Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Vivian Maier and Love

Vivian Maier was a career nanny in Chicago most of her life. In 2007, shortly before her death, someone stumbled across boxes of photographs she had taken. By the time her talent was identified she had died.

Although it appears she never received any encouragement or money for her photograph, she left behind over 100,000 images, some as undeveloped film and so never even seen by her. 

The words amateur, or hobbyist, could be applied to Vivian. She made no money with her camera, had no career path, was unknown. If she had talent, it was unrecognized during her life. On this basis we might not consider her a serious photographer.

An amateur (French amateur "lover of", from Old French and ultimately from Latin amatorem nom. amator, "lover") is defined as someone with a love of something.

This amateur photographer was the exact opposite of a hobbyist, was someone totally serious about her endeavour.

If I am an amateur, if I do something just for the love of it, should I not see that impulse from my heart as the most important activity I can have in my life?

Thursday, 28 November 2013


I really enjoyed Gravity. In some ways it's a standard Hollywood movie. Two big stars, a fast pace that keeps the characters rather dimensionless, and the usual cliched attempt at human interest.... something about having no will to survive because a young daughter died previously in a tragic accident.

All of this is secondary, because the movie makes us experience something for the first time, something we may have thought we knew. Other movies have shown humans orbiting in space. But Gravity presents space-walking with a reality and authenticity that sucks us right in. 

Many great movies have done this. Presented us with an experience of some reality that totally captures us. Das Boot was not the first movie about submarine warfare, but it was the first one that drew us in so powerfully because it conveyed  an authenticity that hit us in the gut. The chariot race in Ben Hur no doubt performed the same function. Platoon first showed some sense of the real Viet Nam war. The first horrific twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, the Omaha Beach scene, is a masterpiece of film making, tacked on before just another Hollywood war movie.

This is the achievement of Gravity, we have a new experience because of the authenticity and reality the film makers have managed to convey. I mean Holy Shit !!

And in the last minute, gravity never felt so good!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Greetings From Tim Buckley

Between 1965 and 1972 there was an amazing transformation in popular music, brought about by the appearance in those seven years of some of the major musical talents of the twentieth century.

Bands like the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane and Santana, to name just a few, came at us with a full body slam.

A number of performers presented us with a different music, rich in subtle emotion and poetic image. Of course we interpreted the wild imagery as psychedelic in origin, a disservice to their talents and proof of our naiveté, but hey, it was the Sixties.

Poetry was being smuggled into our consciousness through popular music.

Singers such as Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan all performed music with mystical lyrics and a sense of longing. Some of them, like Ochs, Collins and Dylan, came from a folk music, protest song background, but albums like Ochs's Pleasures of the Harbour, and Collins's Both Sides Now turned away from that towards a more experimental and esoteric meaning. Dylan gave one song, his hypnotic Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, a whole album side.

The standout for me is Tim Buckley. This man produced music that still thrills. In songs like Pleasant Street, Chase the Blues Away, Sweet Surrender, Song to the Siren, Phantasmagoria in Two, Carnival Song, No Man Can Find the War, Morning Glory, his voice has an impressive range from high falsetto to deep growl, his tone has a sweetness and purity, his emotion is often one of a deep yearning. Let me limit myself to saying, before I descend into shameless hyperbole, that his voice is magic. 

My poet friend Martin Singleton and I were lucky to see him at the Riverboat in Toronto in 1969, a show I had high hopes for, but for some reason didn't impress me that much. Buckley often threw his fans off with sudden changes in direction. I do remember how surprised I was that such a powerful voice came from a small man.

Tim made his first album at the age of nineteen, and made eight more before his death at twenty-eight of a heroin overdose. HIs son Jeff made one album before his death from accidental drowning at the age of thirty in 1997.

I recently saw a film called Greetings From Tim Buckley. The story jumps between two time periods, one in the late Sixties portrays Tim, the longer interval in the Nineties explores the life of his son Jeff Buckley, who saw almost nothing of his Father. The main focus is a Tim Buckley memorial concert in New York City (which actually occurred on April 26, 1991), in which Jeff reluctantly performs and which forces him to confront his feelings about his deceased father. An aspiring singer himself, one of my favourite scenes shows Jeff jamming with a guitarist who offers some new guitar licks he has been working on and Jeff begins to croon over top of them. The movie makers allow those of us familiar with Jeff's only album to realize for ourselves the song will later become the ecstatic Grace from his critically acclaimed album of the same name. A wonderful moment.

It's a good little film, although I grew somewhat tired of the actor playing Jeff doing "brooding and conflicted" while he showed off his handsome bone structure. A number of Tim's songs are on the soundtrack and their unexpected appearance each time gave me goosebumps.

A book called Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Tim and Jeff Buckley, is on my To Read list.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

How Real is a Photograph ?

A photograph is not reality.....

Any photograph is a deviation from reality. We accept its flat, two dimensional nature, and that it has been selectively cropped; that you can't have a photo without this, or that we accept it, does not make it less of a distortion. Similarly we accept black and white photos as legit, even though taking all colour out of a scene is an extreme manipulation.

There is a story that a man once said to Picasso, "I'd like to show you my wife" and produced a snapshot of her, to which Piccaso responded, "She's very small, isn't she".

Things that are accepted imperfections of the optical side of photograph are also approved, such as lens flare, wide angle distortion of perspective, or the softness of the out-of-focus area of a scene (something present in our own vision, but usually avoided by our pinpoint attention and our brain). Some of these optical phenomena are actually used by some photographers for a purpose, as if, in our image saturated world, they have become phenomena in the natural world as well.

There are no rules here.

In a photo community I am part of, individuals sometimes describe a photo as "SOOC", which means Straight Out Of Camera, in other words, "this is one photo, believe it, I didn't mess with".

One of the key areas I like to adjust is the sky. I like to deepen the blue. I want the sky to somehow have a sense of mystery, to be somehow beyond the objects in the lower part of the picture. I love this dichotomy between the down-to-earth particular and the nameless unbound. This is what I feel when I look at a scene, that's the feeling I want in my photograph, and so I deepen the blue. If it's a black and white I can sometimes take it to something close to black along the top.

A photograph is reality......

And yet, even with all I've said, a photograph has power because we see it as a representation of the real. The sailor kissing the woman on VJ day in Times Square is an image with a significance no painting could have hoped to achieve, even considering that there is controversy about how spontaneous it was. It's as if we're looking back in time and experiencing that exact moment.

The photo collages of Jerry Uelsmann, combining straight images with solarized or negative images, have a fascination because they play with this real/unreal conflict.

I find myself creating two kinds of images. One is the obviously manipulated, such as the photo above. With the other kind of image I may take liberties with the appearance or content of the photo, but I am not happy if the photo does not look real, something anyone would feel they could see in their own world. 

As a photographer, I warn you that any of my photos that you view have without doubt been manipulated. How and to what extent is my concern. How real they are is something I'll let you worry about.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Thoughts On Our Civilization 1

A civilization is created when a particular group of people come together and a common world-view is created. Although there may be different cultures and sub-cultures within this group, they all share a very basic perception of what reality is. Such a civilization, for example, would be the modern technological civilization. So what are the basic memes of this civilization? I might take it back to the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, when the emphasis was put on rational thought, the scientific method, and skepticism toward anything that couldn't be objectively isolated. Humans could progress, using rationality, to a better world. I might add an additional emphasis on providing for the basic material needs of peoples and, to that end, gaining mastery over the natural world. 

After time the basic sense of reality that a civilization embraces becomes built into its warp and woof. It becomes subtly but powerfully embedded through every aspect of a civilization, through art, music, architecture, language, story, institutions and norms. We are born into this world view, or mindset, or mythology, not even conscious of how we have been programmed, of how our sense of reality is just one of many possible ways. If we spent an hour inside the mind and body of a member of the Yanomami tribe of the Amazon, I think we would be truly amazed at the extreme difference in perception (and I suspect the subtle and refined nature of their reason).

Some beekeepers have recently come to believe that the present size of the domestic bee is too large for it's own good, and that this was bred into the species by those who believed that a better bee was a bigger bee. So attempts have been made to breed the bee smaller. but it seems bees build cells the size of the one they were born in, changing their behaviour proves very hard. 

Today many are trying to move away from the values and perceptions of the modern world we have known for centuries. People are looking inward for a sense of the sacred that has been largely not valued by our culture. Materialism has proven to be only part of the equation. We are trying to understand life with more than our rationality. And we see that the natural world needs to be seen as a sacred trust, rather than just a resource.

And yet the old understandings, embedded in our culture, hold us back like a forcefield. The transition to a new perception of reality is a slow process, requiring a new mythology. Certain events, not always happy ones, can serve as symbols to re-orientate our culture. The recent coverage of the plight of the honeybee for example, publicized in a plethora of articles and movies, seems to be one of many events that are creating new images for our common mind, and hopefully our new civilization. But only when the new worldview acquires an overwhelming power, will it be able to dislodge the current reality.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Bokeh, and Other Distortions

For Debbie

Bokeh, a Japanese work meaning blur or haze. Wonderful stuff. Created by the lens optics primarily. Maximized by using a standard or telephoto lens with largest aperture (iris) possible, and set at that aperture. Short distance to the object, and long distance to what's behind the object matters too. The rose was taken with my lens with the largest aperture f1.4, and the red light photo below with a telephoto lens. For some reason some lens models manufactured, compared to other lenses with similar parameters, will create softer, creamier bokeh.... prized results. I bought the 50mm lens I used for the rose picture mostly for its bokeh reputation alone. I find colours seem to become more pastel too. Bright points of light in the photo become discs.

The whole in focus / out of focus characteristic of photographs (something we don't see with our eyes) is one of the modifiers (you could say distortions) in the photographic process that a good photographer knows how to use to their advantage. Selective overexposure or underexposure, graininess, changes in colour cast or saturation, flare, motion blur, perspective changes, these are just some of the distortions we now accept in photographs.

Yonge Street Traffic

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Voice of Sade

Sade Adu

I used to have customers I'd never met, but when they picked up the phone and said hello, I immediately knew who it was. Given that this word had already lost some of its fidelity by being forced through an electronic interface, its amazing the unique character their voice gave those two syllables that allowed me to identify the individual.

I know little of the technical nature of sound. It is obvious that there are many aspects, including things like pitch, timbre, tone, harmony and loudness. Add to this the ability of the human mouth to further form the words and phrases that issue from the vocal chords, and we have a substance of great complexity. 

The most amazing musical instrument seems to be the human voice. Expressive as a violin or sax or guitar may be, the human song has more capacity, more character, and speaks to us more, after all it is our voice. 

We take this ability too much for granted. Opera stars of course are given their due as having perfect voices, but I've heard people talk about Dylan or Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits as people who "don't have very good voices", and yet they are great singers. The essential sound of a particular human vocal seems to have a complex but unique quality with the ability to stir up strong emotional reactions within us. How else to account for the amazing devotion given to singers like Caruso, Piaf, Halliday, Evora or Cohen. And the power of some voices outside of song, like orators, actors, healers, poets and story tellers.

A great singer seems to have a unique voice, and then know how to use it in song. Few musical groups that rely on vocals get very far without a superb singer. Someone like Eric Clapton may be the exception, not a particularly unique voice, but he can sing, although he's really there for his guitar playing. I guess anyone can learn reasonably effective singing, but if you don't have a unique voice to start, you don't go far.

Every voice has it's special character, mood, emotion, spell. Sade strikes me as this uniqueness at its most powerful. I almost feel addicted to the sound of it. 

She sings with a husky, languid, smoothness and sensuousness. There's a sense of deep yearning. The level and range is not strong. She avoids emotional displays in her singing. Her music is solidly pop/jazz, in no way innovative, and I've heard one person call it elevator music. It's a genre I usually avoid, but hearing her never fails to move me.

Eighteen years after her first album she is still hugely popular world wide (and now a 53 year old mother). She has sold 25 million albums in the US alone. Her latest tour was seen by 800,000.

The woman is absolutely gorgeous. And she displays a poise and grace, a serenity, that seems to have all her fans convinced she's a person of class and integrity, her subdued, natural sensuality all the more appealing for this. In one video it seems the audience applauds just watching her walk across a stage.

In particular I find her rendering of The Slave Song to have tones and harmonies that almost literally resonate inside me.

It has to be the unique character of her vocal sound that the fuss is all about. Like no other singer I've heard, she makes me believe the human voice can invoke magic.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

It's the Composition, Stupid !

Spring on the Don River
I have been reading about composition in photography for years, just recently I got how important it is. 

I think I've always had some intuitive feel for composition, but generally have made photos by seeking out something interesting and then pointed the camera at it.

Learning to use composition in my photos is the most important realization I've had in photography, and yet I resisted it for so long. Maybe it was laziness, or I didn't understand it, or I didn't want to be analytical, but over the years I could have made so many photos so much better.

We often have things in our photos that have emotional content, for example a stormy sky or an old barn. That's good, but I've learned that a photo almost always needs more than emotional or sensual content. A photo is a graphic design just like a painting. In other words a photo is an arrangement of visual components like form, line, angle, pattern, repetition, tone, balance, contrast, foreground/background etc. For a photo to really have power it has to have a composition that adds to the content. And you can make a great photo that has no special content, but has its elements arranged in a composition that is interesting. That's what the best street photography is all about.

The painter has freedom to arrange elements on the canvas. The photographer, having to deal with the physical world beyond the camera, has severe limitations. Although I can sometimes move elements prior to the shot, something I do without hesitation, it is often impossible. So I must use all means available to arrange what shows up on the camera's view screen. The challenges are legion; for example a slight change of viewing angle to introduce a line may cause something else to disappear from the frame.

One of the best teaching stories I've heard recently was by a renowned photography instructor, Ben Long, who found a pile of old car doors that for some reason were sitting in a meadow. He wanted to show not just the doors, but their incongruous location. After trying to get a good shot he said he gave up because, although the doors had interest in themselves, there was no way he could make an interesting composition that included the meadow. His acknowledged failure taught me so much.

The other day I found a stone head stuck in a tree leaning over the Don River, the head taken, I suspect, from a nearby graveyard by vandals. I initially thought that because of the location all I could do was a rather straight-on shot but then I pushed myself to find someway to make a composition The photo above shows how I finally included the sparkle on the water as a balance for the head. Still not a great photo, but at least its more dynamic and interesting than the head alone.

So now I refuse to be intimidated by reality. I try to use all the photographic modifiers I possess to structure the world into a composition. And if that doesn't show in my photos, please kick my lazy ass!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What We Lose by Smiling

"The Architect Hans Heinz Luttgen and his Wife Dora", 1926, August Sander, Tate Gallery

AUGUST SANDER was a German photographer, active mostly between the two World Wars. His personal goal, unusual for the time, was to create a collection of 600 portraits of ordinary people in their environment, to be called "People of the Twentieth Century". Stopped short of completion by the chaos generated by Hitler, these photographs nevertheless stand as a wonderful portrayal of people captured simply but evocatively in the midst of their everyday lives.

One certainly notices how almost no one is smiling. Does this mean they are unhappy?

We tend to think in our culture that smiling is success. All those ads by banks, of customers smiling and looking into their laptops and presumably seeing how their investment portfolio is growing. For some reason they always have a coffee mug beside them. The smiling face is ubiquitous in our culture, at least in the media. 

Do the people in Sanders photographs look grim? Or meditative and thoughtful? How would the photos look if they were smiling?

Old portraits, whether photographic or in oil, almost never had smiling people. So when did "Say Cheese!", first raise its smiling head.? When did we start to equate not smiling with being unhappy or grim? When did the mystery in another's eyes become hidden behind a generic, forced expression?

The film Baraka has many wonderful shots of people gazing into the camera, unsmiling. Stare into the faces of Sander's subjects, and the initial sense of a grim look dissolves. There's something soulful, moving, about looking into the eyes of another human with no reference to any emotion or communication. Just experiencing each other's existence in a moment of present being.

"Master Mason", August Sander, Tate Gallery

Friday, 12 April 2013

Terrigal Sandstone

Currently on display at Arcadia Gallery, about 25 photos I took one afternoon near Terrigal Beach, north of Sydney. I'm really pleased with all these photos, nature did an amazing job of weathering the sandstone into some amazing shapes and colours, and I just ran around for an hour at low tide snapping it, all in one location. The only difficult part was later, dealing with the sunburn I got while I was having so much fun.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Just finished reading The Shipping News. Great book.

It was recommended to me by a cousin I met recently in awesome Tasmania, that being an island off the main continent of Australia. Seems my cousin is fascinated by Newfoundland, that being an island off the coast of my continent.

Never thought that much about Newfoundland, although I did notice that all the Newfies I met in Toronto seemed to be lively types with a good sense of humour.

So I've been thinking about the island, and discussing it with a Toronto room mate of mine from a long standing Newfoundland family of Irish origin.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism ads are quite something, and my friend raves about the beauty of the land. But he calls the society "dysfunctional and fucked-up"  and says he'll only go back for funerals. He talks about alcoholism, rampant sexual abuse and back stabbing. Blames the isolation, poverty and extreme conditions (oh, and the Catholic Church).

So which is it, the smiling people making wooden boats in the ads, or the haggard faces in David Blackwood's prints? 

Not sure I care right at the moment, think I'll read some novels by Newfie writer Wayne Johnston and The Outport People by Claire Mowat, while I save some money to head out there myself.  I sense something awesome right on my doorstep.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Month in Australia 3 - Yollie and the Joeys

Beck and the oldest Wallabie
Susie Q and me. I'm in love!
1/29 The day is mostly rain. Despite this, and perhaps because we did nothing the day before, Jan takes me out to visit South Head, ont of the three promontories that mark the entrance to Sydney Harbour. The other two are called, strangely enough, Middle Head and North Head. We cross uner the harbour through the tunnel, past the CBD, Central Business District, and into what’s known as the East Suburbs.Our route takes us past various bays such as Rushcutters Bay, Double Bay and Rose Bay. At Rose Bay I see something I like and Jan stops so I can photograph a long line of Moreton Bay Fig Trees, sitting with huge trunks black with rain.

We visit the peninsula of South Head and identify the headlands of Middle Head and North Head, covered with trees and houses,  that mark the entrance to the huge harbour. A large tanker sails out. On the way back we stop on the seaward side and I find a huge rock cliff in the rain with high waves coming from the ocean and breaking on the rocks in white fury, then pulling back in jade green and white mass. I keep my camera in a plastic bag and get some shots even with the pouring rain.

1/30 Jan drops me off at the central railway station and I’m on the train to Melbourne, a twelve hour ride. This gives me a look at a good amount of Australian countryside. I see my first Kangaroo, standing nonchalantly at the edge of some scrub, unaware it’s a first kangaroo.
                The land is quite hilly coming out of Sydney, but flattening out toward the Melbourne end. It consists of vast expanses of pale brown lifeless grassbroken by solitary trees. I see little cultivation but sheep sheep sheep everywhere, grazing or sitting in the shade of a tree.There are cows and horses too. The ranchers single story houses look basic.

Austarlia seems to have not tried to modernize itself in quite the same mindless, ruthless way as North America. There are still lots of Victorian facades around and the tramcars in Melbourne seem to come in four versions, from huge streamlined new to a modle that looks to be from the 30’s or 40’s.

2/1  The next day I walk along the wide Yarra that flows through the town. The water is full of boats, sculling teams, and black swans.There are some wonderful large modern sculptures in all the park and public squares I go through. I visit the cottage of CJ LaTrobe, an ancestor who was the first Leautenant Governor of the state of Victoria. I wander around the huge Royal Botanical Gardens. I’m hot because it was cold and windy in the morning, so I took a rain jacket over my short sleeved shirt, but now I’m afraid to take the waterproof jacket off because of the brutal U- charged Aussie sun.

2/9 We visit Hobart at the south end of the island

2/10 Beauty Point, Tasmania
I go for a 5 hour hike along the coast by myself and visit a place called Copper Cove.
After dinner we are visited by Yolanda (Yollie). She comes in with two plastic cages, and a large bump in the middle of her bosom. One cage contains a baby wombatcocooned in several flannel pouches. I similar arrangement in the other cage contains two baby wallabies. The bump in her bosom contains a “pinkie”, a baby wallabie so young as to not have hair yet, and just two days out of its mothers pouch. They are all marsupials found in the pouch of their respecitve dead mothers after the mother was killed by a car.  
                I hold the wombat, then the pinkie. All the animals are unsure of themselves in the bright light and unconfined space. The wombat twists and turns against me and moves up my body. It has serious claws. Yollie says she knows its stressed because the pink soles of its feet have turned red, it goes back in a pouch. The oldest wallabie seems more relaxed than the rest and keeps its head out and give my finger a sniff. I hold the pinkie, it is almost fetal, with dry and loose skin. It continually twists and turns in the flannel with its long hind legs, with a huge middle toe,  vigourouly poking in all directions. Yollie later lets me name her Susie Q. I try unsuccessfully to give it a bottle, Yollie takes over, having to feed pinkies every 2 and a half hours, 24 hours around the clock she’s good at it. Beck,, my cousin’s daughter, feeds one of the older ones and Jo feeds the wombat.Then Yollie double wraps them all in tight flannel, the pinkie immediately stills against her bosom.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Month in Australia 2 --- Bush Walk

My Cousin's eco-home in Tassie.
1/24 Sydney  My Sister Jan drove me 76 km up the coast to a beach town called Terrigal. The country north of Sydney was beautiful, often very hilly with green bush covering the slopes and vistas of the Hawkesbury River. We had lunch on the beautiful beach, full of families on vacation, then we climbed out on rocks at one end. It looked like low tide, and a large plateau of sandstone lay exposed to the sun, with only a few deep pools still full of water. I had a marvelous time photographing the soft rock, which water had sculpted into fascinating shapes, often given interesting variation by veins of harder rock or rows of small white limpets hiding in the shade.
1/25 Nephew David and I visited the Sydney Bridge, first underneath the North end at Bradfield Park, then along the harbour in both directions to get a view, then back and up and over the bridge. An amazing structure, at 3770 ft long and 440 ft high at the apex. Afterward we walk into the Rocks, the “old town” with narrow streets full of old buildings now shops cafes and very elegant. I take the double decker computer train back to Artarmon, noticing how the stops look like English train stations. Australia seems like a young, extroverted country, with lots of innovation going on. I learn one of the train station in the downtown has been kept in its Victorian décor, even to the extent of the advertisements.
I find Australians very friendly, architecture and design seems very bold and inventive, and I see some high tech solutions unknown in Toronto. At the same time there is a sense of the past being cherished, both pioneer origins and British origins, that seems more evident than any in Canada I've seen at least. Australians seem to love good food (I mean really good food), festivals, sports, outside activities, the arts (especially music and sculpture), and social events.
1/26 Train to Melbourne, 12 hour ride
1/27 day in Melbourne, meet Cousin Lou at Airport, flight to Launceston, Tasmania
1/28 At Lou and Jo's place in Beauty Point, a day in Launceston, meet Cousin Robyn, headache
1/29 Shopping for sleeping bag in Launceston, Tasmania
1/30 Bush Walk      Cousin Lou and I drive several hours up onto the central highlands. Lou has equipped us with a lot of fine gear, and I realize that you can have five thousands dollars easy on your back as you hike.
We reach The Lake St Clair national park center as it rains. and book a boat. This twin outboard, 15 seater takes us up the lake (one of the deepest in Aus) to the other end and a dock where we find a hut. Many of the surrounding peaks have received names from an early explorer who was an enthusiast of Ancient Greece, so there is Mount Olympus, Narcissus Point, etc.
From there we hike inland for four and a half hours. The trail is nicely laid out and includes boardwalks over swamp areas and suspension bridges over larger streams, but still involves constant stepping around rocks, puddles and snarls of tree roots. The rain comes and goes. We pass through several meadows of button grass ringed by gum (Eucalypt) trees that remind me of some of the terrain in The Hunter. An old injury on my left shoulder causes me considerable discomfort because of the pack load. We pass into an area of forest called a Myrtle forest, with huge old trees, mostly not gum, thickets of striking Pandani (Giant Grass Tree, a palm-like rainforest plant endemic to Tasmania (like countless other things)) and lots of green moss on everything. A few Pademelons (small Kangaroo-like Wallabies) peer at us from the bushes. We arrive at the hikers hut and Lou decides not to pitch a tent because of the wet so we claim the lower teir of one of the sleeping shelfs and cook our dinner and try to dry some gear. I am exhausted. There are perhaps ten other hikers in the hut.
The next morning we leave most of our gear in the hut and head up the Pine Valley trail around nine, its cold and I thankfully wear the gloves that seemed overkill as we packed two days before. We get a lovely view down Lake St Clair at one point with some blue sky patches, then some rain starts again The track up is steep, at one point we are climbing up an old rocky stream bed. I find having a hiking pole very handy to maintain balance. As we get higher the Gum trees reappear with some alpine flowers. We finally come out close to the top, with huge lichen covered boulders in an endless field and short gum trees shrouded in a fog. This is The Labyrinth and as we move around to the back the weather clears up and we can see mountain peaks with dramatic pillars of basalt, and two tarns below. Then as we stop for lunch it begins to snow, followed not long after by sun again. A pair of Wedge Tail Eagles fly high overhead and a Skink basks on a rock. By the time we get back to the hut, it is six and we repeat the routine of the day before and end the day.
The next morning we head back to the boat pickup point, the load is lighter and Lou has taken some of my camera gear, so my shoulder suffers less. Then into the boat and down the lake for a cappucino at the Park Center and the drive home. Lou points out an Echidna by the side of the road and we get out and investigate, it looks like a cross between an anteater and a hedgehog or small porcupine, but is actually from a unique order of mammals, Monotremes, that it shares with only the Platypus. We finally approach it, it digs its front into the bottom of a bush, and we touch it briefly. On the way back Lou pulls over across from an area burnt-out by fires a month before and I spend an hour stumbling around in the black debris taking photos.
I feel fine the next day and am amazed at the amount of rough terrain I have covered with a pack, it seems far beyond what I thought I could do, and the only explanation seems to be that I was enjoying myself and surrounded by beauty. The three days are a thrill and I feel very grateful to my Sister and Cousins.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Month in Australia 1

A Lorikeet demands food on my Sister's balcony.
A Flickr slidehow is found here.

1/19/2013  My Sister Jan’s family apartment in Artarmon overlooks North Sydney and a wonderful assortment of trees, palms and other tropical growth. Because of the recent heat, I expect a brown, desiccated landscape, but it rains the first day, the temp is low 20’s (it was 46C the day before, I luckily arrive with a “cold” front) and the vegetation is green, the recent fires apparently being caused by the growth of grass and underbrush after two years of abundant rainfall (and often started by young pyromaniacs). The trees are rich with avian life including hysterically laughing Kookaburras, Rainbow Lorikeets, Willie Wagtails, Noisy Miners, Pied Currawongs, Friarbirds and let’s not forget Galahs. A pair of beautiful Lorikeets land frequently on the balcony or window sills noisily demanding handouts.

1/20  The second day My Sister takes me to downtown Sydney, an area Jan lived in for several years.

The city is huge, modern, affluent and sophisticated…and spectacular. Several long bays crenellated with coves brings sailboats 20 km inland before meeting a fresh water river. The past is well preserved in old colonial buildings and parks and it all reminds me more of London or Paris than New York or Toronto.
We visit the Rocks, a downtown area of old sandstone 19th (and one 18th!) century buildings, and some cobblestone streets, now full of businessmen, shoppers and tourists. Sydney is well preserved, and they claim to know the exact spot where Captain Cook planted the English flag in 1770. There are many beautiful parks full of palm, fig, banyan and eucalyptus trees, numerous huge old colonial buildings and vistas of the water, Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
I don’t know why, but I never realized how huge the iconic Opera House is, or realized that the roof is distinctly patterned with tiles. Funny how these ubiquitous travel mega-symbols like the Eiffel tower, Statue of Liberty, Acropolis, Big Ben, Forum, Taj Mahal, Giza Pyramids or Mount Fuji seem somehow hyper-real when you first see them.
1/21  Today Jan took me to Ku Ring Gai national park.  A boardwalk led us over some mangrove swamp and then the trail headed up into the bush along the heights on both sides of the tidal river. I fell in love with the open forest with Gum and Eucalyptus trees. Lots of rock and vegetation, but always open to the sky. The trees often in convoluted shapes and sometimes appearing to ooze out of rocks. We see a beautiful black and green Goanna lizard, about four feet long, and find the huge pile of leaves that are a Mallee Bird nest. The bush is loud with cicada and shrieking Cockatoo and the continual lovely spicy scent of eucalyptus in the air. A sign points out an area of flat rock, where 23 axe-grinding grooves have been made by Aboriginals, with two bowl shaped depressions they used for water to wet the axes.
There is still some traces of an English orientation here. The row of little shops across from our local rail station have an English feel, although they have substantial marquees for shade. Like the British, the traffic system often uses roundabouts and drives on the wrong side of the road. Local names on the map are old country, Epping, Chipping Norton, Liverpool, Penrith, Paddington, Habersham. Of course other local names are Turramurra, Wooloomooloo, Wahroonga, Woy Woy, Kirribilli or Toongabbie. The suburbs we drive through remind me vaguely of Orange County or Millbrae in California, or maybe Etobicoke with palm trees.
1/22  I spend the day downtown taking photos in St Andrews Cathedral and the Queen Victoria Building, which looks suspiciously like the inspiration for the Eaton Center.
1/23 I walked through Hyde Park again and down into the Royal Botanical Gardens, a huge park near the harbour where I found a vast assortment of tropical trees of amazing shapes. What a city!! Then I walked back taking the main drag, George Street, through all the office buildings and skyscrapers. The streets are crowded, a mixture of business dress, surfer casual, or European chic in the case of many women. There are many Asians, but I only see about seven aboriginal faces all day. As befitting the major city in the country boasting the worlds 12th largest economy, Sydney is impressive, but still has charm and great style. I’m impressed, it trumps Toronto in many ways for sure.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Hunter

The star attraction of course in this movie is Willem Dafoe. If you've seen "The Last Temptation of Christ" you know what incredible presence this man can project. In this movie he starts out as the villain, (the good guy is already dead), and his redemption at the end is not really believable, although we'd like to try to believe. Why is it cold-hearted killers can convey such a fascinating zen-like presence? Is it their single-mindedness, their frequent obsessive-compulsive insistence on order, or just that they have a clarity, being free of the need for morality or social acceptance which clutters up the lives of us civilized folks?. A great little movie, well crafted, and you'll never forget what a Thylacine is. The Bluray edition is prefaced with a tourist ad for Tasmania, rather unnecessary given the amazing landscapes in the movie.