Category Archives: My Work

Moments in Time: The Henry Ford

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Coastal Experience: Learning Continues

Port Renfrew, B.C. is a small coastal town on the west coast you of Vancouver Island located directly opposite Cape Flattery, the northern most point of the continental United States. It marks the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca which separates Vancouver Island from Washington State. In mid 1900’s Port Renfrew was central to the logging industry. Today, it is better known for ecotourism activities.

Recently, I participated in a four day workshop in the Port Renfrew area with professional photographer, Dave Hutchison and four other enthusiasts. He presented a similar workshop in September, also in Port Renfrew which I attended. .

On my most recent trip to Port Renfrew conditions were mild and relatively calm. In September it was stormy. Winds, waves and hanging mist along the foreshore and in the forest were ideal for making very interesting images. Regardless of the weather it is always beautiful.

I’ve participated in four workshops with Dave Hutchison. Two have been in Port Renfrew. The other two have been in the Tofino/Ukuelet area in the Pacific Rim National Park. His workshops are well organized and thoroughly researched. I have appreciated and benefitted from his hands on teaching style. The ease with which he helps his students solve problems reflects his wide photographic base of knowledge.

Pristine beaches and ancient old growth forests are easily accessible from Port Renfrew. Dave designed this workshop to take advantage of the best light for making effective landscape photographs in these beautiful locations.

The Vancouver Island photography workshops have been wonderful learning experiences for me. I’ve learned a lot about photography, my camera and about the effective use of ‘light’ in making landscape compositions. But I’ve also learned a lot about myself.

We hiked into some pretty tough (for me) locations. The willingness of the mind was certainly overshadowed by the reluctance of the body. Fortunately, the mind prevailed.  I’m sure that when an opportunity arises for me to again spend time on the west coast of Vancouver Island with my camera, I’ll take a very close look. But fitness will have to remain a priority.

The collection of images I’ve included with this article were made in close proximity to or along the various beaches we hiked during the May and the September workshops. I so much enjoyed the variety lighting conditions, the textures of the beaches and rocky cliffs  and the beautiful vistas as I hiked along such beautiful west coast beaches.  

Also posted in The Creative Process, Travel

Family Photos: A Life Documented

The Canadian Journey for both sides of my family began in the mid to late 1800’s. J.L. Cotter came to Sault St. Marie at the age of 18 to begin a long career with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Dales were drawn to Canada from England by slick government and CPR advertising that promised free land and a better way life.

Like many settlers, their expectations were likely tempered by much uncertainty. Over time the Dales learned to farm and did eke out a living. But extreme winters, drought conditions, plagues of grasshoppers and the blowing dust storms that affected most of central North America in the 1930’s must have at times, made life unbearable.

The Cotter’s were “Hudson Bay People”. They were assigned to remote trading posts along the Labrador Coast, the northern and central regions of Quebec, Ontario around James Bay and in Saskatchewan where housing was supplied. Their stories were more about the friends and the relationships they developed not of the obvious hardships they had to deal with.

The articles I’ve previously posted about my family photos were focused on the history and development of photography. The story of glass plate negatives, large heavy cameras, Kodak’s first Brownie camera and the emergence of transparent plastic negatives and much smaller cameras is remarkable.

But there is another aspect of photography that is also very important. The use of the camera to tell stories: documentary photography.

The stories of grasshoppers devouring crops of wheat on the Dale Family farm near Qu’appelle or my mom’s experience of traveling to and from boarding school in Prince Albert via dog sled in winter and canoe in the spring and fall months are so different from daily life today. But to see how and where they lived in the photographs they collected evokes a completely different emotion. It’s visual and very real.

There are a great many photographs from both sides of the family. From them I have developed a fairly accurate understanding of the environment in which they lived. But it’s my mother’s albums that have really captured my interest. They document her life from her early years through to a short time before she passed away in 2000.

This first set of images documents the 1907 wedding of my grandparents, H.M.S. Cotter and Beatrice Wilson in Longueuil, P.Q. The remaining images were made in and around the HBC post, Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay.

Most of the images in the second group of images were made in Cumberland House, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first inland post. It was Saskatchewan’s oldest permanent settlement, founded in 1774 by Samuel Hearn.

The last group of images are about life after the Hudson’s Bay Company. Most were made in Victoria, B.C. while the last two were made in Vernon, B.C.

It occurred to me as I studied my family’s photographs that social media is nothing new. The mode of making and storing images has changed dramatically. But even in photography’s infancy images were shared, discussed at family gatherings, sent in the mail and collected in albums. I’m sure that if my mom had the use of an iPhone camera her images would be numerous and well organized. Instead of being stored in plastic tubs they would probably fill the ‘Cloud’.

Family Photos: Photographic History (Part 3)

In a previous article I described how my great grand father, A.A Dale, brought his family to Canada. They left what seemed to be a safe and secure in search way of life in England in search of a better life in Canada. They settled on a quarter section of land near Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. Stories told by my dad indicate that they were totally unprepared for conditions they had to endure.

My mom’s side of the family, the Cotter’s, arrived in North America and ultimately Saskatchewan via a very different route and purpose than that of my Dad’s family. James Laurence Cotter (J.L. in short), my great grandfather, was born in Madras, India. His father, George Sackville Cotter was a colonel in the Royal Madras Artillary.

J.L. left India for Edinburgh, Scotland at an early age. There he went to school and was raised by his grandmother. In 1857 at the age of 18 he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company as an apprentice clerk and was send to Sault St. Marie to begin his career. In 1868 he married Frances Ironsides. They had 11 children one of them being my grandfather, Henry Martin Stuart Cotter. Over the course of his career J.L. rose to be in charge of the Hudson Bay Company’s Southern Trading District based in Moose factory.

My grandfather was born at Little Whale River. He also joined the HBC. He was posted to Fort Chimo, on Ungava Bay in the north eastern part of Quebec where my Aunt Francis was born. He and his family were transferred to Cumberland House in Saskatchewan where he was the chief trader.

In the mid to late 1930’s both sets of grand parents, the Cotters and the Dales, moved to Victoria to live out the rest of their lives in retirement.

My great grandfather, J.L. Cotter while well travelled in the wilds of Ontario and Quebec is said to have been better known as a photographer.

He made his own camera. I sometimes wonder whether he had purchased a kit from which a camera could be assembled. My research showed that in the 19th century these were available. His photographs were some of the first ever taken around Hudson’s Bay. They are sharp, clear images of life in the wildness in the 1870’s. Historians and anthropologists have shown particular interest in his artistically composed images. His photographs captured a view of life that had changed very little since the establishment of Moose Factory, Ontario at the southern end of James Bay in 1673. Nine drawing in the June 7, 1879 edition of Harper’s Weekly in New York feature drawing based on his photographs.

Travel in the Ontario wilderness in my great grandfather’s era was by canoe on the rivers and under sail on the waters of Hudson’s Bay. That makes this story even more remarkable.

Negative were made on thin glass plates coated with a light-sensitive emulsion of silver salts. Contact prints were made from his 4 x 6 inch glass plates using a ‘silver salts on paper mounted on card – albumen’ process. Certainly, the supply of glass plates and chemicals was heavy, awkward to pack and cumbersome to carry.

The images I’ve included with this post were all made between 1870 and 1880. They are a remarkable view of life in the northern regions of Ontario and Quebec at the time and very likely for decades previous. While many of my great grandfather’s images are housed in the Hudson Bay Company’s archives in Winnipeg and in the National Archives in Ottawa I found these on line at the private McCord Gallery which is located in Montreal.

Back at It: Finding a Reason

Six weeks into 2019 and I’ve finally felt like getting some meaningful photography accomplished. Making photographs has not been top of mind since Christmas. I’ve been working on  part 3 of my blog project about  the history of photography as it relates to my family’s photographs. That has taken a lot of research time. What I thought would be fairly straight forward is not. Stay tuned. It’s coming.  

A ‘polar vortex’ has had an icy grip on most of Western Canada. It’s been cold. Not so cold when I think about when we moved to Quesnel, B.C. in 1968 but certainly cold for the Okanagan Valley. 

We’ve been blessed with wind, lots of snow as well as some bright, clear, cold days. Minus 15 celsius or lower  have been common night time temperatures. All this has resulted in an landscape with many interesting photographic opportunities.

Kelowna is situated at about the mid point of Okanagan Lake, a body of water roughly 135Km in length and 4-5 Km at its widest. At its coldest this week it was calm. No wind meant that parts of the lake froze out from shore for several hundred metres.  

The natural movement of the water beneath the ice cause cracks to form. Patterns made by these cracks I find interesting to view and photograph.

As the wind rose the ice broke and was driven towards the shore. Large pans were incorporated into a frozen mush of ice. This created an beautiful foreground effect for some of the landscape images I made.

On Tuesday it snowed heavily. I had been waiting for such a day. Falling snow meant an almost invisible background, ideal for a composition I imagined at Kinsman Park. There, I thought, the solitude of an isolated park bench under the spreading branches of an old weeping willow tree would tell an interesting story.

Recently, I spotted an 1950’s vintage pickup truck nestled under a huge tree. In its box were three large wine barrels. I made a mental note to return when it next snowed.

When I returned during Tuesday’s storm snow hung on the surrounding foliage and seemed to flow off the barrels and the upper surfaces of the truck. To me, it was a perfect candidate for some extra attention with my software plugins.  

On Friday, the temperatures had warmed considerably. They were still below freezing but the change was noticeable. After dropping Ellen off for her appointment I headed over to the Fascieux Creek Wetland. Not much had changed there except that the snow had pushed the dead reeds and bullrushes down almost to water level.  

Noticeable also, was a beautiful noise. Red Winged Black Birds had arrived and were in full throated song. Perhaps it’s a sign that Spring is not so far away.

The Wonders of Nature: In an Urban Setting

It’s interesting over time how body and mind begin to run on opposing tracks. The mind, invincible. The body, less than enthusiastic.

I love to get out with my camera especially to places that are off the grid such as my trip to Port Renfrew in September. Lots of hiking to remote beaches and forest setting was involved. I handled most of this well but when I landed upside down on slippery sharp rocks I knew it was time for a reset.

Obviously, safety is a concern as well as a desire not to spoil the trip for other participants. And there is a need to evaluate photography excursions on the basis of suitability for my fitness level. While trips like those I have made to Tofino and Port Renfrew are still on my radar  there are many places close to home or to places we have traveled to that exhibit great opportunities for photographing nature.

Here in Kelowna, B.C. I spend a lot of time at the Fascieux Creek Wetland. Other locations such as Munson Pond, the Mission Creek Greenway, Okanagan Lake and the Kettle Valley Railroad are places I have been able  to make interesting photographs of birds, small mammals and beautiful landscapes.

Whether we are visiting family in Michigan, Victoria and other places on Vancouver Island I have found locations that are  easy to get to and depending on the time of day, weather and light have allowed me to make some of my favourite images.

Locations that I visit regularly allow me to build the knowledge necessary to plan effective photo outings. These scouting trips help me determine the best time of day and best equipment for the situation.

Most images I am presenting with this article were made with an older Nikon 70-300mm lens. When I use my full frame camera the maximum focal length is 300mm but if I use my cropped sensor camera the focal length increase by half, effectively extending to 450mm, ideal for bird photography.

All of these images were made in an urban environment. Street noise, passing vehicles, close proximity to walkers and their pets are common features to these locations. It almost seems as though the critters are used to their urban surroundings and feel that they are relatively safe from potential dangers.

Show and Shine: Rust to Show Piece

Sunday morning I had been tidying up after a dinner party the evening before. The TV was tuned to the History Channel, my usual go to choice. With absent minded interest I was watching ‘Rust Valley Restorations’  a show built on bringing rusty vintage cars back to life.  It featured a rough looking guy in dreadlocks. Strangely familiar the rusty vintage cars, a pitbull and the dreadlocks  had me wondering where I had come across this scene before. All very interesting yet so puzzling.  

The landscape was the first clue. I had been there before. And I had met the man with the wild dreadlocks. His dog, a pitbull, I had also met.  

In early September of 2013 I visited a vintage car museum west of Salmon Arm, B.C. Having driven past many times it was time to stop and photograph the many rusty vintage cars in the adjoining yard. That’s where I met Mike and Mini, his pitbull. 

I wrote a blog article, Camera Walk and a Pitbull,  about meeting Mike and his generosity in allowing me to photograph his nearly 200 vintage vehicles he had stored on a nearby property.  Looking back it was one of my most interesting camera adventures.  

Now it seems, Mike is doing well in the movie business.  

A short search of my image catalogue revealed  the images I made of Mike’s treasures. I also found the images I made in Victoria, B.C. in July of 2016 at the Duece Coupe Festival. The Duece, a 1932 Ford Coupe is considered by some to be the definitive ‘hot rod’. 

The differences between Mike’s rusty relics and the Duece Coupes couldn’t have been more stark. The ‘Dueces’ had been revived and totally rebuilt. They were absolutely stunning.  

I’m sure that some of these beauties started out as rusty relics.  After a great deal of hard work and money they had evolved into beautiful works of art that only a truly addicted ‘car guru’ can really appreciate.  

Some of the images I’ve included below were made at Mike’s auto restoration site. There is a certain beauty in their decayed and rusty appearance. Also included are several images I made at the Duece Coupe Festival in Victoria. Their beauty is obvious, their true beginnings, not so much.

 

Images and Thoughts: A Year in Review

In this, my last article of 2018 I’ve included a selection of my favourite images for the year. First narrowing in excess of 8,000 down to about 350 was time consuming yet fun as I relived the story behind each image. Whittling this collection down to the 20 presented here was a little more challenging. In the end I think they represent my photographic style and interests quite well.

As can be seen from this collection I have not specialized in my choice of subject matter. I like to photograph subject that at the time grab my attention. That could be people, events, landscapes, objects or wildlife.

I have spent a great deal of time at the Fascieux Creek Wetland here in Kelowna where I am able to photograph wildlife in an urban setting. It’s a place that’s easy to get to and one where I now know the best vantage points to capture interesting images.

But my work also includes images captured in my travels to the Rocky Mountains, the West Coast of British Columbia, Victoria, the Oregon Coast, Arizona, Michigan, Australia and New Zealand. Some of these are included in this collection.

Also included here is an image I made early in 2018 near Oliver, B.C. Driving along a backroad I came across an old Dodge truck in the ditch covered with snow. As it was a Sunday afternoon there was no traffic so I had lots of time to make my images. I chose this image to use plugins from Nik and Topaz Labs to make the finished product look like a painting.

(Click image to enlarge)

 

Camera Instructive: The Pinhole

While surfing through Facebook posts recently I came across a story about a photographer who worked with a group a school kids to produce images for Christmas cards. The camera of choice was a ‘Pinhole’.  

As I read the article I remembered when I had  taught a unit about pinhole photography.  It was in 1975 and I was teaching grade 7 at Rutland Elementary in Kelowna, B.C.   

Rutland Elementary was built around 1914. It’s rooms had twelve foot ceilings and  almost floor to ceiling windows. It was spacious and ideal for what I had planned.  

Our cameras were designed around  2 inch by 3 inch black and white sheet film. Each student constructed a camera based on a standardized plan. They were similar to a shoe box but smaller. Film was held in a slot mounted in the black painted interior. A small piece of copper foil  pierced by a needle was centre mounted over a small  hole at the end opposite. This was the aperture. A cardboard flap taped over the ‘aperture’ served as the shutter.  

With a standardized focal length and aperture we were able to calculate exposure times appropriate to the daylight conditions we faced. We all came to be quite proficient in making reasonably images as we experimented with differing exposure times.  

Film was loaded and then unloaded after exposure using a black bag, an essential tool for film photographers. It was developed and fixed in our rudimentary darkroom. It was located in a corner of our adjacent coat room. Composed of two large refrigerator boxes taped together there was enough room for a few students to work easily. It was equipped with 2 small tables, developing trays and an entry level enlarger. 

On photography days we found locations on our school grounds to make our compositions. Exposure times were monitored by stop watches. A heavy text book placed on top of the lid helped to prevent camera movement.  

I will always remember the excitement this project generated. The emergence of images on the negative and then on photographic paper in the developer absolutely captivated my students. Interestingly, two of them found careers in photography, one as a newspaper professional and the other as a researchers in medical imaging at the University of British Columbia.  

I’ve included a collection of my favourite black and while images with this article.To a few I have applied further artistic enhancements.  Originally, this was my area of photographic interest. Like my students I loved the  darkroom process. Digital now but early on, film photography including the pinhole chapter was very important to my learning of photography. 

 

Also posted in Education, The Creative Process

Everyday Photography: Permission Sometimes

It’s cold today and I have a cold. Getting off the couch was not on top of my to-do-list. But there was a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time. Why I didn’t go when it warmer, I don’t know. I’ve driven by it many times.

I reasoned this morning that even if I made 3 or 4 images I’d have something new to work with on my iPad when I returned to the warmth of the house. At the very least I’d have a better idea of my subject matter for a future visit.

Mid morning today I drove to a transmission shop several miles away. Housed in a large, barn like building its situated on several acres of land in Woodhaven, Michigan. The attraction though, was not the building but the display of 1940’s vintage vehicles fronting up the business.

As I slowly drove onto the property my focus was on the dozen or so vehicles lined up in front of the shop. It was a scene that I had not expected. Snow fell overnight. Hoods and bodies were covered with melting snow.

My first impression as I walked up to the building entrance was that it was deserted. I tried the door, knocked and looked around. No sound from within, nothing at all from around the property. A note tacked to the door expressed interest in one of the cars. Perhaps it was the one with “Sold” scrawled across the windshield

I had a problem! Making photographs on private property without permission could be termed trespassing. My practice is always to ask permission to photograph on private property or even when I enter an individual’s personal space to make a photograph of that person in their environment.

Under the circumstances there seemed little chance of me getting the permission I needed today. For the record I made a few images, climbed back in the truck and left. The last thing I needed was to offend someone’s property rights. I’ll try again in the next few days.

Also posted in Education