What I Saw Today #39

Street photographers rarely extend their practice to encompass garbage, but it's some of the most rewarding stuff to photograph when you're out with a camera. Trash is not quite random; even though it can be scattered here and there, it gathers in certain corners and nooks. Garbage, always existing in a state of decay, trails a story behind it into the past. The stillness of garbage means that you can stop and consider it, circle and tilt the camera, ensure its place in the frame.

People are much tougher to shoot. They're always in motion, and although their movements can be predicted, it's impossible to know exactly what will happen at the moment that the shutter is pressed. Their story extends backward and forward through time, which makes them harder to abstract into an image. But when they're running down the street at you in a YOLO shirt, you hope for the best.

Photographing the Cathedral Village Arts Festival for fun and sunburns

Last Saturday the Cathedral Village Arts Festival street fair popped up along 13th Avenue. The fair is usually scheduled for the one furious downpour in May, but this time the sun held and the crowds kept pouring into the street until the afternoon turned into a sludgy mess of dogs on leashes and toddlers zigzagging back and forth and parents stumbling after with increasingly shiny skin and bearing tubes of high-SPF lotion.

So I thought, Hey, let's photograph that hot mess o' humanity. I put a 28mm lens on my camera and threw it into shutter priority, which is something I never, ever do. For some reason, shooting in shutter priority is even more alien to me than working in manual mode, but it's probably the best thing for street photography. At the very least, I won't come home and discover that my favourite shot of the day is actually a blurry mess. Usually I take some degree of care in setting up a shot, choosing my depth of field and so on, but in this case I just wanted to chop some rough moments out of the noisy, sweaty tree of the day. Metaphor accomplished! Good talk.

At first I found the colours overwhelming, as if'd been thrown into William Eggleston's reject bin, so I started off thinking in terms of black and white. After a while my brain adjusted and I began to see photographs inside the constant flow of people, and I could start letting colours in.

Hands down, my favourite image of the day and the moment when I finally felt as if I'd figured out how to shoot the street fair. And pretty much the last shot I took. Also, there's a guy with a white top hat in the far right of the frame. I looked at this image for several minutes in Lightroom before I realized he was there. 

I called this guy The Captain, for obvious reasons. He was standing in the middle of the street as if he had nothing better to do than be in a spot and have muscles. For less than obvious reasons, he was wearing a pendant with the Eye of Sauron. I guess Mordor has a Gold's Gym to go with its orcs and fens and cruel mountains.

One of the difficulties (or should I say challenges? Yes, why not) of street photography is thinking about how to portray children. Parents get a bit wigged out when some sunburned rando starts swinging a lens at their kid. The solution? Creep up behind them and photograph the top of their head. This, I'm sure, is acceptable practice, unless someone decides that I'm a sick head-top fetishist.

This drummer just wouldn't stop. I wonder if he's seen Mad Max.

The umbrella woman! I confess to following her around and shooting her from different angles. But this one that shows just a bit of her face stayed with me.

About the photos: These were all taken with my Fujifilm X100T with the WCL 28mm converter attached. I wanted to come home with photos that showed clumps of people interacting with each other, milling around, talking, walking, coughing, buying stuff and slowly falling prey to heatstroke. It's a photographic style that's tough to pull off, because when you're inside a crowd, people don't obligingly arrange themselves into neat narrative-revealing compositions. You have to wait, watch, pick subjects and find the right moment. With a 28mm lens stopped down to f8 or thereabouts, the difficulty multiplies because you can't easily isolate subjects (unless you get right up in their faces) or employ a tastefully shallow depth-of-field. Backgrounds are crowded, people are doing distracting things at the edge of the frame and benign chaos pushes your attention around. I'm much more comfortable with a 35 or 50mm frame, but I hear there's value in working outside of your normal parameters. For a number of images I used a camera with a 50mm lens, but I decided not to include any with this post because they're markedly different in their subject matter and attitude.

As mentioned earlier, I kept the camera in shutter priority (or "Time Value Priority" if you're one of those Canon-wielding weirdos) for most of the day, shooting at 1/250th of a second with the ISO at 200 and letting the aperture do what it wanted. The camera alternated between f6.4 and 7.1, which meant that I could get enough depth of field to be able to shoot quickly without fretting too much about focusing (I could have done manual focusing, but you know. I didn't.).

Black and white images were processed in Lightroom CC with a modified version of VSCO's Fujifilm Neopan 400 film simulation. The colour images were also processed in Lightroom using the Provia film profile (except for "Plaid Cap," which I think uses the Classic Chrome profile).

Eat Crackers the Palinode Way

1. Consider buying crackers at the drug store. Not fancy wheat thins dusted with sea salt or infused with rosemary. Just crackers - salted and crunchy, with minute cracker tabs on the edges that give you satisfying visions of industrial cracker production as you slot them one by one into your mouth.

2. Visit drug store. That's a lot of money for crackers.

3. Steal several packets of crackers from the Subway when you're dumping cream into your coffee the next morning.

4. Stuff the packets into the inside left pocket of your sports coat.

5. Reconsider. Remove the crackers from your inside left pocket and transfer them to the inner right waist pocket.

6. Move them once more to your outer right pocket so they don't get crushed by your keys.

7. Write swift mental note to self: don't forget about pocket crackers.

8. At your desk, consider placing the crackers in the drawer. Don't for some reason. Make another mental note not to forget about crackers.

9. Completely forget about crackers.

10. Several days later, repeat steps 1-6. Discover old crackers in your pocket, now reduced to fine dust.

11. Back at your desk, inspect packets of forlorn cracker dust. Are they still edible?

12. Throw old cracker packets in the garbage.

13. Realize that you forgot the new cracker packets back in the cracker bin at the Subway.

14. Retrieve cracker dust packets from garbage.

15. Slowly pour dust into palm. Throw cracker dust into mouth.

16. Wipe palms. Slightly sticky cracker dust all over desk, lap, shirt, jacket, face, floor, life.

17. Reflect on your upcoming 44th birthday.

Top Ten Bug Fixes

Stick insects have been tweaked to look even more like sticks. Also, they are now literally sticky. Probably our most requested fix? The Analytics team has been tasked with reviewing the poll results.

Ladybugs, in response to numerous complaints that they are insufficiently ‘ladylike’, now have pink bows around the thorax, lipstick (three shades) and boobs. Similar fixes are being reviewed for damselflies.

Butterflies are producing small quantities of butter. Further fixes will address the issue of quantity, with an eye to marketing the product within the next five years.

The dung beetle has been discontinued.

Praying mantises will continue to pray for the foreseeable future, pending a focus group survey report due next quarter. Tiny tophats and monocles are being released to a test sample of the mantis population; we’ll keep everyone updated on how that plays.

Meanwhile, Executive has kiboshed Media Integration’s suggestion of calling female mantises ‘womantises.’

With the increasing popularity of legalized medical and recreational marijuana, the proposed rebranding of the grasshopper has been tabled. In addition, the tobacco beetle is now the blunt beetle. The clock has stopped at 4:20, folks, and we all have to get with the times.

Despite our best efforts, R&D has been unable to make dragonflies actually breathe fire. All species will, however, have flames painted along the abdomen. Online and Social claims this is bitchin’.

The Assassin Bug, Womantis and Scorpion Fly will launch a ‘shared universe’ movie franchise starting in June 2016. I guess ‘womantis’ is going ahead then? Nice to be kept in the loop.

No more larvae. Just - yech.

Three Short Stories about Objects on my Desk

Jar of Ink

“Oh no,” wondered the small jar of Lie de The fountain pen ink. “Where is my friend and only companion, Fountain Pen?”

Aidan didn’t reply. He was embarrassed at having lost yet another expensive fountain pen. It’s not as if he wrote anything more interesting with his parade of fountain pens than “I have a fountain pen” in one of his dozen or so half-filled notebooks anyway.

“I will go a quest!” the jar of ink announced, and promptly did nothing, because she was an immobile jar of ink.

Upended Stapler

“How did I get like this?” wondered the upended stapler. “How can I fulfill my most basic function?”

“You can staple things together in that position,” said Post-It Flag Dispenser. “Quit your angst.”

“You know what, you’re right,” said Upended Stapler. “It’s just that I’m a little uncomfortable.”

“Is it too much to ask that you identify the real issue?” asked Post-It Flag Dispenser.

Empty To-go Cup of Americano

Not much to go on here, mused the Empty To-go Cup of Americano, mentally inspecting its insides and discovering nothing but a coffee-scented darkness. Maybe someone will put more Americano in me soon?

Ha-ha! said Telepathic Garbage Can, telepathically. You’re a single-serving apparatus, loser! Your next stop is me!

“Am I just a symptom of everything that’s wrong with the culture of mass production?” cried Empty Cup. “Is my utility restricted to this one brief use, my aura as an object distributed among my million-plus identical peers? Or am I a brief shining star arcing across the vault of purpose before deliquescing into landfill?”

“Don’t involve us in your conversations with Telepathic Garbage Can,” said Lenovo Corded Mouse.

 

Goodbye to Lydia's

Over the weekend I visited Saskatoon and stopped at the fenced-off empty lot that used to contain Lydia's, the increasingly decrepit bar that, for a time, hit a particular sweet spot between "dangerous dive bar" and "college student hangout". It had multiple floors and reeked of beer, sweat and smoke.

For the curious: all images shot on my Fujifilm X100T and processed in Lightroom with a spectacularly obnoxious mix of the VSCO Agfa 100 Warm preset and the Classic Chrome profile.

snow day

On Saturday the weather clarified its position on humanity by burying us in snow. Something gigantic and frigid rode across the sky, pulling a chariot of frost and general Stygian temperatures behind it.

Snow was so insistent on engulfing us that it slipped around the windowsill and began to form little drifts in our house. Above is Lula investigating a fan of fine, powdery snow that got through a mesh screen and an impossibly thin seam between window and frame. I also discovered that one of our windows has no outer sliding pane. What happened to that pane of glass? Did a former owner take it as a souvenir? Who does that? Who makes a keepsake of a sheet of glass? Would you hang it on your wall? Who would even see it?

Nobody sane would venture out in this weather, I figured, unless it was absolutely necessary. Only the desperate or the dumb would walk out into a blizzard. So I went out to find these people and photograph them.

I only photographed a couple of people before retreating. Sidewalks and streets were constantly getting covered in fine dry snow that filled in every inch of available space and set immediately into a near-solid mass. Gusts of scaldingly cold wind hurled snow straight into people's faces. Plus the only other person I saw, aside from the ones in the photo above, was a guy who jumped through the snow, muttering "Muthafucka muthafuckaaah" under his breath as he bounded from one drift to the next.

I spent the rest of the time at home making a soufflé for Valentines Day because I'm the best.

the mystery of the popcorn

Over the weekend I went up to Saskatoon to visit my family (when you're young you have parents; when you're older you have family). A block or so from their house I discovered a long ribbon of discarded popcorn, which at first I took for out-of-season blossoms on the snow.

Which is ridiculous. Popcorn husks make terrible blossoms. They're barely even seeds.

But now I want to know who threw the popcorn on the ground, and why. Does popcorn really merit this kind of disdain? And where did it come from? How far did the popcorn travel before its bearer, disgusted by the task of moving popcorn from one location to another, launched it into the air and departed in a frosty swirl of liberty? Be free, popcorn dasher.

UPDATE: Schmutzie surmises that "they" are feeding the birds. "They".

Folks I've Photographed

This is Jason. He smokes and hangs around at bars. He's a bad influence and should be avoided by people who don't enjoy life. On the other hand, if you do enjoy life, track him down and have a drink with him.

I interviewed The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer at the 2014 Regina Folk Festival for prairie dog magazine. A storm of ridiculous force had blown through the city the night before and transformed the park into a pit of mud and slick sewer-smelling biofilm oozing up from underneath the black tarp and wooden planks the festival workers had lain down. "There seem to be a lot of people here with broken legs or something," remarked one of the band members, who had missed out on the storm.

A young woman holds a lovely bouquet of blown highlights at the Plant Ranch on the outskirts of the city. I shot the owners and staff there at the height of a July day, when ferocious dry heat and pitiless sun turned the environment into an ultraviolet wasteland. Fortunately, greenhouses have plenty of shade.

My friend and financial adviser Sven poses for a family photograph with his outlaw son Oslo. This is a test shot, but sometimes random clicks of the camera can produce extremely satisfying results. The rest of the shoot was me frantically trying to keep up with Sven's kids as they raced around the yard and responded to my attempts at photography by tackling me.

As writer and illustrator Rolli heartlessly devoured a face made out of a cookie, I caught his carnivorous glee at the Artful Dodger Cafe. Moments later he killed a guy, allegedly.

Sarah Abbott, artist and scholar, on the Kinsman Park bridge. She needed a headshot to accompany her bio. We did the shoot at midday on one of the hottest days of the year. Within minutes of shooting we were both sweaty, heat-addled wrecks.

IMPROV.

I have hundreds of photos from a shoot at the Wintergreene Estates, "Regina's premiere retirement community." The corridors felt endless, and after a while I suspected that I was trapped in a procedurally generated environment that could produce detached kitchens and games rooms at random.

My father-in-law Ted conferring with my nephew in Waskesiu. My in-laws are extremely patient with me and my camera.

My laundry room is a depraved nightmare of another's memories

Recently a pipe burst in a storage closet attached to the laundry room in my building. The contents of the closet turned out be a pile of dolls, toy furniture, old faded items of velour and lace, an entire decades-old childhood packed away and left in darkness. Oh, and some weird old Christian music cassettes.

The upshot is that I've been laundering our clothes in the grimy suds of the unheimlich.

Photos taken with the Fujifilm X100T, processed in Lightroom with the Classic Chrome film situation.

Objects of Christmas

Christmas objects, yes. But first, Christmas people!

Parents. Here they are being moderately parental in their living room over Christmas. The one thing you wish you could see in this photo is my Dad's besandalled sock, bright red and spotted like an overdone giraffe's neck. I desperately want a pair for myself.

See? Excellent socks. Those socks came into being and said "Let's fit around someone's foot and look cool doing it" and then they did. The end.

Elsewhere, nephews tore through toys and amused Schmutzie to no end. Note how I used the Radial Filter, aka. the Spotlight function in Lightroom, to make it appear as if the three of them are emitting their own light and it's the only source of illumination in a hellscape of subterranean suburban darkness, or maybe that little bear in the bucket is emitting light? Anyway it's a great alternative to just slapping a vignette on your image and calling it a day.

More toys, because children have frighteningly active imaginations and it's easy to forget just how powerful and all-consuming their fantasy lives can be when you're an adult without children and your imagination is usually centered on somehow retrieving the body you had in your twenties, maybe by a combination of kale and pushups and a standup desk chair. These two have a long way to go before that particular fantasy replaces the one where you make the truck go vrooom vroooom screeech wha wha (?).

Along with people, Christmas was full of strangers, moments and objects, which may all be just different aspects of One Thing. Fortunately the One Thing has so many beautiful aspects to present. Things seen through glass and the glass itself:

Things with textures. Things that advance and retreat through space.

Things that behave as a collective mass until they get loose and explode, leaving behind a perfect representation of patterns of force. The sugar is practically saying, "Look, here's what happens when inertia meets friction on a pleather surface."

Things that are in the background and in the foreground. Things that can be framed, flattened and brought into relation with each other by removing one dimension. And me, reflected in that spoon.

Anyway. Merry Christmas to all the textures and grains out there, all things near and far, all things bound together or spinning apart, all things seen and unseen. And people too, because we're just as good as objects, even if we don't always act like it.

All images taken with my Fuji X100T and processed with the Classic Chrome film simulation, except for the top picture, which was processed with the Fuji Monochrome + Red filter.