Friday, October 30, 2015

Photo Friday: Trees on Fire

The colors have peaked. The bright colours have reached their maximum saturation. The leaves, that only months ago were alive with green, have now set the trees on fire.

This week's rain and strong winds have now all but extinguished those flames. Only the most stubborn of leaves remain on branches, may even cling throughout the winter months, to spite the cold weather.

We will no longer look up for our colour but will cast our eyes downward.

And reach for the rakes.

Happy Friday!

Monday, October 26, 2015


I don't know if it's me, if it's the time of year, if it's the fact that my job is stressing me out, or that I'm just getting older and turning more and more into an old grouch.

My heart feels heavy. I feel the weight of gravity, of our Earth's atmosphere, pressing down on me, making me want to lie down and close my eyes, make the world go away. Breathing in has become a great labour, my own lungs resisting the intake of cool, fresh air.

I am fatigued, and I know that's my fault. I sleep so little: perhaps that's at the root of everything.

But I don't know. I feel such little joy in things these days. Usually, when I'm in this sort of funk, when I feel pangs of depression, as though the walls are closing in on me and all backs are turned away, I turn to music to clear my mind.

Music soothes the savage breast. Especially, mine. I turn to the sounds with which I'm familiar, and I'm calmed. Not so, these days.

On Saturday, after finishing an unsatisfying spin class, the cadence and tension, no matter how much I increased either, seemed to tax me too much. Even though I had started the class without my water bottle—I could picture it, filled to the brim, sitting in the entrance, at home—had only hopped off the bike once, at the halfway point of the class, to fill my mouth from the water fountain, I did not feel challenged enough.

I left the class and headed to the change room, to soak my body and put on a clean change of clothes. In the locker room, music poured from invisible speakers. It was the new song by Adele. I had followed the hype on social media, only the day before. I read Adele's open letter to her fans, how she explained that life got in the way, that a child came into her life, but that she was back. I saw the tweets of people, singing the praises of this song.

I stopped to listen, and was utterly disappointed.

Sure, Adele's voice is as beautiful and powerful as ever. I simply found the song reminded me of every Adele song that had made her famous in the first place. I found "Skyfall" entirely dull. I enjoyed "Rolling In The Deep" and "Set Fire to the Rain" great, but I had heard them so often in the years since they came out that I have now grown tired of them. And now, with her new song, "Hello," I was halfway through listening to the song when I was already tired of it. I moved into the shower stall and let the water drown her out.

I could live the rest of my days a happy man, never hearing that song again.

And while my not liking the new Adele single is not the end of the world (it's not like I'm a huge fan), it's not the only music that brought me disappointment this weekend.

After months of anticipating the new album from Metric, I finally downloaded Pagans In Vegas and pumped it through the Bluetooth speakers in my family room.

I wanted to cry.

Until that moment, I have liked—if not loved—every album that this indie band has produced. And while their hit single, "The Shade," is great, and the lead song, "Lie, Lie, Lie," is enjoyable, I found this 80s-inspired album disappointing. I stopped listening before the final track played.

Even a previous purchase from one of my favourite Canadian songwriters, Matthew Good, hasn't grown on me. I like the first song from Chaotic Neutral, "All You Sons and Daughters," and his rendition of Kate Bush's masterpiece, "Cloudbusting," does it proud, but the rest of the album leaves me feeling empty.

If music disappoints me, it's hard to win me back from the darkness.

I need to snap free from these autumn blues. Because winter is around the corner and I don't want to start the darkest time of year with depression. I'll be insufferable for the whole season.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Photo Friday: Wanting vs Having

It's a tree that I see almost every day, that I have noticed since before I could drive. Alone on one side of the road but not lonely. Another tree, older but smaller, was a short distance off, on the other side of the road. The road had changed course more than a decade ago and the older tree perished, fell and became nothing more than a hollow trunk, but the one tall tree endured and is now alone in a vast farm field.

And so I see it almost every day, under every weather condition, in every season. The years go on, the sun rises and sets, the light plays on the branches, dances through the leaves. I drive by, wordlessly passing my greetings onto it as I move past. I admire it in the various light, in the fog, in the driving wind, as autumn takes the leaves on a flight away from it.

I want to capture it every time, but of course, I don't. I'm on my way somewhere, and don't have the time to spare. Traffic is heavy, and there is little room on the side of the road, the moving cars too dangerous for me to be outside of my own.

Of course, on the days when I can stop, when the lighting is perfect, when the conditions for photography are just right, I find myself without my camera. I spend the next 10 or 15 minutes, berating myself for being too lazy to remember my equipment.

On days when my camera is at my side, in the passenger seat, the lighting isn't quite right. The rain is coming down too hard. The tree is willing but I'm not inspired.

And then, the day comes. I see the light in the sky before I can see the tree. I envisage the scene as I start that long approach on the straight, flat road. There are other cars, but not too many. A few drops of rain fall but both me and my camera can handle it.

I pull over and put my hazard lights on, leave the engine running so that both headlights and taillights glow. I get right to the edge of the road, where the shoulder begins to slant into the ditch. I'm not willing to take any chances with a distracted driver.

I know what the frame in the viewfinder will look like before I bring the camera to my eye. I fire off a dozen shots, changing the exposure with each one, moving to a slightly different angle. As the sun drops a little lower from under the rain-soaked cloud, the rays extend further. I shoot some more.

Satisfied with what I see in the display, I return to my car and merge back into traffic.

As soon as I get home, I excitedly pull the images from the camera and onto my smartphone. I choose one of the best pictures and send it into social media, sharing it on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

And from that moment on, my pleasure wanes. I look at the photo again: it's not that great, I tell myself.

For days, I sulk. The sky was perfect. The light was dramatic. For years, I've wanted to come across such a sky with that lone tree, and capture it. Now that I had it, the wanting was more uplifting. The desire was stronger than the fulfillment.

Four days later, I look at the photos again; this time, on a larger screen. I choose a slightly different photo, perform some edits. I look and I think, I love that tree. I love that light. It's what I wanted. It's what I have. That day will never come again. Those conditions will never be recreated exactly the same way. I'm thankful for what I have.

I continue to keep my camera at my side, as I drive by, waiting for the next perfect conditions. And I'll pull over again.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The 35mm Project

It wasn't as exciting as my 100 Strangers Project or my Bate Island Project. There was very little interaction with people and not nearly as labour-intensive.

Many times, I carried the old Minolta SRT-101 in my camera bag, the weight pulling at my shoulders, compressing the disks of my lower back, forgetting it was there. Being a fully manual SLR, with the only part that ran on batteries was a light meter that would work some days, not so much on others, I had to rely on decades-old skills and a sharp eye.

Neither of which I seemed to have.

When the camera's meter didn't work, I had to estimate the shutter speed and aperture. Most of the time, I was pretty good, but I did find some of the photos were either a little over-exposed or they seemed washed out.

Perhaps because developing 35mm film isn't something that camera shops do often, the chemicals do not get replenished as often as they should. Perhaps the technicians are rusty at this dying process.

I shot a roll of Kodak EKTAR 100ASA film, with 36 exposures. The roll cost about three times the price from when I worked in a camera store. So be it. It took me about six months to shoot it, often because, as I said, I forgot to use it. I used it on a model shoot, in New York City, on an evening photo walk, and wandering around downtown Ottawa.

When I dropped the roll off for processing, I had to pay up front: regardless of the number of prints that would turn out, I had to pay $25, which is about twice the price that it cost back in my days at Black's Cameras, for one-week processing.

It took a month to get the photos back.

With SLR photography, you shoot 36 frames and hope to get six or so good ones. When you take your time, perhaps half the roll or more might be worthwhile.

I learned a couple of things with this project: first, my eyes aren't as good as they were the last time I used this camera. My focus was off. Not a lot, but enough to give a soft effect to just about everything.

Second, the light meter is not as accurate as it used to be, for even when it worked, it didn't seem to provide a balanced exposure. Maybe, I'm so used to modern technology that I remember my photos to be more vivid. In the digital age, I can manipulate so much data in RAW files that I may have forgotten what SLRs produce.

Third, I'm not sure whether it was the quality of the Kodak film, the quality of the chemicals in developing the negatives, or the quality of the printer, but I wasn't happy with a single photo. Not one.

I'm least satisfied with the shots I took, where I gave thought to the composition, to the lighting, and to the exposure settings. The model shots are flat. New York looks washed out and old.

I wanted to show something from this project, but because the colours in most of the prints were washed out, I chose to digitally scan the negatives and use my photo-editing software to try and improve the shots.

These are the best that I could fix, all of them shot near or in the National Gallery of Canada, in June.

I know: they suck.

As you can see, I converted most of the photos to black-and-white, to make up for the lack of any vibrancy.

I'm going to try this project again, but next time I will try using my last SLR, my Minolta X-700. Perhaps the upgraded technology will produce better results.

Then again, I may just stick to the new technology of D-SLRs. That way, I don't have to wait so long to see whether a picture is good or not.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A New Direction

And so, we have our Canada back. Or, at the very least, we have stopped the steady slide, have prevented the plunge into the abyss.

With our new government, I'm hoping that the following changes come straight away:
  • An end to the first-past-the-post election system. We need proportional representation. Our new government must promise to change this part of the election system, making a real Fair Elections Act. I'd like to see the federal government to encourage the provinces to adopt this system, ensuring that it's in place before any further election.
  • Increased funding to the CBC. A country that stifles its public broadcaster is not a free society. A cancellation of any plans to sell CBC properties.
  • A return of the long-form census. A government that cannot gain detailed, relevant information cannot plan for the future.
  • An end to the muzzling of ministry spokespeople—a return to media access to information. You know, the way it was done before Stephen Harper took over (and called it the Harper Government).
  • Attend the Climate Conference. We owe it to the environment.
There are lots of other issues and promises that must be fulfilled, but these changes are relatively easy. Others will take time and will require considerable legislation that requires legal scrutiny and proper debate. Sure, the changes that I proposed will also need that, but who would seriously oppose them?

There is a lot of work for our new government. But the era of division and fear is over. Fear and paranoia is done.

A new direction is upon us.

Let's go!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Decision Day

This election has been exhausting and stressful, but the day has come for Canadians to make their decision about the future of this great nation.

And a decision for the next leader cannot be a strong one without your input. So please, get out there and vote.

Good luck to us all.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Photo Friday: Timing

I couldn't have timed it better.

Of all the places that I like to photograph, the length of the Rideau Canal, from Hogs Back to the Chateau Laurier, has to be among my top choices. The challenge to snapping photographs is that you have to be on foot, because there are precious few places to park.

Unless you're there before sunrise.

On Thanksgiving Monday, while most of the city was asnooze, I hopped in my car and raced to Hogs Back, to be there in time for sunrise. Except, when I got there, it was still pitch black. A Google search for the hour of sunrise told me that I was almost an hour early.

There is another place that I've wanted to photograph, along the canal, when it was dark, and when the wind was still, so as to not disturb the calmness of the water: the Bank Street Bridge. While it wasn't as dark as I wanted it to be, the canal was still. The soothing glow of pre-dawn twilight was perfect.

You can see the rest of my canal shots, that I took after this one, on my Wordless Wednesday post.

Finding the right time to shoot these pictures was easy. Finding the right weather was chance. Picking the date was fortuitous: the very next day, the canal was drained for the winter. These photos would never be possible again this year.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why We Need Change

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you may have noticed that I have shared a lot of news articles and photos that take pot shots at the Conservative Party of Canada. In seeing what I share, you may fairly assume that I am anti-Conservative.

I'm not so much anti-Conservative as I am, unabashedly, anti-Stephen Harper.

I do remember when Canada had a Progressive Conservative Party, and while I didn't share some of the values of those Conservatives, I did respect some of its members and some of its goals for Canada.

I had a great respect for Joe Clark, who was an excellent statesman and foreign-affairs minister—championing the anti-apartheid movement in Canada, the only G7 country to take such a stance in the 80s. Clark also fought for minimum wage for all Canadians.

Walter Baker, a PC member under Clark's minority government, was the MP for my riding and was well-respected by his constituents (he also lived next to a friend's house). Baker first introduced the Access to Information Bill that later was used as a basis for the Access to Information Act, which demands clarity from our government.

I even admired Brian Mulroney's Meech Lake Accord, which was an attempt to bring Québec into the fold in accepting the constitutional amendment and to try to keep that province within Canada. Though I didn't like Mulroney, I could see that he did have vision for a united Canada.

I am not anti-Conservative. I like to think that the majority of Canadians who still support a Conservative government are looking nostalgically to the days of the Progressive Conservatives. That's what I think of those, who complain about the Liberal Party, remember their grievances with Pierre Trudeau and how they disagree with his lavish spending. Like or hate those Liberals, that party was running counter to those old PCs.

That Trudeau is gone. So are those PCs.

I'm not anti-Conservative: I'm anti-Harper.

I share stories about corruption within Harper's party because it seems rampant. I share stories about how Harper has made the niqab an election issue, how he has divided the country and endorsed hate, how he has cultivated a society of fear and paranoia, where someone can call a tip line to report on a neighbour, just because that neighbour is different.

Canada used to be a country that was prided on tolerance and acceptance. Not under Harper's watch.

Our country is now attracting negative press, being viewed by other countries as intolerant and racist. That's not our country. That's not Canada.

That's all on Harper.

With a re-elected Harper government, we will continue to see our scientists muzzled. We will see the demise of our public broadcasting system. We will see the erosion of our privacy. We will see the end of Canada as we know it.

The Supreme Court of Canada has been our last bastion of our constitution. The Harper Government has tried to introduce bills that have been struck down by the Supreme Court 11 times. His court challenges have lost 11 times because they were unconstitutional. And Harper has been trying to discredit Supreme Court judges that have ruled against him. Harper has tried to stack the court with judges that support him.

If the Supreme Court is filled with Harper supporters, he will be able to pass bills that the court has previously deemed unconstitutional.

I'll give a minute for that to sink in.

I'm not anti-Conservative. I'm anti-Harper. I'm anti-Harper Conservative.

If you are considering voting for the Conservative Party of Canada, you really have to stop and think: are you voting of the old ideals of the Progressive Conservatives, or do you really think that Harper is the kind of man that you like, that what he wants to do with this country is good for Canadians—all Canadians.

No political party is perfect. It's impossible to agree with every policy and plan that a single party promises during the election campaign. It's even harder to believe everything that is said.

But of all the party leaders, Harper scares me the most. He scares me because he's already eroded so much that has been viewed as good in Canada. He has damaged our economy, our environment, and the world's view of us. If he is elected again, he will destroy this country.

Stop looking at his promises for tax savings and balanced budget. He has cost tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars, and his one balanced budget—one in 10 years—is the result of tapping into our reserves.

The payments to families may sound good, but after the tax clawbacks that we'll see at tax time, we'll realize that he has only thrown coins at our feet, expecting to buy our votes.

Do you want a little bit of cash in your pocket, at the expense of our values?

We can't afford another four years of Harper.

I'm not anti-Conservative. If you are looking back to the days of the Progressive Conservatives, you have to understand that, under Harper, they don't exist any more.

If you want to return to the days of the PCs, voting for Harper won't do that. Ever. If you want to return to the days of the PCs, you need to first get rid of Harper. Period.

Let's vote together to ensure that Harper and his followers (Pierre Poilievre, Jason Kenney, Tony Clement, Michelle Rempel, Leona Aglukkaq, Chris Alexander, Joe Oliver, Lisa Raitt... you know, the weasels who will tow the party line before they represent their constituents but aren't showing their faces in public debates or to the media during the campaign) go away. Vote for whichever party has the best chance of defeating a Harper Conservative.

If you can't bring yourself to vote for any other party, please stay home. Don't vote.

We need change. We need to get rid of Harper. We need to let him know that we're not a divisive country, that we value acceptance over paranoia. We value tolerance over hate.

We need change. We need our Canada back.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall Rhapsody

Autumn is my favourite season, and nothing says fall for me like the explosion of colour in the trees. Living in Ottawa, we have an abundance of trees that glow in this season, and just a short drive north takes us to the motherload of autumn colour.

Gatineau Park.

It's called Fall Rhapsody for a reason. Nowhere else will you see such vivid red, orange, and yellow, and the green leaves that have not yet changed fill out the dramatic contrast. Walking through the woods, you only have to look up, with the light pouring over like a theatre spotlight.

It's quite a show.

Of course, because this is such a popular time of year, especially when we have the kind of weather that we had yesterday, everyone wants to get out to see the colours first-hand. The parkways in the hills are bumper-to-bumper, the pathways on the many trails are elbow-to-elbow. It's sometimes hard to hear the wind in the trees for the murmur of the crowds.

But it's worth it.

If you haven't been up to Gatineau Park yet, do so soon. This is my favourite time of year, particularly because it's so fleeting.

And the Gatineau Park is one of my favourite spots for another reason. It's where my wedding was held, at the Mackenzie King Estates.

I'm surprised we weren't married in the fall, up here. Favourite time of year, favourite place, and my favourite girl.

That would have been some rhapsody.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

LaSalle Academy

It takes a keen eye to look at a window frame and know where it is.

I suppose that there aren't many windows that are at ground level, along a sidewalk, but I honestly haven't noticed before. Except, for this one and the others in this building.

This month's Where In Ottawa location is the LaSalle Academy, on Sussex Drive, across the street from the National Gallery of Canada. Congratulations to Bethany Harpur, who correctly identified this spot.

Here are the clues, explained:
  1. Palatial school—the LaSalle Academy, also known as the Canada School of Public Service (who knew that there was a school for that?), occupies two historic buildings, which were the Bishop’s Palace and the College of Bytown (which later became the University of Ottawa). So, we have a palace and a school.
  2. 1847 foundation—Father J.E. Bruno Guigues founded the College of Bytown in 1847;  the property was the region's first bilingual school and its first secondary school. Incidentally, the LaSalle Academy is on the corner of Sussex Drive and Guigues Avenue.
I drive past this beautiful, historic building every time I drive home from work. We have so many wonderful structure from the past in the Byward Market. It's like travelling back in time, every time I pass through it.

It's nice to know that you still like to play this game, and that those of you who have solved the contest in the past haven't tired of it.

You haven't tired, have you?

The next Where In Ottawa is Monday, November 2.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Max

The last time that I saw him was about a year ago, maybe longer. He walked into Mill Street, with his grandson, and sat on the other side of the main bar from me, facing me but not noticing me at all. He looked smaller than when I had last seen him make a public appearance, his hair much thinner and greyer than the days when I knew him, when he was a regular customer at the camera store.

In those days, he would often come in just after the lunch hour, dressed in a suit, ready for work. He didn't drive himself there: he had a driver. He liked a lunchtime drink, and I could usually smell a bit of it, but that didn't matter. He was always kind, always friendly, always had a smile.

There were some people who dropped film off, regularly, for processing. Often, out of curiosity, we would look at the printed products in the envelopes, curious as to what sort of subjects filled their camera viewfinders, what sort of images they had composed.

Never his. He was a big name. He was a pillar of the community. And we respected his privacy.

At Mill Street, the bartender, Pete, served the man a half-pint of pale, yellow ale. An Organic Lager, I guessed. I drew Pete's attention after he delivered the glass. "Make sure his beer goes on my tab," I said. "His money is no good, here." Pete nodded, smiled. I went back to my tablet, continued the writing that I was doing before I noticed this man enter.

From an early age, I remembered seeing him in my neighbourhood, which wasn't far from where he worked. My family and I would see him, like us, pushing a shopping cart through the aisles of Robinson's IGA, in the City View Plaza. When I was in my late teens, partying at the night clubs in Hull, my friends and I would see him every once and a while, walking along the strip or getting out of a car. You knew that wherever he was going, there was going to be a good time.

I watched him on TV almost every night. And while my decision to go into journalism school is not attributed to him, I think my lifelong interest in the news is due, in a large part, thanks to him.

"I understand that you are to thank for my drink," he said, having come up to where I was sitting. His grandson was still sitting across the bar, smiling.

"It was an honour, Max," I said. "You won't remember me, but for years I served you at Black's Cameras in the Merivale Mall. But I do think you'll remember my mom." I said her name and he smiled.

"Yes, of course. How is she? Is she still in the flower business?"

If anyone has ever seen a broadcast of CJOH News, with Max Keeping, you will remember the colourful boutonnières that he wore, almost every night. My mom made those for him, back when she owned a flower store on Baseline Road, near Greenbank. Personal Petals was its name, and Max was a loyal and longtime customer.

"She's been retired for some time," I said. "She'll be glad that I saw you."

"Please give her my best," said Max, "she's a lovely lady."

We chatted a little longer before he returned to his grandson, and they left Mill Street.

Max was a big part of the Ottawa community, known mostly as a champion for the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, but his community service touched practically every facet of this city. He was bigger than his on-screen personality as the anchor of the dinnertime news.

He gave so much for this city. Buying him a beer seemed like such a small act. But when he came to thank me, when he talked to me and gave me his undivided attention, when he smiled a truly genuine smile, it didn't matter that he didn't remember me. He made me feel as though, from that time forward, he wouldn't forget.

Rest well, Max. And thank you.