Holding space, looking for light

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin⁠

Fair warning, this is not a happy post, and beyond a shared mood, the text has very little to do with the image.

It has become increasingly difficult to focus on what is right in front of me. There is a deepening, bitter edge to each day, and I know the root of it is a pain which is being experienced at personal and collective levels everywhere. So many aspects of the social contract have been broken, or worse, are proving to have never existed at all.⁠

The events of January 6th were unsurprising but still a shock; after an hour or so of live coverage, I felt my mind retreat, curled into the fetal position where I sat, and fell asleep. I take pride in not looking away from even the most jarring images, but I’d hit my limit. On so many levels, it was a day of terrifying white nationalism and grotesque systemic racism on full display. And we can expect more of the same because the hatred espoused by racists is rooted in fear and pain, which they will continue to avoid addressing.

Sunset sky and shadows through an old glass window, Monterey, 2017⁠


I don’t know about you, but I find myself marveling at layer upon layer of heartbreak and frustration. Are we still in the midst of a pandemic, bracing for the consequences of holiday gatherings and travel? Did my neighbours have yet another string of visitors every day this week, despite lockdown rules? Have members of my local government been taking tropical vacations while telling the rest of us to stay home, in the midst of a particularly dreary Canadian winter? Has the weather been unusually warm and dry, both here in Manitoba and back in California, indicating yet another record year as climate change grinds away like a foregone conclusion?

I look for the good news. The unassuming heroes and helpers, the small signs of progress. I know that there are reasons for cautious optimism, and I am doing my best to cling to hope instead of hate. Part of that process is to occasionally let the weight of everything fall out of focus and acknowledge the pain. We’re allowed to feel hurt and angry right now, so as to better regroup, refocus and move forward, because we have a long, long way to go.

Lost in the Details | Venice, Italy

Italy is all texture and patina, and in summer the city of Venice is rich with seemingly endless variety; every detail and architectural style basking in the luminous reflected light of warm sun on water.

While I only had a few days to explore Venice, the number of photos I captured there far outnumbered all other locations I visited in Italy. Around every corner was a striking new visual surprise, a glimpse through history, and an invitation to keep walking just a little further…

Accommodations were in a historic palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal, and the rich textures of age and time could be found throughout the halls. From ornate plasterwork and window details to the high-water mark of the historic 1966 flood, carved into the stone door frame.

On one day’s wander toward the university district, I came across a quiet courtyard and art gallery on the campus of the Università Ca’ Foscari; exquisite venetian glass windows and beautiful architecture were a welcome quiet escape from the bustle and heat of the summer crowds just outside the university gates.

Textural brick and stone, plaster, faded paint and layers of patina, all mixed with the cascading light and shadow of winding, narrow passages. Enjoying these details required an acceptance that I would get lost somewhere in the streets of Venice, and it quickly became one of my favourite feelings as I relinquished all sense of direction and simply soaked up the sights.

And on and on…for weeks after visiting Venice, Italy for the first time, I dreamt of being happily lost there, following the winding streets past softly-hued pink and yellow brick walls and ornate, elegant cathedral windows. Find more sun-splashed piazzas, shimmering canals, and Venetian details in my gallery of Venice, Italy images.

My first impressions and more beautiful scenes from Venice, Italy can be found in my blog archives, Venice, Italy : Love at First Light.

Love at First Light | Venice, Italy

Arriving in Venice, Italy is no small task; by plane, train, or car, one must reach the edges of a more familiar modern landscape, and then step onto a boat that will draw one into a world both foreign and familiar. I was immediately entranced by the narrow passages, absence of cars, and sunlight cascading past crumbling walls, illuminating colours and textures that could only exist in a floating ancient city miraculously moored in a marshy, shimmering lagoon.

Everything you have heard about Venice is true. It is romantic, multi-faceted and incomparable. It can also be crowded – there is one other way to arrive in Venice, and that is on a cruise ship – as I work my way through a few other batches of photos from my Italian adventures, I will have some specific observations to offer about that particular mode of travel and the impact it has on these magical places.

I managed to avoid the masses of summer tourists simply by committing to a daily routine of picking a direction, and getting lost in the winding streets of the city. Around every corner interesting architecture, delicious food, and more inviting avenues awaited.

Off-the-beaten-path, grittier scenes could be found, although overall Venice is remarkably tidy, with clean streets and canals. Graffiti is a part of the urban Italian landscape, as it is all over the world, and in some instances it offered unique photographic opportunities.

Staying in a palazzo on the Grand Canal afforded me central access to many different districts of the city, and even within a short distance from the palazzo gates, the variety of cafes, restaurants, shops and sights was abundant. In the evening, the canal glittered with golden light as boats plied romantic sunset waters; I could have sat by the ornate windows and watched the passing gondolas for hours.

From a photographic perspective, Venice is astounding, and of the hundreds of images captured over the course of three days there, I still have many more to edit. See more of my photos from Venice, Italy here, where fine art prints and licensing are also available.

I will be sharing more images and thoughts on this special city, as it was such a remarkable and photogenic experience. I am already thinking about my next visit to Venice, and would love to hear in the comments if you have ever visited and what you might recommend I explore when I return!

Fano, Italy

Where the landscape of pastoral, rolling hills and fortified villages perched on small craggy peaks meets the Adriatic Sea, the ancient city of Fano offers a unique Italian experience, far from the throngs of summer tourists who tour the country.

Charming, narrow, cobblestone streets? Check. Quiet neighbourhoods and bustling market squares? Check. Colourful details, textural walls, doors full of character and the occasional friendly dog in a window? Check.

The first historical mention of Fano dates to 49 BC, when Julius Caeser ruled the region. By 2 AD a wall and large arch had been constructed around the city, which can still be seen today at the main entrance to the older downtown district.

Wandering the streets it is easy to get lost, but taking note of some of the distinctive churches throughout the city can offer useful waypoints. Cafes offer sunny nooks for enjoying an afternoon espresso and around every corner is another arched passage, revealing more colourful buildings and the sort of elegant patina that Italy is known for.

With so much to see in and near Fano, Italy, this city and its history could fill the better part of an Italian vacation. I enjoyed how easily one could find quiet places to explore between the layers of old and new. While many Italians know Fano for its beaches and holiday atmosphere along the waterfront, if one ventures toward the heart of this ancient place, there are many beautiful, meditative moments to be discovered.

See the full set of my photos from Fano, Italy in the APK Photography archives, prints and licensing available.

Handbuilt, a study of the Saturn V

At Kennedy Space Center, I entered the building housing the remarkable Saturn V exhibit, and looking up, this is the first thing I saw; intricate, astounding engineering on an enormous scale. I love this image, because I can remember that moment of awe, and every time I look at it I notice some new arrangement of shapes and mechanics, textures and tones.

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Detail of Stage I Saturn V rocket

Even more incredible, this is Stage 1 of a rocket that took mankind to the moon, and it is entirely built by hand. I admire such workmanship, and understand that it took many talented minds and hands to assemble such a feat of engineering.

My digital black and white images are all tuned “by hand” as well – I do not use plugins or presets, and instead rely on my own sense of tonality, contrast and composition to bring a certain mood and focus to each photo. It is a labor of love, and as a result this image has proven to be quite striking as a large print.

To purchase a print of this image, please visit my Black and White Prints gallery.

St. Nicholas Abbey, Barbados

In the lush highlands of the Caribbean island of Barbados is a beautifully preserved slice of history; St. Nicholas Abbey is a sugar plantation and rum distillery, boasting a Jacobean mansion built in 1658, beautiful gardens, and a richly preserved historical and cultural context that is expertly conveyed during tours of the house and property.

Entering the grounds, the large trees and sweeping pastoral views are striking, leaves and grass gently blowing in the steady ocean breeze and lush greenery filling every corner of the gardens. The elegant house has been carefully restored, and while it shows a bit of its age in weathered paint, it is remarkably well-preserved even after hundreds of years in the tropical climate.

Inside the house, details like a shell-encrusted chandelier and portraits of historic owners of the property add color to the stories shared by the tour guide. Walking through the home, the grounds of the plantation are glimpsed at open windows.

After pausing in a quiet courtyard, the tour continued on to the rum tasting room. Originally the stables, this charming building has been renovated by the current property owner who also happens to be an architect, to house a museum, gift shop and tasting room. Here we lingered amongst the barrels and exhibits of artifacts, including slave records, before being shown a remarkable film of archival footage from the 1930’s detailing life on the sugar plantation.

After our refreshments the tour continued on a leisurely walk through lush gardens to the bottling and production facilities. In the bottling and labelling facility, formerly the Overseer’s Quarters, rum bottles are hand labelled and the corks adorned with a leather badge, stamped in-house.

The factory and adjacent distillery includes displays of equipment for growing and processing sugar cane, and for the production of rum. The architectural details and dedication to preservation found throughout the property were remarkable, and one of the nicest surprises were the remnants of a large windmill behind the factory, where workers were piling cane for processing.

After the tour ended, we wandered the grounds, basking in the highland breezes and balmy sunshine. Artifacts are cleverly incorporated throughout the gardens, offering some unique photo opportunities.

I absolutely recommend a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey in Barbados, not only is the rum delicious but the opportunity to enjoy a close-encounter with the rich and varied history of Barbados is placed front-and-center when one takes a guided tour of the plantation property. This is a travel destination apart from the typical crowds closer to Bridgetown, and a strong sense of hospitality and pride in the place and product is very apparent.

To see the full gallery of my photos from St. Nicholas Abbey, Barbados, please visit apkphotography.com

*As a footnote, this is the first batch of images I am sharing from my new Fuji X100F, for which I could not resist using the Velvia film simulation when editing. While I continue to shoot with my full-frame Nikon D800 dslr, I wanted a smaller camera for travel, and so far the Fuji X100F has exceeded all expectations. After a few more trips, I hope to share some tips and a full review of the camera.

Fort Ross, California

On the wild, rugged coast of Northern California sits an unexpected historic site, a fort and trading outpost founded by Russian settlers in the early 1800’s. At a time when the colonial and enterprising interests of the Spanish, British and American nations were converging on the region, and Mexico also laid claim to Alta California, the Russian-American Company sought to establish settlements in a part of the region populated only by the Kashaya Pomo Tribe, from whom the Russians negotiated the purchase of the land for Fort Ross.

 

I grew up in nearby Petaluma, California and have fond memories of visiting the Fort Ross State Historic Park as a child. The most active years of the fort ended in the mid 1800’s, but I always found the buildings, walls, and grounds to feel as if the history of the region was not quite so distant.

 

While driving North along Highway 1, it was a spontaneous decision to visit the park on a late summer afternoon. The path from the visitor’s center winds through a pine forest, down along a creek and past a grove of eucalyptus, then across a clearing to the entrance of the fort.

 

It was a quiet day on this visit, and I spent some time exploring the buildings and various vantage points throughout the settlement.  Hawks circled over the forested hills while the ocean crashed below the nearby cliffs. When the Russians landed in the area, they found a landscape rich with resources and agricultural opportunity. The Russian-American Company found lucrative fur-trading too, but their activities along with those of the Spanish, American and British fur traders decimated the sea otter population that has only recently been able to recover, with the aid of extensive conservation work.

 

My favorite structure at Fort Ross is the lovely little Russian Orthodox Chapel. It is not entirely true to the original chapel design, as the structure was once modified for use as a stable, knocked down by the 1906 earthquake, and after being reassembled,  destroyed by an accidental fire in 1970. Still it is a striking space, full of texture and interesting architectural design.

 

Interestingly, the current upkeep and operation of Fort Ross State Historic Park is funded by a Russian entrepreneurial company, and in 2012 an unofficial delegation of the Kashaya traveled to Russia. Restoration work and research of the site continues, and this will continue to be a wonderful place to visit, highly recommended as an educational picnic spot on the Sonoma coast of California.

As I left Fort Ross on this visit, I glanced at the ground below the West-facing wall, and spotted the feather of a Red Tail hawk in the red and gold fallen leaves of a giant eucalyptus tree. Despite the history of active settlement and now steady-stream of visitors, Fort Ross is still an outpost in the wilderness, and if one pauses to take it all in, it seems almost possible that time here stands still.

 

To see the full set of my Fort Ross, California photographs visit apkphotography.com – many of these images are available as Open Edition Prints and for editorial licensing.

Christmas, Historic Adobes | Monterey, California

Along with the Harbor Holiday Light Parade, Monterey, California has a particularly unique and charming December tradition – a walking nighttime tour of the historic adobe buildings scattered throughout downtown. One rainy night I joined a few friends to explore the lovely homes and government buildings that are lovingly restored and maintained as striking architectural reminders of the not-so-distant past of California.

Many of these historic sites include lovely gardens, and as we walked toward each stop on the self-guided tour, we were greeted by the glow of lights in the trees and the traditional painted angels that decorate the city of Monterey during the winter holiday season.

Each adobe had a slightly different story and seasonal decorations, often with a mix of old and new on display. Creaking wooden floors and subdued warm light lent each space a cozy sense of stepping back in time.

At the historic Custom House, dating back to around 1827, live music and dancing filled the main room. A Mexican flag on display pays respect to the role of this particular adobe building as the primary port of entry on the Alta California coast before the territory was claimed by the United States in 1846.

At a smaller building which holds the distinction of being California’s first theater, we were greeted by a musician on the front porch, and a decorated tavern space inside. The main portion of the theater, including the stage, has sadly fallen into disrepair and was not accessible. In the spring, the theater garden is one of my favorite secret spots in downtown Monterey.

Live music was a highlight of the evening, performed by volunteers at nearly every location. Even though some of the points of interest were a few blocks apart, it seemed that the holiday cheer filled the rainy streets in every direction, as we had only to follow the sounds of musicians and carollers to reach the next adobe.

City Hall was a bustling center of activity, with locals chatting on the steps and enjoying the decorated trees indoors and out. This building is still functional at the heart of the city, hosting several municipal offices and providing Monterey residents with a scenic park for casual gatherings.

Some of the larger adobes offered sweet holiday treats, cookies and cider, and at the historic building known as the Stevenson House (after Robert Louis Stevenson who lived there for a few months) a cheerful bagpiper roamed the rooms full of artifacts and notable art.

I had lived many years in Monterey before I took part in this lovely holiday tradition, and it was a memory I will treasure. The warmth and hospitality of Monterey and Californians in general was embodied in the welcoming cheer of these historic adobes.

The tour ticket fee benefits the California State Parks and their maintenance of the buildings, and I would highly recommend it to locals and visitors alike. For information and tickets, please visit the California State Parks website – Christmas in the Adobes.

To see the full set of my images from this magical holiday night, please visit the APK Photography Christmas in the Adobes gallery

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California

Blustery, stormy skies and tempestuous crashing ocean waves are the perfect backdrop for a lighthouse and all of the history it represents. I’d driven past Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park dozens of times, passing by while driving the scenic and dramatic Highway 1 along the central coast of California. After years of admiring this picturesque spot from a distance, I decided on a rainy afternoon to pay a visit.

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Raindrops on the camera lens frame a stormy ocean horizon, Pigeon Point, California

The lighthouse was built in 1871 and is now a designated California Historical Landmark. The land on which it is built, and thusly the lighthouse station are named after a shipwrecked vessel, the Carrier Pigeon. The fresnel lantern is no longer in use, and is instead displayed in the visitor’s center, housed in the fog signal building.

The lighthouse itself is now closed to visitors due to structural concerns, and while attempts to fund restoration are underway, it could be decades before the view from the tower can again be enjoyed by the public.

The lighthouse keeper’s housing now serves as a youth hostel, offering a unique waypoint for travellers along the California coast. As with many such natural promontories in this part if the world, whale-watching and general wildlife viewing can be particularly accessible. In the spring, I have seen the surrounding shoreline covered in swaying meadows of yellow wildflowers, and in the winter passing storms paint the sky and ocean surface with moody colors and constantly shifting textures.

On any roadtrip along this stretch of coast, a stop at the Pigeon Point Light Station State Park is highly recommended. It is free, informative, and beautiful. On Saturday, November 18th 2017, a celebration of the 145th anniversary of the light station is being held, offering tours, music and various activities. For more information about the state park visit the California Parks & Recreation website and to see more of my photos from the lighthouse grounds, visit the archive at APK Photography.

Echoes of the past

Some places have a special kind of nostalgia, often unexpected and off the beaten-path.  San Francisco’s Fort Point National Historic Site offers many angles on both the water and striking architecture, from a strategic spot beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at the entrance to San Francisco Bay.  A photographer’s dream location, the light is always interesting and the compositional opportunities are seemingly endless.  I have rolls of film shot here when I was a child, enthusiastically clicking-away in the echoing halls while sight-seeing with my family. I’d love to work with a model or two in this space sometime, but for now I’m content to explore these familiar arching passages and the dramatic setting for structure’s sake.

under the bridge

Explore this incredible spot a little further in my photo archives – and be sure to visit it yourself on your next trip to SF!

Memorial Day meditation

Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool, sunset

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. ~ Joseph Campbell

Today is traditionally a day for remembrance and for gathering with friends and family to celebrate the bountiful pleasures of the season.

I find it difficult to limit my Memorial Day meditations to just the fallen soldiers of countless wars. I think of their families and communities too. In recent years, the trauma and tragedy of war has played itself out as soldiers return home, burdened with endless nightmares and deeply challenging emotional scars – as the suicide rate climbs among the men and women who so selflessly put their lives on the line for their country, I find it shameful that we are not doing more to help them return to lives of health, vitality and peace. Even the most personal of wars can not be won alone.

I am also thinking of the leaders, large and small, who have dedicated their lives to the service of the nation. Having a visionary sense of one’s role and abilities as a leader, acting on those ideas, and seeing often difficult change through to an end is a remarkable task that most of us would not be brave enough to attempt, given the opportunity. It takes a particular kind of person to step into so great a role of responsibility.

We live in a world that is not likely to ever be free from conflict and war. Today is a day to consider just how lucky we are to have heroes in our midst everyday. From foot soldiers to leaders of nations, these are the people whose lives have been given up to something larger than themselves, and we might each aspire to living lives as selfless and dignified as those we honor today.