For those who don’t know Cody Simpson he is an Australian pop singer who appeals to the same fan base as 1D (no, not the Canon 1D!) Those who are still scratching their head obviously don’t have a teen-aged daughter.
My daughter is a big Cody fan, and on July 8th I drove her and my wife to Toronto (about 2 hours away) to attend the Cody Simpson ‘girl-scream-a-thon’ at the venerable Massey Hall. I was intending to drop by Hugh’s Room (a club in the High Park area) and maybe catch Molly Ringwald singing some sweet jazz (remember her from ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Pretty In Pink’??) However – such was not to be.
As it turns out, July 8th was the night that record setting rain fall, flash flooding, and massive black-outs would hit the city of Toronto…
We arrived downtown more than an hour before the concert and after finding parking, stopped for a quick bite to eat. That’s when the downpour started. As we watched the heavy rain relentlessly pound the asphalt from behind the glass of our Church Street McDonald’s table we knew (or thought we did) that it couldn’t last long. These types of rains never do. This was the type of ‘full tilt’ rain that lasts only 5 or 10 minutes, tops (at least here in Ontario) before easing up. So we watched, and waited. And watched, and waited. And watched, and waited some more. It didn’t let up – not… at… all! As it eventually drew close to concert time we knew we’d have to make a mad-dash to the venue which, luckily, was only about 5 minutes away.
I’ve always got a camera with me, and on this trip I had brought along my Sony NEX-6 and a couple lenses in a small leather waist pack. Note it’s a ‘waist pack‘ or, as Ted Mosby from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ would say, a ‘hands-free belt satchel’ It is most definitely not a fanny pack, just to be clear! Expecting some rain (though not this heavy downpour!) I also had a rain cover tucked away inside the pouch which had served me well when used on my Think Tank Speed Demon case (which it came with and was custom fitted for) in the past, including withstanding a monsoon-like beating in Mexico the previous year. We bundled up as best we could, and hit the streets running!
There’s a lot to be said about things that are ‘custom fit’, perhaps chiefly that they work really well on the things they’ve been fitted for, but not so well on the things for which they have not.
After seeing my wife and daughter off to Massey Hall and arranging to meet-up later, I sprinted to the nearby Downtown Camera store at 55 Queen Street East where I took refuge under the store overhang. Surprised to see that the store was still open, I lifted my T-Shirt up and ‘scrunched it’ ringing out a bucket-full of water (obviously my shirt was made from the same material as the Sham Wow!), squeezed the water out of my hair, and flicked-off as much as I could from my skin. I entered the store looking like a drowned-rat, still dripping despite my best efforts, and kept my distance from anything and anyone for fear of dripping on it… or them. After browsing a bit, I was approached by one of the staff. Expecting to be asked to leave (I honestly didn’t feel good about being there in that condition) instead he just smiled, and asked “is there anything I can help you find?” “Well…” I replied… “this cover doesn’t fit my hands-free-utility-satchel very well and keeps slipping off, and the rain has soaked through. I’m looking for a good but inexpensive, water-proof pouch to protect my gear’. “How about a plastic shopping bag” he suggested, still smiling. “it works and is about as inexpensive as they come” I had felt bad entering their store in such a state and was expecting to support the business by making a purchase at least, but I took him up on his gracious offer, stowed my camera gear in the plastic bag, rolled down the the top so it was well sealed, and hit the streets again (as the store was closing). Next stop: Shoppers Drug Mart where I bought a protein bar (OK, it was really a Baby Ruth candy bar), carton of milk, and roll of heavy-duty fabric-like paper towels that I then used to dry off my equipment (by which I mean ‘camera gear’, again, just to be clear)
As I was sitting in a customer waiting area in the front of the Shoppers store drying my gear, the clerk who had just rang-through my purchase came over when he saw me pull out the camera: “Is that the Sony NEX?” he asked. “Yes” I replied “It’s the NEX-6”. “I had the 7” I continued “but recently traded it in for the 6 as it has some extra features I’m interest in.” “That’s a nice camera” he said “I’m hoping to get one in future. You know, you really should’t get it wet – the electronics are very sensitive.” I smiled, and we spoke about cameras and photography briefly before I went back out into the rain.
Having found myself some distance from the car, soaked through-and-through with no sign of the rain letting-up, I decided to abort the plan of heading to the club (sorry Molly) and instead opted to hang-out downtown. ‘Why fight the rain’, I thought, ‘better to embrace it.’ The phrase “some people feel the rain, other just get wet” comes to mind as I took the inspiration to capture a few moody, rainy, urban street shots instead.
I covered a lot of distance that night, from the Queens Quay down by the harbor where the water on the sidewalks was beyond ankle deep in areas, to the downtown core packed with people huddled under building overhangs and pressed tightly into glass enclosed bus shelters. But my favourite spot by far was an area by the Cambridge Suites Hotel where the vent was madly spewing steam, the downtown lights reflected magically on the slick sidewalks, and the pulse of busy pedestrian traffic added a beautiful touch of life to the scene.
I was often in the open, heavy rain – my gear tucked safely inside the plastic bag they had given me at the camera shop, as the downpour pelted everyone and everything around. I was unable to take my camera out and get photos during these times unfortunately – all I could do was wait for one of the slight temporary let-ups at which point I’d position myself in the partial cover of an alcove, pull out my camera, and grab a few quick shots before the ‘full-on’ rain came again. This area by the hotel had a nice alcove for me to stand in, and some beautiful warm window light that could be incorporated into the image.
All shots were taken with the (non-weather-sealed) Sony NEX-6 (more on this and other cameras in upcoming posts) and one of two lenses: either the 16-50mm 3.5-5.6 OSS PZ, or the Zeiss 24mm f1.8. While the 16-50 isn’t known as an optically stellar lens, I find it quite adequate (even surprisingly impressive) when used with lens correction software, and it provides a very nice focal range for situations like this where you want to ‘travel light’ and don’t want to be making frequent lens changes. The Zeiss of course is very impressive optically, and the 35mm equivalent focal length combined with its fast f1.8 aperture makes it a ‘go-to’ lens for me when shooting on the streets, especially as the light begins to wane.
I also have the 16mm, 20mm, 35mm, and 50mm lenses for the NEX – but I wanted to travel light (only 2 lenses) on this trip and, knowing I’d most likely be shooting ‘street scenes’ I felt the 16-50 and 24mm would serve me best for what I had in mind.
When I’m shooting urban shots like this, I’m normally in one of two modes: Seek, or Wait. In ‘Seek’ I’m actively moving about looking for an interesting scene to photograph and then moving on to find the next. In ‘Wait’ I find a good setting (such as this one by the Hotel) and I wait for the scene to develop.
I’m not a ‘street photographer’ but many of them will tell you (as a photojournalist told me) about the “art of photographing people walking”. Essentially, timing is key, especially when subjects are moving ‘across’ the camera as often you want to capture a nice, long stride. Capturing them the moment their feet are together can make it look like they are standing still, and capturing someone at the beginning of the stride can make it look like they’re standing on one foot, or, as in this case, walking like a Zombie. So normally I’d delete the shot of this “Walker” but… in this particular instance… with the mist, the rain, the B&W treatment, the guy glancing back… it felt to me like it worked – as if the guy walking toward the camera had in fact just walked past a Zombie, which could I suppose also be a sort of social commentary. So I decided to keep this after-all.
Driving home that evening was a strange, almost surreal experience. While the power remained on downtown it was very much a different story as we got away from the core. Many roads were flooded and closed, traffic lights where out, emergency vehicles were everywhere, and vast areas of the city were blanketed in complete darkness and without power. It was so strange, crawling along city streets that were so dark, seeing high-rises and building after building looking so dark, so quiet, so dormant, so life-less…
Toronto received a 126 mm of rain that day in a short 7 hours, breaking a record dating back to 1959 when the city was hit by Hurricane Hazel. Streets completely disappeared under water, roadways were closed, sink-holes opened up, vehicles where abandoned, trains were shut down… but the people and city persevered as always – some just getting wet, others feeling the rain!