Image, to Question, to Story

2 September 2014 — I think this is a post about relationships, about dynamics. About how images can trigger questions, and then stories to explore those questions. Different questions for each viewer, and so different stories.

On Sunday, we went to the magnificent Alex Colville retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario here in Toronto (until Jan 4). Colville painted hyper-realistic scenes that are absolutely specific to their time & place, yet they arouse in viewers questions that swirl throughout time & space. What led to this moment? What is just out of sight? What next?

Colville said he was always addressing the question, “What is life like?” and he pulls viewers into that mystery.

It has inspired me to do a different sort of post. (You understand I do not compare myself with Colville.)

Usually I weave words & images to tell you the story of my day. I’m delighted when you run with it in your own minds & imaginations, making it yours through your response to it — but still, I have started with my images, for which I supply my story.

Today, i am not telling a story. I riffled my bank of images with a different eye. I wanted images that stand alone, that provoke questions, invite stories. Here are a few …

basketball court, David Crombie Park Toronto

Down on The Esplanade this summer in David Crombie Park, my eye was first drawn by the glorious mural on the backboards, but then by the young woman.

I remember watching for a while. She was entirely focused on her coach and his instruction, her intensity creating a force-field around the court. Who is she? What is her dream? What is she not doing, in her life, in order to do this?

Mexico City, now, a hot day in one of the city’s main zócalos (plazas).

plaza in Mexico City

At the time, I was fascinated by the great blocks of ice, glistening & sweating in the sun. Only later, I wondered about the young man, also glistening & sweating. I hope he is not spending his life subservient to blocks of ice.

Also Latin America, now Habana Vieja in Cuba. I sat on shady steps opposite the Convent of San Francisco de Asís, watching Cubans respond to the statue commemorating a legendary street-person, El Caballero de París.

This little girl would have no memory of him, why did she run to give him a hug?

statue to Caballero de Paris, Habana Vieja

I returned later, to see flowers tucked into the Caballero’s hand. It must have just happened, the blooms were still fresh despite the heat.

floral tribute, Caballero de Paris, Habana Vieja

Friends had told me that people often left flowers, but … who paid tribute this time?  Why?

Story-moments are everywhere.

I know I have already shown you this woman blissfully reading her book in Riverdale Park East, but that was in the context of my story about my walk up to Taste of the Danforth.

Now let’s think about her.

in Riverdale Park East, Toronto

What do you suppose she is reading? Why here?

Or, let’s think about this classy pooch, in a classy red convertible.

dog at Parliament St beer store

He was in a beer store parking lot. Will his owner be just as classy? Will said owner have purchased the classy product of a micro-brewery?

Enough with dogs. Time for a cat.

in Danforth Av. shop

The little statue is in complete contrast, not just to the sleek 21st-c. cash register, but to the coolly elegant & very modern Danforth shop as a whole.  Whose idea was the cat? Is there an older owner behind the smart young assistant greeting the public? What does the cat mean to each of them?

You know my fascination with decorated bicycles, “bike art” I call it.

I liked the whole look of this bike on Dundas St. East — painted vehicle plus fresh new colour-coordinated flowers plus matching helmet.

bike on Dundas St. E.

Look closely, the word “love” is all over the helmet. This cyclist loves her bike (I am guessing gender); she has or seeks love in the world. I hope she is happy.

Queen St. East now, in the forecourt of Metropolitan United Church (at the corner of Church St., where else).

I wasn’t there for the line-up of chess boards and their followers; I was tracking preparations for this year’s Nuit Blanche, and a spectacular installation was in the process of being erected farther back on the property.

chess at Metropolitan United Church

Nuit Blanche, who cares. These guys were playing chess.

Yet my focus wasn’t on the two players, it was on the kibitzer behind them. Why has he lost interest? Are these guys so evenly matched that nothing is happening? Or so mismatched that the game has no tension? Or has something astounding just happened, one board over?

One last thought: if you find you like working your mind from image to possible story, check out Terry Barca’s posts on araneus1. This Aussie (east side of Melbourne, he tells us) is a master at finding a strong image, then weaving a compelling story around it.



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  1. This is different for you – enjoyed it a lot!

  2. I really enjoy your post, and not just because you very kindly mentioned me. I’m reading a lot of Hemingway at the moment and your observations/questions remind me of his descriptive passages, especially in his early work and in ‘A Moveable Feast’. This post was wistful…….. yes, that’s the best way to describe it. If you have a moment, could you describe the frame of mind you were in when you conceived it?

    • Gosh, I wan’t feeling wistful at all, how interesting that it came across that way. I think I was trying to look at those vignettes with a touch of Colville’s wonder about what “life is like” — oh, look, life includes dogs in red convertibles, & sunbathing women with books, & little girls hugging statues, & fiercely focused basketball players, but yes, also young men pushing ice blocks for a living. (Perhaps something approaching wistfulness for the ice-block man, since he would seem to have limited options tho’ I can’t be sure.) Maybe all that Hemingway affects how you perceive the images & questions? (Just as Colville affected me.) Visit the Colville link, see what you think.

      • Fair enough. Nothing worse than being misunderstood. Misunderstanding to one side, I loved the post, as I always do with your thought work…… you put so much work into them; but this one had a bit extra.

      • I don’t call it being misunderstood, I think this conversation illustrates that each viewer brings their own meaning to an image. If you read ‘wistful,” that’s fine. And … if you want to appropriate an image for a story of your own, feel free! (That is not pressure, just reassurance that if it tempted you I’d be honoured not possessive.) Thanks for the compliment, you work hard on your posts too — so hard & carefully that the effort doesn’t show.

  3. How interesting to adopt a different approach – perhaps there is far to much acceptance and not enough questioning.
    I will miss your walks though. Interesting comment above mine – questions leading to questions surely this is the way scientists. investigators etc. work.
    I recent read that an Editor of a Photographic magazine had questioned her preference for taking images of people and so she was looking for a different approach.

    • Oh, you won’t have to miss my walks, I’ll be walking! I think of this post as a one-off, stimulated by our visit to the Colville exhibition & his own exploration (through paintings) of “What is life like?” It was extremely interesting to turn my mental kaleidoscope 1 click from its usual setting, and look at images from a different position — not for their ability to illustrate MY story, but for their own inherent stories. (What??? It’s not always all about me?) All that said, I’ll mostly be creating posts about my walks. Thanks as always for your interest in them.

      • Great to think that you were inspired by an art exhibition. My daughter is an artist and one of her installations was “The Rising Tide of Beaurocracy” where she questioned the continue use of ‘hard copy’ You can see her work on Jeannie Driver web site if you would like.
        Glad you are still walking. My friend and I are going to start the ‘Hangers Way’ must find out how it got its name but in Hampshire they call deep set paths hangers.

  4. I love your photographs because, while aesthetically pleasing they show your curiosity which is huge and always a trip!

    I am a member of an on-line writing group that is trying to breathe new life into itself and sometimes we use photographs as the weekly prompt.

    Story is a way of threading perspectives together and when we see a photograph that makes us want to have a 360 view that includes time–future and past–we are well on our way to telling it!

    I’m going to see the Colville show today!!!


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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