This was my contribution to a multi-person presentation for my critique group, on the theme of 'finding inspiration' under the currently restrictive situation. Being written for a different audience and a different presentation style makes it a bit more didactic and expository than usual, but it's another look at some of what I've been up to over the past year. 

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This is Toronto as seen from the Leslie Street Spit, a place that is itself fundamentally Toronto. It started as a breakwater made of construction rubble, and continued expanding as the city kept being rebuilt. I’ve been visiting for over twenty years, watching this rough and impromptu place mellow into a nature preserve with a busy recreational trail. But what draws me back time and again is the bare edge that reveals its origin. I find my ground here, where these bulldozed ruins meet the lake. Concrete poles stacked like logs, headlands of broken roads, beaches made of bricks, and thickets of rebar.

Everything here is the city.

Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes it strikes, other times it sits quietly and waits for me to match speeds with it.

The next image is “Snapped”

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Years ago, at the end of 2019, I was fed up with the camera-hobby that passes for photography. People who know nothing about craft demanding the very best technology; photos that don’t capture interest having Art added in post with presets and sliders. I wanted something else, so my goal for 2020 was to see if I could use black and white film for the kinds of photos I already knew I enjoyed.

Early results were reinvigorating – then everything came to a halt.

During the first lockdown I only ventured out with a camera once. The photos that I took were boring, the same as always, completely out of step with my experience of the time. Doing what I had always done didn’t mean anything any more; it probably never did, but that had never mattered. Discovering the hollowness of my previous photography required a new response.

I didn’t have the energy for that. The next image is “Bent”

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Starting in the second half of 2020 I’ve come back to photography in two ways.

Inspiration struck with my Convolution series, with its layered anxiety channelling so many of my negative reactions. I was stuck in a smaller and newly-frightening world.

But that’s not all there is, not the only reactions I’ve had. There’s also accommodation and compassion, which finds room when some of the frustration ends. This is not about me. It was never about me. Rekindling my interest in pinhole photography was the inspiration that sits quietly, waiting for me to slow down so that I could catch up with it. It’s recognizing that I can let go without giving up.

The next image is “Everywhere”

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It’s fond nonsense, of course, but I feel like a pinhole takes a bit less from the world that I already ask too much of.

The diffusion of a pinhole may seem like an odd choice for a difficult situation, a difficult moment, but it’s the contrast that makes it a compliment. It sees the world differently, with a greater depth and a deeper sense of time, experiencing the essence instead of the details. There’s a gentleness there that I need to practice, with myself and with my surroundings.

Inviting an image into these simplest cameras is an interaction to be experienced, not a challenge to be conquered. There’s no virtue to cleverness, and nothing to outsmart. I can’t elide the world with a wide aperture or a long lens. I can’t impose some incisive opinion before motor-driving to the next scene. All I can do is understand my camera, choose its position, and decide the time. There’s nothing more.

The next image is “Resting”

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Trying something new can break a cycle or surmount a rut. And this particular new approach reflects a very different mindset, even as it’s part of the ongoing experience.

Over two decades I’ve used almost every camera and lens I’ve ever owned out on the Spit, in every weather and at every time of day and night. Photo after unsatisfying photo that imperfectly show nothing more than bits of what it looks like. These pinhole photos, all recorded within the past couple of months, are the first ones that show a bit of how it feels.

Last year started with me finding inspiration by merely swapping my digital camera for a film one. Along the way everything changed, leaving me stranded to find new understanding in the same scenes that I’ve seen for years. Now I’m creating photos that would have been impossible before, and that look unlike what I’ve done before. Yet these results are “me” in ways that nothing else has previously been.

This isn’t all I’ll ever do, but for now, it’s where I find inspiration.