A Modes of Flight Street Photography Project
Originally, I intended to photograph the Hamilton GO Centre and its train tracks from a high vantage point somewhere west of the station, and approximately six or seven stories above. The closest and most accessible location I found was the most northeast top floor window of the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts at 126 James Street South. It’s on the side of James that is the neighbourhood of Durand while the station is across the street in Corktown. So, I called up the school, and asked to be allowed to shoot from there. A couple days later Laura, I never did get her last name – stupid me, confirmed that I was approved to enter and shoot.
On the scheduled evening, I arrived and was quite impressed. It was the first time that I had ever been in the conservatory. If only I was sent there to study as a child. Everything about the place is about fine art; the teaching of the arts, the seeking of creative freedom and the nurturing of artistic expression and talent. And there’s clearly rich history of the edifice to compliment the purpose of the enterprise. It’s one of the greatest places I’ve ever stepped into in the City of Hamilton.
Laura led me to the fourth floor where I took up my position by a small semi-circled window overlooking the train station and bus depot like a sniper with my kit of lenses and a tripod. The space by the window was cramped by boxes and wall facets. As it was the height of summer, and there was no air conditioning at this level I began to sweat profusely and immediately just on my setup of equipment but I didn’t mind. Here’s why . . .
She left me there alone to shoot in peace. I will always be tremendously grateful for that. Usually, in this hardened world, people don’t want to take their eye off of a complete stranger that they have bravely allowed into their places of valuable things, and rightly so. I wouldn’t have minded at all had she waited around but she put her trust in me to be alone there in the name of artistic creativity. That clearly tells me that there’s something very special about her and perhaps all of the people who work and learn at this school.
The view of the GO Centre wasn’t as spectacular as I hoped it would be. As the train tacks are built partly on the roof of the station and partly on an earthen berm that extends eastward through Corktown, the platforms for the charter buses are at street level below. Each of those platforms is covered by a large trapezoidal canopy that rises high enough at their apexes to block most of my view of the tracks, and I really wanted to see a lot of the tracks.
I did get some shots in just in case I may be able to work with them later. After all, I thought, they are still unique depictions of the GO Centre from a vantage point that most will never see the station from.
After packing up my gear to head back downstairs, I paused to notice the large room I was in. It was totally unlit except by a shaft of natural evening sunlight entering from a westward backdoor to an outside rooftop observation deck. This dim but lofty space with angled rough old timber roof support columns had been converted into an extremely intimate studio and environment to just sit and dream in. I instantly fell in love with how extraordinarily subtle and simple this space was. It was by no means a landmark but still profoundly important.
I fantasized that some creative genius of history; Leonardo da Vinci perhaps or even a time travelling Imhotep, would periodically come to this place to relax in solitude and conceptualize. Although the people who work and study in the conservatory are familiar with this floor, it is clearly a most interesting location on this earth – in this city, that not many may be aware of.
Of course, I had to photograph this room. This composition is ten times better than the one I actually went there for. It also doesn’t just impact me more on a personal level but actually hints of the type of people who live and work in Durand. It’s an urban image that is a fairly good representation of the community.
Back on the first floor I passed by Laura, handed her my business card and thanked her on my merry way out.
What an opportunity. What an experience. To transiently venture into such a fascinating place, and leave with a memory and a shot that can only make one feel as though they have been granted special permission to kiss the cheek of God.
Although I deliberately make some blurred pictures for Hammer Home (somewhat inspired by the almost completely forgotten pictorialist movement) this is one that, for a time, I had wished I had shot it with a much sharper focus. I began believing that its aesthetic quality was so poor because of the lack of crispness that I had pulled it out of the Corktown series for a while.
During the few months that it was absent from the series, I compared it to other street portraits that I had also made around the Main and James intersection, especially “Soldier of Fortune” and “The Gofer”. I shot those with a bokeh applied to the images overall instead of just on the regions of light beyond the depth of field in hopes to convey ideas of the kinds of professionals that commonly work around these crossroads where the city’s four original neighbourhoods meet; a part of Hamilton’s financial district. I want to avoid conveying the idea that these are the roles that the people imaged actually have. These are not meant to be environmental portraits.
“Cities Need Moving People” is another shot from the area in which I took a different approach by shooting into the sun to turn the pedestrians into rim-lit silhouettes. This was more to foster an impression of a city of strangers, not necessarily professional citizens, on their way to affect an urban community. A community is something that makes a city, in whole or in part, sentimentally and socially more than just a designated place to exist in.
“Drenched” was shot similarly to “Cities Need Moving People”, and practically on the same spot of Main Street, but I used the city lights to silhouette the figures that were egressing from where I stood. Again, this image was to convey the lives of people, in general, in the area but this time outside of actual work hours – it was around 6:30 in the morning when I shot it.
“Take a Moment” was composed the most like “Soldier of Fortune”, “The Gofer” and “The Barrister” but with far less professional connotations attached. I saw the chap in that shot more as a citizen impacted in any way by the goings on of the city’s financial district. I leave it to the viewer to determine if the impact is positive, negative or something else entirely.
“Walk Signal” is a shot from this intersection that I left quite sharply focused in totality. It needed to be because of that illuminated walk signal, the man’s interaction with it, and the heavy Main Street traffic before him that he must contend with given his particular circumstances.
I really don’t know if the guy I photographed carrying a box tray full of coffees is typically the gofer in one of the surrounding office buildings, I just know that someone around there will have that duty. I don’t know if the man I shot on Main Street really is a total mercenary when it comes to business or politics but I do believe that such walks of life do work in that area. I can’t be sure if this man I have photographed in this picture is any type of lawyer. I just know that you’re bound to see a barrister that could resemble him around Main and James at some point.
It’s important to me to be able to show the professional aspects of Hamilton’s story because so many think of its citizenry as absolutely nothing more than just a bunch of unemployed, lazy, welfare bums. If that were true, 21st century Hamilton would not even exist.
It’s not just non-residents who are so critical of this town either. A lot of the disdain comes from a large portion of the city. I hear it from a number of people who live on the mountain and actually venture downtown. They suspect everyone they see as being a crackhead, drunk, freeloader, uneducated and unemployable. The situation is worsened by the fact that many small to large sized firm employers have said that the employment pool in the city leaves much to be desired.
While these shots were made around this one intersection, “Soldier of Fortune”, “Walk Signal” and “The Barrister” were the only three, at the time, associated with Corktown for where the subjects were physically at when I pressed the shutter release button. Of the three, only “Soldier of Fortune” and “The Barrister” have the professional connotation with them.
Between all of these pictures I began seeing that the aesthetics are complementary; affecting adequate degrees of anonymity or depersonalization of the figures, and I eventually accepted the blur I had made on this image as correct instead of poorly applied in composition. So, this shot was permanently returned to the monochrome Corktown series.
“Sit still! Have manners! Have patience!” These were the commands that I learned from early childhood. That last one was big one for me, and I did learn how valuable a discipline it is.
In my adult life, I get people telling me, “I don’t know how you can just wait like that, I haven’t got patience for nothing! You’ve got the patience of Job. If you were any more laid back, you’d be dead!” They mistake my quietness and stillness for sloth or being care-free.
So many times, I have fared better in certain situations than others I’ve known and been acquainted with. All due to being patient.
I’m still learning about being patient too. When I listen closely to people in their 80’s and older, many of them share the same valuable lesson connected to patience. They say that many young, middle-aged and even some old people waste far too much time and energy on evanescent things that in the end, really won’t matter. We get so impatient with such things and ourselves, and always want to obtain them now or yesterday.
The seniors advise us to be more patient and discerning. Discern the things that truly matter from those fleeting aspects of life that don’t. Focus on and nurture that which has greatest impact on our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Things like intellect, meaningful love, freedom, honour, self-respect, respect for others, respect for the world, our souls, etc. These intangible things may help us deal with the final years of our lives better, and they may be the only things that we can take with us in the end.
The other stuff is important for sure but not as important. We have to learn to sit still, be patient and really think about it to realize the truth in this.
2D visual artist specializing in illustration, photography and graphic design.