ASHES TO ASHES, PIXELS TO PIXEL DUST

 

SZECHENYI BATHS IN BUDAPEST

SZECHENYI BATHS IN BUDAPEST

“What was I thinking?”

“Who is this?”

“Why did I waste film on this picture?”

I keep asking myself these questions as I continue the arduous task of going through, winnowing down and throwing out hundreds and hundreds of slides that I’ve shot over my 35 year career.

These aren’t the pictures I’ve shot for the newspapers. These are the freelance assignments for magazines and books, personal pictures from long ago vacations and pictures of people I was once close to, places and things I thought might have some commercial value as stock images and things I found visually interesting.

Lovingly captioned and archived in binders, they’ve been ignored for more than two decades.

Looking at them brings back good memories of family visits, exciting adventures and beautiful sunsets. Kodachrome won’t fade for 10,000 years, but our lives change and shift and memories fade.

Film was expensive, but it was worth it. I learned about light and exposure, technique and composition from every frame. And that helped me hone my skills and grow as a photographer.

We’re just back from a five-week trip to Europe where I shot over 3500 digital frames. That’s nearly 100 rolls of slide film, which would take up over a foot of shelf space to store. Those pictures fit on a handful of SC and CF cards and seem to take up nearly no space on my hard drive.

I tried to avoid joining the throngs of tourists shooting buildings and landmarks, instead trying to find photographs of real people doing real things. That was challenging in busy cities like Prague and Budapest where tourists were everywhere, pointing compact cameras, cell phones and even tablets at St. Stephen’s mummified arm, the Szechenyi Baths or Prague Castle.

We all need these vacation pictures to validate our experiences and to help remember the places we visited and the people we travelled with. But what will become of these digital treasures in five or ten years? Since most people don’t backup or print their digital images, will those memories be lost to a stolen cell phone or a crashed hard drive.

Or, will these digital images face the same fate that my beloved Kodachrome slides are now facing?

 

A TOURIST SNAPS A CELL PHONE PICTURE AT THE PRAGUE CASTLE

A TOURIST SNAPS A CELL PHONE PICTURE AT THE PRAGUE CASTLE

A WOMAN TAKES A SMOKE BREAK IN PASSAU, GERMANY

A WOMAN TAKES A SMOKE BREAK IN PASSAU, GERMANY

A SCULPTURE IN A MODERN SHOPPING MALL IN BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA

A SCULPTURE IN A MODERN SHOPPING MALL IN BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA

SHOPPERS CARRY BAGS FROM DESIGNER SHOPS IN VIENNA

SHOPPERS CARRY BAGS FROM DESIGNER SHOPS IN VIENNA

A DOG WAITS FOR ITS MASTER OUTSIDE A BUTCHER SHOP IN WERTHEIM, GERMANY

A DOG WAITS FOR ITS MASTER OUTSIDE A BUTCHER SHOP IN WERTHEIM, GERMANY

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REMEMBERING LOST FUTURES

CANADIAN FLAGS ON A GRAVE AT ESSEX FARM CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM

CANADIAN FLAGS ON A GRAVE AT ESSEX FARM CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM

On Remembrance Day, the day we commemorate the end of the First World War 96 years ago, we wear poppies and attend solemn ceremonies. Ageing veterans, medals shining, march stiff-legged in the early winter cold. The last post. Two minutes of silence to remember those who didn’t come home.

I recently travelled through north-eastern France and western Belgium visiting some of the battlefields, monuments and cemeteries of the Great War.

Essex Farm Cemetery just north of Ypres, Belgium is where Dr. John McCrae penned his iconic poem “In Flanders Fields”. The concrete bunkers where he tended the wounded emote a palpable sadness. A few metres away lies the grave of the youngest soldier to die in the war, a 15-year-old. I shed tears for him, mourning for the future he didn’t have.

And that is the overwhelming feeling I’m left with after a six-day visit. So many young men and women who didn’t have a future, who were denied love, family and the joys of living. And all of us have been denied their creativity, their energy, their joy, their goodness. We can’t know what they would have become, what they could have achieved, how they might have changed the world.

That is the shame of that long-ago, senseless war, and of all wars.

VISITORS AT THE MENIN GATE CEREMONY, YPRES, BELGIUM

VISITORS AT THE MENIN GATE CEREMONY, YPRES, BELGIUM

THE VIMY RIDGE MEMORIAL, VIMY, FRANCE

THE VIMY RIDGE MEMORIAL, VIMY, FRANCE

TREE TRUNK WITH MEMORIAL CROSSES AND POPPIES, SANCTUARY WOOD TRENCH MUSEUM, NEAR YPRES, BELGIUM

TREE TRUNK WITH MEMORIAL CROSSES AND POPPIES, SANCTUARY WOOD TRENCH MUSEUM, NEAR YPRES, BELGIUM

SEARCHING FOR THE NAME OF A FALLEN SOLDIER, TYNE COT CEMETERY, NEAR YPRES, BELGIUM

SEARCHING FOR THE NAME OF A FALLEN SOLDIER, TYNE COT CEMETERY, NEAR YPRES, BELGIUM

THANKS IAN

 

IAN TYSON, FOURTH FROM LEFT, AND FELLOW RANCHERS PROTEST EXPLORATION ON PRISTINE RANGELAND

IAN TYSON, FOURTH FROM LEFT, AND FELLOW RANCHERS PROTEST EXPLORATION ON PRISTINE RANGELAND

The assignment was simple. Drive south of Longview to photograph a group of ranchers protesting oil and gas exploration on some of the last fescue grassland in the foothills. Their beef with big oil? That trucks and backhoes and bulldozers bring invader species – weeds – to this special ecosystem that could destroy the viability of the land that has supported ungulates since the last ice age.

It was the most visual press conference I’d ever photographed. Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Tyson led a group of mounted ranchers on a short ride through snow-covered pasture with the Rockies in the background. The picture was played huge on the front page of the Calgary Herald the next day.

The oil company that wanted to explore the area later withdrew its application.

That assignment and the iconic “Ian and the Cowboys” picture has changed me like none other.

A few days later I came across Tyson’s Cowboyography CD in a Bragg Creek shop. I played it scores of times. It became my go-to drive home music, soothing my jangled nerves on stressful days. One night over supper I described how Ian’s music, created pictures with his words. My wife Lee Ann suggested I photograph those pictures.

An idea was hatched. Ian’s song Springtime describes the end of winter in the foothills of Alberta. I started to photograph the scenes he sang about and also contacted him to get his permission and co-operation.

He agreed after seeing some of my pictures and I headed out to his ranch to photograph him. We hit it off well and he was pleased when my pictures and the lyrics and pictures were published in the Sunday Herald as a two-page spread.

I photographed him a couple more times over the next few years and I came to see the creative drive that still burns within him. He turns 81 this month and is still writing and performing and is passionate about his art and his craft.

Through him I came to see the creativity in me. For too many years I thought of myself as a journalist who used artistic techniques to tell stories. Ian helped unlock that creative awareness, and for that I’ll forever be thankful.

So why all these words about a picture I made 12 years ago.

Calgary Herald reporter Tamara Gignac and her family need our help. She’s just 40, but is battling cancer. She’s the mother of two young children and Tamara and her husband Heath McCoy can use financial support for child care when she’s in hospital and for a special vacation. You can read more about Tamara’s story at http://bit.ly/1xU9qLE 

A Meet the Press fundraiser is scheduled for Sept.16 and Ian has signed a print of the above picture. I’ve had it framed and it will be one of the silent auction items. It is the only copy of that print that Ian has ever signed making it a unique item. If you can’t make it please consider making a donation.

RELAXED, GENTLE, EASY …

ON THE FERRY TO VASHON ISLAND

ON THE FERRY TO VASHON ISLAND

The US border guards were nice, friendly, even welcoming. Seattle bustling with the Hemp Festival, tattoos and dreadlocks celebrating the new marijuana law. Traffic lined up for blocks for the ferry to Vashon Island. A short ride across Puget Sound to the island hangout of old hippies, democrats and organic farmers.

Business with a difference. A clothing shop owner who dishes out empowerment slogans with her funky, handmade threads, “The President of Me”. The farmer’s market, complete with greenies raising awareness of the plight of the bees and bored teens sipping organic fruit juice. An old man fixes his truck on main street. Supper in what was an old hardware store.

A salmon supper, then singing folk songs with a new friend playing an old guitar. A Dylan lament the first number. Relaxed, gentle, easy.

But still America. An antique and sports car show on a dusty gas station parking lot attracted hundreds. The stars and stripes flies from front yards and docks. Patriotism, but not the patriotism of the blue states in the middle.

A ferry ride back to Victoria for a drink at The Empress’s Bengal Lounge. Comfy leather couches, impeccable service in contrast with a suburban mall where a huckster sells running shoes. More dinners with old friends. Lazy all-morning breakfasts.

On Salt Spring Island welcomed by the first rain in months. The island votes green, but the grass is all brown. A foggy morning. Ships sound their horns, kayakers wait for the fog to lift. Gulls wheel overhead. Relaxed, gentle, easy.

 

PICKING BLACKBERRIES

PICKING BLACKBERRIES

AT THE CAR SHOW

AT THE CAR SHOW

REPAIR ON MAIN STREET

REPAIR ON MAIN STREET

A DRINK AT THE EMPRESS

A DRINK AT THE EMPRESS

FOG ON SALT SPRING ISLAND

FOG ON SALT SPRING ISLAND

A DAY IN THE LIFE

A MAN STOPS FOR A SMOKE NEAR A SAWDUST BURNER IN VANDERHOOF, BC IN 1984

A MAN STOPS FOR A SMOKE NEAR A SAWDUST BURNER IN VANDERHOOF, BC IN 1984

I actually had to dig out my unworn souvenir t-shirt to find the exact date, because I couldn’t find my copy of The Book.

Thirty years ago, June 8, 1984 to be exact, I was one of the “100 of the world’s best photographers” shooting on the Day in the Life of Canada book project.

Pretty heady stuff for a 26-year-old.

The whole thing was a bit intimidating. Famous photojournalists were everywhere. Photojournalists who’s work graced the pages of Time and Newsweek, Life and National Geographic hung out at the bar, chatted in the lobby and shook your hand in the hotel check-in line.

The cool and calm conflict photographer James Nachtwey was on my flight to Vancouver.  My room mate was Roger Ressmeyer, who did several stories for National Geographic. His fun portrait of two children, one dressed for her first communion was later chosen as the cover.

We Canadians, mostly young newspaper and wire service shooters hung together at the Toronto social events and quietly wondered if we had “it” to compete against the big guns.

I spent my day in Vanderhoof, BC a sawmill town west of Prince George and Fort Saint James, a smaller town about an hour north. I started my day at dawn shooting the sawdust burner at the local saw mill, then heading out to a nearby dairy farm for morning milking. Later my local guide and I headed north, visited a reserve and then ended up back in Vanderhoof in a bar.

And then the wait. Several weeks passed without knowing if I would be published in the book. Then a call from an editor asking for more cutline information and I knew the picture shown above would be in the book. Whew!

The editors selected another picture, a portrait of a local fellow taken in the bar, for inclusion in the travelling print show.

A year later I saw that show in Winnipeg. My sawdust burner picture was printed huge – perhaps 40-inches tall – one of the largest on display.

The project was good for my ego and my career. It opened doors for me, got my name around and led to a couple of other book projects, some magazine work and representation by an up and coming stock photo agency.

A couple of days after I initially wrote this post I found my copy of The Book, tucked away in our basement storage room. It was great to flip through it again.

 

THE RAINY SEASON RETURNS

A RUSTY OLD BARREL TRAPPED BY FLOO DEBRIS ON THE BANKS OF THE BOW RIVER.

A RUSTY OLD BARREL TRAPPED BY FLOOD DEBRIS ON THE BANKS OF THE BOW RIVER.

The sky was a dark leaden grey Monday and it rained heavily Tuesday night. There is more rain ahead with heaviest amounts forecast for the Oldman River basin south of here.

Southern Alberta is holding it’s collective breath. People are nervous, with memories of the massive destruction of June 2013 still raw.

Friday Swerve magazine published one of my post-flood pictures (above) last week. Here are some of the others I made in the last couple of months. These pictures show the damage the flood did to some of our cherished natural areas – the Bow and Elbow river valleys – and the power moving water has over both natural places and man-made things.

TREE ROOTS EXPOSED BY EROSION AT ELBOW FALLS.

TREE ROOTS EXPOSED BY EROSION AT ELBOW FALLS.

A DAMAGED PICNIC TABLE AT ELBOW FALLS.

A DAMAGED PICNIC TABLE AT ELBOW FALLS.

A PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE ELBOW RIVER AT ALLEN BILL POND.

A PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE ELBOW RIVER AT ALLEN BILL POND.

 

A WALK IN THE SPRING

SNOW TURNS FISH CREEK PROVINCIAL PARK TO WHITE

SNOW TURNS FISH CREEK PROVINCIAL PARK TO WHITE

“April meant still not quite spring in Edinburgh. A few sunny days to be sure, buds getting twitchy,
wondering if winter had been paid the ransom.”
“Death is Not The End” by Ian Rankin

 

Had Rankin’s fictional detective John Rebus collared bad guys in Calgary, the prolific Scots writer would have had to change April to May to fit recent weather on this patch.

Only two days after seeing a hint, just a hint of green in the poplar trees on the south side of Fish Creek Provincial Park, residents of this corner of the southern prairies got hit with a spring snow storm. It melted (generally) when it hit the pavement, but the trees and lawns, the decks and roofs got a good 20 cm.

Spring always seems to come slowly here. April boasts warm sunny blue-sky days. Summer shorts and shirts are retrieved from the back of the closet, bike tires are filed and winter kit is put away until the fall (hopefully). Then suddenly summer dreams are turned into winter nightmares.

Well, it isn’t really that bad. It wasn’t mid-winter cold and I know (OK, hope) spring is lurking around the corner.

A half-hour walk around our neighbourhood and through Fish Creek gave me a handful of nice pictures. I hope you enjoy them.

A PATH TO FISH CREEK PARK

A PATH TO FISH CREEK PARK

AN ORNAMENTAL TREE NEARLY READY TO BUD

AN ORNAMENTAL TREE NEARLY READY TO BUD

A DEER HIDES IN THE BUSH

A DEER HIDES IN THE BUSH

SNOW COVERS A STAND OF POPLAR TREES

SNOW COVERS A STAND OF POPLAR TREES