Thursday, September 27, 2018


Maui, looking west to Lanai Island, May 2012.

SO MY OLD HIGH SCHOOL BUDDY MIKE CALLS ME UP OUT OF THE BLUE and asks if I'd like to go to Maui. Actually, I misheard him and thought he said "Mali" at first; that country was in the middle of a civil war at the time, and I thought this was awfully adventurous of Mike, but I was prepared to say yes anyway. It had been a long winter and I was desperate to go somewhere and do anything.

When Mike made it clear that he was talking about Hawaii, I was somewhat relieved and asked him for details. He'd won the trip as a prize at work for leading his team to some kind of record sales but his wife, a Montessori teacher, wasn't able to take off the time. I thanked him profusely for thinking of me and got the dates from him. I was going to Hawaii. Well, at least that means that Hawaii actually exists, I thought to myself.

Maui, May 2012.

For years I'd joked that I didn't think Hawaii was a real place. How could anywhere that sounded so much like paradise - perfect climate, middle of the Pacific Ocean - actually be real? Even when I met people from there, I kept the joke up and chastised them for leading people on about this implausible place. And now I was going.

Actually, I'm still not sure Hawaii exists, even after going there. The weather was, in fact, absolutely perfect, especially on the leeward sides of the island, which are drier than the wet, humid windward sides. In any case, a Canadian like myself gets confused by a place with growing seasons all year round, and where every plant - literally everything from lush shrubbery to the meanest little weed - produces some sort of outlandish, vivid blossom.

Flamingo, Hyatt Regency Resort, Maui, May 2012.

Mike's company put everyone up at the Hyatt Regency, one of a string of resorts on the leeward side of Maui. The Hyatt distinguishes itself by being home to an aviary; a collection of birds, including swans, penguins and flamingos, that live in the open air lobby areas and wander among the guests. Useful fact: Up close, flamingos don't look any more real than the pink plastic ones your tacky neighbour sticks all over their lawn.

The Hyatt is an excellent hotel, and I felt a little guilty when Mike set off every morning for some meeting or presentation or team-building exercise while I had the whole day to myself. I'd find a cabana or a lounger by the beach and settle in with a book. Or I'd take my camera - my Olympus E-620 with a single 25mm pancake lens on it - and go for a wander.

Hanakaoo Cemetery, Maui, May 2012.

A short stroll up the beach from the hotel led me to an old cemetery just a few yards inland, where the headstones matched the colour of the iron-rich volcanic soil. It seemed to be full of Japanese and Filipino labourers who'd died before the Pearl Harbor attack, and while more than a little bleak, seemed well-tended for a rough little patch of graveyard just a few yards inland from the ocean.

Maui, May 2012.

Mike signed us up for a hike and zipline adventure up in the hills above the resorts, where the exposed red soil would alternate with lush grass and trees covered in ochre and saffron coloured blooms. Our guides were typical of the sorts of off-islanders who ended up working there - surfer types who treated their job as a lark and probably smoked a fair amount of whatever they call Maui Wowie these days.

Silversword, Haleakala, Maui, May 2012.

With the end of the trip in sight and the daily corporate activities over, Mike and I rented a jeep and decided to drive up to the peak of Haleakala, the (apparently) dormant volcano that formed the island 750,000 years ago. The roads all over Maui were full of late model Mustangs - convertibles mostly, and the V-6 powered jobs that end up in rental fleets. We didn't get one of those, which was a good thing, because the road to the top of the volcano was quite steep in spots and the temperature dropped steeply as you headed up and through the clouds.

Up at the top we found a wholly alien landscape, with little vegetation except for plants like the silversword, which only grows near Haleakala's peak. The red soil and rocks made it all look decidedly Martian. We wandered around for as long as we could, which was a bit of a test for Mike who made the mistake of wearing shorts and sandals that day.

Haleakala volcano crater, Maui, May 2012.

It was an altogether pleasant break from what was becoming a sobering and apparently jobless life for me back home. In a couple of years my wife would give me the idea that became this blog. But the unlikely prospect of having a newsroom job again had finally struck home, and I was being forced to look at new options for whatever I jokingly called my "career" at that point.

I did come back from Maui with a vague intimation that I liked taking photos in strange new places. That this was something other people called "travel photography" hadn't quite occurred to me yet, but an idea had been planted. Now I just had to wait for somebody who wasn't a generous old friend to hand me another plane ticket and send me somewhere. For that, I'd have to wait a little bit longer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Chris Hadfield, Pearson International Airport, Toronto, August 2009

THE YEAR I WAS LAID OFF WAS A BAD ONE FOR NEWSPAPERS. The Rocky Mountain News, which had published since 1859, closed for good, while the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. in business since 1863, ceased print publication and went online only. They were just the big names. According to this story, 105 newspapers closed that year in the U.S. and 10,000 jobs in the industry were lost.

It was a bad time to be looking for a newsroom gig and while freelance opportunities were still available, word rates and assignment fees had either stagnated or declined severely. After the shock of the lay-off subsided, I realized I had to do something - anything - to keep myself writing and shooting, so I contacted the editors of blogTO, a city news and entertainment website that had been started five years earlier.

It was a practitioner of what was being called "hyperlocal journalism," which I'd been vocal about praising in my column at the free daily. Initially Tim and Derek, the editors, were skeptical about why I was approaching them for work - it was usually the sort of venue recent j-school grads and youthful urbanist types would work for to build a resume of work. I was - and would remain - the oldest person on their staff the whole time I worked there.

Building 9, Kodak lands, Toronto, June 2009

It took me a while to get up to speed with my posts. It had been years since I had gone out several nights a week or knew what the best new places to eat or shop were. Working for the free daily and raising two small children, my world had shrunk to a few well-worn routes and a few square blocks of the city I once knew so well, and I had to make an effort to reacquaint myself with my own hometown.

My first really successful post was about Building 9, the last remaining part of the Kodak Canada plant where my family had worked since the '20s. The then-owners had left it unguarded and it was inevitably broken into, wide open for vandals, renegade club and event promoters and urbex types. I made my way in with my camera and recorded the damage, then wrote a post about my own history with Kodak and the neighbourhood. It was probably one of the most popular things I wrote for many years.

Beach Motel, Toronto, April 2011
Beach Motel, Toronto, Nov. 2012

Another ongoing story I attached myself to was the final days of a strip of venerable but run-down motels on Lake Shore Boulevard that was being redeveloped into a thick cluster of condominium towers. I lurked around the area for about a year or two, interviewing the last people trying to make a living there before the inevitable. I was there on the morning the last motel was demolished, my post just one of a bunch of elegaic stories about the city's relentless transformation.

Canary Restaurant, Toronto, 2010.
Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto, 2009.

There were a lot of stories like this, like the closing and gutting of the Canary Restaurant, a worn-out greasy spoon in an old industrial area in the east end that was being turned into an athlete's village for the Pan-Am Games. I also got a look at the Don Valley Brickworks when it was being turned from an abandoned industrial relic into a eco/foodie destination.

Rotman's Hats final sale, Toronto, 2009.
China House neon re-lighting ceremony, Toronto, 2010.
China House contents auction, Toronto, 2011.
Valhalla Inn contents auction, Toronto, 2009.
Sutton Place Hotel contents auction, Toronto, 2014.

And there were more stories about the passing of an older Toronto, like the final sale week at Rotman's Hats, one of the last remnants of Spadina Avenue's Jewish merchant history. I wrote several stories about China House, an old-school Chinese food restaurant that seemed to get a new lease of life for about a year before it was inevitably closed and demolished for more condos.

I also covered the contents sales of two closed Toronto hotels. The Valhalla Inn was one of the first really glamorous airport hotels, opened in 1963 and designed in a style that took Scandinavian contemporary to its roots with a Viking theme. The Sutton Place was another modernist high point, and a hotel I knew intimately from shooting musicians and movie stars there for nearly twenty years. I didn't have much history with the Valhalla Inn, but watching the Sutton Place disappear actually gave me a pang of loss I didn't expect.

Imperial Oil Building, Toronto, 2011.

I also had an opportunity to tour the old Imperial Oil headquarters in midtown - an imposing tower built on the highest point in the city from plans reputedly rejected for Toronto's city hall. I had always wanted to get inside, and blogTO's credentials were enough to allow me a guided tour as workmen stripped out the offices and boardrooms to make way for - yes, big surprise - more condos. I was particularly taken with the gold tiles on the walls of the sky lobby outside one of the big main boardrooms - an unusually luxurious expression of midcentury modernism, I thought.

Looking back, I shot a lot of ruins and wreckage and demolition in my years at blogTO. It's not a surprise - my city was undergoing the latest in a series of radical transformations, with construction cranes all over the horizon and whole districts either being changed utterly or created out of parking lots and abandoned buildings. It's a boom that still hasn't wound up, and I'd be lying if I said I had unmixed feelings about watching - and documenting - the erasure of the city where I grew up.

Portlands, Toronto, 2010.
Corso Italia Festival, Toronto, 2013.

Working for blogTO forced me to concentrate on street photography, a style that I had never explored much in all my years of shooting portraits and news for NOW, eye, the Globe & Mail, the National Post or the free daily. Their posts featured photos as much, if not more, than words, and I had to learn to produce shots that could stand alone on a web page.

Ripley's Aquarium opening, Toronto, 2013.

BlogTO's credentials also got me into events like the media day before the opening of Ripley's Aquarium, a major tourist attraction right next to the CN Tower. I relished these opportunities, not only for the photos they allowed me to take, but for the sense that I was still part of the media, showing up and providing my coverage. Being laid off had felt like a sort of banishment from the profession I'd laboured in for so many years, so I was happy for any chance to hang a press pass around my neck and do my job.

Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, 2009.
Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, 2014.

In many ways, working for blogTO wasn't terribly different from working for a daily newspaper. We'd still cover news events like the opening of the Canadian National Exhibition at the end of every summer, and I was given that assignment for several years running. I had never done those ritual news calls before, so ironically it was working for the all-digital "new media" - which was supposedly speeding the decline of print dailies - that saw me covering stories like the annual Air Show, or interviewing and photographing the mayor at press conferences.

Helio Castroneves, Honda Indy, Toronto, 2012.
Honda Indy, Toronto, 2013.
Pit crew, Honda Indy, Toronto, 2014.
Honda Indy, Toronto, 2015.

One of those annual stories was the Honda Indy - the weekend long summer car race that takes over the CNE grounds. I'm a motorsport fan, but I had never shot a car race until blogTO gave me the credentials and I began spending a whole weekend at the track with my cameras. It was an opportunity I cherished, and a chance to ascend yet another steep learning curve as a photographer, learning to execute all the standard shots required for car race coverage, and perhaps even try something new.

World Cup celebrations, Etobicoke, 2014.
Rob Ford, election nght, 2014.

The funny thing was that blogTO made me more of a straight news photographer than I'd ever been before, assigning me to cover stories like fans reacting to Germany's World Cup win, or the end of the Rob Ford era in city politics. I even got the assignment of writing Ford's obituary for the site - a post that I'm still proud of today as a relatively objective assessment of his legacy in a time and place where nobody (especially in my business) was anything other than rabidly partisan.

Which reminds me of the worst thing about blogTO, at least in the early days: The comments thread on posts was famously vicious, a hangout for trolls and keyboard warriors who obviously thought they could do the job better than you could. I made the mistake of engaging in my first year or two posting there, and it was never a wise or prudent move. On the worst days, it was as ugly as the comments section on a YouTube clip, and eventually they found a way to make commenting less visible or encouraged. So much for the dream of "online communities" and reader engagement.

Hotel bartenders, Toronto, 2010.
Crazy Steve, Kensington, Toronto, 2011.

The one thing I didn't do much of at blogTO was portraiture - my specialty as a professional photographer. I had been forced to strip down and reinvent my style at the free daily, and had just arrived at something intriguing when the lay-off made me drop that thread and, one more time, start all over again.

I ended up doing something more like environmental portraiture, shooting people in a setting or context, like astronaut Chris Hadfield by the tail of the vintage F-86 Sabre he flew in the 2009 Air Show, or "Crazy Steve" Goof of local punk rock legends Bunchofuckingoofs by the entrance of what was once Fort Goof, the band's stronghold in Kensington Market. Or the series of portraits I did for a story on the 12 best hotel bars in Toronto, where I photographed each bartender in the same position behind the bar - a time-consuming assignment that I conceived mostly as a challenge for myself.

The pay at blogTO was ridiculously low, and I'm not sure that the time or effort I put into most of my stories ever made much economic sense. I'm not complaining - I definitely didn't do it for the money as much as a chance to keep working and publishing at a time when nobody seemed interested in hiring me, either in a newsroom or as a steady freelancer.

BlogTO let me test myself and my capabilities as a photographer and journalist, and if what I earned per post was essentially a nominal fee or honorarium - there's no way that the $40 I got for covering a whole weekend at the Honda Indy covered even a fraction of my time - at least I was working, at a time when many of my peers were (quite sensibly) leaving the business.

There was no definitive end to my time at blogTO. I had always felt like mutton dressed as lamb working there, and knew that the particular skill set and enthusiasms of an old journalist would sooner or later be superfluous to their needs. Eventually the assignments got as occasional as my story pitches and a redesign/revamp of the site moved away from long form stories to more lists and short pieces - exactly the sort of work that interested me the least. I knew it was probably time to go the year they said they weren't interested in covering either the auto show or the Honda Indy any more.

I'm not bitter - blogTO was a flag of convenience for me at a time when I just needed to keep working and shooting until whatever next move I needed to make made itself apparent. I'm grateful for the chance to do as much as I did under the banner Tim and Derek provided for me, and for hitching a ride into the world of online media that seems more like the future now than it did when I was jettisoned from the world of newsprint.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


My Olympus gear

THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION WAS COMPLETE by the time I was laid off by the free daily. It's not the most revolutionary thing that happened to photography in the last twenty years; it's close, but the wild changes that transformed the business (and the art) of photography happened alongside some other trends, some economic, some social, some aesthetic. All I know is that I had a ringside seat for it all.

When I started my gig with the free daily as the interim photo editor I still used film and my desk featured a much-used (and occasionally cranky) Nikon Coolpix 35mm film scanner. When the paper sent me to Peru I went with the very nice Canon 35mm SLR that I'd just bought, assuming that it would hold me over for a few years until they'd ironed the bugs out of usable digital cameras. The bugs were ironed out in less than a year, and I barely ever used the camera again.

The Canon cameras I used at the free daily

When Jodi, my editor at the free daily, put me back to work as the paper's photographer they bought a consumer level digital camera for me to use. In a couple of years it had become inadequate to the task and they replaced it with a much better Canon - a prosumer model that was in my hands for most of the time I began to start thinking (very quietly) about myself as a professional photographer again.

One of my beats at the paper was writing a technology review column, which meant that I had new digital cameras in my hands all the time. I reviewed digital SLRs and point-and-shoots by all the major manufacturers, including Canon, Nikon, Kodak, Panasonic, Leica, Sony and Olympus. The churn was pretty fierce as every generation of camera added new features and nearly doubled the size of the image sensors.

Some of the cameras I reviewed for the free daily

There were some interesting experiments - I particularly liked the Olympus E-330, which did away with the hump of the viewfinder prism somehow - but the basic form of the DSLR didn't end up really changing, and digital cameras on the market today still ape either film SLRs or Leica-style rangefinders.

It took me a lot longer to figure out how and why a digital image was different from a film negative. Some of the work I was processing as a photo editor at first was shot on film and scanned to digital, but while it very quickly became wholly digital, it was hard to concentrate on the difference in the heat of deadlines and the new speed and convenience of doing away with film processing and darkrooming.

Harbourfront, Toronto, 2011

It wasn't until a couple of years after I'd been laid off that I had time to think about how digital photography was visibly different from film. The catalyst was the shot above, taken while I was walking around the city's old harbour while on assignment for blogTO. It was a shot I took when the view caught my eye - the sun barely burning through a midday haze and giving an eerie light on a bunch of upturned boats by a sailing school.

There was a time when I might not have bothered taking the photo; I tried to keep my expenses as low as possible when I was a freelancer and, combined with my frugality, I might not have wanted to waste any frames when I had to save film for a job. That was the first thing that changed with digital photography.

I had hoped that the shot would turn out well when I snapped the shutter. It helped to be able to preview it on the LCD screen on the back of the camera, which let me know that I had something to work with before I was at home and in front of a computer. Taken together, it's hard to deny that digital photography gave me a control and confidence from the moment I took the camera out of the bag that I don't think I ever had with film, and for that I was grateful.

And finally there was something about the quality of the image - the lack of grain and a peculiar luminance that I began seeing in digital photographs as soon as the resolution passed a certain threshold and became competitive with higher ISO film at the very least. It's hard to explain, but I don't think that the shot above would have looked the same way even if I'd taken it on a roll of slide film. There's something about the way a digital photo arranges itself on the pixel level that it took me a long time to anticipate when I worked.

Olympus gear, 2018

When I was laid off I had to return the Canon SLR to the paper. I had developed a nice relationship with the PR company that worked with Olympus while writing the tech review column - I really liked their cameras. After the lay-off I contacted them to say that I had a whole bunch of Olympus gear that I was either finished with or hadn't had a chance to write about yet, and asked them how I should return it to them.

It goes without saying that I was pretty broke after being laid off, and both unwilling and unable to budget money for a new DSLR. That could have been the end of my photography career - again - but Olympus' PR told me not to worry. They said the gear had been written off anyway, that I should keep it, and thanks for all the good press I'd given them over the last few years. I think they might have felt sorry for me.

It was, in any case, an incredible gift, and if I believed in such a thing, it was almost a sign that I shouldn't give up on photography, even if my circumstances had never really been worse. I have used these cameras happily and often over the last decade, and I still have a feeling of fondness and regret when I pull them out of their bag now, having just made the switch to Fuji mirrorless cameras.

Man covered in bees, Canadian National Exhibition, 2011

The image above is perhaps my best argument for digital photography. I only rediscovered it in my files a couple of months ago, and the original didn't look much like this at all. Shot in harsh late morning sunlight with my Olympus E-30 at the media preview day at the CNE for blogTO, it was originally a horizontal 3/4 shot, in colour. The background was distracting and the light a bit harsh, but with a lot of work in Photoshop with the clone tool and serious manipulation of layers, I was able to produce something that looks like a studio shot.

You could, of course, manipulate film images. It required hours of work and costs in paper and chemistry even if you didn't end up re-photographing the photo on the way to making a relatively seamless composite. It was the sort of work I tended to avoid then, but rarely shy away from now - the creative options available with a digital image are almost limitless, and it's made me a more technically competent photographer than I could ever have been with film.

There have, of course, been major changes to photography that have nothing to with cameras and more to do with the way we produce and consume photographs. They have been, by and large, proof of the most extreme scenarios imagined by Joseph Schumpeter's "Creative Destruction." The launch of Instagram was over a year away from the lay-off that changed the direction of my "career" once again, but that's a subject for another post.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Colm Feore and the Lay-Off

Colm Feore, Toronto, Jan. 27, 2009

THESE WERE THE LAST PORTRAITS I DID FOR THE FREE DAILY. I didn't know they were, but I must have had some idea that my days were numbered, because I had started looking around for a new job at the time. I didn't want to get surprised; other newsroom staffers had been planning or making exits at the time and it seemed the more dignified way of leaving. But that's not what happened.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, fellow staff writer and photographer Chris Atchison had already left and I was taking up the slack, doing interviews and photo shoots. Colm Feore was in town promoting his role on the latest season of 24, as the husband of the first (fictional) female U.S. president. We did a lot of coverage of 24 back then - it was a monster hit and probably one of the last must-see series produced by a U.S. network.

Colm Feore, Toronto, Jan. 27, 2009

What I remember most about the shoot was that Feore didn't seem terribly interested in talking about his role on 24. Michael Ignatieff, an esteemed writer and academic, had recently been made interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada - then the official opposition - and would soon be elected its leader. Feore was incredibly excited about him. He spent much of the interview and shoot talking about how fortunate Canada was to be able to vote for a real intellectual as its leader.

Feore had made his reputation in Canada playing legendary figures like pianist Glenn Gould and Pierre Elliot Trudeau - longtime prime minister and father of our current PM - and I suppose he felt his opinion about who should lead the country was important. Mostly, though, he reminded me of another actor, Ted Danson, at a movie junket I'd been to in Santa Monica a year previous. Danson also didn't want to talk about the movie he was promoting as much as his friend, Hillary Clinton. If only we could sit down for a beer with Hillary, he told us - we'd know how great she was and why we needed to vote for her. That most of the table at the junket were foreign journalists didn't seem to register with Danson.

In any case, Michael Ignatieff's only election as head of the Liberals didn't work out so well. In 2011 the party - unofficially known as "Canada's Natural Governing Party" - came third in the polls, losing its status as the official opposition. Ignatieff himself lost his seat in parliament. As subsequent events have proved, Canada does not want an intellectual for a leader.

The Feore portraits are alright, I guess. They're stark and simple and part of the new direction my portrait work had started going since I'd been coaxed back into shooting by Jodi Isenberg at the free daily five years previous. It seems suitable that they were shot at the old Four Seasons in Yorkville; I'd done so much work in its rooms since the '90s, and I'd always appreciated the big, bright windows that looked north and west over the city. It wouldn't be long for the world - the hotel would close three years later and move two blocks east to a new building.


I WAS LAID OFF BY THE FREE DAILY on the morning of February 10, 2009, two weeks after I'd done the Colm Feore shoot. I had come in late that day - I had a job interview at the Toronto Star for the Queen's Park reporter position, though of course no one at the office knew that. Our new editor had insisted that I be in the office that day for a meeting, and I followed her all the way to the door of the publisher's office before I spotted Glen, our managing editor, out of the corner of my eye, being escorted out of the building with a box of his stuff. The shoe dropped just as she opened the door and I saw that the assistant publisher and our union rep were already waiting inside.

I'd been sandbagged. The editor said something about a "new direction" for the paper - one that required laying off all the writers (plus the managing editor.) We have called a cab for you. Don't return to your desk - its contents will be packed up and sent to you. They were about to take away my cellphone when I pulled it out to call my wife and I had to remind them that the phone was mine.

If I'm honest, once the anger and humiliation had passed I was grateful. The free daily hadn't been much fun to work for since Bill, the new publisher had taken over, and definitely since Jodi had been fired as editor-in-chief. Jodi was my friend, and almost anything positive that came from my time at the free daily had been because of her decisions and support. Even before she moved into the editor's chair, she had been a big supporter of making me the paper's senior writer after my contract as interim photo editor ended. It's hard to say definitively, but I might not have found my way back to photography today if Jodi hadn't asked me to go back to work nearly fifteen years ago.

At the Four Seasons Yorkville Avenue Bar photo show, Sept. 2007. Photo by Chris Atchison.

My first reaction when I realized what was coming in the publisher's office on that February morning was anger. I am not a team player by nature - another one of Jodi's great gifts was letting me work from home instead of holding down a desk in the office up in Don Mills, a 90-minute commute each way. (One of the first things the new editor did was to enforce an edict from the publisher ordering all the writers back to a desk in the office. I think he'd seen All The President's Men too many times and wanted to preside over a bustling newsroom. As anyone who's worked in one can tell you, newsrooms don't bustle.)

But there was a sense of camaraderie among the staff at the free daily; it developed slowly under P.J., our first editor, and really flourished when Jodi took over. I had worked harder for the paper than I thought myself capable, writing daily and weekly columns, reviews, interviews and features in addition to taking pictures. I had turned a daily TV column that I was only supposed to write for a week when someone else was on vacation and made it something more than just rewritten press releases and gossip cribbed from entertainment websites. When Jodi gave me the job I told her up front that I didn't really watch much TV because I didn't like it that much. I ended up writing over 1,100 daily columns.

I had invested more into working for the free daily than I had put into any job I'd had, and being laid off felt like a betrayal as much as a loss of income. (The wages at the paper were well below what any other paper in the city paid. I remember describing my workload to a friend who was an editor at the Globe & Mail; he told me that he had people who were paid twice as much to produce a third of my work.)

Sometimes it didn't seem like management really wanted to acknowledge our successes. Before he left, Chris had talked to the people at the Four Seasons, who said they'd be interested in putting on a show of our movie star portraits in the hotel's Avenue Bar during the film festival. It was a really big deal - an opportunity I wouldn't have dreamed of when I was a freelancer. He took the proposal to the publisher, who turned it down before Jodi talked him into changing his mind. But they didn't want to spend any money, so Chris and I ran around trying to get deals on printing and framing with just a week or two before the show was supposed to open.

The show happened, but the paper said they didn't want to spend any money on promotion or an opening reception, so it all came off like a wasted opportunity - a damp squib. No wonder I look so miserable in the photo Chris took for the story the paper ran - the only publicity our show ever got. Another reason why I have no enthusiasm for gallery shows any more.

Shooting an AK-47 for a James Bond story, Oct. 2008. Photo by Frank Monozlai.

It took the paper quite a few months to find a replacement for Jodi after they forced her out. They ended up hiring exactly the sort of person I was afraid they would - the Respected Industry Professional, complete with J-School teaching gig and a network of fellow professionals at her fingertips. Exactly the sort of person who hadn't built up the free daily from a start-up run out of a hotel room into a national chain of free dailies.

The free daily was no New York Times, and that was its great virtue. In an age of falling readership and failing confidence in the news media, Jodi had figured out that people wanted something light and entertaining to read on their commutes to work, and had delivered, filling the paper with TV and movie stories and unconventional personalities like Enza Anderson, a local trans celebrity who had run for mayor as Enza Supermodel and turned out to be one of the most professional writers I'd ever worked with.

Jodi knew who our demographic was, and delivered content to them without pandering. So my heart sank when the new editor took over and drove up in what I've come to call the Annex Clown Car. First she began canceling all the features that readers liked - TV recaps, movie and celebrity coverage, shopping and gift guides and, ultimately, much of what we produced in-house. Then she enlisted friends of hers - more Respected Industry Professionals - to write editorials and introduce politics into the paper.

It was an awful mistake. Politics - the hectoring, biased, often sneering op-ed political content that the news media has decided to favour since the budgets and staff that once researched features and covered beats were gutted from newsrooms. Jodi had made the free daily a success by avoiding it, and had made the paper grow as a result. It was one of the great errors of the passengers in the Annex Clown Car that their names and reputations attracted readers, and the new editor was intent on making the free daily resemble all the other failing papers and their op-ed shape-throwing. But falling readership at the big dailies was proof that the opposite was true, and nothing that's happened in the decade since I was laid off has reversed the trend.

It was, in all likelihood, time for me to go anyway, but I'm not grateful for the push out the door. I wouldn't be the last to go; in the months that followed there was an exodus of staff, and almost exactly a year later the new editor was fired, followed by Bill, the publisher. The free daily still exists and its competitors are all gone, but the name has been changed and it barely resembles the paper I worked on with Jodi, Tina, Jonathan, Fermin, Chris, Nate, Liban, Jen, Brian, Sarah, Saleem, Kasia, Steph, Mike, Christine and everyone else who I annoyed constantly when they were forced to share a newsroom with me.