As I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, I made a few first beginnings of the edit/sequence of my current project. Then I put that on hold and painted my kitchen floor. Unlike editing and sequencing photos, when you paint a floor you know when its done. Satisfying in a nice, simple way.
I’ve known for a while that relaxing into an edit, allowing down time for the back of your brain to process, is important. After all, that’s how I approach shooting my projects: slow photography. Let the thing you are studying seep into you. Think just enough, but not too much. The time I spent painting the floor was most beneficial. Not only did I get a swell floor, it also gave me time to rethink my approach to the edit/sequence, and to wonder a bit more about what this project might actually be about.
After the floor was finished I spent about 5 days, on and off, really moving images around. Did at least 20 iterations that were between 15 and 25 images long. Just to explore possibilities. I worked on possible pagination, flow of content and feeling, figured out possible ways of ordering the whole thing.
Then I walked away from it again, realizing that it just kept changing, that my perspective was, for now, shot.
But I learned a lot, saw possibilities I didn’t know existed (except in my dreams). It’s still pretty clunky and very unresolved. There are obvious flaws in how the flow of images might be read, bad page turns and all the other stuff that happens when you’re trying to figure out a solution to a puzzle with a lot of moving parts, a puzzle that has no one correct solution. But some solutions are more correct that others, right?
Then what I did was, I showed a PDF of this, the end of the first beginning, to a few random, non-photography people who just happened to be visiting (like my niece, and a couple of droppers-by). Listened to what they had to say.
And I sent it off to Colin Pantall and Timothy Archibald, two photographers who, in the past, have provided me with shrewd insight into what I’m doing. Their comments and perspective on some of my previous work changed how that work was presented.
Their initial comments really got my brain going. They agreed on certain directions and images but had opposite opinions on others. (One referenced Robert Frank, the other David Cronenberg!! If this project could even approach a marriage between those two sensibilities I’ll be a very happy camper.)
I’m fine with, and expect, varying opinions. One of the aims of this project is to create a book where the actual subject isn’t too nailed-down. On the other hand, varying opinions from trusted sources add to my confusion. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m prepared to be (and to remain) confused. And I will continue to embrace contradiction.
So for now I’m just going to chill, do some thinking on my own and then get back to it again. And that will be the beginning of the second beginning.
This week we have Daniel Sharp writing about Christian Villemaire’s show at Exposure Gallery. And at the bottom of this post is an update about my call for recent photo school grads (with a bit of editorializing). But before we get to that let me tell you a story . . .
. . . I met Lordish Lewis in Rosedale, Mississippi. We talked for a while, she made us lunch. Afterward I asked if I might take some pictures of her.
While we were shooting a man crossed the street, came toward us. Lordish said, that’s my father.
She introduced us. He stretched himself to his full stature, looked into my eyes and told me, I’m 68 years old, I got 12 children, I been a man.
I replied, you’re wife must be quite a woman to have borne so many children.
Still looking right at me he said, took two wives.
There used to be a city called Hull. But in 2002 it was merged with some adjacent municipalities and that whole shebang was called Gatineau. Hull was gone.
These recent photographs reflect Christian Villemaire’s ongoing fascination with the streets, buildings and people of old Hull. Undertaking something like a project of exploration of his personal history and examination of his own identity, Villemaire ventures through the streets of Hull, taking pictures. He is curious but does not really know what he is looking for. He says, “I don’t belong to Hull. I don’t live there. My parents are from Hull. I always visited. I am taking pictures as an outsider, but not as a tourist. I visit these places over and over again, looking to capture these pictures.”
Villemaire’s larger project is titled HULL ( ), from which the photographs on display are selected. The title is inspired by the highway sign announcing the border of GATINEAU (HULL).
The parenthetical bracketing of HULL is a poetic notion of displacement. The old Hull is almost an afterthought, a sign of a former location, but the bracketing can also grammatically indicate that HULL could be considered separate from GATINEAU. A key image in the series, the photograph of the road sign GATINEAU (HULL) marks the entrance to the uncanny, awkward spaces of this exhibition.
Villemaire shows us photographs of places in Hull, in winter, mostly on overcast days. There is an odd feeling of emptiness in these spaces. People have come and gone. Of course there is the implied presence of the photographer, the viewer, the observer. To some people these spaces will seem familiar, if you know Hull. But there is an ineluctable strangeness to Villemaire’s choices of where he is looking. Curiosity and wonder inform his view, more so than estrangement and disaffection.
The E.B. Eddy building is photographed centred and square, on an empty street, with a grey luminous sky above and an empty field of snow in the lower part of the picture. Villemaire says this photograph shows a little about what we do with our heritage in Hull. The old factory is a beautiful building but it is not currently being used. It is a part of the heart of the history of Hull. Villemaire remarks that at least it hasn’t been destroyed. The mood of the scene as a quiet grey moment in winter shows the viewer this beautiful, lonely, seemingly abandoned historic industrial building in a place that used to be called Hull. The image is a eulogy for the past but somehow also conveys hope.
All but one of the photos in this exhibition are exterior images with no people. Most of the photos are square-format prints. Formally, the architecture and roadways contribute to dynamic compositions, forceful diagonals, emphatic horizontals and thrusting verticals. At the same time as these images convey a certain desolation of winter and perhaps an economic despair, there is a peculiar and awkward humour in some of the pictures. In the picture titled “W” the neighbourhood is a bit rundown, but why is that stop sign so short and does the declaration ARRÊT have any reference to the poverty of the neighbourhood?
One of the images that Villemaire says stands more as documentation is the interior of the hockey arena Centre Robert Guertin. The arena represents one of the older buildings in Hull that is destined to be demolished. Even so, Villemaire belies the claim for simple documentation when he relates that this is where his son practices hockey and Villemaire himself worked in the food concessions in the arena as a teenager. So in all these images of the streets and buildings of Hull, Villemaire selects his subjects and his point of view partly with a documentary impulse to preserve how the city looks – a document of this history and culture. But as well, he is always exploring the psychic space of his own life and his memories, and in making these photographs he is demonstrating a longing for beauty and hope for the future.
Last week I sent out a call asking recent local photo-school grads to drop me a line. I want to speak to them about their trials and tribulations. I want to find out how it’s going for them, how their expectations were met and not met.
Aside from 3 SPAO grads who I actually know, and a nibble from the commercial side of the biz, there were no other responses.
Unless, of course, you consider the many emails I received from photo school teachers and students across the country, and in the USA. Great, but it’s the local scene I want to try to understand.
That I received so much interest from outside the city and hardly any from inside suggests to me that the Ottawa Photo Scene is broken. Either that, or the folks here in Kapital City figure I’m a dickweed and don’t want anything to do with me.
I can live with being thought of as a dickweed. Geez, I probably am a dickweed (but, I like to think, not exclusively a dickweed). But the lack of verve, of cohesion, the lack of desire to raise the bar and form community that I see over and over again in this photo scene kind of bums me out. Or at least harshes my buzz.
After a year and a half of shooting for my new project I thought it might be time to have a hard look at what I’d done.
I went to Staples and made 300 small laser prints, the selects from all those thousands of pictures I’d been stacking up on my hard drive.
Let’s get physical . . .
Went up to my studio and laid them on the table. My first thought was, Tony, you’re gonna need a bigger table.
My second thought was, Tony, get a grip. Get ’em from the table to the wall and there’ll be room on the table for more.
Easier said than done. I hemmed and hawed, choosing the first image seems so important. Then I thought, Tony, this is only the first beginning, there will be dozens, if not hundreds more beginnings to this thing before you’re done.
So I just picked one and stuck it to the wall, followed it with another and another. Tried some permutations, explored a few options.
Then I took the dogs for a walk.
There, I had begun, that was the main thing. The other important thing, I told myself was, Tony, don’t let this thing you’re doing climb on top of you like bad drugs, just go for the ride, enjoy it.
A while later I went back, added, subtracted, wondered, tried to feel.
Then I did the dishes, made dinner, ate it, decided to paint the kitchen floor red. After all . . . life goes on.
The next day I realized that when I began this edit/sequence, began to mine this data, began my search for just enough meaning in that stack of pictures, I had been falling back on old, familiar patterns. That’s not going to work here. Unlike my previous projects this new work isn’t about any specific location, demographic or fact. In fact it’s fiction. I’m going to have to figure out a new way of relating to my photos, and of having them relate to each other.
So far my only conclusion is that this will be the most difficult edit/sequence I have ever attempted. There are so many threads to weave here, so many layers, so little is defined.
I’m nervous and excited.
drool.SEEKS RECENT PHOTO PROGRAM GRADS
drool. would like to get together with 3 or 4 (or 5) recent graduates of local photo programs. I’m talking Algonquin, Ottawa School of Art, UOttawa, SPAO, and any other ones I’ve missed.
The aim is to initiate a conversation (for publication on the blog) about the trials and tribulations of, well . . . recent photo-school grads.
There is no agenda other than to bring forward your thoughts on how it’s going for you, what you think of the local photo-scene, how your expectations were met and not met, and any other issues that may arise.
If you are interested in participating please PM me. Or, if you know someone who fits the bill, please share this with them. (You will find my email address on my website, which you will find by clicking on the tonyfoto link at the top of this page.)