TIAA #1: Involuntarily Vomiting on Vancouver

Tosin’s Images & Anecdotes (TIAA) is my self-assigned photography challenge of 2022. The immediate objective is to select one image from my inventory (a cityscape, landscape, portrait, oddity, etc.) each week and write something about it. This “something” could be the story behind the photo, a triggered memory in relation to the photo, or simply a reaction or reflection based on the subject matter featured. The long-term objective is to encourage myself to add more content to “La Vue Atypique”, which celebrates its first decade in publication this year.

“Vancouver Infinity” / May 30, 2010 / In retrospect, this is probably one of the WORST photographs I’ve ever taken.

What can I say about the photograph above? It must have been captured over Memorial Day weekend 2010, a long weekend in which I took advantage of driving north of the border to visit Vancouver, one of my favorite cities on Planet Earth. It is literally the only city I would relocate to without hesitation if ever presented with the opportunity. If I could live in one city without the possibility of traveling ever again, I would like to reside in Vancouver. That’s a true testament to just how torrid my intrepid love affair is with Vancity.

The view itself is magnificent, and the vantage was from a hotel across the street from City Hall. The hotel is no longer there and has since been torn down and redeveloped into a different property — an apartment complex, I believe. The tenants in the current building who have views facing north get to see this view every day.

Before I was able to finally capture this image, I had experienced a few failed attempts during previous weekend visits to Vancouver. On one such occasion, I simply walked into the hotel lobby, introduced myself, and mentioned that I was a professional photographer from Seattle who specialized in cityscapes. I had asked for temporary access to an empty hotel room with the breathtaking vista — 15 minutes at the most. Typically, most Vancouverites in the hospitality industry are very amenable and receptive to hearing this (I know from experience). Many will try to find a way to accommodate this kind of request. The hotel receptionist was such an individual. She was very cheerful in response to my introduction and said she didn’t have the authority to grant me access but she said the hotel manager could give me access.

I was so excited and thanked her for escalating my request. She went into the hotel manager’s office. About three minutes later, the manager entered the hallway to meet me. He quickly glanced at me up and down and feigned a greeting. All I can say was that this fellow was very tall and appeared to be thinner than a sheet of notebook paper. He also looked like the greasiest person I had ever seen! Whether it was makeup or sweat, or a combination, whatever was caked on his face looked like it was ready to melt and drip on his suit. The hotel manager was not impressed that I was a photographer, nor that I was visiting from Seattle, which was a first for me. As tall as he was, he was very short with me and dismissed my request in half a minute and quickly returned to his office. The receptionist cheerfully apologized, looking somewhat embarrassed at my exchange with the manager, and wished me a pleasant stay in Vancouver. I thanked her and left.

All of this meant that I just had to change my strategy. The obvious tactic was to reserve a room in that hotel the next time I came to stay overnight in Vancouver. However, it still wasn’t as simple as you would think. Upon arriving at the hotel that weekend in May 2010, I discovered that I was booked for a room facing south, the opposite direction of the skyline! Seriously? This completely defeated the purpose of staying at this specific hotel. When I went to the hotel’s reception desk, I asked for a room facing downtown. The receptionist was a different lady from the cheerful one I met a year before. She said that if I wanted a room facing the city, it would increase my accommodation fee by close to US $200. I was aghast as I wasn’t ready to pay such an exorbitant fee on top of what I was already paying. Also, keep in mind that this was in May 2010 and I had only started my photography business six months earlier. Considering Vancouver was a city I frequented and not a faraway city in another continent, I thought the additional cost for one night was unreasonable.

Alas, history repeated itself that night. I explained who I was, my reason for booking the hotel, and included the story of what happened the last time I asked for access. The receptionist stated that the previous manager had left and she would introduce me to the current manager, who turned out to be much more professional, friendly, and dry in appearance. No greasy features or snide side-eyes. He understood the price tag for what I wanted to do was steep, and he proceeded to look at the computer at the reception desk, checking for rooms. He said that he could give me access to a room with a view for about 10 to 15 minutes that night and that he would have to supervise.

That was all I wanted, so I took the offer.

Another excessively extreme HDR image of Vancouver City Hall captured on May 30, 2010

It helped that the hotel manager liked photography himself and had an interest in what I was doing. Normally, I don’t like too much conversation as I’m trying to compose my shots, but he seemed to be respectful of that and kept his questions to a minimum. He seemed to understand that when I was looking through my viewfinder, I was concentrating, and when I wasn’t, he would ask questions.

Anyway, that’s how the image was captured, but you’re probably wondering why I gave this article the title that I did. Even though I enjoy alliterations, there is a definitive reason.

Back in 2010, high dynamic range photography, or HDR, was becoming a very popular and trendy style of processing images — basically combining or stacking the same image captured at different exposure values in order to achieve what is called a high dynamic range that’s more vivid and lifelike in comparison to what we know as SDR, or standard dynamic range.

Like most styles of photo processing and post-production, when done WELL, the results can be mesmerizing. However, if done poorly, or abused, well, you get the image that’s my first entry of this new TIAA series.

Back then, though, HDR was experimental, so even cartoonish results could look remarkable, especially for individuals who were consumers of photography and artwork.

Personally, at that time, I thought it was one of the BEST cityscapes I had ever taken. I enlarged “Vancouver Infinity” to 20in x 30in and displayed it my office cubicle in Seattle where some of my former coworkers would try their best to say something positive about it when they visited. I was convinced many of them just “didn’t get it”. I also loved the image so much that I had it enlarged…wait for it…to 4ft by 6ft (1.22m x 1.83m) to display in my bedroom. Back then, I couldn’t get the entire print in those dimensions, so I had it divided into quadrants. Don’t believe me?

Feast your eyes. I was so proud of it.

Yours truly posing with the super-enlarged “Vancouver Infinity” cityscape in my home. / August 2013

So what inevitably changed? How did I finally snap out of my own HDR stupor?

Like fashion trends and colloquial terms in our lexicon, times changed. Photographers became more savvy about HDR processing and consumers became less appreciative of images that took HDR to extremes. For a few years, some publications, editors, and photography contest organizers used to advise against submitting HDR images, specifically ones that looked like “Vancouver Infinity”.

Ultimately, I recall an online comment that was posted in response to the photograph. Someone had shared the cityscape on an online forum that was specifically focused on discussing cities, central business districts, and their evolution over time. Though my permission wasn’t acquired, I didn’t mind my cityscapes (typically copied from my Flickr photostream) being used as subjects for academic discussion and/or admiration. I don’t remember the name of the forum, but one individual — we’ll call him “Kenneth” since I don’t remember his name — would regularly praise my cityscapes. However, he didn’t mince words when someone shared “Vancouver Infinity”. To paraphrase, Kenneth said something similar to:

“I can’t look at this. I don’t even understand what he did here. Normally, I really like TIA’s cityscapes, but this one really makes me want to vomit. In fact, it looks like he vomited all over Vancouver here. What was he thinking?”

Kenneth in response to seeing “Vancouver Infinity” on an online forum about cities

I never took offense to the observation because he was offering an honest take of what he saw. In fact, the very first time I read it, I laughed. I was an artist, and someone had expressed their distaste with my artwork. It was an inadvertent compliment, in my view, but over time, I began to see what Kenneth saw. I removed the image from my website and took the enlarged print down from my bedroom wall. In 2010, it was cool, but in 2020, I would never have shared such an image. I am not ashamed of the image, but I can admit it was never one of my best, and not one that could be taken seriously.

What’s the saying? “I was just going through a phase.”

A comparison between how I processed “Vancouver Infinity” in 2010 and in 2020. Neither version is satisfactory, in retrospect.

You can visit my current gallery of Vancouver cityscapes here.

Two articles down for the TIAA challenge. My last article, “Happy New Veer” was the first. This article is the second. 50 more to go! (I will also say that not all of the images I plan to share will be cityscapes. There will be some surprises, I guarantee).

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