“You can observe a lot by watching.”
- Yogi Berrra, Baseball Catcher
“These walks re-awakened in me a sense of perpetual wonder
in my surroundings – a perceptual skill typically available
only to experts and to the very young (not yet expert in being people).
Perhaps they will awaken wonder in you, too.”
- Alexandra Horowitz, author of
On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation.
Alexandra Horowitz is one of those wise people who uses humour to make important points. She teaches canine cognition (!) and creative nonfiction at Barnard College in New York City. Her previous books – Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know and Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell – explore the world from a dog’s point of view. The book quoted above, On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation, looks at similar territory but from a human point of view. And it is wonderful.
To quote the book’s blurb, “On Looking is structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighbourhood, with experts in a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, an artist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.”
One of the most enjoyable walks is the one led by her nineteen-month-old son. A delight!
In this blog, I have often written about my own enjoyment of urban wandering with a camera. As I glide my way through On Looking, I am constantly reminded about how the camera enhances my ability to observe. It’s as if the camera adds a layer of visual accountability to the walking. It puts my eyes and my brain on notice: ‘Pay attention! There are things you need to notice!’
With that admonition in mind, and channelling Alexandra Horowitz, I offer these ten photos from a recent trip to Toronto. The first four are urban images of life in Toronto. The last six come from a happy two hours I spent wandering around the vacant Unilever Soap factory near the mouth of the Don River. Parts of the huge plant had been taken over by Max Dean, a Toronto performance artist, photographer, and sculptor. Working in collaboration with Andrew Savery-Whiteway, Dean created an engagingly gritty urban installation that featured photographs, menacing mannequins, a stuffed moose, industrial safety tips, and a giant bubble machine. Great fun! The exhibit, called Still Moving, was part of the 2018 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.
Enjoy these images. Most of them won’t qualify for a Toronto Tourism brochure!
Next week, I plan to continue the theme of wandering with my camera, this time in the town of nearby Brighton, with the assistance of the American philosopher and wanderer, Henry David Thoreau.
Brewery, Dundas Street West
Mouth of the Don River
Underpass Park, Lower River Street
Reflections on the Don River
The Abandoned Unilever Factory
Part of Max Dean's Still Moving
Part of Max Dean's Still Moving
Interior Stair Case Spiral
External Pipes and Valves
Hydro Towers and Pressure Gauges