Monday, April 29, 2013

Thematic Photographic 242 - Vegetative

Consume mass quantities
Laval, QC
July 2011
About this photo: This marks the launch entry for our new Thematic theme, vegetative. Read on for more photographic fun. Because the world needs more fun.
The more I think about communal eating environments - aka buffets - the less I like them.

First, lining up, plates in hand, seems like such a silly way to gain sustenance. It makes me feel like I'm at the farm, patiently awaiting my turn at the trough.

Second, the whole everyone's-touching-the-food thing makes me want to seriously gack. I know the health department mandates sneeze shields as a form of CYA-like protection. But let's face it: no one's going to be eating anything if anyone actually uses the shields in the way they were intended. Protective overhead coverings aside, I don't even want to think where my fellow trough-dwellers' hands have been before they grab hold of the tongs. Or forget to grab hold of the tongs, as the case may be.

I'm not deluded, of course. I'm pretty sure servers in regular restaurants are just as capable of messing up the works as anyone else. Case in point: The Domino's Pizza debacle. But somehow, it seems even more icky when your potential dinner is surrounded by masses of fellow diners. A little privacy isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when we're eating.

Your turn: Pick or take a photo that reflects this week's theme, vegetative, and post it to your blog (or website, or Facebook page or Twitter or wherever else you like to hang out.) Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it, then pop over to other participants to share in the fun. Repeat as often as you wish, as this theme will be live for the next week. For more background on how Thematic works, please click here.

Sky on fire

Twin towers
Laval, QC
July 2011
Click photo to embiggen
I wanted to end this week's Thematic exploration of the pairs theme (click here for a last-minute submission) with a bit of a twist.

Look closely at the bottom of the shot and you'll see two high-tension hydro towers. They're in every sunset shot that I take from my father-in-law's balcony, and normally I curse them for ruining the scene.

This time, however, they somehow fit the shot, giving the sky a sense of perspective and scale it otherwise wouldn't have. I guess I'll have to head back to his balcony soon for some more sunset photography - towers included.

Your turn: When a "ruined" moment ended up being anything but. Please discuss.

Fat Albert can dance

Chasing the setting sun
London, ON
June 2011
About this photo: We're winding down our Thematic pairs week. This plane has a pair of engines (sorry, I know I'm stretching it.) Feel free to share your own pair-themed vision here. New theme, vegetative, launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Say hello to the Boeing 737, specifically a 737-700 flown by WestJet. Although our city's sole airport is called London International Airport, most of the traffic in and out of here is pretty forgettable: turboprops, regional jets and private aircraft. Nothing remotely approaching long haul or intercontinental. This is about as big as it gets, and even then it's a fairly rare sight.

So when this one flew overhead as I was watching the munchkins play soccer, I was almost predestined to point my lens skyward and shoot it. Because taking pictures of planes never gets old for me, and the late evening light seemed to make an otherwise routine shot look a little less so.

Oh yes, the caption. When the 737 first took to the skies in 1967, it was affectionately dubbed "Fat Albert" because it had the same narrow-body cross section as a 707 and 727 in a much shorter design. The net effect made it look kinda stubby. Fat Albert it was, and in multiple generations it's since become the world's most produced jet transport.

It's nice to know ugly ducklings grow into lovely swans even in the commercial aviation industry.

Your turn: Why are we so obsessed with looks? (Nothing like a loaded question to start the week!)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spanning the years

Evolution of the species
Quebec City, QC
July 2011
Just over 50 years separates the Quebec Bridge (1919) on the left and the Pierre Laporte Bridge (1970) on the right. Cantilever vs. wire-cable suspension. Heavily over-engineered for the railroad age vs. elegantly balanced for the automotive one. Whatever their design philosophy and however old they are, they're both mind-blowing in their own right.

If a third bridge were to be built here today, it would be different still, likely a cable stayed box girder which further pushes the efficiency envelope and is far more representative of how stuff gets built now. I love how technology continues to rewrite the landscape as it allows us to do more with less. Or simply to lead better lives.

However you cut it, it's more than a little inspiring to stand near two diametrically different examples of the best their respective ages had to offer. You can almost feel the passage of engineering history here.

Your turn: What other things get better with time?

Two ships that pass in

Quebec City, QC
July 2011
Click here for more Thematic pairs
I love living in the city we now call home, but if I could change anything, it would be to live in a part of the world where the surrounding waterways are significant enough to justify having ferries like these. Call me odd, but the prospect of taking a ferry to get somewhere would be seriously cool.

As I stood on the bluffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River, I wondered about the folks who rely on these floating workhorses every day. I hoped being on the water never got old for them. Because even the drudge of the daily commute should be special in its own way.

Your turn: What's your favorite way of getting around town? Why?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The plane truth

Where Diamonds are made
London, ON
June 2012
I often drive by the Diamond Aircraft facility in the east end of town, hard by London International Airport. I could just as easily take another route, but I somehow derive comfort from a quick glimpse of anything aviation-related.

This place has had a rough few years, with enough layoffs, cancelled programs and broken promises to fill the cargo hold of a large transport aircraft. After another round of job cuts a couple of months ago, the place is now barely functional, a ghost of what it once was. I feel a little twinge when I see the empty parking lot, and I wonder about the now-former employees and their families, and where they've gone and how they're doing.

The entire mess saddens me, because this is the kind of company that economies in mid-sized cities like London need. And if our civic leaders spent less time voting themselves pay raises, patting themselves on the back, fighting corruption charges or each other, maybe we'd be able to fill this assembly line again. Maybe we'd haul down our country-leading unemployment rate. Maybe we'd be able to compete against cities and regions that have already clued into the way things work in the 21st century.

One can always hope, right?

One more thing: what does this entry have to do with this week's Thematic theme, pairs? The DA20 and DA40 are a pair of aircraft. I know I'm stretching things a bit, but that's the whole point of exercise, after all. Click here to share yours.

Friday, April 26, 2013

On laughing at ourselves

"If we could all just laugh at ourselves, in hard times or good times, it would be an incredible world."
Jena Malone

Get a handle on these

Cupboard doors at dinnertime
Richmond Hill, ON
April 2013
The sun does funny things to the insides of houses, often around breakfast and dinnertime. And as it slowly slips beneath the horizon, you never really know how it'll paint the interior.

What we do know is that the effect will be temporary, so it's up to us to steal whatever snippets of time we've been given to remember the fleeting moment. The sun will indeed rise and set tomorrow, as well, but you never know if the artwork it creates then will be just like the artwork it's creating now.

Either grab the moment or risk losing it forever.

Your turn: How do you grab the moment?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On the futility of worrying

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength."
Corrie Ten Boom
This quote comes from a righteous human being who helped Jews escape from the Netherlands during WWII, then wrote a book, The Hiding Place, about it. I wish more of us could be like her. I wish all of us never had reason to experience what she and her family did.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

These geese are not cooked

Proudly Canadian
London, ON
May 2009
Click here for more Thematic pairs
Some cities are home to tons of pigeons. Or seagulls. Or grackles. Or any other species of common, otherwise forgettable birds.

Consider London to be ground zero for Canadian Geese. If you can get past their overt nastiness - seriously, do not approach them under any circumstances, as they're decidedly un-Canadian in demeanor - and the cyclist-killing messes they leave behind (please don't ask), you end up with a fairly majestic bird that looks pretty impressive when it's way up in the sky.

I especially love when I'm walking the dog after dark, and a huge vee of geese flies overhead, barely visible in the inky black sky. I wonder where they're going, and stand in awe of these beings who, through countless generations of evolution, are innately built to work together in the sky to ensure they all make it there together.

Some of us pay lip service to the need for teamwork. These birds live it. I find that rather inspiring.

Your turn: Should we name these two?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who's still wearing Crocs?

Gimme some sole
London, ON
May 2009
Click here to share your Thematic pairs pic
Crocs were all the rage a few years back, with kids and adults alike buying these plastic-fantastic shoes with frightening frequency.

Somehow it seemed fine when a munchkin wore them as a sort-of replacement for sandals or sneakers. On the playground, these colorful togs seemed to fit right in. I didn't feel the same way when adults started wearing them to work. I appreciate the workplace shift toward more casual dress, but this was more than a little silly.

I remember the bloom falling off the rose when the company that made them announced it was planning to close its Quebec factory and move production to a more flexible facility in Mexico. Lovely if you're a shareholder, I guess, but not so lovely if you were one of the 670 people thrown out of work.

I know that this is how globalized markets work. But that doesn't mean I think any of it is right from a longer-term, society-building, giving-back perspective. The economy doesn't seem to work that way anymore. Pity that.

Your turn: Do you look for goods that have been produced locally?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thematic Photographic 241 - Pairs

Two of a kind
London, ON
April 2009
The scene: We were getting ready for a really lovely dinner with friends, and my wife had been cooking up a storm. True to my clumsy-husband persona, I managed to drip a couple of droplets of water onto the otherwise pristine tablecloth.

Also true to form, I ran for the camera instead of a dish towel. I figured since the water hadn't been immediately absorbed, I had a few minutes to play with the light before I needed to get on with the business of cleaning it up and setting the table.

I'm weird that way.

Your turn: Take a picture of a pair of something. Of anything, really. If it even suggests the concept of pairs, we want to see it. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Repeat through the week - because more is always better - and visit other participants to see what everyone else is up to. If you're new to the whole Thematic thing, just click here. Otherwise, enjoy the photographic ride.

Two months on...

Debbie lost her mom two months ago today.

Not a moment in any given day goes by that this stark fact doesn't dominate my existence. Loss changes everything, and forces you to reframe your entire life from this moment forward. Little things that used to define so-called normal for you and your family - from calls just before dinner to green jello waiting for the kids when we arrived for a visit to quick recipe checks from the kitchen - are suddenly, irrevocably no longer there.

You may find other places to get your answers - look online for that recipe, for example, or teach the kids to make their own jello - but it's never the same, and that empty space never quite fills in.

I don't have answers to any of this. I know this is how life is supposed to work, that adapting to loss is part of the price we pay for having been gifted with life in the first place. I get it. Still, that doesn't mean I understand it any better, or that I'm supposed to like any of it. I don't, and my inability to concretely do anything about it is, in a word, frustrating.

Life indeed goes on. Just differently. Which makes me wish it were a little more within my power to make it easier for my still-figuring-it-out family.

And, no, green jello will never quite taste the same again.

The Pillsbury Doughboy called...

...and he wants us all to stop poking him
London, ON
August 2011
About this photo: It's almost - but not quite - time to launch our new Thematic theme, pairs. I wanted to slip in one last "eat" pic under the wire because this one in particular makes me glad I take pictures. Head here to share your own, and pop in after 7 p.m. ET for the new theme.
Our daughter made these. She's spent so much time learning at the feet of her master-mom that it's no wonder she's now becoming a natural herself.

I hung around to ensure nothing was inadvertently combusted in the process, but I really didn't need to. As you can tell from the results, she's more than capable of figuring it all out on her own.

In the end, they were delicious, of course, but not simply because of the ingredients that went into them. She's learning that rare, intangible stuff from mom, too.

Your turn: Why does the act of cooking mean so much to some folks?

Farmers feed cities - and us

What will be
Komoka, ON
November 2012
About this photo: We're winding down our week-long exploration of Thematic's eat theme. Head here if you'd like to share yours. New theme, pairs, goes live tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Part of my commute takes me through southwestern Ontario farm country. For about 60 km outside London, between here and Woodstock, I detour off the superhighway and instead roll through the two-lane roads that bisect some of the loveliest farmland on the planet.

While the three lanes of the 401 will get me there about 5 minutes sooner, they so completely disconnect me from the experience that I arrive at my destination having no connection to the places I've just passed. The slower route, on the other hand, is filled with snippets of life that remind me how important the journey needs to be.

Along the way, I come across a lot of pickups owned by farmers. And many of them have bumper stickers on them reminding us to thank farmers for feeding us. I couldn't agree more. The average city-dweller gets everything from the grocery store, yet hardly ever gives a second thought to how it got there, and who ensured it got there.

Staring out at this fallow field, I could see the potential, feel the worth of the crop that would soon be planted here, appreciate the efforts of unseen farmers whose life's work revolved around feeding countless others they'd likely never meet. On this bright, Sunday morning, I hung around a little bit longer in the hope that I'd get to meet - and thank - whoever was responsible for this particular field. Maybe next time.

Your turn: ever wonder where your food comes from?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Salt, pepper, or both?

Something extra
Komoka, ON
November 2012
To share your own eat-themed pic, head here
The scene: you're sitting alone in a coffee shop. Well, you're not completely alone. You arrived on your own, and you're sitting solo at a table off to the corner. But you're surrounded by an endless stream of strangers, all wandering in and out of the brilliantly cold sunny autumn morning in search of their ritualistic fix.

You're here because you just dropped one of the munchkins off at a program nearby, and you're just far enough away from home that it isn't worth the extra drive. And you have contributing any more to global warming than you already are.

So you find a Tim Hortons nearby (if you're American, substitute Dunkin Donuts or, if you move a bit upscale, Starbucks) and hang out with a spot of breakfast for a bit. Moments like this - namely, free, unstructured time - are rare. So you grab them.

And if you're anything like me, while you're grabbing these quiet moments you also try find a way to get some impromptu, silly-themed photography done. Because there's always room for impromptu, silly-themed photography. Because life is short.

Looking at the not-quite-perfect photo above, it isn't so much the composition - flawed - and exposure - blown - that stick with me. It is the immediate connection to a unique moment in a unique place. To a morning when munchkin had a great time in the country with his friends, and I managed to find a way to never forget this brilliantly lit, cold autumn morning.

Your turn: how do you remember an otherwise forgettable day?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

On the power of healing

"Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on."
Henry Rollins
In the aftermath of a week so many of us would rather forget, I don't think I'm the only one looking for small touchstones of brightness and hope to hold onto.

On the one hand, the terror that gripped Boston is now over, the alleged perpetrator has been caught and presumably will be brought to justice. On the other hand, innocent lives were lost, and others were forever shattered. And as the surviving victims work to overcome often catastrophic injuries, maybe there's hope in Mr. Rollins's words, that they may emerge from the darkness stronger than they were.

We've found the cure for chocoholism

Too. Much. Chocolate.
Toronto, ON
December 2012
Click here for more Thematic eat
When I was a munchkin, my aunt, as relatives often do, would bring us Toblerone bars. Never anything else: only these delightful triangular-cross-sectioned ones that you couldn't find in a regular store.

If my fuzzy childhood memory isn't betraying me, her family was once involved in the company, so I'm guessing she may have had a guest room in her house dedicated to warehousing a lifetime's worth of them.

The funny thing is they were never the small bars that eventually started showing up in tony Great White North department stores. No, those weren't good enough. So instead she'd drop these ginormous hunks of Eurochocolatey deliciousness in our hot little hands. And just as quickly we'd disappear into our rooms before our parents got wind of it and ordered us to wrap them up and pace ourselves for the next three months.

Inevitably mom and dad figured it out and we'd emerge, faces and hands covered with the evidence, and head straight to the kitchen where our aunt was waiting, big smile on her face. She'd help us carefully wrap and label each one before we all continued doing the cherished things extended families do when they get together.

This recurring experience convinced me for years that Toblerone bars came only in enough-for-an-army size, and when the tiny-sized ones eventually came to town, I steered clear, feeling sorry for anyone who didn't have an aunt like mine.

The thing is, we would have hugged her just as tightly even if she hadn't brought the chocolate bars. She was just that kind of person. Which is why when I came across this massive bar on a colleague's desk, I smiled not because it was a lovely example of the vanishing art of chocolate-making, but because it made me think of her, and those long lost Sunday afternoons when our house was full and life was sweet.

Your turn: your favorite food from childhood was...?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Shabbat shalom

More than just bread
London, ON
February 2013
Click here for more Thematic eat
My wife can turn virtually any set of ingredients into a magical meal. Thanks to her, we eat incredibly well.

There's more to it, however. It isn't simply about sitting down at the dining room table and eating. It's the way she's made the kitchen her domain, the way whatever she's doing in the kitchen plays in the rest of the house, the way everything smells, sounds and feels as we get ready to end the week.

As you can imagine, Friday nights are a big deal in our home, a time for us to linger a little longer over dinner, to look back at the week that was, to look ahead to a couple of days of simply being a family, without the intrusions of the week getting in the way.

At first glance, this loaf of challah looks like any other, some egg bread that'll make some pretty decent toast when we wake up on Saturday morning. In reality, it's so much more, a handmade testament to what makes our house a home, and one of the reasons why I wish we could take days like this and hold onto them for just a little longer.

Your turn: how do you mark the end of the week?

On enjoying the little things

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Robert Brault
Correction: they're always the big things. I'm learning, not always easily, to cherish them more than I might have in the past.

Your turn: What so-called "little thing" will you focus on today?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Would you like fries with that?

Cardiologist optional
Toronto, ON
August 2010
Click here to share your own eat-themed Thematic
In a word, no.

As time goes on, I find myself increasingly resistant to not only the consumption of french fries, bu to their very reason for being.

We can debate the nutritional merits of the humble potato until the cows come home - some folks say it's a staple food, while others avoid it like the starchy plague. Whatever side of the debate you're on, it's clear that how we choose to prepare them for the dinner table after they get yanked from the ground has lots to do with their impact on our health. And I'll wager deep frying them in oil isn't the best way to go.

I'd probably understand their appeal if they tasted remotely decent. But they don't - at least not to me. And these days, whenever I eat them - not all that often, but still - I often regret it afterward. Maybe it's time for a change.

Your turn: ∫French fry...friend or foe? More importantly, if you're not eating fries, what do you replace them with?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On finding the good amid evil

"So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'"
Patton Oswalt
I've been uncharacteristically quiet since terrorist bombs turned this year's Boston Marathon into a scene of senseless carnage and loss. I'm filled with anger that some among us are capable of such cowardly, monstrous acts. I'm frustrated that humanity can be so dark. I'm sickened that some folks actually celebrate the deaths and injuries of others.

Seriously, is this what we've come to?

But then I realize that to cave to the despair is exactly what they - whoever they are - want. I realize that to capitulate to the terror is to let it, indeed them, win. And that just won't do in my world view.

Then Mr. Oswalt wrote words that reinforced, to me anyway, why good will always prevail over evil. It has to. We can't allow it not to.

Your turn: How do you find the good in the wake of something like this?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Have eggs instead

What came first?
London, ON
February 2012
Click here for more Thematic eat
In the end, it's just an egg. But few foods seem to make us stop ad think about life to the degree that eggs do.

We argue over whether chickens or eggs came first. We wonder how these seemingly fragile structures can be so strong. We stare at their iconic shape, and wonder about the visceral thrill of our former six-year-old selves throwing them as high as we can, then waiting for the inevitable splat.

No other food in the grocery store offers up so much entertainment value.

Your turn: Eggs...good or bad?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thematic Photographic 240 - Eat

Cake is life
London, ON
July 2011
With the obvious caveat that birthday cake icing may, to some folks, not entirely qualify as food, I present this week's new Thematic theme, eat.

I figure given how much time we spend planning meals, fetching the ingredients, putting it all together, gathering around the table to eat it, then (hopefully) sticking around long enough to help clean up, it would make a pretty decent topic for the next week.

This particular shot resonates with me, as it was more than just a cake. It was our son's birthday, and I can still hear the buzz that filled the kitchen as Debbie got the candles ready and fussed over every last detail. She makes moments like this special, so the least I could do at the time was freeze it and try to remember what it felt like when our little man's best wishes all revolved around the scene you see here.

In that context, food is so much more than the ingredients that make it up.

Your turn: Take a photo either of something we eat or that evokes the theme. Post it to your blog or website (or Tumblr, or Twitter feed, or anywhere else you like to share photos) and leave a comment here to let folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to add additional contributions through the week. Thematic Photographic is our weekly exploration of all things optical, and we hope you'll join in the fun. More background on it here. Otherwise, enjoy!

Last look at the Medway Valley

Color wherever you look
London, ON
October 2011
Thematic. Leaves. Here.
Thought I'd squeeze in one last shot for Thematic's leaves theme before we launch our new one, eat, at 7 p.m.

There isn't anything particularly challenging about pointing a lens in the general direction of a stand of trees in autumn. However you compose it - assuming you even bother to compose it at all - you're virtually guaranteed enough color to justify the effort.

Still, this one stuck with me. It wasn't that the colors were particularly bright - they weren't. Or that this will ever become remotely worthy of being framed. It won't. It was simply that of all the pictures I took that late afternoon, this is the one that takes me right back to the place I took it.

I don't get out nearly as often as I'd like, and posting this shot here serves as a reminder that I need to change that no matter what season it is, or how busy I convince myself that I am. There's always time to duck out for a little inspiration from Mother Nature. Our souls need the time away from the everyday.

Your turn: This photo will inspire me to get out more often, and I hope it does the same for you. Where will you go when you step out the door?

Pac Man was here

Green pad
London, ON
August 2012
Quick note: We're winding down our week-long look at leaves. To contribute your own, just click here. Otherwise, we'll post our new Thematic theme, eat, tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
I wasn't there when a group of uber-creative Japanese programmers came up with the concept for Pac Man. I'd like to think that perhaps they had hung around lily pads much like this one, and were inspired to create the then-cutting-edge game based on a timeless and elegant structure of nature.

Art. Science. Nature. They're all connected, as far as I'm concerned.

Your turn: How does this shot make you feel?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

On having faith in the invisible

"Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. You can't see the future, yet you know it will come; you can't see the air, yet you continue to breathe."
Claire London

The source of all life

London, ON
June 2011
Click here for more Thematic leaves
Please accept my apologies for focusing a little too closely on water droplets this week. It's something I never tire of, and I hope you never do, either.

Why the appeal? I guess it has to do with the whole water-is-life thing. We are what we are because of it, and we'd evaporate into nothingness if it ever disappeared.

Staring at these fragile droplets on this equally fragile leaf, it occurred to me just how quickly it can all be taken away.

Your turn: What does water mean to you?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Getting reflective at the water's edge

Thamesford, ON
October 2012
Click here for more Thematic leaves
I could sit in this very spot all day and just drink this scene in. To anyone who knows me even remotely, that should hardly come as a surprise. I've always been drawn to the edge of the water - whether it's a quiet place of reflection like this or a pounding surf kind of spot like this - and will probably continue to get pulled in, like a moth to a flame, for as long as I'm around.

On this particular day, I was on my way back from meetings in the large city to the east. More meetings awaited me in my hometown to the west. Big stuff was happening behind and ahead of me, and my head swirled with the possibilities as I picked my way through the countryside toward home.

The late afternoon autumn sun was, in a word, epic. The sky glowed through the windshield in a way that suggested warmth, comfort, home. I smiled at the thought, and as Thamesford, an achingly quaint town along the main drag between Woodstock and London, loomed ahead, I decided to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the light from the outside.

Sitting across the water from this lovely property, I wondered if the folks who lived there were thinking the same thing. Did they ever take the time to sit in the sun and absorb the wonder of being next to the water? Did they know how lucky they were?

I sure hoped so.

Your turn: What makes you lucky?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Bug's Life

London, ON
July 2010
Please click here for more Thematic leaves
On its own, it's just a leaf. Add a few water droplets to it, however, and somehow it takes on a completely different feel.

I wish I understood how it all worked. As it is, it's enough for me to stand there quietly and drink it all in. Because just as soon as it appears, it could be - indeed, will be - gone.

Your turn: This reminds me of the Pixar film, A Bug's Life. I'm not entirely sure why. Do you have an example of a photo that reminds you of a movie?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ivy bridge to nowhere

Holding on
London, ON
September 2009
Click here to share your Thematic leaves
Ivy is one of those things that's a practical nightmare, but a thematic joy. If you're a homeowner, ivy means bugs, cracked masonry, no opportunity to paint and a whole range of similar inconveniences. Sure, it looks old school and charm-filled in that John Hughes Chicago suburb kind of way, but it's a royal pain to uphold the illusion.

But few things can make you stand on a sidewalk and wonder as effectively as a wall of ivy, especially when it's as forlorn as this one. As I watched the late afternoon sun paint this wall in rich tones, I thought about the defiant snippets of life snaking their way across the hostile concrete, and the remnants of leaves too stubborn to admit the season was finally over and it was their time to fall to the ground.

Maybe soon, but not today.

I smiled at the thought, tucked my camera away and headed back home.

Your turn: What three words first come to mind when you see this shot?

On having enemies

“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Winston Churchill

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Blood red on a cold afternoon

Brilliance amid the grey
London, ON
February 2013
Click here for more Thematic leaves
For anyone who says winter is a colorless season, I'll politely beg to differ. Sure, the colors of nature don't pop into your field of view as they do other times of year. There are no gardens bursting forth with blooms, no fields covered in endless sheets of brilliance, no in-your-face examples of brightness.

That doesn't mean it isn't there, though. You just have to look a little bit harder, pause a bit as you take in the broad, dull landscape. After a few minutes, if you let yourself see things just so, you might begin to see bits of life hidden in plain sight. I hope you'll give it a try next time you're out and about.

On this frighteningly cold winter's day, I was at the park with two of our kids. Debbie was in Montreal, doing the things good adult kids need to do when parents get sick. It was a "before" day (see here and here for more), yet I suspect even the kids knew there was far more to it than any of us let on.

See this shot for a closer perspective
While they happily played in the snow-covered playground, I paced a few meters away in a vain effort to stay warm. It wasn't the most comfortable place to be, but I was nevertheless glad we were here, glad we had taken the time to get out of the house and cut loose a bit. It felt good to have winter sting us in the face for a bit. We felt alive. We needed it, and my only regret was Debbie couldn't be here to share it with us.

As it was I had Debbie's camera with me (shh, don't tell her) because it has this really neat, really long zoom lens. I don't often rely on focal length, but given how wide open this place was, I soon found myself using the camera's reach to bring faraway things closer.

In the end, it was the red leaves that grabbed me. I'll never again doubt winter's ability to deliver some unexpected brilliance. And I'll never again assume the color isn't there just because I don't immediately see it. Some things just take a little more time to appreciate.

Your turn: Take a look - around you, at your life, wherever - and let us know where you find unexpected color.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thematic Photographic 239 - Leaves

Witnesses to the night
Montreal, QC
February 2013
Our new Thematic theme, Leaves, is timed to coincide with the springing of spring here in the northern hemisphere. I hope we use it as an excuse to get out there and zero in on the life that's just starting to burst out after a long winter's rest.

But there's more to it. First off, there's a whole other hemisphere, and I want everyone, no matter where they live, to feel free to share.

Also, as you can see from our launch pic, the leaves don't always have to be young and vibrant. They can be like these I found in a pre-dawn back alley just off of Montreal's St-Denis street on what was likely one of the coldest nights of the year. Shrivelled husks of what once was, defiantly clinging to an otherwise bare tree in the sickly light of a sodium vapor streetlamp.

As with any Thematic theme, how you choose to interpret it is entirely up to you.

Your turn: Take a pic or grab one from your archives and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joy, and feel free to return through the week and share additional pics - we encourage that kind of thing. Thematic is our weekly photo sharing/learning/exploring activity, and we hope you'll play along. To learn more about it, click here. Otherwise, dive in and have fun: we can't wait to see what you've got in store.

When the sky explodes in color and light

Who painted this?
Pompano Beach, FL
December 2011
I couldn't resist sharing one last sunrise/sunset-themed pic before we launch our new theme later this eve (more here).

The morning I took this, I had tiptoed quietly out of our hotel room and stepped onto a deserted beach. The sky was cloudy, and a cold wind was whipping spray right up to the top of the wide, sandy beach. My heart sank as I wondered whether I should simply creep back inside and tuck myself back into bed.

But something made me stay out. Because in my everyday life, I never get to do this. And today wasn't an everyday life day. We were far from home, in a delightfully photo-friendly place. And even if the day hadn't started out as I had originally hoped, I owed it to myself to stick it out and see what ultimately developed.

Because you just never know. And you'd hate to miss out on something because you gave up too soon.

As you can see, Ma Nature made it worth my while to stay out. And as the sun began to warm the cold sand between my chilled toes, I felt like this was the moment I was meant to capture all along. Because the story wouldn't have been nearly as sweet - to me and to my family - had it played out in its original cloud-free vision.

Besides, clear skies are overrated, anyway. Happy skyspotting, folks.

Your turn: Who's out there?

Choosing to look the other way

Look in the trunk
Delray Beach, FL
December 2008
Note: We're winding down our sunrise. sunset week - though I do reserve the right to toss in an additional pic or two over the next few days, just because. If you'd like to get in some additional submissions of your own, please click here. New theme, leaves, launches tonight, at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Sometimes when I'm shooting a sunrise or a sunset, I'll turn around and look behind me. It occurs to me that the story isn't always the sun itself, but the stuff that it ends up painting with light along the way.

And as the sun slowly settled into the horizon on this late December night in South Florida, I was struck by the way it softly painted the trunks of these lovely palm trees. So instead of capturing the sky, I chose to look the other way and bring home the shot most folks wouldn't expect.

Your turn: Do you ever turn around and look the other way? What kinds of things do you see?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Learning from an imperfect sky

One last dance
Delay Beach, FL
December 2008
Click here for more Thematic sunrise, sunset
I used to stay inside whenever cloud cover threatened to disrupt a planned sunrise or sunset shoot. I figured the ideal for this kind of thing was a perfectly clear sky and a perfectly clear view of the sun.

Not so much.

I've since learned a number of key truths about photography - and, let's be frank, about life - that have prompted me to shift my perspective somewhat:

  1. Time. Most folks don't get too many chances to do shoots like this. You know the drill: we're so busy leading our day-to-day lives that taking the time for stuff like this simply isn't realistic. And opportunities to just get out and shoot are rare luxuries indeed. If you're going to wait for so-called perfection, you might never get to shoot at all. So even if a thick cloud deck threatens to ruin your meticulously planned moment, get out there and see if you can't perhaps capture another kind of moment. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you bring back.
  2. Definition. Your perfect may not align with my perfect. We all see things differently, and trying to fit your photos into someone else's definition of perfection is kinda silly. Follow your own path and let the optical chips fall where they may.
  3. Failure. The sad truth is not everything you shoot will rock your world. Some days, you'll swing for the photographic fences and have little to show for it. But even failure is part of the process, because we learn from the experience, and apply those learnings the next time we head out (see #1 above, Time). Keep heading out there. Don't be afraid to mess things up. Don't not shoot because you're afraid of making mistakes. Relish the failures instead.

This shot was light years removed from what I had hoped to capture when I first headed out the door. But I remember hesitating as I wondered whether the clouds would wreck the experience. In the end, they didn't, and to think what I would have missed had I simply headed back inside.

Your turn: How do you overcome photography or otherwise?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

On the wisdom of a 5-year-old John Lennon

​“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
John Lennon
Words to live by.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Dancing in the sunset

Frozen in time
Delray Beach, FL
December 2008
About this photo: We're celebrating sunrises and sunsets as part of this week's Thematic. Click here to share your own.
Beauty is a funny thing. It can flare brilliantly for the most brief moment, then disappear just as quickly as it appeared, never to be seen again except in the minds of those privileged enough to have been there.

It isn't perpetual or guaranteed. It doesn't even exist in the definitive sense of the word: it must be appreciated by those around it. Otherwise, it Or, more precisely, isn't.

Which is what brought me to this water fountain nestled amid the palm trees just before dusk. It sits at the entranceway to a housing community, directly alongside six lanes of high-speed traffic. It spews water up into the air 24/7 as countless vehicles whip past at ungodly speeds. In doing so, it serves up similarly countless moments like this, amid changing light, that are likely just as uniquely beautiful as this one.

Yet no one stops. No one casts a longish glance. No one ever has the chance to drink in the astonishing scenes repeating themselves endlessly, invisibly. They simply pass on by as the beauty of this dancing fountain plays out, ignored.

I had ignored it for far too long, passing by day after day as the spraying water almost faded into the background, became part of the similarly generic scenery.

Except the scenery wasn't generic at all. And none of this deserved to fade anywhere. So I took a walk and had a closer look.

Your turn: Things you once ignored, then discovered. Please discuss.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Power comes from many sources

Wired Sunset
London, ON
 January 2009

Head here for more Thematic sunrise, sunset
We're always taught to remove distractions from our photos. It's a reasonable piece of advice, because it forces us to focus on the things that really matter, that contribute to telling a simple, meaningful, memorable visual story. It's a good lesson for life, too, I suppose.

Sometimes, though, I have to wonder if so-called rules like this weren't made to be broken. For example: this shot is dominated by a bunch of electrical infrastructure. I tried to reposition myself, but simply couldn't keep them out of frame.

Indeed, I've seen people deliberately not take pictures like this because there were overhead wires in it.

"It'll ruin the shot," they'd say.

I'm not so sure it would. Because if we all followed the same rules of photography, no one's work would ever stand out.

Your turn: What rules of photography do you like to ignore? Why?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

On Chairman Mao's sense of perspective

"We think too small. Like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view."
Mao Zedong

Monday, April 01, 2013

Thematic Photographic 238 - Sunrise, Sunset

Old vs new. Old wins.
Montreal, QC
February 2013
Some of my most meaningful moments in the day seem to occur around when the sun first makes its appearance in the sky, and again when it heads below the horizon for the night.

Photographically, the quality of the light around these times of day is sublimely lovely. But there's far more to it than that. Transitional times like these seem to slow down time as we come face-to-face with an elemental force of our life on this planet. Watching the sky lighten or darken is an act of humble reverence, a chance to feel small, to appreciate that the universe will do its thing no matter how important we humans think we are. Note to self: we aren't.

Another note to self: stare out the window more often when scenes like these present themselves. Life's too short to miss them.

Your turn: Take a sunrise or sunset-themed photo (bonus points for the artistic/source reference) and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share in the photographic joy. Head here if you're new to the Thematic thing. And feel free to smile while you're at it: that's the entire point of this little activity of ours.

On civilization and kindness

"Civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind."
Charles L. Lucas
At least this is what I keep telling myself. It isn't always easy to see. Still, I'll keep looking. Hard. You?

Shattered beyond repair

Violent ending
Quebec City, QC
July 2011
About this photo: We're winding down Thematic's grey theme. Click here if you'd like to share yours. New theme, sunrise, sunset, launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
It's said that everything has a story, and I'm sure the bottle that begat this collection of glass shards must have had its own. Who dropped or threw it here, then left the mess behind for others to repair - or run into? We'll never know, of course, but part of me wishes we could.

Despite feeling sad - or maybe it's disappointed - that human nature allows otherwise pristine streets to become filled with messes like this, I still found myself enjoying the aesthetics of the thing. Can you simultaneously be disgusted by and attracted to the same scene? I'm guessing you can.