Monday, May 30, 2016

On that thing that Captain Sully said

"Everyone's reputation is made on a daily basis. There are little incremental things - worthwhile efforts, moments you were helpful to others - and after a lifetime, then can add up to something. You can feel as if you lived and it mattered."
Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger
He may be known as the guy who safely ditched an Airbus A-320 in the Hudson River, but beyond the Miracle on the Hudson that turned him into a  global celebrity, Captain Sully Sullenberger is a pretty inspirational guy in his own right.

And these particular words inspired me today. I hope they inspire you, too, to start focusing on those little incremental things that may not get the big headlines, but still matter in their own crucial way.

Your turn: What little, incremental thing will you do next? How will it matter?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sorry, no exit

Read the sign
London, ON
May 2016
I'll apologize now for not having a whole lot to say. In case you're just joining us, it's been a rough week. And when the world get turbulent, I often struggle for the right thing to say. Or anything, for that matter.

So instead I'll share this image, captured during a lunchtime walk last week. Despite my best intentions to lead a more balanced life, I haven't been as diligent about getting out for walks as I should be, so I've been pushing myself to get off my duff and out the door. No, I can't always spare the time, because there's always something or someone waiting for something to get done. But if you don't draw a line somewhere, it'll never happen.

I shot a few odds and ends before I headed back to the real world, and looking back at scenes like this, I'm reminded why seemingly simple photos of  neighbourhood fixtures matter as much as they do.

The lesson: Take the time. Because you never know when you'll run out of days.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Goodbye and thank you

Some people you just remember.

I bumped into him years ago. I was scheduled to do a live interview at CTV London, and he was working with a client on a commercial shoot on the far side of the rather large back studio. He was a sales executive for the TV station, and as we amiably chatted in the few minutes before both my hit and his shoot, we realized we were both originally from Montreal, and we had enough shared geographic history to fill an afternoon.

I remember that day as if it was yesterday, not because of anything he said, but because of how he said it. He had a kind voice, a kind face, and a kind manner. He effortlessly mixed the business of getting a client to air with the business of connecting with a stranger. He put everyone around him at ease, and he always made you look forward to your next meeting.

Fortunately for me, that happened often. I crossed his path a number of times over the next few years, and finally last year I got to work with him full-time when I joined Bell Media's London team. He never forgot our Montreal connection, and he never forgot that first chat in the studio.

We lost Chris today. And in a workplace where colleagues are more like family than anywhere I've ever worked, the news was understandably devastating.

Aside from trying to get stuff done on a day when every fibre of my being was simply unable to focus on getting stuff done, I found myself thinking about how the universe works, and how fate allowed me to survive my own brush with mortality, but did not spare him. I can't answer the why, and I can't speak to what's fair and what is not. Who defines that ridiculous word, anyway?

But I can remember the kindness of a man who just yesterday I idly chatted with in the halls, who managed to turn a dark studio so long ago into a little slice of faraway home, with someone he had just met. In the end, how we're remembered will be based on how we've treated those around us, and in that context, I know Chris will be remembered well. I only hope I'm good enough to apply those simple lessons of kindness to those around me.

Thank you, Chris, for helping the rest of us figure out what really matters. May your memory always be a blessing.

--
Visitation and funeral details for Chris Cleaver are available here.

On loss

"Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back."
Mitch Albom
Today of all days, Mr. Albom's words resonate in my mind. I hope you count yourself lucky that you, like me, were able to appreciate this moment. Because in the end, all we have are moments. Cherish them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A crumbling icon fades to black

Of another era
Laval, QC
August 2015
Thematic. Shopping. Here.
I grew up in a place called Chomedey, a sleepy suburb in the city of Laval just across the river from Montreal that somehow sticks tightly to the souls of everyone who once lived there, no matter how long they've been gone*.

The Recreatheque - or more commonly, The Rec - was central to life here. Originally opened as Mon Mart (trivia bit: Jayne Mansfield attended the grand opening in 1962) it went bankrupt by 1965 and the giant building was soon reopened as a multipurpose entertainment complex. It had a bowling alley - where my mom used to bowl as I sat propped up in the hard plastic seats - a roller rink (please don't ask), mini golf, a flea market, a bingo hall and even a cheesy disco known as Kebekelektrik. Generations of kids bought their clothes here, hung out here, partied here and generally grew up here.

The Rec closed in 2013, a victim of evolving consumer tastes and the fact that the land values made the site far more valuable as a housing development than anything else. I took this picture last summer as the empty building awaited its fate, and I'll admit part of me can't imagine what this street corner - Notre-Dame and Labelle, if you're in the area - will both look and feel like without this massive chunk of crumbling-yet-familiar brick and concrete.

Sure, it was downtrodden even when I was a kid, but it represented the kind of enterprise that branded a community and made it unique. Only Chomedey had a place like this, and to this day just mentioning "The Rec" to anyone from here is enough to unleash a flood of memories. Looking at the cookie-cutter suburbs of today, filled with chain-based businesses that all seem to have come from the same template, it's clear that today's kids will never have anything like The Rec to both hang out at - or reminisce about years later.

Pity that.

Your turn: What buildings, businesses or places made the place where you grew up unique?

--
*We've been here before. Behold the Dirty Bakery.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Thematic Photographic 370 - Shopping

One cart. No horse.
Laval, QC
August 2015
Urban life has largely replaced the need to hunt and forage. We no longer scavenge the countryside in an endless quest to survive. More likely, we head to the local mall or big box store, where survival is based on making it from the parking lot to the sliding front door - and presumably back again - without being wiped out by a texting grandma at the wheel of a clapped-out 2002 Chevy Impala with a rust-covered dent in the passenger-side fender.

So as you've likely guessed, I'm no huge fan of the shopping culture. I shop because I must, and fail to appreciate how anyone finds it fun.

Still, that doesn't mean I can't take the time to remember the experience through my lens, and I'm hoping for the next week you consider joining me on my commercialized quest. Who's in?

Your turn: Take a photo that evokes this week's theme, shopping, then share it on your blog, website, Facebook page or wherever else you hang your hat online. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. For bonus points*, tweet it using the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag. For more details on how Thematic works, click here.

* Sorry for the misleading verbiage back there, but we don't actually give out bonuses, or points, or anything remotely akin to prizes. But the rewards of a photographic life are priceless, right?

The strangers we meet

A pause in his journey
Somewhere in Georgia
January 2015
The scene: We're on our way home from Florida, in the middle of the first day of a 2,400 km drive along I-75. We crossed into Georgia not too long ago, and have stopped at a nondescript strip mall to top off the car's tank, as well as our own. My wife and kids are inside the store while I hang out in the car for a few quiet moments with my camera.

Suddenly I realize I'm not alone, and I look up to see a man saying hello. To be honest, it freaks me out. This isn't Canada, where we tend to be somewhat more chill about pretty much everything and anything. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love that moment when we cross into our home and native land. Don't get me wrong: We love everything the U.S. is, and everything it stands for. But is it just a little scarier to us than Canada is? Sorry, folks, but yes, it is. So when a complete stranger walks up to me and starts chatting me up, my first thought is to be suspicious.

Before long, I realize he isn't a) going to mug me, or b) hit me up for a donation to his cause or even c) ask me for anything. He just wants to tell me he's on a journey of redemption, and sharing his story with others is part of his recovery. Not long ago, he tells me, his life was ruled by drugs and sin. But he managed to rid himself of his demons - his words - one step at a time. As my blood pressure eases a bit, we chat for a few minutes before he agrees to let me take his picture, then continues on his endless walk in search of more strangers to connect with.

Aside from wishing him safe travels, I also find myself wishing we didn't have to live in a world where our first inclination to a friendly overture was something more akin to fear. Maybe the world needs more like him to begin to change the narrative.

Your turn: Do you talk to strangers?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A break in the fence

No way out
Port Stanley, ON
August 2015
Our daughter has blossomed into quite the accomplished artist. She can draw, she can paint, and goodness can she ever shoot. She sees things in ways that mere mortals can't, and she reminds me so much of her creative Mom in the process. It's quite the treat to watch her do her thing*.

She's studying photography in college now, and she often asks me to head out on photo walks with her. And when we do, I like to hang back and let her lead because it's way more fun that way.

On this day, as we explored the breakwater that juts out of Port Stanley and into Lake Erie, she immediately zoned in on the oh-so-blue fence that kept us from exploring to the very end of the structure.

This one is off of my camera, and I share it only because it reminds me of a moment when I couldn't be more proud of the person she's becoming. For the record, her photos from this walk are so much better.

--
* Here are a couple of links to her work:


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hybrid Theory

Electric wheels. Kind of.
London, ON
May 2016
I've always had a thing for the smaller elements of design. And by "thing" I mean something of an obsession. I stare at the nameplates on a car because sometimes in the smallest things you can learn something about the folks who make it.

Like the makeup of this badge on the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid that just joined the fleet at work. Many carmakers long ago switched away from metallic nameplates in favour of cheaper stickers. I'm sure there's also an aerodynamic reason for ditching the kind of badging you see here, but I still feel a tiny twinge of happiness when I see fully-formed examples on a new car today.

Maybe Subaru thinks this means something to the uber-loyal folks who buy their vehicles. Maybe, like full-time four-wheel-drive, boxer-type engines and exterior designs that are more comfy slipper than anything else, this is another example of a car company that operates on a somewhat different level.

Or maybe I'm just imagining things. Either way, I still contend there are stories buried in the little things. So I'll have to keep on looking. And I hope you do, too.

Your turn: A little thing that matters. Do tell...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The cow whisperer

Moo
Ilderton, ON
May 2016
The scene: I'm on my bike just northwest of London. I've cut my ride short and am trying to outrun the rain. It's cold, grey and nasty, and with the wind at my back I'm hitting ridiculous speeds on the rolling two-lane road.

Suddenly I see a herd of cows in my peripheral vision, a flicker of black and white and bouncing tails on a distant patch of soft green. Every other farm along this stretch is absolutely devoid of life - their animals were probably smart enough to head inside in advance of the rain. But this farm is different. Lots of cows, as far as the eye can see.

For some unexplained reason, I allow myself to coast to a stop. The winds are getting stronger and the rain is now beginning to streak my sunglasses. I should be on the bike, gunning for home, but something makes me stop and take in this pastoral pasture scene.

Out comes the smartphone - because pictures! - and I quickly snap off a few selfies and landscapes before tucking it back in my bike bag. That should be the end of it, but as I secure the bag and prepare to head out, I hear a rustling behind me. The cows are coming closer, which strikes me as bizarre. Don't cows run away when weirdo-cyclists show up on the other side of the fence? Maybe they do, but this particular herd never seems to have gotten the memo.

I hear faint echoes of a Clint Eastwood-esque standoff as I stare alternately at the flimsy-looking wire fence and the dozens of massive bovine now standing shoulder-to-shoulder, staring me down. While logic and history have taught me that these gentle giants are more curious than nasty, I shudder in the wind as my imagination paints a worst-case scene for me.

So I reach for the camera one more time to grab a few more images before I button it up for good and hit the pedals for home.

What I wouldn't give to know what they're thinking.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Doodling on an insulin bottle

To Frasier, with love
London, ON
May 2016
The typical dog's life is filled with naps, walks, playdates, and endless sessions of barking at the window for reasons that make sense only inside a dog's head. Our dog is no different, and his life with us for the past nine-ish years has been packed with countless such moments.

But our dog isn't typical. His days also include regular doses of insulin. At 8 am and pm, he very sweetly follows one of us to the kitchen, where he gets his needle like a champ. Every. Single. Time.

Sure, there are treats involved, and in the mind of a schnauzer, the word "treat" is the only trigger he needs. But needle time has become a critical ritual both for him and for us, a regularly scheduled reminder of just how precious life can be. It's also become an important responsibility for our kids - and one which they take incredibly seriously. You can forget to load your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, but the dog's needle is inviolable. They know it, and Frasier trusts them implicitly.

Whenever we start a new insulin vial, the person who opens it up marks the date on the top of the box. As you can see, this time someone added a little extra something. Yes, we love him. And, yes, we know to the depths of our soul that this innocent-looking box means life to our little guy. I'd be lying if I said my heart didn't melt a little when I opened the fridge and saw this.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

On looking foolish

"Until you're ready to look foolish, you'll never have the possibility of being great."
Cher

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The lonely plate of rice

Breakfast of champions
Toronto, ON
May 2012
It's no secret that I shoot pictures of food*. Unlike my kids, my dog and most of my friends and members of my extended family, food can't run away when I show up with a lens and an idea. Food sits in one place patiently while I compose and muse and measure. It puts up with my photographic idiocy.

Four years after I carefully laid this plate down on a stone patio and took the overhead-perspective picture you see here, I still can't explain why I took it. Come to think of it, I can't explain this photo any more than I can explain any of the others that I've taken along the way.

It's just one of those things that makes me feel better about being alive. It cuts through the rank seriousness of life. It makes people smile - well, some of them, anyway - and it reminds me that creativity can live in some pretty fascinating places. Not everything needs a reason, anyway. Not everything needs to be explained.

*The evidence: Here, here and here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016