May 29, 2009

Censored at the Coffee Bar

It may be 2009 and those of us who live in urban centers may consider ourselves oh-so-sophisticated. But artistic portrayals of the human body still have the power to send us into a tizzy.

In recent months I've had the good fortune to hang my photography in downtown Toronto coffee shops. More than one chain in Canada's largest city makes its walls available to visual artists for weeks at a time. This is a wonderful thing. It would be a shame if such policies ended (which is why I'm not going to identify the corporate entity or the address of the shop in this case).

Earlier this month, one of my photos was removed from the wall by the manager of a store hosting my work. A male customer apparently complained that my 5x5-inch photo set into a 17x17-inch frame was something to which his two young sons shouldn't be exposed.

(It was hung at eye-level above a counter used by those adding cream and sugar to their beverages. Honestly, given its placement and size, it would have been difficult for a young child to see much of it.)

The photo was taken at a public beach earlier this year. The subject is male. He's wearing swimming trunks and has his back to the camera. Yes, that back is tanned, glistening, and has a lovely line to it. But when compared to Calvin Klein billboards, this image is tiny. When compared to many American Apparel ads, it's wholesome.

The shop's manager is youngish. Perhaps, had she been more experienced, she might have responded differently. But when confronted by a customer who asked how she'd feel if the photo were of a woman dressed only in her bikini bottom, she acquiesced to his demands for censorship rather than defend artistic expression.

I don't envy her. Her primary business is not running an art gallery. It's selling coffee. As a private business, the owners and managers of the shop have a perfect right to decide what hangs on their walls.

Yes, this shop is in an affluent part of town that's home to many different kinds of artists. But that's no guarantee that someone won't find a photograph of the human body so offensive they'll demand that their children be shielded from it.

The photo in question is available as free computer wallpaper:


May 26, 2009

Lava Rock

Hawaii's Big Island is a world of contrasts. There's lush rainforest, windswept desert, and an active volvanco that has been spewing lava for hundreds of thousands of years. When the lava hardens it turns to ragged, forbidding rock. Vast areas resemble the Land of Mordor. Vegetation, ever optimistic, works hard at finding a foothold amidst the desolation, but the battle to turn these areas green again will continue for decades, perhaps centuries.

I took this shot from a moving vehicle - thus the blur in the foreground. At wallpaper size, the image is quite haunting. It reminds me how puny humans are compared to certain forces of nature. When the volcano begins spewing molten lava from a new direction there's not a thing we homo sapiens can do about it - other than get out of the way.

Download wallpaper versions of this image here:


May 16, 2009

On the Cusp

I've been busy, immersed, distracted lately. I've been reading, reading, reading. Books and websites and scientific journals. News stories and blogs and Twitter feeds. My brain is bursting with facts and figures I'm struggling to make sense of.

It has been 14 years since I wrote my first and only book. Until now, I've felt no need to repeat the experience. But I may be on the cusp of changing my mind.

I believe in debate. I believe in questions. I believe anyone who wants anyone else to dramatically change their lives had better have a strong and persuasive argument.

My reading about global warming has left me bewildered, bemused - and alarmed. I've spent the past several weeks educating myself, and what I've learned isn't pretty.

There's a whole side of the global warming discussion that 90% of the mainstream media ignores. This is because editors and journalists are as susceptible to "group think" as anyone else. It's also because reporters are often too rushed or too lazy to read anything more than the press release when a new study claims to have found yet another reason why global warming should scare us out of our wits.

I wish I didn't feel the need to say anything at all about this topic. There are lots of other things I'd rather be thinking about in my spare time. But the current state of affairs is wrong.

Download wallpaper versions of the above image (and see more) on my website: