A Secret Place
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.