road-tripping the end of the world

Archive for August, 2011

one of these leaders is not like the other

Vladimir Putin

Stephen Harper

Vladimir Putin is starting his election year by touring on a motorbike, with Russian motorcycle club The Night Wolves, who were instrumental in the rescue of children and families from war-torn areas during WWII. This man is the coolest dude in world politics, bar none.

And yes, I feel like I’ve polluted this blog by putting a photo of Harper here.

All that being said, the few photos that have emerged from Putin’s tour are pretty interesting from a somewhat analytical viewpoint. Most are at night, most of the vehicles are in black, and he really does look like a proud leader of a motorcycle gang parading across his conquered territory.

Flags and banners, a lack of visible security or bullet screens; there’s a brazenness to it that’s both intimidating and likely ‘inspiring’ of power, all of which softened by the idea that he’s travelling with WWII veterans who rescued children. Not to mention the delicious “pack” mentality that is no doubt infectious to those he’s riding with and visiting. There’s a fairly interesting adaptive form of nationalism at work here, signified by the flags, but masked by motorcycle culture and compassionate military history, and I’d say a little sense of rebellion. Probably more than I have time to write here about, but I’ll be keeping an eye on Mr. Putin. Clever and stylish!

derek liddington – dandy gangs: a working-class love story

The Warhols - Dandy Gangs: A working-class love story

This past week I had the pleasure of serving as still photographer for Derek Liddington’s Dandy Gangs: A working-class love story .  Derek’s statement for the performance:

“The performance Dandy Gangs: a working-class love story looks at possible repetitions founded in dandy, hip hop, punk, rock n’ roll and gang aesthetics. Consistent with my interest in melding popular histories and autobiographical moments I have borrowed locations from hangouts I had as a youth growing up in Mississauga, including Mississauga’s Civic Centre and Kariya Park. At scheduled times knowing and unknowing audiences will watch as two groups of dancers and tenors interact through operatic song and dance choreography based on early Fluxus happenings, scenes from West Side Story and operatic interpretations of early 90’s hip hop music. Viewers will watch as opposing dandy-gangs entangle in scenarios of territorial misunderstanding, conflict, tension and resolution expressed through a Fluxus-dance-rock-opera. Gang members will be presented as caricatures melding fashions and attitudes borrowed from the flâneur, dandy and punk; likening the performers to the cultural phenomenon of flash-mobs.” (

The two featured gangs were The Warhols (pictured above) and The Stallones, each with a distinctive uniform and their own gang leaders, all wearing masks of their respective namesakes. The outfits were meticulously constructed, with metal studs outlining the gang names on the backs of the clothing (I can’t imagine what all this cost to have made). Wigs were similarly used to distinguish the gangs, and in the same manner, the gang leaders, who had beautiful leather tail-coats.

The performance occurred in three parts: a chance meeting and confrontation between the two gangs during a picnic in a park, a progression of each gang through Square One mall, and a final, operatic-rock battle in Celebration Square, a giant recreation fountain.

Dandy Gangs - Battle at Celebration Square

Photographing the performance was definitely challenging but thoroughly enjoyable. Too often I’ve seen performance work essentially destroyed by a photographer literally pointing a camera a few feet from the performer’s faces; I used a relatively long lens and aimed to be as inconspicuous as possible, and I think I did pretty well. The resulting images were, in my opinion, extremely successful and I quite enjoyed “reliving” the whole performance as I processed the final photos.

Following the cut below I’ve included some of the ‘highlights’ and a few feature photos showing the principal players and outfits.


ottawa valley composites

Mill Interior, Balaclava, Ontario

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to road trip to the Ottawa Valley with my mother, the main purpose of which to find some of the small towns and villages founded by our ancestors in the early 1800s. The Ottawa Valley is quite beautiful, and well suited to a road trip in a Jeep; we found a number of reasonably spooky logging trails and dead-end roads, abandoned buildings, all the hallmarks of a region once prospering on resource acquisition, and now largely sustained on a tourist industry.

Finding the graves of our ancestors was not only unexpected, but quite emotional. We have scattered records of the family tree, many incomplete (and now more complete), but finding names written in stone that once only existed on paper was a completely new experience, it seemed to “make real” the mark our family has made on this landscape and its history.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to explore some of the ghost towns in the region, specifically here, Balaclava, a mill about an hour’s south from Pembroke. The mill has been long abandoned, and some research suggested at one point it was to be preserved as a historic monument, but money and interest fettered away and it sits mostly forgotten. The small town surrounding it, comprised of a logging road and maybe a half dozen modern buildings, was very quiet, marked only by a small recreation area on the river aimed at fishermen.  The only denizen we met was a very happy dog that wandered the town, and I will confess I didn’t get a photo of him because I was too worried about a lone dog out in the middle of the road.

I did, however, get a chance to put into practice some of the composite shooting techniques I’ve developed, and while these were somewhat hastily shot and far from perfect, the result does function very well. The two larger images are composed of 40-50 images each, and clock in at around “400 megapixels” if you were to measure them as such. As jpegs at full resolution are over 20 megs, I’ve just included some details here (after the cut).

The images themselves capture the mill itself, an out building across the street (with some modern wiring for no visible reason), and the interior of the mill. I don’t know who put the picnic table inside – or how they even got it in there – but it’s definitely “more” contemporary than the mill itself, which dates back to the late 1800s.

The Mill at Balaclava

Mill out-building, with contemporary wiring

Details and more rambling follow below.