Short Stories

Bovine Sex Club Toronto, Canada 1999

The Bovine Sex Club, often referred to as the “Bovine,” is a lively nightclub located on Toronto’s Queen Street West strip. At first glance, its facade resembles an entrance to a scrap metal yard. The dada-like structure — built by a small group of local artists — consists of mangled metal pieces, bicycle parts and other junkyard collections.

The Bovine and its metal works became a natural backdrop to the rhythms of street life on this particular day.

Cool Down Cancún, Mexico 1988

According to its history, Cancún was once home to three resident caretakers of a coconut plantation before the land was developed in the 1970s. Within a decade, its virgin forest and unknown shores transformed into one of the most renowned resorts in Mexico.

At the time of my stay, the coastlines were already consumed by hotels and beach resorts. Aside from the Maya ruins and their culture, my memory of the Yucatan Peninsula is mostly blurred by the heat.

Cork Factory Montréal, Canada 2011

At the height of the potato famine in the mid-19th century, as many as 30,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Montréal each year. Of those who survived the fever sheds, most settled in the city’s southwest region, formerly known as Griffintown.

Jobs were plentiful in what was Canada’s first industrial area, and over the next century, Griffintown grew into a vibrant, working-class neighbourhood. After the war however, the Irish began to abandon Griffintown due to economic decline, and their collapse as a tight-knit community came to a symbolic end with the demolition of St. Ann’s church in 1970.

In October, 2012, Montréal revealed a plan to transform the area into a pleasant, family-oriented neighbourhood. The preservation of industrial buildings — such as the Cork Factory — will hopefully survive the city’s revitalisation plans.

Impotence Bath, Maine USA 1996

Driving en route to the Maine coast with a good friend for a lobster feast, we came to a standstill on a bridge for two hours in the city of Bath. As we sat halfway over the Kennebec River, people vacated their vehicles to enjoy the view while I helplessly tried to eclipse my spells of vertigo.

We soon learned that the delay was due to celebrations of a large ship launch on the shores of Bath, also known as the “City of Ships,” aptly named for its long history of shipbuilding. The news of why we were left stranded high above the river provided me with just enough comfort to quell any regrets for being there.

The ship launched and we cleared the bridge. Five minutes later, the car broke down — directly in front of a fire station. Delayed again, and having to wait for road-side assistance, I was granted permission by the fire chief to photograph the building.

Three Baños, Ecuador 2002

Baños is situated in a valley of waterfalls and hot springs, nestled at the foot of the volcano Tungurahua, also known as the “Black Giant.” Although volcanic activity has decreased considerably since its eruption in 1999, the volcano — at the time of my stay — still puffed smoke and ash, making it unpredictable, and potentially risky to visit.

These unusual figurines were sculpted by a local artisan. The appearance of the three faces peering out from their thick coats gave me the impression that the Black Giant just covered them with one of its offerings.

Down Time In The Big Apple New York City, USA 1997

My first trip to the big apple happened with good friend and musician, Ron Korb. It proved to be a rewarding experience for both of us. In between helping out with Korb’s weekend gig at the Lincoln Center, I ventured away on little explores in the neighbouring area.

In one of those rare moments in an artist’s life, I froze at the sight of this composition. This incidental discovery became available as if it was deliberately art directed for any passerby to see.

The woman, thankfully, didn’t become aware of my presence.

Shaken, Not Stirred Toronto, Canada 2018

During my early days as an apprentice in the graphics arts, my studio manager (and soon-to-be mentor) was photographer and wit, Wes Hattey. He was a thoughtful taskmaster, tough yet open-minded and absurdly comical. The many lessons he taught included those that didn’t involve our work. One of the lessons was learning to drink. Martinis and whisky were his drinks of choice, while my experience had been restricted to a good pint.

Among his many talents, Wes was also a sailor and passionate cook: your quintessential captain-of-the-sea type of rogue. His preferred cooking method usually involved a pressure cooker. “You could throw an old leather boot in one of these and it’ll come out like a cut of tenderloin,” he used to say. “You have to be careful, though. Let the steam exit completely. Otherwise, if you open it too soon, you’ll send the fucking lid through the ceiling!”

Doing Time Millbrook, Canada 2005

Conditions at the Millbrook Correctional Centre were noted for being notoriously harsh. Located about 100 km east of Toronto in the quiet, rural town of Millbrook, the prison opened in 1957 with a purpose to house violent criminals who could not be held anywhere else in the system.The facility — which consisted of 10 buildings, 6 watchtowers, 600 prisoners and 300 staff on 105 acres of land — was closed down by the government in 2003. It was later sealed off, and continues to stand abandoned today.

In 2005, I was part of a team that was given access to the prison for purposes of documenting a legal case. Needless to say, an eerie presence was felt; almost as real as the bone-chilling cold halls. However, I found warmth — and a great sense of humanity — when I stumbled upon a prison cell with this delightful illustration. Luckily, the door was open. I sat on the metal bedstead and imagined being shut in.

The prisoner’s artwork comforted me just enough to eclipse my claustrophobia.

First Breath Toronto, Canada 2003

The birth of one’s daughter or son is naturally a special moment for any parent. When that “moment” arrives is anyone’s guess, especially to new parents.

An unusual silence fell over the delivery room with anticipation and I instinctively powered up my camera gear. Then a voice rang out. “You have a healthy baby girl,” said the doctor, as she dutifully held the newborn high in the air like a prized trophy. “Quickly! You have time for one shot.”

Three seconds later, Olivia was weighed, checked and swaddled. I don’t believe I could ever replicate a better composition if given three hours.

Frozen By Fire Toronto, Canada 2008

The Toronto Star reported on a man who described the aftermath of a blaze to a friend on his mobile. “The whole street looks like a war zone!” Later it read, “Outside, firefighters chipped ice off the hoses and sprayed the burning wreckage, already frosted with icicles.”

The fire broke out at about 5 a.m. and spread through a row of century-old buildings on Queen Street in Toronto’s West End. As many as 150 firefighters and 50 emergency vehicles were on hand to extinguish the ravaging fire that consumed 14 buildings, home to about 60 people who lived and worked along this popular stretch. One of the storefronts destroyed was Duke’s Cycle, a family-run business that had been selling bikesand sporting goods since 1914.

With limited access to the street, I made my way around Duke’s to an alleyway. It was here that I met photographer Jennifer Lynn Hunting, a.k.a. “L8DYBUG.” We stopped at this icicle-covered wall mural and marveled at its surreal beauty.

High Finance Toronto, Canada 2010

Once the tallest building in the Commonwealth, the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building was completed in 1931 and soon after became the pride of architectural presence in the city. Its Romanesque-style depicts an era that recalls the glamourous age of high finance.

I was invited to photograph the observation deck on the 32nd floor. Now closed to the public, the terrace square is surrounded by sixteen giant sculpted heads. It’s said they represent the qualities of courage, observation, foresight and enterprise. When viewed from different angles, they appear to project varying personalities. Renamed the Commerce Court North, it’s now comprised of four architecturally distinct office buildings.

Hotel Gauguin Arles, France 1983

Watching an outstanding play at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto called The Yellow House at Arles precipitated a desire to visit the south of France four months later. The two-hander, written and performed by Dennis Hayes and Richard Payne, depicted a historically accurate account of artists Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh during their brief but tumultuous collaboration in Arles.

Van Gogh had moved to this delightful city to establish what he called a “studio of the south” and invited Gauguin to explore the countryside. Although living together as roommates was ill-fated from the start, it proved to be a highly productive period for both. During their disruptive 63 days at the yellow house, it’s believed van Gogh painted 36 canvases and Gauguin completed 21.

Courage My Love Toronto, Canada 2001

Courage My Love is a vintage store favourite in funky Kensington Market. Founded in 1975 by Stewart Scriver and Patricia Roy, the couple began selling people’s discards at a time when it wasn’t fashionable. Scriver explained, “It seemed almost like an elegant art form to resell and recycle good quality things at a reasonable price in a non-aggressive manner.”

The mannequin trio on the store’s second floor deck were a permanent display for many years. Trouble started however, when one mannequin fell to the ground, nearly hitting a Courage patron. The mannequin was stolen but later spotted at a nearby property by Ms. Roy and escorted back to rejoin its two companions. It toppled once again.

Fearing an accident, the elusive mannequin was demoted to serve duty on ground level.

 Jazz Mural San Francisco, USA 2008

Bill Weber, also known by his brush name, El Gallo, is an established muralist and painter in San Francisco. This segment of his work Jazz Mural prominently features Teddy Wilson on piano, Benny Goodman on clarinet, and Gene Krupa on drums. Painted in 1987, the mural covers two sides of a building — three stories high and about 30 metres in length — at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus.

Interestingly, Jazz Mural may never have happened if it hadn’t been for an eleven-year-old boy named Giovanni Toracca. Weber explained to me that he was working on another painting at Fisherman’s Wharf in 1976 when Toracca approached him to sell some fireworks. As he stopped to look at the mural, Toracca said, “When I grow up, I’m going to buy buildings and have you paint them.” He made good on his youthful promise. Weber recalls, “He called me ten years later and he had acquired three buildings. He commissioned me to paint all of them!”

Marker Buoys New Brunswick, Canada 2003

Sometimes, a wrong turn on a road trip can lead to a resting stop with an interesting view. I positioned myself at a restricted entry just off the highway and waited for the clouds to roll in.

Meet The Leaders Cap Le Moine, Nova Scotia Canada 2003

In 1984, Joe Delaney planted a garden and built three scarecrows — dressed in a variety of costumes — as a means to scare away wild animals. Overnight, tourists began to stop by to see his creations. Soon after, scarecrows were sprouting up everywhere and Joe's roadside attraction became known as “Joe’s Scarecrow Village.”

Unfortunately, Joe’s crop met up with some villains and all but one scarecrow was destroyed. The survivor was given a feature in a local newspaper. Near and far, the story caught hold of people who, in return, championed Joe’s cause with donations of clothing, materials and money to rebuild his scarecrow collection. The village players finally retired from garden duty in 2011 – leaving their legacy in this part of Nova Scotia firmly planted.

No Longer In Danger Barcelona, Spain 1983

On an extremely hot and humid morning after breakfast, I made my way from the restaurant and became instantly refreshed with this view from across the street. The car was interesting, but the man dressed in black appeared even more intriguing. I hastily fumbled for my camera gear with expectation that this fleeting moment was about to change, but surprisingly, the man just stood there, enjoying his cigarette — quiet and funky like the Morris Minor itself.

Juxtaposed to this entertaining discovery was the puzzling Spanish graffiti on the wall. Translated, it reads, “Human rights: when violation is imminent. Relax and enjoy.” The phrase is unsettling, to say the least. Even so, the seemingly untroubled man beside a classic car on a peaceful street was enough to brush aside any trace of the message with this chance encounter.

Not Forgotten Buckow, Germany 2000

The German sign on the locked iron gate translates as, “Unauthorised Access Prohibited." It stares at one from the shoreline with ominous silence. Beyond the gate looms an even greater sense of uncertainty.

Buckow is a small town situated in the district of Brandenburg, about 45 km. from Berlin. Although it may appear threatening, this rural setting is surrounded by peaceful forests and lakes. It was once a place of residence for Bertolt Brecht who owned a summerhouse with his wife and actress, Helene Weigel, until his death in 1956.

Brecht's numerous plays — including Mother Courage and her Children — were written in resistance to the rise of Nazism. It’s understandable that he chose Buckow as an escape from creative activity to enjoy the views.

Possession Toronto, Canada 1997

We walked toward each other along Charles Street. Their gaze was transfixed on something in front of them. As we passed, I turned to see what the attraction was.

Reel Time Toronto, Canada 2012

The historical Revue Cinema in Toronto’s West End has occupied its Roncesvalles Avenue location since 1912 and, until June 2006, had never closed its doors. It re-opened in 2007 after a grassroots response raised the money to prevent its closure, and the Revue Film Society was founded. In their celebrated 100th year of almost continuous operation, the cinema received a generous grant that bankrolled their need for digital conversion.

When asked to photograph their projection booth for a day prior to the upgrade, I confessed to never having stepped foot in such a space. I was also unaware of what a projectionist’s trade entailed or of the potential life-threatening dangers they faced during the early days of film projection. After a quick visit and chat with the projectionist, my request to stretch a day into a week was granted.

Cellulose nitrate film was the original medium for most screenings prior to the early 1950s, and for virtually every silent film ever made. It was also extremely dangerous. If cellulose nitrate combusts, as it quite often did back then, the fire generates its own oxygen, creating a flame that cannot be extinguished. Any attempt to smother it — or even worse, use water — will create poisonous gases. It essentially burns until the cellulose is gone. This was explained to me by the highly trained projectionist as he pointed out the old mechanisms that sealed the booth in the event of a fire.

(According to a 1936 issue of International Projectionist, it’s estimated that, on average, one American projectionist died every eighteen days of cellulose nitrate–related incidents.)

Sailor Sydney, Australia 1997

A spontaneous trip to the South Pacific resulted in this image from my Motion by Moment series. The oblique shadow lines first caught my attention, followed by the building’s texture and shapes. Then, out of nowhere, the sailor appeared. I was 25 metres away and had just enough time for one shot.

Soya Mill Demolition Toronto, Canada 1995

The Victory Soya Mills began operations on Toronto’s waterfront in the 1940s. An era of the industrial age, the plant was built to extract and process soybean, linseed and other vegetable oils. It became the largest soybean crusher in Canada until it ceased production in 1991. Padlocked and left for dead, it became a popular refuge for squatters until the wrecking ball swung.

The Annunciation Toronto, Canada 2002

Elizabeth Szathmary was an accomplished artist and a tour de force in the Toronto arts community. In May 2002, she was working on a modern dance piece The Annunciation with David Hatch Walker when I arranged to meet them for a photo session. The studio in her building was unavailable, so we shot the dance sequence in a neighbouring squash court. It proved to be her last dance.

The day before Szathmary died, she kept repeating, “the vultures are circling, the vultures are circling.” I assumed she was having hallucinatory dreams, but it became very clear that the message was a conscious warning.

The Elizabeth Szathmary Story

The Capeman New York City, USA 1997

On the sidewalk directly in front of the Marquis Theatre, a chalk artist had just completed this depiction of convicted murderer, Salvador Agrón. It served as a temporary advertisement for The Capeman — a musical play based on Agrón’s life by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott.

The curtain rose on the production four months later to mixed reviews. It was reported to be one of the most unusual and highly controversial shows ever to be seen on Broadway. Despite earning a Theater World Award and Tony Award nominations, the musical closed after only 68 performances.