Wednesday, April 7, 2010

SPRING FEVER on Two Wheels

On Saturday of the Easter weekend, I took our son and son-in-law down to Wildwood Motor Sports to drool over the new Ducati, BMW, and Triumph motorcycles. The weather was pretty decent and the pavement almost felt like it was warming up. Unfortunately, it had snowed last night, but that didn't dampen our spirits. As we entered the showroom, we were confronted by a sea of new machinery. We each drifted off into our own dreamscape of sunny summer days, wind in our helmets and endless ribbons of highway to conquer. One of the best parts of window-shopping for a new bike is just admiring the mechanical design and execution of each specialized part that makes up each new model. In many cases, form follows function and in the best examples, there is an artistry that goes into the design, shape, and materials used to fashion each component. That is the flavor that I tried to capture in my images for this assignment; the beauty of shape, proportion and presence of these machines and the components that make up the finished bike. Hope you can see it too. This assignment had us shooting with 35mm color negative film, and then scanning the negs and uploading them into our computers for final prep before posting. A new experience. Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

"I am Cuba". A strange kind of title for a movie. I had visions of some sort of travel dialogue where I could see some of the bright, sunny history of this island getaway.
Instead, I find myself watching a dark, revealing expose' of Cuba's historic turmoil; the ugly, seldom-seen underbelly of an emerging country.
Cuba's story is told in several vinettes, in "first person" style. For some reason, which I haven't figured out yet, the narrator of this movie speaks in Russian, while we listen to the people speaking in their native language, and English subtitles try to keep up with the action. It's very confusing at times, but it's fairly easy to follow the story. The images are raw, revealing and "in your face" involving.
We see this country evolving through the eyes of the poor, in particular, how some of the women had been exploited to help their families. survive. The 50's nightclub scenes showed us how the Americans came to Cuba and used it and its people as their unsavory, underground escape from regular social rules and responsibilities. This social abuse of the Cuban people paralleled the initial invasion by Christopher Columbus in the 1400's.
We see how the farmers were treated; how they didn't own their own land and were not allowed to reap the benefits of their own sweat and tears.
We are brought amongst a new generation of educated university students who want to free their people from their slavery by others. The style of photography brings us face to face, not only with the characters in this story, but right into the center of their struggles with the government officials but also their own conscience as they press forward in their quest.
In all these vinettes, we are taken much deeper into the daily lives and struggles of the Cubans as they try to escape from the pressures of outside groups with their own greedy plans. The fact that the film was shot in black and white, makes a statement right of the bat, letting the viewer know that this is not going to be your regular travelogue. The narrator remains strangely calm throughout the film, letting the viewer respond to what's happening on the screen.
Cuba's story is not over yet. Even as our own generation gazes into the dark past of this south sea island paradise, the Cuban people are still struggling with a dated, failing and tarnished vision of what the people really need. This was a very revealing film and has made a changed my view of this country forever. Perhaps, like many other people who like to get away for a winter holiday, I wasn't prepared to see where this island has come from. I just wanted to go and enjoy what they had to offer and come home again. But this film has shown that these people have a history, and all you have to do is look a little closer to see that they have paid a dear price to get where they are today. Unfortunately, their struggle is not over yet.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I signed up to see "Manufactured Landscapes" expecting to see more of the same kind of scenery-type shots that I like to take myself. I wasn't expecting to see man-made landscapes with such stunning color, beautiful composition, open vastness of space, and man's utter mutilation of his environment in his quest to modernize his lifestyle, at any cost.
We take our progress as a country so much for granted, that we don't ask the hard questions regarding the cost that we are paying to get there. This movie really showed me how small our planet is, and that everything that we take from the earth must be returned to it in some other metamorphic state; usually landfill garbage and recycling. One man's garbage is another man's raw materials.
We can only see where we've come from when we look at where others are starting from. It seems that every other day we are hearing how China is becoming the next super power in the world and the largest potential economic boom on the planet. But we don't realize how much it is costing everyone else in environmental damage as China desperately tries to play "catch up" with the rest of the world, at any cost.
Ed Burtynsky's images not only show us the emerging "new" industrialized Chinese workforce, but also gives us a glimpse at our own rudimentary and ugly past as we struggled to modernize our own society. With the largest population in the world, China is going through severe growing pains that it can hardly keep up with. The city of Shanghai alone is estimated to grow at a rate of 3 - 5 million people PER YEAR for the next few years. It is the fastest growing city in the WORLD! The real cost to the Chinese is shown in its culture, its living standards, and in the faces of its people. In some of his images, Ed Burtynski has captured the expressions of people who are the workforce where robotics and machines rule in the Western world. In some cases, their expressions are as hollow and lifeless as the machines that will eventually replace this vast army of human labour. China is not the only country exposed in this documentary by Jennifer Baichwal. Similar situations are also shown playing out in Bangeldesh, and in the heart of the U.S.A. as well. In his work, Ed has tried to remain neutral in his portrayal of this awakening giant of a country, leaving the viewer to come to their own soul-searching conclusions.
Landscape photography is one of my favorite subjects to shoot, and Ed's ability to draw starkly beautiful images from his subject matter is a testament to his talent. It's the WAY he lays out his observation of man's blind destruction of his planet for the sake of "getting ahead", that exposes our own recklessness and disregard for the very ground we depend on. Everyone should see this remarkable video.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Movie Week Extravaganza! Popcorn (from the microwave!), chocolate bars, uncomfortable chairs (for watching movies from, anyway) and last but not least . . . inspirational movies for the budding photography student to take in!
Well, "ONE HOUR PHOTO", with Robin Williams, was not the way to start visualizing your new career as a professional shooter. Kudos to Williams for a great performance and for stepping out of his universally-accepted role as a loose cannon comedian. This time round, he's just plain creepy, reclusive, and in a pitifully sad state.
Here is a lonely man who buries himself in his small corner of the world, or should I say the "lab", and only perks up when he interacts with his favorite customers. What he's lacking in personal relationships with friends or family, he makes up, in his mind. Williams harmless fantasies grow out of proportion AND out of control as he imagines "moving in" with his favorite family as Uncle Sy.
When he discovers an adultrous affair within his newly adopted family, he takes it personally, and "exposes" the unappreciative jerk of a husband and his new fling in a beautifully executed plan of mixed up customer prints. Things spiral right out of control after this point, and it gets pretty messy.
As I thought about Robin Williams' character, it appears to me that there are a lot of Sy Parrishes in our world, in our city, heck, maybe even closer than that. These are the loners, the people who keep to themselves. They don't get too close to others. The live in a sheltered or self- restricting world unto themselves, but come out of their shells at home, where nobody can see them. They live out their alter egos through movies, video games, the internet, and become someone completely different.
Sometimes these alternate egos or characters rise too close to the surface, and they take them outside into the real world. These are likely the people who shoot other people on the street, steal cars and lead the police on high-speed chases, dress like their favorite movie heroes (live or fictional). They begin to "bend" the rules to suit themselves and start to dabble into areas that are socially unacceptable, thinking that no one will find out. It begs the question; how much of OUR lives are made up of small escapes into fantasy that we hope no one will come across? Who tells you when you're about to cross the line and step into the dark side of society?
How long would Sy Parrish continue on with his little scheme of stalking the Yorkin family if things kept going on without a hitch? What stops us from walking down a path that, initially, seems harmless, but has no guarantees along the way. Can you stop yourself or will it take something or someone else to bring you back?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Olympic Torch arrives at The Forks

The Oly Torch was coming through the 'peg, so Elaine and I decided to catch up with it at the Forks. I parked the car off Broadway, knowing that the traffic would be crazy, and walked over to meet Elaine at the Pancake House for supper. We had a front row seat as they were setting up the stage and booths. After we finished eating, we bundled up and headed outside. Things were really starting to pick up, so we picked a spot near the cattle fence . . er. . I mean, the crowd restrainers, and waited for the big moment. As part of the entertainment for the evening, three young ladies with pots of flammable liquid held together with chains, began swinging these devices around their heads and around the crowds as well. I kept my distance except for a few brief moments where I dared stick my camera in their direction to try and grab a quick shot before they set my Tilley on fire. The torch arrived just in time before everyone's Coke souvenirs froze in their hands, and you could feel the crush of the crowd as they pressed us into the fence . . . er . . . restrainers like a block of old cheese. But I knew we had chosen the right spot to catch all the action, so I crouched down in the break between two sections of fence, and snapped off a couple of quick rounds as the young man shuffled by, decked out in his reflective white jogging suit, grinning from one frozen ear to the other. The crowds filled in the gap behind him as he rushed to the stage. More psychodelic lights, speeches from every level of govenrnment in the country and a promise of fireworks to keep us outside for another hour or two. A good time was had by all. Now where can I get a hold of one of those glowing Coke bottles?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 31)

Home again and out on the prowl looking for those special shots to record. It's Dec. 31 and I'm heading home after being out all day shooting in the Selkirk area. Coming up Henderson Highway near the Hoddinot Road, I see the river through the trees, just as the sun is setting. There appears to be a clear area on the river where the sun is reflecting off the ice and I'm contemplating turning around to try and get the shot before the afterglow disappears. As I turn the car around, I'm come face to face with the moon rise over the tree line, and it's HUGE!
I quickly turn onto Hoddinot Road and take the first turn towards the direction of the moon. I end up in a farmer's field, so i jump out with me gear, run to the edge of the field and set up. I try 3 or 4 shots, and the moon disappears behind a low cloud bank. I thought it was supposed to be BLUE ?.

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 28)

Almost home, and what do I see up the road on the other side of the highway . . . you guessed it, another chance to pull over and embaress my family while they sit in the car and watch me set up another shot on the side of road. This tree looked so cold and lonely, sitting on the side of this small hill. Luckily, it had the beginnings of a full moon hanging over it to keep it company. A strange combination to see in the middle of the afternoon, but I'll take it!

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 28)

All great holidays must come to an end, and so we start our trek back to Winnipeg on Monday morning, Dec. 28. The sun is shining and the roads are dry and clear. Perfect winter driving conditions. Also good for, you know . . . great winter photos!
The moist air overnight has left hoarfrost on the trees and telephone wires, all along the highway. Of course, I'm looking for that one or two shots to take under these unique conditions, and have ALMOST stopped several times alone the way. Suddenly, ANOTHER great photo op appears around the bend and I wait for a cross-over turnoff to double back and take the shot. This time there's no room to pull over onto the shoulder because there is no shoulder to speak of, so I park in the turnoff and walk back a block to the scene. This time the ditch is very large and very deep, but my photo op is sitting at the top of this ridge, so I plow through. I was able to catch the hoarfrost on the fence, the wire and the trees. It looks cold and fresh and sunny.

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 27)

Same day (Dec. 27) Meanwhile back on campus, we come across this crime scene. Not the reaction of a bad Sushi lunch in Moosejaw. Probably just another of Santa's traffic violations while on his delivery run through campus a few nights ago. I liked the way the red sign plays off the white snow and blue shadows.

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 27)

Heading back to campus after lunch in Moosejaw. Suddenly, I pull over to the side of the highway. It wasn't the smoked eel OR the Wasabi . . . it's another photo op.
Someone who runs an antique shop in the area has attached a painted sign to the side of an old truck and left it on the side of a farmer's field as advertising for their store. This time it's back into the ditch in knee-deep snow, making my way over to the truck and checking out potential, low camera angles. Passersby on the highway are slowing down to have a closer look in the windows of our car. No driver, just people in the passenger seats twiddling their thumbs. The guy in the ditch is staggering through the snow like he just finished lunch at the Sushi restaurant in Moosejaw. Little do they know of the potential photo ops that this ditch holds for the keen-eyed photographer. (Little does the keen-eyed photographer realize that with all the lurching and staggering through the snow and crouching down to get the appropriate low angle shot, that his Blackberry falls off his belt loop and settles into one of several large indentations he's made in the snowdrifts along the ditch. But that's another story.)

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 27)

Day after Boxing Day.
For excitement, we're driving back to Moosejaw for lunch. The plan is to go to this Sushi restaurant in town and see how I'm going to react (I've never had Shushi before . . bah! Humbug!) I hear snickers and giggles around murmuring about smoked eel and Wasabi. I'm in big trouble! Luckily, to distract me from my lunchtime "food" challenge, I see . . . another potentially fantastic landscape scene! Whip the car over to the side of the road again (I think they're getting used to it by now), jump out with the camera, but this time I don't have to cross the ditch. Instead, I'm shuffling sideways along the highway to get the sun in position so that it JUST starts peaking over the top of the grain elevator. Snap! Got it. Back in the car again just in time to hear something about pickled ginger. Hmmmm?! I check my wallet. I move my Manitoba Medical card to the top of my collection.
Check out the BOAT! They can't keep their hands/chopsticks out of there! Notice the Bento box. Guess who? I recognize the rice, the rest . . . not so much.

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 25)

We (Elaine and I, our daughter and our son-in-law) drove to Caronport, Saskatchewan on Christmas Day, to be with our son and his wife for Christmas. Rob is finishing up his Masters degree at the college he graduated from a few years ago. Although we were on a fairly tight schedule, and having to deal with winter driving conditions, I was able (allowed) to stop in the middle of the highway a few times, grab my camera and charge through the ditch into various farmers' fields to capture, what I thought were great scenes! This usually left the rest of the family looking slightly embarrassed sitting at the side of the road, twiddling their thumbs while traffic drove by gawking in the windows, till I got back to the car with exciting tales of fabulous landscapes! This is one of my favorites. It reminds me of a Dutch painting of the countryside.

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 21)

While at the Forks (one of my favorite places to shoot) before Christmas, I was walking down the stairs in the parkade, when I noticed the hoar frost on the windows inside the stairwell. This was another one of those bonus shots that I wanted to capture for this assignment, since it didn't fit into any other category. It's one of the few things to brighten your day when it's -25 degrees outside! I still had my camera set on the "flourescent" white balance setting when I took the shot. I liked it so much that I decided to play with the "blue" tinge in the window. I think it adds to the f-f-f-frigid mood of that day.

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 19)

I hate to admit it, but this house is in my part to town. This is what can happen when you loose sight of the real Christmas spirit. This house has been decorated like this for several years now; and each year it gets (choose one of the following: worse, better, outrageous) _____ . Next year they're going to have to go right over the roof and into the back yard, or start leasing space from the neighbours on either side. Unfortunately, it won an award for the most decorated house in town on CTV this year. That's all they need . . . more encouragement. I hear they got a personally signed Christmas card from Manitoba Hydro.

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 16)

We drive by this old farm on our way out to the cottage on Hwy. 59, but I've never driven out to this field where the buildings are located. I parked on the side of the road, and walked across this farmer's field to get to the "shed". It was sitting in the middle of the next field that hadn't been swathed this fall, so in I went. I didn't know that grain grew this tall! I was walking through this stuff up to my neck to get the right angle! Luckily, the snow was only up to my waist. . .

DT 13.2 - Blogging Non-School -Related Photos (Dec. 16)

With all the assignments over Christmas break, we also get to shoot "non-school-related photos. I think I can squeeze a few more exposures into the mix. Here goes:
While driving out Henderson Highway looking for victims, er, subjects to shoot, I came across this cool hot rod sitting in someone's front yard. Normally, I would pull over to the side, Nikon a-blazing, trying to get a half decent shot before someone came out (again) to chase me off their property. But instead, I walked up to the house and knocked on the front door, twice.
While waiting for someone to answer, I noticed that this car wasn't the only vehicle caught in the first snowfall of the season. Scattered around the yard were a couple of mildly customized Harley-Davidson bikes, and a jacked-up Jeep. Looked like a case of "too many toys, not enough time" syndrome. As I set up my tripod and began to choose my angles, a young guy came out to see what was going on. He was friendly enough, and had no problems with my "photo assignment". After a few finger-numbing minutes of setting up several shots, I was on my way again. A great start to the hunt!