Life through his eyes: Photo blogger Sam Javanrouh marvels in minutiae
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 13 December 2005)

Some 15,000 of us, in 32 countries across the globe, look every morning at a corner of the World Wide Web called Daily Dose of Imagery, located at We know that this site's proprietor, Sam Javanrouh, will always have a new image to show us, and we want to see it.

An audacious and imaginative photographer, Sam has become an international celebrity by putting a new picture on the web every day. He has fans in Iceland, China, Poland and everywhere else. He shoots most of his photographs in Toronto, where he lives, but sometimes examines a corner of New York or a European city he's visiting.

Since its birth a few years ago, the world of weblogs has become a place of mystery, a separate sphere of life. Within its borders, armies of talented but unpaid people labour daily to send out across the globe their ideas or images. A friend of mine, otherwise not averse to adventure, refuses even to visit Blogland, perhaps out of a superstitious notion that he'll vanish down its cyberspatial corridors and never be seen again. It could, of course, become addictive.

Those who live in ordinary regulated societies find the anarchy of Blogland unnerving. It's a mainly lawless world in which copyright, libel, and similar conventions seem barely to exist. There are no experts on Blogland because it changes too quickly. To become even vaguely knowledgeable would require four or five hours a day.

Bloggers have no bosses, and no customers in the ordinary sense, since they aren't selling, just showing. It's hard to make money blogging (a few blogs sell ads), but this nevertheless appears to be one of the most desirable forms of work on the planet.

In this environment Sam Javanrouh re-enacts, in 21st-century style, the classic experience of the immigrant who sees what the natives have ignored. For him Canada, and in particular Toronto, contains thousands of wondrous sights. His photographs capture a few.

He was born in Tehran 32 years ago, the son of a cinematographer. He can explain one reason Iran produces so many fine movies: "The things that you can't do [show women without scarves or criticize religion] make the things that you can do so much more interesting." Sam prospered there as a partner in a design firm but decided his future was limited. Besides, his mother and sister wanted to move to Canada. The three of them came here in 1999, and Sam soon found design work (today he's creative director at Optix, an animation studio).

He became a photoblogger because he wanted to show his old friends in Tehran the look of his new home in Canada. He set up his blog on July 2, 2003, and created a form that was unique at the time and has since been widely copied, in Canada and elsewhere. Surveying the blogs that were then emerging, he noticed that photographers were showing their work on the Web and text-bloggers were using blogs to describe their daily lives.

(From the start, autobiography has been a staple of Blogland.) He decided to combine the two with an online diary in photographs. First, only friends were interested, but quickly other bloggers discovered him and directed people to his site. Soon he was a phenomenon. He's had an exhibition of his photos, and sells a few prints.

He has a strong sense of responsibility to his invisible audience. He puts up a new image every day, seven days a week, no holidays. He even did one last winter when

he was in bed with flu. He photographed his bedside table: pills, water, alarm clock, etc. Even when he works late at night he puts a photo on. Once he came home from work at 4 a.m. and found an e-mail from somewhere across the world: "Where's our photo?"

Because he has no client or editor to please, he photographs what he chooses and then shows the world what he thinks worth exhibiting. Some are highly traditional landscapes, executed with considerable dash and originality. Others record moments in city life, like a power blackout that shut down part of Toronto.

Like most photographers, he improves reality. His picture this Sunday, for instance, made the red dragon gate in Toronto's Chinatown look a lot grander and more dramatic than it does in real life. On a snowy day last February he shot (early, before the snow grew dirty) a pub called Village Idiot/ L'Idiot du Village at a place I often pass but had barely noticed. With the help of the near-perfect reproduction that the Internet and a good screen can provide, Sam made something lovely out of a routine big-city corner, bringing together the cheery red front on the pub, four traffic lights caught all beaming red and the snow-encrusted road in the foreground.

Fans e-mail their praise, criticism and analysis. Sometimes their responses, which Sam reproduces on his blog, amount to a little symposium on his work. Recently, taking pictures in a rural area north of Toronto, he and two friends blundered onto a farmer's land, to the annoyance of the farmer. Someone, possibly the farmer, let the air out of their tires and further disabled their car by taking the valves off the tire rims. They had to wait in freezing weather for four hours before they got help -- but miraculously, a memorable photo emerged.

When the farmer himself suddenly showed up on his tractor, Sam used the camera hanging from his neck to make a picture, without looking through the viewfinder. The photo shows a gigantic tractor driven by a stern, bearded patriarch. Last Wednesday Sam put it on his site, apologizing for the poor composition. His fans responded with 82 e-mails in which they declared this one of his best pictures ever and the composition excellent. One fan sent a 462-word essay pointing out that the tractor's unplanned domination of the image emphasizes its size, that the viewer feels run over and that the farmer becomes a metaphor, the eloquent embodiment of power. All this was true, but how many photographers get that kind of immediate response to their work? Like many others, Sam Javanrouh has found in Blogland an exceptionally satisfying way to reach an audience while helping develop the first new communications medium of the century.

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