TO2015 Tally

And so, that is that. The Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games are finished, and I’ve retired my photo credentials and numbered vest. With as little regret as possible I’ve given back the very nice equipment I borrowed from Nikon Photo Services, and I’m left with an enormous pile of photographs to sort through. Which isn’t really a bad problem to have.

TO2015 - Souvenirs

There’s plenty more to write: about my credential courtesy of the City of Hamilton (host city for Pan Am soccer); some of the amazing athletes I had the privilege of watching; the always good-natured and highly effective corps of volunteers and security; the wonderful venue photo managers and their assistants; the good-humoured police and EMS officers at each site; and of course the three friends I had the pleasure of shooting the soccer with. And all of the other events I made my way to in between.

In the meantime, though, I’ll start with the easy stuff: a lazy-blogger’s list of Things From The Games.

Thirteen events:

TO2015 Pan Am Games - archery, July 16
Some very serious archers.

Five venues:

TO2015 Pan Am Games - soccer, July 19, 2015
The soccer field, from on high.

Four medal ceremonies:

  • Men’s 50m pistol
  • Men’s 50m prone rifle
  • Women’s soccer
  • Men’s soccer

TO2015 Pan Am Games - shooting, July 17, 2015
Happy Brazilians – double gold in target shooting.

Six lenses:

Four camera bodies:

  • trusty old Nikon D5000 – the main workhorse
  • borrowed, and even older, Nikon D200 – some use
  • loaner Nikon D810 – borrowed for 7-a-side soccer, why not? Massive pixel count.
  • loaner Nikon D4 – borrowed for wheelchair basketball. A low light, machine-gunning monster.

Five purchased souvenirs:

  • one official Hudson’s Bay Company Team Canada ball cap
  • two TO2015 T-shirts (shamelessly bought at 50% off toward the end of the games)
  • two stuffed Pachi mascots, gifts for the children of the kind friend who lent me her second camera (the D200) to replace my terminally-ailing second shooter D70S.

TO2015 - Wheelchair Basketball, Canada vs. Brazil
Pachi, in the flesh (more or less).

Two credentials: one for Pan Am, one for Parapan Am. They are different colours.

Dozens of free granola bars consumed, and an unknown number of bottles of water and cups of coffee.

One tired scientist photographer.

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Busy, busy, busy – the Pan Am games are here!

As of Friday, Toronto and places near it are officially in the throes of the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. And I find myself with (a) a full media photographer’s credential, (b) access to every single competition venue, and (c) a distinct lack of time to take advantage of it.

My involvement is the end of a somewhat confusing story involving my six years of work covering the Toronto IndyCar race weekend, coupled to a relationship with the City of Hamilton, which is hosting the soccer competitions. No, I neither live nor work in Hamilton – told you it was confusing. But I will be at the soccer finals, and some other matches, as well as other events here and there at the venues scattered around the Greater Toronto Area (and beyond), as time permits.

Things kicked off for me back in April, with the unveiling of Team Canada’s uniforms. Produced by the Hudson’s Bay Company and riffing on classic combinations of red, white, black and grey, they were modelled in the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio by a very photogenic selection of athletes. Even Chef de Mission Curt Harnett busted out some runway moves.

Scott and Michelle - HBC Pan Am collection unveil, Toronto 2015Curt Harnett walks the walk - HBC uniform unveil, Toronto 2015

And then a wait, as the credentialing process continued – until the arrival a few weeks ago of my card. One quick trip to the main press centre at Pan Am Park (cunningly renamed from Exhibition Place) and I was ready to go.

But – before the competition, or at least the parts of it I’m photographing – an event closer to home, at least that aspect of “home” that is where I work. On its way across Canada, the Pan Am torch made its way to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, carried for the final 200-metre stint by someone really inspiring: Myles Lynch, a Cystic Fibrosis patient. Next time you’re feeling as though you have difficulties, consider this: last year, he had a double lung transplant. This year, he jogged that torch right into the hospital atrium with a big grin plastered across his face, addressed a huge, noisy crowd of supporters, and hung around for photo ops with anybody and everybody. If you’d like to find out more about how to face adversity with grace, humour and not a small amount of grit, check out his Youtube channel.

Myles enters the hospital

Myles and the crowd - Pan Am torch relay 2015

Hand off - Pan Am torch relay

So that brings us to this weekend, where after scrambling a bit to borrow a second camera to replace one that died partway through the IndyCar weekend, I’m finally getting organized to get out and shoot some events. Let’s see how I do with it. In the meantime, I’m happy to point you at some fine examples from my good friend and shooting colleague Chris Tanouye, who was at the opening ceremonies and will be covering everything happening in the swimming pools. Here are some examples from the early  rounds of water polo and synchronized swimming, plus the men’s 10k open water.

Fun and games.

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Did someone say “cold”?

With whatever the current digital version of “mercury” is dipping to an overnight low of 25 below*, and an expected daytime high tomorrow of only two degrees higher, I for one am not planning on venturing outside unless I absolutely have to. Even though tomorrow is Family Day, a holiday of dubious provenance that I’ve lightly complained about before.

This prolonged cold snap is also having an effect on the local wildlife, it seems. Our local Cooper’s Hawk appeared yesterday, fluffing itself up against the cold while gobbling down a tasty meal to keep its metabolism ticking over nicely. I suspect the hapless victim was yet another Mourning Dove, a species that seems to spend most of its time sitting still and pretending nothing’s going to eat it. I’ve long since given up keeping score, but since first appearing some nine years ago or so, the hawks are definitely winning. Mis-identified in that blog post as a female Northern Harrier, our backyard visitors all along have almost certainly been juvenile Cooper’s. Bloodthirsty things.

Get out of my face!
“Get lost! It’s mine!”

Cooper's Hawk, calling
“…and I’m going to squawk about it!”

Cooper's Hawk, eating
“Tastes like chicken!

Guilty Face
“Who, me? I didn’t do nuffink, guv’nor!”

*Those are Celsius temperatures. For US-based readers, that’s minus 13 Fahrenheit. Still pretty cold.

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Holiday Snaps (lazy blogging)

In my usual way, with the Christmas break in full sway, I’ll more or less finish of the year with some lazy photo blogging. First up: Toronto’s Eaton Centre with the 1937 camera:

Black Friday, Eaton Centre, Toronto

And here’s Jill Barber, the mystery holiday chanteuse I alluded to previously:

Jill Barber, First Canadian Place, Toronto

And finally, here’s a view of Vancouver’s Coal Harbour district, from the visit to the conference that Cath just mentioned.

Vancouver waterfront

That’s it. I’ve got nothing more weighty than that to say. Happy 2015 everyone… a year in which you will find me skulking about with a camera or two again, and if we’re all very lucky, posting about some science as well.

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Cuban heat in downtown Toronto

On a day before a major snowfall on our neighbours just over the border in Buffalo, and an infuriating mix of snow and wind in Toronto:  some photos of Cuban-Canadian singer Adonis Puentes, and legendary Cuban Tres maestro Pancho Amat. With a sizzling band, a lunchtime slice of Latin music is just what the doctor ordered. Now Buffalo’s digging out, the sun has re-appeared in downtown Toronto, and I’m still astonished by Amat’s proficiency on the Cuban six-string. Puentes is no vocal slouch, either.

Adonis Puentes and Pancho Amat - FCP Toronto
The lunchtime crowd at First Canadian Place.

Pancho Amat and Adonis Puentes, FCP Toronto
Pancho gets stuck in.

Pancho Amat, FCP Toronto
“Can I play faster? Why yes, I think I can!”

Adonis Puentes, FCP Toronto
Adonis teaching the audience some Cuban lyrics.

Pancho and Adonis ham it up - FCP Toronto
Yes, these guys really are this much fun.

Next up: Sara Dell tomorrow, and a super-secret entertainer in early December.

All photographs copyright 2014 Richard F. Wintle for First Canadian Place. As usual, more in this Flickr set.

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DEDPXL recap

[Warning – this post contains, at the bottom, one image with mature content. Potential triggers: suicide, depression, addiction.]

Back in March of this year, I posted about how I’d jumped in to a new online photographic community named DEDPXL, run by Atlanta-based commercial photographer and educator Zack Arias. Zack et al. have, among other things, been running a series of assignments online, with participants able to submit images via Flickr, 500px, Instagram, Google+, and probably other routes I don’t remember at the moment.

The DEDPXL assignments are essentially a freebie photo course, with the possibility of a personal critique from Zack and Meghan Arias, along with an occasional guest commenter. Not all entries are critiqued, but hundreds per assignment are, in an entertaining video format. This yields a very deep dive into what works for the assignment, and what doesn’t. You can see the most recent one, for assignment number 6, here, and find the rest on the DEDPXL blog.

Much of what is fun about these assignments is the community feel – with contributors cross-commenting on each others’ pictures. Sometimes there are disagreements, sure, but on the whole it’s been healthy criticism, and refreshingly free of the banal “oh, I love this *FAVE*” kind of comments that are pervasive at Flickr and other photo sharing sites.

However… for the seventh assignment, the gloves are metaphorically off, because it’s the wrap-up and, for the first time, it’s a competition – with a rather tasty ~$6,000 medium format camera rig as a prize. The result being that the usually-convivial DEDPXL community has gone rather silent for the month of October, as everyone feverishly works on their top-secret projects. But now that the deadline for creating work has passed, photos are being posted and we’re all seeing what each other has been up to. More on that down below; you can read about the final assignment, watch the video, and drool over the prize (if that kind of thing turns your rewind crank) here. In the meantime, here’s a quick recap of the photos I liked best from my submissions for the first six assignments, and a peek at where I found myself when I hit “submit” on the final one earlier today.

DEDPXL01 – Lines
I’ve posted about this assignment previously. Finding lines to photograph isn’t difficult, as it turns out – but making a meaningful photograph out of them that isn’t simply a picture of something with lines in it is a different story. A story, I fear, that I didn’t end up telling particularly well. This one came midway through the assignment, on one of several trips through downtown Toronto’s Eaton Centre. The motion-blurred figures weren’t intentional, being a result of the slow shutter speed I needed in the dismal indoor light. I do rather like how they offset the rigidity of the lined pattern on the wall, however.
Crossing Lines - Eaton Centre, Toronto

DEDPXL02 – Repetitive Shape / Form / Pattern / Rhythm
This one is shot down from a balcony into an interactive space at work, and has had severe perspective correction to square things up. If only I’d thought to include a few people in it, perhaps lying on the ground as though sitting on the tables. It would have been helped by lining up the tables parallel with each other, too. Nevertheless, I kind of like the monochrome, abstract feel. Around about now, I was beginning to feel uncreative – the remedy to which you can read about here.
Tables, seating, shadows

DEDPXL03 – Shadows
The only halfway decent thing I could come up with for this theme, which on the face of it seemed like it would be easy, was a staircase outside Toronto’s City Hall. Again, a person or two on the stairs, or in the foreground, would help this, although I do find the abstract pleasing. I definitely fell into the trap of seeing an interesting shadow, rather than making an interesting picture that has shadows as an important element. Sigh.
Stairs, Nathan Phillips Square

DEDPXL04 – Get Low
This one was a bit of a fail. I’ve taken a number of ground-level photos of things in the past, but I just couldn’t come up with anything striking during the assignment’s time frame. Among a few feeble attempts of the undersides of fairground rides, this frog’s eye view of a frog was the best I could come up with.
Wood Frog, Desert Lake

DEDPXL05 – Reflections
Another failure I think. Plenty of reflections to be seen, but none where I could wrangle them into an interesting or meaningful composition. It was about now that I really felt like I was running out of steam. I did try some studio setups with bent reflective paper, and this is the best of them, channeling Salvador Dali a bit I suppose. But ultimately, it’s just a photograph of a clock with an interesting, wibbly-wobbly reflection, and no story told.

DEDPXL06 – The Egg
This one was a nice kick-start. Back into the studio and playing with light, for the classic “Photography 101” assignment. The diversity of approaches that the group came up with was astonishing. Although I played around with blue backgrounds and introducing motion, ultimately I landed on this as my favourite submission. Simple, clean, but with a slight twist in that the photograph depicts a scene that is more or less impossible, for a few reasons. This one also benefited from some direct feedback from Zack (and indirectly, his intern Bernard), so credit where credit is due. In the end, though… it’s just a picture of an egg (yes, just one – that’s one of the impossible aspects).
Egg pursuit 2

DEDPXL07 – The World Has Changed
This one requires a bit of explanation.

The brief called for not only something different – a concept, rather than a single type of element (lines, shadows) or specific subject (the egg). But it also specifically requires three elements to be present (or possibly, alluded to). First, there must be a human presence – a person, or a part of a person. Second, there must be some form of news delivery medium – a newspaper, television, laptop, smartphone, note, and so on. And third, there must be something spilled, or in the process of being spilled. All of these elements supporting the overall concept of “The World Has Changed”.

Sounds tricky? Yes, it was.

I think many of us participating began to run into similar problems. I know that I came up with a number of concepts that fit the theme and could easily include two of the three elements. Most often, the problem was coming up with a plausible reason for something to be spilled, beyond the obvious “oh my goodness look at that terrifying news story and oops I’ve spilled my coffee” gambit. My wife Louise, a creative force on her own, told me this evening that she came up with a number of concepts but all of them would have required considerable effort in building sets, or sourcing props and costumes. Which, truth be told, didn’t stop everyone in DEDPXL land, looking at some of the recent uploads.

After punting around a number of ideas, I eventually came up with this. I’ve never been as nervous about posting a photograph to Flickr as I was with this one. It’s a self-portrait, which is uncomfortable enough territory. It deals with a very worrying theme, and could potentially be a trigger for vulnerable viewers (for both suicide and addiction). And, of course, I’m letting it free into the DEDPXL group for adjudication by not only some A-list photographers, but also a very talented peer group who have already posted some tremendous contributions. But nevertheless, this is the best I could come up with, after dozens of test photographs. One thing that never changed from the beginning was the black and white treatment, though – I’d always visualized this in monochrome, although initially more as a gritty, newspaper-photo type of image.

Dear Gloria

And so there it is, released into the wilds of the DEDPXL assignment group, to be judged alongside the rest. Self-serving? Possibly. Unimaginative? Perhaps. Exploitive? Insensitive? Unrealistic? These are all possibilities, too. Take a look and see what others have come up with for this very open-to-interpretation assignment… and then head back and look at the older submissions as well. Regardless of the ultimate adjudication of this photo, at least I can say that DEDPXL has succeeded in fulfilling, for me, one of its aims – pushing me to create something I definitely  otherwise wouldn’t have.

All of my candidate and submitted photos for the whole series of DEDPXL assignments are in this Flickr collection.

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Non-science: Concert Photography in Downtown Toronto

I seem to be morphing, at least part of the time, into a concert photographer.

Kai - letting it rip at First Canadian Place
Toronto singer-songwriter Kai tears the roof off.

Let me explain. Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally headed down to the financial district to catch a lunchtime concert at First Canadian Place, the home of BMO Bank of Montreal. Since my first visit to see guitarist Colin James, I’d been a few times, work schedule and musical preferences permitting. After Colin James, I saw Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster, Toronto singer-songwriter Kai, and a couple of song-swap double bills: Mo Kenney with Melanie Brulée, and Royal Wood with Tyler Shaw. All of these were good shows, but the one artist that really blew my socks off was Nikki Yanofsky. Under the tutelage of none other than Quincy Jones, her latest album Little Secret is an astonishing mix of jazzy soul and modern crunchy beats. And her stage performance… well, she is most assuredly The Real Deal, and a very dynamic stage performer.

As usual, I photographed her with my DSLR, but also added some good old fashioned high-speed black and white film (Ilford Delta 3200, rated at ASA 1600, in a Pentax ME F wearing a Bushnell 135mm f/2.8 lens, if you care about the details). She was even kind enough to pose in front of her promotional poster, in between autographs.

Nikki Yanofsky, FCP, Toronto
Nikki Yanofsky, indulging a passing photographer.

Nikki Yanofsky - Delta 3200
The film version. Love that grainy goodness.

Being at least passingly social media-savvy, I tweeted out a photo or two, linking to my full Flickr set. Which, much to my surprise, resulted in me being hired to photograph the next upcoming act, country musician Jimmy Rankin. And after that, three more in the summer series, and another four this fall. Along the way, I also made time for two gigs by family friend Tori Hathaway, and a free concert on Canada Day by 80’s icons Glass Tiger and Honeymoon Suite – the first real rock concert I’ve been to in many a year. That show was just for fun, as a fan – but refreshingly, in broad daylight, rather than dim-even-when-it-looks-bright stage lighting.

So here I am half a year later, with twelve concerts under my belt in 2014, and a thirteenth scheduled in November. Compared with the two race weekends and one track day I’ve shot this year, that’s a lot – making me think that maybe I’m more of a concert photographer than an autosport one. Or maybe I’m still just a pretender, and some kind of scientist at heart. Whatever the truth, this has been a challenge, good fun, an opportunity to meet some amazingly talented artists, and a great reason to fight with that light again.

Jimmy Rankin, FCP Toronto
Jimmy Rankin
Pete Murray - FCP Toronto
Pete Murray
Alyssa Reid at First Canadian Place, Toronto.
Alyssa Reid
Nicole Rayy at First Canadian Place, Toronto
Nicole Rayy
Fernando Varela at FCP, Toronto
Fernando Varela
Canadian Opera Company at FCP, Toronto
Canadian Opera Company
Greg Hanna, Waterfall Stage, First Canadian Place Toronto
Greg Hanna
Tori Hathaway
Tori Hathaway
Glass Tiger - Canada Day 2014
Glass Tiger
Honeymoon Suite - Canada Day 2014
Honeymoon Suite

Next up: Adonis Puentes and Pancho Amat. Stay tuned.

All of my concert photos, including sets from each of the First Canadian Place gigs mentioned above, are in this Flickr collection.

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I’m a student, graduate student (found poem)

Coming to you from the twenty-first wonder that is automated voicemail audio-to-text transcription. I have used editorial license to slightly alter some words, and lightly apply punctuation and line breaks. I have not changed any names to protect the innocent – it seemed unnecessary.


I’m a student, graduate student
ID numbers just try mail
my name is Danny scan, and last week
I spoke to someone I believe

in your office for his name
but we were talking about

determining the facts of newborn pot
and we were actually talking about –

tester tester thinking that
I think you’re typing but then he
mentioned she “PCR” with me
she not specific to the light chrome
time home

I just wanted to ask you
a few questions because I looked up
literature in the protocol
quite unclear and I guess not –
determine test out again
and so I wanted to ask if you
could share with us the total call
and timer sequences I totally
understand if you can but
just wanted to discuss that with you –
please call me back if you can dial.

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Marooned on the Island

Not a desert island, mind you. Oh no – this “island” is a thin strip of land between pit lane and the front straight, the province of a select few photographers who absolutely need to take photographs of cars in front of key Toronto landmarks – the Princes’ Gate and the CN Tower – and of pit stops with grandstands full of fans in the background. That would be me, then, in my fifth year as a staff photographer for the Honda Indy Toronto, the annual visit of the Verizon IndyCar racing series to downtown Toronto.

Now, under normal circumstances, the island is somewhere you go at the beginning of the race, and don’t get to leave until one or two specific times much later on, since getting to and from it requires walking across the active part of pit lane. And also under normal circumstances, it’s hot and noisy, with shade provided only by a few spindly trees that have had many of their leaves plucked to improve visibility of the track. Saturday the 19th of July, 2014, however, did not count as “normal circumstances”. It was raining. A lot.

Marco Andretti - pit lane Toronto 2014

Now, any old sports photog will tell you that shooting race cars in the rain provides lots of dramatic opportunities. The spray from the wheels can add a wonderful element. But the CN Tower? What CN Tower?

Wet pace laps - Honda Indy Toronto 2014

Taku in the rain - Toronto 2014

The rain didn’t start off heavy. Early on, it was a mere drizzle, affording a crew member a certain air of gallantry in keeping his driver’s sign holder (the politically incorrect term is “grid girl”, I’m sorry to say) dry.

National Guard to the rescue!

And then the race began, under yellow flag conditions, the cars circulating behind a pace car driven by former Indy 500 double-winner Arie Luyendyk. Conditions became so bad that even an experienced shoe like Luyendyk managed to spin the pace car, which it turns out was rather ill-equipped with racing slicks rather than road tires. Driver Will Power also managed to loop his car, kissing the concrete wall near the pit lane entrance, resulting in his team performing a balletic, foot-powered recovery to the pits.

Pit lane recovery - Toronto 2014

And so began a parade of proceedings – a red flag, returning the cars to pit lane, and several iterations of back-on-track, back to the pit boxes, back into a starting grid, and so on. And a lot of waiting in between, while rain dribbled off my trademark Super-Excellent Photo Hat and onto my high-fashion $1.99 disposable drug-store rain poncho. If there is such a look as Goofy Photographer With Cobbled-Together Rain Protection, then I was certainly rocking it. No, there are no photographs. Be happy.

To add a certain hellish surreality to the proceedings, the PA system began playing, you guessed it, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, followed closely by one of my least favourite songs, Blind Melon’s “No Rain”. Fortunately, those in charge didn’t continue their trip through the catalogue of songs containing the word “rain”, electing instead for a stony silence punctuated with tidbits of discussion, none of which I can recall now.

Dripping wet, I kept shooting – a few photos of drivers and team owners discussing things, and one or two of better-heeled members of the media, like NBC Sports pit lane reporter Kelli Stavast, neatly tucked away under an awning and having a laugh.

Kelli Stavast shares a laugh - Toronto 2014

Eventually, after three hours or so of this, it became obvious that there just wasn’t going to be enough time left to hold a race. Even if the rain were to let up – which it didn’t.

Still, a small dose of cussedness on my part did result in a few memorable photos that I would have missed had I snuck off the island earlier: seven-time Toronto race winner, and now team owner, Michael Andretti talking things over, former series champion and Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya lurking under an umbrella, and one of the vehicles belonging to the crack Holmatro Safety Team reflected in the wet pavement of the front straight.

Mr. Andretti talks it over

Juan Pablo Montoya - Toronto 2014

Holmatro reflections - wet track in Toronto

And then, my best camera began to act up, its LCD screen staunchly refusing to display anything, and its autofocus system hunting around on its own, as if possessed. I suspect that even though it was well mummified in plastic bags, water from my hands had gotten into one or other of the shutter release buttons, tricking it into thinking it to be half-pressed. The probable culprit is my aftermarket battery grip – a plastic fantastic creation that’s about as far from weather sealed as my hat is.

I finally sent a testy text to my team leader, to which the almost immediate reply was: “Officially scrubbed. They just announced it in the media room.” I don’t know how much longer it took for this information to make its way over the PA system for the remaining soggy fans, but I was out of there like a shot, heading for the comfort of the media centre and its rapidly dwindling supply of coffee. Where, predictably, I found all of my colleagues, who’d bailed out hours earlier (fair enough – the ones who were supposed to be shooting grandstands full of enthusiastic fans, or cars racing around the track, really hadn’t had a whole lot to do. But really, now.)

And that was Saturday – a postponed race, leading the “2inTO” weekend to become Sunday’s even catchier “2inTO Today”. Friday, by the way, was fair, as was most of Sunday. But Saturday, as they say, was a wash. More or less literally.

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Perfect Purple – or, how a prompt word (or two) can help

Occam’s Typewriter is a humbling place, sometimes.

Surrounded by novelists, published authors of fiction, and those who write redoubtable, well-researched and thought-provoking editorial and opinion pieces, it’s a bit easy to be overwhelmed by that imposter syndrome that keeps rearing its ugly head. Why am I writing here, and how do I stack up against my OT peers? Sure, I can knock out documents all day long at work, with sensible grammar, good structure, and careful wordsmithing. But this imposter syndrome has nothing to do with my science career. It has everything to do with creative writing. Specifically, the “what on earth am I going to write about today?” problem.

One way around this, familiar to me through its use by my wife and many of her online fiction-writing colleagues, is the use of the “prompt”. A word or phrase, to kick-start some ideas. As in, “write a 500-word vignette about…”. It could be a thing, an emotion, a concept – anything that is broad enough to allow for some latitude in interpretation. She applies this approach successfully all the time.

Perhaps I need to start using prompts for what I write here. I can’t, unfortunately, think of a way this might help me at work. The obvious prompt word, “genomics”, is already something I think about all the time. It’s also likely to send me spinning off reams of pages about experiments and capacities and outputs and all of the other things that, while they form the meat of much of my science writing, are about as far from “art” and “creativity” as science can get.

One area where I have started using this, though, is in my other creative output of photography. In a way, I’ve forced myself to respond to prompts recently. The first examples are the monthly assignments being served up as part of the DEDPXL website and community, which I’ve mentioned before. March featured “Lines“, and April was “Repetitive shape and form, pattern, rhythm“. Making photographs to fit these themes has certainly helped me to be a bit more creative, which is of course the point of the assignments.

Tables, seating, shadows
A photograph of some repetitive shapes and forms, recently.

The second source of prompts is through perhaps a less likely-seeming source, the Getty Images Moment App.

I’ve been a casual contributor to Getty’s creative collection for a few years now, through their now-terminated partnership with Flickr. Fortunately for the thousands of contributors like myself, we’ve all been migrated to the new “Moment” collection on Getty, and as part of this, Getty’s released a smartphone app. It was created, as far as I can tell, as a way for editorial (news-y) smartphone photos to make their way rapidly into Getty’s collections. But it’s also an easy method for the company to ask its contributors for photographs fitting specific themes… using any camera at all, not just the phone itself, and, you guessed it, words or phrases to describe them. Prompts. And that’s just what I’ve needed to shake up my creativity, which has suffered rather during the very long, atypically cold, and just plain miserable winter and spring here in southern Ontario.

Rail fence and snow
Greenwood, Ontario, during the winter

The themes are sometimes quite obviously looking for newsworthy shots (“May Day Protests”, “Washington State Mudslide”, “Tornadoes”), but are frequently more conceptual – possibly aimed at filling gaps in the Getty collections, or perhaps in response to a brief from a client or ad agency. My favourites so far have been “Capitols”, which was a good reason to go and photograph some City Halls and legislature buildings, and the highly conceptual “Perfect Purple”. Which is where my wife comes back in, because when she is not writing, she is quite adept at arranging things artistically for studio shoots. Not for nothing did she spend ten years in retail management, including a large piece of visual merchandising. And she also, quite by coincidence, owns a not-insignificant number of pretty, purple things.

Initially, she worked out a concept with a dress, shoes, handbag, amethyst jewelry, make-up and a mirror (also happily with a purple frame), which resulted in these shots:

Purple dress, shoes, handbag

Study - purple preparation

And then it was just down to modifying the concept – simplifying by using only a couple of elements, like the handbag and dress, or coming in close for a detail shot of the make-up brush:

Purple #2

Purple #1

A couple of hours flew by, and at the end of it I felt like I was back in the game. Most of the images I submitted were accepted (although Getty passed on the handbag photo, because it was too similar to others in the series). I felt like some kind of studio photography superstar (although there are certainly ways in which these could all be improved). And all by virtue of that tiny prompt phrase, “Perfect Purple”.

Now, I just need a few more to apply to my Occam’s Typewriter writing, and I’m all set.

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