Beijing Streetview

Beijing, China. April 2013.

My first view of a new city is almost always in motion, from the window of a taxi cab.

A classmate in university once spoke of her year in India and how it contrasted with her experience of Canada. In Canada she said, the landscape is full of colour, rich green trees that flare up into autumn flames, the deep blues and copper blue-greens of fresh water and glacial lakes, the open palettes of wildflowers. On the other hand, we build in brick and concrete and stone, paint our walls in a staggering spectrum from beige to white. In India, she said, the landscape was colourless, a wash of earth-tones and that, as if to compensate, everything else burst with colour–painted walls and signs and fabrics. Even the food was bright.

I was reminded of that in China. The landscape from Shanghai was a pale monochrome that stretched the length of ride on the train. But from the taxi, details of blue and green decoration danced and gold leaf and the red, the brightest red in the signs and painted characters, the temple doors and arches, an accent and an undercurrent at the same time, not a bass beat but the staff the music is written on.

Mount Fuji on a Monday

There are two views from our Yokohama apartment that I love–the big cloudscaped skies and the symmetrical silhouette of the distant Mount Fuji. And sometimes, on certain evenings in certain light, the two come together and the result is spectacular.

The Stories In The Story

Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan. May 2014.



There’s a writing exercise I use with my students where I give them an image–usually something clipped from a magazine–and tell them to write about what they see for a set period of time. Then I give them a blank sheet of card-stock paper with a small square cut out of it. I tell them to put the card-stock over their image and move it around until it reveals some interesting detail, then write only about that smaller part of the image for the same amount of time. Often they write completely different stories or poems, about completely different things and from completely different perspectives. And yet, when you pull back, sometimes it’s difficult to see that all those stories are happening simultaneously.

It’s not really surprising then, that this is also a pretty important idea in photography. In many ways, the art of photography is the art of cropping. We use our cameras to crop the visible world down to the frame within the lens. Once we’ve taken the photograph, we can crop hundreds of different stories from the same frozen moment by shifting our attention and narrowing or expanding our frame to suit. How does the story of hands on a smartphone change if we are also given a glimpse of the face that is using it? What if we only see part of the face that’s using it–lips slightly parted in what? exasperation, exclamation, desperation, wonder? How important is the story of that phone if we move it to the side of the frame and centre on a woman in a jean-jacket or a man piggy-backing his boy and carrying a folded stroller?

Each of these images is cropped from the same image (below). Which story is the most compelling to you?

Walking with Friends

Yokohama, Japan. May 10, 2014.

Some days are for walking.

It happens that two of my closest friends were born on the same day, a year apart. Seems like a grand coincidence to me, though I’m sure the astrologers would say that it makes perfect sense.

Every year, when their birthday comes around, I try to spend at least part of the day walking, taking pictures of what their birthday would look like if they could spend it with me, since I am so very rarely able to spend it with either of them. This year, their birthdays fell on a Saturday, a day without obligations, a day I could spend as it chose to unfold, the kind of day that is best spent with friends.

Is it odd that thinking of far away friends can make you more present where you are?

Some of the very best things are odd.

Ginza

Tokyo, Japan. May 2014.

Sometimes we forget to be tourists in the places we live. Having visitors helps. On this occasion, we ventured into Ginza, headed for the Laduree Tea Room, but arrived too early and had to wait outside a bit before we could go in. The waiting was exceptional, as the day was clear and temperate and given to people-watching.

I took this photograph in the window of a department store. A line of brightly coloured pedestrians makes its way through the monochrome of sand-dune beach-brush, a black-and-white couple sits on steps imagined from the crosswalk zebra and a spectrum of silver sand spills out into the city streets under facades of glass and brick and the signage of the city while an icon of fashion turns the other cheek. Even as the spring becomes the summer, it’s all about the layers.