like a song...

Inspiration is a funny thing.

I've been feeling a little dry since I got back from TO. Like I have used up my reserve of creative thought, lost my muse, or whatever else it is that sparks an artist to create. I haven't felt this way in a while. It has been a little disconcerting.

Then I was invited to an open mic night.

Now, I've never really done an open mic night before (unless you count the classic campfire confessional), but for whatever reason I got really excited about this. So I pulled out my guitar for the first time in months and started to play. I figure I can contribute either a song, some slam poetry or a stand-up routine, and of those three I think a song will be the least embarrassing.

It was quickly apparent that I only know about 5 chords. And that writing music is really hard. And that you lose the callouses on your fingers when you don't play for a while (seriously, the tips of my fingers feel like they've been attacked by extraordinarily vicious rodents). But I had a blast. I've always liked the guitar, and I've always wondered what could have been had I, at age 13, chosen the guitar instead of drums.

Guitars are, by and large, way cooler than drums. Guitar players definitely get more attention (or more accurately, attention from girls) than drummers, so one would think that any thirteen year-old boy would naturally choose guitar. I was rather introverted as a kid though, and I think the drums appealed to me because I could hide in the back of the stage*.

But for now the drums are over at my brother's house while I am here, attempting to incorporate a Cmaj7 into my song somewhere. It would be a shame to waste 20% of my guitar knowledge.

8.5.08. Cropped to 3X5

*I vaguely remember this being the same reason that Jughead was the drummer of The Archies, and sure enough, it was confirmed by Wikipedia. Yay for crowd-sourcing.


drowning man

Rain and I have a love-hate relationship. Mostly hate.

Rain meant getting splatters up your back from the bicycle tire. Rain meant sitting through an entire school day with wet socks. Rain meant standing in a boat sopping wet and cold while that kid refused your coaching and continued to stand up on his wakeboard too soon, resulting in him falling flat on his face, over and over again.

But like most things, rain and I have had our good times, and there are a few instances that stand out in my mind.

When I was in elementary school we had next-door neighbours with kids about the same age as us. They had a trampoline, and we had free reign to go jump whenever we wanted to. Once when I was about 13 we had a one of Kelowna's wicked summer storms, where the air was so hot and the sky so dark you could feel something ominous brewing.

The skies cracked open as I bounced up and down. The rain fell so hard it knocked apples off of the tree in our back yard, but I remember feeling shock at how warm the rain was. As I stomped the black canvas over and over and over again, the evening sun hit the seam between the clouds and the mountains, casting a brilliant beam of light over the valley that caught each drop from the side and sent shimmering colour everywhere. I kept jumping until I collapsed in exhaustion, and the warm water began to pool around me as I lay and stared at the sky.

It rained for a couple of days during my recent trip to Toronto. Because I was cycling everywhere (as previously mentioned, I despise the splatter that comes with mixing pedaling and precipitation), I decided to hide in the caffe until it stopped. It didn't, so I left the bike chained up and headed off in search of an umbrella. Maybe it was because I had nowhere to go, but I found myself enjoying my walk through the rain, watching the wipers on cars and the brightly coloured slickers on children. It was strange, how I could find pleasure in something I used to hate so much*.

It rained like crazy today, that same incessant pounding that usually only comes around in the summer. Still sore from my urban adventure, I lay in the hot tub with the water up to my neck and cold spring rain pouring down my face. As I sat soaking, my love for the rain, so recently rekindled, came back like a flood.

Yes. That pun was completely intended.

*Come to think of it, this is also exactly what has happened with broccoli, musical theatre and wearing glasses. My likes and dislikes have completely changed over the years.

7.5.08. Slightly increased exposure.


if you wear that velvet dress

I am actively pursuing spontaneity.

By nature I tend to be extremely careful in everything I do. I rarely speak up without seriously thinking about what I want to say. I'll plan out my day/week/month well in advance, to the point where very little of what I do is left to chance. This has served me pretty well; organized is a nice way to live, and my internal filter has kept me from saying things I probably would have regretted.

Of course, there are the drawbacks that come with it. Predictability. Over analysis to the point of paralysis.

Photography has been a really good exercise for me. The vast majority of my pictures have been impromptu rather than staged because, unless you really know what you are doing, staged pictures tend to look tacky and boring. And I hate tacky and boring.

The spontaneity is what I like about this picture. Instead of a boring picture where everyone is looking at the camera with forced smiles, there is genuine warmth and joy in the frame. I'm want that authenticity and genuineness to be a regular part of my life. Thus, I have made the conscious decision to begin trusting my instincts (which have served me well so far) and acting on their impulse.

We'll see how it turns out.

9.12.07. Cropped to 3X5.


is that all?

I've decide to activate comments on this blog.

One of the surprises of my photographic journey is discovering how people react differently to my pictures. Oftentimes I will post what I think is just an okay picture, and it will generate a huge reaction. I then have to go back and look at it again, and will invariably discover something that I didn't see initially.

I'd like to apply this same concept here. What I see in my pictures and in my life is well documented. What do you see?

Please join the conversation.

Note: this is me being spontaneous (see future post).


elvis presley and america

I became a photographer by accident.

Before last summer, I had never actually owned a real camera. I liked the idea of photography, but like anything else, it requires a certain amount of capital to get started. When the employer announced that they were sending the entire staff down to Los Angeles, I knew this was my excuse.

With this motivation I bought a Canon Rebel XTi with an EF-S 18-55mm, the most efficient entry into the quasi-professional photography game. Imagine passing your roadtest and immediately purchasing a Volkswagen GTI; you'll initially be a bit overwhelmed, but will quickly discover what driving should feel like.

Purchasing the camera before going on a trip was the best idea I ever had. Not only was I motivated to capture the trip itself, I wanted to learn everything my new toy could do. After a few days of learning the ropes, I found the sweet spot the night we walked along Hollywood Boulevard.

What I find remarkable about this picture is how well it was composed without me consciously doing so (I certainly didn't know what I was doing). It's asymmetrical and balanced all at once, the colours are rich, the subjects are all looking in different directions, it's nicely framed by the palm tree on one side and the pillar on the other. I couldn't have posed this picture if I tried.

I count myself lucky that I was able to capture this moment as well as I did. And it gave me the confidence that yes, I had the skills to do this.

This was really the beginning.

24.8.07. No alterations.


stories for boys

I have returned from the East. Summer has arrived in my absence, and I am reminded that I really do live in the greatest place on earth. I loved Toronto, but the Valley is where I want to be. At least until the summer traffic hits. We'll see if I still have the same attitude in a month or so.

This was taken on one of my last days in Toronto. I was cycling back to my temporary abode when I came across this young man playing ball. I could relate to him in this scene, but I didn't immediately know why.

A friend commented that I should sell it to Nike with a caption that says something about dreams, which I found hilarious. I DOES have that inspirational poster feeling, although I certainly wasn't thinking about that when I took it. I like this picture because it reminds me of when I was a kid. Particularly that feeling of playing alone, and not necessarily caring about it.

I like how the building is casting a shadow over him, protecting him from the harsh light that hits the rest of the frame. It creates a picture of childlike innocence being guarded from the rest of the world. All that matters in this moment is lying within the shadow of the school. The more I stare at this picture, the more I want him to succeed.

I hope he follows his dreams.

10.5.08. Cropped to 3X5, increased exposure, reduced lowlights.


stranger in a strange land

I had a few goals for my trip.

First, I wanted desperately to fit into the city; I set out to capture the essence of Toronto as an insider, rather than from the perspective of a tourist. Big cities are notoriously capable at identifying outsiders, and Toronto has an enduring reputation of being incredibly narcissistic. I certainly did come across that mentality occasionally, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that most people I met were welcoming and accepting, even approaching friendly at times. Even at the trendiest cafes and restaurants I was treated as though I belonged. I was also stopped on the street 4 separate times for directions. This felt terrific, even if the directions I gave were woefully ill-informed.

Secondly, I wanted to break my fear of asking people to take their picture. There have been numerous times where I have seen a cool frame or an interesting backlighting and been too timid to ask if I could take the shot. I also don't want to be the guy who just sets up and starts taking pictures in front of people. That guy is creepy.

So I started asking. And I've been shocked to find that every single person has said yes.

C and I were enjoying tea, tarts and the Saturday Globe in a park with a friend of hers who, incidentally, is on the editorial board for the Globe. Suffice to say, it was a strange experience reading the paper in front of a guy who writes it. The sun was beaming, and my eye was drawn to this bench over and over again. People came and went; an elderly gentleman with a cane, an uber-enthusiastic Lulule-mom with three blonde moppets, a busker with his guitar. All were interesting subjects...but not what I was looking for.

Then these two sat down. They perfectly embody the hipster-chic ethos that I love so much about this city. I took a deep breath, and approached them. With a smile, I simply asked 'Do you mind if I take your picture?'

Although it only took a moment, I didn't dare breath.

'Uh, yeah. No worries.' And a small, knowing smile. Another reason to keep on asking.

10.5.08. Cropped to 3X5, slightly increased exposure, reduced lowlights.



A few of my favorite places in Toh-rah-nah:

This Vespa dealer is in Little Italy, and carries some cool Euro-scooter-inspired clothing, including stuff by Ben Sherman, Frank Perry, WeSC and Adidas Originals. Little Italy is home to the uber-hipster crowd, and the staff were no exception. Squared glasses and dry-aged denim appear to be their store uniform.

Aunties and Uncles
I was honestly a little intimidated by this restaurant. Also in Little Italy, this was far and away the coolest place I've ever eaten at. All the tables are Formica, the cutlery missmatched, the pictures deliberately hung crookedly, the wallpaper peeling off just so. Everyone in the place looked like the cast of a Wes Anderson movie. And the breakfast was delicious.

Manic Coffee
In the world of coffee, the Clover is the king of machines. Popular in coffee-mad cities like Vancouver and Seattle, the Clover was foisted on Toronto by Manic. It is reported to be the best way to extract the flavors from the coffee, and it definitely lived up to that billing.

Bikes on Wheels
After getting used to riding again, I have the beginnings of a serious obsession with bikes. Especially fixies. They are everywhere in Toronto, and this place had some serious stock. Maybe when I get home...

Kensington Market
Kensington Market is an area of the city that resembles the market I visited in Mexico a couple years ago. It's a strange mix of cool vintage clothing stores, vegetable stands, cheap sunglasses, cheese shops and restaurants. Like Big Fat Burrito. I didn't actually eat there, but this might be the most succinct name ever: there is no doubt what this restaurant will sell you. Just down the street is a small shop where I bought brightly coloured silk scarves for the women in my life.

Paul's Boutique
The owner of this shop is named Paul, so it may not be a total ripoff of the Beastie Boys album of the same name, but it was just as cool. Amps, guitars and keyboards of every imaginable vintage stacked to the ceiling, and walls covered in album covers and gig posters.

Queen's West
As opposed to the more populated and mainstream Yonge Street and Eaton's Center, Queen's West is made up of edgier stores packed together along the street. Each seemed to cater to a strangely specific clientèle. All I know is that this shop had more Chucks than Warped Tour.

(from top)
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5, slightly increased exposure.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5, slightly increased exposure.


city of blinding lights

Everyone should experience Toronto for the first time from the penthouse suite of a downtown hotel.

How on earth did i end up here?

My vacation hostess C serves at a restaurant in Toronto called the Indian Rice Factory. The restaurant is an institution in the city, with a really cool history. Her boss Aman was kind enough to let me crash at almost-fully-renovated apartment next to the restaurant, and insisted that C and I join him for a tasting event that evening.

We dropped my bags off and headed to C's house. Like at least half the inhabitants of this city, C lives in an old redbrick duplex along a tree-lined street. One of her flatmates is away and offered up her bicycle for me to use while I'm here. This is great, but also a challenge: I haven't been on a bicycle...long enough that I can't remember the last time. There is truth the the expression 'it's like riding a bike', but I was a more than a bit shaky. Oh, and I only had a front brake.

So I'm on a bicycle for the first time in a decade, following C downtown, dodging trucks and streetcars. I'm trying to take it all in as I whiz by increasingly larger and larger buildings, through the most eclectic parts of the city. Toronto is really a city of distinct neighborhoods, and I had a fast introduction to the Annex, Koreatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, and Queens West on our way to Downtown South.

We had some time to kill before the event, so we locked the bikes and wandered around. One of the things I really like about Toronto is the integration of old architecture into the modern glass towers. Kelowna doesn't have much (or anything) in the way of large old buildings, so this was a treat.

Bay Street. UofT. Queens Park. Yonge Street.

The event was held at the Cosmopolitan Hotel just off of Yonge Street, right in the middle of the Financial District. The concierge smiled when we introduced ourselves and led us to the elevator. He swiped his card and pressed 27, while saying 'Once you get up to the penthouse, turn right'.

We stepped off of the elevator into the swankiest hotel room I have ever seen. Twenty-four foot high ceilings, a glossy white upright piano to match the white leather couches, picture windows overlooking the water on one side and the CN Tower on the other. Even though I had the foresight to throw on a blazer over my t-shirt before we came, I was a little out of place: most of the guests were wearing shoes that cost more than my rent. Nonetheless, we were welcomed with a glass pressed into our hands and an introduction to Carlos, chief winemaker from an estate winery in Chile and the host of this event. Sandwiched in between New York and London, this tasting was the second on a whirlwind tour through the markets they hoped to break into.

I made my way through the smalltalk and laughter up to the rooftop deck illuminated by the lights of the skyscrapers all around. I couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of the situation: less than twelve hours since arriving in the city, I was here on the roof of a boutique hotel at a party with some of the most respected and influential foodies in the city.

My amusement was interrupted when Aman came up and, with a slap on my shoulder, announced that we were moving the party over to the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Sure. Why not.

(from top)
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5, reduced highlights.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.
6.5.08. Cropped to 3X5.

the wanderer

The beginning of my vacation started with two and a half hours of sleep.

Maybe it's just me, but trying to sleep before a trip is like trying to sleep on Christmas Eve. I had been working feverishly to get all my work done before I left, so my mind was still racing as I tried to force myself asleep. Didn't work, so when my alarm went off at 5, it took every once of my self control to not throw it out the window.

At the airport I met some friends who, by strange coincidence, were sharing my flight to Calgary on their way to Phoenix for a week of sun and golf. Also a good vacation, but I'm going away for a different purpose. Although I hope relaxation figures in strongly, I am in Toronto to indulge myself creatively by taking thousands of pictures in an interesting city.

I chose Toronto for a few reasons. First and foremost, my dear friend C lives here, and she has not stopped giving me grief for not visiting her since high school (in my defense, she spent much of the last ten years in Wales, Lebanon and Montreal). Secondly, I had visited Toronto once before, and although I really didn't like it at the time (in Toronto's defense, I was fifteen and traveling with my family), I felt as though both I and the city had changed enough that it was time to try again.

I landed on Ontarian soil with a slight bump, and taxied to the terminal. My bags were the first off the carousel, and I found C waiting for me past security, ready to introduce me to the Toronto Transit Commission.

6.5.08. No alterations.


i still haven't found what i'm looking for

Well, I've done what every up-and-coming photographer must do: opened up a Flickr account.

As I've begun to peruse the community, I've discovered a lot of crummy pictures and a few that blow my mind, but what really inspires me is the variety of styles that exist. Lately I've been trying to figure out what my photographic style is; so far, I haven't quite found it. I am fortunate to possess enough skill that my pictures don't suck, but green enough that I haven't fallen into artistic ruts.

Since I aspire to be unique, I was hesitant to include this picture here. Roses are common fodder for photographers, especially in monochrome (type 'rose black and white' into Google image search to see what I mean), and I definitely don't want to be that type of photographer. The reason I include this picture is because the finished product turned out completely different than what I expected to get.

Here is the original unaltered picture:

I shot this picture using only the light from the kitchen chandelier, directly above me. Although I like the composition (especially how the darkened geometrical shapes of the table, chairs and cupboards juxtapose with the softer, brighter contours of the roses), the flowers are washed out and ill-defined. After turning it monochrome, I began boosting the saturation and reducing the lowlights. Lo and behold, the background disappeared leaving only the roses. All in iPhoto. Who needs Photoshop, anyway?

Me apparently. I've pretty much hit the boundaries of iPhoto's potential. It may not be long before I succumb to the temptation.

29.4.08. Cropped to 3X5, boosted contrast and exposure, reduced lowlights.