Freedom and the Echo Chamber

LAROQUE-echo-01.jpg

There's been a shift in my writing habits over the last couple of months, one I'm just now becoming aware of. This blog has always been focused on photography—for obvious reasons—but over the years it's also served as a general outlet on occasion, a place to express opinions and ideas, regardless of subject. It's where I wrote about Steve Jobs' passing for instance, or more recently about my feelings surrounding US elections. These pages have always fulfilled a very specific need: when I feel like writing about something or sharing an emotion, this is where I turn.

There was an article this week about the death of independent blogging and the rise of owned publishing platforms—i.e Facebook et al. The concern expressed isn't new but it made me realize how easy it can be to shift these conversations elsewhere, to the point where the aforementioned need subsides. The therapeutic effects of sharing aren't bound, after all, to URLs. More importantly, they aren't bound to the amount of time we spend on expressing those thoughts.

The issue of ownership aside, the trouble with Facebook—Medium falls into a different category in my mind—is that it's rarely conducive to long-form expression. And yet those posts lull you into a false sense of reflexion, they still provide the chemical buzz of a release...when in fact chances are the words are barely more than a gut reaction. There are exceptions of course: Dan Rather comes to mind, with what has become an ongoing conversation about the state of US democracy. But even his much more prepared posts have fallen prey to typos here and there—which happens to everyone, but it does usually point to a quicker, less methodical train of thought. Some would say it's part of the appeal of social media and yes, it is. Unless it comes at the cost of introspection and more profound analysis.

Those US elections and the days since have turned into a Facebook spiral for me. The proverbial rabbit hole. I've engaged in conversations, I've started them and I've shared posts and various articles. I've even had arguments. I think it's a very human reflex to seek out validation in the face of what we find impossible to comprehend. But this "engagement" has had two very nefarious effects:

1) It has resulted in more and more stress in my life.

2) It has sucked out the energy needed to write on my own blog.

Using Facebook as a content feed (on a daily basis, something I'd actively avoided until now) creates a vacuum of epic proportions. Over just a few days my timeline morphed into an increasingly narrow set of views, tailored to what I had liked and shared. This isn't by any means a surprise, but the speed at which my "news feed" skewed itself to a very specific category of posts is disturbing, especially from a platform hell bent on becoming everything to everyone. Knowing an ever increasing number of people do rely on this as their main source of information explains a hell of a lot. By giving up our personal freedom to curate, we leave the choice of content to algorithms that focus on what we already browse, read and consume. And that's incredibly dangerous. These echo chambers become their own realities, potentially spreading disinformation and lies as truth, distorting facts through manipulation. This is how people become convinced President Obama is a muslim hell-bent on the destruction of American values; that Hillary Clinton was part of a satanic cult; or that Trump won the popular vote. This is how democracies fall. Bread and games. Total abstraction of reality. It's nothing short of mind-control—in fact, it's the very definition of it.

Personal blogs are enclaves, small corners of the web that are increasingly hard to discover, drowned as they are by the clamour and noise of social media platforms. I still use RSS feeds in Feedly and I know for a fact this makes me a dinosaur. But it also puts me in control of what I read, allows me to subject myself to a wide-ranging set of point of views if I choose to do so. We all tend towards what we already relate to, we seek out like-minded groups; it's a very normal, human behaviour. But when we isolate ourselves, when it becomes all but impossible to hear anything else, then we lose our ability to make informed, coherent decisions.

This is all a very long-winded tirade, meant as a wake-up call to myself: I need to step away from the brainwashing and make a choice. I also need to get back to journaling, sharing images that mean something, engaging. Here, away from fear and rage, on my own turf.

A much smaller pulpit, sure...but so, so much quieter.

P.S The picture above is pure indulgence: my dad's dusty Yashica, shot with the X-Pro2 and a Lensbaby Edge 80.

King Tide

The words aren't coming to me this morning. There's a freezing drizzle falling, grey upon grey upon grey. Same murky, troubling absence of light we've been subjected to for what seems like weeks now. Someone flipped the switch and forgot where it was. I've got ten thousand projects to work on, ten thousands things I need to say and do...all at a standstill—and I'm not sure why.

We're staring down the holidays and paid work has been winding down. One last magazine article to write. It's been a good year. A strange, hard year as well. Maybe that's what it is...an overflow to absorb and distill and digest before I can move again with certainty. Hoping the levee holds and the flood recedes. Sandbags pressed against a mighty king tide.

Until then there's November...and the melancholy songs of Montreal.


Shot with the X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR


I

II

Other tools: the long-winded case of the four keyboards


For the past year and a half I've been on a quest for the perfect iPad keyboard. I've written before on how iOS has essentially become my main platform, eclipsing macOS for almost all but photography-related tasks. But what should've been a fairly simple purchase turned out to be quite the adventure. A rather expensive adventure in fact. Welcome to The Long-Winded Case of the Four Keyboards.

Chapter One: Apple Wireless Keyboard

Lots of miles with this guy...

One fine day I thought to myself "hey, how much nicer would it be to write on the couch or the deck with my iPad, instead of sitting in front of an iMac ?". I remembered my Powerbook era and the freedom that came with it. So I did. Well, I tried. I love the power of an on-screen keyboard that can morph itself to the task at hand but the truth is, I was never able to type on any iPad reliably. Not long-form anyway. So to further test the waters, I paired it with the iMac's Bluetooth wireless keyboard and—after much fiddling and conflicts (always fun to play the Bluetooth whack-a-mole game)—I was hooked. But it quickly became very clear that 1) this combo needed a flat, steady surface to function properly and 2) it was a half-hearted solution: the keyboard was too wide, too heavy, it had no iPad-centric function keys. The setup was right but the gear was wrong. I needed a dedicated keyboard.

Chapter Two: Logitech Keys-To-Go

The Keys-To-Go is an extremely thin and light keyboard, made from what Logitech calls Fabric Skin—a sort of tissue-like material that (they claim) is durable and spill-resistant. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the typing experience despite keys that offered almost no travel at all. I immediately took to it and was even able to easily keep up my usual speed. The problem came with that aforementioned durability: within a few months the fabric began to warp. Not a huge deal...until keys stopped working. I was away on assignment when the R stopped registering, then the S. Within a few days it became a full-on cascading effect. To their credit Logitech eventually honoured their warranty and sent me a brand new unit. But it took a little too much time and when they finally came through I had already moved on. That replacement still works btw. But the fabric is now just as warped as the original unit, even though it's basically been sitting unused. Time bomb? I'll never know.

Chapter Three: Typo—what's in a name?

Ryan. Seacrest.
I almost passed just because of that. Petty? Sure. Except it turns out my instincts were spot on.

The original Typo keyboard was cast into the limelight when the eponymous Seacrest-backed company was sued by Blackberry (!) for copyright infringement. They were selling an accessory that added a physical Blackberry-ish keyboard to the iPhone. And they lost, big time. So they pivoted and re-invented their Typo, this time as a keyboard case for the iPad.

After my experience with the lower-priced Logitech I figured I needed to invest in something more serious. I did a lot of research and eventually settled on two possibilities: the Brydge and the Typo. Both had pros and cons, good and less good reviews, as most products do these days. The Typo was more expensive but it allowed the iPad to be used vertically (which I thought would be nice) and in the end, it came down to laziness: my local Apple store had it in stock.

The keyboard's standout feature when it was released was built-in auto-correct, at a time when external keyboards couldn't access the feature. A few short months later however, Apple released iOS 9—taking away the Typo's big advantage. But the keyboard was never updated and its built-in auto-correct remained, hardwired and impossible to turn off. This may just seem like a minor annoyance but here's where it got interesting: this American-made keyboard (sold internationally) would not type certain non-english letter combinations. And by combinations I mean what writers call W.O.R.D.S. I'm NOT kidding. The Typo would replace certain words with err...typos. For instance, the pronoun he is il in french. Anytime I would type il the Typo would "correct" it to ilfs. Which as far as I know isn't English OR French. I tried everything from disabling iOS auto-correct to trying text substitution...no go. The keyboard would override anything I tried. I emailed support who replied a month later (bra.vo) with a boilerplate non-answer. Again: this $200 keyboard refused to type words I needed to write. Points for originality I guess. When I did manage to type, I usually endedupwithsentencesthatlookedlikethis. Because you see, the space bar was also a very precious little beast that needed a lot of attention. Another "special feature" of the Typo were the two function buttons on the top row (replacing f2 and f3) dedicated to the company's contact and calendar apps. Never mind the design choice of forcing this on users ...those apps NEVER saw the light of day. Not a peep, not even a screenshot. Do we sense a pattern here?

Apps? Who said anything about apps?

Still, I toughed it out, hoping the company would eventually own up to their one and only product with a firmware update, perhaps even release those promised apps. Well, Typo's website is gone and Apple no longer sells the keyboard (they should never have sold it in the first place). A Google search yields very few results (most are about the Blackberry mess) but I've seen it on sale here and there, obviously old inventory certain stores are trying to get rid of. Do not buy this at ANY price. I can't believe no one has taken Seacrest to task on this disaster. If I lived in the US I'd look into suing their ass. Again.

Chapter four: Brydge or How I found Sanity at last

Which brings us to the here and now. I've typed this entire post on a Brydge 9.7—the model for the iPad Air 2 (or 1 or Pro). The same one I almost bought instead of the Typo, so many months ago. Lesson learned.

As soon as I opened the box I knew I was finally home: no fabric, no weird sticky plastic. the Brydge is made of aluminum and feels like an actual Macbook keyboard. The keys travel the way they should and I can finally type at full speed, comfortably. It isn't a case: the Brydge is simply a keyboard with two hinges into which you insert the iPad. The result is very slick and light—more so than I had expected. I'm also quite impressed by how closely the Brydge's Space Gray metal matches the iPad when they're snapped together. It genuinely feels like a single unit.

The screen is backlit—very useful for this night owl—and the iPad can easily be removed and inserted into the Brydge's hinges, for either notebook or tablet use. The weight distribution also makes sense: the keyboard is heavier than the screen (iPad) which makes laptop use —i.e on an actual lap—a perfectly comfortable option. I do have a few gripes: the lack of a Caps Lock light is hard to understand; the fact that Control Center becomes difficult if not impossible to activate (the iPad sits very low on the hinges*); and the dedicated Siri key that sits next to CTRL on the left side of the keyboard, that I keep hitting by mistake. But that I can train myself to avoid (it's happening less and less already) and none of the others are deal breakers—notes for a 2.0 version however.

I've been all in with the iPad and iOS for a while but this keyboard feels like the missing link I'd been hoping for all along. After such a long and painful road it does feel rather good. If I eventually add a bigger iPad model I'll probably even choose the corresponding Brydge keyboard over Apple's own solution, despite the lack of a Smart Connector.

The Brydge is not inexpensive: we're talking $149.99 US. But if you happen to be reading this in november 2016, they're having a pre-holidays sale that shaves off $20 on this particular model. I signed up for an account and got an additional $10 off on my first purchase.

I know it's geeky as hell but I'm actually giddy right now: I'm in Ulysses, using my preferred Dark Mode theme, typing on those backlit keys as the sun sets in the background. 1,487 words in and I can count the typos on a single hand.

Case closed.**

 ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

* Making the hinges a little bit shallower would solve this entirely—without affecting the overall balance.
 ** Fingers crossed.
P.S All images shot with the X-T1, the XF 18-55mm and XF 60mm.

On a quiet wednesday morning, in the shadow of a storm.

I was having breakfast this morning, eating a bowl of cereal, when a radio commercial came on. Today being November 10th it was, of course, a full-blown Holiday ad—complete with Deck The Halls playing in the background. Hey why not? Halloween's over, right? But as silly as it may sound, for a second—maybe two—I was overcome by absolute joy. That intense, soul-filling glee you feel as a kid, watching the sun rise on Christmas Day. I couldn't help smiling to myself, feeling the weight of a thousand years lifting in that brief, unexpected moment. I'd forgotten I could feel this way.

What lies ahead is unknown and frightening. Whatever hope some may see, whatever change has been initiated...this is a fire borne of anger and darkness; there's no denying that. But I took a walk yesterday to catch my breath, a camera around my neck, looking for something beautiful to hold on to. And I realized that for now, our world still stands. The leaves have turned and my neighbourhood is as quiet and peaceful as it's always been. Our kids still throw their jackets on the floor when they come home from school, dinner gets served, bedtime stories are read. We kiss goodnight as we always have.

We need to remember these small realities we all share.
The universe won't care for any chaos we bring.


Shot with the X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR


Down the rabbit hole, darkly.

Good Art, tarnished by unnecessary political posturing...

I know you guys come here for photography—but I'm headed elsewhere today. Basically, because I need to.
The above quote is someone's comment on Facebook regarding Undocumented—a 362 word post I wrote about losing our mom, attending her funeral and the guilt I felt at having been emotionally unable to document these very hard, last few years of her life. If you read this blog regularly you know I don't filter out much of anything—it may be ill-advised on my part but for better or worse, this is my journal, through and through. Undocumented began with a statement of facts:

"So I'm easing back slowly. I'm following the Trump nightmare, hoping for the best. I had a deadline this week—my Photokina article for the December issue of Photo Life magazine—and it was good to sink my teeth into something substantial."

I follow Canadian and US politics (always have) and was simply reacting to current affairs, something that was on my mind as I was putting down those thoughts. Apparently, 10 words out of 362 were enough to brand the entire post as "political posturing". Well, here's my answer:
Fuck. You.

I've always considered politics—like religion—to be highly private. I don't shy away from discussions and have no qualms with making my own opinions known, but like many I've rarely done so publicly. Mainly because it's so damn easy to stir up unnecessary anger around world views that are personal and shouldn't—under normal circumstances— speak to who we are as individuals. We can all have diverging points of view regarding the management of society and still come together in the end. Politics do influence culture but they're first and foremost about structural decisions.

The 2016 American elections however, are NOT about politics.

Hyperbole is always a much too easy path to follow, but no matter how hard I try to distance myself I just can't see red vs blue, left vs right, globalization, free trade, liberal vs conservative. None of the usual suspects that make up the US political landscape every four years. I see crossroads, an inflection point no one would've believed possible twelve short months ago. I see hints of a civil war, millions of people following a man whose agenda is not only flawed and profoundly dangerous, but goes against every single principle laid out by the Founding Fathers of The Great American Experiment. A man who drapes himself in a constitution he clearly fails to understand; pushing policies that would be impossible to implement without destroying its entire edifice. A man advancing ideas on the world stage that show an utter lack of discernment and no awareness of consequences. A man whose life is rife with the abuse of others, who has never been motivated by anything other than ego and the accumulation of wealth, now willing to let the very fabric of his society burn to the ground as he watches from his golden towers. A modern-day Nero, a Narcissus eternally entranced by his own TV reflection.

When David Frum rejects the official Republican presidential nominee and makes the case for Hillary Clinton...boy, you know this reality has seriously gone sideways. What's more, the rampant racism and violent nature exposed by Trump's campaign, the sexism, the intolerance, the presence of hate groups at rallies, the endorsements by radical entities... these cannot be dismissed as politics. Donald Trump represents a real and present danger to democracy and to the world at large.

On my last night in Cologne a month ago, a friend pointed out a very innocent looking balcony as we were walking back to the hotel. This was where, he said, Hitler had made one of his now infamous speeches—which eventually lead the world into the history we now know so well. We all believe we're immune to such a catastrophic descent into collective insanity. We believe we have checks and balances in place to prevent madmen from seizing control of our "enlightened" societies. But seeing Donald Trump four days away from a possible, even if unlikely presidency, is proof those checks are all too fragile. Mob mentality is just a stone's throw away, ready to take over. Dark impulses can prevail, anywhere, anytime.

Political posturing you say? Unnecessary? Well, I happen to believe there hasn't been anything this necessary in a long time. Remaining silent, on this blog where I have the freedom to express everything I feel, would be the height of hypocrisy on my part.

---

Last summer, as events were unfolding, I wrote and recorded a song called Rabbit (under my old Jade Leary project). It's about contempt, violent impulses and demagoguery. It's about Trump and the crossroads. I'm not expecting any of that—or this—to make a difference; I'm not deluded. Perhaps I've even ruffled some feathers. But whatever happens, I want the record to show I was against the rise of this man and all he represents. Not as a political watcher, certainly not as a citizen...but as a neighbour, a friend and a human being.

watch me go   fathom five    watch me slide, slide, slide
I will sink   I will rise   dreams of solace in a glorious dive
I will reach for completion   down the rabbit hole, darkly
I’ll say anything and you will watch     yeah you’ll bloody goddamn watch   
I’m a gun in the night   I’m a crossroad king  I’m a cheap fighter in a broken ring
I’m the end of the road   I’m your setting sun    yeah run rabbit run
warrior sons of history    red blue dragons kill  for me   master system in my core
I'm the mouth of a gaping hoar   twist the words  to reach the end   words like bullets
words like friends   spit them out into the fray  kick the motherfuckers out my way
I’m a gun in the night   I’m a crossroad king   I’m a cheap fighter in a broken ring
I’m the end of the road   I’m your setting sun   yeah run rabbit run
I want you to give me I want you to save me I want you to love me I want you to slay me
like a god.