Country in the City

Photo opportunities are always close at hand–travel through your own city and create wonderful cityscapes and photo projects for yourself.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This photograph was made at “Casa Loma”, a huge castle-like home, one of Toronto’s better-known tourist attractions. I have spent many hours wandering the grounds of this wonderful location, making various photographs during periods of good light. However, I was overjoyed to find this sculpture, during one of my trips.

The challenge, of course, was to find a composition that would be exciting, with a viewpoint that was different, and yet produce a good “destination specific” photograph. That is to say, anybody who had been to Casa Loma in the past would immediately recognize that this photograph had been made there.

This photograph was made with a 24 mm lens, and a polarizing filter. I used the “worm’s eye view”, placing the silhouette of the bird statue against the background of the castle.

In a recent edition of Outdoor Photographer magazine, Bill Hatcher writes about burnout, “…those moments in photography when we face a creative block…”. He talks about how he goes to great lengths to re-motivate his interest and creativity in photography. In recent Apogee Photo web pages, there appeared an article on “Striking Out” by Andy Long, who discusses “… those unproductive photography days in the field”. He talks about the light perhaps being wrong, or the opportunities not presenting themselves. He intimates that, if you’re not finding what you need or what you want, perhaps you should simply pull out a different camera or a different lens, and shoot something different, simply to enjoy what you are doing and where you are. This, too, is a function of trying to motivate one’s self.

A good percentage of serious photographers live in urban areas. Like me, they probably have a number of ongoing projects that city living presents in the way of photographic opportunities.

One of my favorites is what I call, “The country in the city”. I try to find opportunities to make photographs where two cultures, as it were, are mixed. That is to say, something from the country has come to the city. It’s not easy to find, and my small archives, representing quite a considerable period of time in looking for and finding these photographs, grows slowly. That makes it a challenge and a challenge is what we need when we’re suffering burnout.

The kinds of opportunities I look for in photographing “the country in the city” may include occasions where gardens are discovered in unusual city locations; where statues of animals are found in an office; and other situations where, in the middle of an urban area, you suddenly discover something that you would normally expect to find only in the country.

The photographer gets to set the rules as to what qualifies for the project and what does not, and so he can change the rules as he wishes.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This photograph of a zebra, standing in a snowy field, goes all the way back to my time as a student with the New York Institute of Photography. This may well be the very first photograph which launched this project.

I still recall the enthusiasm of my NYI mentor, and his voice on the tape cassette that he sent me as my critique for this assignment, excited as to the possibilities of finding a zebra in the middle of a snowfield. I could only reply, “… only at the Toronto Zoo, of course!”

For example, I have made many trips to the Toronto Zoo, and have come home with lots of animal photographs. None of these have qualified for my particular project. However, on one occasion when we went to the Zoo during the winter, I was able to photograph zebra in the middle of a snow-covered field. That was unusual enough that I included it in the project. You might argue that I was playing fast and loose with the project parameters in this case, but I get to set the rules, and change them.

My primary project parameter seems to be that each encounter takes me by surprise. For example, I would expect to find trees growing in a backyard in a residential area of the city, but not in the middle of an office building downtown. Lizards climbing up city walls, moose standing on diving boards, dolphins swimming in the middle of a city square, or perhaps large bulls standing in the middle of the sidewalk are all the kinds of opportunities I seek. Luckily, in Toronto, there are many people who enjoy creating art and many others who enjoy buying it. This combination constantly seems to present me with new chances to make my images.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This intriguing collection of trees can be found in an office building on King Street, in downtown Toronto, close to the theatre district. I’m not sure whether or not there are large pots under the floor, or if the trees are actually rooted in the ground. My fisheye lens made this an interesting composition, with my wife included well in the background, to provide a bit of scale for the photograph.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This photograph is one of my favourites for this project. It represents a tourist campaign by one of our former mayors, who offered them up to whoever wished to have one. These quickly became known as “Mel’s Moose”, and were found all over the city. These moose sculptures were life size, and were often painted in psychedelic colors by those who acquired them. They turned up in the strangest places imaginable, but this one on a diving board down in the new City Hall area had to be the strangest of all.

I deliberately adopted the “worm’s eye view” (not much choice in the matter!), so as to place the moose in the negative space of the sky between the buildings, and to emphasize the strong lines of his construction.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

The “Mira Godard” gallery, in the Yorkville area of Toronto, handles a variety of art from well-known artists. This bull has been out on the sidewalk for a very long time, and I’ve had the opportunity to photograph it, under various kinds of lighting. My 24 mm wide-angle lens emphasized the massive head of the creature, while the foreground v-shape of the stand under the bull provides nice leading lines.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

The famous sculptures of Canada geese, found in the Eaton Centre on Yonge Street in Toronto, continue to attract the interest of local photographers. The challenge, of course, is to produce a composition that nobody else has been able to come up with so far.

In pursuing these photographs, the rules of good photography must apply. I’m not interested in simply making record shots of statues or trees that I happen to find in my explorations of Toronto. The light has to be of good quality, and I have to be able to create an interesting composition of the subject. I will often return to a photographic opportunity of this sort on a number of occasions, until the combination of circumstances is exactly right.

For example, there are a series of sculptures of cows in a downtown Toronto office location, where I have made several interesting photographs. The first was done in the summer, but the most recent and more interesting was done in the winter, when the cows were covered in snow. My first photograph was made using a 24 mm lens and the second photograph was done with my 15mm fisheye lens, providing an entirely different look. The third photograph will be made using the “bird’s eye view”, as soon as I can find somebody to lend me a helicopter.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This is one of several images I have made, of a collection of sculptures found in the financial district of downtown Toronto.

It’s not obvious at first, but all four cow sculptures are identical, simply oriented in different directions. In this image I tried to eliminate as much of the urban background as was possible, but of course that’s not very easy. The use of a step ladder (or a helicopter!) would have facilitated a somewhat better composition.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This photograph was made of the same cow sculptures in Toronto’s downtown financial district. In this case, I used a 15 mm fisheye lens. I was able to eliminate all but one of the cows, and rather than exclude the urban background in this photograph, I made a distinct effort to include it, so that it would appear the cow was resting in a field in the middle of a busy city area. The fact that the cow and the field are snow-covered simply adds to the interest.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

I found this opportunity to add to my archive, while walking through the theatre district on King Street, in downtown Toronto. It is an eye-catching ad for a local restaurant.

This image represents quite a difficult exposure problem, not a photograph to be made using auto-exposure. I spot- metered on the red brick between the two cows and used that as the basis for my exposure.

One of the advantages of embarking upon a project such as this is that it gets me around the city a great deal, looking in all the nooks and crannies, walking up lanes and down small streets, and always carrying my camera in hopes of encountering another photo opportunity. On days when I’m feeling stale and feel that I require motivation, I find myself driving to areas of the city were I’ve not been before, or walking through a neighborhood which has not yet felt my hiking boots. As freelance travel journalists, my wife and I have visited many parts of the world, but we’ve always felt that it was just as much fun playing tourist in our own city.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This photograph was made in the Distillery area of Toronto, very late one summer afternoon. I found this family having fun making family photographs, using the tree sculpture as a framing device, and so I jumped right in and helped myself to a neat composition. Of course, the image is called “Family Tree”!

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

This intriguing sculpture was found in one of the courtyards associated with a number of downtown office buildings that together form a square. In the background can be seen an entire natural garden, placed there for the enjoyment of office workers who need a breath of fresh air, or a place to eat their lunch. With this image, I felt I was really getting to the “root” of my photographic project!

Of course, for this kind of project, the secret is to always carry the camera. The photographer’s rule “f8 and be there” really applies here. You may often find these opportunities to add to your projects archives but once, and if you’re not prepared to capture those photographs at the time, they may never come this way again.

Copyright © Mike Goldstein

I hope the philosophy of this article, if not the specific theme, will help you to jump-start your creative juices once again, the next time the artistic “blahs” rear their ugly heads.

by Mike Goldstein

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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