A new year

I’ve taken a bit of a breather from posting here. Although I do not wish to make excuses, I’ll do so anyway: I’ve been preparing two huge photobooks from my honeymoon, which has occupied my photo attention. I only mention this fact for the reason that it will provide me with some great content in the coming months.

Moving on.

It’s now 2011. A whole new year awaits.

I guess that’s the reason I chose this shot. I took this in 2006 as I was sitting alone on a bench at a train station in Gunzburg, Germany. My work contract had ended (for backstory click here) and, for the first time, I was solo and ready to depart on my own for a brief trip across Austria and Germany.

Sitting here, I really had no idea how things were going to go. I was excited, but also a little scared. Regardless, I was pretty confident things would turn out alright.

Happy 2011.

Stripping back the colour

Cappodocia BW

Taken in Cappodocia, Turkey in June 2010.

There is something about a black and white picture. Monochrome has this strange ability to change the way you look at a scene, be it the texture, shading or shadow. I always find it amazing how two colours tend to focus your attention so much better than the clutter of colour.

But how does one take a good black and white photo? I really have no idea.

Some say you have to learn to see in monochrome. Sometimes this is easy when a setting has strong, stark contrasts, but other times I find it difficult to disassemble a scene. Personally, for me, it just comes down to trial and error, and thinking maybe this scene could look pretty cool sans colour.

The shot above was taken in Cappodocia, Turkey. It was a beautiful blue sky day and my wife and I went for a hike outside the town of Goreme. I did not think of this shot as a monochrome, but after fiddling around on Photoshop, it just seemed so much stronger in black and white.

A special place

The Ground Zero Memorial in New York City.

Taken at the Ground Zero Memorial in New York City in October 2007.

Walking up, it seems like any sort of construction site in a major city. Cranes, hard hats, and clatter.  Ugly wire fencing surrounds a giant gaping hole, a momentary pause in a city of endless structure.

But unless you’ve lived isolated in the bush for the past decade, you’ll know that this isn’t just a place of construction.

The memorial site at Ground Zero in New York is a strange mix: there are tourists and mourners, but also conspiracy theorists calling for the crowds to look for deep, dark motives and agendas behind the 9-11 attacks.

Now I have a fairly open regard for free speech, a trait honed from journalism school and working as a reporter. Yet, although you have the right to say something, does that mean you say it? Do you stand at a funeral and tell the mourners about the horrible person lying in the casket?

The wrong place. The wrong time.

I am not saying these people are not allowed to have or express their opinions. If you are interested, type “9-11 truth” into Google and read to your heart’s content. But seeing people with their placards, handing pamphlets while others reach for their tissues, just seems inappropriate.

New York is a huge city and any other spot would be a perfect place to peddle your political views. Obviously 9-11 has become shrouded in politics and has been used to justify some pretty questionable pursuits.

But at the actual site, the actual place where too many people died? Step back, and show a little respect.

This is a special place.

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The above photo was taken in October 2007.

Lining the sky

Looking back at Manhattan

Taken from Brooklyn Bridge.

I was listening to the radio early, early this morning and this story caught my ear. It seems some developers in New York are looking to grow a monster building right smack dab in the centre of Manhattan, near Penn station I believe. It’s slated to be 67 stories high, 1,190ft (363m) tall. Wow.

Yet, before any giant apes start salivating at the prospect of climbing this beast, the folks at the Empire State Building are looking to ruin the fun.

“It will take away from our skyline,” runs their argument, fearing the giant building could distract from a quintessential New York postcard view of, er, the Empire State Building.

A fair point. The city’s skyline is indeed stunning, an endless metropolitan expanse. It is a mix of the historical and modern. Would a new building desecrate this artificial scenery? Perhaps, but at the same time, when I think of New York, I think of a city that is constantly moving, growing.

In the end, the decision is best left up to New Yorkers. I look forward to seeing where this goes.

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Oh, as for the above photo? I travelled to New York in 2007 and took this shot standing on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Innocent eyes

Seoul Street

Seoul, South Korea

Modern, vibrant, bustling, exciting. These were some of the words that came to mind as I walked through the city of Seoul, South Korea about two years ago. It was my first day in the city and I quickly filled my camera memory up with a jubilance that only comes from the novelty of a new place. I had never been to a city like it in my life and for my brief introduction to Asia, it was quite fascinating.

About two days after this initial jaunt in the city, I stood in a ballroom at the 22nd floor of the Seoul Plaza Hotel in the centre of the downtown. I had travelled to Korea as a journalist and was attending a banquet dinner honouring Canada’s veterans of the Korean War. Windows from the floor to the ceiling lined the room and an amazing panoramic of the city could be seen.

Finishing my meal, I walked over to a window and started chatting with William MacIver of Stittsville, Ontario. MacIver served as an infantry platoon commander as UN forces patrolled the border to ensure the North Koreans followed the terms of the armistice agreement.

As we looked out at the city of skyscrapers, endless traffic and bright billboards, MacIver said that after 55 years he now thinks the people look healthier and more confident.

“When I was here there was one restaurant in Seoul and it was in a hotel and you had to be a general to use the restaurant,” he said. “…[The Korean people] weren’t that sure of themselves at that point in time, but now they’ve got the confidence. You can see the way the economy is building and where it’s going.”

For many of the Korean vets attending this trip the most overwhelming part was simply looking at the dynamic country that South Korea has become. During the war many of the veterans took a 22-sea sick day journey aboard an American troop ship to land in the city of Pusan (now Busan), which was loaded with refugees and suffering from abject poverty. In Seoul, the city had been the site of several battles as both sides marched over the devastated South Korean capital. Much of the countryside carried similar scars especially along the 38th parallel, where the majority of the war was fought. The development and beauty of South Korea was a theme that was discussed repeatedly by these old soldiers who could only remember a country wearing the damages of war.

This was something I could not see. Only vibrant, modern, and exciting.

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Addendum:

The idea behind this post came from a photo gallery I found through Twitter. In it, Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov combined European cityscapes with photos from World War II to make the past come to life. It really is quite amazing. You can check it out by clicking here.

[Insert clever Arcade Fire pun]

Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire at Bluesfest in Ottawa, 2010.

Today, the Arcade Fire released their latest album “The Suburbs” and the critics appear to be pleased. The indie elites at Pitchfork gave it an 8.6, Rolling Stone 4/5, the Globe a 3.5/5 and the Toronto Star 3/4.

I have been a fan of this band for a long time. They were one of those groups I stumbled upon in university and their songs garnered tremendous airplay on my own playlists since then. Unfortunately, I had never seen them in concert and they earned a privileged spot in my list of groups I have always wanted to see live (Radiohead still stands on the top).

Although beautiful, Arcade Fire’s music is somewhat dark, intense and complicated. Despite hearing good things about their concerts, I was always worried that they would come across as aloof and pretentious on stage. I could not have been more wrong.

About three weeks ago, the band came and played at Ottawa’s Bluesfest music festival. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. They seemed so confident and genuinely happy. Full of life and eager to please the crowd. Aloof and pretentious? After the show, members of the band came and jammed with a couple kids who they later invited to the Osheaga festival in Montreal.

The above photo is of the band at Ottawa’s Bluesfest. Oh, and for what it’s worth, as I listen to their new album for the second time, this humble scribe would like to give The Suburbs a 4/5.