A rainy evening, 1922

Well, not really. But close.

I took a few days off this week and used a couple of them to visit Prince Edward County in Eastern Ontario. Although the early fall weather wasn't the greatest, the mini-trip gave us some time to see more of this region that is rapidly building a reputation as a wine-producing centre and destination for economic development.

The town of Picton is the largest community in the county and many of its buildings shows their small-town Ontario origins. The Regent Theatre, opened in February 1922, is one such building. Here it is in all its glory on a rainy evening:

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At the sheepdog trials—windy and wonderful

It's not often that I get to attend a sheepdog trial. Ok, let's be more accurate: I had never been to see sheepdogs put through their paces before this summer. But mid-way into our house exchange with a couple from Kirkmichael, Perthshire, we learned that the Strathardle Sheepdog Trial was being held in nearby Enochdhu.

This was not our first trip to Scotland, so we were open to doing more local things off the usual tourist trails and weren't looking to spend a lot of time in the bigger centres. A sheepdog trial promised to tick all the boxes. And it did.

Watching the shepherds and dogs work together was a wonderful experience. I was surprised at the intelligence of the dogs, the lack of intelligence of the sheep, and the unbroken chain of shouted and whistled communication—even when it broke down. Done well, herding sheep with a dog is a delight to watch.

The shearing competition was probably more fun for the audience and judges than it was for the sheep (some of which were clearly nicked), but you have to admire the strength and skill of the men and women who make a quick and clean job of it. There may not be a lot of room for sentimentality in farm life, but a deft hand is to be respected.

These were clearly real contests, not demos put on with a wink for tourists (apart from a family from Belgium, we were the only tourists there). The competitors obviously knew each other and seemed to be on on friendly terms, but they were all there to win in their categories, from beginner to old hand. The sky threatened and the wind never let the refreshments tent have an easy minute, but the roll and sausage was hot and the whisky was welcome.

All in all, a glorious afternoon out in Highland Perthshire.

All pictures taken with the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses.

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RRS Discovery in Dundee

After the colours of fall it's time for a return to some black and white... and time to clear some of the backlog from our trip to Scotland this summer!

One of the sights we had the chance to visit was the RRS Discovery at Discovery Point in Dundee.

RRS Discovery was the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Designed for Antarctic research, it was launched as a Royal Research Ship (RRS) in 1901. Its first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic, known as the Discovery Expedition. It is now the centrepiece of visitor attraction in its home, Dundee.
[source: Wikipedia, accessed 16 October 2016]

Visiting the restored ship in dry dock is a fascinating trip to a not-so-distant time when the poles were being explored in masted ships by men outfitted with gear and clothing woefully inadequate for the climate. Scott, Shackleton and their crews were truly brave and hardy souls, and some of them paid for their courage and determination with their lives.

The sharp lines and textures of the ship (as well as the bland, grey skies) cried out for a monochrome treatment, so that's what you see here.

All pictures taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 18-55mm lens.

The view from the tower (black and white)

A large part of the enjoyment of travel is the chance to see different things. But when you're visiting a place that you know relatively well, the enjoyment often comes from seeing things differently.

That was the case for me when I visited Toronto recently with my younger son. Although I haven't lived there in a long time and the city has changed a lot, it's still a familiar setting for me so it was time to find a different vantage point. Off to the CN Tower we went while the sun was low in the sky, to make sure we'd have some nice sidelight. The Tower is a great location to take in a 360-degree panorama of the GTA, what's left of Toronto's lakefront and an expanse of Lake Ontario.

As great as the view is, however, actually shooting from inside the structure is not easy. (And even if I were ready to do the EdgeWalk around the outside, carrying a camera is prohibited.) You are either behind thick glass windows that are not very clean or heavy wire mesh that makes a clear shot impossible. I decided to go with a longer lens to minimize the impact of dirty streaks and wires. The 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms helped with framing shots carefully and I was surprised by how well the images held up through the glare and dirt.

See for yourself. I'll post some colour shots next time.


Chillin' in Ottawa with the 18-55mm

Although the calendar says that spring arrived over two weeks ago, the Ottawa Valley has decided to ignore the good news. Instead, we're still being treated to below-zero temperatures, brisk winds and snow on the ground.

In spite of all this -- or perhaps because of it -- I decided that I needed to break out of the house over the Easter weekend and spend some quality time with my camera. A couple of hours walking around Ottawa's Sparks Street Pedestrian Mall and Parliament Hill should do the trick and, if I got too cold, I could always duck into a coffee shop. (It's nice to see Sparks Street gradually shedding its dead-zone mode but it's still got a long way to go, especially on the weekend.)

I started out with the 35mm f/1.4 on my Fujifilm X-E1 but realized soon enough that I like the flexibility of 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 zoom for walking around. It's somewhat heavier, but it balances well and I like the flexibility it gives me for framing a scene. The sun was brilliant against a deep blue sky, so I didn't get the chance to see what difference the recent firmware upgrade has made to the lens' OIS performance. Perhaps I'll do that in the next post.

For now, here are a few shots from a chilly weekend in Canada's capital with my favourite all-purpose lens and Fujifilm's own red-filtered black and white goodness.

A Happy Easter to all.

Steel and stone.

Steel and stone.

The beauty of Parliament Hill.

The beauty of Parliament Hill.

Saluting George Brown.

Saluting George Brown.

My turn (to shoot this photographic cliché).

My turn (to shoot this photographic cliché).

Architectural history.

Architectural history.

Les Rencontres d'Arles

For me, one of the highlights of our family vacation has been the chance to visit the annual photographic festival in Arles, France. While other gatherings are usually connected to photographic gear and business, Les Rencontres ("meetings" or "encounters" in English) are purely concerned with showing and celebrating photography as art. Founded by Arles-born photographer Lucien Clergue in 1970, the festival has blossomed and now receives some 100,000 visitors each summer.

With just a day to take in the showings that are scattered in different venues around the centre of Old Arles, I didn't manage to visit them all. I did see enough to make me thoroughly glad that we had added the town to our trip.

A few thoughts on the show, offered in no specific order...

First, I was most impressed by the absence of reference to technical details or specific pieces of gear. The point of the exhibitions was very much the artist's vision, not whether a Leica was involved, whether f/5.6 was optimum, whether the shadows were a little muddy, or whether analog / digital is superior. I found this a refreshing approach and a relief from many of the pointless discussions I've seen online. Just vision. Period.

I was also impressed by the importance of story in so many of the showings. In some cases, the story was explicitly connected to the artist's vision and conceived in advance.  In other cases, the story seems to have emerged less consciously over time as the artist returned to familiar themes, subjects or approaches. Perhaps "story" is sometimes the cumulative effect of a lifetime's work rather than a pre-conceived plan. In the case of one artist, Zhang Huan, the story he tells is communicated through a sequence of layers of calligraphy on his own face.

It was a pleasure to view images from several periods of Lucien Clergue's own photography and to appreciate how rich a body of work he built through studies of subjects available to him locally: patterns in wet sand, marshlands and nudes on the beach. 

David Bailey's retrospective was a treat, starting with 1960's UK fashion, celebrity and family. I enjoyed his larger format portraits and was reminded by many of the shots just how beautiful an effect film grain can produce.

A wonderful exhibit on "Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality" contained images from Richard Avedon, Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander, and Bernd and Hillary Becher (among others). This exhibit was held in the "Espace Van Gogh,"  the former hospital in Arles where the painter recovered -- and painted -- after cutting off a portion of his ear in 1889. The curated series illustrated over and over the variety (and sometimes beauty) to be found in "like" things: political figures, plant forms, members of early 20th-century German society, 1950s industrial installations, and the hairstyles of Nigerian women.

The W.M. Hunt Collection, however, provided a counterpoint to what I've just said about beauty-in-similarity. Hunt viewed the passion for collecting as foolish and seems to have gone out of his way to prove his point. Over a period of decades he collected large photographs of groups of people at conventions, fairs and events. Frequently panoramic in scope, the combined effect of the dozens of images in three rooms is the loss of the individual. The scenes of large "happenings" are so crushingly repetitive -- groups are sometimes organized into geometric forms by the photographer -- that there is little special about any of the people pictured. All those individuals have indeed been captured in a picture. Captured and assimilated. 

The "Trepat Collection" was an interesting demonstration of a collaboration between a wealthy Spanish industrialist and a number of avant garde artists. His success in manufacturing and marketing agricultural machinery allowed him to commission works by the likes of Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and Walker Evans to help create a distinctive brand for his company. 

Other exhibits, such as the impressively large-scale collages by Vik Muniz demonstrated that photographs as artefacts can themselves be reworked to create new images. Others again, such as the work of Mazaccio and Drowilal, undermine celebrity, advertising and sentimentality in our image-soaked society. Denis Rouvre's presentation ("Identity, Intimate Territories") of low-key projected portraits with narration by the subject reminded me that, far from being an issue for the French alone, multiple identities are a fact of life for all of us in a globalized world of migrants. 

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and I was only sorry that it couldn't have been longer. It was long enough to inspire me, though, and encourage me to work more carefully on my own photography. Less gear, more story. More vision. More "rencontres"!

 

All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 14mm and 18-55mm lenses. JPEGs tweaked with Snapseed on an iPad. 

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Source: http://

Getting medieval

One of the advantages of historical sites in some parts of France is that they escaped the heavy bombardments of the First and Second World Wars. In many parts of Europe it can be hard to find a site that isn't a total reconstruction. The beautiful Cloth Hall in Ypres, for example, was entirely rebuilt from rubble. And the buildings in many "medieval" town centres in Germany are often, for obvious reasons, no more than 60 or 70 years old.

So it was particularly refreshing to come across the beautifully-preserved medieval town of Pérouges in the Rhônes-Alpes region of France. Although a centre of the linen trade for centuries, the walled town was progressively abandoned as the Industrial Revolution favoured larger cities, such as Lyon. No bombardment, no war (at least not since a siege in the 15th Century, I believe), just a wave of economic and societal change.

It was also refreshing to see new life in the little town, which now enjoys the benefit of a small museum and the presence of some 80 inhabitants, many of whom seem to be involved in running restaurants, galleries and workshops. All of this has been done without resorting to the plague of Disneyfication: parking is a mere 2 Euros, there is no fee to enter the town and access to the museum is reasonably-priced. You can explore Pérouges to your heart's content for pocket change.

And explore I did. Un gros merci aux citoyens de Pérouges !

(All images are JPEGs from a Fujifilm X-E1, processed with Snapseed on an iPad.)

 

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Life springs forth in monochrome

After a longer- and colder-than-usual winter in the Ottawa Valley, spring has finally been making itself felt over the last week. Although most Canadians get a little misty at the beauty of a fresh blanket of snow, this year's blanket overstayed its welcome and left us itchy for a change of season. Enough!

With the melting of a winter's-worth of snow comes the chance to see a powerful display of nature in rivers and creeks swollen many times their normal size. The creek in our yard is one such place, but I decided to wander a little farther afield to take in the impressive sights of the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers in full spate. The images that appear below were taken on two successive days on the Rideau River at Hog's Back Falls in Ottawa, Ontario and on the Ottawa River near the Deschênes Rapids in Aylmer, Quebec.

Spring is the season of new life and colour that bursts forth from wet soil. And those pictures will come. But the first pictures of spring can ably show in shades of grey the sheer power of water and land as they stretch and shake off the death of the old.

Where there is life, there is hope.

Vancouver Deco — The Marine Building

Every so often on my travels I stumble across a building whose design is so striking that I have to stop and spend time with it. Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in NYC had that effect on me last July—I think I spent as much time photographing the exterior from every angle as I did inside looking at the art on display inside. Visually exploring such a subject becomes a way of appropriating it and coming to know it more intimately. For me, it's also an expression of appreciation and a joy.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago in Vancouver when I happened upon The Marine Building near the city's waterfront. The beautiful structure opened in October 1930 and I'm sure its Art Deco details have been delighting tenants, visitors and passers-by ever since. And Vancouver being a film town, the office building has often served as a location for period film and TV productions.

I'll be going back someday. And when I do, I'll be looking for ways to move beyond the details and explore the interior.