Urban Spaces: Graffiti Alley

Toronto has amazing street art. Much of it is understated and wry and forces you to peer into corners and scan walls that you’d normally pass your eyes over if you want to find it. Graffiti alley is not one of these places.


This alley runs from Portland St. to Spadina Avenue, just south of Queen St. West. You’ve probably seen the place in one of Rick Mercer’s eloquent rants:

This rant about Rob Ford seems timely. And unfortunately, he is inescapable in this city:


I’ve always been a sucker for bright colours. Hell, I used to take pictures of the same wall in my Pointe Ste. Charles neighbourhood in Montreal every couple of months because it would inevitably be filled with entirely new – and entirely brilliant, beautiful, and meticulously executed – art pieces. And then these pieces would be covered over again in a month. The sheer temporality of street art, and knowing I might never see one of those layers of beauty if I didn’t make a point of making a detour every couple of weeks, is kind of mind-boggling.

I’m not sure if graffiti alley in Toronto gets such a drastic facelift on a monthly basis, but I’m sure I would see new pieces if I went now, just a few weeks after taking these photos.


Graffiti gets a bad rap in general, and street art maybe slightly less so. But why would anyone, walking down a busy city street, ever prefer looking at a blank concrete wall to chancing upon something like this?


To me, whitewashing works of art that people have spent hours creating on a wall is akin to willfully turning your eyes to the sky or the sidewalk rather than looking at the people you pass in the street. We’re mostly strangers, sure, but we all have to co-exist in this space we call a city. We can choose to tune out, or we can choose to engage with people. Venture into the great unknown with a smile, a hello, some eye contact once in a while. It can be the same with the buildings we pass as well.

I mean, how do you not smile at the detail in this giant wall piece?


Art has the ability to engage us, to force us to interact, to make us come alive. With our faces planted firmly into our smart phones any time we’re compelled to enter into public spaces, we need all the help we can get to emerge from the technology swamp for a moment to get a whiff of the real.

Street art remains a physical reminder that we exist as flesh and bone, in a tangible world that changes our perceptions when we interact with it – and even interact with others, if we have the courage.


Street art is a call to look up once in a while.


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Urban Spaces: St. John’s Norway Cemetery

Last weekend I had the chance to shoot a roll of film at St John’s Norway Cemetery and Crematorium, a beautiful 160-year-old cemetery near The Beaches. (Which is a beautiful neighbourhood itself. Travel just a few blocks south, and you can take a stroll along the boardwalk – not many cities I’ve been to have the option of beach-in-city, which is a huge perk if you live around these parts!)




As you may know if you’ve read this blog before, I have a thing for cemeteries. The main draws are the quiet, the sprawling grounds, and the chance to be alone with your own terrifying contemplation of mortality instead of being absorbed into a screen of some sort, the comforting distraction of which seems to dominate the rest of our waking hours these days.




The film I used was likely salvaged from some corner of my apartment, given to me ages ago by an old friend. Hence the tint of these photos – no photoshop or filter required. Although I can’t process my own film, and this makes for a real process to get it developed and then put on the internet, I still love it for this unpredictable quality. Case in point, check out the film burn in the bottom left corner:




A few of my favourite shots:










Check out my flickr for more of this roll, and some travel photos from ages ago, when I was lucky enough to live in Vienna and hop on a bus or a train to go to Krakow, Budapest, or Prague on a whim (I know, it was the worst ever). Happy Sunday!


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