Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cathedral Grove (February, 2002)

These pictures were taken on a trip to British Columbia (Vancouver Island). I visited in mid-February 2002; haven't been able to return since then, but would certainly like to have another visit at some point.

Above: heading through MacMillan Provincial Park on the way to Tofino. I spent the whole time on Vancouver Island, most of it in Victoria.

Within the forest; Cathedral Grove is a stand of ancient Douglas Fir in MacMillan Provincial Park.

One of the things I liked about the place, aesthetically, was the contrast between the brightness of the red wood and the moist green of the moss, which seemed to be growing everywhere. To me it looks like a kind of radioactive glow haloing the trunks and branches of the trees.

Anti-litigation talismans.

I can't remember why these logs were lying around. I think they may have been trees that died and fell, and were chopped up in order to get them out of the way.

Wooden paths were built above the forest floor.

I always loved the effect created by mist and distance. I can tell that's what I was trying to show in this picture, but at the time I was shooting everything with a 35mm SLR that lacked a telephoto lens, so I did what I could (and felt frustrated!).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bird Watching (December 9, 2010)

My cats are obsessed with windows, and they're particularly riveted when squirrels, birds, or other moving objects are within the field of vision provided by the glass sliding door that opens on to the back deck. Distance doesn't seem to be much of a factor: if it moves, especially if it moves and looks like another animal, they're at the window in a trice (unless they're in a deep sleep).

In this picture Mr. Darcy's attention is locked on the large flock of birds perched in the trees that stand on either side of the driveway. The birds were making quite a bit of flustered, twittery noise, so of course my cats were going wild over the scene, with their little feet up against the glass and chattering frustratedly to themselves.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cross & Water (February 4, 2010)

Taken from the front window of the Church of the Good Shepherd, on Lake Tekapo in the Mackenzie Country, South Island.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mountain View (November 13, 2010)

I had a nice autumn walk up on Mont-Royal today, and took this picture when I got to the terrasse at the top. There was an interesting mist hanging in the air, it must be something in the weather because there was heavy fog in Hamilton yesterday, and lighter fog hanging over Toronto when I got there in the afternoon.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Iron Man (July 6, 2009)

Iron Man statue by the spire of Exeter College Chapel, Oxford. I shot this picture from the street below (Broad Street), on my way to Mansfield College with my luggage.

I remember that I was "looking up" (at towers, roofs, architecture) because the buildings are so lovely in Oxford, it's hard to keep one's eyes on the ground. And there he was, this inconspicuous fellow, seemingly staring out over the main street, preparing for some moment perhaps (ready to leap into flight?) or merely surveying the terrain with a strange confidence.

Once again I'd taken a picture of an art piece without ever bothering to check out (afterwards) exactly what the piece was. In this case it hardly took any work to discover the statue is a sculpture by Antony Gormley, and it was only brought to its current position on 15 February, 2009 (so about 6 months before I saw it). The statue is apparently seven feet tall and weighs half a tonne, and is part of a series entitled Another Time II.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Beach Hut at Brighton (March 14, 2008)

The picture above was taken from just near the edge of the garden at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. I quite like the way it feels "of the time", i.e. early 19th century.

The Pavilion was built for George the Prince of Wales (son of "mad" king George III), who later became the Prince Regent in 1811 (and in 1820, George IV). Its development spanned a period of about 35 years (1787 to 1823), and the building evolved over time from a farmhouse into the palatial Eastern Dream (hallucination, more like) that you can see today, refurbished, if you're lucky enough to visit. Its external style is what's called Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture, a late-19th-century mash-up reminiscent of Indian and some Islamic architecture (cusped arches and Russian-style onion domes liberally deployed), blended with a dash of the various British styles favoured at the time.

The Prince Regent's fetish for the exotic extended to the interior of the Pavilion as well. He was obsessed with a decorative trend known as chinoiserie, which is the primary theme of the Pavilion's interior decor; as the name indicates, this style was a kind of Western mimicry of the Vague Far East. Amusingly, George himself had never travelled further east than Germany; apparently he preferred to import the imagined Orient into his ornate banqueting and music rooms.

Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside the building, so I wasn't able to capture any of the stunning interiors (including details such as wooden stair railings carved to look like bamboo, and a large chandelier festooned with snarling dragons and apparently carried by one larger dragon who seems to hover on the ceiling).

The Prince himself didn't exactly have a spotless public image. He was often criticised as being a decadent wastrel, lavishing money on booze, parties, and mistresses; his penchant for a luxurious and hedonistic lifestyle led him into massive debt, in spite of the generous allowance provided him. Undoubtedly, the palace in trendy Brighton wouldn't have helped with this impression. Political cartoons depicting the Prince are on public display on the wall in the hallway leading to what is now the Royal Pavilion Tea Room on the building's second level.

The Prince's character and reputation are well-known enough to have been referenced in the Richard Curtis series Blackadder III starring Hugh Laurie as the Prince and Rowan Atkinson at his servant, who in the first episode instructs the Prince to "take out the plans for that beach hut at Brighton."

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Beauty on the Water (May 22, 2007, 8:12am)

At Menaggio, Lago di Como, in Italy.

I remember I woke up very early, at five-something, and I was sleeping in a top bunk at the hostel where we stayed. I think I had a sore back and couldn't easily get back to sleep. I peeked out the window at that time and the view was even more surreal and stunning, but I didn't to make too much noise getting out my camera (and risk waking up anyone else) so I must have dozed off again instead. When I woke up later I did pull out the camera and this was the picture I took.

I love the way so many of the pictures I took at Como demonstrate a kind of reduced/minimalised colour palette; in this photo you can see it in the top half of the picture where what looks like a slight mist seems to to flatten the hills, the chalk-blue sky, and the grey-teal of the water. It's subdued in a way that highlights the sun tripping across the lake, like a handful of glitter tossed across the water, somehow catching the first sun before anything else even though the rays are already beaming down from on high.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Signs of Montréal (August, 2005)

I've always really enjoyed looking at signs, at boring at that may seem. It's like my supermarket fetish, where every time I go overseas I look forward to seeing what's available in the average local grocer... food touristing. Except with signs you get this impression of whatever was thought to convey a particular message most effectively--generally in a simple graphic without words.

Here, I've posted several signs from Montréal--none of which counts as exotic since I looked at them regularly during the three years I spent living there. They never stopped seeming a bit surreal, though, especially the one I called Electrocution Man:

What always "got" me about Electrocution Man, whom I saw almost every day (a copy of this sign was in the Métro Mont-Royal, near where I lived), was that his designers hadn't been content to zap him through the torso with what appears to be a large ragged edged weapon of some sort; oh no. They gave him a face (zoom in!), a face that has a remarkable amount of expressive power for such a crude rendering in plastic profile; and that leaning posture only adds to the effect. Shudder.

The sign above--"Danger"--was attached to one of the old buildings belonging to McGill, near the downtown foot of Mont-Royal (I think this might be 3674 des Pins Ouest). In case you're wondering, that's not a little man walking under a strangely sloping tree that happens to be dripping on his head and casting a shadow to the east. In fact it's a warning that large, sodden piles of snow barbed with icicles may slide down the overhanging roof and onto your head... so don't walk this way. Creative!

Lastly, "Prudence! Ne prenez pas de chance" was at Métro Université de Montréal, if memory serves. I thought it was a funny and appropriate message... "it's better to be waiting for the next bus than for an ambulance"! Since in the past I'd seen people literally bowling over other passengers in their haste to reach the bus/subway platform, I've often wondered if the signs have had any effect.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

...Shepherd's Warning (October 12, 2010)

7:20am today, on the way to the pool.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rem(a)inders (January 26, 2010)

More relating to my fascination with (in this case, spontaneous) public art: these pictures were taken during a bus ride up the West Coast of the South Island, at Bruce Bay.

They look like Inuksuks...

Below, one made from a ponga log with flax binding, echoing some strange creature dressed in elaborate jewelry:

I'm apparently not the only one who's wondered how this project began. It's quite a striking feature on the beach if you're driving along past it. I think I am even more fascinated because I love to build these kinds of objects myself--when I was a child, I loved making things out of sand, even hanging out in the sand pit at school with the boys, playing with my Playmobil trucks and digging little tunnels through which they could drive. If there was a stream nearby, I liked to paddle in and build a dam or a series of water-courses. And I also collected beach-objects, which is probably why I love these little sculptures so.

Fragile toi toi stalks are incorporated into the design above; and below, a gnarled piece of driftwood resembles a hand clutching at a white stone...

And here is a short video of the beach and stone sculptures, taken a month or so after I was there.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Street Corner Pre-Apocalypse (December 12, 2009)

I have a deep fondness for extreme lighting conditions. This bank of clouds was about to block out the late afternoon sun as I was on my way home from my TA position, for which I was working near this corner at Jane and Finch in Toronto.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The lives of furniture (January 2, 2008)

Visible but not explicit, requiring explanation,
A mystery extending beyond memory, these legends
Long considered not worth telling: the silence of objects,
Their mute encounters.
An evocation of small injustices
Abstract, delicate and beautiful
Like lacework with no discernible pattern.

Autumn (October 14, 2009)

Rerasons why Autumn is my favourite season in Canada: visiting Montréal at the right time of year pretty much sums it all up. This picture was a lovely moment, standing on the terrasse at sundown looking out over the city, the layered view with the bushel of turning leaves beneath the copper-roofed university buildings, the thicket of towered office buildings, and in the distance--a clear view to the horizon punctuated by other "mountains" (glacial formations). The image feels as crisp as the evening air at dusk.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Supercrawl Streetscape (September 25, 2010)

I went out to the Hamilton Supercrawl last night with friends, and took quite a few pictures--I was really enjoying the new camera's capacity to take pictures in the dark. I had taken quite a few of them with black and white in mind rather than colour, and I thought I would post some of the ones I converted.

Supercrawl is the larger manifestation of Hamilton's monthly James Street North Art Crawl, an event held on the second Friday of every month.

I liked the autumnal look of this picture (above). It's actually a shot of two friends walking ahead of the rest of the group. Inside that tent (at right) were many delights including clothing, jewelry, second-hand books, artworks, and cupcakes and coffee.

All the galleries along James Street North have their doors open wide.

The evening was very well attended. At 9:30pm the street was still busy and the coffee shops, bars and galleries were packed.

I like shooting pictures at night because you can't quite tell what the camera will do, how much it will "capture" and how--it reminds me of the way glazes behave at very high firing temperatures (though perhaps a bit more predictable!). I also like then having the photos in black and white, because there's a shift in one's entire perception of the image. Different things stand out, certain elements are reduced or less differentiated while others become more central and/or acceptable as elements of the composition, like the blurs in the pictures above and below.

Aside from unexpected smudges, I enjoy the fuzzed, intense look that streetlamps and other light sources take on when exposed for longer periods--and the strange shifts of focus that occur as the camera tries to make sense of the extreme visual conditions.

The picture above is one of those shots that for some reason really appeals to me, though I can't figure out exactly why--something compositional, and related to the focus on the two people in the left-hand, middle third of the frame.

Apparently Supercrawl attracted 20,000+ visitors this year, running from 1pm to 11pm with several chunks of James Street North fenced off from the usual vehicular traffic. It's great to see this kind of event bringing such a lively turnout to Hamilton's downtown.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Moon Tonight (September 21, 2010)

This evening we're having an Extreme Moon Moment here, with the moon swollen to its full size and bright light a dimmed sun against the night sky. Naturally I had to take some pictures from my back deck.

One interesting thing is that I couldn't get the shot I wanted, in the moment, from my new digital camera. I decided to cheat and pull out the old one, which still works but inconsistently (hence my decision to replace it). While the new camera is amazing at making the most of available light even in the dark, this tendency actually has a sad effect on certain kinds of night shots. It over-exposed the moon pictures, showing not the pearly bright against dark but rather what looked almost like full sunlight. I wasn't able to produce the shot below with my newer camera, but captured it with the older one:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cows of Milan (May 16, 2007)

These six pictures are of a series of sculptures in Milan, more of the entertaining public art that seemed to pop up thought the city (when I was visiting, at least). Without knowing what the actual project is about or what's it's called, I've been calling it "Cows of Milan". For this blog post I sought to find out, at last, what these cows were all about--and whether they had any relationship to Toronto's Moose in the City.

Cow #1: "Zebra". Artist: Selection SRL. Undetermined location, but almost certainly in or just outside the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele which leads from the Piazza Duomo to the Piazza della Scala and contains some of the most high-end boutiques in the city. The day I took these photos would have been the first time I went walking around the city on my own--I started at Piazza Duomo, a pretty obvious choice, and was drawn into the Galleria since it is the most impressive-looking thing in the square (aside from the Duomo itself).

Cow #2: "Muuusica" Outside La Scala (Piazza della Scala). Artist: Terrakuarello. I was surprised and very pleased to discover this second cow, outside the famous La Scala opera house--fittingly decorated with little people singing. At this point I realised there was a theme going, and I started looking for more cows along the way.

Cow #3 "Hot Milk". Artist: Marijana Savic. I'm not sure the exact location, but it was somewhere around Piazza Cordusio--I was walking toward the Castello Sforzesco and I went along Via Dante, shooting a photo on that corner right before I took this one.

What my online research tells me is that these cows were part of something called CowParade. It was, and is, a kind of art-show-plus-philanthropy event, and it has "travelled" through over 70 cities worldwide. New cows are create by a new set of artists in each city; the cows would stay in place for several months before being auctioned off for charity. It's a pretty novel and amusing idea, probably owing its success to the creativity and humour generated by the chosen motif and also to the public element of the project, which takes away the exclusionary aspect of "philanthropy"--in a sense sharing the good cause with everyone (even those who cannot afford to donate or purchase).

Cow #4 "Mucca Urbana", Via Dante. Artist: Birgitta Latis.

Via Dante is a relatively long, straight stretch of street (for downtown Milan), accommodating pedestrians and bikes, though I wasn't clear about the rules for cars. I think this is why there were several cows placed along it (#3, 4 and 5 on this list)--a spacious thoroughfare lined with interesting shops, offices, cafés and restaurants.

Cow #5: A roll in the hay... or rather, "Felicity", Via Dante. Artist: Rafaella Cosco. I love this one in particular because a happy cow is a cute cow, obviously. She looks like she's wiggling her legs about and smiling with glee.

Toronto's Moose project is, as it turns out, a spin-off of the Cow idea. Since Toronto wasn't one of the cities included in the CowParade project (Sydney, Australia and Auckland, NZ did participate), I suppose they felt they should come up with some other (more Canadian?) idea for themselves. Halifax did the same, replacing cows with Lobsters, and Hamilton, Ontario, had a similar project involving doors (I'm not quite sure how that happened).

Cow #6: "Ecow", found outside the Palazzo dell'Arte in Parco Sempione. Artists: Matteo Thun & Antonio Rodriguez. Apparently there was at least one other cow in that area, but I didn't know it at the time and sadly I missed out.

CowParade Milano ran from 14 April to 17 June 2007. It included 100 artsy cows placed all over the city, only seven of which I saw (the one missing from my photos here is a cow I spotted at the airport, on my way back to Canada). A helpful directory of the Milano cows, with their names and pictures, is provided here.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Privileged View (January 30 & 31, 2010)

This picture, which I took in January in New Zealand, cycled by in my wallpaper backdrops the other day; I am struck by it every time. I think it's probably that it looks like a scene from The Lord of the Rings, and was indeed taken in a forest where a number of segments of those movies were filmed. I suppose it's the evergreens framing that mountain in the distance; you could be peering out from the thickness of Fangorn--looking to spot the next roving band of orcs. Like in the photo below, which was taken on the Te Anau-Milford highway on the way to Milford Sound; it would have seemed fitting if a white horse had appeared in the distance, galloping along the line where the forest meets the grass.

In reality how those films were made was of course a combination of "straight shooting" (heh) and the of collaging different shots taken from here and there to create the right look for the locations described in the books. Isengard is an example--what I didn't know what that the mountains in the picture below (another I took in Mt. Aspiring National Park) were used as the backdrop for Saruman's stronghold--while the foreground, including the river you can see here, was replaced with Orthanc and its surroundings.

I think having grown up in New Zealand it wasn't much of a leap for me to associate the familiarities of our landscape with the one described by Tolkien...the translation into film was only the last and more specific step of that imaginative process, which is probably why--no matter how much I dislike some aspects of them--I'll always love those movies.