The Only Constant is Change…

…Someone reminded me of that recently and I guess it rings true.  And so the tides of change have come to vkhps.  I’ve grabbed on to an idea and ran with it; the first step was changing hosts and gaining a little more control over things.

The original idea behind vkhps has morphed into something completely different and substantially more focused, which is a great feeling as I’m usually the proverbial chicken pas tete.  (I’m sure my wife Natalie will have something to say about my french.)

I don’t want to pretend I have a great following of readers, but I didn’t want anyone to be worried that I had been abducted by aliens or anything.


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Will the Word Proccessor ever replace the Typewriter?

You know those books you receive as presents from family or friends, the ones of which you may only read a few pages, more out of obligation than interest.  I have a few next to my bed, on the bookshelf in the living room, some stored in a box in the garage.  It’s not that they’re unappreciated, just not what you’re looking for at the moment.

In my early twenties, having acquired the opportunity to work as a reporter at a small local newspaper, my oldest sister gave me three books; Strunk and Whites, The Elements of StyleThe Random House Guide to Good Writing, Mitchell Ivers ;  and Writing!  An informal, anecdotal guide to the secrets of crafting and selling non-fiction, Adrian Waller.

I remember glancing through them, but I’m sure in my youthful arrogance I felt I was not in need of instruction.  Unfortunately the first of the three, and perhaps the most needed, Elements of Style, I’ve misplaced or lost.  The other two I’ve held on to and have moved with me many times in the nearly twenty years since receiving them.

Recently, I took in hand the Adrian Waller guide to non-fiction and read through it finally in it’s entirety.  At the time of publication (1987), Waller had written numerous article for Time and Readers Digest, as well as several other books on theater and writing.  It was a great read with a style and humor I appreciated.  Although dated, I think that the book has some great insights into writing and is still very relevant.  I would recommend it to anyone wishing to experience journalism first hand before the explosion of the internet.  (I’m sure there are plenty of other books on the subject available and would love to hear any suggestions.)

I found myself enthralled in the last few pages of chapter ten as he guides us through the process of self editing and re-writing his rough draft:

“I resort to a technique I’ve developed over the years to help me refine the organization I’ve done so far.  I call this my “clothes-line” system.  Developing chapters are strung together with Scotch tape and left dangling side by side like washing from a piece of cord which stretches from one side of my office to the other.  At a quick glance I can see how the work is really shaping.” 126

“As chapters grow, I work on dove-tailing the blocks within.  I then lay each on the floor so I can examine it more closely – on my hands and knees.  Friends smile.  On occasion, when seeing my work strewn from the kitchen to the front door, they’ve been known to ask if I’m being paid by the word or by the yard!”127

“Once again, the stapler, scissors, and paste pot re-emerge as I begin moving entire blocks of information, and sometimes only paragraphs or sentences, either within a chapter or from one to another.  It’s all trial and error because, later, I’ve been known to shift it all back to where it originally started out.”127

At first he admonishes the use of word processors, but then relents.

“Not being able to see a large piece of writing  in it’s entirety when wanted to seemed to be a serious flaw.  Thus virtually all my work – including this book –  has been done with two fingers on a manual typewriter, then has been sent to secretaries for clean-typing on an electric typewriter.  More recently, as one of them fed my articles and books into her word processor, I began to see the values of this remarkable invention.”128

I must admit, there’s some part of me that misses the endless words written in spiral notebooks, terrible spelling and all.  I’ve never had the need to go to the lengths that Waller did in his description, but it sound enticing, the tactile feel of paper, the chack chack chack of the manual typewriter, the paper piling up next to you as you finish one and load another.  And we get a true sense of where the term cut and paste originated.

A friend reminded me recently of the process that was necessary to ready the newspaper for publication when we worked there in the late eighties, early nineties.  We would be cutting long strips of printed articles with scissors and arranging them on sheets of card with sticky rollers to be shipped off to the printer, it makes me think of subversive youths printing anti establishment flyers undercover in an abandoned warehouse.  Although the printing of the paper was no longer done on site, smaller print jobs took place in the rear of the building and sometimes I would go and help burn plates or watch the large letterpress’ rhythmic roll and sway.

Reflecting that this blog I’m writing now may never see itself printed on paper, that I can consider myself ‘published’ as soon as I left-click on the button on my right, I wonder if Adrian would consider these times as a renaissance for journalism or a plague.

Strunk, William, Jr.; White, E.B. (2009). The Elements of Style (5th ed. ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Mitchell Ivers (1991). The Random House Guide to Good Writing.  Random House, Inc New York; and Random House Canada Limited Toronto.

Adrian Waller (1987). Writing!, An informal, anecdotal guide to the secrets of crafting and selling non-fiction.  McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, New York, Melbourne, London.

Posted in writing | 4 Comments

Continualy Amazed

After a visit to the park one evening we were trying to load everyone in the van, and what caught my eye were hundreds of tiny insects of different kinds caught in the distant rays of sunlight shining through some trees.  I turned my lens towards it and snapped a few shots, not really imagining that I would have enough resolution to capture what I saw, they were quite far away.

Weeks later I was processing some shots I took in Photo Shop Lightroom3 (I downloaded the free trial for thirty days), and I pulled up the ones from the park.  Pleasantly surprised, I zoomed in on the dancing fly’s and after sharpening slightly they came out quite well.  When the photo filled the screen again they were a little less noticeable, but all in all I was happy with the picture.  I moved my cursor around and it happened to land on the sun peeking through the trees…

There has been a few moments when playing in Lightroom  (I have no training) I slide a fader here, tweak that, just a smidgen more and WOW! I get smacked in the face buy what I see.  Now we all know what little experience I have with digital photography, so small things that are commonplace to most photographers makes me jump and say look.  The first time I reduced the noise, that’s like graininess on film, for a photo I shot at night with ISO 1600 my eyes began to well up.

So the little bump of the mouse into the trees was just by happenstance another revelation to behold, I squinted closely at what I saw, it was like perfect rays of light bursting through leaves, each one it’s own shade of green captured spiraling out to silhouette.  I didn’t know that this could be.  That’s the amazing thing about photographing the sun, you can look at it in all it’s beauty without it burning holes in your retina.

My thirty days are down to 17 and I’m trying to move through all the pics I’ve taken since I got the D40, and that count is growing daily, so I’ll be stuffing the piggy bank for a while till there’s enough to purchase.  I guess technology can be useful sometimes eh?

Contentment is wealth – where’d I read that today?

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Working it Out

The sound of the gravel road is left behind and all that is heard is the gentle whirr of the derailleur as the bicycle glides onto a grassy trail that disappears into green foliage ahead.  The seldom used tractor trail is lined mostly with willow on either side, but patches of the darker green of spruce and hemlock are found deeper, the darkness beneath I imagine as cool shade for squirrels and rabbits and other fauna, and cover from the interloper whirring past.

The perceptible quickening of my heart is felt when I’m about to embark on an adventure, whether it be bicycling to the marshland nearby, or finding the best vantage point for a sunset, or just driving until you see a location that perks your interest.  Is it nature that I’m looking for or people, architecture, still life?  Is it the quest for the perfect shot that drives me or the record of the experience that I want to capture?  Can I share how I feel right at that moment when I’m sitting on some exposed rock of the Canadian Shield next to untouched marshland watching minnows dart about in dark water that contains life in every drop, looking up at stout, hardy pine and listening to the winds low hush in it’s needles, and smell it’s pungent humus beneath.  To hear the plop of a frog jumping to safety in the water, or the wind rushing over the wings of a crow overhead.

click to enlarge

I’ve never considered myself a naturalist, although I spent most of my formative years in the woods and along streams (or in them).   I can look back and say that for the most part I’ve taken for granted what surrounds me.  After telling people where I grew up, they would often comment on how beautiful it is.  “Until you’ve lived there for twenty years” would be my reply.  We get caught up in the drama of life, pulled to distraction by responsibilities, relationships, finances, and a hundred other stressers you could list.  “Stop and smell the roses” they say.  “Yeah, I did that already, what now?”

So it isn’t trees and crows you’re interested in, that’s cool.  How about your wife, or your kids, your mum and dad, your motorcycle, your bicycle, cars, plains, guitars, churches, jelly beans, colour, monochrome, rainbow, hissing, bass drum, symphonic, jazz, chocolate pie, moonbeams, whatever…  There’s gotta be somethin’ that grabs you.  Grab your camera and look through that lens and look!  What do you see?  Where do you point it, and what do you see?  What do you see?  What lines are there, what curves,texture, what colour or lack there of?  You don’t have a camera?  Grab your fiddle, your paintbrush, your ipod, your salad fork, whatever it is that’s in front of you and look at what it’s made of.  What does it look like, smellsoundfeeltaste like.  Ask yourself what makes that thing beautiful.  Or ugly, or angry, or joyful.  I’ve managed to surround myself with vast amounts of stuff, with great effort, without ever affording the time to experience it, or ever really thinking to.  I’ve got a painting on the wall that I’ve never really looked at.

I’ve found a way to strap my camera bag onto my handlebars which makes it comfortable and has easier access when presented with an opportunity.  I don’t own a zoom that surpasses 80mm so I’m not able to get many close shots of animals or birds unless I’m physically close, but that’s not necessarily what I’m looking for.  Most of the time I bike after the dishes are washed and the homework’s done and the kids are put to bed, so it’s dusk and I’m still not used to hearing the coyotes yip from what seems a rather close distance, it’s disconcerting.  I push myself to go a little further, another road, another swarm of dear fly, another sunset.

My camera is always with me, but it’s not the focus of what I do.  It’s the tool with which I try to create a true, authentic representation of life with.  Like music, or writing, it’s a way for me to explain myself to others and to explain life to myself.  To capture an image is to hold onto a moment in time which otherwise passes by without a second thought.  Hold onto that the next time you are looking at someones family album, or pics of a fishing trip, or listening to someones music, or eating dinner at their house, it’s their lives they’re sharing with you.

I took these while visiting family in Sudbury Ontario last week, the sun was hot but the wind was cool.  Summer is fading quickly, you can see it in the shades of brown and ochre, and the sun hangs lower on the horizon.  The scents were overwhelming, it was as if every ten steps brought a new fragrance, or as in the case with the blueberries, taste!

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

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Freeman Patterson

Freeman Patterson photographing in South Africa

Freeman Patterson talks about his early years, his photography, and his surviving two liver transplants in a recent interview with Paul Kennedy on the CBC program Ideas.

“What you choose to photograph says something about you the photographer.  How you choose to photograph also says something about you.”

I appreciate his idea of the photographer taking from the object, but also the giving of ourselves to the photograph, how our “desires, hopes and fears” are brought to the picture.

“The camera definitely looks both ways.  Every photograph you make, every photograph I make, we’re all writing our own autobiography.”

How rarely we would see the importance and the permanence of the things we create.

What message are you communicating, or receiving when you look at your own photographs, whether they be art or just a record of time?  In what manner have these moments been important to you?  What consistencies, if any, are prevalent in your creations?

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Let’s be cirrus for a moment.

My wife  and I decided to go out for a bike ride one evening after supper recently.  There were clouds in the west that looked a little threatening, but they were far away and we weren’t going very far.  We headed west up the road (read:towards the clouds) and turned south on a side road a kilometer from our home.  We agreed to go to the stop sign and back.  Watching the clouds to our right,  it seemed as if those black thunderheads had decided to race to see who would get to us first.  The corn field next to us began to whip into a frenzy,and a wall of rain approached us like a sheet of smoked glass.  We laughed nervously and turned around just as the large drops began to pelt us, the wind picked us up in itself, our bicycles speeding without our aid until we had to put our feet down and apply the breaks to slow down.  It was as if we had been transplanted into the Wizard of Oz.  We made it home safely, laughing and wet, someone had even stopped to see if we wanted a ride.

Where we live we are able to see the horizon from our back door, it’s wonderful to see a storm approaching from the south-west.  It seems the systems often come up the St. Lawrence from the great lakes region.  Many time this summer, perhaps due to the hot humid weather, my wife and I have been able to watch safely from our bedroom window as a storm passes in the south, long rolling thunder and sheet lightening.  Nothing else compares to the vastness and power of these great clouds hulking across the sky.

Driving her into work, my eldest daughter and I were trying to remember the different cloud types: cumulus, cirrus, nimbus.  The names were familiar but we couldn’t remember what they applied to.  A quick search online brought me to a site aimed at children which was appropriate.  The names are almost as beautiful as the clouds themselves.  Cirrocumuls or mackeral sky for the resemblance to fish scales, a thin layer high in the atmosphere.  Altostratus often cover the sky with a thin gauze allowing the sun to appear like a silver dollar.  Cumulonimbus tower high and bring thunderstorms.

I wanted to do a photo-study on clouds trying to capture that sense of awe one feels sometimes when we take the time.  Making sure that I gave a true representation, and not manipulating the images beyond their natural appearance, what I saw where beautiful silver fires, or sometimes I felt as if I were beneath the surf looking up at huge rolling waves, or a crack in a sheet of slate to reveal silver mountains, and we’ve all seen sunsets that as they recede blend colour and hue so much it’s difficult to give them names.  It’s amazing how in nature we rarely see colours together that don’t compliment one another easily in our eyes.  It’s as if it was naturally inherent in us to see the beauty in creation.

The last week or so, if you saw me driving, you’d have seen me looking up, with my head in the clouds.  I chose a few photos I took to share with you, click on the smaller images to enlarge them.  The sunset lasted forever, a group of cows watched as I stood with my tripod, my feet in the soy field.  On the last one I decided to leave the rain drop on the lens to give a sense of the approaching rain.

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The End of an Era

Well today is a marked occasion in the artistic life of Paul Miller, the once stoic proponent of 35mm film has finally purchased a Digital SLR.  I know, I know, I’m around twenty years behind the rest of the world, but what can I say, I’m cheep.  My prized Praktica, fully manual SLR 35mmm will still be snugly stored in my camera bag with a few rolls of film (and now I’ve found where I can purchase Tmax ), but not long after a few hours of playing with the used Nikon D40 I picked up today, it fitting nicely in my hands and my fingers quick to discover how to adjust aperture and speed easily without fumbling and crying at the complexity of modern technology and vowing never to pick it up again, I began to see some potential.

Now I’m not trying to convince anyone that I’m a purest, and that the virtues of older technology far out-way that of the new, or that I’ve submitted myself to the ever immolating maw for the need to satisfy instant gratification, but I will say that not too long ago, somewhere deep inside, a little piece of my heart broke.

Look back with me three years, my camera was collecting dust on the shelf above the coats, and children and work occupied my attention, and there was little time to give to the task of artful photography.  Of course we had a cheep Kodak digital to take pictures of the kids to save and share, but it hardly had the control of my Praktica.  I mean, what’s depth of field?

It was a hot summer day and my wife and I had taken the kids out to look around the town-wide ‘trash and treasure’ day in the village where we lived, and after a grueling journey down main street where the three little ones had to stop at every table to look through boxes and baskets of used toys in order to spend their dollar on a bag of fifty carefully studied gems, we came upon some tables erected under some shady, grand chestnut trees.  My wife was talking with a friend and the kids were busy with their new finds sitting on the grass, and there, on one of the folding tables was a shining treasure, a silver and black Olympus OM1 amidst an assortment of lenses; the push-pull zoom even had a black leather carrying case with draw string.  A flood of memories washed over me like images revealing themselves on pure white, glossy paper in a tray of developer.  The trips to the pro shop to buy black and white film, the excursions with friends to experiment with techniques, dropping off the rolls to be developed, and waiting for a week before making the trip to see what awaits in the carefully folded envelopes.

“How much?” I asked.

“Twenty for everything,” he replied.

What!  Twenty dollars for this ancient artifact, this piece of human ingenuity, this mechanical marvel of marvels!  I mean, think of all the photographs that had been taken with this very camera, trips across country, weddings, graduations, days on the beech, flowers in the garden, closeups portraits of young lovers, all passing through the soft curve of the fifty millimeter or other suitable lens.  I couldn’t wait to get to the local photo store and get some rolls of film.  The light meter was functional so the battery was still good, and with the camera being a steal at twenty dollars, I had plenty of extra cash to spend on a multitude of different rolls of films.  I rushed the family home, jumped in the truck and raced to the local go-to place for all things camera, my mind filling with ideas, looking at trees and fields and hundreds of potential places and views to capture.

“Hello,” I grinned from ear to ear.

“How can we help you,” the man smiled back from behind the counter.

“I’m looking for a shutter release cable,” I motioned a pumping action with my thumb on a closed fist, “and a roll of 100 ISO and a couple of 200’s…”

He looked at me blankly, “You mean a shutter release?!” and he made the same motion with his hand.

“Yeah,” I nodded, still grinning stupidly.

That’s when it all began to fall apart.  He muttered something about perhaps finding something upstairs in storage and he went to look.  The young girl helping explained to me that they don’t have 100 or 200 ISO but they do have some 400, and they wouldn’t be getting any other kinds in.  He came back with a murky plastic bag with folded cardboard stapled at the top.  He flopped it on the counter and tried to imagine what he might charge for something like that.

“Where’s all the film?” I asked mystified.

That began a long discussion on the reality of photography for the previous ten years.  No more film within a few years, you can’t buy developer nor fixer for your darkroom, nor photographic paper.

“Why,” was his question, “would you bother?”

I dragged my foolish tail behind me with a limp shutter release cable and my three rolls of Fuji 400 in my hands and felt like a stupid, silly dinosaur.  I nearly broke down in tears as I explained to my wife what the terrible prognosticator of the impending doom for film cameras had said.  What happened?  You don’t obliterate one technology because an alternative has come along.  Digital is just for lazy, impatient people who don’t understand the intricacies of feeling the camera body, the aperture ring and clickety clickety of the advance leaver, the satisfaction of winding a roll back into its cocoon with the little tiny windy thing after the final frame has been captured.  The sense of reflected light smashing onto the  film branding itself into the silver emulsion.  The transmogrification of nitrocellulose-film-base into the images that fill your photo albums that stack on the bottom of your living room bookshelf and in boxes stuffed on the attic.

My dusty enlarger with missing bits and pieces will be buried deep in a landfill to never more shine it’s light through the smiling faces of my children onto paper so sensitive you had to purchase it at night.

As time went by, and I repeated my story of woe to unhearing friends and family, I became more and more sure footed in my stance that they will never beat me down, that film will last, and I shall be vindicated.  That there will always be someone who shares my love for things that are good and just and will keep open a shop that sells and prints film.

Move to present day, and I marvel jealously over photographs posted on Flickr and Facebook.  I still post photos from our 0.46 megapixel digital on my FB wall, and have piles of envelopes stacked on all surfaces in the house, some nice, some of family and friends with their eyes closed or of their mouths open in expressions of stupification.  I think the time has come for me to bite the bullet and pay the price.  I will buy a negative scanner so I can upload my beauties onto the world and blow their unsuspecting minds with images of tranquil blisstitude.  But I don’t have the money to buy a nice one so I’ll shop around for a used one.  A quick search online shows me there’s a shop on Bank  Street that sells used equipment.  Lets start there.

Enter into the realm of the photo-maniac.

“How can I help you sir?”

“Yah I’m looking for a dedicated scanner for 35mm negatives.”

“Well we have this one, but it’s pretty cheap and does a lousy job, but it’ll get it done for you…your other choice is this $7000 Epsome photoscannulator with a Dmax rating of 900 and a resolution that makes a flees bum look like the Rockies.”


“But what is it you’re trying to accomplish here?” and so it began, a somewhat abbreviated recital of what I’ve generously shared with you here and a sympathetic ear from the photoguru of Canada.

Ask one question,”so what’s the digital equivalent to 35mm film?” and get a detailed answer that shoots so far over your head you feel a cool breeze and hear a hollow sound like you may be entering a coma.

“Well, I gotta D40 in the back here, it’s got no lens but I’ll let it go for two hundred.”

I mean, the cheap scanner was near that anyways.

I smucked a lens on it from my camera bag (the fact that I have a Nikon lens is another long story that I’ll perhaps save for another occasion) and played with it a bit.  My new friend loaded the photos onto his laptop and voilà.

“Hey, those are pretty good,” I marveled.

So I don’t have auto focus, but that’s more technology wasted on useless irrelevance.  I snapped the equivalent of 40 rolls of film within 35 minutes of being home and have a handful of pictures that I would be willing to allow the rest of the world to see, if only they suffer to the end of this post.

Why do we cling so tightly to the past sometimes?  Will I use film ever again?  Who knows, but don’t tell me you don’t sometimes yearn for the simpler days of your youth, whether it be riding in your dad’s 20 foot station wagon with room to sit twelve, or the day your folks brought home your first black and white television.  Life was good back then, even if it wasn’t really.

Click me please.

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