Toronto is a large, diverse city and every so often I remind myself that not all photographic adventures require me to leave town. I pick a part of the city and go for a walk, often with no destination in mind but with a general idea of how I will meander around the area.
I start with some basic research on what’s going on in the city at the time. In the summer there are generally local activities in a variety of neighborhoods I can visit. Also, I like to visit art galleries and photographic expositions at the same time. I find they provide creative energy and I appreciate the works of others. So I end up with a rough plan for the walk, but often veer off as something catches my eye.
I travel relatively light. Usually my 24-120mm f4.0 with the 50mm f1.4 tucked away somewhere, though it is unusual for me to change lenses unless I want the extra speed with reduced light.
On this particular trip, a rather long walk through town and along the lake, I started at the Ryerson Image Centre to see the most recent photographic exhibits. Outside is a large pool where I sat down with a coffee and captured the man using a spare chair on the table to shade his laptop. From here I walked to Nathan Philips Square at the City Hall, home to a weekend music festival and found some patrons sheltering themselves from the sun.
I carried on to the waterfront and walked along the boardwalk eventually coming across people leaving the end of the Caribana Parade. Not quite tired, I headed back towards home and came across buskers in the distillery district.
When I get the itch to take photos, I remind myself there is a ton to photograph right outside the door.
Arriving in Rome on a Saturday, my wife and I hiked from our hotel by the train station to the Spanish Steps with the intention of winding our way back towards one of our favorite restaurants. I had two lenses with me on the trip – a 24-120mm f4.0 and a 50mm f1.4. I bring the 50mm for these walks where the available light is low.
We arrived at the top of the steps around dusk to a bustle of activity and an amazing view of blue from the sky and gold from the street lights. Knowing we were pushing ourselves on the first day, this burst of energy revitalized us for the rest of the evening.
Ubiquitous to our trips to Italy are the street sellers with everything from glowing toys they toss in the air to flowers offered while eating in a restaurant. I found this flower seller taking a break from what must be a hard way to make a living. He looked tired, and the night was still young.
After exhausting ourselves walking around Rome, we rented a car and drove to the hill top town of Orvieto, arriving late in the afternoon. Settling in to our hotel, the drizzle started and my three travel companions decided it was time for a nap, while I choose to wander with my camera.
I was excited about the rain. At dusk it brings out reflections and colors, not to mention colorful umbrellas. The streets were busy (for a small town) despite the rain. I learned while hiking to turn around occasionally as I might be missing a good view too focused on what was before me. I turned around to see a wonderful contrast between the gold of the street lights and the blue cast of the darkening sky with the clock tower framed by the narrow road.
I waited patiently for my “foreground” to appear. I took a number of shots, but this was my favorite.
I’m not sure if it is unique to our street, or just to me, but we tend to break bread together frequently. We are fortunate to have a number of excellent cooks on our street with a wide range of cultural influences. As the warm weather approaches, we move outside and get together on the spur of the moment rather than planned dinner parties.
Of course, this gives me an opportunity to capture my friends, who have all come to see my camera as a natural extension of my face. When I first moved here and took pictures, they glared at me; those long stairs that say, “What the #%$* are you doing?” I smile, put the camera away, then slowly retrieve it and carry on. I think I wore them down, and they do like the end results.
I’ve caught some really special moments as everyone has become more comfortable. Mother and child, child licked by dog, and James above caught by the light through a window in his kitchen preparing dinner for the mob.
Yes, I cook, too. I always have. I think it is an extension of the creative urge that is part of my attraction to photography. I love staring at an open fridge and then preparing a meal, although on occasion this has resulted in nothing more than a boiled egg. I attend cooking school at a local college because, much like photography, understanding the theory and techniques first allows me to be creative later.
So, while I will do my share of cooking, I like to think I repay some of the trust my friends show by documenting our time together and sharing with them the moments I’ve captured.
If I never sold a print, that would be enough.
Posted in Event Photography, Low Light, Portraits, Street Photography
Tagged Arts, Dinner, event photography, friends, low light photography, photography, street photography, Toronto
I live in an interesting neighbourhood. It is a wonderful mix of people, cultures and transition. Babies and young children seem to be sprouting everywhere, bringing a sense of renewal. There is an odd mix of Indian retail stores closing down while houses are being renovated. I once did a search on our neighbourhood only to find it was the only one in the entire city of Toronto not to have a name. Nobody wanted to claim us.
Still, it is photographically rich. Not in the ruins-of-Rome sense, or rocky mountain vista, but that this is my neighbourhood. We eat and drink together, talk as we pass each other’s house, gossip and share whatever is topical. Yes, we run to each other’s house when we are missing that one ingredient we need for dinner. And just stay for dinner. I enjoy taking my camera to every event we hold together. Maybe the others are a little less enthusiastic, but they like the results. Most of the time.
Our house turns 100-years old this year. Yep, something is older than me. So, I am thinking about having a “street party” to celebrate. If I can tear myself away from cooking – my other great passion – it will be a photographic orgy. All I need is some better weather. It snowed this morning. Really, enough already.
The photograph above is of some neighbours who dress in late-1800’s style and call themselves the Highfield Hooligans. My wife and I will be joining their “gang” this summer.
I am going to have to find a retro camera that is digital.
We have a garbage problem on our street. Specifically, the business at the end of our street has been using the location to collect garbage from a number of other “low rent/short term” rental properties and then eventually, have it picked up. But it is a real eyesore in addition to whatever health problems are potentially resident in the pile.
No amount of calls to the city seemed to make any difference despite the number of municipal bylaws that were being broken. It is an odd neighbourhood; one in transition where the retail stores seem to do whatever comes to mind. Last year two restaurants simply decided to build outdoor patios without any permits. You practically have to walk on the street to get past one of them.
So, back to the garbage. It takes a certain amount of persistence to finally connect with someone in authority at the municipality, at least with someone who cares. That’s where my IPhone comes into play. Each day I would walk Molly the Doodle past the garbage heap and take a photograph and instantly send it to the municipal bylaws officer. She would then make frequent visits to the location and started giving fines.
At one point, the location property manager claimed that the local residents were throwing their garbage into and around their bin. However, they have a clearly marked pickup truck that routinely brings garbage to the location and a photograph of this activity ended that conversation pretty quick.
So on a recent walk over the Christmas break, it dawned on me that I haven’t seen any garbage there for some time. It seems to have worked. The persistence and the photographs. The “instant” sending of a photo and the response by the authorities. I can’t thank the bylaws officer enough as without the response to my photos, nothing would have changed. We ended up working as a team.
I’m not sure that the problem won’t reappear at some time. Still, it seems to have worked. So, while the photographs are of garbage and exceptionally poor quality, they have made a statement all my early phone calls could not.
Now, about those illegal patios.
My wife created a special day for me over the Labour Day weekend. She built a series of activities as we cruised Toronto on our bikes on what turned out to be a perfect day for cycling. Her criteria for this special day? Cycling, food, art and photography – all things I love. Bless her heart.
After a wonderful brunch at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen (fantastic blueberry pancakes) we toured a small gallery featuring photographs from the turn of the century. To us more mature photographers, that would be 1900, not 2000. It was fascinating to see these old prints up close.
Then I got to do the picture taking. We walked our bikes along an back alley famous for it’s graffiti. It runs just south and parallel to Queen Street between Bathurst and Spadina and has some wonderful “art.” The bright sun made some photos challenging, but I managed. Some of this street art extends three stories high on a single theme. Certainly a different perspective of the city. Even some of the garbage cans were painted.
All the photos were taken with my 24-120mm f4.0, my “official” walking around lens. When I’m cycling, I have a saddle bag that acts as a camera bag, and will sometimes stick a second small camera bag inside to hold a couple of extra lenses. That is what I did on this trip, as I wasn’t sure where we would be going. However, I didn’t use them. The small bag makes it easy to take valuables when you lock up the bike.
After a stop at Starbuck’s for a refresher, we wandered the University of Toronto’s downtown campus admiring the architecture, ending our excursion on philosopher’s walk. It was an enjoyable day without a timetable. I would recommend exploring your town or city by bike and enjoy what’s right around you.
I have often wondered why the east side of anything seems to be less attractive, poorer or seedier. My hundred year old neighbourhood on the east side of Toronto, currently undergoing a resurgence with an influx of young children and couples, still suffers from an open display of narcotics and prostitution. And this display takes place in the very alleys I find so quaint. So, the neighbours got together and decided to take back the alleys by holding regular events, starting with a “Rally in the Alley” pot luck and the “Alley Olympics” to follow.
The enthusiasm for the event is high and culminated in a local art gallery where we all crammed in, spilling out onto the road, to discuss options with the police and local politicians. Our local crime is low on their radar, but high on ours as it is in our face. Other communities have had success by taking ownership of their neighbourhood. We are doing the same. Perhaps using my camera to document what is going on and publishing it on the various sites springing up to support the program will make a difference.
We had a party in a back alley, amongst graffiti and disorderly gardens only seen by those who live there or taking a short cut and don’t really care. People brought food and barbecues for quite the array of dishes. The highlight for me was watching the kids paint each other’s faces.
Shooting was a little challenging as it was mid-afternoon with a blazing sun. And I always worry a little about taking pictures of other parent’s kids, but at this event it wasn’t an issue. I don’t think anyone recognizes me without a camera in front of my face.
For the most part I stuck with my 24-120mm f4 allowing me to enjoy the food and the heat without too much equipment. The turnout was great and I have high hopes that we can, in fact, take back our alleys.
Not long ago I moved to the east part of Toronto into a neighborhood pushing one hundred years old. While I recently spent time in an 800-year-old hotel in Siena, Italy, 100 years is old for Toronto. The houses are small, narrow and if not attached to each other, have just enough space between them to walk your bike. Unlike the suburbs and outer parts of the city, there are no garages, at least none on the street. For that, you have to go into the alleys.
This summer I have been discovering the network of alleys that network behind the houses. They are like a separate network of roads, crossing each other and the main streets and providing a completely different view of the neighborhood. It’s like they are the opposite of the main streets. Instead of looking onto houses, you look onto garages. Neglected backyards in various states of confusion are in stark contrast to the neat and attractive front yards. You begin to wonder which image is a more accurate picture of the resident.
Today, Molly the Doodle and I headed to Starbucks and decided to take the alley route. It gets us away from a lot of the construction we are getting this year on the main road and there is a little more shade. All I had was my IPhone4 and used Camera+ to grab a few shots on the way. I’m thinking of taking a day and just doing the alleys as a little project.
As I walked the alleys, I was reminded of Venice, how the walkways were so much like alleys. Four-story buildings close you in and at night, the stores have steel doors that close up the walls even more, giving a very stark and foreboding feeling. Perhaps I will do my alley photo shoot during the day. It’s a “lions, tigers and bears” thing.