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This week I went along to a rally outside Queen’s Park, the Ontario provincial legislature building in Toronto. I was there to support my niece and her husband and family in their struggle against the cruel and callous cuts that the Liberal government are making in the funding for autism programs. Of course I took my camera. This wasn’t an event where I was an outside observer simply looking for pictures, it was something in which I was, I am, emotionally invested and I wanted my pictures to reflect that involvement, to show the struggle that these parents and families are going through simply because the provincial government wants to save money.

You have to wonder about the thought process of politicians and how they reconcile their supposed duties of care and service with the intense harm they are doing. Families with autistic children? Not a problem, Premier. They’ll be too busy to protest. They’re ordinary joes so they won’t make a fuss. We can save some cash there and maybe spend it on defending ourselves from the fifth police investigation in recent years.

The rally had a colour theme, blue. There are so many causes that use colour to identify themselves, there always have been. Going back to the Blues, Greens, Reds and White in ancient Rome, through the development of military uniforms to sports teams, colour provides a unifying identity, a way of saying “that person is with us, we’re part of the same cause”. In this case it’s blue, blue shirts everywhere, blue flags waving in a slight breeze on a beautiful sunny lunchtime. Blue against the red stone backdrop of the provincial Parliament building where the Liberal politicians hid all day and from where they refused to come out to meet their victims.


I took my pictures, listened to the emotional and passionate speakers, spoke to the leader of the Ontario PC party myself and generally just tried to be there as support for the family (and families). I went home to process the pictures and put them up on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter as you do these days. Now, following a tip from the Canadian landscape photographer Darwin Wiggett, my LCD preview, the JPG shot, is always set to black and white. You can see the tones better that way.

But on my way home I had a sudden thought – had I changed the settings on my camera to shoot both RAW & JPG, which would give me 2 versions of the picture, one in colour and one in B&W? I checked. I had not. I had no record of the colour, the blue, the uniformity of the crowd, the impact that the colour made, the multi-coloured lapel stickers, I had only black and white. To be honest, that didn’t worry me too much because some of my best (I think) shots have been B&W, but I had hoped to show some of the colour of the day in my pictures.


So I processed the pictures without colour and I had no blue. But you know what I had instead? Pictures that had soul. Pictures that had feeling and emotion. There were no distractions and no artificial prettiness. The focus (pun intended) was on exactly what it should have been on in order to tell the story of the day. It was on the people, the families, the speakers and the children. The pictures showed their pain and tears, the viewer’s attention was not distracted by colours. not just blue but the many other colours in the signs people had made and carried.

Those signs presented their message in stark black and white. I took a picture which showed the family I was there to support walking together; I look at the picture and the first thing I see is the mother’s face looking at her child with such a blend of concern and love. You can read everything there. I snapped one mother wiping away a tear during one of the speeches. The picture is all the stronger because it doesn’t care what colour shirt she was wearing, it shows the person and the struggle that they go through every single day. I’m proud of what that whole set says and the message it conveys.


Colour is a wonderful medium and some of my favourite photographs have been taken in colour. I love some of the current film stock, Portra 400 and Ektar 100, but it has it’s place. As the Canadian photographer Ted Grant said, and yes, it’s become a bit of a cliche but it’s no less true for all that, “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls”. Yesterday wasn’t a day for colour, yesterday was for black and white.





For more information on this topic and campaign please go to The Ontario Autism Coalition and lend your voice!

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This weekend I went to Algonquin Provincial Park with a couple of friends/family from our little photography group. Our plan had been to see the spectacular fall colours that, on average, reach their peak on the last weekend of September. Well, unfortunately, Nature has been so good to us over the summer that she’s now taking back when it comes to the Fall, so the peak change is going to be later than average this year. But, we had our hotel reservations which are impossible to change at this time of year, so it was then or never for us. Determined to make the best of it, we set off early on Saturday morning. When we reached the park about 3 hours later we saw that there was a decent amount of colour change, not anywhere near the peak that we’d hoped for, but enough to give us some excitement.

The two girls in the group had never been to the Park before, so this was all new for them. I’ve been a number of times so I’d actually wanted to do something a little different this time, and I’d planned a weekend of long exposures, ICM, multiple exposures and all-round ‘arty-farty’ (as my wife calls them) pictures. I had also just read up on a new technique being pioneered by a couple of photographers, Pep Ventosa and Stephen D’Agostino, called Photography In The Round which consists of circling a stationary object, say a tree, taking shots from all points of the circle and then combining them in PS to produce a very impressionistic single image. I was excited to try this and the other techniques, so the lack of colour didn’t matter that much to me.

Then there was the light. Everyone knows that landscape photographers only go out at dawn and dusk and never shoot anything in between because the light is so bad. Correct? No. At a seminar given by one of my inspirations, the Canadian landscape photographer Darwin Wiggett, he said – and I paraphrase – that there is no such thing as bad light, there’s only what you choose to do with it. So when we found ourselves on top of The Lookout in blazing sunshine in the middle of the afternoon with not a cloud in the sky, well then, we started to practice backlit portraits and fill flash, intentional camera movements and abstract photography. No, we couldn’t get the scenery we wanted, but we certainly could take photographs. We drove a long way to spend the weekend making pictures, and that’s what we did.

Editing is key too. I shot around 300 pictures. Most of them are technically sound; around 10% are what I consider keepers. They are the ones that show me something I haven’t seen before or that I haven’t achieved before. The rest, well they’re part of the journey. They’d make nice snapshots, but they wouldn’t generate a lot of interest. I’d rather have 25 good-to-great (in my not-so-humble opinion) pictures than 200 shots that were simply OK. But heck, it was fun and we made the most of the trip, the landscape, the environment and the opportunity to shoot for ourselves without boring the pants off our poor families.

Same time next year?

Algonquin road trip

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