Back in 2015 the members of Boreal Collective asked me to pull together a selection of their photographs. I called the collection SUBJECT(ive).
These images were exhibited at SPAO, Ottawa and, as part of the Format Festival, in Derby, UK. SUBJECT(ive) was also produced as a newsprint.
Here, to ring out the old year and bring in the new, is a portfolio of those images for you to look at. And a bit of writing to read. drool.
Nothing in this world is ever the result of just one other thing. Everything is an amalgam, every instant is a coincidence. But the stress of our lives since birth creates filters we use to process, and react to, the world we move through. Our thinking is not evenly weighted, we always give preference to this over that. And so we make some so-called sense.
Photographers who go out into the world, make contact and bring back evidence are stuck on the horns of this dilemma. How to sort things out while they’re there on the ground, what to record, how to record it. Then, how to process, pick and choose, after the fact, from the pile of data they have collected. Why this? Why not that?
The camera always transforms the subject of the photograph into something else: a frozen shard of time and space. In the hands of a practiced practitioner, though, it can close the gap between the external (the normative subject) and the internal (the photographer’s subjectivity) in miraculous ways. It can turn reality into resonance.
When I was asked to curate a show for Boreal Collective, I asked each member to send me fifteen or twenty images that, to them, went well past any objective look at what they had actually photographed. I wanted to see images they considered more than mere document, images that were, in fact, representations of how they feel.
What you see here is a further mutation of reality. I chose and arranged these particular images not because they are photographs of a hearth, or fireworks or a baby, but in spite of that. This, to me, is life.
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.
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.
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 20th century.
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.
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.
LAST WORDS ON SUBURB
Went on the CBC radio the day of my opening. Did this interview.
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.
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.
-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.)
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.
I welcome your comments. No vitriol please, but contrary opinions and insights are welcome.