End of an Era: This Blog Ends Here

While speaking at the 2014 CITE Conference about the way that blogging has changed my writing style, how this blog has reached over 100,000 views all over the world, and what topics I have written about, I realized that now was the time to end the blog. Maybe it is that I have changed, maybe it is that the theme of If Not Now, When? has become removed from where my life is: I fulfilled the expectations of doing whatever I wanted over these past five years, and I have translated that into an amazing life in an amazing world. My reality is that the now is constantly in play, and I have the momentum to continue to the end without looking ahead or behind.

For this final entry I wanted to write a summative piece; I have avoided writing for the past two weeks to ensure that what I wrote was strong. In the end, I decided to reflect on the people who I have met in the past two years, and who changed what I knew to be true. Each one is a creative genius, an artist, connects deeply with my photographic work, and is an inspiration to work with. First…Graeme Cameron of Base Camp X.

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I met Graeme through a series of random events. Over two years I have shot about 200 images for him. His tools are beautiful, rugged, and connect to an inspirational narrative. I now own four axes, two canoe paddles and a few lethal, zombie-worthy knives, and I am always impressed by what he pulls out of his bag at each photo session. This week had me photographing his new series of Wendigo Blades, a slingshot, and a few clothing items. These new blades, especially the middle size, are prime examples of tools that not only make sense to own, but also feel like an extension of your body. The work I do for Graeme is personal, and money never changes hands; some work is simply worth the doing.

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When I began going to to hear music two years ago, we came across a local banjo picker at Cameron House whose music became the soundtrack of our lives. Darren Eedens has since become a friend and continual inspiration. I seem to recall taking a few shots at a show at Cameron House, and then at Lee’s Palace. I never tire of the songs “Waiting For the Freeze”, “Darlin'”, and Footprints in the Snow”. Darren’s music inspired me to pick up my guitar again for the first time in years. I ended up writing and recording an album about my life over an intense three month period. I began going to hear music at local bars even when I was exhausted from work. I found the music in life again. I found myself in the places between a pint of beer and a steel string guitar.

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The third person who altered my being is the most important. She is the person I am going to marry. She is the person who awakened me from a deep slumber. She is the most talented, adventurous, and kind individual that I have met. Our life is full of joy and challenges, but the balance keeps us moving forward together, and I know that I have found the love of my life. She keeps me in the now. I care little about the past now, and the future is not as important as what we do in the present together. We move into our new house in July, and I am happy. What does this have to do with the photograph of me dragging a sled?

I chose this photograph because she took it, and it represents a full circle coming around in the past year when I took a similar photograph of her with Paderno’s first Nature Pan. That photograph was widely published, and represents the highest point of my success in commercial photography. Our life is filled with passion and art; I need for nothing while I have her by my side.

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So here we are. While I continue to work as an educator, photographer and writer, I do so now because the work offers artistic and personal opportunities. While I continue to travel the world widely with a summer trip to Bangalore and Paris, I have a deeper desire to stay close to home and America. Instead of writing for this blog, I want to turn my talents over to a novel that I began two years ago. In it, I bring the mythical sirens to life in magical world beneath the one we all know too well. The idea of writing a longer, fictional piece feels like a logical progression. Thus ends If Not Now, When?  and the rest of my life’s story begins now.

“Teach me to hear the mermaids singing…”

~John Donne

Quality of Life: Chasing the Canadian Dream From the Middle

20140329-114555.jpgThe days when a good education and work experience could open doors across the country are long gone. The time when a house could be bought within the city of Toronto for less than $800,000 and two months of bidding wars seems fictional. When did we lose the value of our work, and how can anyone hope to build a meaningful life in the new paradigm of Ford Nation?
When did society allow the “common man” to lead us into box store hell, fast food purgatory and suburban paradise?

Direction and Planning: GTD Review, Career and An Engagement Ring

Life cannot be prepared for. Accidents will happen in ways we cannot hope to imagine. Success happens when we can transform the bad into good; the worst events can often transform us into better people.

20140319-110518.jpgOne week ago, during an afternoon raid on the compost bin, one of our dogs bit the littlest dog. The pressure of the bite completely dislocated her shoulder; she weighs 4 pounds. The sadness this event brought me is indescribable. My options for her care were amputation, a non-surgical procedure that might not work or a $4500 surgery that was invasive and would prove painful for the little monster. I cried. We cried. Moments such as these define us, and I knew I had to do the best for my whole family. Emotional decisions are not the same as logical decisions. I felt that I had to euthanize the little dog who had been with me through my toughest days and nights (even if she was to root of many such nights). I was shattered. However, we paused. We argued. We tried to justify an emotional decision, but could not. Perhaps like Abraham and Isaac, I had to commit to my decision only to find an angel stopping me from delivering the final blow. Dr. Sanderson and Dr. Teeger offered a middle solution that I could financially afford, would offer her as little pain as possible and would help with the immediate care she would need.
Would she have been saved unless I stood by my personal code of values? Was I a bad man for choosing to sacrifice her for the good of the rest of my tribe? What kind of man does not “man-up” with money to save his friend? For the past week I have wrestled with these moral questions, and I believe that the experience has made me a better man. Indy has improved greatly with each day; I hope to have her home again soon.

20140319-112404.jpgOn the eve of this catastrophe I had also planned on proposing to the love of my life: perfect timing. I had designed a ring, had a friend’s father procure a beautiful emerald to place in a platinum band, and we were visiting our great friends at their magical retreat in the forests near Arrowhead. I had pushed my finances a little to purchase the ring, but I wanted to create a piece of jewellery that was timeless and more than the typical engagement ring. Hence, when Indy was injured my plans made other decisions impossible. Her injury became the wrench in the works; the best laid plans of mice and men….

20140319-113123.jpgRobert Frost asks the question in his poem, “Ovenbird”: “what to make of a diminished thing?” These words have resonated within me since first hearing them 20 years ago in my American Literature class. Is that not we do every day of our lives? The time we have diminishes with each passing moment; we must demand of ourselves what to do with the time we have left. I chose to propose marriage in a forest by a lake, move ahead with our weekend plans, and trust that my dog would recover best without my over-compensating, nervous help. I did the best with what I was dealt, and that is what I consider to be what makes a good man. I may be wrong, but that is where I stand.

20140319-113839.jpgAfter confusing my dental appointment days, I find myself sitting at a local cafe, drinking a cafe Americano, eating an almond croissant and preparing to enter my first GTD review since I started using this system to “get things done” five years ago. Plans may not always work out, and we often lose life’s best opportunities when we cannot go off-script from our projected narratives, but David Allen’s system of actionable planning has allowed me to realize what I never could have dreamed of before. The hour I spend reflecting and planning will at least let me see where I want to go, know my first steps towards that place, and then when detours lead me astray I still know my bearings, can see land, when the storm passes.

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Kiriko Made: The Post-Industrial Bespoke Movement

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In a world where consumer goods are meant to be opiate for the masses, and shopping is a sport to numb the pain of daily life, a new movement has risen from the ash and garbage that fill the streets: Oregon Industrial. Perhaps it would sound better as Bespoke Industrial or Artisanal Industrial Mercantile? Regardless, there is a higher end, post-hipster movement that seems to have originated in Portland, of all places. The premise is that Gen Y and those whose talents are no longer appreciated have abandoned the lure of tech internships that may eventually lead to a low salary in ten years. Citizens have walked away from the idea that New York, Toronto, Washington and Los Angeles are the only places on earth to purchase property (or, rather, rent at suicidal monthly rates). Comrades have chosen Portland as a place to come together, take back the heavy-duty sewing machine, wipe off the grease from abandoned motors, and start crafting authentic, low-production goods for people who appreciate materials that were de rigeur before plastic became our mantra.

My past few purchases have not been inexpensive, nor have they been simple. Toronto is far from the Pacific West, which means that USPS has become a pusher for my material needs. First it was a key fob and Leica-style camera strap from Tanner Goods. Then came a straight razor strop from horse hide arrived from Bison,  a suit bag from Seattle-based Filson, and a mint green, leather knife roll from Butcher and Baker. Before I knew it I found myself surrounded by beautiful materials that made me feel more connected to the items I used. They key idea is that I use all of these items in an almost religious manner. I appreciate the feel of the strop; the look of the simple key fob as it rests in my hand or dangles from the ignition of my Ducati Monster.  My desire to use an item often means that I must take the time to pack my clothes for a trip in lieu of rolling them into a ball, and I need to spend ten minutes sharpening my straight razor on the strop before I even get to the bathroom sink for shaving. I have become mindful and present. I am in the moment as the material serves as a catalyst for an intellectual slowing down of my time. Time has become precious.

Kiriko Two

Yesterday’s post brought me two scarfs and a pocket square from Portland-based Kiriko. I came across a few of their pieces in a small shop in Nashville’s 12 South area. The deep indigo colours and Japanese fabrics caught my attention immediately. Since travelling to Japan a few years ago, I realize the unique tension in fabric and foreign colour palette that are signature to Japan. A week ago I came across a Boro-style scarf online and fell in love with the contrasting indigo/floral pattern. I ordered the scarf which is made from Japanese heirloom fabrics, a Kimono striped scarf and a deep indigo pocket square. Within a few days all arrived in uniquely gorgeous packaging, and I now had items that I know will be with me through a great many made adventures, adding points of style to what can be a bleak world.

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There may have also been an impulse need to purchase a NATO-style watchband from Worn&Wound, a purveyor and reviewer of watch ephemera. You see, Old Sport, I inherited more than my fair share of beat up, broken down watches from my father upon his death this past summer. I never wear a watch. I hate having things on my wrists. I care little what the time is. But…this black strap sang a siren song: rebuild the watch the Chinese restaurant owner gave your father when he was a young boy. Mystery surrounds this watch, and it is a relic of my father’s imagination that I remember since my own birth.

It has no intrinsic value in the metals or craftsmanship. The watch must be hand-wound on a daily basis. I am still unsure whether it will even keep time. The point is that I have chosen to take a piece back from the landfill, ignore that my iPhone keeps perfect time, and live within a different reality as the Horween-produced leather strap hugs a piece of metal tightly to my wrist that once belonged to men I  should have known better. Perhaps it serves as a talisman to make sure I know those who follow me better than those who came before.

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My day starts, and will end, with an espresso and slice of molten chocolate cake inspired by our dinner at Montreal’s Joe Beef this past weekend.  My version uses up the wide variety of aging chocolate that filled my cupboard, blooming and losing its sheen. I would like to think that the French pan adds more beauty to the cake, than the skillet ours was served in at the restaurant. The flavours are dead on, the texture is perfect…now if I only had a soft serve ice cream machine that could spit out perfect peppermint-infused dollops of ice milk, then I would be king.

Joe Beef: A Philosophy of Quebec Cuisine

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Montreal remains the place where I feel most at home. It is a city with simple aspirations; it is a city focused on quality, local food prepared in an avante garde culinary style. People in Quebec appreciate wine, soft lighting, conversation at dinner, laughter and sensuality. It is a city that has changed my life purpose three times and influenced how I live with more with every visit. The past two nights were no exception, yet exceptional nonetheless.

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My usual destination in Montreal is Martin Picard’s Au Pied Du Cochon on Duluth Street, but for this visit we chose to try our luck with Joe Beef, the brainchild of David MacMillan and Frederic Morin. A favourite with superstar chefs like David Chang and Anthony Bourdain, Joe Beef has the street cred to make it worth a three month ahead reservation.

What was it like? Nothing like we expected, but beautiful in its darkness and lush food. First, I hope you read French. The ever-changing chalkboard menu is wholly francophonic, and difficult to see in the evening lights. Secondly, one needs a sense of adventure, a trust in your waiter, and a willingness to try new flavours. Our dinner consisted of 8 maritime oysters in the raw, two sea urchin, a pork and chicken tender terrine served next to a slab of perfectly chilled foie gras, a New Brunswick lake trout in a salty mortadella sauce, a large filet of cheval, and a side of Parmesan frites. I was also shamed into a whimsical peppermint soft serve ice cream on molten chocolate cake. Two bottles of Bourgogne wine and two of the better cafe Americano I have had in a long time. Final bill: $350.

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A visit to Joe Beef is not just about the food. A visit to this minor Mecca is about coming to understand a food philosophy and flavour palette that one cannot find in Toronto, New York or Chicago. The fact that horse meat was on the menu and lauded by the waiter as the best food in the house, would never be supported in a town where people are disconnected from their food and its sources. How many places serve chicken, beef and fish from parts unknown? Joe Beef knows the horse is from Pennsylvania, and the arguments for its consumption in recent Globe and Mail articles are compelling. The flavour falls between beef for texture and pork for flavour complexity. I will not crave cheval in my dreams, but it was a transformational dish in terms of how I interpret flavours for my own cooking style.

In relation to that, the reason for a food photographer and home cook to visit a restaurant like Joe Beef is to experience how food can be prepared honestly and simply. The terrine chaude was my favourite dish. I had never thought to warm a terrine, and this one was perfect in its composition. In contrast to the heavenly foie gras in a cool, classic sauce, the terrine made me want to prepare my own version this week; to build a family recipe for posterity and years of expectant enjoyment.

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We drank Burgundy region wines, as they were suggested in the Joe Beef restaurant book, and I could certainly see how their simple, clean flavours work with the rich, salty, complex flavours in the food. In the end, Joe Beef is a one time visit for me. I get it, I loved it, and it was worth the money; I simply prefer the gluttony and Gargantuan nature of Au Pied du Cochon more. Life is short; eat what you dream of in the darkest of Winter nights.

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From a different perspective, and after a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli, we decided to stay at The Fairmont’s Les Voyageurs Bar for dinner on the second night. Partly due to getting a slight chill while trekking up Mont Royal, and partly due to a $100 credit from hitting Platinum status on 2013’s trips out West and Ottawa, we stayed inside this classic hotel from the train era. After a dozen oysters from the PEI bay where I bought property next to this year we went with a cheese plate of Quebec cheeses accompanied by an absolutely perfect bottle of Quebec white wine. The price was a reasonable $150, and the experience was matched with our expectations: good hotel food from the locality.

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Our final moments this morning were spent lingering over coffee, cheap Bordeaux and a wickedly rich collection of French pastry, baguettes filled with smoked salmon and a feuillete containing a bechamel and ham centre. Perhaps that is what Montreal offers: multiple, magnificent moments unlike anywhere else. These were moments welcome and stolen from a cold winter season.

AsukaBook: Building the Perfect Wedding Book

AsukaBook I

I am not a wedding photographer. I do not enjoy weddings, funerals or birthday parties featuring magicians and clowns. However, in my line of work one needs to try anything one, so when my brother requested that we shoot his wedding last July as their gift, I decided to bite the bullet. Personal goal: make my family happy by capturing a key event in their lives, especially after the loss of my father the previous week. Professional goal: produce a perfect wedding book with neither cost nor profit being the object.

Since I began working as a photographer, AsukaBook, a publisher who prints in Japan but is based out of Oregon, has appealed to me as an option for my first big portfolio book. They have a special opening offer to all professional photographers (you need a website, I think), to print the first book for 50% of regular cost. Fifty percent is significant when you consider that the cost of this book was going to be $525 for 40 pages originally; this is not small peanuts for a book, but fair when one considers that a quality, single print edition of anything has to be expensive to make it worth the time spent in production. In the end, after shipping, taxes and currency exchange, I will have spent a bit over $400 for the book. Worth it?

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I chose a large format of 12×12 inches for the book. I feel that this is a perfect print size for archival prints, and when you consider that this book lays flat for a full spread of 24×12 inches, it is quite impressive. I also went with matte finish, even though I prefer glossy metallics for my personal work. I was aiming for a Martha Stewart wedding look and her books from the 1990s often featured a matte finish to bring out an emotional feeling of polish.

As you can see from these few simple shots of the book, the colours are rich and the package is about as high quality as could be conceived. I would caution any would be professionals to be aware that their small point and shoot or Unlce Louis’ dslr are not going to cut it, at least not straight from the camera. A large portion of what I do relates to post-production of the images, colour syncing to a particular palette, retouching and layout. I was unable to use AsukaBook’s proprietary software, so I had to lay out the book in Adobe’s InDesign CS6. If you are not regularly working on large publications, which I do for my school, then this might kill you. For me, it worked fairly smoothly and I was happy to have tech support question a few of my bleed choices in final production.

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The pages a almost a foam core style of thickness, and this makes for a seriously heavy book that feels akin to a Bible of coffee table masterpiece. I have seen nothing like this in small print production before, and it screams of quality in design. The wraparound cover and hard case allow for custom design – I went for two different photos on the actual book, and a full wrap of the case that shows a field shot: unique and compelling.

So it only took me 6 months to scan the Kodak Porta film, process the photos, lay the book out and get it back in the post. Would I do it again? Nope. Never. Doubt it. The book was gorgeous and flawless, but I would never make any money unless I charged about $5000 to shoot a wedding, and the only take away would be the digital negatives and this book. The time it took, and the behind the scenes work make weddings tough to work for profit unless you are constantly working through the exact same workflow, and you outsource the tedious work to others, which I just refuse to do.

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The real question will be whether the couple like it, love it or hate it. I just put the dvds and the book into the shipping box to be mailed tomorrow back to Prince Edward Island. If you want to see this masterpiece for yourself, then I am certain they will be inviting friends and family over to relive their happiest of happy days.

Coming to Terms With Gatsby: The Poor Boy Done Good, or What Have I Become?

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” ~ The Great Gatsby

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The world we live in is constantly moving; we are expected to keep up, to push harder, and remain on top of change. As celebrities like Philip Seymour-Hoffman kill themselves, Justin Bieber gets arrested for childish stunts and drinking cough syrup, and Bob Dylan lip-syncs a bad Chrysler commercial, I have to ask myself just what our lives are about in 2014. What can anyone hope to accomplish in an era when an overnight war can occur in EVE Online that costs the loss of virtual starships worth $500,000 in real-world money? What is the real anymore, anyways, anywhere?

June will find me in Bangalore, India. I will be participating in a Leader’s Quest workshop wherein participants will explore what it means to live in one of this planet’s most poverty-stricken, yet forward moving countries. We will examine not only the business relationships between corporations and people on the ground, but also attempt to gain an understanding of that that all means to an increasingly global world; a world where corporations are empire, governments are filled with clowns like Rob Ford, and people are left to either climb the ladder or fall off into the abyss. We can join forces with the corporation that best suits our personal aspirations, so that we may rise more quickly and reach the 1% before we are too old, too tired, too dead.

Which brings me to Gatsby….

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F. Scott’s Fizgerald’s literary character, Jay Gatsby, is one of my favourite examples of how we can strive to become a person different from the rest while keeping our eyes on what we are really in the game for. Perhaps you are in it for $100 bills (like Jay-Z asserts in his rap on the recent movie soundtrack) or just maybe you seek a love like Daisy. Regardless of the reason for cloaking your intentions, selling your soul, pandering your time to the gods of business, we each make a decision to become someone else. The best of us know when to either walk away or go all in; the rest of us are left on the highway strewn with the bodies of forgotten singers, politicians and actors.

So when you read about poor Justin Bieber or question Miley’s tongue to twist movements, or even reflect on why Indian call-centre workers leave the countryside to sit in cramped rooms for 17 hour shifts only to spend their money on Cristal and shiny objects at the nearby dance club, think about yourself. What have you sold? What have you done lately that meant more than the consumption of things you do not need?

For my own part…I still love Gatsby. I can always imagine myself one day owning a lavish mansion like the one I am standing in front of in New Orlean’s Garden District (Anne Rice’s former home). I can imagine owning a closet full of beautiful shirts on perfect hangers with space to breathe. I can hear the roar of my Porsche 911’s engine as I sink into the leather seats. I taste the finest Californian Cabernet Sauvignon next to my Kansas City porterhouse in New York City. I feel the weight of my silver rings as I strum the perfect G chord in Madison Square Garden where I play a few covers with Jack White the Third to close the show. I may only ever imagine such luxuries, but then, as Lorde asserts, I will always be “driving Cadillacs in my dreams.” Dreams are what keep us human, and make us better than greedy animals at the trough. Gatbsy had dreams, and so do I.

The imagination is what gets us through the mindless meetings, the drive-thru waits, the subway car that never comes and the random salesperson chatter when you just want to see what is new and now. What does Gatsby teach us? Why to never surrender your imagination, Old Sport. Never give in, never give up, never, ever give way.