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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Posed photos make one ask, "What is photojournalism?"

File photo? An image by stock shooter Olga Lyubkin and sold by fotolia.

Sometimes you see an image and you just know it isn't journalism. I confess, in the old days posed shots in newspapers were all too common. I can recall when I first became a shooter for a newspaper that the head of the department was a weekend wedding photographer and he let his wedding shooter aesthetic poison his eye for photojournalism.

This was the early '70s and a then teenage reader, the late Paula McLarty of Sault Ste. Marie, made me aware of the pitfalls of managing the images shot for the newspaper. She was very perceptive, many readers are, and she could spot the real from the faux and she could not understand why we bothered. News photographers should bring the world into our homes, not deliver trite, managed advertising images to our doorstep.

I became a member of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), I attended Flying Short Courses and for more than a decade I ran a photojournalism seminar held annually at Western University in London, Ontario. The London Free Press, then owned by Walter Blackburn, generously supported the local seminar. The paper even sent a dozen or so copy editors to the Saturday portion of the event. Photography was important.

I'd like to say we never faked an image. Now and then, we did. But as a rule we used local people who actually were involved with the story. We just managed the moments, we posed the subjects to create "better" images on the page. Paula would have been quite rightly appalled.

By the time I retired I posed very, very few pictures when illustrating an action. I had learned that reality had its own beauty, its own aesthetic and must be respected.

Sadly, the lessons taught at the locally held seminars have now been forgotten. Images that are far more plastic than anything I ever produced are becoming the norm thanks to the insensitivity of media owners Sun Media / Quebecor.

Almost 60 years have passed and the late Paula McLarty's views on what constitutes photojournalism and deserves to be in a daily paper are still relevant.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Forks of the Thames surrounded by flood plain

Yellow indicates extent of flooding expected once every 200 years.
When I moved to London back in '76, I lived in the former Petersville situated immediately across the Thames River from the downtown. I loved my 1920s home. I loved the location — near the river. But come the spring of '77, the river rose to within an inch of the top of the West London Dike and the city piled sand-bags on top of the storm sewer grates on my street. I learned from my neighbours that in the past my neighbourhood had been flooded a number of times. After this, I distrusted my home's location — near the river.

Now, I live in Byron on a sloping rise of land known as the Ingersoll Moraine. My home overlooks the western end of the city. I no longer worry about flooding. I like the location — high above the river.

According to the city planning department, the place to accent in London is the land at the Forks of the Thames. I can see that but I can also see exercising caution, showing restraint. As Londoners well know, when one thinks of the forks of the Thames one should also think of flooding.

Look at the satellite view. Note the large neighbourhood on the west bank of the river above the forks. It is built on flood plain. Residents died when serious flooding inundated this area in the past. After the flood of '37 there was talk of London buying all the housing affected, moving the residents out and tearing down the homes. The argument was that this would be cheaper than building all the flood control dams and dikes required for proper protection.

In the end, the municipal and provincial governments went with the dams and dikes. But even with all the protections in place, in 1977 the area came within one rainfall of suffering the fabled one-in-two-hundred-years flood.

Before Londoners can get behind any plans for the forks, the planning department has to assure Londoners that any proposal does not involve building on flood plain. And you don't even have to think Calgary or Winnipeg to understand the threat. Just think London: 1883, 1937, 1947, 1977, 1986, 2000 and April 2008 and again in December of 2008.

Weather patterns are changing. When it comes to buildings and rivers, I personally like to err on the dry side.

Monday, June 24, 2013

She's in her Polka Dot Period.

Polka Dot No. 2

Just a quick post today.

I noticed a new wrinkle to my granddaughter's art. She has taken to putting multiple dots of paint in her work. Curious, I inquired about the dots.

"Not dots, Guga," she told me. "Polka dots."

What I find curious about her work with "polka dots" is that each picture is different. She is not only experimenting with dots but with ways of using dots in a work of art. When it comes to painting, the kid is more sophisticated in some ways at the age of three than I was in my late teens entering art school.

Polka Dot No. 3

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Only an illustration but proves concept works. Really?

Same photo illustrates plans for old Vic Hospital site and Forks of the Thames.

The City of London planning department is creating the city's new 25 year plan and encouraging public participation under the catchy label of ReThink London. The last figure I read said the enterprise is costing at least $300,000 and has attracted the interest of more than 10,000 city residents. It is not a lot of money for a city the size of London. Still one has to wonder what exactly Londoners are getting for their ReThink money.

The recently released report entitled DowntownLDN/Our Move Forward is a case in point. According to The London Free Press, director of planning John Fleming has said a "concrete beach" is in the cards for The Forks of the Thames. To give Londoners an idea what the concrete beach might look like the planning department included an illustration — an illustration showing Streets Beach in the South Bank development in Brisbane, Australia.

The Australian development features one of the largest man-made lagoons in the world complete with a large man-made beach. It took some 4000 cubic meters of sand to create the beach and requires another 70 tonnes of sand annually. Despite Fleming's description reported in the local paper, the beach is not concrete.

When I tweeted my criticism — "Photo NOT proposed Thames beach. It's AU. Mega buck project. Costly upkeep." — I received a quick reply from Citizen Corps saying, "That's correct. stated that it was a photo from AU and proof that this concept can/does work."

Following this line of thought, how well is the concept working out for Brisbane. Actually very well but there is the little matter of the 2011 flood. It caused more than $7 million in damages, necessitating repairs to both the pool liner and the beach.

I once owned a small sailboat. Using the John Fleming, Citizen Corps supported, approach here's a photo showing what my boat was like.

Admittedly it is not actually a photo of  my boat but it does show that the concept of a privately owned sailboat can and does work.

Addendum: Not only does the picture from South Beach in Brisbane work for giving Londoners an idea what The Forks of The Thames will look like in the future. If you can believe The London Free Press, the same picture was used to illustrate the plans for the old Victoria Hospital site upriver from the forks.

Wow! Surely the city planners are not proposing two big pools complete with large, man-made beaches, and so close together. But hey, if one pool works in Brisbane, two will work in London. The planning department is confident the concept can and does work. They've got a picture.

If by chance you don't like either use of the picture from Australia, the city planners will not to be caught off balance. They have another illustration. This time the photo is from Portland, Oregon, and shows the well known Jamison Square interactive fountain. This photo is also proof that a concept can and does work.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

ReThink London: pretty words and hollow promises

London planner: Dir. John Fleming
In my opinion, and in the opinion of others with whom I have talked at ReThink London events, the ReThink London project is falling flat. It is a lot of talk using pretty sounding phrases but that may be about all.

Planning a city is a big job and not one to be done by committee and consensus. What London needs is vision, imagination and knowledgeable leadership. The city planner should be rallying Londoners around his or her brilliant ideas and not asking, no pleading, for ideas from the electorate. This does not mean the city planners should have closed minds but rather they should have firm ideas of their own through which to filter the suggestions from the public.

For instance, ReThink London talks a great deal about wanting to create a compact city, to stop sprawl. And this is what Londoners want, we are told. But take a drive down Wonderland Road South, the new gateway to the city, and look at the long row of box stores popping up.

And what surrounds these stores? Acres and acres of asphalt. This is just unimaginative, bad planning. The planning in London is poor and fine words and pretty phrases won't change that fact for those who open their eyes and look.

Alternative to London box store developments.
Now, check out this picture taken in a chain-store mall development in Ohio. Note the apartments above the stores. Note the wide sidewalks. This is a shopping district that looks very much like commercial areas of North American cities of the past.

This commercial area in Ohio isn't perfect but I am sure our city planners are familiar with it. Take the idea from Ohio, it is also being tried in other communities, and improve upon what the Yanks have done.

I look at the Wonderland Rd. S. box stores and at the outdoor mall going up at the corner of Col. Talbot and Southdale Rd. W. and I am disgusted and disappointed. What I am seeing is NOT what was being promised for these areas a couple of decades ago.

At that time there was talk of new urbanism, of walkable communities and of compact development. The London Free Press had a weekend feature detailing what was planned. Doesn't that all sound oh-so-familiar?

ReThink London invited the fired director of planning for Vancouver, B.C., Brent Toderian to speak at one of the ReThink events. Toderian told the audience how box stores like Home Depot were being encouraged by the west coast city's planning department to build apartments above their urban outlets.

Winners, HomeSense and The Home Depot in Vancouver. Note apartments.
Now that is compact urban thinking.

I'm going to send a link to this blog to ReThink London. I've done this in the past and I have never received more than a computer generated thank you and we'll get back to you soon message. ReThink London is opening doors to communication with the community. Bunkum!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Romania: An unappreciated tourist destination?

Constantsa Casino, Romania: Photography Blog of Watcher Romano

This is a work in progress. This is not a finished post.

I had plans. When I retired I was going to travel: Uzbekistan, Western China, Romania . . . I had a long list. I'm now 65 and my old list isn't getting any shorter. My passport has been shelved, permanently if my wife, supported by some close relatives, have their say. I've been told to drop all thoughts of international travel and I can blame my heart, my ICD. We'll see. I'm keeping my options open.

So, where would I like to go first? At the moment, Romania gets the nod. Bill, my daughter's father-in-law, shakes his head: "No." "What would you do if you suffered a heart event while in Romania," he asked.

"Good question," I reply. And then I recall the words of a travel agent specializing in travel to places once which were once hidden from western eyes behind the now-fallen iron curtain: "We are talking sophisticated Europe here. We are not talking about Kansas." With that attitude in mind, I began my research into Romania, its cities and its towns.

Ljubljana, Slovenia          Creative Commons: Mihael Grmek
I've never been to Romania but I have been to Slovenia, occupying the norther part of the former Yugoslavia. It was an eye-opener. Even my wife, a timid traveller, liked Slovenia. It's a beautiful country filled with friendly people.

The capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, has a population only 75 percent the size of that of London, Ontario, my hometown, but in many ways the Slovene capital is a much nicer city. I quickly learned the travel agent was right: Ljubljana is sophisticated Europe. Traveling in Kansas, in some respects, is more difficult.

Remember the worry about finding medical help in Romania. It may not be a concern. Romania joined the European Union (EU) in 2007, a move that recognized the great strides made by Romania in distancing the country from the dark days of dictator Ceausescu's rule.

Today Romania is a popular medical tourism destination. Health care is skewed towards the wealthy, according to The World Bank, but clearly quality medical treatment is available. Having an EKG taken should not be a problem.

It seems if I do decide to travel to Romania, I must land at the Bucharest airport.  Bucharest, also known as Little Paris, earned its nickname before the First World War. Although it still clings to its heritage name, many of the heritage buildings that earned it the moniker have now been demolished.

Of course, the passing decades thinned the ranks of heritage buildings but Second World War bombing runs left vast tracts of the heritage urban landscape in ruins. Lastly, according to Wikipedia, Ceausescu demolished much of the Old Town in the core of Bucharest to construct his grandiose presidential palace, one of the world's largest buildings: 19 Orthodox Christian churches, six Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches (plus eight relocated churches), and 30,000 residences  were all destroyed in a massive state-sanctioned act of vandalism.

For some pictures of Old Town today, check out the 54 pictures posted at last count on the Trip Advisor Internet site. It appears cars are either banned or their use severely curtailed in this heritage district. Google Street Views has covered most of the city but was unable to post anything from Old Town.

If I make it to Bucharest soon, I'll be sure to pick up the in your pocket essential city guide for Bucharest. Here is a link to the section of the guide on Bucharest taxis.

 The in your pocket guides try and reveal a city warts and all, as they say. This makes them good guides for visitors.

This contrasts to the approach of travel guides like travel that way which present a glossed-over image. Click the following link and you'll see what I mean: Bucharest-Winter Fairyland. I should add that I wander about cities and towns wearing rose coloured glasses. I'm sure I'd see the snow blanketed Bucharest as beautiful as pictured. Hey, those photos have made me consider a winter visit.

One thing I've found is that if I say Romania, the listener says poverty. When I get a chance to add more to this post, I'll address the out-of-date idea that Romania is dirt poor. I'll also look at orphanages and how far Romania has left the dark days of the Ceausescu dictatorship and put the orphanage debacle behind it.

This post is a work in progress but as I have posted link to the main picture, the author of the image may want to see how I have used his photo. For that reason, I am posting this post in installments and I will complete this post in the coming days.

Here are some links to travel in Romania to keep you happy for the time being:
Visiting Bucharest
Best of Romania
Spas in Romania