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Hot in the City

We’ve been having some awesome weather so far this summer – unseasonably warm, but I’ll take that over cold weather any time.

That means it’s a lot easier to go out and shoot these days.

We’ve also moved offices for my day job – I am literally across from the CN Tower these days. That means I’ve been able to take my camera with me to work and sneak in some shots in the neighbourhood. The area is teeming with tourists and a lot more people work here too.

I’ve also been able to take images at various times during the day – including earlier in the morning when the light is nice and warm.

Here are few recent images. Hope you enjoy!

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Exploring Suburbia

When my family settled in Canada, we first lived near Toronto’s Chinatown on Spadina Avenue. It made sense as my aunt, uncle and cousins lived just down the street from us, so we had a bit of a social network to support our first few years in a new country.

Eventually, we moved out to Scarborough, Toronto’s eastern suburb, where I spent my formative years. There wasn’t much going on in Scarborough in those days, so I made the hour-long trek downtown almost every Saturday with friends, checking out record shops, book stores and the like. I guess I knew at an early age, if you didn’t have a car in the suburbs, your social life was limited.

So it wasn’t a surprise that I’ve spent most of my adult life living downtown, even though my family chose to remain in the suburbs. As a downtowner, I, too, would regard the suburbs as places to mostly avoid.

Fast forward to the present and my partner and I have settled onto a quiet street not too far from my childhood home. You still can’t do much without a car in Scarborough, but this little borough sure has changed. There are now dozens of vibrant neighbourhoods, scattered throughout with shops, businesses and restaurants that reflect the diversity that is Toronto these days. Our neighbourhood now is almost the same as it was when I was a kid, but with newer storefronts and as of last summer – a STARBUCKS!

For the past few weeks, I’ve made exploring local neighbourhoods into a project – documenting the streets through photography. It’s a bit harder to get candid shots of people when neighbourhoods aren’t as busy. But it was a challenge that I accepted, stretching my own creative boundaries to make interesting images.

This series doesn’t wholly represent Scarborough – I wanted to highlight some of the more “uninteresting” places to see what I could find. I had fun focusing on the suburbs as a theme. I hope you enjoy these images. You can also view the entire series on LensCulture.

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Participating in Gallery City

It’s official! I’m very pleased to announce that I will be participating in Gallery City, a city-wide “art crawl” featuring 35 artists and more than 100 businesses in street-side art galleries.

Gallery City is a joint initiative of Metrolinx, Crosslinx Transit Solutions – Constructors (CTSC), the seven Eglinton Business improvement areas, the Yonge Eglinton Centre, Eglinton Square, and Eglinton businesses between Weston Road and Victoria Park Avenue.

The initiative celebrates the diverse nature of Eglinton Avenue’s neighbourhoods through art. My work was selected with the help of Scarborough Arts, of which I am a member.

Gallery City will feature the two images below and the featured image above which I shot last year in businesses located in the Mt. Dennis/Keelesdale area. All three have city transit as a common theme which aligns with the groups sponsoring this initiative.

I will provide an update when organizers tell me which businesses I will be working with to showcase my work.

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“At War With The Obvious” – Discovering William Eggleston

Besides being able to take a ton of street photos while in New York, I also came away with a huge learning from our trip earlier this month.

The last point of interest for us was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We didn’t plan to see anything specific there, but just wanted to wander around the largest art museum in the U.S.

After exploring on our own for a few hours, we were on our way out when I came across a photography exhibit of works by American photographer William Eggleston. I had never heard of him before, but it was the only photography exhibit we came across in the museum, so I told my family I would just take a quick peek.

What I saw took my breath away. In fact, my husband said afterwards that he never saw me so excited in a museum before. The exhibit consisted of 75 of his photographs, taken from a series called “Los Alamos,” made between 1965 and 1974. You can view all the works via the museum’s website, but I picked a couple below that made a huge impression on me.

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Oklahoma – ca. 1971–74, by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

This digital image hardly does this photo justice. The original is a dye-transfer print, a process that was used at the time almost exclusively in advertising. It was very expensive, but the results were striking – vibrant, saturated colours that jump out at you. In person, this photo looked like a painting to me.

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Memphis – ca. 1965 – 68, by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

This was another one that I loved because of its simplicity and how it framed a subject we might not think twice about.

I had never come across Eggleston’s name in all the research I’ve done on street photography until now. Granted, his work may not be classified as street photography today, but there certainly are elements of it. Eggleston’s subjects sometimes included people in candid situations, but more often than not, he photographed the ordinary in his life – store signs, gas stations, cars, Coke bottles… you get the idea.

It was pure luck that this was actually a feature exhibit at the Met and I came across it. Doing more research on him, I found out he is quite famous and an influential figure in photographic art.

His goal was to find beauty in the mundane, which may be the opposite of the street photographer’s goal of looking for the “decisive moment” when making an image.

So why am I writing about him? I think it’s because he was able to find beauty in the ordinary that inspires me so. In street photography, we train ourselves to slow down and take in a scene and look for details that interest us. This was Eggleston’s approach too and he was able to make us take a second look at things we take for granted.

There are several published books of his work, but they are not cheap. The most common one for sale is called “Portraits,” and it was available at the museum for 50 bucks. I flipped through it at the time, but it didn’t include a lot of the works from the Los Alamos series. The published collection of Los Alamos comes in a three-volume set and costs $400 CDN.

I may still order it, though. I’ve truly never seen such amazing work since Vivian Maier (that’s a subject for a future post).  I don’t know if it was coincidence, but I had been editing my photos in black and white prior to my trip to New York. When I reviewed the images I took there, I decided that to really do them justice, they would have to be processed in colour.

I still go back and forth between the two. I choose black and white when I feel the colour in the photo is either distracting or adds nothing to the story I’m trying to tell. For the majority of the New York images, colour was definitely part of the story and that’s why I processed them in colour. People tend to choose one or the other – I’m still uncertain on which way I will go. I may still continue to choose both for individual images or series.

But back to Eggleston… Part of the Met exhibition included some of his famous quotes. My favourite one was, “I am at war with the obvious.” This is such a good lesson for making art: to really consider a new and unique way of expressing yourself and stand apart from the pack.

Good photographers do this all the time. I always try to be aware of what would be the typical “tourist shot” of a landmark, and stop to consider, “How do I make my image different?” The asnwer can often be found by simply moving away from where all the tourists are and capturing your subject from a different perspective or angle. Eggleston takes it to a whole other level by finding a way to make everyday, ordinary subjects look amazing through his use of colour and composition.

As street photographers, we are often drawn to busy, urban settings where it’s easier to find interest subjects doing interesting things. I live in the suburbs of Toronto where it’s not exactly a happening place. Before I took up street photography, I did try to make images of my neighbourhood with mixed results. I hope with Eggleston’s words fresh in my mind, I will venture out again in my own backyard and see what beauty I can find.

If you haven’t checked out Eggleston before, I highly recommend it.

 

 

Street Images from New York – Part 3

Even though my family is used to me stopping every now and then to take photos whenever we are out, we decided to split up for a few hours on our final day in Manhattan. They did a tour of Radio City Music Hall, while I decided to walk from Union Square up to Times Square to meet them after their tour.

I was able to walk along the east-west streets, while slowly moving north block by block, mostly along Broadway. I was determined to stay away from where tourists flocked to, because I really wanted to capture how New Yorkers live their everyday lives.

I was very happy with the images I brought back with me. If New York hotels weren’t so terribly expensive, I’d like to visit more often. Now that my husband has seen the city for himself – and he quite enjoyed our trip – I think I can convince him for another short trip soon, perhaps closer to the fall or winter.

Until then, here are some images from our final day. Enjoy!

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I think this is my favourite image from our trip. I had spotted the bright pink hat from several yards away and started framing my shot, so I was ready to take it when I was close enough. There’s always an element of luck in street photography, and this time, it was the truck with the pink hippo that was just making the corner into the frame. On his own, the man in the hat would have been a good image, but I think the hippo really ties it together.

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Street Images from New York – Part 2

One of the more challenging things for a street photographer to do is to shoot through the viewfinder, since it’s a dead giveaway you’re taking someone’s picture.

I suspected that wouldn’t be too much of an issue in New York because 1) it’s so crowded with people that hardly anyone notices you and 2) I would look just like any other tourist taking snapshots.

While shooting from the hip often works, it’s almost always better to frame up your shots intentionally for better compositions.

On our second day, we visited Brooklyn and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan and then took the Staten Island Ferry to check out the Statue of Liberty. Here are some images from that day.

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Street Images from New York – Part 1

I recently returned from a short trip to New York City with my husband and step-daughter. It had been about 15 years since I last visited, and my husband had never been at all.

Of course, I had been looking forward to taking street shots where so many amazing images come from, while also balancing the need to enjoy the city with my family at the same time.

We took a cab from the airport, and by the time we got into Manhattan, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic. Plus, there was construction around the route to our hotel, so that didn’t help. As a result, we asked the driver to let us out a few blocks away from our hotel since walking would be faster.

On the way to the hotel, it was already apparent to me just how different the vibe is from Toronto, even though we are a big city as well. I believe New Yorkers have more of a relationship with the street. Even within a short distance, I saw shopkeepers and workers standing outside their door, either people-watching themselves, or chatting to neighbours and customers. And the habits of construction workers in NYC are altogether different from Toronto. I assume our workers have breaks during their workdays, but we rarely see them standing on the street smoking or eating their lunch. In Manhattan, workers were easily spotted by their orange vests and since it was lunchtime then, many were sitting outside delis and corner stores eating their meals.

Since the city has almost three times as many people as Toronto in a much smaller space, the streets were a lot busier than I’m used to. In Toronto, if I want to meet a steady stream of people, I feel like I’m limited to our financial district and major tourist spots downtown.

I normally don’t process my photos too much as I feel street photography doesn’t need much embellishment. It’s the subject and the compositions that I feel are most important. In the end, I did use the Fuji Velvia film simulation which gives the images a more saturated look.

Here are a few images from our first day in NYC. More to come in the days to come. In the meantime, enjoy!

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My Ongoing Bay Street Boys Project

I just submitted seven of my images for a street photography competition organized by LensCulture. As part of that process, I now have a profile on their website. This actually makes it much easier for me to display my work as the interface is intuitive and the display is uniform and incredibly clean.

I’ve also been able to organize my work by project. My current one is the continuation of a theme I started here – Bay Street Boys. Even as the financial sector has cut back on workers, the famed alpha male working on Wall Street (or in Toronto’s case, Bay Street) still have their swagger and attitude. My focus on these men highlight their perceived strengths as well as their more vulnerable side. Here are a few from the project. You can see more by visiting my LensCulture profile.

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Spring!

I know I’ve been complaining about the cold weather, but I have no excuse now that we have much warmer temperatures.

I have been trying to go out to shoot more – it’s just so much more pleasurable when you’re not bundled in a thick coat and trying to adjust camera controls with gloves on. I also don’t feel as rushed to get good shots so I can get back indoors and warm up.

In following a lot of different photographers online, I’ve noticed many people shooting different styles all within the broad genre of street photography. This includes images that highlight very strong contrasts between light and shadow. This image I took, for example, is one along those lines:

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I will continue to experiment with this style, but as my partner reminds me, “Don’t copy other people.”

This, and some other great advice can be found in this free guide from Magnum photographers, regardless of what genre of photography you work in. (You don’t have to register for anything, just provide an email – they try not to spam you.)

With that said, here are a few recent images. I’ve also been experimenting more with colour versus black and white. I choose colour if I feel the colours contribute to the image, rather than distract from it. Besides, using colour just feels right when the weather is so much nicer.  I hope you enjoy them!

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Sun and Shadows

I’ve never been a big fan of winter, but even so, this winter seems to be exceptionally dark and dreary.

But we’re finally getting some sun and even warmer temperatures in recent weeks. I know it’s only the beginning of March, and it’s quite possible to still get snow in April. But I was glad to join other sun-starved folks out on the streets lately.

All photos taken with Fujifilm X100F and edited in Lightroom.

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