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.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Hobbies, Music, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography, Racing | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography, Writing | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Lines. Lines. Lines.

I have lines on my mind.

Just recently, commercial photographer and photography instructor Zack Arias has (finally!) launched his DEDPXL website, complete with Q&A videos, the obligatory blog, links to merchandise including the upcoming renewal of his popular Onelight instructional video, and a section for non-photography, but inspirational, things called The Society of Good Stuff, authored by Zack’s wife Meghan. Meghan identifies herself as an un-photographer, but is an excellent singer and songwriter. Zack himself has some serious chops, ranging from personal projects and street photography, through instructing at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai, all the way to photographing the CEO of Coca-Cola. Plus, he sports a stylish goatee and flat cap, occasionally plays the ukelele, and seems like the nicest guy in the world.

One exciting aspect of DEDPXL, for those who’ve been waiting for the relaunch, is that Zack has embarked on a series of assignments for his readers. These are designed to push us to think more, create new work that is different from our usual photographs, and “see the photograph” in the scenes around us (or in our mind’s eye, visualizing before shooting). The theme of the first uses a single prompt word: Lines. The accompanying video is almost hypnotic, and now I can hear him saying the word over, and over, and over again. Lines. Lines lines lines. Lines.

What’s interesting about this exercise is how open to interpretation it is. That single word, “lines”, makes me think of all kinds of different things:

  • visual lines of buildings, roads, railings
  • railway lines
  • power lines
  • lines of text
  • lines of music
  • curved lines
  • parallel lines
  • intersecting lines
  • lines of people queuing for things
  • grade school students writing lines as punishment (do they still do that?)
  • the clean or attractive “lines” of a ship, or a car, or a piece of clothing
  • age lines on a face

And so on.

The first photographs I specifically went out to shoot with this theme in mind were, well, fairly predictable. Railings. Windows. A view I’ve sat near for a long time, and photographed before.

Skylines and Blinds

Then I started seeing lines in placed I hadn’t noticed, hiding in plain sight.

Crossing Lines - Eaton Centre, Toronto

Looking back through some of the first crop of boring escalator-and-staircase type photographs, I began to find unintentionally interesting bits. A reflection and the underside of an escalator, for example.

Marble, escalator, lines - FCP, Toronto

Then I started thinking about studio photographs. What do I have with lines? A bamboo box? A vinyl LP? Some books? Pencils? Straws? Matches? This could go on forever.

Grooves are lines, too

As the month unfolds, I’ll be looking for, and with luck finding, lines in new locations, and learning to see those photographs a bit more than I do now. Which is, of course, the point of the exercise. As long as I can avoid that little shoulder-sitting demon Zack muttering in my ear, or walking along mumbling under my breath: “Lines. Lines. Lines…”

More DEDPXL assignment photographs here. Everybody’s attempts are in the DEDPXL Assignments Flickr group.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

UK Photography, OR how my ten-year-old daughter kicked my butt, three times

A few months ago, I posted this photograph of my daughter piloting my best camera and biggest telephoto lens, while I was reduced to snapping a picture of her with an early-1970’s vintage rangefinder loaded with honest-to-goodness black and white film. In that post, I alluded to a few occasions on our recent UK trip where she not only snaffled the camera, but outdid her old dad – quite convincingly.

The first such occasion I’m willing to admit to was in the challengingly dim light inside the White Tower, the most-recognizable bit of the Tower of London. It’s chock-full of interesting displays, very heavy on armaments and armour. Exhibit A:


On the left is her take on this display, and on the right, my attempt to be artistic. Hers, you will note, has foreground interest provided by the armour suit, and masses the shields behind in a pleasing way by viewing them at an angle. Mine, on the other hand, is flat, and full of distracting gaps showing the background, passersby, a window, and an unpleasant green thing at the left.

On to another day, this time for a run up the London Eye.


There are lots of nice views from up here, but the most iconic one must be this – the Palace of Westminster and its famous clock tower, nestled by the River Thames and Westminster bridge. Again, I’m on the right, and She Who Snaffles Nikons is on the left.

Her photo is from a steeper angle, which provides a more interesting perspective, and accentuates the angle of the junction between the bridge and the building. It also lays out the city rather nicely. Being terribly clever, she also waited until the iconic red double-decker buses were nicely spread out on the bridge. Mine tries to do all of these things, just not as well. I’ll claim a minor victory in that the sky is a bit more interesting in mine, but that’s about it.

Now, off to Scotland.


Here, we have a pair of photographs from our last evening in Lanarkshire, out with family for dinner at The Mill Inn. The meal was delicious, and the evening was bright and clear. Just the right conditions for some photographs of this picturesque spot. Cue the by-now predictable result.

In my attempt (again on the right), the building looks rather long, and there is a car visible, rather spoiling the vibe. The roof line also completely fails to intersect the top left corner, which is where it ought to go. By contrast, her tighter composition and steeper angle accentuates the shape of the building, places the door nicely at the left of the frame, stuffs the roofline into the corner, omits the car, and emphasizes the wagon wheel to add interest. Even the flower beds look more attractive, taking up a greater proportion of the frame, and there’s a pretty gleam of late-evening sunlight picking up the door.

So there you have it. Three out of three to the progeny. I’ll claim another minor victory in that I think my Stonehenge photographs were a bit better, although she was the only one of us to successfully capture one of the omnipresent crows in flight. And I win the Battle Of The Portraits, but only because she’s several orders of magnitude more photogenic than I am.

Now we’re into February, and I’m keeping that camera under wraps. I’m not sure I’m up to eating more photographic humble pie just yet – although perhaps I should just bite the bullet, hand it over, and claim that I taught her everything she knows. In the meantime, I think I’ll give a few of my favourite photography books another read, to see if I can sneakily bone up on a few secrets before next summer, while she’s still distracted with schoolwork.

Posted in Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Another New Beginning

I sense a theme.

Henry’s just posted about the arrival of his new book, and Richard about that of his and Jenny’s new son. Athene’s Moving on to Pastures New and its companion, Moving On (Part II) are similarly about change. Going back a few more weeks, we find Jenny picking up her lab and moving it. Everywhere you look at Occam’s Typewriter, it’s all about the new.

Never one to avoid easy blogging by riffing on what everyone else is doing, I’ll jump on this bandwagon with our very own lab move from our home of the past eight years at the MaRS Discovery District, to the brand-new, shiny Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning. Adventures in Wonderland readers with long memories may remember my post from early 2012, about Mr. Gilgan’s announcement of a $40 million donation to what most people were still calling the Research and Learning Tower. A year and a half later, the ribbon was cut, in a touching ceremony featuring the young patient profiled in this video. Last week, I moved in to my office, and today marks the end of the move for the laboratory and the rest of our 70-odd person staff.


The move results in the mind-bending problem of having to remember to press “13”, rather than “14” in the elevator, although this really isn’t such a big problem as the three floors from 13 to 15 are joined by stairwells leading to an open atrium. Getting off at thirteen also provides a reminder of the tremendous efforts of Tim Hockey, who not only spearheaded the fundraising campaign, but also chose to make a personal donation to support our floor. Tim’s connection with our hospital, and in particular medical genetics research, goes a long way towards explaining his involvement.

Although the labs were still vacant until the equipment and people moved this week, the offices have been occupied since last Wednesday, and along with myself, our administrative staff, the students and postdocs, and the informaticians all moved in. Blanketed with warm, fuzzy wireless and surrounded by network infrastructure ten times faster than in the old building, we were set to go.

Lab, awaiting
The lab, last week – awaiting its occupants.

Bioinformaticians, hard at work outside my office.

And now, things are piling up in the lab, with service technicians scurrying around our fleet of sequencers, microarray scanners, robotics, and other instruments. Students, postdocs, and technicians are carving out their bench space, and the happy babble of discussions about genes and mutations and experiments and analysis is filling the building’s airy, light and inviting interactive spaces. The grand opening events of September the 17th are a pleasant memory, and the work of making this new space work for us is just beginning. Arrivals and beginnings, indeed.

DNA Sequencing I


Molecular Translation

Watchword - Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

Black and white photographs: Voigtländer VF-101 with Ilford XP2 Super film. Colour image: Nikon D5000 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G. More photographs in this Flickr set.

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