La Carre Rouge

It seems that I left Quebec just before things really got interesting. I felt that the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement would help spur on more action, but I had no idea that this was brewing in Quebec. Or perhaps I did. The Quebecois are a politically active people, they pay attention and they are not quiet or passive when they don’t feel heard. There is a passion there that is lacking in the rest of North America, which is why it should come as no surprise that Quebec has become ground zero for the continuation of what Occupy began last fall.

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The issue of student debt is emblematic of the larger systematic problems that exist in contemporary globalism. It shows a roadmap for where the world is headed if our course is not changed. What happens to youth today is an indication of what shape society will take in the future. Crushed by debt from the moment they leave home they will become a class of indentured servants to a small financial elite who hold the promisory notes that bought their education, their homes, their cars. People will live from the age of majority to death in perpetual debt and therefore not the true masters of their own lives. Meanwhile bankers, politicians and mafiosos will smoke cuban cigars and sit on golden toilets in their 55th floor corner offices. Enough.

Though Quebec students have been some of the first and most vocal, they are by no means alone. The same problems plague students across North America. Canadian tuition is on course to more than double in the next few years and US student debt has cleared $1-trillion. Defaults are increasing. Just like the housing market. Things are headed for a crash.

I encourage students and supporters around the world, not just in Quebec to take up the symbol of the student strike, the “Carre Rouge” or red square, referring to the debt being accrued by so many students before entering an increasingly bleak job market. The path has been laid out, there is room for many, many more to join the movement. Make your voice heard. Offer up your own ideas and solutions, just don’t sit by and do nothing.

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Incubator

So it seems to be the least I can do with my ample spare time devoid of work, a social life and even not very much volunteer work to do (though I have taken on a role with Burning Man – more on that later) is to develop my art.

I haven’t really put a ton of effort into my photography in some time. Sure I’ve been taking photos pretty much constantly over the past few years, even going so far as doing a 365 project called 1625, but I haven’t really pushed myself artistically. I haven’t had a vision, a thesis or anything that I was really digging into. Consequently I don’t really feel like much of my work over the past four or five years is any better than what I was doing back in 2006 and 2007. In fact my favourite pictures are still from that era.

Now I’ve learned a lot of technical skills since then and perhaps that’s what’s dulled the edge of my artistic blade. When you think too much about the nuts and bolts you start to forget about the intangible soul that links all of the tissues together. Its a world of rules, of thirds, of “proper” exposure and focus. All of that is important to know, and technically I’ve improved, but I don’t feel like the images are as moving or as ambitious. Its as though life is happening and I’ve just been catching snippets of it, as though by chance.

What I think helped to highlight this for me was the paid gigs I’ve been doing recently. As I gain competence in the technical details the things I really need to figure out how to do is the concept and how to execute that concept. Particularly when working with non-performers and non-artists the onus of creativity and interest really comes from me. People don’t know how to pose, what the best setting or lighting would be. That’s my job. On top of all the technical stuff.

So its time for art school.

Not actual art school mind you. I can’t afford that. Rather the virtual, do it yourself kind. Internet enter stage left.

I’ve just watched documentaries on Annie Leibovitz and James Nachtwey and have more in the queue for inspiration. I’ve begun to look for photography contests to enter. I’ve started thinking about series to shoot. I also have a great big list of YouTube lessons and tutorials on everything from framing to lighting or post production.

I’m contemplating a Tumblr or Pinterest stream to continue the 365 idea, though with a different twist than the one I did last year. I’ve started playing with different ideas for exhibition. If I’m truly an artist then I need to exhibit my art in more interesting ways than just posting it on a website.

Well, this post seems more trite than I’d originally envisioned. I do have some meditations on photography, creativity and art brewing, perhaps its just not yet time to put quill to parchment on the subject. It makes sense to take advantage of this idle time however. I’m sure once I’m working more regularly again I’ll fall right back into my resentment of my lack of time. Best to use it while I’ve got it.

The Land of Milk and Honey?

I haven’t really written since I arrived in San Francisco more than half a year ago now. In part its because I don’t want to be a downer, the transition has been a difficult one and endless woe is me entries in this blog wouldn’t exactly be endearing to you faithful readers. I feel like I can at last unload and debrief about the past few months, the challenges and the victories and the potentials for the road ahead.

To say that I’m settled in, cozy and warm in my new environs would be a lie, but I don’t hate it anymore. Yes I hated San Francisco. Many out there consider it a kind of high tech, counter cultural nirvana, which is something I used to buy into as well, but its just a city like any other. I think the fairy tale version of San Francisco is in part the cause of my dissatisfaction. The street level reality of San Francisco can never match its mythical extolled virtues, at least for me.

There’s lots of income disparity, public transit isn’t great, there’s not as much green space as I’m used to, the job market is insanely competitive (due to that fairy tale vision), there’s a bit too much flakiness in the air and speaking of the air, the weather is rarely bad, but rarely good.

It feels good to have that off of my chest. Phew.

All of that said, if I were to list my top ten cities to live in San Francisco would still be there. I no longer hate it here and the longer I’m here the more I come to understand and appreciate it. Many of the disadvantages and frustrations are also what makes it great.

The high cost of living here and the competitive nature of it is hard to cope with sure, but it also summons you to bring your best to the table. It wasn’t until arriving here that I really started to get serious about being a photographer. Its an uphill battle, slow moving and sometimes frustrating, but I’ve been making ground, picking up jobs and making connections. I’m not really making a living (and that’s a big source of pain) but I’m getting close to it and I can imagine a day when I do thrive as a camera for hire. Its the best and worst of America, you can achieve a lot if you work hard, but nobody is going to pick you up if you fall.

The flakes and the wierdos come with San Francisco’s extraordinarily accepting nature – everyone is welcome here and they’re welcome to do and think whatever they like without judgement. There’s definitely a lot of stuff that pushes my buttons (both good and bad) but I love that so many possibilities are open as a result. If you’re into it, chances are there’s a community here for it, even if that also means crazy cultists and geninuely crazy people roam the streets. It also means that there are people here working on truly groundbreaking and challenging new (and old) ideas. It can be overwhelming, but its an amazing form of democracy and diversity.

Finally San Francisco’s geography wreaks havoc with its attempts at public transit and a well integrated park system, it also crams a lot of density into a small area (in a way that can sometimes feel stifling to this prairie boy) and traps crummy weather right overhead. When the sun shines though, hot damn, its gorgeous here. San Francisco is a beautiful city, if you’re here on the right day and go to the right places. Most of it is concrete jungle, but the parks and waterfront and hills are tremendous. The many historic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz and the rest are pretty stunning, I just wish I could take the Metro there. 😉

There’s a lot more pluses and negatives to go around. One of the biggest challenges for me is being underemployed, not having my own space and no real disposable income. Slowly that is changing and I’m sure that as it does my resentment of hipsters in designer toques will wane (though really, toques in the summer is just dumb). I’ll be talking more about SF and digging into it. Its a fascinating town, but for me this relationship is off to a rocky start. I think it was just bad timing, so let’s do it.