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Saturday, April 28, 2018

David



First I heard the music, and then I saw his face. He was facing the ground, eyes closed, and strumming with the kind of intensity that suggested he wasn't really there. I had my camera in my hand, and it quivered in anticipation at the sight – a musician belting out his soul to a mostly empty parking lot, his worn hat tipped slightly, his hair long and unapologetic.

I had snapped off a couple of photos, but my camera lowered and I found myself drawn in by his voice. He was doing more than just singing; he seemed to be reliving pain from unknown events, events I still wouldn't know about even after we became friends.

I listened a while longer, then mustered up the courage to stride over to him and stop him mid-chorus. He looked up at me suspiciously at first, but I tossed some money into his guitar case and he realized I was not the enemy. I complimented him on his skills, but I may have had an ulterior motive in that moment: I wanted some proper portrait shots of this human I was lucky enough to come across, for fear I might not see him again. He obliged, and after a few uncomfortable moments of him minding the lens, soon he was back in another place and he no longer acknowledged the camera's presence.

***

I walked the route quite often where he played, and part of me didn't expect to see him again. In fact, after a few weeks, I had almost forgotten about him, save for the images I captured of him (which I still didn't think did him justice).

Then one late afternoon weeks later I saw the hat, and I heard that soulful voice with words that seemed to arrive to my ears before he even sang them. This time, he greeted me by name; I did the same for him – David. I reached into my pocket to see if I had anything monetary to offer, and he turned away, humbly explaining he didn't expect anything from me. Over the next weeks, I started bumping into him regularly, whether he was finishing up a long day of busking, or walking on tattered shoes to a new spot where the management of a business wouldn't try to shoo him away. If only those managers saw how the patrons of the businesses had smiled at David and complimented his music before they walked through the doors.

After a couple of months, David decided I was someone he could trust. I could tell, because he started answering questions that I didn't ask, and sharing tidbits about his daily realities. For example, he told me about the time he was playing music in support of a charity event, but someone swiped the $30 he had raised from his guitar case. But in true David style, he ended his stories on a positive note. "If you're going to rob a busker, you probably need the money more than me," he had joked.

He told me that before being a busker, he was a tradesman and a boilermaker. This is where his story becomes murky, for he never fully explained the time between then and to when he relied on the kindness of strangers to get a day's meal. To be fair though, I didn't really ask.

David always referred to himself as a "true busker," and lamented that he was getting grouped in with the other locals that aggressively asked for money. David never once asked me for money, and always reluctantly accepted it when I offered what small change I had on me. He seemed to be uncomfortable with receiving any charity, and sometimes he'd break into a song mid-conversation when he became uncomfortable – I think it was his way of crawling under the blankets and blocking out the world.

He wasn't homeless like some of the others I saw regularly on the streets. He had a small apartment a few blocks away, but he said the tenant next door was loud and obnoxious, often waking him at all hours of the night. Maybe this is why David's eyes always looked a bit tired – but I always suspected there was more to it than that.

***

The pinnacle of our relationship was reached when I convinced David to have his portrait taken in the middle of a main street in our neighbourhood. I was feeling particularly ambitious artistically that week, and I had awoken that morning with the crazy idea of photographing David doing what he does best – in traffic.

We met up during that sunny day and I explained to him what I wanted for the photos. He looked around as if to see if he was being tricked; if there was a candid camera crew nearby secretly documenting this whole thing. But after some convincing, and helping him visualize the final result, I finally got him to inch out into the street with me. I captured moments of him lost in song, oblivious to the pickup trucks and bright taxis that approached him from both directions.

The amazing thing is that the traffic slowed and even came to a stop for us to finish our session, and a few times we hit the sidelines to let cars pass before resuming. I felt electric that day – my camera was guiding me, the framing was right, David was smiling and singing as soulfully as ever, and I was smiling too. I couldn't wait to get home to see what we had created together on a bigger screen.

The results were better than I could've hoped for. We had both stepped outside our comfort zones – especially David, who despite singing to any stranger walking by willing to listen, seemed intent on flying under the radar. Standing on a public street while having his portraits taken – one of which would end up in a local paper – seemed unnatural for him, but he embraced the chance.

I sent off the images to the printer and when they arrived in the mail, I found David playing guitar outside not long after. I excitedly showed him the prints and he beamed from ear to ear, almost not believing it was actually himself in the photos. I gave him a bunch and he put them in his guitar case. The next time I saw him, he proudly reported that people had been buying the portraits from him. But I knew this wasn't to my credit – David was merely getting his due as the friendly busker that many people stopped to say hi to, and to let their children listen to his sweet anthems for a few moments before carrying on with their hurried day.

***

Being friends with David opened him up a bit about his family. He told me his sister was a former model, his niece a successful ballet dancer (I had to search online for this information, but it was more about curiosity than not believing him. It was all true). He also told me that his sons were musically inclined like he is, even more so. He painted a picture of talent and pride in his family, but I was still silently searching for the cracks that David fell through. Was it a single event that drove David to roam the streets? Was it a series of events? Whatever the case, I let David lead the narrative about his past. I didn't want to re-open any scars that were hidden out of sight. Besides, I decided I didn't really need to know, and realized that had he not been out there busking, I probably would have never met him.

Weeks passed, and then months, and the time seemed to be wearing on David. Sometimes he just quietly told me how hungry he was, and I would help him when I could. He was still sunnier than many people on the outside, seemingly thankful for every breath, but I could see the dark clouds gathering behind his eyes. I knew he was tired and he wanted a better place to live, and I started seeing less of him when I took my camera for a walk.

I have vague memories of where I next saw him, but it was during the last gasps of winter, and I can never forget the pain on his face when he told me his sombre news: he had lost a son suddenly. He clutched onto me as he told me, as if I was keeping him from falling headlong into a hole he would never be able to climb out of. I found myself lost for anything I could say or do – money and portraits could do nothing to heal a wound in his heart that was bleeding cold, salty tears from his eyes. I embraced him but still didn't have any words of solace. I walked home alone feeling like I had let him down, like somehow I should have magically thought of a way to bring a smile back to his face. However, I knew this was far beyond what our friendship could fix.

The next time I crossed paths with him, he looked like he was being crushed under an invisible weight. His shoulders were rolled forward as he shuffled along, his head was down, and there were no lyrics coming from his mouth. He told me he had to go away for a little while, that it was all too much. Again, I became a cold statue that offered him only a pat on the back, telling him to "take care," selfishly trying to avoid getting too close for fear of showing my own emotional weakness. I returned home and sat alone for a couple of hours, recounting the things I might've said – that I should've said to a friend in need that I may never see again. As it turns out, I have forgotten what those words were – but it doesn't matter, because I haven't yet had the need to remember them.

***

There was a glimmer of hope when I saw a photo of David busking dowtown months later on social media. I messaged the photographer to find out if he had spoken to David, to find out what kind of a state David was in, but he had nothing to offer. However, it brightened my day knowing that at the least, David had again picked up a guitar. I trekked downtown a few times over the following weeks in an attempt to reconnect, but every time I saw a similar hat and flowing hair, I was disappointed when the person turned around and was not him.

I hope that when do I see him, if I'm that lucky, it will be like it was when I first chanced upon him in that mostly empty parking lot. I hope his sweet music carries to my ears and that he's in a place where the world can't bring him pain. And I might just watch him from afar, my camera resting at my side.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Life tips for 2015

Problem: You feel uncomfortable in a room of strangers.

Likely cause: You care about what people think of you.

Solution: Care about that less.


















Problem: You’re stressed.

Likely cause: You’re trying to live up to someone else’s expectations.

Solution: Live up to your own expectations.


















Problem: You have no time for yourself.

Likely cause: You’re giving it away to everyone. 

Solution: Take it back.



















Problem: Your food tastes bland.

Likely cause: It’s gluten or sugar or dairy or trans-fat free.

Solution: Eat what tastes good and makes you feel good.




















Problem: You feel less than perfect.

Likely cause: You’re trying to be perfect.

Solution: Remember nothing is perfect.


















Problem: Someone is doing something that annoys you.  

Likely cause: You’re paying too much attention to other people.

Solution: If it doesn’t affect you, take a deep breath.



















Problem: Your home feels too cold.

Likely cause: Inadequate insulation or window seals.

Solution: Think how cold it would be on a park bench.


















Problem: Your favourite pop star was spotted without makeup.

Likely cause: You are reading too many trashy online sites.

Solution: Help a worthwhile charity.


















Problem: Your car is making weird noises.

Likely cause: You are driving too much.

Solution: Take a walk. Or turn up the radio.


















Problem: You can’t stand someone’s point of view.

Likely cause: You are of a different faith.

Solution: I doubt your faith tells you to despise anyone.



















Problem: You don’t like the way you look.

Likely cause: You’re comparing yourself to airbrushed models.

Solution: You’re beautiful. Find a new photographer.



















Problem: You’re having trouble ‘finding yourself’.

Likely cause: You think you need to fall into a single personality category.

Solution: Love all of your personalities. They’re all you. 



















Problem: Your bank account is lower than you want it to be.

Likely cause: We associate wealth with self-worth.

Solution: Can you afford to eat today? You’re fine.



















Problem: You can’t seem to ‘dance like nobody’s watching’.

Likely cause: You don’t think your abilities are good enough to show off.

Solution: You got it all wrong. Dance like everyone’s watching.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Police respond to reports of uncovered patio furniture

Police and fire crews descended on Tuxedo Avenue this morning in a dramatic scene after uncovered patio furniture was spotted in a residential backyard. 

Police Insp. Jim Watkins was tight-lipped at the scene when asked about the condition of the furniture, and the identity of the owners. 


"I can't say much, it's in the early stages of the investigation," he said. "But I can say there will be a full investigation, and there are charges pending."


Tuxedo resident Rita Fitzhenry said she didn't personally know the homeowners with the neglected patio furniture, but said they kept to themselves. "They seemed a decent couple, not the kind you'd expect to leave helpless furniture out in the cold like that," she said. "The neighbours were all aware it was happening, but no one said anything... I guess you could say it was our fault too."


The inspector did say it was the second call of this nature in the area in the past week, but was happy to report the first set of patio furniture was rescued and donated to a good home. "That furniture won't be left out in the cold again, that's for sure," he said. 


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A brief note about friends

Friends.

I'm not talking about the 'friends' you have on Facebook. You know, the ones you've never met but still somehow value their 'likes'.

I've had a lot of friends over the years. Lucky to say a couple of them are still around from elementary school (I'm now in my 30's.)

It's hard to say how one keeps friends. I mean, real friends. The kind that will not only be around when things are going well, but will get in your face to keep you from screwing up, and will stick around when you do screw up.

The ones that make fun of you because they know exactly how to make fun of you. But will still prop you up when you need it.

It's just something that clicks. You understand your friends. Your point of view is similar, even if you're really nothing alike.

I recently (in the last few years) lost a couple of good friends. No, they didn't pass away. They sort of... disappeared. In one case, I know what happened. Some disagreements that just didn't get resolved. Probably my fault for not trying harder.

But another, well. A real shame. This particular person helped get me through college when I wanted to give it up. Our artistic mash-ups were interesting and fun. Few others have sparked that level of creative synergy (synergy = a catch phrase I hoped never to use, but it describes the collaboration well).

Perhaps this is the way it's supposed to be, some friends are just supposed to come into your life when you need something they have to offer, or you have something to offer them. Or both. It's a transaction of experiences.

Hopefully I can catch up with some friends that have faded into the background, and I hope to meet some new ones that will last into the future.

Until then, I'll take it for what it is, and what it was, and what it can be.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It lives inside you. Listen to it.

It lives inside you. You may not even notice it. But it's a beast that needs to be fed often, or it gets restless.

It may suddenly awake at the most unexpected times. When you're standing in the shower on a Monday morning. Standing in line at a bank cashing a cheque. When you're getting ready to go to bed, and there's an important meeting the next day.

It doesn't care about your schedule. It doesn't care about your normal thoughts, about bills, mortgages, and what to have for dinner that evening. It will cry out until you satisfy it, or ignore it long enough. For some, it will scream louder than for others, making it impossible to ignore. Other times, you desperately try to prod it awake, but it can't be bothered with you. You don't control it. It controls you.

It's your creative spirit.

It expresses itself in many ways. I've found ways to tame it over the years. Now, I carry a camera, which becomes the eyes of my creative spirit. It sees things I don't.

Your creative spirit may prefer you to sing, or dance, or act, or cook, or write. Sometimes it will just put a pen in your hand, or a keyboard in front of you, and tell you to begin. Like on a Sunday morning at 9 a.m. Just like right now.

Your creative spirit is very needy. It can take you away from responsibilities, and others may not fully understand it and think you're wasting time. But that shouldn't be a reason to ignore it.

Your creative spirit ultimately wants you to be happy. It wants to be your friend. But it will make you work hard for that friendship. Sometimes, you'll hate your creative spirit. It will frustrate you, it will point out your mistakes, but it will make you a better person. Just like a good friend should.

It will be like a drug that hooks you. But swallow it down. It will fill you with warmth on days that are bleak, cold and lonely. It's a welcome addiction, and there's no side effects.

Creativity is what makes us who we are. It is the beauty between the cracks. It is the romance in a sad movie. It is the diamond in the rough. Without creativity, we wouldn't have passion. Without passion, we'd have no soul. Without a soul, we wouldn't be human.

If you don't think you're creative, think again. Every child is born with wonder and curiosity. Find that wonder again. You don't have to draw, or write, or sing to express it. Just let it in, open your mind, and it will change how you see things. And how you see yourself.

Find your creativity. It's not dead, it's only sleeping.

Let it awaken.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hamilton, here we come

So we're moving to Hamilton.

And not because The Grid recently highlighted the trend of Torontonians fleeing west. Or because Rob Ford is the mayor — at least for now. (On a side note, he was elected about three months after I moved back to Toronto, and the judge gave him the boot not long after we made the decision to move.)

It's not that Hamilton's politics are problem-free, which they aren't. And don't think I haven't noticed that Hamilton's beloved Tiger-Cats — which I was looking forward to loving too — will be playing home games in Guelph next year.

Truth is, we've had our eye on the city for quite some time. It was just a matter of making it happen.

Admittedly, our main motivation to be there is to buy a home, as we've been priced out of our neighbourhood. That's not a knock against Toronto, it's just the truth.

But while we'll be investing in (very reasonably priced) property, we'll also be investing in a community. As I walk through even the more shadowy areas of Hamilton, I see the blossoming cafes, I see the art, I hear the music.

Street music in Hamilton
As for the claims that Hamilton is too rough and gritty — anyone who has approached me on the street so far hasn't asked for any money, only for a few moments of my time, a smile and a handshake. Sure, I'm aware there are areas of Hamilton best to avoid. But that's true for any city I can think of.

Looking out the window of the second floor of my new workplace in Hamilton, I don't just see plumes of smoke rising; I see open green spaces, I see beautiful architecture, I see promise.

Yes, this is in Hamilton!

Don't get me wrong, I respect the steel mills that the city's history is built on, and I actually find the industrial sector quite beautiful. I hope the industry survives and thrives. But you'll probably hear the tagline "art is the new steel" from someone.

There's magic in the air during the regular art crawls (and Supercrawl) in the burgeoning James Street North area, with thousands taking to the streets to enjoy art of all kinds, right down to the tribal belly dancers.

There's also something very honest about Hamilton; it knows what it is, and it's not trying to be something else. Some other cities could take a lesson from that.

Toronto will always be my hometown. And while Hamilton is smaller, there seems to be something bigger happening there.

In the meantime, we'll continue to enjoy Toronto's Junction neighbourhood, which has come a long way itself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In defense of street photography vs 'creepshots'

I am a street photographer.

Sometimes I like to grab my camera and take to the streets to capture what I come across, and then share it via social media.

I do it for several reasons; one is for exercise. Another is because I love photography as an art. I do admittedly enjoy people-watching. Also, well… I like to share.

So I'm particularly disturbed by a story in the Toronto Sun about 'creepshots' — a collection of photos presumably only of women (I didn't see the images). The media attention has apparently prompted the moderators of said message board to set it to private access only.

The photos by one particular individual were brought to people's attention by an anonymous female. This "creep-shamer" was interviewed by the Toronto Standard and said she wants the laws changed to allow people to have their photos removed from a site if they want (but images associated with a crime are apparently OK, she adds).

I'm disturbed because this story might make some women fearful when they see a guy with a camera on the street. Yes, sometimes when I'm shooting photos of people on the street, I shoot photos of women — there sure are a lot of them out there, like say, half the population — but I'm really looking for interesting people and "slice of life" moments, I'm not zeroing in on females. If the subject of a photo I took was uncomfortable with it and contacted me, I would voluntarily remove it. Or, like what happened recently, I would gladly send them the original if they like it.

But I'm also disturbed because some idiot(s) are posting photos of women which, presumably, have clear intent to display the women in a sexual manner. Apparently taking public photos with "sexual intent" is actually illegal, according to a police source originally quoted in the Sun article (it has since been updated).

I completely respect people's rights. My rights included. So taking photos in public is a freedom I enjoy as a Canadian. However, while these creeper shots might be obvious, I think there's a grey area where I don't see how anyone can determine intent. I mean, if a girl happens to be in a photo, and she is deemed attractive by someone, does that person assume the photo was taken with ill intentions? How could they prove that?

The creeper photo people (we can't assume they're all men) need to use common sense. If someone's photos are all of women, and zoomed in on body parts, well yeah… of course I'm not going to defend that person, and of course they're going to draw criticism (and probably a lot of pervs).

But on the flipside, if laws are tightened for photos in public, what will that mean for news agencies? Security companies? Street photographers (who take the art more seriously?) One could argue that some of the most powerful and moving photos of all time have been candids.

Until a day ever comes when the law clamps down on public photography, I will happily wander around in my free time, camera in hand.