Tag Archives: Alley


Wet Night in Orvieto

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.


Cleaning up the garbage

Garbage 1We 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.

Garbage 2So, 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.

Garbage 3So 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.

Gary’s Day

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.


Rally in the alley

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.

Back 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.