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.






Greenland's Stunning Icebergs

Icebergs are amazing in every sense of the word.  Massive, beautiful and powerful floating blocks of ice, some as large as buildings, others in the shape of giant columns, wedges, or other formations.  Seen up close they invoke awe and a strong appreciation for the forces of nature.  And as large as they are, only 10% of their mass is visible, the rest remaining below the surface.  These icebergs calved from the Greenland ice cap.  They will initially travel north, pushed by ocean currents, and then start their journey south where they'll melt along the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.


The scale is hard to describe.  The smaller iceberg on the left is higher than many buildings; the larger one the size of several city blocks.


Icebergs assume different shapes and names are given to the various formations.  This one is a "Pinnacle"; the first image is a "Dome".  They weigh between 100,000 and 200,000 metric tons.


Icebergs remain in the water for months and often years, their shape changed by water, weather and time.  This one now has deep caverns along one side.  On the narrower side at the left daylight can be seen filtering through the cavity.  Icebergs with slots or channels through are described as "Dry-Dock".


Deep cracks appearing at the edge of an iceberg, indicating part of it may be getting ready to split off from the main section.


The tiny zodiac with it's driver and ten passengers on the left edge of the image provides scale and shows just how large these ice formations are.  To be on the water, circling closely around them, was an incredible experience.  


Black-legged kittiwakes sitting on a small floating piece of ice, with larger icebergs in the background.  A few moments later they flew off showing their lovely wings in flight.


A "Tabular" formation.  Flat on top, longer than it is high, with sheer sides.  It's the length of a city block or more.


Columnar icebergs, probably once part of larger formations, broken off and made smaller by the elements.  

These images were taken off the west coast of Greenland near the town of Ilulissat which is  the iceberg capital of the Arctic.  Across town lies the Jacobshavn Glacier and Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The glacier produces 10% of all Greenland icebergs, with 35 billion tonnes of icebergs calving and passing out of the fjord every year.  


Ice sheets, calved from the glacier, moving through the fjord.


While hard to compete with the icebergs the rocks and tundra at the edge of the fjord offer up their own beauty.


Jacobshavn is a fast-moving glacier, calving vast amounts of ice into the fjord each year.  Larger icebergs can get stuck in the fjord where they remain until they are broken up by the force of the glacier and the continually moving ice.  Looking out across the fjord the vista is a mountain range of ice, moving steadily on its path to open water. 


The towns along this Greenland coast are colourful against a backdrop of rugged mountains.  And they have these ice structures as part of their landscape.  


Some smaller icebergs and floes in and around the fjords and mountains.  The beauty of it all can be overwhelming.


I've been drawn to icebergs for a long time.  Their beauty, mystery and raw power is unique.   As is the soft light and the northern colour palette which I find wonderful to photograph.  I first went to the Arctic two years ago and immediately knew I would return.  These past two weeks along the coast of Greenland, across Baffin Bay and into some of the northern parts of Nunavut was memorable.  This world is beautiful.

Rural Industrial

I've always been fascinated with manufacturing, with the process of creating something, of assembling an object from component pieces using techniques and methods honed and refined over time.  Big manufacturing plants intrigue me.  But recently I've come across small operations, away from the big cities, situated in rural towns.  They are remarkable, specialized businesses, utilizing rigorous and standardized - often proprietary - processes.  And in them I've found the beginnings of a new photography project.  I'm calling it Rural Industrial.

It's different from the landscapes, travel and urban scenes I've photographed to date. These are working facilities, full of equipment, often dark, where a shot is neither obvious nor easy to get.  And before I can even take out a camera there's the challenge of talking to the owner, explaining what I want to do and why, and getting permission to enter their premises and take photographs.  The explanation can take some time; they don't see what I see - that the shop floor, the machinery, the works in process, are beautiful.  And sometimes that particular time isn't convenient for them to talk to me but if it's suggested I come back and try another day of course I do.  Approaching busy owners is definitely not comfortable but it's the only way to get the images I want.

In the last few months I've photographed four rural industrial operations:  a farm services facility, a foundry, a machine shop specializing in parts for local oil rigs, and a heavy machinery repair shop.  Each is different.  Each requires a dedicated owner or owners and skilled staff.  Sometimes it's a single owner, sometimes a family group, and sometimes it's a second or third generation business.


Fertilizer storage and mixing silos, built in the mid-60's.  The family-run farm services business has replaced the silos with modern versions and these are now scheduled to be taken down.  With the late sun bathing them in colour and then a full moon rising in the background I find them a striking addition to the landscape and will miss them when they're gone.


A local foundry quickly became a favourite place.  It's a thriving business where industrial products such as tree grates, manhole covers, and specialized parts are cast, and larger commissioned artworks created.  The process is rigorous, time-consuming, and physical.  Making the moulds, firing the furnace, preparing the molten metal, filling the moulds - all part of the process.  


This shot was taken at the back of the foundry using only the natural light that came in through the frosted window.  The boxes stacked in the corner, and the one on the floor are casings for moulds.  The round object in the foreground is a furnace where metals are heated at intense temperatures and transformed into molten liquid.


Poured castings in the cooling process, weighted down to keep them stable.

Assorted weights, seen in the background of the previous images.


Scrap metal to be melted down, with pokers lined up against the wall in the foreground.


This part of western Ontario was where the oil industry began in Canada, and while it's no longer the "oil capital of Canada" oil is still in production here.  It's done on a different scale, using different methods than the large scale operations, and it relies on the proprietor of a local machine shop to produce and repair the specialized parts needed to keep the wells running.  


Belt-driven machinery, once powered by gas, is still operational after almost a century of use.  


Brass tubing to be turned into parts for the oil wells.


There is equipment everywhere, and it's all in use.  Not obsolete, not replaced with something new and modern.


There's more I want to photograph here.  And I want to capture the history of this business that was started by a father and son in 1914.  There's much to tell.

The last place is a heavy machinery repair shop.  Trucks, large farm machinery, and lots of parts, both inside and outside the shop.


Two of the places I don't think I'll be returning to.  The other two I definitely will as there's lots more to capture.  I've found all these businesses exciting to visit and a privilege to photograph.  I'm grateful I've had the chance to learn a bit about what goes on in our rural industrial world.  And, as is often the case, one thing leads to another.  I've now heard about a local blacksmith and a lumber mill that runs its equipment on steam.  I'm thinking both would be worth a visit.

Friendship, Conversation, and Time in the Country

We met in graduate school thirty-seven years ago.  Our backgrounds were different, as were our personalities and many of our preferences.  Our friendship was built on a shared love of learning, a commitment to personal growth, and a deep curiosity.  We spent out time together in conversation.  Long talks, deep and intense, across a wide range of topics.  We talked about the books we'd read, the authors and thinking that had an impact, along with what was going on in our lives.

In the early years our children, the challenge and joy of relationships, and our developing careers were part of our stories.  But always, it was the conversations that mattered, the glue that kept us connected.  We seldom went out - dining, movies, shopping, entertainment - weren't what we did together.  One time, strong in both our memories, we spent an entire day in early spring sitting on lawn chairs just talking.  We simply moved the chairs to follow the sun.  It was pure pleasure. We did travel, to places like Esalen, New Mexico, deep into the Ecuadorean Amazon jungle, and to workshops and retreats that fed our curiosity and hunger to learn which, in turn, provided more to talk about.

Over the decades our children grew up, relationships ended and new ones began.  Successful careers enabled much.  We kept learning and growing.  And at one point, late in our careers, we were able to work together, and that was a joy.  We created something together than was larger and better than each of us could have achieved alone.  And we kept talking.

But change continued, as it always does.  We both moved away, pursuing different chapters in our lives.  And our times together became less frequent.  Sometimes long periods would go by without contact.  But the strength and draw of those conversations remained important to us and we sought a solution.  So every other week, at a prearranged time, one of us calls the other and we settle down for a feast of rich conversation lasting an hour or more.

Recently I went to stay with my friend at her home in the country.  Her home is beautiful, situated in lovely rolling countryside.  She and her husband have created special places throughout the property.  Passing through grasses, a small grove of trees, and up a hill, they found the perfect spot to build a labyrinth.  Modelled on the one in Chartres Cathedral, it's comprised of eleven concentric rings split into four parts, creating a path which leads from the outside to the inside passing once over every track.  The journey to the centre is a slow and contemplative one, and you remain in the centre of the circle with your thoughts and reflections for as long as you wish before retracing your steps to reenter the world.  To walk a labyrinth is a spiritual experience.  We walked that labyrinth, in silence, delighted to be there together.

We woke to the crowing of roosters on a nearby farm.   We ate simple nutritious food, we spent time together, and the days went peacefully by.  There was beauty everywhere.  

The conversations, as always, had strength and meaning.  It wasn't that we had to catch up or reconnect - that was always there - but we both experienced a deep pleasure in seeing each other and simply being together.  The telephone had kept our friendship from slowly fading away but at the end of our time together we knew it was important to see each other on a regular basis.  And we'll now make sure that happens.


The gift of deep friendship, the joy of real conversation, and delightful time in the country.  Life is rich and full.  I am so grateful.

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.

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.