Monday 30 May 2016

Beauty will save the world.

For the past twenty years or so, I have been reading death notices and obituaries in the various newspapers that I consume. Perhaps it comes with getting older, but reading about other people’s deaths is fascinating and instructive. I usually check the birth dates of the departed and compare them with my own birth date. Now that I’m almost 70, I’ve been noticing that increasing numbers of early baby boomers – my people! – are showing up dead in the death notices.

And so it was while reading last Saturday’s Globe and Mail (May 28, 2016) that I learned about the death of Clive Russell in Warkworth on May 22. I had never heard of Clive Russell before reading his death notice, but, from all accounts, he was a remarkable man – artist, carpenter, builder, writer, landscape designer, historian, and architect. An online search revealed a community deeply mourning his loss. The online tributes showed him to be part of the artistic lifeblood of Warkworth.

In the eloquent words of his obituary, Clive Russell “shared the vision of Dostoevsky that ‘beauty will save the world’.” And it continued: “We will all miss the magnificent, regal, dignified, gentle giant of a man who tenderly occupied such little space.”

Try reading that without weeping.

Most moving, however, were Clive’s own words, also quoted in the death notice:

…My artworks are inspired by a deep appreciation of the mystery and spirit of place, the evidence in natural and built form of energy and movement, history and possibility, the world as it is and as it is becoming, of inter-relatedness, community and the humour of unexpected juxtaposition. In each place, whether built, cultivated or wild, there is an inherent wisdom and life. Our sense gates need only be opened a moment to be astonished by the vastness and power, tenderness and fragility of the world and our mirror-like identity with it…

What a gift this man was to his loved ones and his community. I wish I had known him.

Monday 23 May 2016

So you like trains. Seriously?

The theme of today’s posting is my love of trains and, by extension, my love of photographing trains and train photography. In admitting my love of trains, I realize that I have marginalized myself beyond redemption in the eyes of many. But I also recognize that I am walking – very, very humbly – in the footsteps of great railroad photographers. Iconic names such as the American master O. Winston Link ( and Canadian Greg McDonnell ( spring to mind immediately.

My journey with trains began in the late 1940s in Prince Edward County. I was born at Hallowell Junction, halfway between Wellington and Bloomfield across the road from the old Canadian National Railway (CNR) line. Watching trains – first steam locomotives, then diesel – rumble by our front yard every day became a permanent part of my DNA.

Locomotives similar to the CNR 2-8-0 Consolidation pictured above (built in 1906 and now on display at Brighton’s wonderfully quirky Memory Junction Museum) etched themselves in my psyche. My ear became acutely attuned to the distant whistle of approaching locomotives, and I would race outside, no matter what the weather, to wave at the engineer and stare in wonder. And that soon led to toy trains from Santa Claus at Christmas, starting with wind-up trains from MARX, but soon graduating to my first Lionel electric train. I still have nightmares about having that Lionel train stolen – yes, stolen! – in 1958. But that’s another story for another time. The point here is that trains burrowed themselves inside my soul when I was a kid and have stayed there ever since, providing me with a hobby that has been delighting me (and draining my bank account) for almost seventy years.

In the last eighteen months, my love of trains has been enhanced by my growing love of photography. The remainder of today’s posting is devoted to showcasing some train-related photos I have taken in those eighteen months. If trains aren’t your thing – and I completely get it if they aren’t – you can stop reading now and get back to your life. For those of you who do enjoy images of these hulking giants, however, I commend the following photos.

Canadian National Railway mainline at Shannonville Road, just east of Belleville.

Early morning VIA train approaching Belleville station.

One of the Toronto Transit Commission's snazzy new Bombardier Flexity streetcars on lower Spadina Avenue. In the background is one of the TTC's Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRV), first introduced in 1977.

The maze of tracks just west of Toronto's Union Station.

"Will you ever love me?" Sadly poetic graffiti on a bulk hopper car.

CNR inspection truck on little-used rail line (originally built as the Grand Junction Railway in 1877) running north of the VIA station in Belleville.

Boiler of 1911 CNR 2-8-0 Consolidation locomotive #2616 reflecting the grass in the Rotary Park in Haliburton, Ontario.

And the last photo today - from my own O-scale (1:48) basement layout. On the left is the CNR's much-lamented Turbo Train from the 1970s; on the right is an E-8 passenger locomotive in classic Santa Fe markings. Frances Key's painting provides a suitable backdrop.

Until next week, my friends. As always, I am open to your feedback. Please check my regular Facebook and Twitter postings.

Monday 16 May 2016

Industrial Design Meditations, Part One

I've always been fascinated by the symmetry of industrial design. From Concordes to calliopes and Ookpiks to opera houses, every aspect of the 'look' of things engages my sense of aesthetics. Usually, this appreciation of design has little to do with the actual purpose of an object - the ultimate separation of form from function. In fact, I've made embarrassing car purchases based solely on design as opposed to reliability. Yes, 1973 Chevrolet Vega and 1978 AMC Pacer, I'm looking straight at you! Looks 10/Drive 3, to mangle a song title from A Chorus Line.

(Both images taken from the web.)

This fascination with design is the reason I love staring at aircraft, a fetish I intend to indulge at the Quinte International Air Show on June 25 and 26 at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. But more on that next month. And I haven't even mentioned my passion for trains yet...

The following two photos are a tip of the hat to my farm roots in Prince Edward County.  I grew up surrounded by farm machinery - tractors, combines, balers, ploughs, 'honey wagons' - so my machine gene is hard wired. Now that I'm taking photography more seriously, I'm literally seeing that my interest in design is primarily a love of splendid symmetry. There can be such elegance in shape, colour, pattern, position, and texture. Rarely is it the entire object that engages me; instead, it's the micro shots, the details, the isolated bits and bobs that are most interesting.

Witness these two photos taken last June at the local Massey-Ferguson dealership in Belleville. The first photo is an elegantly spiky cultivator, pristine and unsoiled. It matters not whether it actually works - its harmonious lines make it visually compelling.

The second photo is a set of discs. It is the elegance of the repeated curves with their pharaonic markings that keeps me staring. There is a grace and beauty about them that is arresting. (I know - I don't get out enough.)

The last photo comes from the Boshkung Brewing Company in Minden, Ontario. Boshkung makes mighty fine craft beer - worth the drive to Minden. When I visited last July, the company had just installed two new brewing towers to meet the increased demand for its products. Gleamingly beautiful in their polished glory, the towers begged to be photographed...and I happily obliged.

And just think - each of these objects was designed by an actual HUMAN BEING! All hail the designers who move beyond the basics and render beauty as well.

Reflecting on industrial design will be a recurring theme of my blog postings. As always, your feedback is welcome.

Until next time.