Three Guys and their Bikes at London's Southbank Skate Space

On a recent trip to London with a friend we came across the Southbank Skate Space, opened in 1967 and used by skateboarders, BMXers, street artists, photographers and others from all around the world. It’s a free creative space, accessible 24 hours a day. It’s billed as the world’s longest continually used skate spot. Covered in graffiti, it provides a striking backdrop for the skateboarders and bikers.


We’d found the space the day before and watched some skateboarders for a while. On a whim we decided to go back the next day, and met up with three young guys giving their bikes a workout. We watched them for a while, mesmerized by what they could do with their bikes in such a small and challenging space.


We took a few shots but quickly realized how much fun it would be to photograph them in a more serious way. We started chatting with them and asked if we could take some pictures. From then on it was all fun. We’d take pictures, and then show them what we had on the back of the camera. Some were o.k., lots were out of focus, or they were moving so quickly that key parts of the shot were out of the frame. But we kept shooting and the time went quickly by.

Here’s Andrei, moving his bike on just the back wheel through space that’s full of obstacles, getting set up for more complicated moves.


Jacob, coming down one ramp and then quickly up another.


Jacob and Cameron talking over some moves perhaps. Maybe the new one where Jacob stops Cameron’s bike by grabbing the front wheel. Given the speed the bike is moving at that requires some courage.


As they explained, it’s not enough to have the wheel off the ground, turning it at an angle is more complex. Being airborne, off the seat, legs and feet at all angles, is important and requires concentration, skill, strength and athleticism.


Cameron, also off his bike and twisted to one side. The centre of gravity shifts and maintaining balance and keeping the bike upright is a challenge.


We asked for a picture of the three of them together. And - no surprise - the bikes made it into the shot as well. That evening we processed our images and sent a bunch of them to their e-mail addresses. And that was also fun.


Photographing Andrei, Cameron and Jacob was a memorable part of our trip. We were both delighted to have had the opportunity to spend some time chatting and photographing these friendly and talented young guys from London. Thank you from both of us.

London's Thames River

A friend and I recently went to London to photograph both the city and the sites along the Thames River. We felt the winding river, the bridges and the combination of old and new architecture would have lots to offer. The River Thames at 215 miles is the longest river in England. It’s been a centre of commerce and transportation for much of the city’s history, and currently provides London with two-thirds of its drinking water. While most of the images are long exposures this one, taken from the top of the Tate Modern, is not. It offers both a view of the city and the river, and shows the contrast between the old and the new.


A view of the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian bridge built in 2,000 to celebrate the turn of the century, with the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Christopher Wren and completed in 1708, in the background.


An image of the bridge taken from the south side of the river, close to the Tate Modern. The long exposure removes the many pedestrians from the shot providing a clearer image of the bridge itself. The temporary fencing along the right side is there to restrict access while construction work is taking place.


Southwark Bridge, an arch bridge across the Thames, built in 1921 to replace an earlier bridge. The older structure pairs nicely with the classic architecture of Vintners Place on the left and contrasts with the taller modern skyscrapers in the background. Southwark Bridge carries the least traffic of all the London bridges.


Two images of London’s famous Tower Bridge, taken from the south side of the river . The first image was taken in mixed light with some sun coming through the clouds. This was one of the few times in the week the sun was out.


A little further along the river, a small alleyway took us closer to the river and offered another opportunity to photograph the Tower Bridge from a different vantage point and in different light. The Gherkin, a commercial skyscraper built in 2003, can be seen between the two pillars.


The Thames is a working river, with barges and tourist boats moving along it constantly. Construction is evident everywhere.


A different day, still on the south side of the river but walking west towards the Parliament Buildings. Westminster Bridge in the foreground with the Parliament Buildings and Big Ben, wrapped and scaffolded for repairs, behind.


The Parliament Buildings and Big Ben are large and hard to capture in a single shot. The panorama seems the best way to showcase them both


Across the river on the South Bank views of The Eye dominate the scene. Completed in 2000 for London’s Millennium celebrations, The Eye is Europe’s largest cantilevered observation wheel providing incredible views of the city . The wheel has 32 sealed and air-conditioned passenger capsules, each with a capacity for 25 passengers. One revolution of the wheel takes 30 minutes. The Eye is the most popular tourist attraction in the UK with about 4 million passengers a year.


And if we need to imagine The Eye a little smaller we can frame it behind the Sphinx, a large statute - one of a pair actually - that guard Cleopatra’s Needle, an Egyptian obelisk built around 1450 BC and gifted to the United Kingdom by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan in 1819.


Renzo Piano’s Shard is a building that also dominates the skyline. Started in 2009 and finished in 2012, at 95 stories and 1,016 feet it’s the tallest building in London.


The Tower Bridge seen from the North Bank of the river.


The section of the River Thames that runs through London is also tidal, with a difference of 23 feet between low tide and high. The tides are measured at Blackfriars Bridge. It’s the one on the left in the picture below. Beside it are the red posts, left over from the original Blackfriars Railway Bridge, built in 1864 but declared 120 years later as too weak to support modern trains. It was removed but the supports were left, with the ones on the far right becoming pillars for the new railway bridge. I like that the old posts remain to tell a bit of their story and that their red colour is maintained.


And to close this post, a couple of evening and night shots.


London is a great city to spend time in. And not just for the photography. We managed to see a couple of plays, walked much of the city, and enjoyed some excellent meals. There’s lots to see and do in London and I could easily return. And perhaps on another trip the sun might be out a little more often.

A Visit to Coney Island

I've wanted to visit Coney Island for some time.  It's close to New York, a city I love and visit often, but so different.  It's old and new at the same time.  It's historical, a New York landmark.  and it has a devoted following.  I'd seen the pictures, read the history and I wanted to experience it first hand.  


Public transit makes Coney Island readily accessible.  I was amazed that from Times Square in the centre of Manhattan I could take a subway, on a journey that took almost an hour, for the tiny fee of $2.75. A bargain for sure.

Coney Island, the last stop on the Q Train

Coney Island, the last stop on the Q Train

My first view of Coney Island -  with the Wonder Wheel ferris wheel dominating the scene and the beach in the background - photographed through the window of the subway train.


Coney Island is an amusement park on the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn.  Well established by the 1890's with its three separate amusement parks Coney Island was the largest park of its kind in the United States for many decades.  Over the years there's been several attempts to rezone the area and develop it for residential and commercial use, with some success.  Two of the original three parks have been demolished.  Each attempt to develop large sections of Coney Island has been met with vigorous opposition, and today the area continues to be zoned for amusement and recreational use only.


Today there are two amusement parks - Luna Park and the Wonder Wheel Amusement Park - along with other rides that are not part of either.  And there's also the New York Aquarium, opened in 1957, severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, then rebuilt, expanded, and reopened in 2018.

Nathan's, home of the famous hot dog eating contest.  Hot dogs for sale, along with all sorts of seafood.  A busy place.


Three of the original Coney Island rides are now designated New York landmarks:  The Wonder Wheel, a steel ferris well built in 1918 and opened in 1920.  At a height of 150 feet it's the tallest in the world.  It's also been in continuous use since it opened, with more than 30 million riders and no accidents.


The Cyclone, a rare wooden roller coaster, built in 1927, and still in use today.  Seen in the background with the Coney Clipper in front.


And the Parachute Jump, a Coney Island landmark.  Built in 1930, it closed in 1964, was renovated between 2002 and 2004 but remains inactive.  


The Thunderbolt, a new ride, opened in June, 2014.  There's also a children's area, a Carousel, bumper cars, haunted houses and lots of games.  Something for everyone.


Two and a half miles of boardwalk connects the beach to the amusement area with restaurants and arcades all along it.


And then there's the beach.  It's sandy, well maintained and open to everyone, and there's no charge to use it.


I spent half a day at Coney Island, wandering around, photographing what I saw, and enjoying the experience.  It's a busy place, with lots of activity and people having a good time everywhere.  There's lots to see but it's not always easy to photograph.  Dense with colour, movement, big-scale structures, and lots of people, getting a clean composition is a challenge.  But I'm glad I went.  It more than met my expectations and I'm thinking a return visit at night when it's all lit up would be well worth doing.

A Few Days in New York

Like so many people I love New York.  Hard not to.  It's a unique place, with it's own look, feel, and special kind of energy.  Last week I spent five days there, seeing some opera and spending as much time as I could exploring different parts of the city with my camera.  I visited the East Village, NoHo, a bit of Little Italy, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  I used the subway and the East River ferry to get around and was surprised how fast, inexpensive and easy it was.

This time I wanted to visit areas I hadn't been to before, and Astor Place in NoHo/the East Village was the first stop.  This huge bronze sculpture jumped right out at me.   Installed in mid-March it has been met with both delight and derision.  Called The Last Three it was created to honour and bring attention to the last three remaining northern white rhinos on the planet.  I found it quite beautiful.  


The sculpture had been up less than a week when the male rhino, Sudan, died.  He was 45 and is survived by his daughter and granddaughter.  


The sun was out this morning, lighting the buildings and casting shadows.  Old and stately residential buildings with their cast iron fire escapes, sections painted in different colours, with a slim and elegant church making up part of the block.


On another day It was wet and cold much of the time, but the streets were still busy and the rain made the colours pop.


A brightly painted coffee shop.  Some inside enjoying a break, a man outside heading somewhere in the rain, another with a shopping cart perhaps out for groceries.  This is a neighbourhood with more residents than tourists.


One of the many steam vents that can be seen on the streets, part of the New York City steam system.   Steam produced by the steam generating stations is carried under the streets and used to heat and cool residential buildings and businesses. Excess is expelled through the vents.  In use since 1882 it's the largest steam generating system in the world and services much of Manhattan.


Walking around is a delight.  There is beauty everywhere - the buildings, the people, the streets.  I simply couldn't get enough.  


I turn the corner and come face to face with art on the side of a building.  Based on an old Blondie poster dating back to a concert that took place in 1979.  I stood and looked at it for a while. People strolled by, some not seeming to notice - perhaps they've seen it many times before - others, like me, stopping to take it in.


As in most big cities there's construction everywhere.  From the look of the paint and graffiti these barriers have been around a while.  People and traffic simply move around it all.


These two guys were movers, carrying things down from a walkup, then taking it all to a truck they had parked around the corner.  Not an easy job that's for sure. 


A pause at the edge of Little Italy.  Not enough time to wander through it.  Perhaps that will be part of my next trip.


An Asian lady walks by, and then stops to have a chat with an Asian man who was eating a sandwich in the outside seating area of a local coffee shop.  I watched them for a while as they talked to each other, oblivious of the many people walking by.


Another day that began with trip on the subway.  And just as I could spend hours on the streets I could do the same in the subways.  There is so much to see.  There's art in many of the stations, musicians playing in some, and lots of the subway cars are brightly painted.  And of course there's the people.


Roy Lichtenstein's Times Square Mural, 6 feet by 53 feet, commissioned in 1994 by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and installed in 2002.  It's remarkable.


Brightly coloured subway cars, these two painted with themes from The Walking Dead.  A musician playing and singing and a group of people waiting for a train.


After the subway, a ferry across the East River to Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  Going down and across the river you see both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge up close.  Two beautiful and amazing feats of engineering.    

First the Brooklyn Bridge...


---and then the Manhattan.


Once across the river in Brooklyn, looking at Manhattan from the other side you get a sense of the size, scale and density of the place.  The East River Generating Station is on the left, the Empire State Building in the middle, and the spire of Chrysler Building visible just a little to the right.


The United Nations Building in the Foreground and the Chrysler Building to the left.


A walk through parts of Williamsburg, and then the ferry to travel back up the river and across to Manhattan once again.


Manhattan's East River Generating Station seen from the ferry dock.


A great few days in New York.  Walking around with my camera, trying to take it all in, a feast for the eyes.  And in between, opera at the Met, a feast for all the senses.  New York is a gift to the world.  I can't wait to return.

Images from the Dior Collection

On a recent trip to Toronto I went to see the Christian Dior exhibit at the ROM.  I've always loved fashion and clothing but wasn't sure what to expect from a display of ultra high couture dresses and gowns.  Perhaps they'd seem strange and old-fashioned, suited to another world, another age.  Or simply extravagant and ostentatious, unattractive symbols of wealth and privilege.  


The exhibit is beautiful.  There are dresses of all sorts - cocktail dresses, dinner dresses, long gowns, summer dresses, and a group of three dresses designed for a mother and her two daughters.  All are exquisite.  The detail remarkable, the fabrics rich and varied, each chosen to work with a particular design.  And they are timeless.  These dresses could just as easily be worn today as they were 60 and 70 years ago.


A cocktail dress and summer afternoon dresses.


Much of the exhibit is displayed in open spaces and that gives it a special feel.  You can walk around the clothing, see it from all angles, and appreciate that there's as much detail, sometimes more, in the back of the dress as on the front.  


Along all sides of the room were exhibits in glass - sequins and other stones that were applied to certain gowns, embroidery skeins, fabric swatches, shoes, some jewellery - along with other pieces of clothing.  The origin of each, how it was created, and its purpose for the garment was well explained.  As interesting as that was, and it did add valuable information about the complexity and rigour of the construction process, having the articles behind glass was a distraction.  The beauty for me lay in the three-dimensionality the on-floor exhibits offered, and I was mesmerized.


Three dresses, created for a mother and her two daughters, for a special event.  Each dress a work of art, and each designed to best suit the age of the person wearing it.  


Detail from the back of the younger daughter's dress, and two more long gowns.


On the way out I was asked if I would participate in a survey about the exhibit.  Normally I avoid those things but this time I said yes, and I'm glad I did.  The focus of the survey was to understand the impact of having items on open display versus in cases.  In most museums, the exhibits are always under glass, and I understand that, given their value.  But that has limitations.  The glass reflects, the items can't be seen as well, and they're certainly not as accessible.  This exhibit was special, and very well curated, and I hope the ROM plans on doing this again.

Due to popular demand the exhibit has been extended until April 8.  If I can I'll visit it again.  And if any of you reading this are in the Toronto area and have some time this Christian Dior exhibit at the ROM is well worth seeing.

The Arctic Hamlet of Pond Inlet

The Hamlet of Pond Inlet, Mittimatalik in Inuit, is a vibrant and growing community in Nunavut on the northern end of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic.   Poised at the eastern tip of the Northwest Passage, Pond Inlet is surrounded by mountain ranges, glaciers and fjords, and drifting icebergs.  It's a beautiful place.  


The population of Pond Inlet, currently around 1,600, is expected to grow further once the Mary River Iron Ore Mine is in full operation.  Funding has recently been secured to deepen and expand the harbour in Pond Inlet to allow easier access for freight and cargo ships and that work is expected to begin shortly.


After crossing Baffin Bay from Greenland, the group is welcomed to Pond Inlet for a community visit.  This was a more structured process than I've seen in other communities, with each person's name checked against a master list both upon arrival and again when leaving, and that was a bit of a surprise.  Perhaps it's always done that way in Pond Inlet.


Once cleared to enter we wandered around the town, which is a mixture of the picturesque, the functional, and the somewhat dilapidated.  Obtaining supplies is difficult and expensive and the northern climate is harsh on buildings.  There's lots of colour in the buildings and the mountains and glaciers form a magnificent backdrop.


The walk through the town, winding our way through the streets to the community centre where we had been invited to enjoy a cultural presentation of Inuit games, singing and drum dancing was enjoyable.  


A young girl in the hockey arena, which is part of the Community Centre.  The arena is well-used, with skating activities scheduled most days of the week.  The sign above the door says a lot. 


Enjoying the presentation.


The games are challenging, requiring a serious level of strength and fitness.  None of the pictures I took captured either the skill or the difficulty involved so I haven't included any.  The singing, especially the throat singing done by the women is lovely.  We were all delighted, visitors and townspeople alike.


After the cultural presentation there was an opportunity to explore the town. Pond Inlet has an active airport which is the way most visitors arrive, road transportation being limited or non-existent.  With a growing interest in northern exploration tourism is increasing, and Pond Inlet provides outfitting services for groups interested in getting out on the land.


The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the most northern Catholic church in the world.  This image was taken from the top of the hill looking down on the back of the church, with the Ocean Endeavour in the background.


The Crucifix on the hill above the church, a large and visible landmark.  And a closeup of the church steeple.


I saw few people around the town and that struck me as unusual.  In other communities I've visited people were outside, busy with their lives, and interested in connecting with us.  There were always lots of children around.  But not here.  The town seemed deserted, and I saw only two children outside of the community centre and just one other inside.  When I asked about it I was told the men were out on the land hunting and some of the older children might be with them.  We were also told that Saturday mornings tend to be quieter as people are taking it easy at the end of the work week.  And that may be all there was to it.  But I did wonder if perhaps the people of Pond Inlet no longer want groups of people landing on their shores and wandering through their town. We look, we observe, we're curious, but what, if anything, are we giving back?


Nunavut is a beautiful part of our country.  I was pleased to have had the opportunity to visit Pond Inlet to see and learn a little more about this land and the people who inhabit it.  I will return to the Arctic again next year.  It is a unique and special place.






The Light is Everything

I've been photographing for a few years now, and I like to think my images have improved. But it wasn't until I started focusing more on the quality of the light that I could see a real difference.  Prior to that I'd tend to go out with my camera during the middle of the day, the mornings and evenings usually taken up with other things.  And the images reflected that.  Many were not interesting.  The light often harsh, hot, or simply not there.  It became clear:  The Light is Everything.

Photography is important to me, a creative outlet that's quickly becoming a passion.  And if I wanted to get better I'd have to pay more attention to the light.  So I made the commitment but it wasn't easy.  Light is something special - I think of it as a gift - and it's not always there.  Weather patterns shift, clouds come in where none were expected, it rains or is overcast for what seems like weeks, and this winter has been one of the greyest I can remember.  The lake didn't freeze, there was little snow, blue sky was a distant memory, and the wonderful soft winter palette of pinks and blues was mostly absent.  And when it does make an appearance it doesn't stay for long.  It's elusive and challenging.  But when you are there at the right time, and you're able to get the shot you've visualized, it is exciting.

A winter shot of a few bleak trees at the edge of Lake Huron.  Nothing much to look at most of the time, but when the light hit them late one afternoon they put on a show.

A group of farm buildings in Lambton Shores.  Again, not much to look at in the harsh light of day, but late in the afternoon they seem to sparkle.  And those old silos right beside that brand new wind turbine tell a story.

Good light often partners with bad weather.  Just before or after a storm front passes through the sky can be striking, with good contrast, dark clouds, and slivers of light.  It's a good time to be out photographing.  But, as always, those peak moments are fleeting.

Last November I hoped to get some pictures of the Supermoon.  The sky was clear that night and it looked promising.  Along with a photographer friend we set up in a field at a spot where, using the Ephemeris app, we'd calculated the moon to rise just to the left of the large silo.

But our calculations were off by a touch, and that beautiful moon rose just a bit further to the right and not over the silo and farm buildings.  An error of a few degrees makes a big difference.  Some scrambling and fast running to get the best shot possible under the circumstances.  I did get the Supermoon, just not where I expected it.

The next morning in Grand Bend.  That amazing moon setting exactly where Ephemeris said it would.  And that light on the lighthouse is from the rising sun.  Light is the magic sauce that makes the difference.


A shot of the Assiniboine in the Sarnia Harbour, taken just as the sun broke through on a cloudy day.  The light hit the ship and the colours popped.

Two similar images taken on the same day, 16 minutes apart.  The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the buildings, creating a completely different look and mood.

A picture of Sarnia's Chemical Valley, taken at dusk.  Dark, moody, and mysterious.

An oil tanker, the Algoma HANSA, in dock on the St. Clair River.  The sun caught the side of the ship just before sunset.  I think of these scenes as beautiful industrial landscapes.

Another industrial landscape, this one taken in Hamilton at the end of February when the harbour still had a thin coating of ice on it.  Large storage containers, tugboats, and reflections in the water.  Industrial for sure, perhaps not appealing to everyone, but for me it definitely works.

I'll close this post with a Tundra Swan coming in for a landing.  Taken late in the afternoon it wasn't quite "last light" but the blue sky rendered the water a colour that contrasted nicely with the bright white of the swan's feathers, and the shadows provided detail.

It is harder to get out when the light is right.  And that light is changing all the time.  It's also brief, the time of day when the light is at its best is incredibly short.  But good light makes for better images and that's what I'm after.  So I'll continue to be out there, chasing the light and seeing what I can do with it.  The light is everything.

Great Lakes Freighters in Sarnia Harbour

All winter the city of Sarnia has several Great Lakes freighters in dock for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the upcoming shipping season.  The ships are large and impressive, carrying a range of cargo through the Great Lakes system of lakes, rivers, canals, and locks.  They've captured my imagination and I find myself going down to the harbour to see and photograph them as often as I can.  Learning their stories, getting an understanding of the industry, and chatting  with the crews that work on them has become a great interest.  The fact that this all happens in my own area is a delight.  

These two ships are bulk carriers.  The CUYAHOGA, built in 1943, with a length of 605 feet, is a self discharging cargo ship;  the OJIBWAY, built in 1952 and a little longer at 638 feet, discharges its cargo is manually.  These ships are workhorses.  



And the same vessels viewed from the other end on a different day.

This image shows some back end detail of the Canada Steamship Lines ship, the ASSINIBOINE.  It's a newer Self Discharging Carrier built in 1977 and it's also a little longer than the others at 728 feet.  This shot was taken on a cold and cloudy day.  At one point the sun managed to break through the cloud, painting the ship in beautiful late afternoon light.  To me these ships are works of art.



These next images are from the ALGOSEA, an Oil Products Tanker, built in 1998.  While it's a little shorter than the others at 485 feet, seeing it up close in the Sarnia Harbour it certainly doesn't look or feel small.   This shot was taken just before nightfall looking up and towards one end of the ship.   



Details taken from the side of the ALGOSEA a couple of hours earlier.  The longer I looked the more I saw.  The markings along the side present unique images of abstract art.  And details of the ropes caught my eye, as did so much more.  Hours can go by just looking and capturing images.

Abstract art in unusual places

Abstract art in unusual places

Side detail from the ALGOSEA

Side detail from the ALGOSEA

The ships often have the Granaries as their backdrop and when the light hits those large concrete structures it's magical.  The deck of the ASSINIBOINE can be seen in the foreground on this image.

A shot looking along the deck of the SAGINAW, another Bulk Carrier.  

The size and scale of everything is hard to grasp.

Caring for it all is complex, requiring a unique set of skills and, I would imagine, a particular temperament.

Large machinery, laid out in complex and, to my eye, beautiful arrangements of line, shape and form, with sometimes just a perfect touch of colour.

Looking down at the tug the DEFIANCE which will be assisting these freighters out into the lake in just a few weeks.  A small but mighty vessel with almost the same engine power as the larger ships.  The CUYAHOGA and the OJIBWAY at rest behind.  A cold night, with ice forming in the harbour, but soon the ships will be gone, moving through the Great Lakes with their loads of cargo and their dedicated crews.

A Home in the Cemetery

Woodland Cemetery in London, Ontario, is both old and modern.  Established in 1879 and occupying over 100 acres of woodland it houses more than 50,000 graves.  The place is beautiful, with an older section of large and lovely tombstones going back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  There is a dedicated area for veterans, marked with identical stones laid out in rows that is deeply moving.  It is also the home of a family of deer.

The deer are what initially drew me to Woodland.  I thought perhaps it was simply an urban legend, not really believing deer would choose to live in a populated city space, and I wanted to see it for myself.  The deer are definitely there, in a group that averages twenty-five or more.  And over the past three years I have gone back many times.  

A Large and Stately Monument

A Large and Stately Monument

Older Tombstones

Older Tombstones

Veterans' Section

Veterans' Section

These are white-tailed deer.  They are reddish brown in spring and turn a grey brown in fall and winter.  The females become pregnant in late October or early November and the fawns - anywhere from one to three - are born in May or June.  The stags regrow their antlers every year starting in late spring and shed them between January and April of the following year.  Their antlers can vary in size and number of points; larger antlers are a sign of maturity, health and vitality.  Apparently the shedding of antlers is not painful.

Alert but not concerned

Alert but not concerned

Stag resting at the edge of the ravine

Stag resting at the edge of the ravine

The deer wander throughout the cemetery and in and out of the ravine at the back, but they seem to prefer the older section.  The stones are larger, the trees more mature, offering more shelter.  It's a beautiful space and I like to imagine the deer sensing the peace and aesthetic of this particular part of the cemetery.

Old tombstones at the edge of the ravine

Old tombstones at the edge of the ravine

The grounds are well kept.  The gravestones are cleaned periodically, and restoration is an ongoing process.  Some stones have fallen, some are broken or cracked, and many lay buried under accumulated dirt and grass.  Recently three students from Western University were hired to unearth, clean and repair more than fifty of these Victorian-era tombstones.  An impressive project, not only honouring the dead but providing us the living with more beauty and a greater sense of the history of the area. 

The deer, while not domesticated, have become accustomed to people.  They will run off but often, if you're willing to wait, they'll remain close by, letting you see their expressive faces, the fur in their ears, their lovely coats and impressive antlers.


I return often, seeing this family of deer in each season.  In spring the babies are born, in fall the changing leaves seem to enhance the colours of the deer themselves, and in winter seeing them against the snow in that soft winter light takes my breath away.

Fawn born this past spring

Fawn born this past spring

There is something special about a group of living sentient creatures residing so comfortably among those who are no longer here.  It adds something unique to Woodland and I like to think the deer feel it as well.  A mutually beneficial relationship.

The Port Huron Float Down

This is an annual event that's been taking place on the third Sunday in August for 39 years.  It starts in Port Huron, at Lighthouse Beach, just north of the Blue Water Bridge and across the river from Sarnia.  Participants "float down" the St. Clair River to Marysville, 13 kilometres downstream.

It's unauthorized, unsanctioned, unregistered, unsponsored, and gets the media and some people agitated.  But it's a lot of fun.  A boisterous and joyful event - playful, quirky and over the top in its sense of delight and adventure.

So what exactly happens in a "float down"?  Vast numbers of people gather on the shore at Lighthouse Beach with an amazing array of flotation devices.  All sizes, shapes and colours.  Some floating alone, others tied together in a group.  And smaller groups enter the water on the Sarnia side.  The participants are happy, laughing, busy putting their flotation devices in the water, loading their coolers on board (food and drink a necessary part of any serious adventure), and getting their oars in place.

Gathering at Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron

Gathering at Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron

Getting organized on the Sarnia side

Getting organized on the Sarnia side

The event starts at 1:00 p.m.  All motorized shipping and boating traffic along the St. Clair River is shut down between 12:00 and 8:00 p.m. which is annoying to some.  The only motorized boats permitted are those belonging to the Police and the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards.  This tanker, the Radcliffe R. Latimer, was the last one under the Blue Water Bridge, pushing hard to get out of the river and into Lake Huron on time.

Full steam ahead into Lake Huron

Full steam ahead into Lake Huron

Getting a helpful tow from the Police

Getting a helpful tow from the Police

Well equipped with a barbecue on board 

Well equipped with a barbecue on board 

Looking back at Lake Huron

Looking back at Lake Huron

Recording his adventure - at least the start of it.

Recording his adventure - at least the start of it.

Floating on the Canadian side ... 

Floating on the Canadian side ... 

 ... and strung together

 ... and strung together

Moving down the river on the American side

Moving down the river on the American side

In our excessively monitored, regulated and rule-driven world of today I find the whole thing wonderfully refreshing.  Where else can  you see thousands of people in hundreds of brightly-coloured flotation devices doing something as bizarre as floating down a fast-moving river that is also the boundary between two countries?  Just thinking about it lifts my spirit.

But the river does move quickly.  And the prevailing winds tend to push the floaters over to the Canadian side.  In most years a hundred or so American citizens end up on the Canadian side, usually without a passport or any other identification, with no way to get back.  They have to be "rescued" and transported back to their own country.  This year the winds were unusually strong and a record 1,500 needed "relocation assistance", being bussed back home with a police escort after being "processed" on the Canadian side.  It does take effort and resources but, as everyone knows, we're a friendly country and happy to help out. 

It was a great day.  Good weather, blue skies with lots of beautiful August clouds, and the always incredible blue water of Lake Huron.  Just a bit too much wind.  A scene of wondrous adult play.  Perhaps it is foolish, and probably a bit risky, but there were no fatalities, just a few minor injuries, and some participants who ended up cold and wet on the wrong side of the river.  But in a world that at the moment is darker, nastier, and more fear-based than anyone needs, the Port Huron Float Down is a happy, joyful and playful event.  We could use more of them.  I'm already looking forward to next year.



Toronto … a City I Love

Toronto is a city I love,  I've lived there more than once.  And when I'm not a resident I'm often a visitor.  I know the city well but believe I see it better now that I'm not always there.  On my frequent visits I spend as much time as I can wandering around, seeing what's different - and it's always different.  And I usually have a camera with me.  These images were taken mid-May over a couple of cold and rainy days.  

Toronto Courthouse and the McMurtry Gardens of Justice

Pillars of Justice by Edwina Sandys

Pillars of Justice by Edwina Sandys

Despite being the middle of May, there was both rain and sleet the morning I took this image, and the streaks of rain are visible.

Osgoode Hall and Old City Hall

Old City Hall Clock Tower 

Old City Hall Clock Tower 

Flowering Crabapple at Osgoode Hall

Flowering Crabapple at Osgoode Hall

Some of the Older Places ...

The Rex Hotel, both a hotel and a well-known jazz and blues Bar on Queen Street West, looking somewhat small and surrounded by larger newer buildings. 

The Rex Hotel

The Rex Hotel

The Brunswick House - known as The Brunny - was a restored 1876 tavern popular in Toronto for both drinks and music.  It closed on March 31 of this year.  A building of character but no longer open.  Rexall, a pharmacy, will be taking over the space for its flagship store.  The building is protected as it has a heritage designation.  Rexall will be doing further restoration with plans to open some time next year.


Another Toronto flagship that's closing - Honest Eds on Bloor.  A huge place that takes up more than a city block.  It's been around forever but the last day for bargain shopping will be December 31st of this year.  There is a proposal for the building, along with adjacent buildings called Mirvish Village, to be redeveloped into rental apartments, a permanent public market and retail space that would be divided into small units similar to the the existing storefronts on Bloor Street.  If the project goes forward as planned it could be a nice addition to the neighbourhood.  But many will miss this icon.

Honest Eds Shopping Emporium

Honest Eds Shopping Emporium

Kensington Market, another popular shopping area that's been around forever.  Development keeps pushing up against its boundaries but so far the Market - with a lot of support from the community -  has survived.

Market Shopping

Market Shopping

Casa Coffee in Kensington

Casa Coffee in Kensington

Toronto Streetcar on the Queen Street Viaduct

Streetcars, the Red Rockets, run on many of the main streets in the city and provide a fast and convenient way of getting around.  The Queen Street bridge with its famous sign has been well photographed over the years.

The Ismaili Centre

A recent and beautiful addition to Toronto is the Ismaili Centre, built on the same grounds as the Aga Khan Museum, opened on September 12, 2014.  The building and it's reflection are both striking and peaceful.  It's simply lovely.

Toronto has much to offer.  It's a city with many distinct areas, each with its own character.  It's an easy city to walk with lots to see just about everywhere.  These two days, taking pictures and spending time with friends, was a real treat.  I'll be back soon.

The CN Tower by Night and Day and a Reflected Surprise

Last week I had an opportunity to photograph Toronto's CN Tower from a vantage point not available to many and to do so over a period of several hours.  I took a lot of images that night and through into the early morning.  

The first photograph was taken shortly after midnight and and includes both the moon and part of the Rogers Centre.  The CN Tower is lit up, as are the buildings and the Gardiner Expressway.  The city is vibrant, interesting and full of life.

Toronto's CN Tower, the Gardner Expressway and part of the Rogers Centre

Toronto's CN Tower, the Gardner Expressway and part of the Rogers Centre

These next three images were taken from the same vantage point at different times.  The first shows a similar image to the previous one, but without the Rogers Centre and with more of the newly-constructed Sun Life Financial Tower.  Although the CN Tower is prominent, it becomes less so as the sky lightens.  I've shifted the focus more to the Sun Life building and the reason I did that becomes clear in the last shot.

CN Tower at night

CN Tower at night

Not Quite Dawn

Not Quite Dawn

I like the night shots of the city.  Toronto is vibrant, and changing all the time, with new construction everywhere.  But I find the image that really delights me is the last one.  Morning has arrived and with it a glorious and unusual view of Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands.  Remember…this shot was taken looking north and west; the lake is to the south.  This lake view is new, it didn't exist last year.  It's a reflection in a building that's still under construction.  This building may block part of the view of the city as you look north but to my mind it's given back something better - an interestingly lit building at night and a spectacularly different shimmering lake by day.  Beautiful.

Reflected Vista

Reflected Vista

I'm delighted and grateful that I was able to see Toronto in such a special way and that I had the opportunity to photograph it.

First the Afternoon and then the Evening

Morning and evening light are usually the most striking but in winter it's possible to get lovely images even at mid-day.  Winter light is softer, more delicate, less contrasty.  My son was visiting and he wanted to get out and take some photographs so we headed out just after lunch.  That's not a time I'd normally think to get out with my camera but I was pleasantly surprised.  Our first shots were of thin ice on the lake that I found quite striking.  

Ice and Snow-Covered Rocks on Lake Huron

Ice and Snow-Covered Rocks on Lake Huron

At the Edge of the Lake

At the Edge of the Lake

We travelled on to Sarnia, stopping in Bright's Grove to see what the lake looked like from there. Lots of moving floes of ice along the shore, and a nice contrast between the sky, water and trees.

Lake Huron through the Trees

Lake Huron through the Trees

From there on to Sarnia to see the ice moving from Lake Huron into the mouth of the St. Clair River.  The river flow is fast and the ice moves quickly.  The lighthouse and buildings on the American side of the river provide an interesting background.

Ice on the River

Ice on the River

And then back to where we started to see how the light might have changed in the late afternoon.  We liked what we saw and stayed until sunset.

It was definitely getting colder but the light was changing all the time.  So we stayed and got lovely sunset light hitting the trees, the two at the edge of the lake and the cluster a little further out.

A great time enjoying the beauty we found everywhere.  Hours slipped by as we got lost in looking, seeking out images we thought were interesting, and then setting up our cameras to get what we hoped would capture what we felt and saw.  A lovely day with my son Scott - energizing and restorative.

Colombia Photo Contest

I recently found out that two of my images from Colombia had placed first and second in a photo competition.  That was certainly gratifying but the greater value came from thinking more deeply about the commentary for each image - both my own and that of the judge - and about what I found important in each scene.

The images are very different.  One, the street scene in Medellin, is what I would call a "story" image.  The scene caught my eye, I found elements within it striking, and felt compelled to photograph it.  The street was busy, I was with a group of people, and there was little time to take the shot.  The other, a cathedral rooftop in Bogota, is a "beauty" shot.  I'd looked at this scene many times from my hotel room.  I'd taken other shots on other days when the light was different.  I'd spent time thinking about the architecture, the beauty of the building, the challenge that is Colombia, so I knew this scene.  When the light was right I carefully took the shot - a premeditated one, if you like.  And very different from the one quickly taken on the street.  But I wouldn't have thought much more about it had I not been asked to provide a commentary for each image.

Street Scene in Medellin

Street Scene in Medellin

My commentary:  "This picture was taken in Medellin, the morning we were walking around the shopping district.  As we crossed the intersection to walk down the street I saw this man sitting there and felt compelled to capture him.  There were several things that drew me to the scene:  (1) The fact that the cart was empty.  Was he waiting for a load of something to be delivered, had it just been taken, what was it?  (2) The cart itself:  homemade, sturdy, made of found materials, looked like it could carry a load; multipurpose, indicative to me of the industriousness and versatility of the Colombian people.  (3) His physicality.  He looked in shape, somewhat muscular, with a face that looked as though it had seen a lot, yet his pose was calm and purposeful; a worker, not a vagrant.  (4) The background.  The blue colour caught my eye, and it toned with the colour of his jeans.  The graffiti was simply a part of Colombia, being everywhere."

Judge's Comments:  "Right away, the composition of:  blue wall, man, and trolley, captured my attention.  Further in, the story between these three elements grabbed my curiosity.  Inevitably, the expression and posture of the man drew me into this photo.  His intent glance at what he must be observing, where he came from, and where he'll go opens an entire story beyond this single moment the photographer was able to take.  The fluidity of this process has me fixated amongst the many beautiful photos taken for this contest." 

Looking back at that moment I'm sure I wasn't consciously aware of all those elements that caught my attention.  Many, I believe, were coming to me in a variety of ways.  Street photography is fast, it has to be.  And I don't know that it's possible to be aware of all the reasons a shot feels compelling at the time you take it.   But the more we do it the better we get. I think it must become a more intuitive, semi-automatic process, drawing on practice - a way of looking, that gets better with time.  And I hadn't thought about this - and I think it deserves more thought - until I was asked to explain what drew me to that scene and that particular moment.  

Cathedral Rooftop in Bogota

Cathedral Rooftop in Bogota

My commentary:  "The cathedral rooftop in Bogota was taken from the window of my hotel.  It was the beauty of the architecture that got me on that one, combined with the lovely colour of the building in the perfect late afternoon light.  The dark brooding clouds in the background seemed an ideal backdrop for the complexity and darkness of Colombia, and for me added a lot to the scene."

Judge's comments:  "The depth and detail of this photo stopped me in my tracks to take in the grandeur of this church, with its graceful architecture and weighty presence.  You can almost feel the sun hitting your back and wind carrying the storm away."

This image was a "conscious" one, fully thought through and carefully put together.  Very different from what was going on in the creation of the Medellin street scene.  I want to understand more about the unconscious, intuitive aspect of image making, about how the eye sees and the brain processes.  I look a lot, and I believe I see a lot, but it's clearly more complex than that and I want to know more.