Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Why Do We Take Pictures

That sounds quite presumptuous, rather grandiose and perhaps provocative.  Well, that 's intentional.  

I’d like to try and explain (or begin to explain) an idea my wife and I have been talking about for quite some time now.  Yes, I could have called this post Why do I take pictures - but I do feel that there’s some commonality between many of us, if not all of us.

It is a grand topic and idea that I will not be able to complete here this morning, but a start it is.  

In addition to the main question, I might as well add - why do I have to share this very idea ?  Am trying to provoke an argument, well not really, do I really know why you take a picture, maybe not, is this just click bait, maybe.

As many of you know I take a lot of pictures and more recently, shoot a lot of video.  I love learning technology, researching new equipment, watching videos on the finer details of photo editing and sharing the finished product with friends, family and everyone.  I enjoy looking at my photos quite often and that may be enough of a reason to take pictures, but choosing what to share with others, how frequently and how much and how it’s communicated are questions that occupy my thoughts on a regular basis.  

But I’ve got a little ahead of the idea.  Or is it a catch 22.

Never in the history of the world, have so many pictures been taken by so many people.

That’s a fact.

A massive number of people hold a smartphone today this is is capable of taking good photographs, high quality video and a lot of it.  It’s rather naughty that Apple makes Live Photos and HDR default settings and it doesn’t take much to accidentally take a burst of 10 shots.  That is a big part of the problem I’m beginning to address in a roundabout way.  I don’t think the title of this post would make sense to someone 50 years ago, taking photographs with an old-fashioned film camera was done by regular people as a way to document their lives, showing a child growing up, commemorating important landmarks or recording a beautiful vacation experience.  Yes, professional photographers have always taken pictures for editorial reasons, art and advertising.  Some keen hobbyists and what are today called “enthusiasts” take pictures in hopes of creating art, or being an informal news source or making a few dollars on the side with product photography.  But what about the vast majority of empowered people snapping 100 photos a week. 

I’m talking about the 10 photos of your pet, another 6 of the sunset, 4 close-ups of your tastiest meal and 20 test selfie shots after your new haircut (or for that matter with your big bushy beard).  And that’s just one day!  The photos of our gatherings with family and friends have sadly declined drastically in these pandemic times and I hope that it won’t be very long until we enjoy those days again - and that will indeed be a great reason to take lots of pictures!  But today, even while we’re stuck at home and within a 5 mile radius of our homes, we’re still taking huge amounts of pictures that take time to organize and require huge amounts of computer storage to keep.  All of your friends and most of your family probably don’t want to see all those 100 photos and I’m sure you get a little tired continuously scrolling through them all to find that special shot.  I actually feel the problem may have gotten so bad that some people just don’t take any pictures at all.  I’d go as far as saying some people take less digital pictures today than they did when they had to take a roll into the drug store for processing.

We take pictures to make a memory of something.  We also take pictures for the very purpose of sharing that memory with someone else, someone that isn’t with us.

In the old days you may recall a few occasions where you sent a printed photograph to your best friend or you received a few photos in the mail from a distant relative or penpal.  But for the most part, photographs were shared in the home - pictures of loved ones still hang on many living room walls and I’m sure many people have at least one photo album or a shoebox of old photographs that they get out when a friend visits.  That’s very different to today’s world, where you can easily share 20 photos of a walk in a park on Facebook.  I do feel some of the social media sites are getting a little better at managing the flow of photo content with features like “stories”.   However many (older) people don’t know how to use these new features and don’t get me started about people that email a dozen jpeg files to 10 people.

In my work life, one thing I help customers with is the challenge of managing massive amounts of data and part of my messaging is you can’t manage data and reap its rewards without first understanding it.  I think I can use this in relation to the topic of managing personal photos.   To better manage the huge amount of photos we take, we need to understand what value they have for ourselves and for others. 

What if we thought of this in reverse?  In order to understand why we take pictures, think of the end result - what will you do with the picture.  Will the picture be valuable to tell a short timely story or be part of your life story, does it show the world in a unique way, does it capture something important for your family or is it a way to convey love or tell someone you’re thinking of them.   Even it’s just for you, that’s perfectly fine, take the picture, keep it and enjoy looking at it.  But if you feel it’s worth sharing, maybe explain its meaning more clearly and attach a story to a singular photo of the event.  I’ve begun to understand that a picture doesn’t have to be perfect to capture a memory, like this one I took I Sunday.  But if we clutter our social feeds and our disk drives with hundreds and thousands of pictures that are so similar that the story or beauty is lost, that’s a shame.

I’d like to share this picture.

Technically, it’s quite good, correctly exposed, nice contrast and the primary subject (my happy wife) is in perfect focus and the background has some nice bokeh.  It includes a reflection that I always like to incorporate in complex compositions and it captures what I like to do - take pictures and take pictures of my wife.  There are some more subtle parts of the picture that speak more to my personality like I’m wearing a new Adidas top I really like and I’m shooting with my new camera and a brand-new lens.  My wife is wearing her Bose noise cancelling headphones that she loves and wears much more often than she thought she would.  She’s smiling and happy because she’s on an online session with a friend or learning something that she’s passionate about.  She’s in our study - a part of our old house that she’s getting more use out of and enjoying standing at her Varidesk.  There’s a lot I see when I look at this picture and it tells a number of stories and it’s why I take pictures and why I’m sharing it with you.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Sharing explanations of the US electoral college voting system

Although I’m a Canadian, I have a strong interest in the presidential race happening south of the border.  I suspect many other Canadians or other people around the world share this interest. It seems for me that every 2 years (votes for congress) and every four years I have decode the basics of the US government structure and it’s voting and electoral systems.

I started with Wednesday’s episode of the New York Times Daily podcast - The Shadow of the 2000 Election.  This episode explains the issues in Florida in 2000 with iffy voting systems, legal battles and the media’s impact and why GW Bush became president.  I’m afraid it paints a pretty dark picture of what could very likely happen next week.

I then listened to another Daily podcast from last week - A Peculiar Way to Pick a President.  This one explains the origins of the electoral college system and potential ways to make the US presidential election more fair with the National Popular Vote Compact (NPVC).

And finally, I got most of my questions answers by a well-written and illustrated article in the Guardian - Electoral college explained: how Biden faces an uphill battle in the US election.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Memories of the Queen Mother Cafe

I don’t recall the first time I ever walked through the doors of this unique Queen Street West Cafe and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve returned, but the Queen Mother Cafe (208 Queen Street West) is one of my favourite local Toronto landmarks.  So many memories of enjoying a cozy lunch, raving about their Pad Thai, asking if they had that special pie, rendezvousing with friends and remarking on the interesting selection of wall art.  It’s the kind of place where we Torontonians like to talk about how great our city is.  It’s often times a stop when shopping on Queen Street and it used to be a regular lunch spot for my wife and I when I was working downtown.  

My wife just read a great article in the Toronto Star about their history and surviving through this year’s pandemic times.  A wonderful coincidence we found out through the article is that the restaurant opened 42 years ago today, which was the day after I arrived in Canada from England. 

I’ve always loved the way the cafe is situated on the street with the large welcoming windows.  I actually used it as my cover photo for my photography book Urban Colour and Contrast: Toronto.

The last time I was there was with my Australian cousin and her husband on a bitterly cold January lunchtime in 2019.  I think I’ve taken a few visitors and family members there over the years and as it turned out, my cousin said I’d taken her there during one of her previous visits years before.  No worries, we all enjoyed our lunch - again.

I recall that the cafe was always busy and we often worried we wouldn’t find a table.  I’m not certain of the magic, but we always did get a table and was always served by its friendly staff.

Hoping to visit again when we get past these pandemic times.