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      

Sunday 19 April 2020

Blog Post - April 19, 2020: "The Textures of Potter's Creek"

One of my many photographic joys in the last five years has been exploring textures, especially close-ups of everyday items that morph into beautiful abstracts. This was certainly the case when I spent a pleasant March afternoon exploring Potter’s Creek Conservation Area on the Bay of Quinte, just west of Wallbridge-Loyalist Road. Its tree trunks, funguses, leafless branches, and water features were a smorgasbord of textures, muted colours, and remarkable beauty. 

Potter’s Creek Conservation Area is one of those community treasures that is hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to speed by on busy Highway 2 and not notice that, fifty years ago, far-sighted Quinte leaders set aside the former Potter family farm and orchard for a conservation area. Five decades later, its true value as a place of respite and rejuvenation is still not fully appreciated. It is one of my favourite spots for exploring the parade of seasonal changes. No matter how many times I visit, it always rewards me with something new.

One of the great strengths of Potter’s Creek is what it is NOT: it isn’t a location of stunning views or ‘WOW!’ scenery. Its joys, instead, are quieter and more subtle. It rewards close inspection and slow-paced wandering. It invites my camera to observe carefully and mindfully – and to always take a second, third, and fourth look to record its intricacies, delicacies, and fragilities. The more intensely I look, the more I see – and the more abstract the photographs become. That’s the ‘WOW!’ factor for me.

I made all these photos on Thursday, March 19, 2020. It was during the early days of our country’s response to COVID-19, and I didn’t give much thought to the advisability of sharing – safely –  a public space with a few other people who were hiking, walking dogs, and simply getting outside with their families. ‘Social Distancing’ had just started to embed itself in our collective consciousness. If I do visit Potter’s Creek again during the current pandemic, I will do so much more cautiously. As the spring growth season truly takes hold, I would love to record the process – but only if I’m there mostly by myself.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos from Potter’s Creek!

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada      

Sunday 12 April 2020

Blog Post, April 12, 2020: "F. S. Richardson, Photographer, Napanee"

And now for something completely different...

The last few weeks, I’ve been posting photographs that weren’t ‘pretty’ in any conventional sense. The objects in the photos had been tossed away and promptly forgotten. I resonated to their basic dignity and integrity and found them to be powerful metaphors.

Today’s photographs are very different indeed. And none of them are even mine!

Some background: my paternal grandfather was Garnet Stickney Tayler (1887-1960), a proud, tenacious, fiercely intelligent man whose influence remains fixed in my soul. His mother was born Ella Stickney, whose family lived north of Napanee, about half-way between Belleville and Kingston in eastern Ontario. She married the Reverend Dr. Melvin Tayler in 1881. Most of the Stickneys were farmers, but there were also Methodist ministers in the fold. They were a solid, well-respected family – pillars of their community. 

Like many other families of their time, they commissioned a professional photographer to record their portraits. For over fifty years, 1869-1920, the photographer of choice in Napanee was Fred S. Richardson. 

Jeanne Hamel, Garnet Tayler’s redoubtable daughter, is my beloved Aunt Jeanne. As she approaches her 100th birthday in June, she lives on her own in east-end Toronto, remains engaged with her church community, and continues to drive. Similar to her father, Jeanne Hamel is proud, tenacious, and fiercely intelligent. 

Occasionally, Aunt Jeanne goes through her family memorabilia and distributes treasures to members of the next generation. ‘Shedding,’ she calls it. One of the treasures she gave me was an album of photos by the aforementioned Fred S. Richardson. She doesn’t know how many of the people in the photos are actual family members. Aunt Jeanne tells me, however, that the people in the album are all part of the wider Stickney circle. I’m assuming – hoping? – that one of the children is my grandfather.

The photos are a wondrous peek into Ontario in the 1880s and 1890s. It is a treasured family heirloom.

Alas, the album itself and several of its photos have deteriorated badly over the years. Recently, I carefully extracted the photos from the album and digitized them. The photos that follow all come from the album. I did a small amount of Photoshop retouching, but not much. I wanted to preserve their current state rather than trying to fully restore them.

So, enjoy looking back 130 years into the eyes of my ancestors and their contemporaries.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada