150926 Arterial - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

So I went for a walk a few weeks ago, and my new project Arterial is the result. 

I suspect that highways will be a recurring subject for me. This instalment was the result of a single visit, and going back during rush hour is already on my list. Revisiting the Highway 401 overpass where I recorded for Mechanism would be a good followup as well. And from there I might branch out into other less local highways, and see what those are like up close.

From One Million

Spending six hours under a highway is an interesting experience. It's vast and empty and full of people. There's litter and debris but very few footprints; the area is too exposed and too isolated to attract much life. And yet the condo towers crowd around it.

I didn't speak much while I was under the roar of the highway – barely at all. And yet my voice was hoarse that evening and the next day. I can't imagine what daily exposure to that intense pollution must be like for those who work and live in it.

Information Superhighway

Recording audio is a bit of a challenge, because it always sounds like a highway. Half of the city sounds like a highway.

There were three recorder positions that I particularly liked. One was between the lanes of Lakeshore, which produced an intense series of passbys. I would have left the recorder there longer, but I was worried about traffic blowing it down, and my tripod was busy holding cameras. Another great position was where a rail spur crossed the road, creating the distinctive buzz that ends the audio track. And my final favourite was high on a retaining wall, with an open parking lot preventing reverberation from the far side of the road.

It turns out that highways have some acoustical subtleties after all.

Crossing the Don River

Black and white suits many of the photos, but it wasn't intentional. I was trying out a new Tiffen "Advantix" 10-stop ND filter that's supposed to provide better colour accuracy than the B+W one that I had been using.

It does, to an extent.

Photos from my Sigma DP3M turned out really well. It was no slouch with the other filter either, but using a 77mm stepped down to 52mm was a little silly. That hooded 77mm monster was even sillier on the 49mm Sigma DP2M, but thanks to my extensive stepping ring collection, the new 52mm filter was a pretty good fit for it.

Except it isn't.

For some reason the DP2M has a subtle red hot spot in the middle of its images. This isn't unknown for infrared photography, but seeing it in visible light with an IR-blocking ND filter was unexpected, especially since the standard B+W filter doesn't show this. Fortunately the panchromatic Foveon sensor made it easy to simply use the topmost blue filter layer for a monochrome conversion, which mitigated its effects.

The best part of the story is that this trip under the highway was really just meant to be a practice run for something else. That something else is still a work in progress, and when it's done it won't include any long exposure photos, and probably won't include anything from the Merrills at all.

And since I'm being honest I also have to admit that my Think Tank Retrospective 7 is a better camera bag than my Billingham Hadley Pro. The Hadley looks great with a suit, but it's the Retrospective that I've been using for actual day-to-day outings.

For this trip it was carrying my two Merrills, two four-packs of their batteries, their LCD loupe, my Sony PCM-D50 audio recorder, and the ND filter with its screw-on 52mm hood attached; plus there's always the miscellaneous phone, earphones, wallet, keys, and snacks. The Hadley might have been okay with that, but it wouldn't have been as easy to work from. What it couldn't have carried was my 3' travel tripod and the 1L water bag that was also tucked into the Retrospective's broad front pocket. Without those two this trip simply wouldn't have worked.

In photography minor things, and small digressions, so often turn out to be pivotal. 


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