#1126 Imperfection – Manufactured or Natural Beauty

The words “perfection” and “beauty” evoke high expectations and standards that many spend lifetimes pursuing…

Manipulated Perfection
Actors, models and news anchors are expected to appear in perfect form but, as this Dove video shows, it is often after much manipulation including make-up. The beauty of the Dove video is that natural beauty occurs everywhere – it’s our expectation of manufactured perfection that should be questioned.

Photography has followed the same path in the last few decades. Initial photo captures are manipulated, massaged, changed, and doctored to take a natural element and transform it into an ideal that aligns with one’s beliefs. Often the end result has little resemblance to the initial element being photographed.

4x5 photograph

Watershed – Chelsea Creek; near Old Chelsea Village – In the capture, above, I juxtaposed the light levels of the silhouetted underside of the bridge, the bright forest and the strip of well-exposed shade directly under the bridge.

Natural Perfection
About five years ago I started exploring with old, low-tech photography in the pursuit of a more authentic approach to capturing the perfection that surrounds us everyday.

I started searching for processes that were simple and pushed my core photo skills rather than my processing and editing skills.

Low Tech Photo Process
I came across a process that allows me to put the final paper of the artwork into the camera resulting in a (photographically) positive final piece. My only tools to capture the beauty before my camera are shutter speed and aperture. In the dark room there is little room for manipulation and processing except for some contrast and minor tinting possibilities.

8x10 field camera

Low-tech, plywood, large format camera

The results are original artworks that record the bare beauty of the subject before me. I need to select the exposures for the most valuable part of the scene – I can only capture what lies before me. There are imperfections but, for me, that adds to the beauty of the piece.

In the black & white capture, above, I  juxtaposed the light levels of the silhouetted underside of the bridge, the bright forest and the small strip of well-exposed shade directly under the far end of the bridge.

I was also clear as this project developed that I wanted the artworks to stand alone – they come straight from the camera. Each capture is unique.

Photos include my personal representation of the watershed I have been following for 15 years.

New Works and Hand Crafted Frames
As I prepare for the upcoming show with Emily Rose Michaud – InterconnectedWatershed – I have chosen to frame the new works with the help of a seasoned cabinetmaker who has been crafting and installing premium furniture and cabinets for 15 years. He has built the frames with the same care that he builds his exquisite furniture. While the frames are all the same and benefit from Mark’s experience, they are all unique pieces that mirror the one-of–a-kind artworks that they protect.

Custom, hand-built frames

Custom, hand-built frames

Vernissage Details
Come to the vernissage as part of Wakefest – Friday, August 19th, 2016 from 6-8pm – Rutherfords; 753 ch Riverside, Wakefield.
The show runs until September 23rd, 2016.

#1124 Laurentians / Tremblant Photo Safari and Adventure

Early mornings and a deliberate, casual pace marked this week’s photo adventure in the Tremblant area with long-time photo student Margaret.

photo adventure

Tremblant photo safari

I’ve been travelling to the region that many associate solely with the mega ski hill and village run by Intrawest. The ski hill is impressive but the surrounding hills, rivers, forests and lakes are what keep me coming back.

Like the slow food movement, I prefer observing and shooting with purpose rather than the speed of a fast trigger finger. Margaret finished the day with a manageable number of quality photos that made editing easier.

Tremblant photo safari

© Margaret A. – Laurentian’s water – learning about flow

We shot throughout the day. Yes, there are two magic hours per days. J David Andrews once told me “It’s always perfect weather to shoot something.” Likewise, there’s always something to shoot, no matter the time of day.

Tremblant region photo workshop

© Margaret A. –  Early morning calmness – a perfect time to observe and learn.

Days flew by. One day we visited a segment of waterfalls and rapids. We arrived at 11am and after what felt like an hour Margaret approached excitedly “It’s five o’clock!” When you’re excited and engaged time vanishes.

Margaret’s photos improved and her confidence grew. We both smiled, a lot! We spent evenings reviewing concepts, ideas and photos. See some of her work… Well done Margaret!

Laurentians photography adventure

© Maragret A. – We explored possibilities when shooting a scene – motion, composition, depth-of-field.

#1121 Large Format Photography

The more advanced photography becomes the more I find myself chasing simpler technology.

Field Camera

8×10 Home-made plywood camera

High Tech Photography

I admire the tech that’s now available – the potential is amazing if placed in the correct hands. Even in the wrong hands amazing things can happen. That’s good news for many but not so exciting for me.

Large Format Film
Part of what I like about shooting on film is the challenge to create excellence without the support of digital previews and post processing. Technically, a film photo boils down to the correct interpretation of the physics of light using only shutter speed, aperture, recording media and a lens. That’s it.

Field Camera

8×10 Camera Lens – mounted on a wood lens board.

Direct Paper
In the last five years I’ve experimented with shooting directly onto paper loaded into the camera. The paper becomes the unique, final product after simple, traditional processing. There is no recovery for “oops” in the darkroom or computer. There’s no negative, no digital file… just one chance to get it perfect. Click. The big camera and direct process forces me to slow down before I open the shutter.

Art Photography - direct from camera

Sun Streaks captured within my large format cameras.

And that’s what I like. Shooting SunStreaks and my latest Watershed works tests my skills and patience. I can bracket exposure but, at two minutes to eight hours per exposure that gets impractical and expensive.

When I do make mistakes I am discouraged. But when the photos are excellent, straight from the camera, that makes me smile wider than anything I shoot digitally.

My Cameras
I have two large format cameras:
Graflex 4×5 – Mine is very old. It’s so old I found a similar Graflex (below) in a museum. It’s simple. It uses no batteries. I dropped my Graflex in a lake – totally submerged. It still works well after a thorough drying!

Field Camera

Graflex on display at the Canadian Aviation Museum,

Home-Made 8×10 View Camera – I had trouble finding an affordable 8×10 field camera. Someone gently prodded “They’re not hard to build – just a box with a lens…” I spent a summer tinkering with ideas and, with the help of a friend’s added suggestions and precision tools, we built the 8×10 camera out of plywood. I added a Schneider lens and it’s still producing excellent results.

Art Photography

8×10 Camera – Watershed

I use the two cameras predominantly to capture my Sun Streaks and Watershed projects. It’s an enormously slow and challenging process compared to phast photography using current equipment. I like the challenge!

#1120 A winding Path with Grit

It is always nice to look back and reflect on the path traveled.

I’m 47. I’ve worked for about 20 years as a photographer / arts educator. Before that I worked as an outdoor educator with aspirations to become an elementary teacher. I couldn’t get into Teacher’s College in the 90s. But I’ve come back full circle to where I wanted to be.

After disappointments I gave up on traditional teaching and pursued commercial art through stock photography – it was lovely work – one of the most traditionally creative times of my life. I produced commercially viable photographs that were marketed through stock agents. My best sale for one grand use of a photo was ~$32,000 split three ways between two agencies and myself. Alas, the industry crashed (digital cameras and websites caused flooding of the stock photo market.) Time to move on!

Assignment Photography

Stock Photography

Someone suggested I teach photography. I built a broad base of photo workshops – live and online that culminated in opening our own studio / classroom on Preston St, below. Alas, workshop sales dropped off significantly. Why? Who knows, but I think it was tech, again – YouTube offered free learning and smartphones reduced people’s desire for traditional photography. Sigh. I was left scrambling again to re-invent myself.

Photo classes in Ottawa

Photo Workshops at our studio.

A couple of years ago I was very low and a friend inadvertently replanted a seed stored in a drawer of my memory. Teacher’s College… I was accepted, thrived and succeeded. I worked hard and was offered a contract teaching a Grade 4 class until Christmas. It has been extended until June, 2016. I love it.

My photo business has been reborn. Although the new business has shrunk enormously, I am only doing work I love – teaching a few clients and working on two innovative and exciting (to me) art projects.

Cyanotype large format photography

Sunstreaks – tracking the sun’s path across the sky.

It’s been a long road… with many bumps and bruises. But it’s been exciting and I am grateful for where my winding path has taken me.

One of my favourite TED talks rings true as I look back… Angela Lee Duckworth talks about GRIT:

It’s worth a view.
Keep pursuing your passions.

#1119 – 2015 Christmas Photo Sale

I’ve had a great year.
I have many people to thank who helped…
Details about my “thank-you” photo sale are below.

I took a leap of faith and went back to school in 2014 to become licensed as a traditional elementary teacher. Teaching has always been part of what I do. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from UOttawa and started supply teaching right away in West Quebec.

elementary school teacher

A “very stern(!)” Mr. Nowell in grade 4.

In August, I was offered a four month replacement contract at our local elementary school. I bring different personas to the classroom: “stern teacher,” voyageur, inspector, newspaper reporter, pirate and others to liven up the teaching. I’m happy to say my contract has been extended until the end of June. I am grateful to those that supported my passion and always-growing skills as a teacher. Thank-you! I love it!


Watershed one-of-a-kind art photography

Watershed one-of-a-kind art photography

Christmas Photo Sale
My Watershed collection of artwork continues to develop. I continue to shoot and explore 25km of our local watershed in Gatineau Park and Chelsea. I am capturring a creek from Camp Fortune to the Gatineau River with my large format cameras and a process that allows me to create positive prints straight from the camera. The photo paper is loaded directly in the camera… the end result is a one-of-a-kind photograph.

Large Format Camera capturing the sunrise

Large Format Camera capturing a sunstroke (see Sunstreak link below)  at St. Stephen’s Church – a SunStreak original.

As a thank-you to all that have supported my vision and passions I am offering 10% off available photos with an additional 10% going to the Ottawa RiverkeeperContact me to see some Watershed or other work. There are traditional photos from years of shooting music, Sunstreaks, and Watershed. There’s a wide range of prices from $20 for posters to $thousands for large, limited run photographs.

The sale lasts until January 3rd, 2016. Viewings are by appointment only in Old Chelsea, Quebec.

Watershed art work

Watershed art work – a 4×5, one-of-a-kind photograph from the Watershed Collection.

Our Photo Studio
Our Ottawa studio on Preston St. is now the home of Style Zone – a boutique of men’s fashion. Teaching photography will be offered more in the summer is available as time permits.


#1117 Fall Photo Custom Course

Last weekend I spent some time with a long-time photo student exploring fall in Gatineau Park in a Custom Photo Course. I enjoy seeing the creative progress of students who invest in their skills. Margaret has done well!

Custom Photo Course

© Maragret A. – Early morning Gatineau Park.

We started early and explored a small part of the park along the escarpment. By the end of the morning she had a handful of stunning photos: “Move slowly and make each photo count!”

Ottawa Custom Photo Course

© Margaret A. – Maple Sapplings; Gatineau Park.

Margaret shared the photos above and note, below:

I loved yesterday’s outing… I really appreciate the thought you put into what I was to learn and work on.  All of the exercises were very relevant for me at this particular time so I know I’ll be applying the learnings as I move forward in the next few weeks.

Read Margaret’s blog for more of her photo adventures.
Well done Margaret!

#1115 Photo Studio Transforms into the “Little Big Learning Centre” – Montessori Influenced Home Schooling Centre

The photo studio that many of you know and visited over the last half decade has a new direction.

… We are excited to welcome Amy of the Little Big Learning Centre into the classroom we developed in 2010 to support my photo and arts workshops. Amy started Little Big in 2014. It blossomed so quickly that she needed a bigger space in Ottawa for her Little Big Learners to develop.

Montessori inspired, home school friendly learning space

Amy of The Little Big Learning Centre!

How did the learning centre take off? Amy drew on the influences of Maria MontessoriHoward Gardner, the Reggio Emilia approach and outdoor and experiential education.

The students blossomed and word spread… all the way to their new learning centre at 160 Preston St.

I asked Amy what inspired her to open “Little Big.” Her answer was three-fold:
• “I had a good public school experience due to my small cottage town. I grew up in Apsley, Ont. and our school had only 5 teachers. There was lots of one-on-one time, small classes, enriched learning. It was a great way to learn.

Kindergarten to Grade 4 alternatives to school in Ottawa Gatineau Chelsea

One of the smaller learning areas of the Little Big Learning Centre

• “I earned my Bachelor of Education and was shocked. There were so many kids in a class. There was too much going on. Kids were falling through cracks. Everything was so tied to the curriculum in the wrong way and geared towards practice tests for EQAO (standardized testing). I wanted to give younger students a voice – school is not just book learning.

• ” ‘Hmmm,’ I thought aloud to my husband. ‘What if we opened our own learning centre?’  And I started looking for like-minded teachers, parents, students. I wanted to be creative with teaching so that all students could fit…”There is currently only one other learning centre like Amy’s in Ottawa based out of Barrhaven.

Curious to see and hear more?
Amy is opening the doors of her Little Big Learning Centre to welcome curious minds soon. An open house is in the plans. Stay tuned…

Visit their Facebook page, too!

Ottawa Montessori inspired learning centre

New Learning Centre for students aged 4-10. 

#1110 Creating Art Differently

Every class has students who would prefer to be doing something else.

In math class, some students would rather be playing football. In language, some students would rather be doing art. And in art, some would rather read.

Art Projects for Kindergarten

Art Projects for Kindergarten

I’ve been supply teaching regularly since I finished teacher’s college. In one period I was asked to have the students continue their pop-art projects (Andy Warhol-esque pictures). One student was clearly not conforming to the plan. He was just putting dots on his paper in a reluctant way.

I sat by him and asked how most new art forms started… He just stared at his paper and dotted defiantly.

I waited. No response…

So I offered an answer “By breaking the rules of art and trying new things… so you are creating new art ideas by breaking the rules.

He looked at me. “Really?


I made a deal with him… He could create what he wanted but he’d have to create something, however exploratory… His art would need to have purpose. It worked. His slouch disappeared and he started working on art in his own way.

Collaborative Classroom

Collaborative Classroom

Collaborative Problem Solving and Tribes training are popular, current approaches to engaging more students in school and life. The theories involve working together to produce a learning environment where all are included or empowered. It works better than expecting all to ‘conform’. The result is a student or students who are more open to their learning process.

I started working with the ideas behind these theories over 20 years ago when I worked with youth and adults at Outward Bound. The work back then ignited my love of teaching people how to learn.

#1108 Media Literacy – Would You Trust this Teacher?

This term I am working with a Grade 5/6 class in central Ottawa.

We’re working on media literacy this term. We’re exploring many facets of media including perspective, media formats, as well as critically thinking about information presented.

Media Literacy Lesson

Teaching about trust in media – would you trust this teacher?!

Web Safety
I introduced a segment about information on the web including safely evaluating websites. I opened the lesson by ‘arriving’ incognito, above. Surreptitiously at first, I tried selling ‘solid gold’ watches, used ‘authentic’ sports cars and ‘rare, valuable’ coins to the students.

By the end of my ‘sales pitches,’ students were contentiously and verbally jousting with my fictitious character!! They didn’t trust me. That made me smile – it laid the perfect groundwork to  engage students about trusting sources of media, especially when connecting to the murky waters of the internet.

Media Literary Lesson
I quickly changed gears and introduced the students to a super, web-based lesson from Media Smarts on web safety and awareness. Media Smarts is an Ottawa-based, not for profit “charitable organization for digital and media literacy. Our vision is that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.

I am close to finishing my Bachelor of Education program. In May I’ll be bringing my cast of characters to local schools as a guest teacher and supply teacher.

#1106 “Math is a sport…”

I’m in the final stretch of my Bachelor of Education training. I’m working in an inner city Grade 5/6 class.

The practical ‘in-class’ part of the course offers me the greatest learning – I am in the “On-Site” niche of the B.Ed. program that offers six months of practical training in the classroom. The normal B.Ed.’s six months of lectures are condensed into two and a half months for On-Site Teacher Candidates.


Mentor Teacher, Mr Smith, making learning fun.

A couple of weeks ago, my mentor teacher, Steve Smith,above, and I discussed plans for a geometry lesson and unit. “Make math a sport,” he urged. He was pushing my teaching practice to make the lesson more tactile, practical and involved. “If you tell them what an isosceles triangle is, they’ll never remember! But if you help them discover the answers for themselves they’ll never forget.”


• photo from Creative Commons – Wikipedia.

Out came the geoboards – a hands-on math manipulative that students use to create geometric shapes. Our lesson started with students finding a geoboard on their desk – they naturally started playing as students got ready to learn. The class progressed with much triangle building and students themselves discovering the properties of triangles.

One student smiled and said “You’re fun!” All I did was ask them guiding questions to help them discover the answers! The process made it fun (and memorable.)

Thanks to Mr Smith for refining my teacher skills in good ways!