Saturday, 20 July 2019

Quaker Gathering Part 2 - Social Justice & Photography

“Photographs are mirrors, not windows.”
- Teju Cole, “Screenland: A Crime Scene at the Border”
The New York Times Magazine, July 14, 2019

Note – You may find some content in this post to be disturbing. So do I.

Last week, I wrote “Quakerism 101” as an introduction to my reflections on the Quaker Gathering that I attended recently at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. This week, I’m writing about the five-day “Social Justice and Photography” workshop that I took at the Gathering and the significant impact it is having on me. 

Let’s start with the workshop description in the Advance Program for the 2019 Gathering:

#28 – Social Justice and Photography:
How can photography and video contribute to social justice and help resist oppression? Join seasoned AFSC [American Friends Service Committee] staff as we explore the ethics, practices, and challenges of photography based on Quaker values. Explore creative ways to share your work. We won’t stop at theory as we emphasize your involvement.

My heart leapt when I read this description; within 24 hours, I had registered for the workshop and booked my flight to Iowa. Sometimes, the path ahead is clear.

The American Friends Service Committee was founded in 1917 and is a United States-based Quaker organization (link) “that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action.” The Canadian Friends Service Committee, based in Ottawa, has a similar mandate, as do Quaker organizations in other parts of the world. 

The workshop’s three facilitators – Jon, Bryan, and Nathaniel – are talented, committed peace makers who know the value of photography as an important tool in the struggle for justice and equity. It was a privilege spending a week with them and the seven other workshop participants. What a pleasure it was to have rich, daily discussions about photography in the promotion of social justice. I felt totally nourished, supported, and challenged. And I learned so much.

I came to the workshop with an idea that had been nagging away at me. Early in the week, I asked the facilitators for time to present this idea to the group for feedback. They agreed, bless them.

Before describing my idea, I need to describe a pivotal experience I’d had about a month before. In early June, the final report of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada was released. Entitled Reclaiming Power and Place (link), the report is a scathing, clearly written condemnation of institutionalized racism against Indigenous women and girls in this country. Its 231 individual Calls for Justice constitute a path ahead for healing and reconciliation. I highly commend the report to you.

It appalls me that some politicians and media outlets immediately criticized the report’s use of the term genocide to describe what has happened – and is happening – in this country. It was clear to me that they had rushed to judgement without having read the report. I encourage you to read for yourself the inquiry’s 43-page supplementary report supporting use of the term genocide. (link) It is eye-opening in its invocation of both Canadian law and international law. Similarly, the report’s view that colonization is a form of gendered oppression is deeply insightful.

However, it was the report’s inclusion of the 2SLGBTQQIA communities – Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people – that struck home for me most profoundly. The report makes the very convincing case that violence against Indigenous women and girls – overwhelmingly at the hands of men – is on the same continuum as violence against members of the 2SLGBTQQIA communities. This connection between misogyny and homophobia is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. It inflicts suffering on the bodies and souls of women and girls – and on the bodies and souls of men and boys as well. It is to weep.

Now here’s the hard part for me: while I read this section of the report, long-dormant memories of vicious homophobia in my own life resurfaced, especially those concerning an incident in downtown Belleville, Ontario, in the mid-1980s. My late husband, Spencer Brennan, and I were leaving a restaurant early one evening when a gang of young men armed with ice picks confronted us. They hurled homophobic slurs and threatened to kill us. We ran for our lives. Interestingly, I have no memories of how we actually escaped – just memories of running down Belleville’s main street with a pack of bellowing men in pursuit. 

The memories of this incident give me a small – very small – personal insight into the enormous tragedy that engulfs the Indigenous peoples of this country. I make no claims for equivalency, but I do claim insight.

So...what do I do with the pain? And the shame? And the anger, especially the anger? And how do I make my anger useful?

In a flash of insight, the source of which I do not understand, but about which I am in awe, I knew what I have to do. I have to explore – with interviews and photography – the pain that men feel and the pain that men can cause.

The title of the project will be, “MEN: why do we hurt?”

That is the essence of the project that I described to the dear people in my workshop at the Quaker Gathering. I am humbled and blessed by the love and support I received back from them. The experience was cleansing, healing, and cathartic. 

And it was clarifying. I realized that if my anger dominated the photography and the interviews, the whole project would bristle with fury and sharp edges. I would elicit from others the same kind of hurtful responses that I had experienced myself. 

That’s when the subtitle of the project emerged: “A photo essay about male vulnerability.” 

By injecting vulnerability into the project, I realized that I was transitioning from anger to love. Love for myself and love for the men I would be interviewing and photographing.

But would I have love for the men who threatened to kill my late husband and me? No, not yet...

Here’s my current five-step concept for the project:

Step 1 – To create a prospectus containing information about me; an outline of the project; thoughts on creating a mutually supportive and safe environment for the interviews and photography; potential questions for the interviews; and whatever release form will be needed for posting and publishing the photographs. I would then distribute this kit to men who might be interested in participating. 

Step 2 – After a careful period of discussion and consideration with potential participants, to interview and photograph those who choose to proceed.

Step 3 – To create a website featuring photos and excerpts from the interviews.

Step 4 – To mount a gallery-ready, portable exhibit containing a selection of the photographs and excerpts from the interviews.

Step 5 – To consider publishing a book, in consultation with the participants.

No one will be paid or have expenses compensated. I will try to cover most of the direct expenses myself, but I may need help with the production costs of printing and mounting the photographs for exhibit. 

My goal is total transparency. 

There is no timeline. 

But the process has begun. And I am terrified. Praise be.

In future blog posts, I plan to write about the evolution of the project. Please email me with your feedback and suggestions. ( Watch the spelling of Tayler.) 

Also, if you identify as male and would like to explore being included in the project, please contact me. 

Meanwhile, I want to thank Jon, Bryan, Nathaniel, and the other people in the “Social Justice and Photography” workshop for their insights and support. They gave me a priceless gift.

Also, I want to thank my loving husband and friend, Bill Stearman. I am blessed beyond words.

And thank you, dear reader, for your indulgence. If you want to receive email notifications of my future blog posts, please sign up at the top.

I’m not sure when I’ll post next. I need time to consolidate and think about next steps. Meanwhile, here are photos of men from my files. Imagine their stories...


Sunday, 14 July 2019

Quaker Gathering, Part 1 - Quakerism 101

“Extraordinary journeys rarely begin in obvious places.”
- Sign outside the Admissions Office, 
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Where to begin with my experiences at this year’s Quaker Gathering in Grinnell, Iowa?

Let’s start with Quakerism 101.

The Religious Society of Friends – whose adherents were once mocked by being derided as “quakers” – is rooted in mid-17th century England. 

The word “friends” derives from a biblical reference to Jesus’ words in John, 15:15, “I have called you friends.” 

The mid-17th century was a time of upheaval and revolution in England. The English Parliament found King Charles I guilty of treason and executed him. England became embroiled in a bloody, brutish civil war. The intransigent battles between Protestants and Catholics grew increasingly vicious. 

Scores of ‘nonconformist’ religious groups, i.e., neither Catholic nor Anglican, blossomed all over England, challenging the religious orthodoxies of the day. Many of these groups rejected the need for ordained priests or ministers to serve as intermediaries between individual people and their God. After all, if Parliament could execute the Monarch – theoretically God’s chosen representative on the throne of England – everything was up for grabs.

In the midst of that dynamic frenzy, George Fox emerged from the English Midlands to lead a rag-tag group of religious dissenters – both women and men -  into what became known as the Religious Society of Friends, aka Friends, aka Quakers. No “hirling priests” for them! Individual Friends established their own personal relationship with the Creator. They rejected all forms of violence, refused military service, and practised ‘plain speech’. No titles were used when speaking to others – no Mrs. or Mr., and certainly no Lady, Duke, Duchess, or Sir. Just first and last names. The King was Charles Stuart; today the Queen would be called Elizabeth Windsor. Quaker men did not remove their hats or bow down in deference to their ‘betters’ – and were often jailed for their impertinence. Women were a vigorous, indispensable part of the community from the beginning. And they still are. 

The working Quaker assumption was – is – that there was that of God in everyone. No exceptions. No one was better than or inferior to anyone else. Sunday Meetings were held in silence. The only people who spoke were those who felt led by the Spirit to say something. The main criterion for speaking? "Improving upon the silence." And these early Quakers strove to lead lives of utter simplicity.

Revolutionary stuff in the 1600s – and still powerful today.

I won’t go into how the Religious Society of Friends evolved over the years, fascinating though that social history is. What I will say is that I became a Quaker in 1972. A Quaker by convincement, to use an old Quaker phrase. Proud to be a humble Quaker, as one Quaker wag observed. 

Being Quaker has been a central part of my life and identity ever since.

However...I must add that I am not a poster child for Quakerism. I love and nurture my Quaker approach to life, but I do not attend Sunday Meetings, nor do I actively participate in the work of Canadian Quaker organizations. Someday, I will write about how I have become a Quaker, once-removed. A cultural Quaker, if you will. It’s a process that I do not fully understand. For now, my sacred journeys take me down different, albeit frequently parallel paths.

Which brings me to the annual Quaker Gatherings, in which I do occasionally participate. There are many branches of Quakerism, from non-theist on the left to fundamentalist Christian on the right. The branch that nurtures me most is Friends General Conference (FGC), which fits nicely on the left wing of the Quaker spectrum. It is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; most Canadian Quaker Meetings are affiliated with FGC.

Each year, FGC hosts a weeklong Gathering of Quakers in the first week of July. These Gatherings usually take place on a college campus on the American east coast or in the Midwest. Three years ago, I attended the Gathering at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. This year, I attended the Gathering at Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa. 

At the heart of these annual Gatherings, which usually attract about 1200 attenders, is a series of workshops that take place each morning for five days. There is a cornucopia of workshops from which to pick, from Quaker theology to kite making, and from challenging racism to stewarding the environment. Attenders select a workshop, and that workshop becomes their spiritual home for the week.

In 2016, my Gathering workshop was on Contemplative Photography – which was wonderful – and my workshop this year was on Social Justice and Photography. 

My mind and heart are still racing with energy, ideas, and insights from my workshop. But, quite frankly, I need at least another week to sort things out.

Next week, I plan to write about how these two workshops – contemplative photography and social justice + photography – are shaping my attitudes toward photography, and MY photography in particular. 

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with these photographs from this year’s Gathering. 


 Welcome Sign outside Grinnell Church of Christ

John McCutcheon, 
extraordinary Quaker singer and musician

Monarch Butterfly on the Grinnell College campus

"Now Is Enough" by James Gobel, 
Bucksbaum Art Center Art Gallery

Humanities and Social Studies building

Garden outside the Bucksbaum Art Center

Dining room light fixture,
Joe Rosenfield Center

Grinnell College summer painter

Ceiling of exterior walkway, 
North Residence Halls

Sign outside the Grinnell
United Church of Christ

Hat on a pew in the
Herrick Chapel

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Quirky Ottawa

Quirkiness, noun:
“The quality of being unusual in an attractive 
and interesting way.”
- Cambridge Online Dictionary

Ten days ago, when I was in Ottawa for Quilt Canada 2019 with my husband, I took the opportunity to explore downtown Ottawa. I’ve always liked Ottawa, despite its snarly traffic, never-ending construction, and occasional pretention. What struck me most during this visit was its delightful quirkiness. 

Wandering through the National Gallery of Canada, the Ottawa Art Gallery, the ByWard Market, the Rideau Centre, the Sparks Street Mall, and Parliament Hill was great fun. And my camera agreed.

By wonderful serendipity, I was on Parliament Hill as the annual Carivibe Ottawa Caribbean Festival parade inched its way brashly along Wellington Street. What a feast of music and vitality! Such a contrast to the gothic solemnity of the Parliament buildings.

The weeks ahead: I will be flying to Iowa on June 30 for the annual Friends General Conference (FGC) Gathering for a week of Quaker nourishment. About 1200 members of the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) will attend the Gathering at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. The theme of the Gathering is Peace in Our Hearts, Justice in the World. As part of the Gathering, I will be participating in a five-day workshop entitled “Photography and Social Justice.” What a grand opportunity it will be to spend five days with twenty or so other Quaker photographers, thinking and talking about how photography can make the world a better place. 

Such a gift this week promises to be. I am filled with gratitude, excitement, and maybe a little apprehension. I look forward to writing about the experience in this blog...but not until I take a couple of weeks off to recover.

See you back here at this blog in mid-July. Meanwhile, enjoy Canada Day (Canadian readers), Independence Day (US readers), the summer weather (northern hemisphere readers), the winter weather (southern hemisphere readers), and anything else you are celebrating in your life. 

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these photographs of quirky Ottawa.

Oh – and one more thing: if you are in the Belleville area on Thursday evening, June 27, 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm, please feel free to attend my artist talk about Tasmanian Grace, the photo exhibit I currently have running at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery. The gallery is located on the third floor of the Belleville Public Library, 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville. The talk will feature the fifteen photos in the exhibit, a slideshow of other photos from Tasmania, a selection of my street photographs, and a look ahead at some projects I’m working on. Free admission – and free parking in the adjacent parking lot after 6 pm!

Window Display, Rideau Centre

"Torching Maman" 
Repair work on Louise Bourgeois' sculpture Maman
outside the National Gallery of Canada

"O Train" sign outside the new Rideau 
light rail transit station.

Camel VIII by Nancy Graves (detail)
National Gallery of Canada

Window display, Rideau Centre

Café chairs, Ottawa Art Gallery

Outdoor deck chair, Ottawa Art Gallery

Joy by Bruce Garner (detail)
Sparks Street Mall

Carivibe Dancer

Carivibe Dancer

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Quilt Canada 2019

“Quilting is like love.
Enter it with abandon or not at all.”
- Anonymous

Last week, I attended my first Quilt Canada convention in Ottawa. What an experience - a feast for the eyes and a gift for the camera!

And the quilters? Vibrant, determined, skilful, funny, generous, focused – and the list goes on.

If you are a Friend of Fabric, the EY Convention Centre near the Ottawa airport was the place to be.

And it was certainly the place for my husband to be. He had three quilts in the National Juried Show, taught two classes, and made a two-hour presentation about his quilts, complete with a standing ovation at the end. 

I was so very proud of him – in the world of Canadian quilting, he is part of the royal family.

While my husband basked and networked, I got to know some of his peers, people that previously I had known only by hearing Bill talk about them. I look forward to nurturing these new friendships. Let’s just say that there are some seriously interesting people involved in quilting.

I also took the opportunity to photograph some of the quilts. The photos that follow feature mostly detailed close-ups. I hope they do the quilts justice.

And if you’ve never been to a quilting show, I suggest you give it a try! 

Meanwhile, enjoy the photos.

Surviving January
by Bill Stearman
Quilted by Deanna Gaudaur

The Choice
by Judy Leslie

Technicolor Dream Parrot
by Roxanne Nelson

Cree Hunter II
by Maggie Vanderweit

Turning Point
by Bethany Garner

by Jasmine Travers
Quilted by Kathleen Riggins

My Vision
by Pauline Clarke

Third Colony
by Betty Busby

by Dianne Chrétien

by Jeanne Santoro
Quilted by Sandra Bruce

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Tasmanian Grace

Blog Post, June 8, 2019
Tasmanian Grace

This week’s blog post features the fifteen Tasmanian photographs that are currently on display at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery in the Belleville Public Library, 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville Ontario. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday (link), and the exhibit runs until July 31. Many thanks to Susan Holland, the Parrott Gallery’s curator, and Bernard Noel for hanging the exhibit.

On Thursday, June 27, I’ll be making a presentation about the exhibit from 6 – 7 pm in the gallery. It will include a slideshow with about 180 more Tasmanian photos, other slideshows featuring my work, and a look at future projects. Please join me.

The photos are all 16:9 ratio – the same as most computer monitors – and are mounted on foam core. Mike Gaudaur of Quinte Studios (link) did the excellent printing and mounting. The price of each photo is $75. Special orders are available. Please email me for prices. ( - watch the spelling of Tayler.)

You’ll find my artist’s statement below.

About future blog posts: the next few weeks are very busy, so I don’t know when I’ll be posting or what my topics will be. I’m planning to spend time in both the Ottawa Valley and rural Iowa, so there will be lots of opportunities for photography! Stay tuned...

Artist’s Statement
Tasmanian Grace

Tasmania is a magical place, full of wonders and delights.

Located about 400 km off the southeast tip of Australia, it is home to about 550,000 people. Physically, it is the smallest of Australia’s six states and is about the size of New Brunswick. It is known for its scenery, wine, sheep, apples, and sharp humour. For instance, many Tasmanians refer to mainland Australia as ‘The North Island’. You get the point.

The climate is moderate and inviting. It rarely gets as hot as mainland Australia – its proximity to Antarctica keeps things cool and comfortable.

For me, it is also a place of retreat and replenishment.

For the last three Canadian winters, my husband (quilt maker Bill Stearman - link) and I have spent extended time in Tasmania. This past winter, we lived six weeks on the island, five weeks of which were in a cabin in the breathtaking beauty of the Huon Valley, 45 minutes southwest of Hobart in Tasmania’s central south. While Bill created quilts, I photographed. 

A joyous time for both of us.

These fifteen photos, all 16:9 format, represent some of the everyday magic of Tasmania. They are culled from the 9000-odd photos I recorded during our trip. I hope you enjoy them.

Dawn, Graces Road
Huon Valley
9 March 2019

Cattle Paddock, "The Gardens"
Bay of Fires
20 March 2019

Dog Walkers, "The Gardens"
Bay of Fires
20 March 2019

 Eucalyptus Trees, Binnalong Bay

19 March 2019

Binnalong Bay Beach
19 March 2019

Eucalyptus Trees, Don River
18 March 2019

West Tamar Valley Highway
16 March 2019

'Coronet Protea'
Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart
10 March 2019

Stormy Weather, Sandhill Road
Glaziers Bay
7 March 2019

Cattle Paddock, Sandhill Road
Glaziers Bay
7 March 2019

Rugged Shoreline, Mickeys Beach
6 March 2019

Blue Sky, Graces Road
Glaziers Bay
27 February 2019

Cattle Grazing, Graces Road
Glaziers Bay
13 February 2019

Fence Detail, Graces Road
Glaziers Bay
11 February 2019

Tree Line, Dillon's Hill Road
Glaziers Bay
10 February 2019