Sometimes we have an image in our minds of what we look like, which does not exactly correspond with how other people see us. This is a story of how this, totally by chance, happened to me. The fact that I saw a picture and yet did not recognize myself in the image, still makes me wonder how many obvious things I have seen in my life, and not recognized what I was seeing. Of course, this story also involves cycling.
One of my neighbours was a subscriber to Macleans, a weekly news magazine. Thinking it was a waste to throw it away after reading it, she would pass it on to our household when she got the next edition.
One day I was leafing through an edition of Macleans when an article in the arts and culture section struck my fancy. It was about a photographer who was having his Repatriation 2011-2014 Series presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Scott McFarland’s technique involved digitally stitching together several different photographs of the same location. Photographs were taken from the exact same spot, but on different days. These photographs were then blown up to large sizes and framed for display. Toronto Star article
I had glanced at the picture of one of the works that accompanied the article. Once I had read the article, I looked at the picture again, with a critical eye, for the artist’s technique. What I noticed was that since the photo was taken on different days, at different times of the day, the shadows that were cast, from people and objects, in this street scene, were slightly different. The scene was flawless, in terms of the people and objects looking like they belonged in the composition, yet I knew that all these people and objects were not there at the same time.
I then took a third look at the picture, because I was familiar with Grenville Street in downtown Toronto. I realized that I was standing with my bicycle, in the centre of the photograph. This seemed incredible to me. I was in the centre of the photograph, and I did not immediately recognize myself!
The clues were there. My very uniquely designed Garneau cycling jersey (it was done in tribute to artist Andy Warhol) and my white, 2000 Giant TCR 1 bicycle were there.
The location was all too familiar to me, as I had sadly been there quite a few times over the years. The photographer was standing on the north side of Grenville, close to St. Luke’s Lane. This was the rear vehicular entrance to the Ontario Coroner’s building.
The reason I had been there many times is that I had vowed to myself, years earlier, that if I were available, I would stand at attention at the last fifty yards of the “Highway of Heroes”.
When Canada joined allies to send troops to the war in Afghanistan, there was a procedure. The armed forces fatal casualties would be flown to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, and from there the hearse would transfer the body to the Ontario Coroner’s building. The motorcade usually consisted of a police escort, at least one military vehicle and a limousine, which contained the family members. The route taken each time became known as the “Highway of Heroes”.
Regardless how anyone felt about the Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan, I felt strongly that I owed the families of these soldiers and the soldiers themselves, a show of my respect for their sacrifice. When available, I made the effort to attend. and since it was in downtown Toronto, the most convenient way for me to get there from Brampton, in my mind, was by bicycle.
Once I attended my first repatriation along Grenville Street, I became familiar with the people who would show up for this tribute. There were Toronto Fire Department, with a pumper truck and an honour guard, members of the Canadian Legion, Toronto Paramedic Services with an ambulance, Canadian Army Veterans Motorcycle Unit, known as 1CAV, who lined up their motorcycles on the south side of the street, a sizeable number of personnel, plain clothes and uniformed, from Toronto Police Headquarters, which was just down the street, and the honour guard from the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services. On the north side of the street, stood the civilians, usually displaying Canadian flags, or wearing clothes emblazoned with the maple leaf.
As the procession slowly passed, there was complete silence, and everyone stood at attention. Sometimes, the family members in the limousines, would lower the tinted windows and wave, or express their appreciation for our small act of recognition. They had seen supporters on the highway overpasses during their journey, but we were close and recognizable.
The whole thing would be over in a matter of less than a minute. As soon as the procession was in the coroner’s building and the garage door was closed, the whole congregation on the street dispersed quickly, returning Grenville to just another Toronto side street.
The picture, or pictures, more correctly, that McFarland produced, were presented as a large format diptych, consisting of a depiction on the left, of a large group, waiting to get word of when the motorcade was arriving. In this picture I am standing near the centre with my bike, talking to some attendees I knew. Since the exact time the motorcade would arrive was not known, there was usually plenty of time to talk amongst these like-minded people. The photograph on the right, depicts a view of the south side of the street, at the moment of attention. I did not appear in this, as I would have been standing on the north side of the street.
Once I recognized that this picture of me would be hanging in the Art Gallery of Ontario, I phoned my sister. She was a long-time member of the AGO and rarely missed a show. She hadn’t seen the show yet but planned to go.
I planned to go see it myself, but unfortunately, I did not realize that the exhibit was only being displayed from May 14 to Aug 10, 2014. By the time I had a day available to go, the show had closed.
There is a positive end to this story though. The next time I saw my sister, she had a surprise for me. She and her partner had seen the exhibit and visited the AGO gift shop after, to purchase a copy of Scott McFarland’s coffee table book retrospective, documenting this AGO exhibition with pictures of all the works included in the series. It was called: “Snow, Shacks, Streets, Shrubs”.
Not only that, but my sister’s partner had taken up close photographs of the picture I appeared in. Since photography is expressly prohibited in the Art Gallery of Ontario, I assumed this involved some stealth and possibly, distraction of the security guards.
I have still yet to see the original work that I appeared in, but someday I believe I will.
by Steve Stoller