Film doesn’t feel

One of the limitations of photography — especially that which eschews unrealistic post-processing — is that it provides limited means for expressing emotions. There is no link between the feelings in your mind and the data your sensor collects, unlike the stroke of a pen in forming a word of brush in making a drawing.

Nonetheless, photography is art-by-doing. An unaltered photo is a credible statement: I was at this place, these things were around me (Exif data can make it especially intimate). In that spirit, I tried to take a walk to express grief and pain photographically. When you’re sick with these feelings — when your brain feels like it’s being pulled apart — one answer is to travel somewhere strange and remote. To listen to the night wind blowing across something enormous and cold.

I’m working on practicing non-self-destructive ways of handling overpowering emotions.

Labour art project denied

Ages ago I submitted a photo essay to the Canadian Labour Congress for their “Workers’ Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice” project.

It was meant to be funded as part of the (at least dubious, and almost certainly offensive, given that people have lived here for many thousands of years) Canada 150 celebration.

The call to photographers in June 2016 explained: “The CLC invites photographers to participate in a historic exhibition on workers’ rights, social justice, and equity.” They went on to say:

Workers have historically taken the lead role in fighting for social justice issues, which have had an impact far beyond the workplace and into every part of the daily lives of Canadians. Therefore, the exhibition will be both a celebration of victories and an opportunity to take stock of the continuing struggles for social justice. Where have we succeeded as a social movement?

In the end, the people behind the proposal (Vince Pietropaolo and John Maclennan) told the photographers that it’s not going to happen due to lack of funding.

As such, I am making my photo essay submission public: Victories and continuing struggles.

Dancing with the sky

I find that my Prism Quantum two-line kite is too frustrating to fly in winds of less than 16 knots (kn). The ideal range is 16-25 kn, with the wind consistent in power and coming from a consistent direction. That’s a rare situation indeed in Toronto, where winds are almost never so strong and tend to be turbulent and inconsistent when they are. Because of that, I check Windfinder.com for the Toronto Island Airport to spot days which may be plausible for good kiting.

The forecast for today looked promising, so I went with my friend Nada to fly a bit in Riverside Park. It’s not as good a kiting location as Hanlan’s Point beach, but it’s a lot easier to reach and depart from and offers more options in the event of the summer downpours and thunderstorms that often accompany windy spring days.

All photos of me are by Nada Khalifa.

Milan Ilnyckyj flying a kite - photo by Nada Khalifa

One of my favourite things about kiting is teaching it to less experienced flyers. Anyone who seems interested and heavy enough to safely use this particular kite in these particular wind conditions is encouraged to give it a try. All told with this kite — in a variety of locations around Toronto — I have helped at least 50 people take their first flight with a two-line kite, with inductees ranging from about ten years old to well over seventy. I make a special effort to encourage women of all ages to try it, since there seems to be some general set of social expectations that makes men and boys more willing to give it a try.

Nada flying

I feel like a few years of intermittent kiting (along with related reading, video tutorials, and inspiring acts of lunacy) have taught me a fair bit about aeronautics in an applied sense.

Milan Ilnyckyj flying Prism Quantum kite

I tell my Massey friends that kiting is a bit like sailing for poor people. The Quantum has carbon fibre (or, apparently, “Pultruded Carbon“) spars and a sail made of material that would be suitable for a sailboat. Kite lines are highly specialized polymers. A kite lets you grab a little piece of the wind and feel how it’s moving across a fairly large area. As well as a meditative activity, it’s a cybernetic one: a complex interface between your body, a machine, and changing environmental conditions.

Two-line kite flying in Toronto's Riverside Park

Early when I was reading about more advanced kites, I thought that more power and more lines (there are lots of four and five line kites) would probably produce a more sophisticated or interesting flying experience. Having seen people using large but much less maneuverable parasail-type kites for kiteboarding, I am quite happy with the flexibility and acrobatic potential of a two-line delta style kite like the Quantum.

Prism Quantum kite

Concepts from kiting — about airflow, turbulence, attitude, and so on — seem generalizable to craft of many kinds. Indeed, thinking about attitude in the specific sense of simulated spacecraft in Kerbal Space Program has helped me disentangle some of the complex elements involved in precisely maneuvering a flying airfoil through a turbulent mass of air. Direction vector relative to the wind is crucial, as is responding to abrupt changes in air flow.

Riverside Park, Toronto

I would love to get a small soft kite with no hard parts, small enough to pack into the cargo pocket of my trousers or the poacher’s pocket in my winter jacket. With a light one-line kite, it would be possible to do a bit of flying whenever I happen to find myself in a decent wind. The Prism EO Atom is an intriguing possibility of this sort, though it’s hard to gauge how compact it is. Unlike most single-line kites, it offers a bit of variety in how it flies because you can pull it downward and watch it tumble and recover in interesting ways.

Dancing with the wind

My sense is that kiting has therapeutic value for my chronic shoulder injury. The traction is probably similar to what physiotherapy elastic bands are meant to produce, and it’s a whole lot more fun.

Kiting as therapy for chronic shoulder injuries?

With very stable wind, kiting is an excellent solitary activity. I just start a set of lectures rolling on my iPod and keep going for as long as the wind supports me. This tends to work best during adverse weather — either days well below 0 ËšC or those interspersed with thunderstorms. In those conditions, good flying locations tend to be thinly populated. When the weather is fine, you are sometimes interrupted by (welcome) inquiries from people who want to give it a try, unwelcome complaints from the maddeningly large subset of the population who are reflexively anti-kite, and the thoughtless interference of people who aren’t paying attention to what is happening above and around them.

With variable wind, it’s highly useful to have a friend to help you re-position the kite for launch after a crash or a failure of the wind.

Nada helping with a launch on a turbulent afternoon

I love the paganism of kite flying: the immediate connection with natural forces vaster and more powerful than you, and efforts to work alongside them rather than seek to dominate them or escape from their power.

Little chess photo project

I walked around my building and neighbourhood, recreating the classic 1851 chess game played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky in London.

The game reminds me a bit of the Orson Scott Card novel Ender’s Game. The book features a battle where one side seems to be defeated but manages to satisfy the formal conditions of victory. This game seems like a nice reminder that the real objective is checkmate, not gaining or protecting material. Anderssen tosses away rooks and even his queen, all while setting up checkmate with two knights and bishop.

I may try photographing some other classic games in interesting venues, though it is hard to do in a way that makes the pieces completely clear. On this chess set, the bishops look too much like pawns. I am going to add some red dots to them – marking them like queen bees.

Evey in The Glebe

A little while ago, my friend Evey was in town and was good enough to pose for some portraits around The Glebe. She writes a fashion blog called Hey, Good Lookin’.

Remarkably, despite being a native of Ottawa, Evey had never been to the Wild Oat restaurant.

It’s a nice place, with excellent loaves of olive bread available. Just don’t expect to find anywhere to sit during the most popular times of day.

I rather like this cape-like garment, and the thick wool is well-suited to Ottawa’s shortening days.

Octopus Books is an independent shop with an entire section devoted to ‘U.S. Imperialism’. Here, Evey is posing outside.

Proximity to the canal is one of the nice things about The Glebe as a neighbourhood. That, and the presence of Ottawa’s best bagel shop.

The bridge shown here is the same as the one incorporated into the current banner for this site, though I am going to need to find a Toronto bridge to substitute in fairly soon.

When Evey is back in Ottawa around Christmas time, I am hoping we will be able to add to these with some shots in the snow.

Montreal Port

One interesting thing about ports is the way in which they accumulate obsolete vessels and buildings. In Montreal, there is a stretch of waterfront in the old port area which has been enhanced for tourists, but which is nonetheless situated alongside old grain elevators and other bits of industrial refuse.

70mm 1/130″ f/8 100ISO

Here, light reflecting off parked cars was illuminating the shadowed side of the motorway.

200mm 1/130″ f/8 100ISO

This prominent sign has a dedicated art project online. Since 2006, the ‘Farine Five Roses’ brand has apparently been owned by Smuckers.

200mm 1/250″ f/8 100ISO

The City of Montreal has gone to considerable lengths to exclude urban explorers from these old grain elevators. That’s probably quite sensible, given the hazards that are almost certainly inside. Nonetheless, I did see some urban exploration photos from inside this complex during my weekend in Montreal.

70mm 1/200″ f/8 100ISO

In particular, I would be anxious about using any of these rusted overhanging walkways.

70mm 1/320″ f/8 100ISO

I have always enjoyed the interesting textures that are produced by rusting metal.

70mm 1/200″ f/8 100ISO

Similarly, the contrast between the increasingly oxidized iron and the blue sky is attractive, when these old towers are viewed on a clear day.

120mm 1/100″ f/8 1600ISO

Between two of the moorings for large passenger vessels, a pair of old steamships are currently tied. Quite possibly, they are destined to be sent off for scrap.

93mm 1/80″ f/8 800ISO

Whenever I see a catenary, I am reminded of the various ‘Connections’ television series’ hosted by James Burke. Like making pigments from coal, the caternary form is a connection that arose again and again on the show.

190mm 1/160″ f/8 2500ISO

Most of these photos were taken using Canon’s 70-200mm f/4L lens. Nearly all were shot at f/8, with the ISO setting and shutter speed adjusted to take into consideration the amount of ambient light, the degree to which I could brace the camera, and the relative brightness or darkness of the subject.

180mm 1/200″ f/8 400ISO

The original purpose of both ships was obscure to me, though they were clearly designed for some industrial use, rather than the transport of passengers.

200mm 1/200″ f/8 640ISO

Despite that, some details of the ships provide insight into how their crews would have experienced life aboard them.

185mm 1/40″ f/8 800ISO

Perhaps something about the redox interactions between the different structural elements of the ship explains this pattern of rusting.

110mm 1/60″ f/8 800ISO

I suspect these are bow thrusters, used to manoeuvre ships in relatively tight quarters.

Williamsburg graffiti

One of the neatest things about the Williamsburg area, in Brooklyn, is the street art. Especially down toward the waterfront, there are many walls and buildings with skilfully-executed and creative images on them.

While not the most artistically appealing thing I saw, this was the most topical bit of art. I do like the creative use of the strech-Hummer.

I started off by exploring the area west of Bedford avenue, toward the waterfront across from Manhattan.

Some buildings are nearly covered with overlapping layers of graffiti, some of it more ‘official’ than the rest. Lots of former industrial buildings are along the water, including a gigantic former sugar factory. Many of the old warehouses now seem to contain art and living spaces.

This has always been one of my favourite presidential quotations. I wonder what Eisenhower would think about the state of America today.

I like how ambiguous this image is. The hair and colours seem playful, but the mouth is truly scary.

I don’t know what it means to ‘clasm’ one’s icons, but I like this guy’s moustache.

This large rabbit is really striking, when seen in person. One of the biggest limitations with looking at art on computers is that everything gets reduced to a set scale. That can work as poorly for big pieces of graffiti as it does for Kandinsky’s giant canvasses.

This seems to be advertising masquerading as graffiti. I am not sure if the complaint written beside the woman was put there by whoever put up the large work, or by a subsequent passer-by.

I like how striking the colours are here, as well as how the verdant and bloody hues set each other off.

I wonder how the owners of this shop feel about how the Obama administration has gone so far. Do they think the ‘moment’ had been well captured?

There wasn’t much reference to climate change in the parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan I saw. Perhaps public policy capitals like Washington, D.C. and Ottawa are more seized with the question of what to do than economic capitals like New York City.

The monochrome backing really makes the shades of blue in this heart prominent.

The complex facial expression here is interesting – it looks like a combination of stoic resilience and enduring innocence.