The Two Belfasts – Street-scapes of Inequality

While much of Belfast is pristine, with lots of 21st century money and glass and capitalism, it only takes a short gander of the main street to see shades of a city ravaged by bombs and fires. The following photos illustrate this.

This mall is at the centre of Belfast’s capitalist prosperity. But take two steps down an alley and the picture changes.

Ok, this is a cheap way to creep the Palestinian issue into yet another blogpost. But to be honest, to see Occupy and Palestinian graffiti, well, at least it isn’t dissident republican graffiti (of which I saw a disturbing amount in Derry). But more generally what I’m illustrating is the radical storefront inequality – on the main drag the rents are obviously very high, but as soon as you step off of it, everything is closed. 

Like this place for instance (directly to the left of previous image).

Or this one (a few steps father to the left).

Turn around from the previous perspective, and you are faced full on with the reality of Belfast’s troubled history. So many bombs disturbed these streets, and while the North Arcade (pictured here) wasn’t bombed, there were paramilitary links to its arsen. Still, looking at the place, you get a sense of its former grandeur, and you wonder why it hasn’t been rebuilt. But then you get it – they can’t rebuild everything, in fact, some of the modern richness you see in some areas of the Belfast city centre might be in a sense a result of bombings and attacks – because stores were pushed out of this arcade they would have needed to move somewhere, so why not move to the new glass mall (seen above). Such is life, such is moving on. But the stark inequality from street to street reminds the citizens here as well as visitors of the political violence which defined this city for thirty years.


Travel Portraits (Part 3)

Portraits don’t only show people and their personalities. Just as much they can show relationships, interactions, ways of being together. We might think it’s nothing – it’s just “having your photo taken with someone”. But this is decieving – how we feel about other people is likely revealed, whether we mean it or not, when we pose with them.

Sadiah and Benazir became fast friends in Palestine. But you can tell that from their eyes in this photo, taken in the old city of Nablus:

The next shot requires a bit more explaination. We ended up at this man’s house by accident, by running into a masters student from England in a community school who was on her way to doing some fieldwork north of al-Khalil. When we arrived at the property we were shown how much of his land was simply stolen by the Israelis, who built a settlement on it. And on the land that remains, the Israelis keep demolishing his house – this is the third one, the rubble of the first two we passed on our way walking up the driveway. There is no proper access to water – the IDF dismantled their illegal water supply, and all the water they have must be delivered which is very expensive. The problem is that in area C the PA has no authority, and the Israelis have no interest in giving civil service to non-Jews. But because he and his family insist on staying, he has become a strong symbol of sumud, recognized even by Israeli activists as well. An odd portrait this – a man holding up a portrait of himself ten years younger.

Stef and I met a dentist in al-Khalil. He stopped us on the street, insisted that we come up to his shop to have coffee. He was very friendly and forward, which was common there but also I must say somewhat overwhelming and worrying. Over here if someone was this interested in having you up for coffee and inviting you to their house for dinner, you would not be unwise to expect ulterior intentions. But this seems to be simply a hermeneutic problem, a problem of different social expectations, different attitudes towards guests. On balance, I have to say I prefer the Arab attitude towards hospitality to the North American one.

Aside from hospitality, the other most non-Western thing you find in Palestinian cities is the presence of donkeys. No one in Canada uses donkeys anymore – we use trucks and tractors and trains, and perhaps a wheelbarrow – but never a donkey. But over there, donkeys are a common sight. And we are a common sight to donkeys. Here you can see Noah sharing a moment with a donkey near Jericho.

Travel Portraiture, or Wearing Scarves on your Head (Part 2)

Katia, our fearless leader, was always wearing some kind of scarf on her head.

Scarves on the head are actually quite important in Palestine.  Whether you wear it to cover your hair for religious reasons or reasons of modesty and cultural sensitivity, or to protect your face from the sun, or to express solidarity with the anti-Colonial cause, there’s always some reason or other to drape cloth over your head in the holy land. Continue reading →

Travel Portraiture (Part 1)

Inspired by my recent experience at event photography (and the jump in viewership it seemed to create), I’ve decided to put up some of the portraits I took last year in Palestine. In general, I’ve hesitated to put portraits up on the blog because I felt they were more personal, and less interesting to a general audience. But I think now that this is wrong – at least with a few words added I think it’s possible for portraits to be evocative even to people who do not know the subjects of the photo.


Continue reading →

Saturna Island, B.C.

Saturna Island, British Columbia is one of my favourite places, and the hike beginning at the summit of Mt. Warburton and descending the Brown Ridge is amoung the most scenic in the world. Eventually you can descend all the way to the water, but for much of the hike the grade is easy as you traverse steep but not dangerous feeling slopes, which change colour with the weather.

When we arrived the whether was thick with fog, but before long the sun came out and the yellow grass shone in its glory.

The Gulf Islands are easy to miss if you live in British Columbia. You figure “I’ve seen that” because you’ve been to the lower Mainland, and to Vancouver Island. But both of those places are rainy and dreary, nothing like the dry Islands in between which weather systems pass over but do not get stuck on. Nor are the people alike – my theory is the difficulty of getting to the islands keep the people there quirky. You have to be a bit strange to buy property on a small island where you will be entirely beholden to a ferry company to transport yourself to anything larger than the local general store.

Or do you? The gulf Islands are loved because there are still those who will pay more to be as far as possible from a Wal Mart and Canadian tire. For those who recognize that in life we have a choice what we will put in our visual field, and that what we see and where we are is as important to quality of life as what we consume or possess. If you lived there, looking at these photos, you’d be home now.


Dave, Milan and I have shared a passion for photography for many years. In this photo, taken on a trail north of Deep Cove, British Columbia, on the shores of Indian Arm, you can see Milan holding Dave’s F90x, zooming in on the horizon with what is probably Dave’s old Nikon Nikkor AF 28-105 3.5-4.5. Which is too bad, because if it wasn’t for that lens sticking into the picture, this would have been a good portrait of Dave.