OPAL

Just about a year ago Jocelyn Keays and Alexandra Barlow got this idea.

Recently graduated from photo school (SPAO) they wondered what was going to replace the intensity and focus that that kind of environment engenders. And where would they find community? They decided to create their own intensity and focus.

Thus was OPAL Community born.

The Ottawa Photography and Art Label would, they decided, create and print a magazine/book hybrid that showcased local (Kapital City) artists. A celebration.

Covers: OPAL Nº 1 and Nº 2

The scope was Ottawa-centric because of limited resources . . . they had $300 and no real experience with this kind of endeavour. All they had was desire and the faith to take a leap.

In June, 2018, they did a soft launch (social media) and a rudimentary website was created. (They intend to expand the scope of their site, which I hope happens because there’s nothing like the power and reach of print and digital combined in one cause.)

They asked for Ottawa-based artists to submit and thirty-one artists answered the call. From these Jocelyn and Alexandra chose 26 (mainly photographers, but also artists who use other media) and printed 125 copies of OPAL Issue Nº 1.

Andrew Macartney
Aimee Campeau

The official launch of the printed publication took place October last year at Bar Robo. Jocelyn and Alexandra had no idea what would happen. Would people come? What kind of support would they get? Would traditionally stingy Ottawans actually spend money on a publication such as this? They were about to find out.

Well, the place was packed and the issues sold out. It would seem OPAL had struck a nerve, fulfilled some missing link in the Kapital City Arts Scene.

Buoyed by the support, and with the first issue experience under their belt, OPAL took a bit of a breather and then got right back in the saddle. Let’s begin to think about the second issue. Let’s expand our scope. Let’s be more ambitious. Let’s continue to not charge any entry fees. Let’s see what happens the next time.

Hannah Evans
William Lalonde

They rethought and rejigged their social media strategy, figured out a way to extend its reach beyond Kapital City borders. And it worked. Their next call for submissions brought in over 200, with more than 80 coming from places other than Ottawa. From these submissions Jocelyn and Alexandra chose 48 artists and produced OPAL Issue Nº 2.

The launch of Issue Nº 2 is happening at The Ottawa Art Gallery this coming Thursday, June 6th. Accompanying this will be a show featuring 9 of the artists whose work is in the issue. (Full disclosure: I have some work in the publication, as well as on the wall.)

The image I’ll be showing at the launch. Seen in my back room.

The publication has beautiful, clean, design. Nothing fancy or trendy here, instead the selected works are given room to breath and to be. Some artists are represented by a single image, others have spreads. Scattered throughout are quotes from famous artists, writers and philosophers as well as a sprinkling of statements from some of the included artists. It’s the type of publication that encourages you to sit, slowly turn the pages, look and wonder.

My one beef is that the publishers/curators include their own work. I can’t help but see that as a conflict of interest, one that may cause some friction as they seek to move their endeavour forward.

Maegan Beck

Having said that, it will be interesting to see how OPAL evolves, and to see how the local scene reacts to OPAL’s more global-based focus.

I wish Jocelyn and Alexandra all success because, if you ask me, this is what Kapital City needs: people who are actively looking beyond this city’s limits, people who embrace larger possibilities.

LINKS:
Issue Nº 2 launch
OPAL Instagram (recommended for its human approach, its inspirator qualities, and to be notified about the next call for submissions.)
Jocelyn Keays
Alexandra Barlow
OPAL
Ottawa Art Gallery

OTTAWA NOTES

June 6th, 1944, Operation Overlord, better known as D-Day, began.

Exactly 75 years later Leslie Hossack will be showing the photographs she made in response to that event, and launching H-Hour, her book of those images (plus essays, etc.), at Studio Sixty Six, in Ottawa.

Leslie has been studying and photographing aspects of WW ll for more than a decade, looking at it through a peripheral lens: National Socialist architecture, the internment of Japanese-Canadians, Winston Churchill, and so on.

Her approach, always rigorous, has both remained the same (cool, calm collections that show the architecture), and expanded (non-architectural artifacts) over the time she has been approaching this subject.

This show (and book) should be on your list of photography to see. Details here.

EARLY DAYS OF TRYING

Yes, some further ruminations on just what the heck I’m trying to do with my new camera. Plus: some installation pix of the show I’m in in NYC, more Ottawa Notes, and, finally, a commercial. Anyway . . .

NOT STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

One of the things I want to do with this new tool of mine is, I want to take photos that are unlike my previous ones. I see, though, in these early days of trying, that that’s going to be a tall order.

After all, one does have ones aesthetic and political predilections, doesn’t one?

On the other hand, I’m quite sure what I don’t want to do (though to rule out any avenue at this point is a chump’s game, I know), but what I don’t want to do is your classic “street” photography. The structures of, and expectations attached to, that genre strike me as pretty strict and old-fashioned.

The camera I’m using, though, is pretty much designed (or, at least, perfect) for street snapshooting. Time for a rethink.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Further to this (and because I believe in embracing my contradictions) . . . I just bumped into this article by Jon Feinstein: “Seven Photographers Who Are Rewriting Street Photography’s Rigid Rules”. Some of the approaches and possibilities outlined there seem right to me.

IN NYC

A few shots of the Beyond Addiction/Reframing Recovery show at Parson’s School of Design. And a link to an article about the show in the New York Daily News.

OTTAWA NOTES

SPAO hosted a one-night show by Ottawa photographer Gwyneth Orr, who won the Ottawa Arts Council Young Artist award last year.

The show, called AVIS, a series of images in which teenagers are compared to, and dressed up as, birds. The idea being to allude to the similarities between a baby bird leaving the nest and a child entering young adulthood.

You can tell this is early work . . . not completely realized and the influences are there on the surface to see. But that’s the way you begin, isn’t it. Then, if you persevere, you grow.

Gwyneth, a graduating highschool student, has been accepted into the photography program at NSCAD. I’m sure that escaping the Kapital City nest and spreading her wings there will be just the thing she needs. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PUBLISHING A PHOTOBOOK

Photobooks are where it’s at these days. A great way to organize and add worth to your photographs. Not to mention they also help get your work in front of folks who may care, be they friends, family or curators.

I’ll be holding a one day workshop at SPAO: A Practical Guide to Publishing a Photobook.

As the person behind Straylight Press I published 18 photobooks, by 12 different photographers. Let me tell you, I learned a lot.

This workshop is about, as its title implies, the practical stuff you need to know. Lots of resources, secrets, links and suppliers. As well, it will cover ways to edit and sequence your book, discuss various layout options, and a few, for lack of a better word, philosophical aspects of photobook making.

More info and sign up here.

A NEW CAMERA

drool. After a three month layoff I found the motivation (and need) to get back in the saddle. (If the first bit here bores you, scroll on down, there are four items in this week’s post . . .)

The main impetus for reviving this thing is, I bought a new camera with the intention of shooting a project with it. My first new camera in 10 years.

Often photogs think to themselves, “If only I had that lens (or that camera) I could really shoot what and how I want”. Of course, after they buy the object of their desire they usually discover that their new tool toy doesn’t actually help them do anything at all.

With me, it’s the opposite. I bought the camera precisely because I had no idea what I would use it for. My plan was to have no plan, to see what this thing could show me.

The camera, a FujiFilm X100F, is kind of a take-it-anywhere, one-handed-snap-shooter. Haven’t used a camera like this for, probably, twenty five years.

And this is the first time in, like, 20 years I’ve started a project with no real thesis, no “look-at-the-suburbs“, no “shoot-the-dystopian-present“. My plan (so-called) is to just shoot pictures and see what turns up and out, to see where that leads me.

I have to admit I’m a bit apprehensive about setting off on such an undefined trip. It feels like stepping into a void. But I have faith that something will come of it. I just have to keep reminding myself to take it easy, not to rush, to let Nature take its course, to see what happens.

Writing about my confusion and struggle helps me know my mind, so I’ll be making notes here, thinking out loud, as the project moves forward. Tune in and read along as I bark up the right and wrong trees, as I follow paths that lead somewhere and nowhere, even though there’s no such thing as the “wrong” tree, or “nowhere”.

BRETT GUNDLOCK: STORIES FROM THE MIGRANT TRAIL

Sure, you’ve all heard about the caravans of migrants coming up from Central America, through Mexico, trying to get to the the USA. The media shows them as a pack, as a phenomena. There is never (hardly ever) any insight into just who these people are, why they, specifically, are on the move. Typical lazy, formulaic, media coverage.

Brett Gundlock had had enough of that so he set off to talk to them, to show individual people and to listen to their personal stories. His work was published this past December in Mother Jones. I suggest you click on over, read and look.

He also, in association with Homie House Press, published a newsprint of this work, There might be a few copies left. Consider ordering one to have and to hold, to support this kind of necessary independent journalism.

BEYOND ADDICTION/REFRAMING RECOVERY

I’m excited to be included in a group show that considers aspects of the opioid crisis with the idea that recovery is possible. Curated by Graham MacIndoe and Susan Stellin, it’s on view at the Arnold and Sheila Arnoson Gallery, Parsons School of Design, N.Y.C. Opening April 6th.

Check it out if you’re in NYC. Or go to this dedicated website where you can look at some of the photographs and read about the show.

OTTAWA NOTES

Lorraine Gilbert hosted a one-night-only studio show this past Tuesday. A swell turnout got to see modern, well thought out images from British Columbia. Photos of often derelict Vancouver, and of the big-tree forests that exist on the West coast and are, too, derelict in their own way. It was great to see these images in such a casual, friendly setting. (I’m definitely a fan of alternate means of display and distribution.)

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a large enough space to hang such works, but I have to tell ya I really like the idea of artists sticking stuff on a non-gallery wall and inviting folks to come, look, discuss and, it must be said, chow down on a very sumptuous spread. It’s a pity the event didn’t run longer, though there is something to be said for a one-night-stand. More of this in Kapital City, please and thank you.

CLOSE TO HOME

I always seem to get hung up in the things I’m pouring myself into. Can’t see the forest for the trees, you know.

Because I’m aware of this I remind myself, in the throes of my obsession, to take a breath, to step back and try to see the long view, to look for the horizon.

Easier said than done. But the insights gained by doing this are always worth the effort. Both during the creation of a project and in the thinking about it afterwards, in the seeing of what it reveals.

Of course, some of the things you notice only after the whole thing is done and dusted are totally obvious. For instance, I just realized the other day that 34 of the 45 pictures in After the Fact were shot within 1.5 kilometres of my house (that’s just under a mile for those who don’t know the metric). Heck, three of them were shot in my back yard and one right inside my house.

Thinking about this I re-realize you can make anything you want of the things that are close to you (and, maybe, the things you want to be close to you). You apply intellectual, aesthetic and moral filters to things familiar (or not familiar) and with enough work and thought, with the right kind of eyes, can turn them into just about anything.

If you look and feel and think right, close to home can be what you think it is, or what you want it to be, or what you can turn it into.

There are less than 40 copies of After the Fact remaining. Go here to pick up a copy.

LAUNCH REPORT & PAY TO PLAY

LAUNCH REPORT

Thanks to the brave souls who made it to the launch of After the Fact. They braved torrential downpours and two tornados to get there. And when they arrived they were met with a completely dark gallery because of the power outages that were happening all over the city.

Weirdly prophetic, seeing as weather, climate change, is partly what After the Fact is about.

Eventually the lights did come back on, snacks were consumed, beverages were taken to the face, photos were looked at and conversations took place.

Amongst the folks that came was Ava. Here we are, Ava and I, standing by the photo of her legs that appears in the book. (Yes, she is alive, the book is a work of fiction.)

The show continues until September 28th.

Here’s a review (or, maybe a reaction) to After the Fact, by Taymaz Valley, which appeared in apt. 613.

Buy After the Fact here.

PAY TO PLAY

Colin Pantall wrote a very interesting blog post about how photographers having (spare) money (or not) affects the photoworld.

Here’s an excerpt . . .

I was talking to somebody (who appears extremely successful and makes genuinely great work. But is actually broke) a couple of months ago and she wondered if there shouldn’t be a consideration of the wealth of the photographer in evaluating work. If you are stinking rich and can afford that army of assistants and those high production values, should there be a little cross against you was what she was saying. Should there be a red mark of wealth against you.

It’s a valid question and one lots of people ask – but not too loudly.

A few years ago I posed this question on Facebook:

Should photographers who have a good disposable income apply for grants? 

Well, a shitstorm ensued in the comment section.

First of all, many folks misinterpreted the question, they wondered how granting agencies might apply a means test to applicants.

But my question had nothing to do with granting agencies applying a means test. I was suggesting (in a passive/aggressive way, truth be told) that those who practice art and who have a trust fund, money socked away, a swell pension, a rich partner, etc., might consider stepping away from the grant money table, that they leave money there for those who actually need it.

It also was brought up that receiving a grant, being accepted by a jury of your peers, was always good for your career, good for your resumé and good for the good-old ego. And, sure, it’s difficult to argue with that.

I suppose, too, that that’s why so many photographers enter those pay-to-play contests . . . career advancement, acceptance, a line in your CV and having your photograph appear in some online gallery or (if you’re doubly lucky) as part of a group show somewhere.

Aside from a few that actually have some industry weight and a modicum of morals, most of those contests are just money grabs that prey on the hopes and dreams of photographers. You “win” but the only real outcome is an ego boost and another line on your resumé, another bit of news for your social media feed.

But, as Colin points out, having money is pretty much a prerequisite for moving your career along, and many (most) of the systems in place to “help” photographers do nothing to address that issue.

It’s good to see that, more and more, people in the photoworld are beginning to question certain foundations that world is built upon.