170517 Past and Future - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

They sell "Zen Garden" kits. Clean sand and bunch of pebbles, contained in a wooden tray with maybe an ornamental rake to play with. Rake the sand and drop a pebble, contemplate its meaning; add another pebble and all of the relationships and meaning change. Trivialized appropriation at worst, a chance to pause and be quiet at best, these toys – and their full-sized inspiration – are inherently artificial and seek insight through constraints.

That can be powerful and clarifying. So can the jumble of the real world.

Everything in this photo was the city once. A hundred years from now, if it's possible to return to this spot, what will it look like? And what of what's here now will still be standing?

A hundred years – no time at all. But the rubble in piles is younger than that, back when it was new and part of the hard-working future. Buildings, roads, and sidewalks, all right here. A hundred years. Anyone who's old enough to read these words now will most certainly be gone by then. Nothing at all.

Lessons in impermanence are all around, so perhaps my going to the Leslie Street Spit to find them is itself as contrived as a little tray of sand.

I find calm and clarity on all of Toronto's many brick beaches, but the artificial land of the Spit is my favourite. It's an ongoing scraggly collection of impromptu natural life and construction debris, but my preferences are clear. I like the margins of the water and land, where the nature of the ground is unmistakable. Over the years I've come to know its different coves by my own names. This is Staso beach, called after my favourite brick that I improbably found on two different visits, and now sits on my desk. (Bill, this is the one that you have a print of.)

I've never photographed a canoe on a dock at sunrise. I'm a product of the city, and so is my work. And this is my city, past and future.


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