Olympic island, June 2019 - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

On the afternoon of May 29, 2019, Lake Ontario crested at the highest level yet recorded: 76.027 metres, a full metre above where its shores can usually be found. Carp and ducks displaced the picnickers and seagulls, leaving this normally crowded spot almost empty. While some of the tables and chairs had been stacked on higher ground, many remained in place and submerged.

These photos were taken over the course of two days in early June. The lake was hovering just below its crest, averaging 75.9m, which – if you will forgive my mixing my measurements – put Olympic Island under about a foot of water. But the days were sunny, and the shallower water was pleasantly warm, although it became too cold to endure closer to the main body of the Toronto harbour. The plants and breaking waves show where the shoreline would normally be.

Two views of the same chairs. The curved image is panorama from a spherical camera, while the conventional image shows the scene in a more relatable way. The high ground to the right extends along the eastern edge of the island; aside from this only a small section near the bridge to Centreville remained above water.

For a sense of space these chairs are barely visible in the fourth photo of this set – just in front and to the left of the CN Tower. That photo places us near the far side of Olympic Island, away from the city, in a field filled with fish.

Photos for this series are from four cameras and two days. 

Where the water is smooth the culprit is my big Fuji XH1, properly held on a tripod with darkening filters on the lens. This remains one of my very favourite methods, so it's what I started with. But for my return visit I brought only small cameras: the Fujifilm XT100, Ricoh Theta, and my Zeiss Ikon loaded with Ilford Delta 100 film. All of the monochrome images are from the rangefinder.

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