road-tripping the end of the world


the once and future king: prologue

The exhibition proposals are finally going out for this body of work. I seem to function at a snail’s pace these days in developing work, but it actually feels like all the pre-production conceptual crap is up to snuff and I know what I’m going to do. The first work is all but finished, and can be seen in a previous post:

This is the current state of the “artist statment” for this initial group of works, to which I’m referring as the “Prologue”:

The Once and Future King (Prologue)

Referencing T.H. White’s portrayal of Merlin as a being who experiences time backwards to normal reality, “The Once And Future King” serves as makeshift-title for a large body of work documenting a series of strange, seemingly unconnected events whose causal mechanisms exist outside of normal time and space. While privileged to the ‘effects’ described by these images – the disappearance of a student from an abandoned Jeep, the gruesome aftermath of a monstrous invasion of a residential garage, a paradox of a time-travelling book –  the ‘causes’ of these events seem entirely unknowable to us.

Playing with the compression of time on a narrative scale, the characters stand in the moment, posing, perhaps with pride, as if in foreknowledge of the future-historical significance of their present context, a hypothetical “spark event” for a cataclysm yet to come.  The prophetic mode here references, inversely, the truism “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; within these narratives, history has already predetermined a far-flung future disaster, and while the immediate causal mechanisms of these bizarre, random events is unknowable, the certainty of their eventual impact becomes quite monstrous.

Staged in lost and unknown locations scattered across rural and suburban Southern Ontario, these stories occupy vague landscapes situated in a nether-space disconnected from recognizable geography, constantly familiar, yet existing anywhere, at any time, and nowhere simultaneously.

I’m starting some of the preliminary technical work (ie; camera angles, feasibility tests, set construction) for a work called “The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)”, although the repetition of “prologue” there bothers me and there’s a third title to a group of works called “The Ballad of Randall Carter” … and then another grouping simply called “Reunion” …. all grouped under The Once and Future King … I am disorganized.

Anyhow, here’s the narrative fragment that’ll accompany the work and serve as a ‘public’ description, and it explains why soon (well, weather permitting), this blog will be inundated with me taking photos of my Jeep from odd angles filled with books:

The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)

On a dark rural road in Ontario, the wine-red Jeep of one Randall Carter is found abandoned, door open, several large stacks of books balanced on the seats. Carefully folded on top of the books was found a military uniform, embroidered with Carter’s name and a series of unidentified insignia. The Jeep was discovered by Carter’s boyfriend, Charles D. Ward, after Carter’s protracted absence prompted Ward to retrace the route to Carter’s residence. Ward claims he found the Jeep by following the sound of music on the radio. The combined weight of the books was found to be 167 lbs, which coincidentally was approximately Carter’s own weight prior to his disappearance.


Abject apologies for the lack of updates here. Also, if my former students of this past semester would like to lend me permission to post some of their work here, drop me an email, you guys were great.


charles latham found!

Some of you might recall my brief article on Charles Latham, and his series Cyrus.

Well – Charles contacted me, and he has a new website! So please check out and all it’s photographic and design goodness, there’s some fantastic work there.

Thanks again Charles!

making a kill room / in progress pt. 2

A weeks worth of messing about in the garage has produced some 30 gigs of component photos to fiddle with, but while that’s actually happening, I thought I’d post some of the in-progress shots I accumulated along the way. The primary function for these is actually to address problems in the composite-process “ahead of time”, plotting the depth of field, framing etc… but as a result they’re a nice little documentation of the whole procedure as it goes along.

The final piece has a fair bit of work left to it, so I don’t want to discuss it much until it’s complete, but I included a preview at the end. Also, there’s links along the way if you’d like to see the full-resolution images in all their excessive detail.

Edit: I’ve now written this post six times over. Images keep vanishing or text starts inexplicably moving into the image ‘captions’. This is a bit frustrating, hopefully this will finally work.

The door has a lot of history (and claw marks), and the sawhorses usually support the soft-top for the jeep; I used three cheap halogen worklamps for lighting (two 500w and one clip-on 250w), and an old trouble light, which worked quite well.

Cheap lightweight painter’s plastic sheeting – not the heavyduty stuff, so it wasn’t exactly durable (or wind proof), but it was cheap and cheerful. Shockingly, duct tape doesn’t adhere very well to old, dusty wood, but it still functioned well as a liner for the plastic through which I drove many a nail. The arrangement was meant to be haphazard and minimal at best, but still afford for some easy cleanup (which it did, beautifully). This shoot was at night, I shot it all again to check the lighting during the day, and fix some focus issues the night shoot highlighted.

Apparently half the text of this post is now missing. Awesome. Here’s the above scene shot the next day, with day light:

The light from the window and entrance (behind the camera) provides some nice fill light, and I fixed a few of the focus/framing/depth of field issues that occurred in the night shots. Finally, adding some of the props and objects that would be in the final shoot:

Good clean fun. Here’s a preview of the not-so-clean-fun:

dismembering an eldritch horror

I have to credit The Propnomicon as an invaluable resource on all things fake-blood and goo related. I ended up using a simple recipe of green-coloured detergent mixed with india ink and charcoal powder for the majority of the ‘wet’ goo, the best part was it cleaned up real quick with just the hose and some occasional scrubbing. My buddy Jer provided some thicker, heavier material you can see on the axe head and elsewhere in the piece that he described as “basically thickened water” – I’ll see if I can coax the recipe out of him, but given he works at a specialty lab for custom rubbers and resins, I imagine the ingredients aren’t over-the-counter. It was delightfully thick and gross however.

The whole shebang cleaned up like a proper Dexter-style kill room too, in about ten minutes, and that was just peachy.

Hopefully the final work will be ready in a week or two, right now all the finer adjustments and brain surgery are on the agenda.

in progress

Garage interior, composite test shoot

I’ve dedicated this week to executing a piece I’ve been planning for some time now, and finally things have mostly fallen into place to get it done. It’s part of a larger series of images which I’ll discuss later, but this one is situated inside my garage, so some cleaning and test-shoots have been needed. Above is the third composite test-shoot of the area I’m going to set up the narrative scene in; there’s just over 30 frames making up the final composite. I’ve posted some details below the cut, but if you’d like to explore the image on your own, my friend Jason linked me to as a means of posting these large images, so feel free to check out the full-res image via their site at (couldn’t get it to embed here, any suggestions are most welcome). Again, this isn’t the final work, just a technical test shoot to iron out some problems.

Tentative schedule has the final bloody shoot finished on friday or saturday, hoping a rough cut can be posted early next week. Details below!


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.


charles latham (whatever happened to…)

Sometime last year I picked up Susan Bright’s Autofocus: The Self-portrait in Contemporary Photography, in which I discovered this series by Charles Latham, Cyrus (2006).

Charles Latham, Cyrus, 2006 (1)

Bright describes the creation of this series (three images total, click the “read more” link at the end to see the others), as occuring after Latham, in response to the break up of a relationship, posted photos of himself enacting self-harm online.  The heated response provoked Latham to find a more constructive means of investigating the source of this impulse, and this resulted in the creation of Cyrus, an imaginary friend. Latham projected onto Cyrus his insecurities, feelings of self-loathing, and anxieties as a means of personifying these aspects of himself with which he was struggling, essentially creating an abject Self.

I have yet to discern if within these photos Latham has posed himself as Cyrus, or whether he’s using a model, but Latham appears in the images as himself essentially as a mediator between Cyrus and his viewer.  This mediation elevates this series from simply being a confrontational piece – a simple portrait of Cyrus might be too forceful, and would lack the engaged consideration Latham demonstrates by posing alongside his imaginary friend. Latham essentially shows a portrait of a relationship, and by extension, a negotiation with these more volatile aspects of his psyche.

Describing Cyrus, Latham states:

Cyrus is a special needs case. He’s extremely impulsive, has a tendency to make the wrong decision and is prone to depression. He is extremely self-destructive. Typically he is someone in need of a lot of supervision and instruction. It’s the equivalent of having a new puppy… Cyrus makes an excellent minion because he’s sort of a workhorse. There isn’t much that he wouldn’t do for his owner, provided he is met with positive reinforcement, otherwise the system breaks down and he will no doubt start acting out. Things sometimes get broken. Things sometimes get bloody.”

There is a larger discussion on the self-portrait as abject here, as well as the role of the therapeutic impulse in art (recent undergraduate-graduating exhibitions have kinda provoked some extended thought on the issue), but I will leave that for another time.

All that being said – the point of this post was actually something of a side-track: I can’t seem to find any other work by Charles Latham, or really any reference to him apart from this entry in Susan Bright’s book. What ever happened to Charles Latham? Anyone know? It would be a shame if someone able to produce such a sophisticated, well-considered portrait series just dropped off the face of the planet thereafter.

Edit: Found this:

(click the ‘read more’ link below to see the rest of the series)


dslr quandries / composite-image meddling

As most Nikon “enthusiasts” are aware, Nikon has been delaying … or just not bothering … to release a replacement for the venerable D700, their only full-frame DSLR that retails under $5000. The gap is pretty large – the D700 runs around $2500ish canadian, and the next step up, the D3S, is $5200. Both are 12 megapixels, incidently, the only DSLR body in Nikon’s line surpassing that – 24 MP – being the D3X, which is around $8000.

This seems like a problem to me, and most retailers have seen it as such for some time – not only is there a huge “megapixel” gap, there’s a giant price range which Nikon hasn’t filled – actually two gaps, really; The D300s, their high-end crop-sensor DSLR, runs around $1300, the D700 clocks in at $2500, and the D3S, again, $5200 – all 12 MP cameras, by the way.

This becomes a ‘worse’ problem when you look at the Canon line – their 7D, at 18 MP, with a 1.3x crop sensor sits nicely between the D700 and D300s price wise, and their D700 equivilent (speaking fairly arbitrarily here), the 5D MkII, is about the same cost, and is a massive 21 MP full frame sensor. Canon fills in all the gaps nikon has left, and doesn’t have this bizarre fixation with 12 MP in their full-frame cameras.

Why am I bitching about this? Well, basically, I’ve been reaching the limitations my S5 Pro can manage for print-size, and I’ve wanted to make the jump to a full-frame DSLR. But it seems somewhat redundant to go from a 12 MP camera to another 12 MP camera, so I’ve been hoping, for a good year now, to invest in the replacement for the D700 when it came out, but Nikon has been dragging its heels. They say “summer” now, which, I guess, is better than nothing, but meanwhile I have prototyping and planning to do … not to mention exhibition proposals and grants … so I’ve been forced to improvise.

(and, yes, heresy, but if more delays or some kind of shocking price point occurs with the D800, I will switch to Canon and get a 5D Mk II)

With composite imagery, the problem of parallax tends to be the chief obstacle in stitching multiple horizontal layers of images together, particularly when there’s the existence of horizontal and vertical lines to match up … or extreme angles … or big long-ass panos. Being a significant distance from your subject tends to help – a 2 gigapixel or some nonsense image of the grand canyon comes to mind from a few years back – so big, expansive landscapes lend themselves to extremely “high megapixel” composite images. Interior spaces, anything within 15′ of the camera, problems arise.

So the current mess of a project I’m thinking through right now requires an extreme amount of ‘readable’ detail, and will be printed fairly large (I’m thinking 60′ x 90′ ish right now, and I’m fishing for suggestions on mounting such monstrosities…), so a high-res composite image is pretty much a must. I really wanted a 20MP, full-frame camera to execute this with, because it’d require less photos to stitch together, but that just doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

So I’ve been futzing around with methods for achieving this on my own with my trusty S5 Pro. My first successful test involved a garage wall, standing about 10′ away from it, using a 50mm lens to help offset the parallax issue, and I was pretty shocked at how well it stitched together. The resulting image, ironically, covers about the range of a 20mm lens from the same distance – this isn’t really compressing space like a wide-angle composite pano.

Anyway, what follows (click the ‘read more’ below) is the final image, and then some details with reference image from where I pulled them. (… as I’m inserting these into the post, I’m noticing they’re fairly dark and not as sharp as I thought. I didn’t really do any post-processing apart from the composite stitching, so .. that’s likely why. It’s just proof of concept anyway.)


first digital medium format experience

Somehow I was gonna try to avoid sexual connotations here as per the usual straight-dude technology whatever … maybe I will nonetheless.

Anyhow, my colleague and friend Derek Liddington hired me to do some photography work for his art practice, and rented the studio at Gallery 44 and their delightful Hasselblad H3DII. It was some very challenging work, really enjoyable, and the experience of working with the digital medium format was very rewarding … and enlightening. Before I get to that, I just noticed Derek already posted the shots from this afternoon, so have a look at our endeavours:

(I also documented a performance a few weeks ago that Derek directed at The Power Plant: )

Best to let his work speak for itself, tho there’s some very eloquent descriptions in the sidebar on the site.

The camera itself was a joy to work with; the image sharpness was superb, colour accuracy and dynamic range was amazing (although I’m proud to say my S5 Pro was just about on par with the H3DII in the this regard), very satisfying clunk to the shutter and everything functioned as and when it was supposed to.

That being said; I was suprised at how clumsy and clunky the interface was, both the buttons/dials and the onscreen menus. It felt like a standard had been created out of utility some twenty years ago and never updated or optimized. Menus were clustered together seemingly at random; ISO selection was followed by Mode (M, A) followed by “Browse” … white balance was hidden somewhere I never found, thankfully it could be adjusted from the LCD screen with nominal difficulty.

I realize that this was my first encounter with this interface, but honestly, for what the camera was worth, and a general sense of the section of business using it … I expected it’d be designed for a more optimized workflow.


the empty room

I often “prototype” works or series of works seemingly indefinitely, and this is mostly because when I do get around to playing with ideas for a work/series I generally don’t feel like what I’m doing is “the work” and just a piece of “the work”. So there’s a ton of pieces I’ve done with the post-fix “(prototype)” in the title, which most of the time will one day grow up to lose that little attachment.

Occasionally the prototype becomes the final product, but, in my defense, that’s pretty rare.

One idea I have been messing around with for a few years now, one that’s undergone a few “prototypes” so far, falls under the title “The Empty Room”. The major obstacle to really exploring this idea has been the absolute mass of clutter in my house and a general lack of access to gritty, abandoned empty interiors (… that aren’t completely uninhabitable, that is). I’m also a touch lazy. But as I like to think that I let ideas percolate over long periods of time and generally that action/inaction does pay off eventually, I tend to let these empty rooms present themselves from happenstance and work with them when they magically appear.

Nonetheless, still in the prototyping stage on this one.

Below are two permutations of some recent experiments, the differences primarily technical. The first image is a composite of several photos, shot horizontally from floor to ceiling, the second is a single shot with a 10mm lens, with the added bonus of HDR rendering (… I am crazy enough to want to make HDR images that don’t look like they’re HDR).

The Empty Room (prototype 2010) (composite)

The Empty Room (prototype 2010) (single shot, HDR)

I suspect, at some point in the future, this will transition into me actually building a room somewhere for the sake of this shot or shots … I am attempting to resist the urge to build miniatures. Not because I don’t like miniatures, and I even have access to a few people doing incredible work with them (HI JER! HI JASON!), but adding the miniature aspect to this work seems to prevent it from being habitable and I’m not sure I can quite reconcile that just yet. I might change my song in a few months tho, as usual.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be moving out of your home/apartment and have neato empty rooms you can whore to me for an afternoon, do let me know.

not dead, just in the dark

a few projects on the go, and a busy rest-of-april

meanwhile, a couple untouched-up night shots in the backyard

squeezing long exposures out of my S5 is a pain in the ass. A shame the thing that makes it such a great DSLR for everything else makes it a pill for hot pixels on night shots.

I’d be remiss in not re-linking Andy Frazer’s night photography blog, learned a lot there (though I’m not sure I have a whole lot to show for it just yet).