Suburb, the exhibition, got a decent amount of notice in the local press. Great. Thanks. I appreciate it, really I do. It certainly helps to bring the
folks out to have a look at what I’ve done. It’s nice to be noticed.
Yes, there is a place for noticing, for celebration, for boosterism, but that’s really just public relations. Just (and only) noticing things sets the bar too low in terms of developing an artistic community. As well, it lends some kind of legitimacy to that which gets noticed, whether it deserves it, or not. (Whether something is deserving is an issue for another post.)
Add to this the fact that artists often frame their work for the media (and for their friends and for themselves) in the way that they, the artist themselves, want it to be seen. Of course.
But believing spin (even if its your own spin) is a mistake. It’s not up to the artist to tell people what to see in their work or to say their work is controversial or significant or a breakthrough. That must be the job of the critic and an informed audience.
And this, finally, brings me to my point:
I have long believed that the Kapital City Culture Scene™ has suffered from a paucity of informed public criticism, that the local media spends too much time noticing and not enough energy actively engaging with the work local artists present.
For sure there are institutions here, both public and private, that invest the time and the care and the emotion to present art within a critical frame work. But without critical thought engendered and brought forward through the media, without public attempts to contextualize, to analyze, to consider and, dare I say it, to educate, local artists and their audience remain at a disadvantage. And, by disadvantage, I mean settling for merely being noticed and entertained, rather than being challenged.
Don’t tell me what the poets are doing Don’t tell me that they’re talking tough Don’t tell me that they’re anti-social Somehow not anti-social enough from: Poets, by The Tragically Hip
Time (past, present and future) is a component of my new project. But you can’t really shoot time, you can only allude to it. So one of the things I’ve been doing is, I’ve been photographing a couple of locations over the seasons.
A crude device, perhaps, when seen here consecutively. But sprinkled through a longer sequence these images have the potential to be echoes, to give a sense of deja vu, toreference the tilt of the Earth and its orbit around the Sun. Upon bumping into them over time you might wonder, where have I seen that before?
Further to the bit leading this episode of drool. Peter Simpson reviews some local photo shows.
Peter used to work at The Ottawa Citizen, had a thing going there called BigBeat. He put himself about, went to see all manner of shows, thought about it and then wrote about them. He didn’t just notice, he actively pursued. A year ago or so he took the buyout, set to work on his novel, took on some other biz ventures. And in there somewhere he still manages to put himself about, go to see all manner of shows, think about it and then write about them. All this with the regular paycheque of a big media conglomerate removed.
That’s what I’m talking about.
Thank you for your time
Well, I made it to the 5th episode of the resurrected drool. And I have to say I’m a bit disappointed in myself. It just seems so anodyne, so safe and predictable.
A friend recently berated me for being so soft here, he wanted opinion on local photo exhibits and the state of the art, a bit of anger, some gonzo. And I have to tell you that when I restarted this thing that thought did cross my mind. But the only person I feel I can criticize here is myself.
These days, though, I’m much more chill than I used to be. I putter and peck, do some gardening, walk the dogs, buy groceries and make dinner, vacuum, commit some photography, think about it.
Not that I don’t have opinions, not that I don’t see lots of photography that, while held up and applauded, seems to me to be either just old-fashioned or new-fangled. I see photos that only support the status quo, projects that lack depth and commitment, lots of work where the photographer just plugs the subject matter into their system, and images that are, well, just plain stupid.
And I tell myself I don’t care. But I do care. So be sure to check back from time to time, you never know when I’ll blow a gasket. (Why, I got exercised just writing this.)
Suburb is the last installment of what I’m calling my Ottawa Trilogy. The first bit was USER, followed by Official Ottawa. USER is, amongst other things, about people devoid of any real power; Official Ottawa is a study of the way power manifests itself on a city. To complete the trilogy I decided to key on, for lack of a better word, the middle managers. Of course this is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.
As usual, I went into this project without much forethought other that the idea that I wanted/needed to shoot the ‘burbs. Plus, as with all my projects, I wanted to try to learn about that which I was photographing. Of course melded in with the idea of “not much forethought” and “trying to learn” is the reality that all our minds are closed to a certain extent, walled in by the biases caused by the stress of our years since birth. So the lack of forethought and the learning is, as always, mixed up with that: memory and preconceptions.
Anyway, I went to Barrhaven about 35 times last summer and shot around 350 pictures. (Mamiya 7 and Portra 120 film, for the geeks out there.) From this I scanned 82 negatives and made work prints. (I do this as I get each roll back, I just can’t wait to see what I’ve gone and done). Half way through I did a preliminary edit/sequence which showed me what I could ignore, what I needed to pay more attention to and where the holes were. As summer turned into fall I spent a couple of weeks shifting around the work prints, editing and sequencing, trying to see what I’d done, if it added up. I thought it did.
I ended up with Suburb.
You can click Suburb to see the whole series and come to your own conclusions. And there’s lots more info in this article about Suburb, published in The Ottawa Citizen. If you want to own Suburb can buy a catalogue. (Fifteen US bux.)
I welcome your comments. No vitriol please, but contrary opinions and insights are welcome.
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.
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. NowBlazej 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 . . .
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 Revue, Conscientious 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.
I welcome your comments. No vitriol please, but contrary opinions and insights are welcome.