Sunday, 24 May 2020

Blog Post - May 24, 2020: "Being There"

Nothing terribly profound today. Actually, I’m returning to a theme I’ve written about before. 

Pierre Elliott Trudeau once famously quipped, “Luck, that’s when preparation and opportunity meet.” 

And Woody Allen once riffed on a quotation by the composer Richard Rodgers and declared, “90% of life is showing up.” (Rodgers set the threshold at 80%.)

Trudeau and Allen point toward a fundamental truth about photography – as a photographer, you have to show up. It’s that simple. You can have the best camera and lenses in town, but unless you’re actively clicking that shutter, no photos get made.

Which brings me to one of my favourite movies –  director Hal Ashby’s 1979 Being There, starring Peter Sellers. (See trailer here.) Based on the 1970 novel by Jerzy KosiƄski, it is the story of how Chance, the humble gardener, morphs into Chauncey Gardiner, the man who unwittingly rises to the top of Washington society simply by showing being there. 

The parallels between Chauncey Gardiner’s inadvertent rise to fame and making photographs break down quickly, but I repeat the point I made above: unless you’re actively out there with your camera, the photographs will all be lost. Every one of them. Which is why you see me wandering the streets of Belleville with Edna so much these days – I’m actively showing up. Actively being there.

The photos below come from my pandemic wanderings. It’s their random quality that appeals to me. None was pre-planned. None was expected. It’s an eclectic collection, with no thematic connection...other than being at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

So, my friends, here’s my advice for living: Prepare. Show up. And be there. Really be there. Oh, and take your camera. Enjoy!

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Blog Post - May 17, 2020: "Time Passages"

I’m not sure why Al Stewart’s 1978 song “Time Passages” popped into my head this week. (YouTube link) It’s been decades since I’ve heard it. In the late 1970s, I was an Al Stewart fan and regularly played his albums, especially 1976’s The Year of the Cat, on my car’s very cool 8-track tape deck. Listening to “Time Passages” this week brought back memories – perhaps too many memories – of plaid bell-bottoms, platform shoes, gold chains... 

I can only hope that when I look back on my current fashion choices, they don’t seem as unwise as my 1970s choices. 

The song itself now strikes me as slight – nowhere near as insightful as it sounded in 1978. Funny how the passage of time can transform yesterday’s profundity into today’s What was I thinking?

There is one line in “Time Passages”, however, that continues to resonate: “The years run too short and the days too fast.”

As we head into the third month of isolation, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I perceive the passage of time, a subject that has always fascinated me. 

My maternal grandmother, Lydia Pearl Walters, told me shortly before her death, “As I age, the years fly by, but the days drag on.” Her comment sticks with me 45 years later. I share my grandmother’s perception that the years do, indeed, seem to fly, but not her follow-up conclusion that the days drag.

Al Stewart captures it for me – my days run fast, including these days of isolation. In fact, all time – both days and nights – seems to have sped up. Even when I’m depressed or filled with anxiety. Or when I wake up, worried, at 4 am and can’t get back to sleep.

Many factors shape my perception of time. For one, I love the man I’m isolated with. I enjoy his company, his endless complexity, his energy, his creativity, his sense of fun, his cooking... Well, you get the picture. I also enjoy my own company. My daily five-kilometre walks with Edna and my SONY camera are highlights of the day. They get me out of the house, nurturing my creativity and curiosity. 

Another factor that keeps time moving quickly is that I have things to do, creative things that I really enjoy: making and processing photos, creating slideshows, connecting with people, reading, writing... In fact, the last two months have been enormously productive. Having said that, however, I also recognize that I’m experiencing the world from a place of enormous privilege, being both securely housed and fed. Bottom line: I am humbled and grateful for the many blessings in my life.

The discipline of writing blog posts each week has been an enormous gift. It allows me the ongoing opportunity to put into words the flood of feelings, fears, joys, and ambiguities that are surfacing during the pandemic. I am pleased by the positive feedback these posts have received. It is deeply rewarding to know that my thoughts are resonating with others. I’m also gratified that my blog’s readership has doubled since mid-March, with most followers now coming from the USA.

Looking ahead, will I be happy to see fewer restrictions in our lives? Hug grandchildren? Welcome people into our home ? Take the train to Toronto for a day of photography? Absolutely! 

And...will I also miss the discipline of COVID-19 restrictions? And the slower, quieter pace of life? A muted, qualified ‘yes’. 

The photos: our front doors are portals into hospitality, celebration, and welcome. I have noticed lately that a growing number of east end Belleville homes feature cheerful, elaborate wreaths on their front doors. They offer the promise of days ahead when we can start welcoming people back into our homes. I offer these photos to help prepare us for that happy day. Enjoy.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Blog Post, May 10, 2020: "The Journeys Ahead"

A reflection this week on the journeys ahead. 

Note the plural – journeys. 

The first journey is the one we are all travelling as we adjust to the COVID-19 world. In the weeks – months – years ahead, we will be adapting to the altered dynamics of existence. 

Questions to consider: How will we ensure equity and fairness in this new world? Will we embrace a guaranteed annual income to cushion the impact of future disruptions? How can we ensure that nursing homes and long-term care facilities protect both their residents and their workers? How do essential workers get paid enough to match their importance? How can we use the pandemic as an opportunity to embrace a low-carbon world? How will our democracy adapt to an increasingly virtual world? Same question for our hospitals, schools, businesses, and courts. What will our workplaces look like? And our restaurants, theatres, playing fields, concert halls, and tourist attractions? How will newspapers and social media evolve?

And how will our artists – professional adapters that they are – respond to the new realities? 

There will be blessings and bumps along the way.

The second journey is the one that Bill and I are embarking upon – selling our beautiful home in Belleville and moving to our new home in Picton. How will the current uncertainties affect this process? We could have backed out of the purchase, but we decided to dive in with all flags flying. Are we sages? Or fools? Or both? In any case, this second journey will weave back and forth with the first journey, with question marks blossoming along the path. And yet again, there will be blessings and bumps.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, my camera continues to be a source of creativity and engagement. And, as I’ve already written, our Basset Hound, Edna, has been a marvellous companion on my daily expeditions.

There is no profound theme in this collection of east-end Belleville photos. About the only things holding them together are their humour and celebration of colour. Enjoy.

And one last Bill and I prepare to sell our home and move, my posts may become shorter and less frequent. Thank you for your understanding.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Blog Post - May 3, 2020: "At Risk With Edna, Part 2"

“If you don’t shed tears here, you have missed the point.”
 – Ellen Davis, Duke University Theologian

So, let’s begin with tears. 

Sometimes, your heart just has to break. And sometimes, you just have to cry. 

(Stick with me – I’ll get to joy.)

Lord knows there are enough things to cry about right now, things we face together and things we face alone. Or at least it feels like we’re facing them alone.

We are all dealing with the collective reality of COVID-19’s reaching its tentacles into our hospitals, our nursing homes, our streets, our factories, our schools, our theatres, our galleries, our bookstores, our stadiums...

And we are all dealing with the individual reality of COVID-19’s reaching into our psyches...and reaching into our assumptions.

Combine our collective grief and our individual grief and, yes, there’s a lot to cry about.

That combination struck home for me last week when a friend’s 98-year-old mother died of COVID-19 in her nursing home.

When I join grief about COVID-19 with other sadness in my life – losing a cousin to cancer; mourning the deaths in Nova Scotia; watching a relative’s marriage disintegrate – I have done my share of crying.

Crying heals. Tears heal. They don’t change what has happened. But they do change how I feel about what has happened. Which is really important.

And then I start counting the joys in my life – my husband, his wondrous quilts, and his generous spirit; my family, my friends, my photography, and my writing; my home, my country, and my planet – and I realize that joys and tears work together. They are inseparable. If you want joy in your life, you have to take the tears as well. And, as my husband gently reminded me this week, tears express joy, too.

Which brings us to Edna, our Basset Hound, who has been accompanying me on my safely distanced photo expeditions around east-end Belleville. According to my iPhone’s pedometer, we clocked 152 km in April.

One reason I enjoy sharing walks with Edna is that she brings out the best in people. And she brings people joy. Strangers smile at her. Street conversations pop up spontaneously. People call her by name. (More people know her in the neighbourhood than me!) 

Edna engages people’s “ahhhhhh” reflex. She allows people to emerge from their protective shells and engage with others, even in times such as now. Maybe especially in times such as now.

And gentle, loving Edna just carries on. 

Bless her.

And bless all of you.

Stay safe. Stay well. 

Let your hearts break when they need to. And then let them heal.

Tears and joy. A package deal.

Enjoy these Belleville photos. Edna helped make most of them.

Belleville General Hospital

Mudcat Road

Mudcat Road

Mudcat Road

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada      

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Blog Post, 26 April 2020: "At Risk With Edna, Part 1"

Strange times, my friends. 

Particularly if you’re at risk. Which I am, according to the World Health Organization. My daily walks around east-end Belleville with our Basset Hound, Edna, are – strictly speaking – risky. So here are thoughts about being at risk with a Basset Hound while doing photography.

Being considered at risk is nothing new for me, however. In fact, I’ve been on this roller coaster twice before in my life.

The first time I was officially ‘at risk’ was at age seven when I had rheumatic fever. This led to an extended stay at Kingston General Hospital, followed by six months of bedrest at home. I didn’t like the hospital stay – it still gives me nightmares – but I LOVED the six months at home. In fact, it was during that time that I developed skills that still serve me well.

You see, early in my rheumatic fever days I knew that I faced a life-altering choice. Behind Door #1 was becoming a helpless little whiner who insisted on other people meeting my needs. Behind Door #2 was becoming the primary agent of change in my life. 

I chose Door #2. And, in the words of poet Robert Frost in The Road Not Taken, “...that has made all the difference.” Looking back, I realize that I was embracing solitude and finding strength in it. The sublime Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor describes this as cultivating “inward autonomy.” It was also when I discovered I enjoyed my own company – and sometimes even preferred it. (Confession: I still do!)

Fast-forward to the second time I was ‘at risk’ – during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. As a gay man, I was in the primary risk group. And, yet again, I faced a life-altering choice. Behind Door #1 was seeing myself as a victim who had no control over what was happening. And behind Door #2 was being an agent of change, both in my own life and my life in the gay community. And once again, I chose Door #2. In addition to making changes in my behaviour, I became actively involved in the gay community – support groups, vigils, political activism, and advocacy. And, sadly, attending many, many funerals. During the peak of the epidemic, Saturdays were for funerals. It was especially important to attend them when family members wouldn’t. Or when protestors screamed at attenders that “God hates fags.”

And now, the risk comes from COVID-19. As a 73-year-old man, I know that this disease is especially dangerous for me, because of both my age and my gender. And guess what? I face another life-altering choice. Behind Door #1 is retreating into victimhood and panic, inhaling the breathless tsunami of social media. Behind Door #2 is staying safely engaged with my wider community while remaining the primary agent of change in my own life. And, once again, I chose Door #2. I like to think of it as rebuilding the future, one dream at a time. Which is one of the reasons why I continue to photograph and write about these strange – yet oddly familiar – days. 

Thank goodness that the distancing guidelines allow for dog walking. I have been walking Edna regularly ever since she was a baby Basset. For the past forty + days, however, these walks have taken on added importance – they have also become my time to wander Belleville’s almost-deserted streets with my camera. It’s as if Edna gives me permission to witness and record. Thank you, Edna, for bringing so many blessings into my life.

Next week, I plan to post more thoughts about photography with Edna and living with risk. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these quirky photos of east-end Belleville. 

A heads up: Blogger is experiencing technical difficulties. Many photographs on previous posts are not visible. Blogger, a Google-owned company, says it’s trying to resolve the issue. Here’s what you’ll see instead of a photograph:

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada