Sunday 26 July 2020

Blog Post #187 - "A Celebration of Oddity", 26 July, 2020

A Celebration of Oddity
Blog Post #187 – 26 July 2020

Last week, I celebrated bits of beauty. This week, it’s a celebration of oddity. defines oddity as “singularity, strangeness, or eccentricity.” 

Now, I know a thing or two about oddity. 

As a child, I once overheard a friend of my mother’s whisper to her, “Well, Rose, Larry odd little boy.” (Note to parents: kids always hear what people whisper.) Up until that point in my life, I hadn’t been aware of any adjectives used to describe me. I was blissfully oblivious about categories or pigeon-holes. It did not seem odd to me, for instance, that I would take inordinate interest in setting fires, stealing gun powder, or listening to CBC Radio. It is only in retrospect that I see the oddness of a pyromaniac child with a worrisome interest in explosions and politics. 

But once I had heard my mother’s friend whisper that word “odd”, I fully embraced the label. 

“Yes, world, I am odd. Yippee!” 

It wasn’t long before I was studying Russian, subscribing to Hansard, and quoting from Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Not to mention sending rocket designs to NASA, writing outraged letters to The Globe and Mail, and reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover to learn about sex. 

Yup, definitely odd.

Which means that one of the things that delights me most about photography is recording odd images. Off-kilter images that my mother’s friend would not have understood. 

But I thank her for the label. It has served me well.

In that spirit, I offer the following odd photographs for your perusal. Enjoy!

Closing note: this is my penultimate blog post before going on hiatus while Bill and I move to Picton. (Yes, dear Reader, I have reached “P” in the dictionary.) Once we are settled into our new home, I plan to re-start photography, writing, and blog posts, likely in early autumn. 

Next week’s theme will be part three of my “Conversations about Racism” - a reconsideration of the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville (soon to be Picton), Ontario


Sunday 19 July 2020

Blog Post #186 - "Bits of Beauty" - July 19, 2020

Blog Post #186 – 19 July 2020
Bits of Beauty

It’s time to celebrate bits of beauty. I’ve dipped into my file of photos made during the peak of Covid-19 isolation to find images that don’t fit any particular theme but that deserve to be seen. They range from a snow-covered daffodil in our back yard to a wonderful old neighbourhood dog. I’ve even thrown in a close-up of my husband’s prized pickled eggs!

Bill and I are coming to the end of our sojourn in Belleville. We bought our house here almost seven years ago, a year before I retired. We moved full-time from Toronto six years ago. Those six years have been filled with gifts, challenges, and wonderful memories, but it is now time for us to go back home – to Prince Edward County. For those unfamiliar with Ontario’s geography, Prince Edward County – not to be confused with Prince Edward Island on Canada’s east coast – is a large island on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Our new house will be in Picton, the main town of Prince Edward County. It’s about a 25-minute drive south of Belleville. Our moving date is scheduled for Tuesday, September 8. Once August arrives, life will be very busy – packing, organizing, and saying good-byes. I plan to write two more weekly blog posts before going on hiatus. Next week, I want to write about some odd photos I’ve made during Covid-19 times, and then I’ll finish off with the third part of my conversations about racism. Once we get settled into Picton, I plan to re-start my photography, writing, and blog posts, likely in early autumn.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the bits of beauty in these photos.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario

Sunday 12 July 2020

Blog Post #185: "The invisible white WE" - Conversations about Racism, Part 2. July 12, 2020

There is a 12-minute recorded version of this 
blog post available on YouTube.
With thanks to Bill Stearman for the suggestion.
( Link)

Blog Post #185: 
The invisible white WE  
Conversations About Racism, Part Two

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They.

- Rudyard Kipling, 
“We and They” 

It is ironic that I start Part Two of my Conversations about Racism by quoting Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), the white English author who popularized the term “the white man’s burden.” I loathe the racism in Kipling’s writing, but I do find this quotation, from the final stanza of his poem “We and They”, to be a useful starting point for today’s topic.

In this essay, I’m exploring the power of what I call ‘the invisible white WE’ when talking about Anti-BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) racism.

Please see my disclosure statement about the term ‘invisible white WE at the end.

In Part One of this series about racism (21 June 2020 – Link), I wrote about being born white in a predominantly white community. When growing up, I was not aware that I was white. In the same way that to a fish, the water is invisible, the concept of being white was invisible to me. In that essay, I made the connection between this invisibility, white privilege, and white systemic racism, all in aid of confronting my own racism.

Here’s an anecdote to illustrate what I mean by ‘the invisible white WE:

About eighteen months ago, I saw a Facebook post that featured the photo of a large sign placed near the entrance of an American Protestant church. It was the kind of sign typically seen in front of churches welcoming non-attenders into the life of the congregation. (Forgive me, but the details of the sign are garnered from memory. Alas, I did not save the photo, nor do I know the church’s denomination or location.)

The sign read something like this:

WE...welcome People of Color.
WE...welcome Indigenous people.
WE...welcome Gay and Lesbian people.
WE...welcome disabled people.
WE...welcome minorities.
WE...welcome you!

An impressive list, I thought to myself...until I looked at the word ‘WE’. Who, exactly, is the ‘WE’ that’s doing all this welcoming? 

It isn’t minority people (whatever that means).
It isn’t disabled people.
It isn’t Gay or Lesbian people. 
It isn’t Indigenous people.
And it isn’t People of Colour.

By process of elimination, you’re left with the conclusion that it’s white, straight, able-bodied people who are doing the welcoming. And they’re not identified. They’re way too busy welcoming all the people who aren’t like them. 

This is an example of ‘the invisible white WE. By not including people like themselves in the list of those being welcomed, they have rendered their whiteness invisible. After all, they are the norm. They consider themselves the ‘normal’ people who are generously welcoming all the ‘other’ people into the life of their church. They have the power to define what constitutes ‘other’. And it’s not them, because they’re already there. The distinguished American journalist Isabel Wilkerson calls this phenomenon “invisible scaffolding.” (“America’s Enduring Racial Caste System”, New York Times Magazine, July 5, 2020, Page 28)

The implication of this racial invisibility hit me hard. It came at a time when I was starting to fathom my own white privilege. The concept that white was so ‘normal’ in my culture that it didn’t need to be named or acknowledged was hugely disturbing. 

I posted a (too) hasty reply on Facebook to the church sign, saying something cheeky like, “I guess this church doesn’t welcome white people, because they’re not on the list.” Within minutes, someone posted a comment objecting to the tone of my comment and accusing it – and me – of being racist.

I tried drafting a better response, explaining that I was in fact trying to be anti-racist and that I was grappling with being a racist simply because I had been born white in a white society, but the subtleties were too complex to cover in a brief reply. Rather than risk an online argument about what was – and what was not – racist, I deleted my comment. 

A good example of white privilege, don’t you think? 

This episode taught me three lessons:

1.       ‘The invisible white WE is a powerful force in our society.
2.       I hadn’t done enough homework to articulate my point of view and to reply to challenges of it.
3.       The term ‘white people’ makes many white people nervous.

Here’s my current thinking about racism: for white people, race and white privilege are normalized and are, therefore, invisible. The sociological term for this invisibility is ‘implicit bias’. The group that has the power to define ‘normal’ is the group that benefits most from that power. The more entrenched that power becomes, the more invisible it becomes. The more invisible it becomes, the more those who benefit from it deny that it exists. To repeat the metaphor I used earlier, “To the fish, the water is invisible.” 

(Last-minute addition: Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, adds to this metaphor by pointing out you can’t be untouched by the water you’re swimming in. See below for more information about Dr. DiAngelo.)

I am not saying that all use of ‘We’ when examining racism is bad. There are ‘We’ groups that are intentionally inclusive and anti-racist. What I am trying put into words is the insidious, invisible white attitude that denies racism and white privilege exist.

A good starting point for research about implicit bias is the Perception Institute. (Link) According to the Perception Institute’s website, it is a “consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists who translate cutting edge research on race, gender, and other identities into solutions that reduce bias and discrimination, and promote belonging.” It is based in Washington, DC.

Another anti-racist resource is Robin Diangelo’s fabulous book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. It is an excellent guide for understanding white racism. It has sharp edges and is uncomfortable for me as a white person to read – by design. Highly recommended. Diangelo – who identifies as white – believes that white people need some racial humility. She focuses particularly on white people who believe they are free of bias. As she says, “Another way that my life has been shaped by being white is that my race is held up as the norm for humanity. Whites are ‘just people’ – our race is rarely if ever named.”

(Watch one of Dr. DiAngelo’s powerful YouTube presentations here. And listen to Krista Tippett’s On Being interview with Dr. DiAngelo and racial trauma expert Resmaa Menakem here.) 

My friends: the above thoughts mark the beginning of a journey for me. I have no easy solutions, but at least my journey has begun. I’ve started writing Part Three of these conversations – a reconsideration of Sir John A. Macdonald, due in early August. 

Disclosure: when I searched the term ‘the invisible white WE’ to see if anyone else uses it, Google found only one reference. It is contained in an essay by Sue Shore in Whitening Race: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, edited by Aileen Moreton-Robinson (Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, Australia, 2004, page 101). The title of Dr. Shore’s essay is Destabilising or Recuperating Whiteness? (Un)mapping ‘The Self’ of Agentic Learning Discourses. Dr. Shore teaches at the International Graduate Centre of Education at Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Portions of the book are available without charge on Google Books (Link). 

The photos: They all feature graffiti on railway cars in the Canadian National freight yard in Belleville. Graffiti art can be an elegantly complex world of in-groups, codes, and secret symbols. It reminds me of the equally complex world of ‘the invisible white WE’ : full of in-groups, codes, and secret symbols. 

Until next time, my friends, stay safe.

Thank you.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Sunday 5 July 2020

Blog Post, July 5, 2020: "Belleville House & Lawn Decorations"

Belleville House and Lawn Decorations

ITBT – In The Before Times – I had not realized how much east-end Belleville loves its house and lawn decorations. We’re not talking about the tasteful door wreaths that I’ve blogged about earlier. No, this time, I’ve been photographing seriously funky ornaments and tchotchkes. And ceramics. Lots and lots of ceramics. I have dozens of photos of such decorations, most made while Edna and I had our daily, socially distanced walks. It’s as if these ornaments were talismans (talismen? talispersons?) intended to ward off misfortune and to welcome in good fortune. And, depending on my mood, I was either charmed and delighted by them – or appalled and dismayed. Mostly it was charm and delight. 

(Side note: I’m saving my dismay for people who don’t wear face masks or shields when near non-bubble people.) 

In fact, I could have created several themed albums of ornament photos: wall-mounted bicycles; faded plastic flowers; puppy and kitten statues galore; acres of angels; miniature houses placed in trees; donkeys pulling wagons; and oddities that defied category. And each of them – I hope – loved and cared for by doting owners.

The last photo, a creepy concrete head I discovered on Farley Avenue in May, has special meaning for me. The Quinte Arts Council (QAC) is featuring it on the cover of the upcoming summer edition of Umbrella, the quarterly magazine it publishes about the arts in the Bay of Quinte area. The theme is ”Arts in Isolation: The COVID-19 Issue”. I think my photo speaks to the ambiguities and uncertainties of our times.

I offer this collection of ornaments in appreciation for all those people who curate exhibits for their homes, lawns, and gardens. Enjoy!

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario