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 in the past. 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

To help fuel my passion for photographic art, I moved to Toronto in 1979 and began an apprenticeship in the graphics arts as an imaging specialist. My studio manager, and soon to be mentor, was photographer 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. He generally had an ample supply of cocktail glasses, but never fancy ones; most likely because they got chipped or broken with regular use.

After Wes died in 2000, I received numerous items as part of an inheritance package from his estate, including one of his martini glasses. It had been sitting in my cupboard for years — glaring back at me from time to time — until it one day finally spoke to me. I reached in, dusted off the glass and examined it. Sure enough. I had forgotten the small chip.

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 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 bikes and sporting goods since 1914.

With limited access to the street, I made my way around Duke’s to an alleyway. It was here when I met photographer Jennifer Lynn Hunting, a.k.a. “L8DYBUG.” We stopped at this icicle-covered wall mural and marveled at its surreal beauty. For just a short-lived moment, it stood tall and gloriously sturdy, only to collapse hours later in a heap of flame and combustion.

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

My desire to visit Arles was influenced by a brilliant stage production in Toronto called, "The Yellow House in Arles". The two-man show — written and performed by Dennis Hayes and Richard Payne — portrayed an accurate account of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh during their brief, but tumultuous collaboration in the south of France.

One can understand how this charming small city and its surrounding landscape inspired them to apply paint to canvas. (For many, Van Gogh’s work in Arles is considered to be the most creative period of his career.) Upon leaving, I gazed out of my hotel window to capture this image — a farewell to honour a place made famous by the rivalry of two celebrated 19th century painters.

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. Explained by Mr. Scriver, “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 as El Gallo under his brush name) is an established Bay Area muralist/painter in San Francisco. This segment of his Jazz Mural prominently features Benny Goodman on clarinet and Teddy Wilson on piano. In its entirety, the mural covers two sides of a building — four stories high and 30 metres in length — at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus.

One of Goodman’s daughters is quoted as saying: “Without question, it’s one of the best portraits done, an uncanny resemblance. I always look up from my steering wheel and say a quick hello to Daddy when I pass.”

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 humid morning after breakfast, I made my way from the restaurant to find myself immediately refreshed with this view from across the street. The car was interesting, but the man 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.

Years later, when I began working on this image, I was surprised to learn of the Spanish graffiti on the wall behind the man. It reads, “Human rights: when violation is no longer in danger.”

The message was a welcomed addition, and the seemingly untroubled man beside a classic car on a peaceful street seemed complete.

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 image shown here was photographed on-location at the historical Revue Cinema in Toronto’s west end. It’s an excerpt from The Projection Booth — a series that examines the disappearance of film as a medium in the new age of digital projection. Shot in the small, muggy confines of the projectionist’s workspace, many of the resulting images were achieved during live showings.

(The Revue Cinema has occupied its Roncesvalles Avenue location since 1912, and until June, 2006, 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.)

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 Elizabeth 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.