CONTINUUM

There’s this thing called the Karsh Award for Photography. It’s given out every 2 years. This is an off-year. But to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary the powers-that-be decided to ask the previous Karsh Award laureates (of which I am one) to nominate emerging Ottawa-based photographers for a group show.

The seven nominees are: Joi T. Arcand, AM Dumouchel, Leslie Hossack, Olivia Johnston, Julia Martin, Meryl McMaster and Ruth Steinberg. They will be opening Continuum, a show of their work, September 14th at the Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa, curated by Melissa Rombout.

(back row, left to right) Michael Schreier, Meryl McMaster, Ruth Steinberg, AM Dumouchel, Julia Martin, Olivia Johnston, Leslie Hossack; (front row) Justin Wonnacott, Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor, Estrellita Karsh, Jerry Fielder, Melissa Rombout, Tony Fouhse

Interesting that all are women, and also notable is the range in age. The idea that one must be young to be emerging is, if you ask me, well beyond its due date.

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LESLIE HOSSACK

I nominated Leslie Hossack for the Continuum show. Here’s how she came to photography:

After retiring from my first career I bought a camera and set out to learn as much as I could; I was enthralled with the whole process. Photography is definitely my medium. It’s well suited to dealing with complex issues, and that’s what interests me. My work is research-based and continues to be driven by my fascination with the monumental events of the mid 20
th century.

East Gate, 1936 Olympic Stadium, Berlin 2010. From: BERLIN: National Socialist Architecture, 1933-1945

And here’s the thing I wrote about her work:

LESLIE HOSSACK – The Past and The Future

Some artists’ work tends to defy easy classification. Take Leslie Hossack’s photographs . . . looked at one way (on the surface) you might think, “Yes, architecture”, or, “Oh, landscape”. But upon reflection you will see that her subject matter is much more complex and encompassing than any one word (architecture, landscape) implies. If her images were to be represented as a Venn diagram, the circles might contain, amongst others, the words history, document, research, art, politics, and the thrust of her point of view lies in the area where these circles intersect.

The things she photographs, great (and minor) public buildings, monuments and views situated at the crossroads of history and public discourse, are interesting in and of themselves, but they are also stand-ins for a larger, more encompassing critique of certain aspects of 20th century history. Her photographs show us the residue of the ethos of power and, often, infamy. Her stringency (“Just the facts, ma’am”) coupled with her choice of subject, of scene and detail, elevates the work, adds implication and stance, asks us to remember and consider.

Leslie researches and tracks down her subject matter and then renders it in a plain and simple way . . . she shows us the thing in front of her camera. It is, in a way, reminiscent of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, but with the politics more overt and the formalities of typology downplayed. Chosen and photographed in an icy, removed way, Leslie’s photographs of the past look as though they were shot in the future, after some kind of global cataclysm. They are a record of aspects of an epoch that, like the monument to Ozymandias, will surely recede, fade and crumble.
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Okay, enough of that. Here are some of Leslie’s pictures . . .

From Moscow: Stalin’s Architectural Legacy

From Kosovo: Testament

From England: Charting Churchill

You can find much more of Leslie’s work here.
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LAST WORDS ON SUBURB

Went on the CBC radio the day of my opening. Did this interview.

View from waiting room, CBC Ottawa

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Thank you for your time

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TITLES

Been thinking about what I’m going to call the project I’m currently working on. I’ve been referring to it as The Future, but as I develop the project and my thinking about it advances, that title seems too descriptive, too prescriptive. And it has nothing to do with the fact that you (obviously) can’t photograph the future. That doesn’t matter because, after all, this project was conceived as a work of fiction. (Not that all photos aren’t some kind of fiction, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Then, out of the blue, on my way to complete some mundane chore, a new title came to me. Just like that. And so far it seems to be holding up to my scrutiny and to my ambitions for the project.

And you know what? I’m not going to tell you what it is. I will, however, show you a few pix from the project formerly known as The Future. (Click on images to enlarge.)

And thinking of this project in light of this new title has subtly shifted how I’m seeing the pictures, changed in some small way the things I’m looking for and photographing.

Funny how titles can do that, frame a thing.

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WAITING FOR A TRAIN

The photos I shot in Barrhaven last year are about to be exhibited. I’ll hype the show/opening here on drool as the show (Suburb) approaches
(Sept 8).  Today, though, I want to talk about planning, waiting and preconception (which are my least favorite ways of photographing).

One of the first times I went to Barrhaven I stumbled upon a passing train. I didn’t even know a train went through the place. (BTW, stumbling and not knowing are two of my favorite photo-taking techniques.) Anyway, I snapped a shot and kind of liked it but thought, well, trains run on schedules, why don’t I scope out the tracks, find a better spot and lay in wait, get a better shot. So I did that. A few times.

Here’s a selfie of me missing the train, and the accompanying Instagram caption:

Went to Barrhaven to photo the train going by . . . picked out the perfect spot, then, because I was kind of early, bopped around and snapped some other pix. Figured I had lots of time to get back to the spot to catch the train. Lo and behold, as I was shooting elsewhere there I heard that lonesome whistle blow in the distance. The train was early. I comfort myself by telling myself that a/ I didn’t like the light anyway and b/ there’s always another train.

Anyway, without getting bogged down in details . . .
-I eventually did catch the train.
-Twice.
-Ended up liking the first, stumbled upon, photo best.
-All the train photos ended up on the cutting-room floor.

So much for planning, waiting and preconception.

Here are the Barrhaven train shots, all out-takes, in the order I shot them. (Click on images to enlarge.)

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LONDON CALLING

I was scrounging around looking for something in the heap I call my archives (analogue archives, that is) and happened upon this little book-thing I made in 1994. (I’ve got a ton of these one-off books, all produced in different ways.) This one’s called London Calling.

It’s sorta crude. Xerox had just come out with a copier that turned B&W photos into sort of halftone images, and I was taken with that and liked the whole DYI aesthetic and that it was so cheap. I just make ’em for myself, anyway. I guess you could call it research and development or, maybe, just a pastime. 

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I welcome your comments. No vitriol please, but contrary opinions and insights are welcome.

Thank you for your time.
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OVERWHELMED. UNDERWHELMED.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the senselessness and meaninglessness of it all. But then I wonder, how can I be overwhelmed if there is no sense and no meaning? If that’s the case shouldn’t I really just feel nothing, not care?

But the way it seems to work if you’re Human, especially a Human with an existentialist bent, is you have to make your own meaning. And that’s hard work. Much easier to go along to get along, to accept whatever you’re handed.

I see this dichotomy, too, in photography. Some photographers work and struggle to create and shift meaning, others just seem to accept the world at face value.

And that, accepting this nuanced and multifaceted world at face value, leaves me underwhelmed.

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BLAZEJ MARCZAK

Born and raised in Poland, Blazej moved to Scotland where he lived for 11 years (2005-16). There he studied photography at Stevenson College in Edinburgh. After graduation he moved to Aberdeen, and, over 4 years, shot (amongst other work) The Grey City. Last year he moved to Ottawa and sent me an email after he found my website. Now Blazej and I get together from time to time and compare notes. I asked him why he takes photographs . . .

One day I just decided that I would become a photographer, without having a clue what that really means or what kind of photographer I wanted to be.  At the beginning I used family’s old soviet Kiev and Zenith cameras without even knowing that I can change the lens on the cameras. That was in 1999.

I love all aspects of making photographs so saying that I am doing this for fun wouldn’t be far from true however there were and are many other reasons for photographing. The urge to discover, understand and document is the most important drive to me right now.

I love to be out there at weirdest times at night, to contemplate, unwind, dream, respond to the place. I want to feel local anywhere I live and photography enormously helps with that.

I am making images for myself, the choice and the way I am approaching my subjects reflect who I am,  but I also hope that other people now and in the future would relate to my work in one way or another. I am finding photography to be an important medium which helps us to look at ourselves from a variety of different perspectives and it is healthy to not be limited to one perspective.

Our multi layered world is constantly changing and I see photography as a valuable tool which could be used to grasp this “liquid modernity” we live in.

Images from The Grey City (click on images to enlarge).

Then I asked him to compare Aberdeen and Ottawa . . .

When I first arrived in Ottawa I was struck by the abundance of colours, which was notable after living in the rather monochromatic Aberdeen. However I remember that when we met you told me that I “moved from one grey city to another” which I found surprising at that time. When walking around some areas of Ottawa during bleak autumn and winter days I understood what you meant. I love the mighty winter here though. I think it’s fantastic!

I  like how nature blends into the urban environment of both cities which benefit from having two rivers flowing through them and which were extensively used by local industries.

Ottawa has a fine green belt and scenery and in Aberdeen a few minutes walk would take me to the North Sea seaside and dunes. I am missing the Grampian Mountains surrounding Aberdeen but the scale of the snow heaps during the winter makes up for that.

You can see how modernism shaped and unfortunately also scarred Ottawa and Aberdeen, there are good and not so good examples of modernist thinking in these two cities.

The level of homelessness, drug addiction and mental health problems in Ottawa is scary. Aberdeen wasn’t an idyll neither but the level of human misery I observed around some areas of Rideau Street is striking.

I can hear bagpipes in both cities and I can drink amazing local IPA’s in both but I definitely prefer the prices of single malts in Scotland.

Images from Ottawa . . .

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ONLINE PHOTO CONTESTS?

If you’re a photographer you’ve seen ’em. Online photo contests that offer exposure and, sometimes, actual rewards. Often they feature some “name” jurist or panel of industry movers-and-shakers. It’s easy to enter. Just fill out the form, send ’em the money and some jpegs and you’re in the running. It’s kinda like buying a lottery ticket, for the price of admission you get to hope and dream.

The claim is that your work will be exposed to someone or some group of people who might do your career a big favour by looking at and/or selecting your photos. Those images will then get thrown up on their website or, maybe, if you are the grand prize winner!, in an actual gallery or print publication. And you get to jump for joy and add the words “Award Winning Photographer” to your bio.

I’m sure some of these contests are legit. And I know it costs money to run these things. I’m also sure that many of them are organized and arranged for the purveyor’s enrichment. After all no one ever went broke preying on the hopes and dreams of desperate people.

And then there are a handful that seem to put industry support over profit-motive. Here are three that I know about and think are pretty damn legit: The New York Times LENS Portfolio RevueConscientious Portfolio Review and PhotoLucida Critical Mass. The first two are free, Critical Mass is quite expensive but has a strong history, deep roster and broad reach. I’m sure there are others that are equally well run and worthwhile but, like I said, these are the ones I’m familiar with.


For me, the best bet for career enhancement is not broadcasting, but narrowcasting. Spend time doing good, authentic, organized work, find 5 or 6 or 7 people/institutions/publications that might support that work and spend your time and money actively pursuing them. Make it personal.

Of course, in the end its your money and your time, you can spend it however you want.

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I welcome your comments. No vitriol please, but contrary opinions and insights are welcome.

Thank you for your time.
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