Since you responded so kindly to my recent pics, here are a few more from this weekend, and an exciting announcement.


(When I started this project, I never in a million years thought I photograph a belly dancer on top of a manure pile, but what do you know? The opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it.)




And now for the announcement: Some of my photos (not the belly dance ones) are going to be part of a group show in honour of Doors Open at the Alma Gallery here in Guelph in April. The opening reception is on the evening of April 24, and the show will be up until the end of May.


I’ve been ready to blog about this for a while, but I just haven’t quite gotten it together. I’ve started a new project, working with belly dancers. I got the idea last summer, but it’s taken me all this time to think about the concept and get up the nerve to approach dancers to model for me.

I remember when Tony Fouhse posted some recent photos of his crack addicts (I think it was in November), he said the photos weren’t quite what he was going for. I thought he was nuts, because I thought the photos were wonderful. (Ok, so I went hunting through his blog for the link, and it was actually in August, but he seems to have taken the actual pictures away so there isn’t any point in linking you there.) Working on this belly dance project, I’m starting to understand what he was getting at. I did my first shoot with Ishra in February, and I thought many of the shots were beautiful. But they weren’t quite what I was going for. Here are a few examples:

tribal col

window redux

(This one might actually be a contender, because I think it caught a moment of introspection, but I probably won’t know for sure until I finish the project.)

A couple of weeks ago, I had two more shoots, and started making the kind of photos I think I want to make for this series. Unfortunately for these lovely women, it was minus 15 Celsius with the windchill. Of course. Just my luck that after two weeks of mild temperatures, on the one day I want to make pictures of scantily clad women outside, it’s really f-ing cold.



buckle redux

veiled colour redux

receding snowbanks redux

And that’s all I have to say about that for now.

Gabor Mate is coming to Guelph!

Check it out: Dr. Gabor Mate, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, which I highly recommend, is coming to Guelph on April 14.

In somewhat related news, I’ve decided it’s time to decompress a bit on the photographic front. So I’m either going to rewatch all seven seasons of Buffy again, or I’m going to reread Snap Happy by Fiona Walker. If you like British chick lit and haven’t read Fiona Walker, you must.


I made a slideshow with pictures I made this winter. Please go check it out, and then tell me what you think. Be warned, when you click on the link, you’ll just see a blue Q while it loads the entire slideshow. Please be patient. (My in-house tech support didn’t have enough coffee or time this morning to make it start playing while it loads.)

You learn something annoying every day.

Actually producing the slideshow to display on the web was REALLY annoying. I’ve been working on that sucker all week. Adobe Lightroom, which I use for most of my workflow, is great for making slideshows to display on your computer, from selection and ordering to playing. You can control the transitions and speed to match the music. The problem is you can’t export the slideshow with music. I’d created a slideshow that fit exactly with the music, almost by accident, but nobody could see it unless they were also seeing my messy living room.

So I tried iPhoto. You CAN export a quick time movie with music, but you can’t control the transitions between images, so it was much choppier than the Lightroom version, AND it didn’t match the music. So then I bought Quicktime Pro 7 or something like that, and discovered that I can’t control the transitions there either. I tried some other free programs that sucked for one reason or another, but came back to iPhoto. In the end, I followed the math I found here, which didn’t quite work, but got me close enough where I could tweek it further with trial and error. I just had to live with the choppy transitions.

All this to say:

Dear Adobe,

Please, please, please add the ability to export a slideshow with music to either quicktime or Flash. I mean, you OWN Flash now, so surely it can’t be that difficult to get your Lightroom developers and Flash developers to lunch? Lightroom is fantastic, except for that one thing.


Anyways, back to my slideshow, I’d love some constructive feedback on it. On the selection and sequencing of images, and all that. The song is Chad vanGaalen’s “Sing me to Sleep.”

St. Patrick’s Day

This is not a photo of two young guys in matching, bright green t-shirts and matching peeing poses, their backs to me, feet wide apart, beer bottles in the back pockets of their jeans. It was 6 p.m., and my husband, son and I were walking to the pizza shop to pick up some dinner. We met up with them again at the pizza joint, where they were a bit sheepish and on best behaviour, despite their obvious inebriation.

(with apologies to unphotographable)


When I first started volunteering at the drop-in centre, I made all kinds of assumptions. I figured that everyone who came there must be suffering, they must be at the end of their rope, the most marginalized people in my small town. I thought the drop-in centre was a last resort.

But now I see differently. Certainly some people are at a low point in their lives, I’m sure, but I think a lot of people come for different reasons. Maybe they live alone and come for the home-cooked meals that are just too resource-intensive to make themselves. Maybe they come for the community.

When I started photographing people there, I originally intended to publish the photos with text, with information about the person in the picture and how they came to be at the drop-in centre. But more and more, I’m realizing two things:

1. I can’t really find that out. For one thing, the stories of how we came to be at any particular place and time are complex; it’s never a simple cause and effect. For another, that’s not information people generally share without being asked. And I have no interest in asking things like, “What are you doing here?” since it suggests that “here” is a place you wouldn’t just choose to come. Yet many of us do just choose to go there.

2. Their stories are ultimately irrelevant to me. It really shouldn’t matter whether a person just left an abusive relationship or just got out of jail for bank robbery. And I think posting stories with faces would invite either judgment or pity, and I don’t want to do that.

Last night I talked to my husband about my drop-in centre project, wondering if I might have to take a different approach to achieve what I want to with the images. Some of the responses I get to the photographs are disappointing, like when someone says, “Great picture of a hard life…” or something like that. I don’t want you to see a hard life. I want you to see a life: a human being, plain and simple.

My husband mentioned the concept of ubuntu. He mentioned it specifically in the context of a Zulu saying (which he actually said in Zulu but which I couldn’t attempt to spell here) that is loosely translated as “We are who we are through other people.” The more I think about this, the more I think this is really what I’m trying to convey through my drop-in project. I like the double meaning of the phrase too, that we are who we are because of how other people have treated us and also through how we treat other people. We are no better than our worst treatment of other people.

Later I did a bit of research into ubuntu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described ubuntu as “the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation.”

Nelson Mandela explained it in a way that I think is particularly apt in the context of the drop-in centre with its fairly transient population: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but it will have various aspects.” You can see him explaining it in this video.

* * *

I love going to the drop-in centre. I love the conversations I have there. I used to find my camera was a barrier to openness among people. But now I find it can open up conversations, bringing me into contact with people I wouldn’t otherwise approach, and deepening the contacts I already have.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, when I walked in for my shift, it was overcast. I glanced into the smoking area as I opened the door, and three guys I’d seen around but never really spoken to were there. It took me a few steps to register, but the light was amazingly soft, not only from the overcast sky but it also reflected back up from the snow. When I got inside, everything was already taken care of for the meal prep, and nobody was at the counter for coffee. I was feeling brazen that week (Tony Fouhse’s posts about approach really helped me figure out how to approach people to photograph), so I decided to take my camera back outside and ask those guys if they wanted to collaborate on some photos.

I felt really nervous (and a bit like an asshole) just asking them out of the blue, and trying to explain what I’m trying to do, but two of them were game. I started with JP, and put him up against the brick wall. Immediately, he looked at me for direction, a bit nervous, and I froze. “DO SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING, ANYTHING!” my brain screamed at me, and finally my mouth said, “Why don’t you just take a drag of your smoke?”

JP 1

He complied, and by the time he exhaled, his face was relaxed.

JP 2

What I find interesting is that at the time, I thought the picture of him exhaling would be the one to go with. But now that I see the actual shots, I like the tension of the first one, with his mischievous and slightly self-conscious smirk, and the knowing tilt of his head.

JP and John

Overall, however, I think maybe I should stick with my usual but much slower approach. My usual approach involves waiting for a rapport to develop with someone, then asking if they want to be involved in my project. It means that my project will never really be a documentary project, not really representative of the people who come to the drop-in centre at all. It will only be a document of the people I’m drawn to, or who are drawn to me, or to having their picture taken if they see me photographing someone else. And that somehow seems more genuine to me anyways.

Just over a week ago, I walked to the drop-in centre on a glorious sunny and mild day – the first day of the year when you could comfortably walk outside without your winter coat. As I was walking across the parking lot, Tony saw me, and said something flattering. I smiled and he called, “Has anyone ever told you you have a beautiful smile?” (Or something like that.)

I had to think. “Well, I think it’s been a long time.”

Anyways, we talked, about the weather, about my age and experience, and whether I had to come here for some reason. He seemed impressed that I just volunteer there because I want to, and he shook my hand. The subject of photography came up naturally, and when he said he liked pictures, I told him about my project. He wasn’t just willing, he was probably the most enthusiastic person I’ve photographed. He performed, he rode his bike with the coloured ribbons on the handlebar, and put on the fur hat he had just found.



I also had a great conversation with a man who used to be into photography. He asked me if I’d bracketed my shots, and I had to confess that I hadn’t. He once had a rolleiflex and a full darkroom and everything, but over the years he’s had to sell most of his stuff. He said it was hard to keep it while he was on the streets. He still has some prints, though, and promised to bring some in next time I come.

I can’t figure out exactly what it is that I love about the place. Something about the blurred lines between the served and serving, and about the sense of community that exists among a pretty transient population. There are a few regulars, but there’s a lot of people you won’t see for weeks or months, then they’ll show up for a while, then disappear again. I never know if the disappearances are a good thing: they could be working or have a new place to live or have left town; or they could be relapsed, in jail or the hospital. And there’s no way to tell unless or until you see them again.


latest addiction

I’m addicted to Zack Arias‘s new critique videos. I watched all four of them today when I should have been doing many other things. But I couldn’t stop. Not only are his comments spot-on, but I love his candour, his self-awareness, the little asides with his wife, and his dog who seems to drink a lot of water (which I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if they hadn’t commented on it every time).

He’s really got me thinking about my website, and what I’m trying to do with it. When I first set it up, I chose images that I thought other people might want to buy. But it means that the bulk of my photography, even the stuff I really like, just doesn’t fit. I don’t want to sell the portraits I make at the drop-in centre, certainly not anonymously over the web, but I would really like people to see them. Besides, I’m just not selling that much. Sometime in the future I’m going to have to overhaul the galleries. But first I want to develop my work more.

Anyways, check out the critiques…

a few recent pics

It feels like it’s been a really long time since I posted any recent photos here. My computer broke more than a week ago (The Horror!), but we now have a solution so I can go back to processing my photos. Which doesn’t really have anything to do with these shots, though, since I shot them before my computer broke. 


yellow trolley

looking inward

Last week, I discovered Elinor Carucci’s recent photographs of herself and her twins. I love them, and I love that she calls it “A limited glimpse into my most recent body of work — my children.” Once you see them, you’ll see the emphasis on body. (Go look at them, but they’re probably not safe for work.) I first discovered Elinor Carucci’s work last fall when her work was exhibited on Women in Photography. I was transfixed by her images then, and they stayed with me long after I stopped looking at them over and over. Her new work is no exception. For me, they present the sheer physicality of motherhood in a way you can’t ignore. And they’re challenging to look at; they really make you question our ideas about motherhood. I especially love the one where she’s standing naked, soon after giving birth with her c-section incision still covered with gauze and a linea nigra (or whatever it’s called – I can’t remember anymore) striping down her belly, her engorged breasts standing out above eye level like a porn star’s. Somehow that really speaks to me about how oversexualized breasts are in our culture.

A few days after seeing Carucci’s new work, I saw this blog post, which wonders why it seems that only thin, conventionally beautiful women do nude self-portraits, and they cited Carucci as one of those. I have noticed that trend too, although more in the context of flickrites’ work, where photographers seem to be capitalizing on their conventional beauty. But I see Carucci’s work differently. Her beauty isn’t the subject of her self-portraits, and in some of her pictures she even looks a bit freakish. For me, that’s part of the appeal of her images, that willingness to show herself in less than flattering ways.

I went to a portraiture workshop today that was all about making people look pretty in pictures. I thought it would be good for me to learn these techniques, so I can employ them when I want to, but after a day of learning rules and formulas, I’m just not that into it. I remember at the workshop with Ruth Kaplan I went to last summer, there was at least one professional portrait photographer attending. And Kaplan commented on how awkward it must be to photograph the person who is paying you.

That said, I’m really beginning to doubt myself. Tonight I saw a quote where a photographer remembered being asked by his teacher, whether his photographs were interesting enough to get him to leave his naked girlfriend in bed to go out and make them. The pictures I make at the drop-in centre would get me out of bed to make them. But I’m worried the images aren’t achieving my intention. I want to make portraits that make you wonder, about the person you’re looking at and their experiences, but also about the interaction that went on between me and the person, about what drew me to them (or them to me). That said, I can’t control how people see my pictures or the people in them, and as I realized from The True Meaning of Pictures, what you see in a photo is informed more by your own mind and preconceptions than by what’s in the photograph or the photographer’s mind.

Last week was a good week for me finding inspiring photographers. Nymphoto did an interview with KayLynn Deveney, whose work I hadn’t seen before. I can’t wait to buy her book, The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings. She made pictures of her neighbour, then had him caption the photos in a notebook. So the book shows her selection of images, and his captions in his own beautiful handwriting.

I also found her other portfolio, Edith and Len, fascinating, as it combines her pictures of an elderly couple in their retirement home room with her own introspective journal entries about the process of documentary photography. I want to pick out my favourite bits from her journal entries, but I think it’s better just to go through the whole portfolio and experience it yourself. I will say that I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling some ambivalence about photographing people.

[insert thoughtful and insightful conclusion here]

blogger’s remorse, or, a note about rejects

Hoo boy did I experience some major blogger’s remorse last night. I had another look at the photos I was talking about and decided they were all crap and I was stupid to think they might make an interesting collection and there was no way I could meet the expectations I’d just set. I think the self-doubt was triggered in part by this article and its suggestion that maybe all the photos you’re trying to edit suck. This morning, however, was a new day, and I think it’s still worth exploring the possibilities.

So I’m still trying to figure out an effective workflow for editing these photos. Tonight I cracked open Lessons in DLSR Workflow with Lightroom and Photoshop by Jerry Courvoisier, which I picked up at the library a couple of weeks ago. I thought it might have some good ideas. Sure enough, there it was on page 44: “Tough Decisions: The Editing Process.” Now, I have no doubt that as I get further on, this book will yield great ideas and lessons, but I disagree with pretty much everything he has to say about deleting photos, and not just because I’m a hardcore pack rat with a fondness for the underdog.

He suggests the following criteria “to start the editing process:

  • Clarity: can you tell what the subject is? Is the image blurry from camera shake?
  • Tilt: Is your photo tilted or level? (This can be adjusted through cropping.) Unusual angles can in some cases present a new perspective or introduce tension for the viewer – maybe good, maybe not.
  • Soft focus: Depends if you were after this effect. Sharp focus is overrated in some cases. Motion blur and dragging the shutter as a technique are often experimental techniques and require close examination.
  • Severe underexposure or overexposure: Too much noise in underexposure is not good unless used deliberately as a creative effect. Extremely blown out highlights can’t be recovered.
  • People’s emotions and expressions: Does the picture communicate a feeling you like? Are the faces expressive? Backs of heads do not engage the viewer unless artistically placed within the frame.
  • Composition: Poorly framed images? Delete in cases where the images cannot be improved with cropping. Delete most pictures with people running out of the frame, with middle horizon lines (remember the Rule of Thirds), and with subjects in the centre.
  • Poor selection of point of focus: Focus point distracting? Delete.
  • Reflections that interfered with subject.
  • Too many similar images when shooting a series of sequences.
  • Too many frames with the same perspective on the same subject.
  • Experiments that just don’t work visually.”

Now, I’m all for selecting the best photos and ignoring the others. I do it every time I upload photos to my computer. And those are even good criteria to start thinking about. But deleting a photo just because it doesn’t follow the Rule of Thirds? I don’t agree with that at all. But then, I’ve always believed that rules were made to be broken. And I think that we can often have unconscious intentions we’re not aware of until after the fact. Just because a photo didn’t meet your conscious intention doesn’t mean it doesn’t do something else equally or perhaps even more valuable.

I almost never delete photos. Not when they’re blurry or tilted or didn’t capture what I intended. I might delete near-duplicates, but then my pack-ratness usually kicks in and I just can’t bear to. More and more I think this is a very good idea. I find more and more that the further I get away from shooting an image, the more able I am to really judge its merit. And sometimes photos that I originally rejected turn out to be some of my favourites. For example, all of these photos were rejects on the first past for at least one of the reasons Courvoisier cited.

rent for room2

These photos I shot all on the same January day, and I came home cold, discouraged and frustrated that nothing seemed to work. Now I quite like the bleakness and geometry:

steeple and balconies



This one, one of only a very few I shot in District Six in Cape Town, I rejected because of the tilt, and because the frame cut part of one boy’s foot off (it was a drive-by shooting). But now this remains one of my very favourite of the whole trip.


I could go on, but I think you get the drift. Hard drive space is relatively inexpensive.