THE ART OF THE UPGRADE

At least once a year, usually during springtime when the weather improves and the birds start coming out, I get it in my head that I should completely ditch Nikon, sell all of my camera gear and switch over to the Fujifilm system.  Now, normally this knee-jerk desire to upgrade can be attributed to a severe case of GAS (“Gear Acquisition Syndrome”; a very real, very serious affliction affecting most photographers, musicians and anyone else whose hobbies involve purchasing expensive electronics; not to be confused with CTAS, or “Compulsive Tool Acquisition Syndrome”, which applies to wood-working tools). 

However, this time around I am contemplating a switch more seriously than usual. I currently shoot with a Nikon D7000 body, which is starting to show its age and is beginning to exhibit some troubling issues, especially in regards to focusing. While I am not yet ready to upgrade (I’m hoping to get at least a few more years out of this body), the ever-looming inevitability of having to purchase a new camera body has me really thinking hard about which approach to take. 

I am currently contemplating several options, all of which are expensive, none of which I am ready to fully commit to. This is why I am writing this post, in the hopes that some of my photographer friends might be able to share some insights and provide some advice. 

For some context, I currently shoot with the aforementioned D7000, which is a DX crop-sensor camera. I use the Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR (which is a DX lens), as well as the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G (FX) and my newly acquired beast, the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR (FX). I primarily shoot landscape, nature and wildlife (especially birds), although I love travel/street and architecture photography, which I usually do on larger trips. I have shot several weddings and several family photo sessions along with a few events, although I do not typically do portraiture (it’s something I want to try my hand at a bit more though). 

The majority of my everyday photography is done for work at my day job, where I use my images on posters, brochures, fact sheets, other marketing and advertising and on our website and social media accounts.  

The current upgrade options that I’m contemplating are as follows:

  1. DX

The DX option is currently my most likely course of action. I would likely upgrade to the Nikon D500, which is essentially Nikon’s highest-end crop sensor camera. While this is an expensive body, it wouldn’t necessitate any changes to my current lenses. Additionally, the D500 would allow me to keep the extra “reach” of a crop sensor while upgrading me to faster autofocus, better sensor and professional build quality. 

As far as funding this option, I would have to just save. The meagre amount of money I would likely get from selling my D7000 wouldn’t make too much of a difference towards the cost of a D500, but every little bit helps. I wouldn’t sell any of my lenses to fund this body upgrade because all of them would work well with this option. 

  1. FX

The FX option would see an upgrade to full-frame, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time. This means a bigger, 35mm sensor which is incredible for low-light, insane detail and all-around amazing photographs. The trade-off here though is that the camera bodies are bigger, they can be more expensive, but most importantly you need to use better glass on these bodies which means I would have to also upgrade one of my lenses. The 16-85 is designed specifically for DX (crop) sensors; while it would technically still work on an FX body, it is not ideal and would essentially be a huge waste of the upgraded body. I would most likely consider the Nikon D750 (or possibly its successor depending on when I actually pull the trigger on one of these upgrade options). I would also consider purchasing a pre-owned D800 or D810 if the deal was too good to pass up.

 To fund option 2 would require saving quite a bit for the new body itself; I would definitely sell the one lens here as well and use it to fund a suitable replacement that would work on full-frame (likely a 24-70mm f/2.8 from Sigma or Tamron, as Nikon’s own offerings are priced so far outside of any realm of feasibility). This option is just as expensive as option one at minimum, but will likely end up costing a bit more to help offset the cost of a new lens, even with the sale of existing equipment. 

  1. Fujifilm

This is the most drastic, and possibly unrealistic option, but also extremely exciting. I have always admired the legendary colour profiles of the Fujifilm system (inspired by their legacy of incredible film stocks). Fujinon lenses are famously good (as well as famously expensive). The cameras in the Fujifilm system are smaller, sleeker, well-built and extremely tactile. Most of the controls have dedicated knobs and dials, which would likely require a steep learning curve, especially after how many years I have spent within Nikon’s ecosystem. 

I would also have to research more about the mirrorless system Fuji employs with their cameras, as well as figure out which lenses would offer the best coverage similar to what I am currently working with. A good telephoto for bird photography would be a must.

If I were to go the Fujifilm route, there is no doubt in my mind that I would go for the X-H1. In order to go this route I would have to sell all of my Nikon gear to fund it, as well as likely put in quite a lot of extra money to get the lenses I would be happy with. 

  1. Both  

Now I know what you might be thinking, but hear me out. One of the most appealing aspects of the Fujifilm system is that the cameras and lenses are smaller, lighter and more compact. This means that in theory, one would be more likely to carry it around with them as opposed to the heavy, gigantic and fatiguing ordeal that carrying around large DSLR equipment is. 

This option, however, could be an interesting compromise, although it would be very expensive long-term. 

You see, I am intrigued by the Fuji X-100F, which is a premium compact camera. It has all of the sleekness, tactility, optical quality and the same legendary Fuji colour profiles as the X-H1, however it is a fixed-lens, non-interchangeable camera. It features a 23mm f/2 lens that doesn’t zoom. This option would offer the portability and quality of the Fuji system while also introducing new creative challenges (such as the requirement of zooming with one’s feet and thinking more compositionally). 

If I were to go this route, I would likely work toward introducing this camera into my existing lineup sooner rather than later. Long-term this makes things expensive because I will still eventually have to upgrade my existing body. I would also likely offload my 50mm prime lens to help fund this camera, as it would effectively replace it as my “prime”. But all that being said, the money that I would put towards this small camera could go towards the upgrade of my primary body. So like I said, long-term this is the most expensive option. But I also feel like it would give me the best of both worlds by allowing me to play with Fuji without giving up any of the experience I have working with Nikon, which would remain my workhorse system.

As you can see, I have a lot to contemplate over the next few years, and there will likely be new models and new systems and new upgrade options between when I post this blog entry and when I am actually ready to upgrade. But because of the expense of this endeavour, I want to make as much of an informed decision as possible. I also compulsively research anything I am interested in purchasing. If you were to look at my recently watched YouTube videos, it is a sea of camera unboxings, tutorials and reviews. 

Anyways, thanks fo reading this far, and if you are a photographer, please feel free to email me your advice or leave me a comment!

_RMM7168

Photo: Cascades Conservation Area, September 2016 
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A Creative Re-Awakening

For the past several years I have been embarrassingly afraid to make art. After graduating from art school, I went to teacher’s college, landed a teaching gig for a few years and then moved on to the position I currently hold. Basically, life happened and I allowed myself to stop making art. Other than a few small projects during my artistic dark ages, anything I attempted was quickly abandoned due to being absolute garbage in my eyes. Any attempt I made at sketching in my numerous, unfilled sketchbooks were ultimately exercises in frustration and embarrassment because I couldn’t capture on paper the same things I could back in art school.

Fast forward to the fall of 2017. I began speaking with a counsellor, something I have done numerous times throughout my life ever since being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks at 16. During our discussions, my extreme desire to revisit creativity and begin producing art again became a major topic of discussion. So my counsellor assigned me a task: she told me that before my next session, she wanted me to make a work of art and bring it to the appointment.

Challenge accepted.

I decided to try my hand at printmaking, something I studied in art school. I ended up doing a lino-block print of a Spiral (my spiral logo, actually). Using the back of a wooden spoon instead of a press, I managed to turn out a few decent prints. I brought a print in to my counsellor and realized that her assignment was the spark that would ignite the fire of my so-called creative re-awakening. I realized I had been missing the act of creating so much, and the itch was returning.

I decided to follow local artist Merk’s Inktober prompt list of words. For those that don’t know, Inktober is a drawing challenge that requires you to produce an ink drawing every day during the month of October. Part-way through October I was once again addicted to art. A lot of my little drawings were embarrassingly bad, but the commitment I made to myself to not only draw every day but also to post my drawings on social media was the locus of control I needed to “get back into it”.

It was one of my good friends, Rob, that asked me what I was planning on doing for November. I hadn’t thought about it but I realized that I needed to do SOMETHING so I created NINvember. This challenge required me to draw a picture every day inspired by a different Nine Inch Nails song each day. I even went so far as to create an Apple Music Playlist of the songs I chose for the month-long challenge. Then I shared my challenge on the NIN sub-Reddit, where several people participated in the challenge as well, with one random internet stranger actually completing the entire challenge with me! Naturally there were a few detractors and some nasty internet comments, but I continued.

After NINvember I decided I’d take a break during December. That lasted four days, when I realized my artmaking habit had fully re-solidified. I completed four quick sketches in one day and Doodlecember was born. January has seen a random collection of doodles and sketches, as well as the discovery of a new medium, the mighty Copic marker. I realized that if I was to nurture and remain committed to my daily-doodle challenge, I needed to organize.

 

I have since planned out my entire doodle schedule for the rest of 2018!

  • January has remained a random collection of randomness (I will come up with a better theme for January 2019).
  • February I have dubbed “Throat of Winter”, and like NINvember, will require me to draw something inspired by a song each day, this time inspired by the music of Opeth. Opeth, another of my favourite bands, is a folksy, bluesy, proggy Death Metal band that evokes some incredible imagery. I might also dedicate the month of February to graphite (pencil) only.
  • March is “Massive March”, another musical challenge. Every day a new work inspired by the music of another favourite band, Massive Attack. The electronic funk of this “trip-hop” group will provide an interesting contrast to the haunting music of Opeth.
  • April is “Anatomy April”, dedicated to the human form. God knows I need the practice.
  • Another musical month, “MAYnard” is inspired by the music of Maynard James Keenan’s bands Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. One of my favourite artists.
  • I am going in a completely different direction for “Jazzy June”. I don’t listen to enough jazz. If you have a song recommendation for me to add to my Jazzy June playlist, please let me know!
  • In honour of Summer Movie Season, July will be a month of “Blockbusters”, inspired by the musical scores of my favourite movies from my favourite composers.
  • “August Abstractions” will focus on, you guessed it, abstract art!
  • I’m really excited for “Say10 September”, inspired by the music of Marilyn Manson. I was thinking of trying out some watercolour during September, because as it turns out Manson is a pretty fantastic watercolour artist.
  • October will see me going back to the original, “Inktober”. I’ll follow someone else’s prompt list for this one.
  • November will see the return of “NINvember”. I plan on really spending some time coming up with a playlist that flows better than last year. Nine Inch Nails is my favourite band of all time and I feel like this year’s NINvember will be special…
  • For December I am bringing back “Doodlecember”, this time with the theme of “Dark Christmas”. Who knows that kind of random Yuletide creepiness will come out of me at the end of the year!

If anyone is interested in following along with any of my themes, please be sure to tag me on social media so I can see your work!

At the end of the day, I’ve rediscovered that art and artmaking is the absolute best, most therapeutic thing for me. I fall into a creative zone while making art that sees the troubles and anxieties and insecurities of life fade away. I also think it’s important to note that I make art for myself. When I create something, I’ve created it for me. I share my work in the hopes that it will make someone happy, or make someone think, or make someone have some kind of emotional response. The process is therapeutic and cathartic, the product is an accomplishment and validation of the time spent making it, and the act of sharing is in the hopes of somehow allowing my story and whatever skills and abilities I possess to affect people in some way.

Thanks for reading.

FEAR NO ART

Back in 2004, while on a school trip to Chicago, I bought a t-shirt from the Museum of Contemporary Art that said “FEAR NO ART”. Simple white letters, all-caps, on a black shirt. I loved that shirt to death, and wore it out.

At the time, in the midst of completing my Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts, the idea of ‘fearing art’ was tongue-in-cheek to me. I personally didn’t fear any art. In fact, my favourite kind of art was (and still is) the kind of art that makes most people say things like “that’s art!?!” The kind of art that can intimidate people or confuse people or make people angry. Controversial art, art that eschews the traditional notion of “beauty”. The t-shirt’s saying was a call to action statement: it told people to open their minds to something new and to let themselves explore something uncomfortable in the hopes of discovering something about themselves or about the world through art.

I could never imagine that there would be a time in my life where I would fear art.

Thirteen years after that amazing trip, I find myself in a career that utilizes my artistic skills and abilities yet doesn’t lend itself to the creation of the kind of art I created during University.

Well, why don’t I do art as a hobby? Ha. Back in University art was my job. I studied it, wrote about it, critiqued it, admired it, was inspired by it and most importantly created it. While my friends and fellow students crammed for exams or wrote countless essays and other assignments, I was drawing, painting, sculpting and creating. Sounds easy right? I wrote my fair share of essays and crammed for many exams as well, but the difference was that my primary focus in school was creating art. It was never easy. It was usually fun, though.

My Fine Arts degree, coupled with my education degree, got me where I am today. I have a job that enables me to go out in the field and hit the trails every so often, which in turn affords me the opportunity to practice photography (ironically the one form of art that I didn’t formally study in University). I find photography to be a very rewarding and exciting creative outlet. I am also responsible for the visual identity of the organization I work for, which means I do all of the graphic design and desktop publishing (including creating t-shirt designs). Needless to say, I am able to scratch several creative itches at work.

But that isn’t the same as creating fine art, which brings us back to the idea of art as a hobby. I have made peace with the fact that I now create art as a hobby. What I haven’t made peace with is the fact that I don’t create nearly as much art as I want or should.

Why is that?

Well if you were to ask me, my initial response would be “I don’t have the time, the money or the space”.

Those responses are not reasons, however. They are excuses. Bad ones, at that.

I have the space. I might not have a clay trap in my sink, or a workshop, or a printing press, but I have a large room in my home that is a dedicated studio, perfect for drawing, painting, photo editing, writing and anything else that doesn’t require specialized equipment.

Sure, making art can be expensive. Canvas, paint, brushes, a million other supplies, the costs could be endless. But at the end of the day, a sheet of white computer paper and a charred stick can be enough to create something. Even a walk in the woods can yield everything one needs to create a masterpiece (think Andy Goldsworthy).

Finding the time can be difficult. When art was my job, and obtaining a University Degree hinged on my creative output, it was easy to put everything else aside. When priorities in life change and mortgages need to be paid, creating art will often take a back seat (unless you make a living at creating art, which I don’t). But at the end of the day, it is easy to carve out a few minutes for working in a sketchbook. I seem to find the time to browse Facebook and Instagram until my eyes blur, yet I never seem to have “enough time” to do serious art-making.

Hmmm……

Well, if I’m being perfectly honest, the reason why I find it so difficult to practice art-making is fear.

I’ve found myself scared of the blank page, so to speak. I have a fear of not living up to what I was able to do when art-making was my job. I’m scared that I lost my talent. I have a fear of looking like a fraud. What if all I can do is retread what I was doing in University and keep producing the same old stuff? It’s this odd, deep-rooted fear of failing at something that consumed my life for four years.

When I do force myself to put pen to page, I get so frustrated because the marks the pen leaves behind are not anything I am proud of. My doodles in the margins of my old school notebooks are better than what I have bee working on lately.

It’s a bit of a Catch 22, though. My knowledge of the elements and principals of design, of composition and art theory, are all still there. I am simply out of practice, a little rusty and in need of new inspirations. I just need to work at it and make more art to get myself back in shape, so to speak. But when I do pick up a pencil, I get frustrated and angry and embarrassed and end up putting my sketchbook down. Which means I’m not practicing. Which means I’m not getting any better.

So what to do?

Well, I need to look at what it is about art-making that makes me so happy in the first place. I find art-making to be immensely therapeutic and cathartic. Maybe if I put less pressure on myself to recreate what I was doing in 2004, I might be able to more easily slip into a creative catharsis. I KNOW making art makes me feel better in the end, so I should just do it.

I think another thing I need to do is experiment with new mediums. I was never much of a painter, so maybe playing with watercolours or acrylics will spark a new creative fire. Trying something new might help me forget about trying to recapture the past and push me in a new creative direction.

Ultimately, what I need to do, is follow the advice of my old t-shirt. I need to stop fearing art. Even though the shirt meant something different to me then, the advice the shirt gave is something I can contemplate and use to help focus myself.

I’m going to try to put aside my fear of the blank page to get myself back on track. It has been far too long since I have contributed something of value and worth to the local arts community, and I am excited to get back into the zone.

If the lesson here for me is to not fear the creative process, there is a lesson here for other people as well.

People are typically afraid of what they don’t understand. When someone is presented with a work of art that they don’t understand, they will usually dismiss it or erroneously criticize it as being unworthy to be called art. In this instance, fear equates to a lack of understanding. My advice (because it’s always easier to give advice than it is to take it) would be to open yourself up to something new and try to understand it.

In other words, fear no art.

Drawing Series 003

Progeny #6; 2005

Test Tube #1 041

Metacognition; 2005

"Rising" Plaster. Approx. 30"

Rising; 2004

Major Studio 113

Reciprocal Determinism; 2006

Major Studio 091

Cognitive Defiance; 2006

It’s Been a While…

I’m working on some new posts. Sorry it’s been a while since my last one.

In the meantime, hypothetically speaking, who’d be interested in one of these? 


I’m just gauging interest here. I’d love to put my spiral logo on a t-shirt. Let me know if you’d want to purchase one and I’ll see if I can come up with enough takers to do an order. 

#thespiral 

“Best” versus “Favourite”

Every so often I am asked a question along the lines of “so what’s the best movie you’ve seen this year?” or “what has been your favourite movie recently?” A lot of the time, I assume that the people asking me this question are using the term “best” and “favourite” interchangeably. Yet for as long as I have been interested in film, I have made a conscious effort to distinguish between the two, for several reasons.

Firstly, there is a big difference (to me at least), between what I would consider my favourite movies versus what I consider to be the “best” movies. Sometimes there is crossover, but more often than not there is a distinction.

Secondly, and more importantly, differentiating between what I consider to be “my favourites” as opposed to what I consider to be “the best” forces me to think more critically about the movies I watch. For example, my initial gut reaction to movies like Transformers, Fast & Furious or Independence Day might be that they are fun, entertaining and immensely watchable, yet I would never consider them to be anywhere near the best of what film has to offer.

Conversely, I am able to acknowledge that films like Schindler’s List, Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver are some of the best films ever made, even though they aren’t my favourites.

Then there are the films that, for me anyways, fall into both categories. Movies like Braveheart, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator are both some of my favourites and in my opinion some of the best ever made.

Now obviously this type of discussion is very subjective, to a certain extent. Especially when dealing with “favourites”, it is totally subjective. Independence Day is one of my favourite movies. I loved it. Same thing with Titanic. I loved that movie. Where subjectivity starts to matter less is when the discussion turns to what the “best” is.

There are several movies that seem to make the top ten or fifteen of every list of “best movies ever made”; think of these films as the canon of the best films. I’m talking about To Kill a Mockingbird, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather (both parts I and II), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shawshank Redemption, Gone With The Wind, Vertigo, Psycho, Lawrence of Arabia, etc. These are films that cannot be argued as anything other than the best movies ever made, regardless of one’s personal, subjective opinion. And this is the whole point I am trying to make.

People often confuse what they like for what is the best. Much like how people confuse their personal opinions for facts (especially with the whole “alternative facts” thing going on down south, but that’s a whole other discussion).

To paraphrase famed astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, he said that science doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not. I feel the same way when it comes to art. The fact that you may or may not like a work of art (or book or movie or song) doesn’t mean that it isn’t a successful work of art. This is something I am planning on discussing further in a future blog post, so let’s get back to the “favourite” versus “best” argument.

I worked at Chapters for around eight years, and during that time I heard people tell me what they thought were the “best” books ever. The Da Vinci Code. Twilight. A Million Little Pieces. Fifty Shades of Grey. The Five People You Meet In Heaven. The Secret. “Oh my god, this is the best book ever!” No. It might be the best book you’ve ever read, but I assure you that none of those books are the best books ever written.

With movies, a similar trend appears. Certain movies come along that people flock to in droves and make tons of money and are super popular that people get very excited about and exclaim giddily that “oh my god that was the best movie ever!” But they usually aren’t even close to being in the same league as the films I mentioned above.

If you take anything away from this blog post at all, please take this: it is possible to recognize the greatness of something while simultaneously not liking it. Try and understand the difference between “best” and “favourite”.

Think of it terms of fine art. I am not a huge fan of the work of Monet. But I would be an absolute fool to make a statement such as “Monet sucks” or “ugh Monet is overrated” or some other such nonsense. The fact that I personally don’t find Monet’s work appealing has absolutely no relevance or impact on the fact that Monet and his work are culturally important and integral to the world of fine arts.

This is why I get so infuriated when people say “this sucks” or “that sucks” simply because they didn’t personally like it. Just because you don’t like something it doesn’t mean that it “sucks” or is unsuccessful as a work of art.

Bringing this back to a discussion about film in particular, let’s look at Schindler’s List briefly. That film is one of Spielberg’s best, and a true masterpiece of filmmaking. But it is incredibly difficult to watch, and frankly, after having seen it once in my life, I don’t care to ever see it again. It is important to be able to look at something objectively and recognize it for what it is while temporarily removing your subjective opinion. This is equally true when looking at something that is a guilty pleasure. The fact that you like something doesn’t necessarily make it good.

With all of that being said, I am going to steal something I saw on a friend’s Facebook page. He posted a list of his favourite movies for each year that he has been alive, so here is my list of my favourite movies from each year that I have been alive:

1983: Return of the Jedi

1984: Ghostbusters 

1985: The Goonies

1986: Aliens

1987: RoboCop

1988: Beetlejuice

1989: Batman 

1990: Dances with Wolves

1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day 

1992: Batman Returns 

1993: Jurassic Park

1994: The Shawshank Redemption

1995: Braveheart

1996: Independence Day

1997: Titanic 

1998: Saving Private Ryan

1999: Fight Club

2000: Gladiator

2001: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

2002: Catch Me If You Can

2003: The Return of the King

2004: The Incredibles

2005: Batman Begins

2006: The Departed

2007: Hot Fuzz

2008: The Dark Knight 

2009: Avatar

2010: Inception

2011: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

2012: Cloud Atlas

2013Prisoners

2014: Interstellar

2015: The Force Awakens

2016: Rogue One

2017: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (so far…)

 

Talking About Writing

A few months ago I was honoured to have received an invitation from Alex Kosoris of the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) to participate on a panel discussing the writing of reviews at one of their workshops. The workshop, entitled “Critical Conversations”, happened on Friday, April 21st and was moderated by Kosoris, and featured Melissa Gaudette, Michael Sobota and myself.

Let me tell you that the experience was a ton of fun, but more importantly it was equal parts humbling and enlightening.

Melissa writes about and reviews music for The Walleye, as well as The Tribune 242 out of Nassau, Bahamas. Michael writes about books, the symphony and film for the Chronicle Journal and The Walleye. As some of you may already know, I write about movies for the Chronicle Journal.

It was amazing how similarly the three of us approach our review writing, yet it was equally surprising how each of us brought a unique voice and approach to art of writing reviews. The two hour block of time we were allotted at CommuniTea and Coffee was nowhere near enough time to have the discussion that I know the three of us were on our way to having.

Along with Alex’s questions, there were a few great questions from the audience as well. It is very clear to me that there is a real appetite for arts and culture in this city, and to paraphrase Michael, it is our duty as reviewers to help identify creative gems and lead the discussion about art and culture.

I was floored when Michael spoke some very nice things about me and my work as a writer, and I am extremely grateful for those words of support. Michael is a good man and an incredible talent and receiving any sort of praise or recognition from him was humbling and an honour. Thank you Michael.

Melissa was super cool. During the short break, we talked music, specifically metal, and I feel as though that discussion could have lasted a few hours on its own!

There are a few things that I will take away from this workshop that will help me further refine my writing. Melissa really opened my eyes to having a defined structure and process with which to follow when approaching the writing of a review. She also stressed the importance of proper spelling and grammar, as well as the expansion of one’s vocabulary. This is something I strive for and will continue to try and accomplish in all of my work.

Michael spoke about writing reviews as a primarily subjective exercise; I have always struggled with trying to balance objectivity and subjectivity in my writing. After hearing Michael speak, however, I have realized that I should “trust my gut” a bit more and own my personal subjective opinion a bit more in my writing.

What I tried to leave with the workshop participants boils down to essentially these points:

  • Know you’re audience. Know who you are writing for and why you are writing for them.
  • Know your subject. Try to understand the cultural importance or purpose for existence of a work before writing about it.
  • Balance subjectivity with objectivity. Not to contradict my prior comment about what Michael was saying, but what I mean here is that you must ALWAYS have an INFORMED opinion.
  • Know the difference between “Best” and “Favourite”. These are two very different things, and semantics matter when discussion a FAVOURITE film, for example, versus what one may consider the BEST film.

I would like to once again thank my fellow panelists for enlightening me and entertaining this fantastic discussion. I would also like to thank Alex and NOWW for hosting the event and for including me.

If you are interested in learning more about NOWW or becoming a member, visit their website.

Find Michael’s  and Mellisa’s work in The Walleye.

The Balance of the Force

Today, Disney and Lucasfilm released the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (along with this wicked poster). We finally got to hear the first words spoken by Luke Skywalker since 1983’s Return of the Jedi: “Breathe. Just breathe. Now, reach out. What do you see?”

Rey replies: “Light. Darkness. The Balance.”  
The Balance. Hmmmm….. 
We then hear Luke say: “It’s so much bigger.”

After a montage of amazing footage, we are then treated to one last line of dialogue from Luke: “I only know one truth: it’s time for the Jedi…to end.” 

This line adds some more intrigue to the already ominous title of the film, but does nothing to help clear up who the Last Jedi are. But it might shed some light onto Luke’s journey as a character. 

Let’s go back to The Phantom Menace. Yes, yes I know, but try to stop shitting all over for the Prequels long enough to hear me out (after all, whether we like it or not, they ARE canon). In Episode I, it is explained that there is a Jedi prophecy of one who will bring Balance to the Force. One who was born of the Force. (At one point, the rumoured title of Episode I was even The Balance of the Force.) We are introduced to a young Anakin Skywalker, who had no father, who’s mother claimed was conceived by the Force. He was trained as a Jedi at the insistence of Qui-Gon Jinn, much to the disapproval of the majority of the Jedi Council. 

When Anakin turned to the Dark Side, it was thought that all hope was lost. By becoming Darth Vader, Anakin actually swung the majority of the power of the Force to the Dark Side. 

Ultimately, Anakin did redeem himself. He did this in three ways: 

  • By refusing to turn his son to the Dark Side;
  • By destroying the Emperor; and
  • By turning back to the Light side, renouncing Darth Vader and becoming Anakin Skywalker once again. 

But did he actually fulfill the Prophecy? Did Anakin bring Balance to the Fore? 

I always thought so. Luke may have been the hero of the Original Trilogy, but the saga has always been about the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Luke was the catalyst that ultimately allowed Anakin to redeem himself. 

But maybe Anakin brought Balance to the Force not by destroying the Emperor; maybe he brought Balance to the Force by fathering Luke and Leia? 

Maybe Luke (and Leia, we know very little about Leia’s Force abilities) is/are the key to bringing Balance to the Force. Maybe the Jedi must end because the unending cycle of shifting power between the Jedi and the Sith is in actuality what’s throwing the Force off-Balance. Maybe after all those years in exile on that island, Luke has transcended both the Light and the Dark and has truly found Balance. A Balance that is “so much bigger” than the trivialities of the Light versus the Dark. Maybe he even had help from his father, much like how he had help from Obi-Wan.

The poster shows the Skywalker lightsaber, wielded by Rey, turning from blue to red (mirroring the constant struggle between the Light Side and Dark Side that has plagued the Skywalkers). Does this mean Rey will be plagued by a similar struggle? We know Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) has Skywalker blood in him (his mother is Leia) and literally expresses his concern about feeling “the call to the light”. We don’t know who Rey is but the Skywalker lightsaber “calls to her” as Maz explained in The Force Awakens. This struggle between Light and Dark may be why Luke feels the Jedi need to end. Maybe he is trying to spare his daughter from the struggle that consumed his father and nephew and almost consumed him? 

I think maybe Luke has (or is going to) continue his father’s quest to TRULY bring Balance to the Force, and where he failed with Ben, he will try and ensure he doesn’t with Rey. I highly doubt Luke has turned to the Dark Side. 

All of this being said, maybe I’m looking into this way too much, and the filmmakers simply edited together a great trailer to pique our interest. Well, consider my interest piqued. December can’t come soon enough…. 

Movie Reviewer Confidential: Director’s Cut

I was invited by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) to participate as a panelist at their “Critical Conversations” event on April 21st. They asked me to contribute something for their blog. I did, but it was too long. The following is the unedited “Director’s Cut” version of my contribution:

I have been asked on numerous occasions “what makes you so special that you get to write about movies in the newspaper?” It’s a fair question, to be honest. The truthful answer is that I was perseverant in convincing the editors at the Chronicle Journal that they needed a local perspective on new release movies, as opposed to (or at least in addition to) the professional (yet often pretentious and patronizing) reviews they publish.

I would regularly post long, rambling rants about movies on Facebook, and a few people commented that they enjoyed reading my take on film, and have I considered writing professionally about movies, etc. My cousin Mark was the one that reached out to me and told me that I should pursue it. And, taking his advice, I made it happen. Thanks Mark!
I sent a few emails back and forth with the CJ for a while. It eventually led to them asking me for a sample of my writing, then a sample of something about a current film, then a sample of something that was only 400 words in length. After hearing nothing for a while, I randomly got an email from the CJ in October of 2010 asking for a review of a recent film, and they needed it ASAP! 

Elated, I giddily checked the new releases and saw that the first film I would get to write about was Saw VII. That was a fun review to write. The CJ was impressed enough with my writing abilities that they offered me the opportunity to contribute a weekly movie review, which I am eternally grateful for, and have been providing to the CJ ever since. 

I understand, however, that what people mean when they ask me why I get to write about movies for the local newspaper, they aren’t asking me how I got the gig, they are really asking me why I get to. I was told by someone “so you like movies, big deal! Hey, I like food, maybe I should write for the paper about food! What makes you so special that you get to write about movies?” 

OK, fair enough. First of all, I present a disclaimer: I do not consider myself a “Film Critic”. That is a title reserved for the likes of Richard Crouse, Leonard Maltin and the late Roger Ebert. I consider myself a “movie reviewer”. Whats the difference, you ask? A critic, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is “a person who judges the merits of literary or artistic works, especially one who does so professionally.” Sure, I suppose by definition I judge the merits of artistic works professionally, but I consider myself a film enthusiast, and not a film historian. I am not approaching my reviews with the intent of academic criticism. I am not a film scholar, and while I may touch on various aspects of film theory or the technical aspects of filmmaking in some of my reviews, I am primarily informed through my enthusiasm for and self-taught knowledge of film. My reasoning for judging the merits of film is not to have my little articles join the annals of film criticism history. Instead, I am reviewing films to try and inform the average movie-goer about what’s new, what they might like, and what they may want to stay away from, from the perspective of an average filmgoer. 

But I do bring something to the table beyond what the average movie-goer does, and that is my ability to write about art, and my ability to separate subjectivity and objectivity. These two skills come from four years of studying art, art theory and art criticism, and writing about art. I admit that a 400 word limit is not nearly enough to truly present a formal critical analysis of a film in a manner anywhere near similar to how I would have written about art during my studies, but the basics are still there. 

I try to present my views on a particular film in a way that is understandable by my readers and relates to their perspective. I recognize that a fair portion of the movie-going public primarily cares about who’s in the movie, what’s the story, does it have a connection to a pre-existing franchise that they enjoy, and maybe who directed it. I also recognize that the general movie-going public will also appreciate awesome special effects and beautiful cinematography in addition to a good story and great acting, but might not realize that they may also be interested in knowing who shot the film or how the special effects were created, etc. I see it as my job to present interesting information about a film and how it was made, in addition to my own informed opinion, all while juggling the 400 word limit that I often exceed. 

Opinion is the most subjective part of a review, of course. My taste in film may differ greatly from yours, but I always try and base my opinion from an informed place. One of my greatest pet peeves is when someone proclaims that something “sucks” or is “the best ever”. You may prefer one thing more than something else; that is an opinion. It get’s tricky when subjectivity and objectivity begin to dance together. For example, a guilty pleasure of mine is the Transformers franchise. I could technically proclaim that Transformers: Age of Extinction sucks, and then back that up as a statement of fact by pointing out the shoddy directing, poor dialogue, lazy script, bloated plot and many more cringe-worthy aspects of the film. However, I enjoyed it. It was fun to watch. It had cool effects, it was action-packed and featured childhood characters that brought me a sense of nostalgia that made me happy. In spite of the fact that I enjoyed the film, I would never proclaim it as the best movie ever the way my 9-year-old self might have. 

Alternatively, if I were to proclaim that The Godfather sucks simply because it was long, didn’t hold my attention and wasn’t something that I particularly enjoyed watching, I would look like a fool. Objectively, The Godfather is one of (if not the) greatest films of all-time. (Oh and for the record, I LOVE The Godfather). 

One of the things I also try to do when presenting a review of a film to my readers is to know what type of movie I am reviewing. In my opinion, there is no way that there can be a single linear list of movies ranging from best to worst. I personally have two lists: a list of my FAVOURITE movies of all time, and a list of what I think are the BEST movies of all time. Some titles may appear on both lists, but for the most part each list is comprised of different titles. The trick, from a reviewer’s perspective, is to write a review that discusses the film from the context in which it was created and exists. I would never approach a review of The Godfather, Black Swan, The King’s Speech or Moonlight the same way that I would approach a review of The Avengers, Transformers or Smurfs 2. 

While I consider film to be an art form, films are created for many different reasons, the same way other art forms are utilized to create art for different reasons. Sometimes a film is a movie, a big-budget product meant to appeal to the masses in an effort to make the most money; other times, a film is a work of art, difficult to watch and not as easily accessible by people who aren’t interested in those types of movies. I respect both types of film, which I think is important. It’s so easy to dismiss movies that are created as entertainments simply because they lack the artistic merits or integrity of a movie that is being created to function solely as art. I get very excited when those rare films come along that are comprised of both worlds. Movies that have mass appeal but also exude artistry and challenge viewers, all while receiving both critical and box office success. 

There are so many more things I can ramble on about, but I will end here. What I want to leave you with is a piece of advice. Go into the theatres with an open mind. Open yourself up to new film-going experiences. If you are someone that scoffs at the idea of watching a lowly, lowly comic book movie, give one a try! If you only ever watch the bubblegum popcorn flicks, try watching a film that you’ve never heard of! You will be surprised to discover that there are many gateways and connections between the various genres. Yes there is a lot of crap out there, but it’s so exciting to find the really great films hidden amongst the dungheaps.      
   

Why The Spiral?

If you know me, you might assume that by naming my blog The Spiral that I’m referencing The Downward Spiral by my favourite band Nine Inch Nails. While the music of NIN has served as an inspiration as well as a soundtrack to the majority of my personal creative process, The Spiral is something else.

I needed a fair amount of encouragement from friends and family to start writing movie reviews “professionally”; similarly, it has taken a fair amount of encouragement and playful goading from friends to start my own blog. Once I decided to finally start a blog, I needed to figure out what it would be about.

The intent of this blog is to provide myself with a space where I can write about whatever I want, without being beholden to a 400-word limit (something I frequently exceed in my articles). Initially this blog was going to be something where I can write longer movie reviews. But there is much more I want to write about than just movies (don’t worry, I will still be writing about movies a lot). That being said, the primary theme of this blog is creativity.

This brings me to the spiral. The spiral is one of the oldest geometric shapes depicted by humans, with depictions dating back to the Neolithic period. Throughout history, the depiction of the spiral has meant different things to different cultures. Spirals can symbolize revelation, growth and evolution. They can also symbolize fertility, the womb and the universe. They can be spiritual symbols and even symbols of hypnosis and dizziness. Spirals can be found in the natural world and can be a symbol of the unrestrained power of nature.

Spirals are also something that have permeated my artwork for years. A very large portion of my entire portfolio of academic work involves spirals or spiral-like motifs. The spiral pops up in my doodles and my sketches and my prints (some of which you’ll see decorating this blog). I’m subconsciously fascinated by the spiral and its presence in my artwork has become inescapable. The spiral is my own personal symbol of creativity.

While I was trying to decide what I wanted this blog to be, I realized I wanted to talk about art and creativity and about movies, books, music and pop culture. I wanted a place to showcase my own artwork, photography and writing. All of these ideas were swirling around in my head, like a creative maelstrom.

Then it all clicked, and I have once again found myself at the centre of a spiral.