Street Beats - Toronto with the X-Pro1 and Some Scary Mean Dude

Toronto. City of Scott Pilgrim, craft beer, trams, music and skyscrapers. But was it going to be a city prime for street photography? Or one where the hapless Brit with a Fuji camera get the ever-loving crap beaten out of him?

Read on, friendo...

All photogaphs taken with the Fuji X-Pro1 and 18mm f2, 35mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 lenses.

In planning my photography expedition to the rust-belt town of Bradford, PA, it seemed odd to me that the cheapest way of getting there wasn't to fly to Pittsburgh and coach it up but instead to fly over to Toronto in Canada and catch the Greyhound over the border. Once in Buffalo, it was simply a ninety mile road trip south. 

Not that I was complaining about getting the chance to see Toronto. I'd been a little in awe of it ever since that wonderful film Scott Pilgrim. It's a big city and getting bigger, and if you go and catch a film set in New York, chances are its actually filmed in Toronto.

But I didn't have long there; a mere few days to hang out with a friend, drink some fine beer and go walking the streets, taking pictures. Unfortunately visiting Toronto didn't turn out as pleasant as I hoped. Indeed, it was there that photography, for the first time, got me a nasty beating... 

It all came about on a pleasant walk along a popular route for joggers and cyclists along an old industrial canal. The sun was out, it was midday and there was no lack of interesting shadows and shapes thrown by the bridges, girders and structures lining the river. Unfortunately it was in photographing along an overpass that I angered a man who emerged from the bushes, far in the distance, and looked on as I framed the pillars and criss-crossing shadows of the bridge. He started bellowing something, which we could barely make out, and I put down the camera and we decided to quickly walk on. 

A stone flew past us. We walked on faster.

A hundred yards on, at a crossing we waiting for the crossing lights to turn green. Traffic was whipping past. Finally it shifted and we made to cross. Just as we were about to set foot on the other side my friend suddenly went flying and hit the kerb on his chest. I barely had time to react when a hand grabbed me by the neck and swung me around, and a fist hit me in the side of the head. A wild-eyed homeless guy in a hoody, powerfully built and voice cracked with paranoid rage was screaming in my face for me to delete the photograph of him. A photograph that ironically I hadn't taken.

The moment of impact. The blow from behind knocked the water out of my left hand and snapped my hand down on the shutter.

The moment of impact. The blow from behind knocked the water out of my left hand and snapped my hand down on the shutter.

"Delete the (expletive deleted) photo!" - he'd scream, and then he'd hit me on the side of the head with something like a piece of stone in his hand, jerking me around. Repeatedly.

I heroically rose to situation by bleating the words, "Okay, okay! It's deleted!" Despite the photo not existing and in a further burst of irony being unable to delete anything, due to it being hard to press small buttons when being violently assaulted. Batman I ain't. 

Somewhat mollified he swung me around and smacked me with a headbutt between the eyes, knocking me back. He then delivered a haymaker to my unfortunate friend on the ground, cradling his bruised ribs. Then the man delivered a further stream of expletives and departed, and we were left waiting for the ambulance. A check up revealed that my friend's ribs had been bruised, but thankfully not broken, and that aside from bruising, swelling and cuts to the side of my head there was no serious damage to my noggin. 

Discrete street photography camera my ass, Fuji X-Pro1. Next time why don't you try working that Kaizan magic into adding a firmware update that'll turn it into something useful, like a taser, eh? 

I'd been told by my Third Floor Gallery buddies that it's the fate of all photographers who pound the streets to be beaten up at least once. It was certainly an experience to mull over a medicinal beer the following day in a darkened bar, away from the hard sunlight in an unseasonably hot autumnal Toronto. Or 'the Summer of Sam', as I preferred to think it. It's funny to think on it but the attack came so out of the blue, on such a pleasant day, in such a seemingly peaceful location that I managed to walk away with very little psychological baggage. If it had been dark, or in a dodgy part of town, I'd probably have been nervous and fearful in pulling out my camera in a city for a long, long time to come. But the fact that it was a pure case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and no fault of my own, means that it was back to business as usual for me as soon as I crossed the border. 

Oh and you'll be pleased to know that aside from pummelling us, the guy had no desire to make off with my 18mm X-Pro1 or my bag containing my 56mm f1.2, 35mm f/1.4. So at least he was a honest crazed psychotic, of the best kind.

But it's best not to dwell on all that. I still got to see a lot in Toronto. It has for example the finest library I've ever seen. A beautiful structure with dampened sound, great views, exciting architecture and one incredible section dedicated to the masters of photography.

Beyond that, the streets are colourful, the beer good and the people are friendly.  And it was great catching up with my buddy and sitting down with beer and pizza to play console classics of our childhood and forget the violence of the day, such as the old Dune videogame. A cathartic experience. "Here are our current stocks of spice..."

So yeah, the images were worth it I guess. The X-Pro1 proved no slouch and once again my 18mm f/2 dominated the other lenses as my favourite focal length. But it's funny; one can spend an age pondering this camera versus that, auto-focus speeds, full-frame versus cropped sensor. But in the end the most important thing for photography is a trained eye alert and ready for the right shot.

If not trained, unfortunately, for the crazy with the stone in his hand sizing you up as fresh meat as he emerges from the bushes under a dusty overpass. And no, before you ask, it wasn't Rob Ford. 

Next time I get into the small town American rust-belt project proper. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for autumn leaves, grimy industrial buildings, weather-beaten small town suburbs and everyday, non-violent, American folk.  

Uh, look out!