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Neglect and Poverty in the shadow of the 2015 PanAm Stadium District: a photo essay

Text from an application to a photo competition:

I received a formal education in painting and drawing and have been teaching and exhibiting professionally ever since. I have also been involved with art magazine online publishing. However, I have since refocused my primary creative practice to photography based work. This motivation included experiencing life within economically depressed areas. This sparked an artistic interest in using this situation and time to critically approach the urban landscape around me. I admire the photography work of Canadian contemporary artists Lynn Cohen and Isabelle Hayeur. I am influenced by their painterly approach to the composition that values formal tension over traditional photographic concerns of realism. In this manner I addressed the scarcity of my own resources by examining the waste of our neoliberal, sprawling community models. I have the backdrop of the post-industrial landscape of the “rustbelt” city of Hamilton, Ontario for this narrative.

Waste and scarcity are often associated with logistical or environmental problems of physically accessing and distributing resources. My approach is based on social issues that are rooted in inequities and reflected in the state of resource-scarce communities that are embedded deep in otherwise affluent cities. Where I live now, Barton Village, is such a place. It is located in downtown Hamilton and is only a forty-five minute drive to downtown Toronto — one of the most expensive real estate markets anywhere in the entire North American continent. By contrast Barton Village is one of the least expensive real estate markets left in Canada that is in close proximity to a large city. Why? This community is clearly broken despite it’s prominent placement in the heart of Hamilton. There are wide roads, left over post-industrial infrastructure, that act as highways to bring people through and out of the area as quickly as possible. Storefronts, once prosperous half a century ago, are now shuttered or roughly transformed into illegal housing. The lack of care of the roads, the parks, the sidewalks is clearly evident and to me reflects a political and cultural attitude that condemns this area to toil in perpetually sub-standard conditions. The scarcity of affordable housing in this region is wasted here as no one wants to invest here. It is the catch basin for those who fall between the cracks of any semblance of a safety net left in a politically right leaning leadership. One of my insights here is that this destitute state is not the fault of the people here but of the attitudes towards this area of people who live elsewhere. As a result, my artistic approach was to frame the spaces and structures of this area in an effort to avoid exploiting the imagery of the local residents. Treating these compositions as a drawings, I hope to contrast the waste of the potential of this area with tensions built formally into the composition. I know gentrification will come here eventually and eventually no one will believe what it looked like here.

I would like to critically approach the rising problem of marginalized communities hidden and set within affluent cities across Canada. There is a lack of affordable urban areas and this is evident in these landscapes through the rise of condominium towers and suburban sprawl. Post-industrial areas are disappearing. As a result and vulnerable and working-class communities are being displaced and pushed out from the view of, and subsequently participation in, the public sphere. This is not a solution from poverty but an obliteration of opportunities in the face of unchecked and unbridled capitalism. I believe we are wasting the potential of these areas, these communities and these people by creating a crisis of scarcity of healthy, affordable communities. Our current marginalized spaces have a scarcity of healthy food, affordable transit, health care, walkability metrics such as local schools or places of employment. My commission idea is to document these spaces, in black and white, in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Not only are these areas that are typically ignored by most in this country, but the concerns of these fragile communities transcend borders to relay a cautionary tale to states across the world: there are people who need affordable neighbourhoods close to major urban centres. These are not ghettos but instead fertile cultural grounds of creativity, social justice and unique perspectives. Destroying the unique flavour of these areas through gentrification by currently depriving them of services and opportunities is counter productive to a fair and just society.

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My first magazine website gig and the bastard print baby that followed…

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I left the shallow salt plains of being a web designer and into the muddy tide pool of CMS and web development when I started working at Ottawa indy magazine Guerrilla. Tony was kind enough to give me a chance to reflect on this experience, and about print and the web, and with the magazine’s 10th anniversary edition. You can read my article here.

For the record, the current Guerrilla website is not the website I built.

 

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A guaranteed fix to fire up the economy

I’ve heard it said before that the manufacturing required for WWII turned around a soft, lagging economy. I heard it described as equivalent to producing tens of thousands of vehicles and then dumping them into the middle of the ocean. It was the activity that sparked the momentum.

Hmmm.

I’ve also been learning about the perils of people on social media not understanding the art of reputation management. One of my professors told me Larry Page of Google believes everyone in the first 20 years of the internet should be granted an online amnesty from everything they’ve posted about themselves. Thus, no employer would be allowed, by law, to creep you on social media and then discriminate against you based on your personal texts i.e. revenge porn.

Hmmm.

This gives me an idea. Why don’t we purge the World Wide Web of all content? Not structure, but all the content.

Imagine the work required to re-build relationships and websites. There would be jobs for everyone and we could re-build it better since we are starting from scratch. The economy, an insane entity that wants to constantly expand or fall into crisis, would have plenty of expanding to do. People’s reputations would start from a clean slate once again.

Maybe we can do this every dozen years or so until we evolve past the need for an ever expanding monster called the economy. Maybe this will help stunt urban sprawl as everyone will be too busy getting rich in cyberspace.

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Verizon vs Bell, Rogers & Telus: What side Canadian Artists should support.

This is an easy answer – all Canadian artists and cultural workers should support opening the market to international telecommunication companies just like Verizon.

And now comes the fun part – explaining why!

For artists and Canadian culture in general this is a terrible sanction to have on us during this emerging period of online productions. Think about it – with data being so expensive in Canada and so comparatively cheap everywhere else in the world, our ability to produce and consume digital work is handicapped. We’ll put less work up, and we’ll watch less and the work that is up there has less production value, making us a bit of a laughing stock internationally.

Look at this way – throughout history artists have usually been on the trailing edge of technology as it become more affordable. Now with the massive economics of mobile devices, artists are finally right there on the vanguard of innovation – except in Canada. We simply can’t afford to be as nimble, innovative and productive as the rest of the world.

Why? Because Bell, Rogers and Telus have been lying and manipulating us in order to maintain a monopolistic strangle hold on the tiny Canadian market and leave us with the some of the highest rates in the world for internet, text messages and data transfer. I know this is not exactly news to most people, but incredibly many people out there are still sympathetic to these big three players because, apparently, they will believe whatever commercials and lobbying messages are put on the TV by the people who they are paying money to watch these commercials and lobbying messages on TV.

Below is a summation and rebuttal, point by point, of their main points throughout recent years, as seen on TV:

1. People illegally downloading movies are causing more strain on the system so that’s why prices are high.

That’s like saying if your neighbour is watching a lot of TV, your cable bill will go up.  Or lots of people are mailing books to each other that they stole from their local libraries, so stamps will increase in price. Usually something being used used more frequently usually results in it becoming cheaper – no matter the content being downloaded, someone is still paying for that bandwidth.

Also, look through these companies Business packages. They tend to espouse how fast and growing their networks are – but when dealing with their retail service, then suddenly they need you to pay more for less. Neat trick.

2. The internet is growing and becoming faster. It’s expensive to keep up these standards so that price is reflected in our bills:

You may be surprised to find this out but in fact the internet is very fast and rather boundless by it’s very nature – what you are actually paying for is the technology and marketing these big three companies use to actually slow down the internet to various levels and sell it back to you with caps on the speed and amount you can download.

3. They have internet packages that are very reasonable for the amount people use them:

No they are not reasonable. If I go above my monthly cap, then I have to pay $10 per Gigabyte – 10 FUCKING DOLLARS! – per gigabyte. Most people don’t even know what a gigabyte is so these telecommunication companies will get away with this exploitative and unethical behaviour. And frankly, it is nobody’s business what I use my internet for any more than it is what books i read or what kind of music I listen to. But my point here does apply to being an artist who uploads many photos and other media to websites, and this hampers that.

Now the really evil part – Bell, Rogers and Telus are adjusting their internet packages so that it is very fast for everyone but lowering the amount of data you are “allowed” to use. This means people will literally be able to race to their caps faster and thus have to pay exorbitant fees ($10 per Gigabyte!!!!) based on the small print of their contracts, which also have steep penalties for breaking contracts early or even for not returning the low-quality mass-produced modems they supply. For example, the modem we have is probably worth about $80 retail. If we do not return it when we cancel their contract, we have to pay $800. When they get the modem, they’ll just dispose of it.

4. Bell and Rogers are Canadian – we should support Canadian businesses!

Keep this is mind: Bell and Rogers are also international companies and would in a heartbeat trade places with Verizon. All of these companies are the same and view you the same way, so you should treat them the same as well. What is important here is that if companies like Verizon are allowed into our market, the price for data for people like you and me will drop considerably.

The disparity in access to available networks in North America becomes even more ludicrous when you consider the fact large corporations are enjoying international free trade agreements, but we as individuals are not benefiting.

5. Bell, Rogers and Telus will provide better Customer Service.

Anyone who is Canadian and does not work for Bell, Rogers or Telus will agree that these companies have been terrible to their customers and only very slightly, begrudgingly better since more competition seems to be looming on the horizon.  For most of us, we’ve talked to each about this and shared our revenge fantasies of someday seeing the demise of these companies.

In conclusion, there are changes coming. The CRTC has, finally, made a ruling to limit the contracts, alleviate unreasonable roaming and other charges and provide some price relief. Not sure why they have not stepped in before to help protect citizens, as that is supposed to be their job.

In the meantime, my family and I have switch away from the evil three and gone with an ethical re-seller of Bell (you cannot escape the reseller status of all independent telecommunication companies in Canada. They are all re-sellers of Bell’s bandwidth because our government allowed Bell to become a monopoly over many years).

Someday, we hope to completely free and clear of purchasing any services from Bell, Rogers or Telus, and so should you.

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[Podcast #9] Interview with #hamont Heritage Activist Graham Crawford

Listen to the Audio Podcast here (also available on iTunes)

I had the honour and pleasure of interviewing Silver Jubilee Medal recipient Graham Crawford at his HIStory & HERitage Museum storefront space. Crawford is a hero to some and a thorn in the side to others with his outspoken views on city business and priorities. Retired from a very successful run in the corporate world, he perhaps is the best example of the methodical and intelligent activist who vexes the myth of the malcontent and uninformed activist that seemingly is applied to anyone who speaks out in this community.

When I first moved to Hamilton, Ontario three years ago, Graham’s storefront window full of “culture jamming” images and commentary was an intriguing and accessible point of entry to learn about this city in transition. During this interview, I try to get an overview from Crawford on what makes Hamilton architecture so special, some of the current problems with the political leadership and where Hamilton is going next.

The interview goes for an hour and a half, and could of gone on for another hour and a half. I hope you enjoy.

(Bonus: Fellow Silver Jubilee Recipient Matt Jelly art included below)

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FEAST: gourmet food meets art project crowdfunding

As the event announcement states: “FEAST hamilton is a new community micro-funding event and is looking for Artists Project Proposals.  FEAST  (Funding Engaging Actions and Sustainable Tactics) is a series of community dinners and micro-funding events that bring people together with the aim of supporting local projects through funds raised at each FEAST event.

Jen and I went and it was a really fun event – and I learned a lot about how artists present and saw how some strengths and weaknesses influenced the final vote. I’ll talk about those in a sec. I took some photos, posted below, and I apologize for my name being in the bottom right. That was an oversight from a new process.

Grazyna Ziolkowski

Artist and ceramic art studio owner Grazyna Ziolkowski presents her work in support of working with kids and growing beans.

Each one of us received a list with six artists names, who would be presenting projects we could vote on at the end. Aside from costs, the entire funds raised went to the artist and the organizer’s anticipated $500. The actual amount ended up being just over $800.

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Audio artist Marco D’Andrea presents his project at FEAST 01. It was a very cool vintage equipment sound installation in a car and presented at the “Electric Eclectic Festival”. I may go.

It was fun sitting with some new people and even a couple of the artists. This sort of format and social funding in the arts here has not happened before and there was an excited buzz in the air, and an excited rumbling in our stomachs as the food was in the next gallery over. Tickets sold out for this, and I think this sort of format has a very bright future within the arts community. OK, I know it sounds like a cheesy quote from the Hobbit, but I really got a  “jolly fellowship” vibe from the whole thing.

Andrea Carvalho

Hamilton Artists Inc Director and FEAST 01 co-organizer Andrea Carvalho explains how things work. 10 Minutes per presentation. That’s it. No questions.

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What we noticed about some of the proposals is that there never a complete “who, what, where, why, when” picture of the projects. Even if you don’t have confirmed place, you should specify a date and place that is the goal of the work being supported. There was some nice overviews of some studio work or other successful projects, but no “and this is exactly what we are going to do with it with the money you give us”.  In terms of the audience judging this, that seems worthy and genuine but it’s too broad.

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It’s was of no surprise to me that Chris McLeod won – he has a great deal of work done on a crazy-ass steampunkish bicycle power water purification contraption. He stated he wanted finish the machine with some specific materials. He was going to take it to festivals and concerts so people would be able to connect to our use understanding of water. That was a the clearest, most demonstrable and destination / time-frame specific proposal of the night.

Jon Grosz

Jon Grosz

I must admit I was imagining my own proposal and what I would say and show in 10 minutes. They say they’ll have two a year, and I suspect it will be even more popular – especially to present. I hope I still get a chance and would think more events like it should pop up on the landscape. Hopefully.

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It was interesting that two of the names on the list were representing a collective of artists. Jon Grosz showed us the work of his colleagues.

Chris Fergusan from HAVN

Chris Fergusan from HAVN

Congratulations Chris McLeod!

Congratulations Chris McLeod!

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The last days of Sanford Avenue School – a raw video walk around

It was a cold and windy evening…

This heritage worthy building we fought for is now in mid-demolition and I am not sure how much longer there will be any structure left. It really was suddenly cold and windy, but I felt the urgency to document this last stand of one of the last of the great Barton Village classic buildings.

This is pretty raw footage of me walking around the building. I do make a brief statement at the beginning, but this is for reference for … future use. Hopefully, we’ve made a difference overall in Hamilton for other communities going forward.

Sanford Avenue School was a very special heritage building, built in 1932 during the great depression. One of the gems of a notoriously poor neighbourhood, this is the sort of structure that is attractive for a very wide range of opportunities including a college, a community centre or health facility. Despite well documented flaws in the public consultation process and the demolition / heritage process, the HWDSB, the City of Hamilton and then the Government of Ontario failed the future interests of  the Barton Village community and allowed the first 100% steel framed building in Canada to be sold as scrap. No public interest from developers was allowed to be entertained.

For the record, below is a list of  trustees who voted to allow Sanford Avenue School to be demolished, and not to allow any alternatives to be presented by private or non-governmental organizational interest. Also included on this list of “Heritage & Community Shame” are the City and Provincial elected officials without whose express support and approval this tragedy could not have happened.

At the time of this posting, there is no secured funding or concrete plans for any development of the site into a park, soccer field or Recreation Complex expansion.  The most frustrating part for most of us? There would of been enough room for all of this if they had agreed to re-arrange parking instead of demolishing this beautiful structure that would have served nicely economic tool for revitalization. There is a need for new leadership in Hamilton, and the following elected officials should not trusted with public office again:

Ward 3 Councilor 

Bernie Morelli

Hamilton Wentworth District School Board Chair

Tim Simmons

HWDSB Trustees:

Bob Barlow

Todd White

Lillian Orban

Wes Hicks

Jessica Brennan

Karen Turkstra

Ray Mulholland

(Former) Liberal Education Minister

Laurel Broten

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friend, fellow heritage activist and Photographer Joanna St. Jacques

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See also http://hamiltonsusualsuspects.blogspot.ca/?m=1 for more photos and discussion