Saturday, 19 October 2019

Winnipeg, Part Two: Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Winnipeg, Part Two – 
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

“Everyone on Earth should visit this museum...”
- online review of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,
September 28, 2019

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) (link) is both humbling and inspirational. It is Winnipeg’s gift to humanity.

Located at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in central Winnipeg – aka, The Forks – this impressive museum combines breathtaking architecture with immersive, challenging exhibits. It was opened in 2014, a tribute to Izzy Asper, the man who championed the idea of creating a Winnipeg museum dedicated to human rights. Alas, Asper – a respected Winnipeg politician, lawyer, philanthropist, and media mogul – never lived to see the completion of his dream.

The architects of the building are Antoine Predock and Chris Beccone, both based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their proposal for the CMHR won an international design competition in 2003. You can see it on the back of the new Canadian ten dollar bill that is dedicated to the human rights champion Viola Desmond.

The purpose of the CMHR is, in the words of its mission statement, “to explore the subject of human rights with a special but not exclusive reference to Canada, to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue.”

Its exhibits explore the ongoing nightmare of antisemitism and the Holocaust; the 1930s Ukrainian Holodomor; the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda; and the continuing plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

It also covers Canadian topics such as anti-black racism in Canada (with a focus on the experience of Viola Desmond in Nova Scotia); the rights of working people in Canada (with a focus of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike); the rights of women in Canada (with a focus on the right to vote and the famous 1929 ‘Persons’ case); and the rights of LGBTQ2 people in Canada (with a focus on equal marriage). 

For me, the museum’s most moving section was its exploration of the shameful treatment of Indigenous and First Nations people in Canada. Its focus on the horrors of state-sponsored/church-operated residential schools and murdered/missing Indigenous women was deeply troubling. Unlike the Conservative Party of Canada, the CMHR does not shy away from accurately describing this treatment as genocide.  

The museum also features opportunities for personal reflections on what we can each do to further human rights in Canada and the wider world.

When you go to this museum, please do not make the mistake that I made – I could only spend a morning there, but the CMHR deserves at least a full day. The next time I visit, I intend to schedule more time at the museum.

The museum is fully accessible and offers an excellent restaurant. I found the staff and volunteers to be friendly, informed, and non-intrusive.

I hope the photos that follow give you a flavour of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and its surrounding area in The Forks. Next week, I plan to write about the experience of driving through Northern/Northwestern Ontario with Bill on our way to/from Winnipeg.

As always, thank you for reading my blog.

Exterior Detail.

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the entrance 
to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Created by the renowned Indian sculptor, 
Ram Vanji Sutor.

Main Exhibit Hall.

"From Sorrow to Strength - 
Indigenous Women and the Right to Safety and Justice."

Not part of an exhibit, 
but moving nonetheless.

The interior ramps (detail).

Early evening view.

Nearby bridge detail.

Park adjacent to the CMHR.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Winnipeg, Part One - The Quirkiness of The Peg

“Being Canadian and from Winnipeg, 
I have the spirit of a dreamer...”
- Sarah Carter, Actor

In the mid-1970s, I taught in Dryden, Ontario, in the heart of Northwestern Ontario. I had just returned from teaching in Australia, so you can imagine the shock of moving from + 40℃ to – 40℃. The reality of just how far away Dryden was from my parents’ home in Southeastern Ontario only struck me when I realized that the scale of the official Government of Ontario road map of Southern Ontario was much larger than the scale of Northern Ontario on the reverse side. What looked like a two-hour drive in Southern Ontario turned out to be a four-hour drive in Northern Ontario. I had lived most of my life in Ontario, but I didn’t realize just how huge this province is.

So there I was in Dryden – four hours west of Thunder Bay and four east of Winnipeg. To say that I felt isolated after the urban intensity of Sydney is an understatement. And yet, in retrospect, I appreciate those three years in Dryden, a topic to which I will return later this month. But this week, I want to focus on Winnipeg – The Peg – capital of Manitoba – home of the Winnipeg Jets hockey team – geographic centre of Canada. And a mighty quirky place it is!

You see, during my years in Dryden, Winnipeg meant sanity and survival for me, especially during the long – V-E-R-Y long – Dryden winters. When I first arrived, I was told that people in Dryden did one of three things to cope: they drank, they screwed around, or they joined every civic organization in town. My experience is that many did all three. My primary way of coping was escaping to Winnipeg whenever I could. (Escaping to Thunder Bay did not appeal.)

In my three years of living in the ‘Great Northwest’, I grew very fond of Winnipeg. Its theatres, concerts, art galleries, museums, and restaurants became a vital element of my thriving strategy. Ironically, by escaping to Winnipeg once a month, I was able to appreciate the many gifts that Dryden had to offer. A double blessing.

Until late last month, I had not been back in Winnipeg since I’d left Dryden in 1975. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve flown OVER Winnipeg, so when my quilt-making husband Bill was engaged to teach at Keystone Quilts in Winnipeg, I jumped at the chance to accompany him. While Bill taught, I happily wandered Winnipeg with my camera and my enthusiasms. I hope these photos serve as my official thank-you gift to this wonderful city. 

Thank you, Winnipeg! And thank you, Leslie Gislason, the owner of Keystone Quilts. I look forward to seeing both Leslie and Winnipeg again in 2021...if not sooner!

Next week, I plan to write about Winnipeg’s fabulous Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the only Canadian federal museum located outside of the National Capital Region in Ottawa/Hull. Meanwhile, enjoy these photos – and I hope you have a gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.

Park Alleys Bowling, Osborne Street

Gay Louis Apartments, Osborne Street

Gnome Gathering, Osborne Street

Our Lady of Victory Cemetery, Osborne Street

Q: Where's Waldo? 
A: Painted on a concrete wall on Osborne Street

Natural is good...

Pizza Guy, Rosedale Avenue

White Pine Bicycle Company, 
Johnston Terminal Building at "The Forks"

Closing Time at a Bar in the 
Johnston Terminal Building at "The Forks"

Grounds of the Manitoba Legislature.
I have no idea...

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Cloud's Illusions...

“...I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all...”

- Joni Mitchell,
“Both Sides Now”

Husband Bill and I recently returned from a ten-day road-trip to Winnipeg, where Bill gave a series of presentations and classes at Keystone Quilts, an amazing store that caters to fabric lovers in Manitoba and beyond. In the weeks ahead, I plan to write about my experiences in Winnipeg and our travels through Northern Ontario on the way to/from Manitoba. 

Spoiler alert: my SONY camera loved this trip, to the tune of 1100 + photos! The combination of quirky Winnipeg and autumn-tinged Ontario was a photographer’s dream.

But for now....clouds.

On the last leg of our trip home, we drove along Highway 69 south of Parry Sound. The weather was unsettled, a combination of brilliant sunshine and furious rain storms. For about an hour, a fierce struggle took place over our heads as two competing weather systems battled it out for dominance. Both won. And the clouds were spectacular! 

All these 16:9 format images were photographed from inside our Mazda as it zipped along Highway 69. Photographing through a car’s windshield can be a challenge, especially when the camera wants to autofocus on the windshield rather than on what’s beyond, often highlighting the dirty windshield in the process. That didn’t happen this time, however – the clouds that roiled and broiled around us were amazingly co-operative, as was my camera. Thank you to all involved, including Bill, who was driving!

I hope you enjoy these photographs of the storm system that accompanied us for over an hour. In next week’s blog post, I plan to focus on Winnipeg’s eccentricities!

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Object-Oriented Ontology - Part Two

Question #1 (Husband to Larry):
“So, does this object-oriented ontology business mean that if a tree falls in the forest – and nobody is there to listen – it still makes a sound?”
Answer #1 (Larry to Husband):

Question #2 (Photographer Friend to Larry):
“Um, aren’t you already doing this?”
Answer #2 (Larry to Photographer Friend):
“Well, I guess so...”

Question #3 (Universe to Larry):
“So, are we having fun yet?”
Answer #3 (Larry to Universe):
“Oh, yes!”

Forgive me for taking another run at object-oriented ontology. Last week, I wrote about my understanding of OOO, especially as it related to photography. Essentially, OOO takes issue with a world where only human perceptions, categories, and understandings have value. A tree falling in the forest does makes a sound, whether or not a human is present to acknowledge it. 

I am fascinated by how this approach to reality plays out in photography. OOO beckons me to honour the life and integrity of the objects in my photos without drawing attention to myself in the process. It is a worthy challenge. 

My skepticism about OOO started to evaporate when I spent the day after Labour Day wandering around Picton with my camera. Since retiring, I have been treating myself to a ‘Tuesday-after-Labour-Day’ fieldtrip to count my blessings. This time, I determined to photograph with OOO in mind. Some might call it street photography without people. [Intriguingly, husband thinks OOO-inspired street photography can also include people. I’m still thinking about that one...] At first, my photography in Picton was self-conscious and uninspired, but I soon got into the flow of it – seeking objects that seemed to have lives of their own without needing me to acknowledge them. After three hours of photography, I had almost 400 images. 

However, it was the process of editing these 400 photos in Lightroom the next day that was fascinating. It was different from other editing sessions – the photos took on lives of their own. A little uncanny, but it felt like I was having a dynamic conversation with them. There was a mutuality at play. And I loved it.

Update: after I posted Part One of my thoughts on OOO, my dear Tasmanian friend Jan, who lived in Japan for several years, told me that OOO reminds her of the Japanese visual concept of ‘katachi’. The word ‘katachi’ is a composite of the Japanese words ‘kata’(pattern) and ‘chi’(magical power). Thus the term ‘katachi’ means ‘a complete form’ or ‘a form telling an attractive story’. Thank you for this insight, Jan! It addresses my concern that objects in OOO photographs can be so free of human engagement that they risk being bleak and drab. Instead, the parallel Japanese concept of ‘katachi’ assumes that useful objects are also elegant and beautiful. And, yes, I know that bleakness, drabness, usefulness, elegance, and beauty are all culture-specific, human constructs, but at least the combination of ‘katachi’ and OOO opens me to seeking objects that are both pleasing to my eye and filled with their own integrity. And, as husband Bill points out, the blending of ancient ‘katachi' and contemporary OOO makes for a perfect balance. Praise be.

I look forward to discussing ‘katachi’ and OOO with Jan and Bill over a bottle of good Australian wine during our next visit to Tasmania. Meanwhile, Bill has ordered me a rare used book about ‘katachi’. How blessed am I? And spoiled!

The ten photos that follow reflect my humble novice’s understanding of both OOO and ‘katachi’. I hope you enjoy them. I will continue to explore OOO and ‘katachi’ in my photography and will keep you posted. This journey is far from over...

I plan to take the next two weeks off from blogging. Husband Bill is giving quilt presentations in Winnipeg and Elliot Lake – and I get to tag along. “I’m with the band,” as they say. And, yes, I’m taking my camera...

Meanwhile, dear readers, stay humble and curious – it keeps us confused and engaged. 

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Object-Oriented Ontology - Say What? (Part One)

“Ontology means something like ‘the study of being’.”
- Graham Harman,
Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything
(Pelican Books, 2018), page 13

“Object-oriented ontology maintains that 
objects exist independently of human perception.”
 - Wikipedia article about Object-Oriented Ontology.

“Photography is engaging with things in the world.”
- Ed Panar, American Photographer,
A Small Voice/Conversations with Photographers 
Pod Cast #109, July 20, 2019
Hosted by Ben Smith

“Are we having fun yet?”
- Larry Tayler, confused photographer

So, bear with me on this one, dear reader. I’m in new territory and am struggling to understand a challenging new photographic concept: object-oriented ontology. And I can feel my brain synapses working overtime!

The beginning: in late July, I heard an interview with the American photographer Ed Panar on A Small Voice/Conversations with Photographers, a podcast created by English photographer Ben Smith. (Episode #109, July 20, 2019 – link; Ed Panar’s personal website is here.) 

[Sidebar One: Smith’s podcasts are a delight – filled with interesting photographers talking about their passions. The conversations are mostly idea-oriented, not gear-oriented – one reason why I find them so refreshing.]

Panar is a Pittsburgh-based photographer who is exploring the concept of object-oriented ontology (OOO, as the cool kids say) in his practice. (If you listen to the podcast through the link above, Panar starts talking about OOO at the 33 minute mark.) I was immediately intrigued by his description of OOO, even though I didn’t understand what he was talking about. The first thing I did was look up the word, ‘ontology’!

Adherents of object-oriented ontology believe that the Age of Enlightenment in the 17thand 18thcenturies – despite its commitment to the role of science and reason in human development – placed too much emphasis on human understanding of reality and not enough on the wisdom of the non-human world. To this day, so-called Western societies privilege human experience over non-human. The non-human elements become mere tools for humans to use in the exploitation of the planet. A rock has its own integrity beyond any classification and purpose assigned to it by humans. Rocks had their own existence long before humans evolved – and will continue to do so long after humanity has flamed out. 

Ever since I heard Panar’s interview, I have been reading everything I could find about OOO and am fascinated by the concept, despite the fact that A) I am skeptical about its application to photography; and B) I am still confused about what it means. My explorations are tempered by a trusted friend’s caution that OOO might be simply ‘elevating the banal.’ In any case, this is an ideal opportunity for learning.

Photographers who use an OOO approach try to ‘decenter’ the human aspects and focus on the uniqueness of the non-human world. They honour the non-human reality. Or, as Graham Harman says, “OOO holds that the external world exists independently of human awareness.” (Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything, Pelican Books, 2018, page 10)

[Sidebar Two: Tragically, the privileging of humans over non-humans led to the horrors of slavery and its wretched legacy. ‘Enlightened’ white Europeans often regarded non-whites as sub-human, commodities to be bought and sold. When a human being can be reduced to a chattel, the transgenerational trauma lasts for centuries. Racism was not born in the Enlightenment, but that is surely the source of its intellectual ‘legitimacy’.]

And that’s the end of today’s lecture. I hope it was useful. Writing it helped me sort out some of my own thinking. Next week, I want to examine my skepticism about OOO and how that skepticism diminished as I began to feel OOO’s rhythms in my photography. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these OOO-influenced photos from Corbyville and Prince Edward County.