Affection and Small Town Ontario

“Art depends on there being affection in its creator’s life, and an artist must find ways, like everyone else, to nourish it. A photographer down on his knees picturing a dog has found pleasure enough to make many things possible.”— Robert Adams in “Why People Photograph”.

I admit moving back to my hometown in Ottawa has been a bit of a challenge to stay inspired photographically anyway.  However, last week I had the opportunity to visit Perth: a small town east of Ottawa.  I was struck how quaint and pretty it was.  Except for the architecture, it reminded me a bit of Yellowknife.   I especially want to return at the beginning of winter…  

First published August 24, 2018

Q&A with Kai Behrman and the Art of Creative Photography

As part of my interview for Kai Behrman’s Podcast: The Art of Creative Photography, Kai asked me the following questions. 

1) Favorite photograph – by whom and why?

My favourite photo at this moment is A Winter’s Night by me.  It is a photograph I took one night around 11 pm in mid-November.  The ice had just frozen over and people were beginning to walk on it.  I was unsure of whether or not I should venture out to capture the scene but I noticed a truck parked on the ice so it couldn’t be too bad.  I was alone with the exception of a fox that crossed my path.  I  love the darkness with a glimpse of light streaming through what seems to be an opening in the clouds, the storyline of traces of human life and community in barren and cold conditions.  And I especially love the stillness and mystery that it evokes. I currently have it hanging in my living room. 

2) Favourite inspirational quote about photography (or life in general)?

I have two favourite quotes:

“Work is love made visible” by Kahlil Gibran 


“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”  Ralph Hattersly

3) Favorite book – by whom and why?

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis.  I loved this book because it is a story about 15 dogs who received the gift of human consciousness from two gods on a bet.  The bet was that dogs would be even more unhappy than humans are if they were given human consciousness.  It was my favourite read because I love dogs of course and I like to think about these things i.e. what constitutes a good life and how one should achieve happiness and meaning in life.  Also, one of the key canine protagonists Majnoun reminds me of my 10-year-old Golden Doodle named Saydee. 

4) Favorite photographer – why?

Yousef Karsh - As you know, I have already mentioned how much I like the work of Annie Leibowitz however, I thought I should also mention a Canadian master portrait photographer who happens to be from my hometown in Ottawa, Canada.  His portrait of Winston Churchill is masterful.  I’ve seen an original print of it in the Speakers Chamber in the House of Commons and it is arresting.  He had an uncanny ability to know and connect with his subjects in a way that is congruent with their story.  He has photographed some of the great personalities of the 20th century:  Queen Elizabeth, Einstein, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Picasso and others. 

5) One contemporary photographer, you’ve recently discovered?

David Burdeny… I love his colourful medium format aerial work.  He makes gorgeous very large prints. 

6) Favorite photography gadget?

I love my Peak Design Slide Strap.  It enables me to switch cameras effortlessly as well as distribute the weight around my shoulders.  

7)  The favorite song when traveling / for the road? Why? —> 

The new rendition of Paul Simon’s classic:  The Sound of Silence by American rock band:  Disturbed. He sings it with such passion and the song’s lyrics really resonate with me.  Actually, it might be a good theme song for my favourite picture. 

8) What’s in your camera bag?

I have both the Fujifilm XH1 and XT2, cameras along with several Fujifilm lenses:  XF16MMXF23F2, XF35F2, XF56APD, XF10-24, XF16-55 and the XF50-140.  I also have a Fujifilm EF500 flash as well as a Godox V860II Flash.

First published August 13, 2018

Anthropocene - An Art Exhibit

“Look at the things around you, the immediate world around you.  If you are alive, it will mean something to you, and if you care enough about photography, and if you know how to use it, you will want to photograph that meaningness …”— Paul Strand 

I was fortunate to attend Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s new Exhibition: Anthropocene at the National Gallery of Canada. Anthropocene is proposed as a new geological epoch, “defined by massive changes that has occurred to the planet and its ecosystems as a result of human activity.” Burtynsky along with his team have been travelling around the globe for the past five years photographing and documenting this change. His images are large scale prints between 9 and 18 feet. The wounds that humanity continues to inflict on mother earth are undeniable. I am impressed with his ability to make scenes of destruction, wasteland and garbage dumps look so beautiful. It is as if he took to heart Richard’ Mosse’s advice:

“Beauty is one of the mainlines to make people feel something – it’s the sharpest tool in the box.  If you’re trying to make people feel something, if you’re able to make it beautiful, they’ll sit up and listen.”— Richard Mosse

Sadly, I began to imagine that in a few years time, this might be the only way people can experience nature. (Burtynsky’s images were supported by virtual reality technology where you could point your iPad or iPhone to an image and with the downloaded app, you could view a related video.) Perhaps it is already like that for many of us. While living in Yellowknife, come fall and winter, hotels were bursting at the seams with visitors, mostly from Asian countries, to experience the raw landscape, the solitude along with the nightly spectacle of the Aurora borealis. One visitor told me as he looked out my window overlooking a frozen yet barren Great Slave Lake that in China, where he was from, there wouldn’t be a square inch of open space.

It also seemed to me that the best photographers have something meaningful to say with their work. I was reading an article this morning where a computer program in the 70’s called World1 predicted that human civilization is likely to collapse by 2040 and that we are on track for that. I also remember George Carlin warning us in the 70’s that we shouldn’t worry too much about the Planet as it will survive us having done so for thousands of years but that our time is running out and that we should “Pack your bags folks. The planet isn’t going anywhere… we are!” Perhaps Edward Burtynsky’s images will inspire change. Our way of life is not sustainable. One can only hope… 2040 is not too far off. 

First Published in October, 2018

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