My new photo portfolio, Provincial Scenes, Ontario – do click on the link, and take a look, and do let me know what you think! – might also be called Scenes from a Life, the life in this case being my own, pretty humdrum existence, and the photographs taken, not on some fancy assignment or as part of a planned project, but simply in the course of my accidental wanderings, on business and holidays, across the fair province of Ontario, Canada.
The photos are ‘scenes from a life’ as well as pictures of Ontario in this sense: each of the images, on its own, is an attempt – successful, or unsuccessful, you be the judge – not simply to see and capture but to absorb and reflect on whatever part or aspect of Ontario – and by extension, Canada – is in front of my lens. Not simply as an image, or scene, but as a question, and an act of contemplation, a kind of analysis, if you will.
The question is a simple one – what am I doing here? I ask myself. A South African, and a New Canadian, transplanted or transposed from one place – one corner of the earth – to another. And what is it I am seeing? What is this place? The Canadian virtues – peace, order, decency, civility, as well as the darker shadows of our common humanity – all are present, printed on the landscape, etched into the environment – different not only in outward form but in the atmosphere, the sensibility, the zeitgeist if you will, of my African homeland. The difference – the distance – between Canada and South Africa is both physical and metaphysical.
If the images individually are about not only the place or the landscape but also about the thought processes going on in the mind of the person taking the photograph, the portfolio – culled or selected from literally hundreds of images, retouched, re-cropped in some cases, and presented together, not in any old order but in this particular order – is not so much a portrait of Ontario – that would be a different kind of project altogether – as a kind of interior landscape, a version of what I see and where I am, a rumination, me muttering to myself as I return like a dog with a bone to a recurring question – who am I, and what am I doing here? What is this place? This Ontario, this Canada?
There is also another, altogether different reason for going on about this portfolio. What, after all, does one say, at the end of 2021, about the year that has almost passed, and the year that is to come? Covid has upended everything.
As you will have surmised if you read my previous post, I landed in Toronto in the middle of October, after two long flights broken by a long layover in Paris; I took a limo home from Pearson, to where Rob was waiting, up along High Park and through Roncesvalles; the evening was mild and the last light lingered, and with every street we crossed, every corner we turned, I thought to myself, yes, I remember this! This is familiar. This is home, at last.
And then, in no time at all, it was the end of November. We were about to fly out again, to South Africa, on the last Sunday of the month, for my mother’s 90th birthday and a holiday in the Cape. Just 48 hours before our departure, Omicron broke, Canada pulled up the drawbridge, and we cancelled our flights. Since then we have been in the kind of limbo that almost everyone everywhere is in – will we able to spend Christmas with our family here in Toronto, given the almost daily doubling in Covid infections? Will I be able to return to SA in January or February to finish my contract – or will five years of work with my South African colleagues end, not with hugs and tears and the clinking of glasses, but a final Zoom call and a limply virtual, put-on-a-brave-face-but-really-this-sucks apologetic goodbye? This after a fairly crappy year, on the whole – a fairly crappy two years, actually, if you think back to when all of this began.
Hard to say. But at least we are well, and still reasonably sane (our view of course, not independently verified). Still standing and ready – if a little punch-drunk and unsteady on our pins – to give next year a go. Happy Holidays, everyone. And let’s raise our glasses to a happier New Year.
Oh, and don’t forget to take a look at that darned portfolio….