Unmastery — 11th February 2024

Narayan Subramoniam
4 min readFeb 11, 2024

photography workshop and riparian polar dips

Missed the post deadline by a couple days because minor wrist pain is really annoying to live and write with. I also haven’t made a schedule of writing a little bit daily, so these are more of a scramble to write rather than a slow cook. Let’s get on with it.

Photography as scholarly communication

This is now the second event that I get to be part of thanks to PhD student Alexa Bennett¹. There’s a trend of these events as eye opening experiences, just adjacent to what I’m doing as a geography student. The event was a photography workshop led by Dr. Rob de Loë of the University of Waterloo. Rob liked the environment (“that’s a watershed, baby!”) and photography for about four decades and blends his personal and professional time between the two. In the last third of his professional career, he figured he’d step away from being a departmental chair and move towards photography. You can find his works here.

When I was flipping through his work, there’s a subtle stunning quality to them. A silent arresting. Take Maddaugh Spring, pictured below.

Copied without permission from https://www.robdeloephotography.com/Works/Experiments-in-Engagement/Maddaugh-Spring. Sorry, Rob

There’s sharp metal interlaced with both kinds of ‘opposites’: water that fits to the metal’s contours, and an unyielding yet soft composition of rock, ice, and greens. The black and white helps us to focus on the textures and not on what the colours could have been. I’m reminded of humanity’s endeavour to cut apart nature when I see that photo. It’s not a particularly happy photo and I get a sense of that pensive melancholy in many of his works.

So, I was fucking surprised when I met the man. It felt like he was raised with an espresso machine. You could imagine a border collie with a Patagonia vest and you wouldn’t be far off from how it feels to have met him. He gave me hope other researchers sometimes don’t give: that you can be an un-serious goofy dude² and produce ‘serious’ work. The workshop lasted about 3 hours but it felt shorter than some Reels.

There were a couple of lessons in the workshop that’s worth repeating here (mostly so I remember):

  1. Have a discipline of intention. It’s better to take one intended photo over a shutter of many.
  2. Keep these in mind: Who is your audience? What do you want your photo to say to that audience? Why might the photo you’re going to take be liked by that audience?
  3. People like a certain level of “figure-out-a-bility” when it comes to photos. If it’s too obvious, they’ll scroll past (“been there, seen that”), if it’s too abstruse then they’ll scroll past (“not been there at all”). Find that sweet spot if grasping an audience is the name of the game.

We had to take one photo of a creek that makes you go “yuck!” and another that makes you go “mhhmm I like it”. I hope it’s clear which one’s which:

The fun stuff I got around to doing

I have to run to play some innertube water polo, so here’s the things in no particular order (lots of lists this time)

  • Learning how to play squash with my left hand. Physio on my right wrist is a bitch, so I’m just learning how to play squash with my other hand. I played an intramural game and only invoked the right hand when I was down a couple points. Oddly, I’m getting better at other things (like pool) with my left hand as a result
  • Here’s a novel Millennial birthday idea: make the birthday kid (~30 years this time) a host of a comedy show. This was one was a Canadian home-made version of Taskmaster. I would’ve fallen to the floor with laughter if not from a caffeine headache.
  • A buddy and I took a dip in the Grand River.I felt like the temperature of the water was in the 4–7 C range. I turned into a goose, as you can see in the video below of the first dip.

The road ahead

Heading to a writing retreat for geography students from the 20th to the 23rd, preparing for a work trip with some of my lab mates to NWT, and continuing to read ‘the Unbearable lightness of being’ with my book club.

This bi-week’s article is Gin, Television, and Social Surplus by Clay Shirky. What did we do with free time during the Industrial Revolution? Gin first, public goods later. What are we doing now (2008)? Sitcoms. And then?

This bi-week’s quote is from Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. Perhaps the last quote from the book … for a while:

“If I protect . . . only the people I like, it means that I don’t care about doing what is right.”


1: The first was Dr Caetano Dorea’s talk on sanitation: https://narayan-s.medium.com/unmastery-17th-november-2023-14396096d770

2: Me, allegedly.