrate our heritage, our lives and our connections with those who matter most each and every day. We have what we have because countless heroes among us have made - and continue to make - unthinkable sacrifices. Indeed, my walk with the dog this morning was made possible by complete strangers decades ago who stood in Hitler's way and ensured the darkness racist totalitarianism didn't shade the entire planet.

For them and all who have followed, I think I can at least give it some thought the other 364 days of the year, as well.

Your turn: You're thankful because...?

About this photo: We're winding down this week's red theme (head here if you'd like to share.) Tonight at 7:00 EDT, I'll post the next Thematic Photographic theme, travel.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What we would have missed

The scene: Late at night, somewhere in western New York state. We're midway through our return home from a quick trip to New York City where we and my mom attended my cousin's wedding. Everyone but the driver - that would be me - dozes while the GPS softly lights the dash and points us toward home.

As we approach a seemingly dark exit, I furrow my brow when our navigator, who we've nicknamed Lucille, or Lucy, tells me to get off the highway. The device is set to default to the fastest possible route, so I'm surprised that she's pointing me toward, well, oblivion. But I've never driven here before, and I know better than to quibble with the Soulless Code of Garmin. So I hit the turn signal and take the exit.

We end up on a two-lane highway - US Route 20A - that snakes us through canopies of trees and up and down through more small towns and past more farms and farmhouses than I can count. This isn't a short detour: By my admittedly lame estimate, Lucy has decided to yank us off the Interstate for the last 90 minutes before we hit the border. The kids, sensing that the car is no longer cruising on the straight and level, wake up and start asking questions. Are we there yet? (No.) Are we off the highway? (Yes.) Why? (Because Daddy's lost and we've entrusted ourselves to a squawking box no bigger than your Nintendo DSi.)

So you can imagine that I'm a little more stressed than usual, and at first I find it difficult to avoid showing it. But I smile as I answer their questions because that's just what dads do - if mine was ever nervous during a long trip, he never let on. We always felt safe, and that's exactly what I want for them, too.

After a few minutes, though, my headlights swing past a deer standing quietly on the side of the road. No one's playing Nintendo now, and everyone's suddenly keenly aware of the things going on outside our car that we'd never have seen on the boring old Interstate. I start to relax and enjoy the unplanned experience.

We pick our way down a steep set of switchbacks before coasting into a brilliantly lit, one-intersection town. A lone pedestrian - a long-haired teenaged boy whose black t-shirt doesn't look warm enough for the chilly night - walks across the deserted street, swapping one whitewashed facade of dusty windows and shadowed entranceways for another.

As we climb out of the town and back into the pitch black night, Debbie calls out that she sees a windmill. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch it: a giant shadow of modern eco-friendliness that dominates the quaint farmhouses that line the side of the road. I have no idea how I'm able to make it out on the darkened land - and no time, either, as the road beckons my eyes back. Suddenly my wife sees another one, and another, until the entire field is filled with them. They're turning slowly in the black night, sending energy to a place that's got to be lighter than this. My kids remain glued to the window, amazed.

Eventually, we see a familiar glow in the distance as Lucy points us back toward civilization. We get on the highway and drive through the middle of Buffalo. The rest of the way home, I toss over in my mind what possessed our GPS to take us on such a ride. And I smile at the thought as I consider what we would have missed had the trip gone completely according to plan. Sometimes, the road less traveled is the one we simply need to take.

I'll leave the why of it all for another time.

Your turn: When a journey takes you somewhere unexpected. Please discuss.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Don't cry over spilled...

Laval, QC, August 2009

Our youngest son has many fine qualities that would make any parent proud. Neatness isn't one of them. When Noah and food converge on the same spot in the space-time continuum, gravity usually ends up victorious.

Thankfully, it occasionally makes for an interestingly spontaneous moment with the camera.

For what it's worth, I'm perfectly fine with the occasional spill. With a soul as sweet as his, I'm good with the inevitable cleanups and laundry that ensue. Even the ring of chocolate around his mouth when he eats M&Ms is endearing.

Your turn: I know you've got some red in ya. Click here to dive in. And if you've already shared, don't be shy to share again.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Red meat

Montreal smoked meat...not quite a breakfast of champions
Laval, QC, August 2009

About this photo: It's all-things-red week as Thematic Photographic celebrates the happiest color ever. Don't know what the hell I'm talking about? Click here and all will be explained. But first, we eat.
Like many cities, Montreal is home to a number of foods that define its very soul. In some cases - bagels, for instance - they're fairly neutral from a health perspective. In others - exhibit A being the sandwich I've shared here or the hideously famous poutine - they ought to come with their own cardiologist.

I have a weak spot for smoked meat. I know it'll kill me eventually, but I can't say no if it's on the menu. I figure I'll do an extra few kilometers on the bike tomorrow to compensate. Or call a cardiologist and make an appointment.

Either way, it's a seemingly small thing that adds just a little more zing to our time on this planet. Seen from that perspective, maybe it's not so unhealthy after all.

Your turn: Things that we should avoid, but don't. Please discuss.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Puppy feet

(Red) Crocs on land
Laval, QC, August 2009

[Click here for more red-themed goodness]

Our youngest son, Noah, has what we like to call puppy feet. Big feet for his size that we know he'll eventually grow into. They make an already sweet boy that much sweeter. His red Crocs are another Noah hallmark: unpretentious, practical, sometimes loud, oh so cute and bound to make even complete strangers smile.

As he swam in the outdoor pool at his grandparents' building, I grabbed this quick, pseudo-artsy picture because I liked the color and texture. In retrospect, however, the picture, like so many others that I took on that last trip home before my father died, has taken on an additional layer of meaning.

My father loved this pool, and came here even when he wasn't feeling well to soak up the blink-and-it's-gone summer weather and duke it out with his neighbors on whatever political issue was bugging him that day. Before our brood would leave London for a visit to Montreal, he'd make sure we were bringing our bathing suits, because this was where he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren. I've got to believe that this unassuming slice of concrete, water, trees and grass will also hold many memories for our kids as they grow into adults.

It's not as if our family hasn't been there before. For me and my maternal grandfather, that memorable place was the park in front of his house. We'd sit on the benches in the thick forest at the edge of it and watch the squirrels scamper about. He'd tell me stories and I'd do my best to keep up with him. It was one of the few places in the world where I knew I could always return and feel as if I was right back there with him. And even today, as I drive by this very park on the way home from the hospital where I practically grew up, I flash back to these long-ago moments and think of how lucky I am to have such memories.

I hope we've done a good enough job with our own kids that they see this place in a similar light, and hold onto their grandfather as I have held onto mine.

Your turn: From generation to generation. Why do these connections matter so?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Under a blood red sky

When the day ends
Laval, QC, August 2009

This is another one of those "before" pictures* that, in the greater context of all that's happened since, takes on a somewhat different meaning. I've had a particular thing for sunrise/sunset pictures since my father first asked me for a copy of a particular sunrise in Colorado a few years back (see here for more background on this photo.)

Since I took that first photo, every time I find myself shooting quickly to capture the fast-changing skies at the beginning or end of the day, I think back to a connection that helped me grow not only as a photographer, but also as a son and as a person. My father enjoyed the results of these adventures, and I enjoyed thinking of what he'd think of them.

Obviously it's all different now. I can't simply post the results to my blog and call him or e-mail him. I can't crinkle my nose at his sometimes-too-honest honesty. Connections take on strange new forms when someone dies, and I think I need to learn what those forms are, and how I can internalize them without turning sad every time they come to mind.

Because it's hard to see through the viewfinder when your eyes are filled with tears.

Your turn: How does photography connect you to the people who matter?

* Please see here, then here for background, or simply click here for the whole series. Click here for more of Thematic Photographic's red-themed week.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Anchored in brick

London, ON, October 2009

There are moments in life when it really needs to be as simple as this. Sadly, there aren't nearly as many moments like this as we'd like. I guess we'll have to keep working on that. Are you with me?

Your turn: It's red week here at Written Inc. If you've got something red that you'd like to share, head over here to get started with Thematic Photographic.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thematic Photographic 74 - Red

Really, really red
London, ON
October 2009

[Click photo to enlarge]

I've chosen red as this week's Thematic Photographic theme because as the last leaves tumble ingloriously to the ground, they leave a stark, muted environment in their wake. In this part of the world, at least, we're looking at six months of bare branches and varying shades of white, grey, and brown.

Which means the potential for bummerhood (yes, I invent words) rises at this time of year. And we need a break from it. A shot of color has always helped me around this time of year, and I'm hoping the same thing holds true for you, too.

Your turn: Please dig into your archives and share the richest, most evocative red-themed photos you've got. If you don't have any in the archives, it's the perfect excuse to head out and capture some new ones. Don't forget to post the link in a comment here to maximize sharing (and anti-bummerhood, of course.) Want to share a new one every day? Go nuts! Here's more on how Thematic Photographic works.

Eats, shoots & leaves

Leaving the neighborhood
London, ON, October 2009

As we close out this week's Thematic theme, leaves, I thought I'd give it a bit of a twist. I came across this sad little scene on a sad stretch of a quiet little street on the fringe of my burg's downtown core. I never even knew there was a store back here, so my regret as I stood on the sidewalk revolved around never having had the opportunity to know what this neighborhood had lost.

Sure, it's a forgettable, crooked little building among a bunch of forgettable, crooked buildings. And whatever happened in this place is now part of this area's - and some stranger's - past. Wherever the now-former owner of this business ends up, I hope it's in a happier-looking place than this. And I hope that story has a happier ending, too.

Sometimes, things leave our lives with barely a ripple. Sometimes, we wish they didn't have to leave at all.

Your turn: Things we wish would never leave. Please discuss.

One more thing: New Thematic Photographic theme - red - launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT. All welcome. Bonus points to folks who bring friends.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Remember the fallen

Look down. Look different.
London, ON, October 2009

I take pictures like this because I truly enjoy shaking complete strangers out of their collective reverie. To get this shot, I plunked myself right down on the ground and started shooting (if you're a Londoner, I took this in Victoria Park.) People stopped in their tracks as they watched me get closer to my inner squirrel. And I admit I had to try hard to pretend I didn't see them. I did, however, crack a tiny smile as I concentrated on the shot. And on keeping the squirrels away.

Beyond jerking the chains of complete strangers, I also take pictures like this because I've always believed the real story lies not in what everyone's staring at, but in what they're ignoring. When the crowds are ogling the fighter jets in the sky, I'll be shooting the lonely Cessna on the ground. As everyone snaps the handsome crowd posing for a family portrait, I'm hanging back and shooting the photographers. Or the little kid who refuses to take part.

I started this because I didn't much enjoy fighting scads of people only to get the same shot that they were. I wanted to tell my own stories, and in the process throw a little attention toward the subjects that, for whatever reason, never had a chance to shine in the spotlight.

Your turn: Whatever story you're telling, I hope you'll shift your focus a little toward the one who/that would otherwise not be seen or heard. And if you want to let us know who or what that might be in a comment, by all means...

One more thing: I'll post a new Thematic Photographic theme at precisely 7:00 p.m. EDT tomorrow. Next week's theme will Enjoy!

Intersecting strands of life

The differences that join us
London, ON, October 2009

There's symbolism in this forlorn duet of ivy*. I'm not entirely sure precisely what that symbolism might be, but I'm sure one of my beloved readers can help us figure it out. Anyone? Bueller?

*I've been down this stringy road before: here, here and here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Epiphany on a brilliant morning

The scene: a quiet suburban street. I'm riding back home after morning services at the synagogue. Quick religious primer: For a year after an immediate relative passes away, you go to synagogue for services and you say "kaddish" as a way of honoring his/her memory. It's still new to me and more than a little raw, so I admit having to sometimes pause in the middle of the near-rhythmic, monotonous process to gather my bearings and work through whatever spurious thoughts have weaseled their way into my head. I don't suppose it'll ever feel "normal" to me to be among the mourners who must say this prayer. And perhaps that's part of what I must take away from this.

Often, on the way home from shul, I continue to let my mind churn because this is my first ever experience dealing with direct loss and I guess there's no other way to deal with it except with a lot of quiet thought and reflection. Which a bike ride home from shul in the early morning makes oh so convenient.

So on this morning, as I cruised the leafy subdivision, lost in my thoughts, I noticed this one tree with a particularly golden glow and felt the need to stop. I knew the basic little camera baked into my BlackBerry wouldn't do it justice, but it was all I had at that moment, and I really didn't want to lose what I was feeling at That Particular Moment to the shifting sands of forgotten time. So I stopped the bike and got to work.

The picture didn't give me any more answers to the endlessly confusing torrent of thoughts that occupied my mind both then and since. But it gave me a fleeting opportunity to feel a little closer to normal as I composed a take-it-or-lose-it shot on the side of the road on a chilly morning. This was a very Carmi thing to do, and the fact that I was even doing it at all was a very small sign that I was still me. Changed significantly, mind you, but still capable of the same inexplicable kind of creative insanity that had always defined me. That realization was all I needed to get on with the rest of my day.

Too bad every day doesn't get to start with such clarity. I'll need to work on that next.