Last Christmas, Tom gave me a gift of a long weekend in Toronto, Ontario, and last weekend, we made the trip.
On Friday, we hopped on our flight out of Newark, NJ at 10:30 a.m. and touched down in Toronto before noon. A quick drop off of the luggage at our hotel, and we were walking toward Little Italy in no time, the perfect place to be on Good Friday. As we ate our lunch, we watched the crowds gather for the annual Easter Parade, while the parade’s Grand Marshall enjoyed his pasta across the room.
The audience is gathering on College Avenue.
On Saturday, we jumped onto a streetcar for a ride downtown from our hotel on West Queen Street West. The route we took, the 501, is almost 25 km of track from start to finish. The streetcars, nicknamed Red Rockets, are gorgeous! I like the complicated wires they create overhead. (This was shot on Sunday, on Spadina Avenue looking south.)
We were headed toward the Distillery District. As we entered the District, we were greeted by these two sculptures. They remind me of the creatures that came to life in Guillermo del Toro’s movie “Pan’s Labyrinth.” I wouldn’t want to meet either in a dark alley.
The Distillery District is a group of 47 Victorian industrial buildings, once known as the Gooderham & Worts Distillery. The buildings were carefully restored a decade ago using 19th century materials merged with modern materials and green technologies. Today, the District is a wildly popular cultural center, housing theaters, design shops, art galleries, and restaurants. It’s beautiful!
Did you notice that the buildings are made of brick?
Because Toronto is built on a former lake bed (it’s perched on the edge of Lake Ontario), brick has always been cheap and plentiful. Don Valley Brick Works, which is now closed, provided bricks for thousands of commercial, industrial and residential structures in the city. Today, brick is still the most popular choice for residential construction.
We noticed the brickwork right away. On the street, these two beauties caught my eye.
Although brick is a simple, humble material, masons use it with great skill to create architectural interest with clever use of pattern, direction, texture and color.
Look at this! Bricks in a circle, bricks stepping down, arching over a door, playing horizontal movement against vertical, you name it.
The same techniques used on simple houses are used on fancy ones. An equal opportunity material! On this modest home, notice the way the teeth of the pattern wrap around the side of the house, how altering the brick’s direction creates architectural interest over the windows and how base of the house lifts up by using lighter bricks below.
On this grand house, some of the same methods are used but with more detail, along with horizontal bands and playful patterns below the edge of the roof.
It looks like these neighbors couldn’t agree on the preferred design.
We stayed in the Art and Design District, formerly a derelict part of the city, resuscitated by artists 25 years ago. Today, it houses the largest concentration of art galleries in the city, along with a slew of little shops, bar, clubs, restaurants, and the Musuem of Contemporary Canadian Art.
I liked the murals that were scattered along the streets and alleyways.
One of the things that we noticed about Toronto is that much of its original architecture is in place. Although there are plenty of shiny new high rises, many of its industrial buildings have been restored for commercial and residential use, while the hundreds of three-story mixed use buildings that line the avenues have been neglected instead of replaced. It makes for a dynamic combination of old and new.
This former industrial buildings is now full of residential lofts.
The warmth and history of the neighborhoods are preserved with the survival of these quietly worn little store fronts (notice the brick!)
On Sunday, we enjoyed a tasty brunch before heading over to Kensington Market. Kensington Market is a living history of Toronto’s reputation as one of the most multicultural cities in the world. The market is a dynamic mish mash of spice stores, fruit and vegetable stands, clothing and vintage shops, restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, on Easter Sunday morning, it was quiet as a mouse, so back on the streetcar we went, making our way toward the CN Tower, which looms over the downtown core.
At 1,814 feet, the Tower is the fifth largest freestanding structures in the world. Originally conceived as a telecommunications tower, somebody woke up and smelled the money and realized it would be a great tourist destination. Thus modified, it now attracts millions of visitors a year. No big surprise, since the views are incredible.
Looking to the northeast, straight into the downtown center.
Looking west, that’s Lake Ontario.
Then it was time to head back home. Even though we saw only small slices of this city, the biggest in Canada, we loved its warmth, friendliness, diversity, great transit system and good food. We’ll be back.
Central Park has a charming little zoo near 65th Street, just off of Fifth Avenue. I love the sea lions who zoom around their tank with effortless grace, flying out of the water and splatting precisely onto boulders when their caretakers appear with big buckets of fish. The zoo is also home to penguins, polar bears, snow leopards, monkeys and other exotica.
But my favorite animals in the Park aren’t in the zoo. Central Park is prime property for finding all kinds of fauna; they just happen to be in the form of sculpture, some in prominent spots, others tucked into corners. Here’s a little tour.
These three bronze bears, creatively titled “Group of Bears,” protect a small playground near Fifth Avenue and 79th Street. Kids love climbing onto them and rubbing their bronze fur. They were sculpted by Paul Manship, cast in 1960 and unveiled in 1990, a gift from Samuel Friedman in memory of his wife, Pat. I like them because they have a soft, rounded, teddy bearish quality, yet at the same time are realistic enough to seem fierce.
This dog with his bow hunting companion are foraging just northeast of the Carousel. The sculpture, by John Quincy Adams Ward, is called “The Indian Hunter” and made the artist’s reputation. It’s not hard to understand why. Both figures have an amazing energy, radiating the intensity of their focus, every perfectly defined muscle and tuft of fur engrossed by the hunt. It was placed in 1869, the first sculpture by an American to be sited in the Park.
“The Falconer” sits high on a stone outcropping on the south side of the 72nd Street transverse road, just west of Bethesda Terrace. It’s the work of the British sculptor George Blackall Simonds and was dedicated in 1875. The Falconer has been a popular target for mischief. It almost fell over in 1937 before it was shored up, its falcon was replaced in 1957 and after further abuse, the sculpture was removed all together. In 1982, it returned with a new arm and yet another falcon, then was repatinated in 1995. Whew! That’s one beloved statue. It reminds me of the real hawks and other raptors who live in the Park and sometimes silently swoop by.
This is the famous Balto, who helped run a diphtheria vaccine to Nome, Alaska through a raging blizzard. The story goes like this: in January 1925, Alaskan doctors were worried that a diptheria epidemic was going to spread to the children in Nome, and had to find a way to get the medicine from Anchorage, nearly a thousand miles away. Because trains didn’t run that far north and the only available airplane had a frozen engine, more than 20 teams of sled dogs were coordinated to make the trip in treacherous conditions. Balto lead the final team, and became a national hero.
His sculpture, by animal sculptor Frederick Roth, is slightly larger than life size and was installed in Central Park less than a year later. Little kids love to climb onto his back for their photo. His ears, tongue, tail and back are bright and shiny thanks to their attention.
These beautifully formed birds are part of the stairway at Bethesda Terrace. There are dozens of animals carved into the stonework of the Terrace, many found in the panels and pillars flanking the stairs.
The decorative elements for the Terrace, which depict seasonal and wildlife motifs, were designed by English-born Jacob Wrey Mould and carved from soft sandstone. As you can see above and below, the stone is heavily weathered in areas; the Central Park Conservancy actually has a sculptor who cares for the carvings. What a cool job! You can see in the photo below where the snout of the deer has been repaired.
In some of the stone pillars, carvings represent the passing day. The crowing rooster symbolizes morning while the owl, who has a little stone bat flying out to his right, symbolizes night.
Just south of the Terrace, if you walk towards the Sheep Meadow, you’ll pass these two huge eagles squabbling over an unlucky goat. This is the bronze “Eagles and Prey,” designed and created by Christophe Fratin, cast in 1850 and placed in 1863, making it the oldest known sculpture in any New York City park. The detail on the birds is incredible; every single feather is perfectly defined, giving the birds a spirit of power and strength. You can practically hear the wind whistling as they beat their huge wings.
This plump eagle is part of a monument just north of the sculpture above. I couldn’t find any information about him, but I like his stoic demeanor and carefully rendered feet.
This beautiful, whimsical bear is just north of the Zoo. Created by the same artist who sculpted Balto and named “Honey Bear,” he dances on his hind legs as he licks at the invisible bees buzzing around his ears.
My favorite part of this sculpture? Honey Bear is part of a fountain! A basin sits beneath him, perfect little frogs spewing water at his feet.
Here we are at the famous Alice in Wonderland statue, next to the Conservatory Water at 74th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Of course, Alice is from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic story, and here she sits on a giant mushroom next to the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit and the Dormouse, inviting children to climb on up, which they enthusiastically do, polishing the surface smooth.
The bronze sculpture is eleven feet tall, commissioned by George Delacorte and designed by Jose de Creeft in 1959, based on John Tenniel’s Victorian illustrations from the first edition of the book. Alice’s face is based on Creeft’s daughter, Donna. The Mad Hatter is a caricature of Delacorte.
Such beautiful surface texture. The most playful part of the work is its placement within plaques on the surrounding terrace, inscribed with lines from a grab bag of Carroll’s fanciful poems. The finest is “The Jabberwocky,” a fantastic poem of linguistic acrobatics. “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: all mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe.” Try getting that past auto-correct!
Just a few steps away from Alice is Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.” This adorable sculpture, which, correct me if I’m wrong, doesn’t look anything like the baby swan he’s supposed to be, is also rubbed bright and shiny by happy hands. The sculpture marks the spot for children’s story telling hour on summer Saturday mornings. Yes, I’ve gone. It’s great!
We’ll finish up with my all-time favorite, the sculpture that inspired this blog, a gorgeous life-size bronze cougar called “Still Hunt.” Sculpted by the famous American artist Edward Kemeys, she sits on a high rock outcropping on the west side of the East River drive as it ascends Cedar Hill, tucked against the foliage, so realistic that she startles unsuspecting runners puffing their way northward. She was placed in 1883, her sinuous tail stolen in 1974. Happily, the tail was replaced in 1988 and she continues to stare down from her perch.
So the next time you’re walking through the park, take a look around. A bronze animal just might be watching you!
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I did not die.
On Thanksgiving, in memory of old friends.
From the top, Max, who came to us late in his life as a city dog and grew to love his new world as a country squire, and who astonished my previously petless parents when he stole their hearts away;
Oscar, who lived up to his grouchy Sesame Street namesake, yet never wavered in his chatty affection for almost 20 years;
Baxter, who looked so fierce that pedestrians would scatter before him, yet was the most sweet and gentle of souls;
and the incomparable Saunter, Baxter’s friend, my sister’s beloved companion, intrepid world traveler, bold defender of her family and who loved crawling under the covers on a cold winter’s night.
p.s. The poem is by Mary Elizabeth Frye, written in 1932.
What inspires us to make art? How do we decide which tools to use? How do we learn?
One of the ways we learn how to be artists is by imitation. Maybe we’re inspired by the way someone works with paint, bronze, fiber, words, paper or light. Maybe we’re taught a certain style in school, or perhaps we want to be as successful as our favorite artist and mimic their style, thinking it will help us become successful as well.
One of the reasons that I began to work with a Diana camera was because of a book that I stumbled across called “Angels at the Arno” by Eric Lindbloom, a portfolio of Diana images shot over an eight year period in Florence, Italy. I had never seen photos with this kind of a timeless, eerie, ghostly mood, so velvety, tactile and lush. I had to try it myself.
After I’d been shooting with Dianas for a couple of years, I took a trip to Florence, but didn’t consult the book before we left, worried that I would find and imitate his shots. The photos in this post are from that trip.
After we returned, I picked up the book again. I was surprised to see that I’d shot some of the same places from the same angles, but he came in much closer to the subjects. I was a bit removed, he was completely comfortable and familiar, shooting details, off on side streets, climbing through gardens. He really knew Florence; the city flowed through him in a special way. I was only visiting.
Instead of feeling discouraged, I learned a couple of things. One, that he had taught me how to see in a new way by using a Diana camera. And two, that it wasn’t enough.
Imitation is easy, and it’s a great way to learn, but it isn’t fulfilling. That spark of excitement, of discovering a place in my own way, was missing.
How to solve this? Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Shoot pictures wherever I go. And one day, if I’m open and curious, patient and persistent, the places I love will flow through me.
Something I’ve found helpful in my photography is returning to the same places over and over again.
When I photograph while traveling, I’m energized by new landscapes and subjects. At the same time, though, I’m mildly frustrated by what feels like the superficial nature of my pictures. I shoot whatever catches my eye and then move on, lacking the time to return to the same spots repeatedly to get to know them better. It’s like snorkeling along the surface without ever taking a dive, or like trying to take a portrait of a stranger. I can make a pretty image, but I don’t know if I’ve captured the true character of my subject, while I do know that with more time, I could find a real connection.
In Central Park, on the other hand, I can take my time. Bow Bridge, probably the most famous bridge in the park, is a favorite spot. I’ve spent years photographing it, in all its seasons and moods.
By coming back to Bow Bridge over and over again, I lose the pressure of trying to take one perfect picture and gain the luxury of time. I know when it will be crowded and when it will be empty, how its reflection will change, how far away I need to be to get the entire span of the bridge into the shot, when the morning sun will light up its eastern side and when the setting sun will leave it in shadow.
Revisiting a spot is like developing a friendship. I’ll start off a bit reserved, observing from a distance, but then a short while later I’m scrambling over rocks while hanging onto tree branches to get a closer look at a different angle.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve shot in Central Park so much that there’s nothing left to shoot, but of course that isn’t true.
If I think of Bow Bridge as a living thing, bright and cheerful one day, somber and dark another, crowded with boisterous tourists on a Sunday afternoon, empty and still at dawn, I realize that I could shoot it forever because it is ever changing.
A few years ago, it was my brother-in-law’s 50th birthday. In celebration, he invited a group of friends and family for a week of skiing in Zermatt, Switzerland.
This is the town of Zermatt, which has a beautiful rocky stream running through its center. That’s the Matterhorn, blazing white in the morning light.
I hadn’t skied in twenty years, but I wasn’t worried about that. I had a bigger question: how was I going to take a camera skiing with me? My Diana camera no less, loaded with film, with its thin plastic body held together by tape? Was this a dumb idea?
Why not give it a whirl? I wanted to take pictures from as high up on the slopes as possible, and tucked my camera into my jacket, the film side of the camera flat against my belly for warmth. Luckily my ski jacket had a tight closure along the bottom, so at least the camera wouldn’t fall out.
Here’s the Matterhorn. It was wild to ski past this iconic mountain. Look at the cloud hanging out just in front of it! The summit of the Matterhorn is 14,670 feet high and its four faces face the compass points. It’s one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps; more than 500 people have died trying to climb its slopes.
I wasn’t worried about my death, I was worried about the death of my camera if I fell over and squished it. Here’s another photo of the Matterhorn from a different angle.
As someone who grew up in Montreal and learned to ski as a child, where our instruction included how to ski safely over rippled sheets of ice, I’d never encountered powder before. This snow was like icing on a cake, thick, white vanilla frosting, rich and creamy, luxurious and lush. With no ice to skitter over, I was skiing in slow motion. Besides making me hungry for baked goods, this snow meant that falling over ended in a soft, pillowy landing. There was no rock-hard ice to smack down onto, just acres of sumptuous softness. My camera was safe!
This view is looking toward Gornergrat, the mountain to the northeast, where we skied on our first day.
The trouble with shooting landscapes like this is the lack of scale. Is that a pebble or a boulder? Still, I like the textures of the rocks and snow.
Here’s the cliff I didn’t fall over.
And the view of the valley, Zermatt with its snow-covered rooftops nestled below.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever go skiing in a place like this again, but it was good to know that as long as I was skiing on snow like this, my camera would live a long, adventurous life.
My nephew, Lukas, recently turned seven. Although I’ve documented the events of my sister’s life for the past 20 years or so, with Lukas, I can start almost at the beginning. Because my sister was living in Australia at the time, Lukas and I first met when he was nine months old. The photo below is one of the first shots I took of the two of them together.
Throughout that first visit, I brought my camera with me wherever we went. Below is part of a contact sheet; we’re watching his father playing tennis. Sorry about those big white dots, those are the holes I punched to store the sheet in a binder. I’m lucky that my sister is completely unselfconscious about being photographed, which results in many photos that I really like. My favorite is the 34th frame.
We still live far apart, so we don’t see one another often, but whenever Lukas and I are together, I shoot. Below is a portrait from his most recent visit last Christmas. It’s one of the few shots I have where he isn’t smiling. I like the gravity of his expression. One day I’ll look back and see decades of his life documented. I love that idea.
One of the trickiest things to learn when shooting pinhole photos is how far away you need to be from your subject in order to get it in the frame. Part of this is understanding the relevance of the focal length of the camera, which is the distance from the lens (in this case, the actual pinhole, which allows light to enter the camera) to the focal point (in this case, the negative, a piece of photographic paper stuck inside the camera, opposite the pinhole).
The smaller the focal length becomes, the more the light has to bend for the image to come into focus on the negative. The more the light bends, the wider the angle of view becomes. So the shallower the pinhole camera, the greater the bend, and the wider the shot. Ergo, if you want to take a picture of something tall, use a shallow camera.
As you can see from the photo below, which chops off the entire top of the St. Jean Baptiste Church on Lexington Avenue while providing a fine photo of pavement, it took me a while to figure this out.
Again, gorgeous pavement! This is the Ralph Lauren building on the corner of Madison and 72nd and is less chopped off, but still too cropped. Another challenge of shooting on the street is finding a stable surface to put the camera on for 30-60 seconds, so the sidewalk is often the best solution, which results in low angles.
Sometimes I overcompensate and end up too far away.
Although the entire Park Avenue church below is in the frame, again, that sidewalk isn’t too attractive and the composition is a yawn. However, this is a good example to illustrate how in a pinhole photo, everything from the tiniest stone to a distant tower is in focus.
Okay, finally in the frame, nice balance with the foreground, but another glitch: the wind! So much for sharpness in this shot; one little gust and it’s all over.
Here I’m starting to get the hang of it. This is the jaw-dropping Ansonia apartment building on the Upper West Side and I’m about half a block away. Not crazy about the cars in the foreground, but pleased that the tower isn’t cut off.
Eventually, I realized that I would have better results with a shallower camera and built one. The previous shots are taken with pinhole cameras that are about 4 x 5 inches (10 x 13 cm) with a depth of 2 inches (5 cm). My new camera was 3 x 6 inches (7.5 x 15 cm) with a depth of 1/2 of an inch (1.25 cm). Holy moly! What a difference.
The building below, on the corner of 66th and Madison, is one of my favorite Upper East Side prewar apartment houses, with a beautiful cylinder of windows creating the corner of the building. It’s ten stories high, and I’m straight across the street. The downside is that because the camera is so shallow, its exposure time is much shorter than my other cameras, often 10 seconds or less. This allows people to appear in the photos, instead of disappearing as they do in a longer exposure.
I thought it would be fun to try the ultimate test, a skyscraper. The subject is the gorgeous Seagram building on Park Avenue and 53rd, designed by the fabulous Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson in 1958. Yes, 1958! Hello, modernism! Such a fantastic building, and although it’s shot from partway down the block, the camera is on the ground and almost the entire building is in the frame. Look at the height! 38 stories tall measuring 516 feet, to be exact. The building next door made it all the way into the frame. Mission accomplished! To avoid those pesky pedestrians, I shot in the early morning on a weekend.
Of course there are days when I’m not in the mood to fuss and I use that old tried and true method of making sure something’s in the frame: just back up. Here’s the lovely Plaza Hotel, shot from Gapstow Bridge in Central Park.