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  • 16th Jan, 2005 at 12:12 PM

I'm sitting on the train between Toronto and Montréal. My head rests against the window and I nap restlessly.

I wake up, and instead of opening my eyes, I just… listen. Behind me, I hear two guys talking solely in movie quotations. How stereotypical.

I open my eyes, and look around. Out the window scrolls the winter Ontario landscape: brown grass, frozen ponds, bare trees. Then, something magical happens, and I begin to see. Not just any kind of sight—I begin to see stories.

A small church with a tired looking bell-tower watches over her gravestones. She looks like an old hen and her chicks, shielding them from the cold. There is a story here.

A blocky concrete school, built in the seventies, stands by the side of the road. Plastic equipment rises out of an asphalt playground. Beside it, someone's poured an ice-rink, you can tell by the logs that make up its edges. A father teaches his son how to handle the stick. There is a story here.

A used car lot holds rusting heaps. Three majestic chestnut horses, one with a star on her forehead, wander amongst the junked cars. There is a story here.

I can't stop seeing the possibilities unfold before me. Here I am, touching these places for a fraction of a second, seeing the story and then passing it by. If only someone could sit down and listen to the tales there: these stories would be so awesome, so true, so fantastic that one could never make them up. And I see how small I am, and how few stories I have lived, in this enormous world.

I look at the seat in front of me, and see an elderly grandmother unwrap a sandwich. Her hands quiver, her hair is thin and white. She can barely unpack her lunch, so someone must have made it for her. There is a story here.

I look at the seat beside me, and see a slender Indian girl. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and she's wearing a tight black sweater with tight black jeans. She sips from a bad cup of railway coffee as she writes in her notebook. A scar mars her face. There is a story here.

I look behind me and see the two boys, still conversing in that distant male fashion. The one where you bond with another guy, but never tell him what you think or how you feel. They look like they were straight out of a fashion catalogue. One is blond and white, the other is brown and has a perfect smile. They wear brand name clothes, and look like brand name college students. There is a story here.

Stories, stories everywhere! When I was young, I could never write. The words I put to paper were dull, lifeless, repetitive. I never had any creative spark. But now words flow from my pen faster than I can form letters. My penmanship is an illegible doctor's scrawl.

What has awoken inside my head? Have I been living life half-paralysed, like a stroke victim, until today?


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
16th Jan, 2005 14:04 (UTC)

Hard to comment on posts such as these. Just wanted you to know that I've been enjoying your writing.
16th Jan, 2005 14:08 (UTC)
Thanks. I'd like to say that I enjoy your posts as well.

Hope Erdos gets better soon, and perhaps to meet you one day. I've heard many good things about you.
16th Jan, 2005 17:19 (UTC)
I agree. Your writing has been really beautiful lately.
16th Jan, 2005 23:30 (UTC)
I've been inspired.
16th Jan, 2005 17:25 (UTC)
Very nice Simon
What has awakened in you is the word. I am a writer. It just happens. Poetically, we like to think of Muses, but being "men of science" we shall think of chaos and hazard. One day I realized that the proverbial million years was up and it was time for those Shakespeare-writing chimps to start writing through my hand, thus obeying the implaccable law of hazard. Or perhaps it is a matter of plugging ones 'self' in to that energy in the universe that continually hums the word, and thus creates existence itself...

17th Jan, 2005 02:19 (UTC)
Re: Very nice Simon

Now I see why the Word is a religious concept. It's indescribably glorious.
16th Jan, 2005 23:56 (UTC)
Wow, this is exactly how I feel when I take photos. That's one of the reasons I don't take as many photos as some others, even with a fast digital camera in my hands. It's because what I see has to "speak to me". If it's just pretty or something, it's not enough (while you have a lot of material there for writing, it's only 7 "photos", just contrast with some people coming back after a day and having taken hundreds!).

I'm not very good with writing words, but there's something sensual about landscape and night photography in this way, using the camera in manual mode, on a tripod, scanning the scene with the partial lightmeter, finding the highlights and shadows, the lines which flows through the scene, getting intimate with what you're seeing... A lot of my photos, I hardly ever look at or have framed, just the act of making it was satisfying and interesting enough! Or when I do look at them, I have this priviledged relationship with it that would require much observation of the resulting photo to get at otherwise.

Some of your example would be more of this landscape photography type, but I also love candid photography, street photography, where you have these people, they have their life, their story, and it unfolds before you, in your mind's eye.

That's also why I learned so much technique, beside pure geekery: it's that I had this very clear vision in my mind, and when I'd see the result (more than a week after, as I learned on film!), it didn't do my vision justice. So I set out to find out why, and give myself the ability to translate my vision. When you consider the latency of film, you end up being careful and studied about these things. :-)
17th Jan, 2005 00:40 (UTC)
That's pretty weird, because I think the same thing when I take photographs too. But I want to transcend the limits of the camera. I want to be able to capture the sound, the colour, the feeling of the scene that I know no camera can ever do.

And so I take as many photographs as possible, in the hopes that one of them will capture the ephemeral essence of the scene; before time passes, and it evaporates.

But maybe this is because I am unskilled with the camera? Or are both approaches valid, and you just need mastery to determine which is correct?
17th Jan, 2005 01:00 (UTC)
Rather unexpectedly, sound and even movement can be somehow translated. It's very difficult sometimes, but I've seen it done many times, and I like to think I managed to do it at least once or twice. The colour of the scene, I'll assume you don't mean the obvious (hey, that's what cameras do!), is part of this.

I tend to have a very slow approach to photography, taking the time to seduce the photo out of the scene (when doing a landscape or some other still), or try to develop a sense for this decisive moment that Henri Cartier-Bresson speaked of.

But that's the way I've learned, maybe because of my use of film. I have been known to take 10 or 15 minutes sometimes to take a single photo, or to wait in the cold for almost an hour as the sun is setting, to get the perfect balance of light between sky and earth...

I think both approaches might be valid, just on the account that I've only tried one, and thus cannot speak for the other. It might be a matter of personal style.

But there is unfortunately a matter of mastery of the technique involved. Sometimes, I will see someone's photos have a ton of technical mistakes, but despite them, notice that they really have a good eye for composition. This is like writing, I suppose, where you need a mastery of the language (your tool) to write properly. Just pure technique will yield technically perfect images of nothing interesting, and pure vision without technique will yield obfuscated images that will have the interesting things hiding in, unexpressed.

For example, in the technical aspect, I have one particular photo which I feel represents the pinnacle of my prowess. It's a photography of a depanneur in Ville St-Laurent done at night. Nothing interesting (in my defense, I was just wanting to practice with the end of a roll that had other good photos I wanted to see). But I managed to have perfect depth-of-field, picking the ideal focus point for the scene, and carefully crafted an exposure solution that yielded detail in both the darkest areas and the very brightest, without resorting to "bracketing" the exposure. A single shot, crafted to perfection. A single shot of nothing interesting.

Gives me confidence though, so that when I see this great scene that will bring up a strong vision in me, I'll be able to apply this technical skill to fully realize this vision, hopefully!

I'd point out, though, that even though I take my photos slowly, I could probably do you a great deal of bodily harm if I threw my physical photos at you. I was slow, but managed to take a lot anyway, practice! :-)
17th Jan, 2005 04:23 (UTC)
Plugging in
(amazing... we are all in Montreal!)
Ravi Shankar said it (his music) was a matter of "plugging in"... In his case, it was to the energy of the "Ghandharvas" (excuse the spelling), the 'spirits' that oversee music. As a photographer, you are in the 'artist' category and are 'hooked up' to that particular energy in the universe according to the semi-mythological, rather parabolic Hindu 'world-view'. It's all basically the same. Creators have preferences, but they can shift to any discipline. The reason they do not always is because one lifetime is short indeed and because certain degree of perfection in one method of expression is desirable, if only to better understand yourself. It's simply a matter of choice..., and WABI-SABI, realizing also that everything is perfect in its imperfection.

19th Jan, 2005 20:47 (UTC)
wow..you can WRITE!
Hey! You've definitely become more creative. I'm glad you're writing more expressively. I've never liked your terse writing style so this is a big improvement. Now if only you stopped being so monosyllabic when I try to have a conversation with you...

BTW...there are BATS in Montreal? and Timin killed one? Wow...I don't know whether to be proud or afraid of him.
20th Jan, 2005 06:45 (UTC)
Re: wow..you can WRITE!
I find that I'm still terse when I communicate with people about things that I'm dispassionate about. So if you ask me what I'm going to have for dinner, I probably won't go into a long oratory about it. I'm sure if I did that, it would quickly get ludicrous.

If you want to have a decent conversation with me, just find me and ask. Pick a topic, any topic, and turn off the television. You'll discover that I'm not as dull as you think I am.

You probably don't have to be afraid of Timin. He's not very good at attacking creatures bigger than him. Plus, I think he likes you.
5th Jul, 2010 23:03 (UTC)
Using rice flour
Hey,to make it gluten free, have you guys tried using rice flour. I wonder if that would work.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )