I need your help

Ishra, Artistic Director of Invoketress Dance and all-round great woman, has invited me to hang one or two prints at a Valentine’s Show she is doing. One image is for sure:


I’m thinking I might also want to show an image from the glow piece at the Mish Mash. But I’m having trouble choosing just one. So can you help? Which one of the following images do you like the best?

glow redux 1 again

glow redux 2

glow redux 3

glow redux 4

glow redux 5

glow redux 6

glow redux 7

(If anyone wants to buy one, they are for sale, but I’ve been busy re-processing them, so these ones are different from what’s available through Imagekind. If you email me, I’ll make it happen.)


photography, homelessness and postpartum depression

If I fall behind in blogging, then everything gets so jumbled up in my head that I can’t seem to compose a coherent post. So you’re going to get an extremely long, rambling, incoherent post.

On Saturday, I went the local youth drop-in centre, which has a gallery afternoon on weekends, before I started my volunteer shift at the (adult?) drop-in centre. The youth centre is run by Edward Pickersgill, whose name keeps popping up everywhere. He was the NDP candidate in (I think) the last provincial election (or maybe the one before that – at any rate I voted for him). He runs a housing resource centre as well as the youth centre, and he’s been advocating strongly for a youth shelter ever since June 2007 when the youth shelter closed suddenly and under strange circumstances. I’ve known his name for a long time, but I’ve never taken the time to match his name with his face – until a few months ago.

Rewind to October 2007: Outside the housing resource centre, which also had a drop-in program for youths, I saw some kids sitting on the sidewalk. I talked with them for a bit about the need for a youth shelter, and asked if I could take their picture.


I turned around and saw this:

ed redux

Sometimes when I get excited by what I’m seeing, I yell inside my head, “Seriously?!?” like an intern in Grey’s Anatomy. Sometimes I just can’t believe I get to come upon scenes like this.

As I shot, I heard one of the kids call him Ed, but I didn’t think too much of it. After a couple frames, the man saw me and one of my shots shows this, me watching him watch me. I probably lowered my camera, and smiled and shrugged sheepishly, then turned and walked away, which is what I usually do when people bust me taking their picture.

Anyways, since then details have started to niggle on my mind to make me wonder if perhaps this was Ed Pickersgill. A few months ago, I googled him and found some photos that confirmed it was. I shot Ed Pickersgill without knowing it. I started to feel guilty, that I had this picture of a recognizable local figure, and he didn’t know I had it.

In December, I wanted to submit some photos to a newish gallery in town, along the theme of Guelph architecture. That picture of Ed immediately spang to mind, as he’s sitting in front of the grand old post office building, which is now used by the county I think. But what if it got accepted, and he saw it?

So I tracked him down on facebook and sent him a message, confessing that I’d taken his picture and did he want to see it? He did, and I think he loved it. He called it iconic and took me up on my offer of a print, which is why I went to the gallery afternoon last Saturday – to give him a print.

Which is a very long preamble to get to the point, a point that’s suddenly much more difficult to articulate than I expected. I’ve struggled with the ethics of photographing people on the street and publishing them online, mostly because I imagine people who aren’t involved in online communities being horrified at the thought of having their picture On The Internet. But I keep doing it, because I can’t not. It’s like a compulsion.

So hearing such praise from someone who didn’t choose in advance to collaborate with me in making a photograph… well, it just felt REALLY good.

Of course, since I shot that picture, my photography and my approach have evolved. I’m less interested in just shooting people, and more interested in interacting with them. In the beginning, I knew that I didn’t have the skills yet to make the photography a part of an interaction. Any attempt would have destroyed the image before it was even made. My self-consciousness would have translated to the person, and added to whatever self-consciousness the person brought all on their own. I had no idea how to make them comfortable.

* * *

Last weekend, Tony Fouhse touched on the subject of exploitation, and give a few nuggets of his process, how he works with the people he shoots: “I believe the art of what I do is in my encounter with the subject. The photograph is merely a document of that encounter.”

* * *

I remember at the portrait workshop I went to in July, standing with the camera up to my face, and being able to see the discomfort of my subject, but I was absolutely powerless to do anything about it. I froze up. I flailed about fruitlessly, saying stupid things like, “Pretend I’m not here.” or “Relax.” (Is there anything more stress-inducing than someone commanding you to relax?!?)

* * *

Going into the lemon pie shoot a couple weeks ago, I was nervous. How would I make my friend and her mother feel comfortable in front of the camera? What if I froze up again? I decided I just had to fake it. I had to pretend that I knew exactly what I was doing, and then just wing it and hope for the best. In the end, it wasn’t an issue anyways. There was only a moment of discomfort, and we all got past it.

* * *

I’m reading Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. I noticed it for its fantastic title, but it was the description that made me buy it. Nick Flynn was working in a homeless shelter when his father, who he’d never really known in person, showed up there, homeless. And I’m loving it. The writing is brilliant, and the themes of family, home and homelessness are right up my alley these days.

He keeps bringing up the notions of inside and outside. If you have no inside, no home, then outside IS your inside. It reminds me something Ruth Kaplan brought up in that July portrait workshop, when she said photographing people on the street, in public spaces, is fine. But it gets problematic when the person is homeless, because the street is their home, the public space is their private space.

A few quotes from the book:

“Sometimes I’d see my father, walking past my building on his way to another nowhere. I could have given him a key, offered a piece of my floor. A futon. A bed. But I never did. If I let him inside I would become him, the line between us would blur, my own slow-motion car wreck would speed up.”

“Last night Mackie had a la-z-boy set up in Rat Alley, watching a television hotwired into a light pole. My father stepped into Mackie’s living room, checked out a couple minutes of play – can these still be called the glory days of the Bird? Step out of your room, settle into a discarded recliner – are you inside now or out? Position your chair before your television, take your walk, find your coffee, by morning it all will be gone – no inside no outside, no cardboard box no mansion, no birth no death, no container no contained, a Zen koan, a frikkin riddle. A garbage truck hauled the tv away, another will be put out on the sidewalk tonight. But a la-z-boy, my lord, maybe not again in this lifetime.”

“I drive slowly past a blanket shaped like a man – here is a man, shaped like a blanket, shaped like a box, shaped like a bench. Easy to mis. If this is my father, if I leave a sandwich beside his sleeping body, does this become a family meal. Is this bench now our dinner table? Are we inside again?”

“I see that I really don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m adrift, as the Buddhists say, on a river of forgetfulness. A hungry ghost.”

(Which brings me to another book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté, which is accruing library fines big enough to buy it three times over while I try to write some kind of review about it. But I just don’t think it’s going to happen. So can I just tell you to read it? It’s that good and that important. A review quoted on the cover said that it should be required reading for anyone struggling with addiction or who loves someone struggling with addiction, but I think it should be required reading for anyone who can read.)

* * *

On Sunday night, I watched a documentary called Pardon my Postpartum.

Someone talked about how inappropriate psych wards are for treating mothers with severe postpartum depression, because they have to be separated from their babies. In the UK, apparently they’ve had maternal wards in hospitals for 40 years, where women and their babies are checked in as a pair, regardless of which one is actually receiving medical treatment.

One woman lost custody of her children when she checked into a hospital for treatment of her postpartum depression. I think her going to hospital coincided with the end of her marriage. When she came out of hospital, all her visits to her children had to be supervised. She said that felt way worse than the postpartum depression had ever felt.

Another woman prepared for the birth of her second or third child, after severe postpartum depression with her last baby, by developing a postpartum plan rather than the birth plan every other pregnant woman develops. In the plan, she identified friends she would feel comfortable calling on at the last minute for a meal, or a break. She decided in advance not to breastfeed so she could take whatever medication she needed to without worrying, and also so that anybody else could feed her baby.

Sometimes I wonder if I had mild postpartum depression, breastfeeding every two hours around the clock for months and months and months.

* * *

That night I dreamed I went to Malawi for five days (how crazy is a five-day trip to a place that takes 35 hours each way just to get there?!?) with my entire family: my son, my husband, my mother, my father, my sister and her husband and their daughter, even. The flight was fine, and we arrived in a very busy international airport. We had to be driven in a big bus to a resort, which the travel agency hadn’t told us about. I carried my son, while someone else had my passport, my wallet, phone numbers, everything. We got separated in the busyness, so that I was all alone with my son in a totally foreign place.

My best friend appeared out of nowhere (she’s currently IN Malawi, coincidentally), and told me she’d take me where I needed to go. My son was amazingly still in my arms, almost like a big baby. We rode escalators and got on subways and buses and all kinds of transportation, all amidst a crazy crowd. A man suddenly took a knife to my throat, and I prayed he wouldn’t notice my son, that my son would stay still and quiet. I didn’t care so much about my throat, only my son. The man left, and we carried on in our journey back to my family. Then another man held a gun to my head, and again, I prayed for my son to remain still and unnoticed. The man left because I had no money. And I just felt terrified by all the hazards I had to protect my son from with no resources and no community.

Later the next day, I realized with a jolt that my dream was quite the metaphor for postpartum depression and my fear of having another child.

Last night I mentioned to my husband that we only have a few weeks to go until our friends come home. “Our only friends,” he said.

exciting workshop

I’m so stoked. I just signed up for a documentary photography workshop in May, with Donald Weber. He’s originally from Toronto, but now lives in Russia, photographing all kinds of people. The workshop is offered in conjunction with an exhibition of his work during the Contact Festival.

I’ve been searching for a good documentary photography class for ages, but they’re either in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or for a price I can’t afford (especially when it’s all of the above). But this one’s perfect. Two full Saturdays, one after the other, with a shooting assignment in between, and a portfolio and assignment review on the second day. On top of all that, I really like Weber’s work, especially “ZEK. In the Prisons of the East.

I can’t wait.

pyjama day

Knowing that the forecast was calling for a high of minus 15 degrees Celsius today, my day off, I decided to make it a stay at home day – no errands, no obligations, just chillin’ with my son. Add to that a night of crappy sleep and slightly upset stomach, and we downgraded to a pyjama day. It was great. We watched Wall-E this morning, then we both had a nap, then made banana bread this afternoon. Here are the pictures:

morning with tractors


banana bread

Right before he started screaming, “No don’t take my picture! DON’T. TAKE. MY. PICTURE!”

Something about having such a big bag of flour makes me feel more grown up than anything.

We are so doing this again.

mothers and photography

Lately I’ve been investigating motherhood and photography; not representations of motherhood so much as photography by mothers where their motherhood is the subject. If you google “motherhood and photography,” you get a whole lot of portrait photographers marketing to mothers, not so many photographs from mothers. That tells me that there is something about photography that relates to motherhood, but it also tells me that there is a gap.

Along my recent web travels, one of my first stops was a post by Heather Morton on the subject saying that motherhood is the new black in photography, and giving three photographers’ work as evidence. (Edited to add this link to another photographer exploring motherhood.) Let’s hope so.

Indeed, there seems to be more evidence to support that notion. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered this film, which is yet to be released on dvd, so I haven’t actually seen it. But it looks very promising. Something about the words, “Who does she think she is?” grabbed me from the sidebar of one of the blogs I read, and now I’m trying to figure out how to get my eyes on it. On the surface, the problem of balancing motherhood with art seems analagous to balancing motherhood with a career. Except that I think art is viewed as optional at best and self-indulgent at worst, definitely something that should be sublimated beneath motherhood.

I’m also interested in checking out:

* * *

When I read Between Interruptions: 30 Mothers Tell the Truth about Motherhood last year, I started every new essay hoping find a story like mine. I see lots of stories of women who lose themselves in maternity, who have to redefine themselves in new terms that are compatible with motherhood, and not just in that book. And I don’t mean to deny their stories, not at all; there are as many experiences of motherhood as there are mothers, and we need to respect them all. But when that is pretty much the only experience I hear, I wonder. Am I selfish? Am I doing something wrong?

My experience of motherhood hasn’t been defined by sacrifice or losing myself; if anything I’ve rediscovered myself and my passion. Before I became a mother, I was a drone. I went to work and came home and watched tv or read escapist fiction. But being a mother made me want to live meaningfully, or at least pursue meaning. Or something like that.

* * *

Ever since I got back into photography after my son was born, I’ve viewed my pictures of my son, our home, our family, as a silly maternal exercise, a duty, less serious or important than my other photos. But now I’m looking at the photos from a political perspective. This is life. This is domesticity. Why shouldn’t it be a serious subject of photography?

(I can’t help but think, though, of the photographer who kept bringing his prints to a mentor, even the image that the mentor declared bad year after year. The one the photographer had to climb a mountain to make.

Maybe I’m not really in any position to judge the merit of my domestic photos. Maybe, when I look at pictures of my son, our family, I see the mountain I climbed, the mountain I’m still climbing.)

* * *

Our experience of motherhood doesn’t equal our children. And making photographs of our children isn’t the same as finding a way to photograph motherhood. I don’t know the answer, but I’m interested in looking for one. So here are some of my recent efforts:

morning after_




fishing rod

No idea how this will turn out, but I’m thinking of calling it “Domessticity” or “Do-mess-stick.”

Obama’s playlist and lemon pie

CBC Radio 2 just mentioned a conversation that supposedly took place between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Cohen reportedly asked Dylan how long it took him to write “Tambourine Man,” to which Dylan replied that he jotted it down in 10 minutes. When Dylan asked how long it took Cohen to write “Suzanne,” the answer was four years!

CBC is working on Obama’s Playlist, the 49 songs from north of the 49th parallel that best define our country to the incoming president. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the songs on Section A: “Bobcaygeon” and “Wheat Kings” by Tragically Hip – which although I made a big show of hating when I was in university just to be contrary and as a soapbox from which to rant about how underplayed the Rheostatics were, I’ve been enjoying the Hip with new ears in recent weeks; “Northern Wish” by my beloved Rheostatics, although I would have chosen “Record Body Count,” Northern Wish is still among their best; k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah,” which I still haven’t heard but which is reportedly amazing (and which, just in case you didn’t know, was written by our own Leonard Cohen); “Democracy” by Leonard Cohen; “Helpless” by Neil Young; and representation from Feist, k-os, and of course Stompin’ Tom Connors. All in all, a pretty cool little thing. So if you’re Canadian, get over there and vote! You have until this Friday.

* * *

I’m beginning to think something’s wrong with me. I’ve always had a habit of listening to certain songs or artists over and over again, until my husband stops letting me near itunes. But it’s different right now. Not only am I playing all our Chad VanGaalen songs over and over again, but they play themselves in my head over and over again, so that nothing else will do. I just have to listen to more and more. Which has nothing to do with anything really, except that his songs have been playing in my mind or ears while I shoot, edit and process my photos. So how about you listen to my current favourite song while you finish this post?

On Saturday, I collaborated with my friend and her mother to photograph the making of a lemon pie. Sadly, I had to go before the meringue got made, so I didn’t get to see the final product, but another time… here are some of my favourite shots:


grating round2


don't shoot the horse
I totally want to shoot her some more with the horse head with a more thought-out flash and no wire… She seemed a bit self-conscious at this point (I think I squeezed off more frames than she ever expected), and when I asked she admitted she was a bit embarrassed by the attention. So I said I’d shoot the horse instead, to which she replied, “No don’t shoot the horse!”


And now for what I think is my most favourite image of all, although I might want to process it a bit more:
cracking egg2

doing more

So the Just Posts are coming to an end. Because of the last two years of Just Posts, we started sponsoring a child in Lesotho through Help Lesotho. I started this website to raise funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, around the time that I started volunteering at my local drop-in centre. Now, for the last hurrah of the Just Posts, it’s time to pump up our giving again. I’ve been trying to decide what to do, and I keeping coming back to my own tiny piece of the world. So I’m going to make monthly donations to the local drop-in centre. I had hoped to do this through CanadaHelps but for some reason the monthly giving option isn’t available for this particular charity. Oh well, I’ll just have to do it manually.

One of the things I love about the drop-in centre is that they (we) don’t treat the people they (we) serve with pity. People are expected to behave appropriately, and yet we make sure to never leave more than a dollar or two in the cash box, coats get locked away, and we are told to avoid leaving sharp knives on the front counter. I’m not sure how exactly to articulate it, except to use the term I discovered in In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté: unconditional regard. To me it means treating people with compassion but not pity, with humanity but not rose-coloured glasses, if that makes any sense. I saw a reference somewhere, maybe to a music album, maybe something else, but it was along the lines that we are all broken and beautiful. The drop-in centre teaches me that over and over.

It’s easy to become complacent. To tell yourself that you give here and here so you’ve done your part. But if you *can* afford more, why not? Especially with the economy tanking, more and more people are going to need help. Every time I get complacent, every time I think I’m doing enough, the Just Posts challenge me to rethink. Or I discover someone who puts me to shame. And the answer is that I might be doing enough, but I can do more.

The end of the Just Posts doesn’t have to be an ending; I prefer to look at it as a graduation. The Just Posts have taught me the basics, now it’s time for me to continue the journey on my own.

Here are some new pictures:


vineyard fog3

broken screen

return redux

kitchen mess

In Denfense of Food

I just finished Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I loved it. It was informative, engaging, funny, and inspiring. Everyone should read it.

* * *

In my day job, I am leading a plain language campaign. I seek out burueacratic language and jargon and try to uncover their secret meanings. I get a charge from revising things like, “we attained significant knowledge tranfer” to “we learned a lot.” Pollan uncovered one of his own: “‘The most intellectually demanding challenge in the field of nutrition,’ as Marion Nestle writes in Food Politics, ‘is to determine dietary intake.’ The uncomfortable fact is that the entire field of nutritional science rests on a foundation of ignorance and lies about the most basic question of nutrition: What are people eating?”

* * *

Here’s another tidbit I found fascinating: “In one experiement, [Paul Rozin] showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of the French eaters to the same prompt: ‘celebration.’”

And: “Meanwhile, the genuinely heart-healthy whole foods in the produce section, lacking the financial and political clout of the packaged goods a few aisles over, are mute. But don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.”

* * *

So many people have been duped by the food industry. I’ve been a label reader for a long time, and I’ve always chosen real, high-fat foods over lower-fat imitations with their frightening ingredient lists. So a good amount of what Pollan talks about was a refresher for me. What was new for me, was the history that has led us to this point, and his emphasis on how we eat and our attitudes towards food, and that is something I want to change this year. Read it. That’s all.

papers at Imagekind

I finally got around to ordering a media kit from Imagekind, so I could see firsthand the differences between their paper options. Which means I can finally make confident recommendations for choosing a paper.

Just going by visual appearance, my favourite paper is, somewhat surprisingly, the modestly priced Epson Premium Photo Glossy. I expected to prefer Epson Premium Photo Lustre paper, but it has a faintly textured surface, which I personally didn’t like. Mind you, I was inspecting the papers a lot more closely than I think anyone in real life ever would.

I also quite liked the Hannemuhle Fine Art Pearl, which is pretty much the most expensive photo paper Imagekind offers. It seemed to carry more detail and sharpness than the glossy, so I’d probably use it for exhibition prints.

I would most definitely not recommend the Epson Enhanced Matte for my photos; it’s just too flat. It’s really more of an art paper than a photo paper, much to my surprise. And I wouldn’t bother with the Hannemuhle Photo Rag 308 for the same reason. It feels more like card stock to me than a proper photo. If you want a flatter surface than the glossy, go for the Epson Premium Photo Lustre.

So now I have to update my prints page…