Category Archives: Photo Essays

Liberating The Happy Valley Forest From Invaders

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Garlic Mustard, An Undesirable Ingredient

It was a covert ground-assault by a small group of dedicated resisters, led by Thomas Unrau of the NCC, on an invader to the perhaps not so Happy Valley.  I’d signed up to participate in a valiant effort to thwart the relentless advance of an intruder known to choke the life out of native populations, and arrived at our rendezvous point, resigned to the task.  Identified by its common and cleverly disguised name, the Garlic Mustard, (Alliaria petiolata) may sound like a harmless enemy, but sadly, once it establishes a root-hold, it quickly displaces native flowers and ground vegetation.


Like many other invasive species, the Garlic Mustard was originally introduced to North America, all be it naively, by early European settlers to the U.S.  As a wild edible, it is a nutritious green, high in vitamins A and C as well as several essential minerals.


However, as an unwanted guest, it spreads easily and releases a compound into the soil, that displaces and discourages root growth by other herbaceous plant species.  Native flowers such as Trilliums, Trout-lilies and Jack-in-the-pulpits that have evolved to flourish in the rich soils found under the shaded canopy of mature hardwood forests, find it difficult to overcome the aggressive, colonizing onslaught of Garlic Mustard.


Armed with nothing more than work gloves, garbage bags and a commitment to halt the advance of the invader on a few hundred square metres of the Happy Valley Forest, our team of enthusiastic, volunteer weekend-warriors headed deep into what has to be one of the most beautiful deciduous forests I’ve ever had the privilege of walking through.  A true gem on the Oak Ridges Moraine within Ontario’s Greenbelt.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada, (NCC) who own several sections of land within the Happy Valley Forest, is a Not For Profit private land conservation organization, dedicated to protecting and rehabilitating significant natural areas, and the flora and fauna species they sustain.  Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 2.7 million acres (1.1 million hectares), from coast to coast to coast.


This may have been my first visit to the Happy Valley Forest, but it certainly won’t be my last.  With camera in hand and tripod over my shoulder, I intend to return to spend time to recharge my soul, to photograph the awesome beauty and to do my part to protect and polish this priceless jewel.


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This Collection of photographs was produced in the Happy Valley Forest, on the Oak Ridges Moraine, in Ontario’s Greenbelt.

La Huamanga Turistica

For those of you that caught my previous posting, today I’m going to walk along the sunny side of the street. Our days typically revolve around scheduling interviews with volunteers and their beneficiaries, and the rest of the time is ours. My priority, after finishing our interviews, is always to download the flash cards to my Epson P5000 Viewer then to my laptop, process my images using Lightroom and finally generate a backup onto a small 2.5 External Hard Drive. That gives me three copies of the photos, which means that other then when I’m travelling between communities, there is always a copy somewhere that I’m not, with an extra level of redundancy for safe measure.Nothing would be worse than to spend all this time, effort and money and have the images, either stolen or lost, due a technical malfunction with any one of those three devices. So, after taking care to secure my work, I’m free to stroll the streets, soak in the sounds and of course photograph whatever catches my fancy.

It was while strolling the streets of Huamanga, Peru that I was approached by a young man, who upon seeing my rather large Nikon camera, cozyed up to talk photography. I had been warned about people approaching on one side to distract me, while another would sneak-in on the blind side to liberate anything of value, so I casually secured my bag and tripod and politely answered his questions, but it quickly became obvious that he had a sincere interest, without any ulterior motives.

It turns out that John – ya I know but it isn’t that uncommon for people to have English names because parents will name their children after well known movie and TV actors, and as it turns out his full Given Name, is Johnn Rhys – who at only eighteen and with a high school diploma, rents a small office in the beautifully restored Centro Turistico Cultural San Cristobal,where he has a small graphic design business, producing signage, brochures and restaurant menus for local businesses.

Most of the architecture in Huamanga, and the Centro Turistico is no exception, follows the southern Spanish formula of an austere fa’ade facing the street, with a very large, solid door through which one passes into a sun-drenched Andalucian courtyard. It’s like stepping into another, secret world where lazy cats stretch out on cool stones and the trickling water from a simple fountain sooth the commotion just steps away.

John’s space although on the dark side, has just what you would expect to see in any similar business back in Canada a desk for his computer, monitor, printer and book-case to store reference materials and office supplies. He also has enough room for a small studio to photograph table-top product or portraits. I’d be tickled pink to have his space as a studio / office. I’m viscerally inspired by well designed spaces and beautiful architecture and just being on the second floor of this cloistered courtyard, made my head spin.

Although John does have competition, when I asked him how he manages, he emphasized the importance of Customer Service, noting that it’s not a concept that is ingrained in to the Peruvian culture, but that helps distinguish him. What ever it takes. Not a bad philosophy for everything in life.

We spent around three hours together talking and walking around with our cameras, taking photographs and comparing notes, after which we returned to one of the handful of little patios in that beautiful Andalucian courtyard, where I invited him to lunch. Although not nearly as poor as Bolivia, the exchange rate in Peru is around one Canadian Dollar to two and half Soles, making it very inexpensive to travel here. I of course am not travelling with Canadian Dollars but rather with Soles, just as every other CUSO Volunteer, but we none-the-less, both had a wonderful home cooked meal, and by that I mean that it didn’t come out of a bucket or re-heated frozen package, for approximately $3.00 CDN each, while sitting in that priceless, beautiful courtyard.

Annie and I stayed in Huamanga for three days and three nights, in yet another beautifully restored building, come the Santa Maria Hotel. Nothing luxurious, but quaint and appropriate under the circumstances in any location. We arrived on the Wednesday before Palm Sunday and everywhere we went we could see that preparations for Holy Week, were in full swing. Soon there wouldn’t be a vacant room for rent, anywhere in town and beginning on the Thursday, small processions leading up to the big event on Good Friday, began to meander through the narrow streets, at some point passing through the main square, La Plaza de Armas.

However, there was another nationally significant event scheduled for Friday night that no one could ignore, a FIFA World Cup qualifying game being played in Lima, between Peru and their arch rivals Chile. Annie and I arranged to meetup with a few other volunteers in the central square and then made our way to a local watering hole, Restaurante Nino, to catch the game. I didn’t have a favourite team in the contest, but I thought it prudent to cheeeeeer and ohhhhh in tune with my hosts. However, it wasn’t long before I too was infected by the ebb and flow of the game and grimacing at the near misses in favour, and sighing in relief at the close calls against. The final score was Peru 1 Chile 0 and everyone went home happy.

In the three short days that we were there, Huamanga grew on me and Saturday rolled around way to soon. I became familiar with the streets around La Plaza de Armas, had been charmed by a handful of the townsfolk and wanted desperately to spend more time photographing the architecture and street scenes.

Saturday, woke up warm and sunny and since our flight didn’t leave until mid-afternoon, I hurried back outside for one last walkabout. I wasn’t disappointed. Along all the balconies surrounding the main square, were hung intricately, handmade, palm-leaf motifs in anticipation of Holy Week and the plaza had definitely taken on a festive mood. Walking about were hawkers selling everything from balloons to religious trinkets, and sunglasses to windup flying-birds-of-paradise. An overdose of sights and sounds, but what caught my attention most, was a line of woman in traditional folk dress, strung along the west side of the plaza making fresh ice-cream… by hand. What a send off. I couldn’t resist, so after discreetly photographing some of the woman, I shuffled over to try some for myself. It was delicious.

Till we meet again.

Bolivia – Places

We’ve all listened to the comic who laughs at their own jokes, and on one level it might seem kind of odd, sort of like well don’t they think they’re funny On the other hand their laughter and knowing smile, a la Seth Myers, can be quite contagious, further adding to the humour.

I don’t share my photographs often enough, but it’s not because I’m not proud of them. In fact there are occasions such as this, when I go back through images that I haven’t seen in a while, and my jaw drops, I get goose bumps and sometimes even tears well up. Some bring back fond memories, but others, and I won’t apologies if this sounds self delusional, are simply beautiful.

It’s awesome what one sees if one takes the time to raise the line of sight from the pavement below our feet or away from the obstruction immediately before us. Next time you find yourself, either in the thick of a busy city or on the edge of a seemingly quiet meadow, try standing back and listening, and I don’t mean hearing, I mean listening. Feel the world that surrounds you, all 360. Doing this may remind you of one of the those endorphin induced moments when everything from how a simple thought in your brain can instruct your index finger to bend, to questions about the vastness of the universe, and become too much to grasp, as they should.

There’s no denying that in our little Western bubble, we are bombarded, daily, with stimuli of every kind: sound, touch, taste, smell and oh ya! visual. Yet, despite this rich texture of sensations, we are too often insensitive to our surroundings. It’s a clear example of sensory overload.

When they were young, I remember reading some of the creative writing my children were instructed to produce for school, and offering this one bit of advice Don’t be in a hurry to get to the end of the story. Whether it’s writing a descriptive narrative, telling a good joke or making love, it’s all the little details in-between that keep your audience captivated. The pauses are just as important, if not more so, than the punch line.

As promised, I’ve added a Gallery of images in my Photo Essays that I’ve given the Title: Bolivia Places. These are some of my favourite Place Photos from my volunteer posting for CUSO International in the fall of 2011 that I think, illustrate what you’ll find when you look, I don’t mean see, but really look.Some of the images maybe familiar from my Blog Posts while in the field, but regardless, they are worth gathering together for a second look. Enjoy and don’t hesitate to provide any feedback: good, bad or ugly.



Street scenes in La Paz, Bolivia as Photographed by Miguel Hortiguela of Photography By Miguel, Toronto Photographer serving Toronto, GTA, Southern Ontario, with valid Canadian and E.U. passports.




Bolivia – Faces

Difficult to believe, for me anyway, that I’m closing in on one year since my return from Bolivia. Despite the passing of twelve months, memories of the experience haven’t faded much. The first few weeks after my return were taken up with all the Christmas preparations and immediately after ward, I had to pick through a few thousand images to edit down and process the bank of photographs from my assignment, before passing them along to CUSO International.

For anyone reading about my trip to Bolivia for the first time, in the dyeing days of the summer of 2011, I had the wonderfully good fortune to be chosen by CUSO, to participate in a project to visit one of several countries where they provide Development Aid. As one of six teams of journalist and photographers sent to various points around the world, I was assigned to Bolivia, where we visited several projects to meet with CUSO beneficiaries and volunteers and to document their projects, through words and photographs.

I learned a lot from the experience, in terms of packing equipment, scheduling visits and assertiveness to maximize the days and opportunities available in a relatively short period of time. Looking back through the images, a year later, I find that I’m able to be less critical of what I produced and take pride in what was accomplished

As photographers, we are a pretty insecure and self critical lot. That probably works in our favour, when it comes to pushing ourselves to do better next time, always searching for a unique perspective and turning on the charm to befriend a subject, on their turf.

I’ve added a Gallery of images in my Photo Essays that I’ve given the Title: Bolivia Faces. These are my favourite People Photos from that trip and maybe as soon as next week I’ll add another Gallery: Bolivia Places. Kinda has a nice ring to it don’t you think, Some of the images maybe familiar from my Blog Posts while in the field, but regardless, they are worth gathering together for a second look. Enjoy and don’t hesitate to provide any feedback: good, bad or ugly.

Woman entrepreneurs.

Benches – Initial Offering

After looking through a selection of some of my favourite images, I discovered that I often point my camera at chairs: chairs in a row, stacked, different colours, looking lonely. Anyway, bouncing around ideas for a potential exhibit, I decided to keep an eye out for benches.

My initial thoughts were to use the benches to illustrate their function as a place to relax, converse and observe. Ideally I would want people in some if not all of them, but the whole issue surrounding Privacy concerns me, not only from a legal perspective but also not wanting to intrude.

Also, sure, there are lots of benches, but what’s the point, photograph every bench I see? Well, no. I want the image to have a strong graphic and artistic component. I want the photos to cause the viewer to consider the image, to imagine themselves there, to recall a friend or time in their lives. As I began, I also decided that it was important for the bench to be perhaps part of a larger scene, not necessarily a detail in the corner, but rather that the viewer might try to guess where it was taken. That of course brought up the question of including or excluding images not local to Toronto.

Anyway, here are a few examples of the benches that have caught my eye, but mosey over to my Benches V1 Photo Essay, take a guess at where these benches are, if you’re curious and can’t place them, drop me a line and if you’re feeling really inspired, share your own story about a bench, a friend or a memory that took place on a bench. I’m also open to any interesting location suggestions.