A FINE MESS

MY OLD DARKROOM DOOR

My darkroom was decommissioned a long time ago, I turned it into
some kind of storage/utility room. There is still evidence, however,
of its initial use. A memento…..

d76a1
D76 bag on my (old) darkroom door

And here’s the August Sander print that’s on the wall beside the door….

as

A FINE MESS

Back before the whole Steph drama began I was starting to think about
the big, final USER edit. Four years worth of work, each year shot in a
different manner. A fine mess. What to do?

I had a big pile of prints made, thinking I’d do this edit old-skool, as
opposed to using the light table feature in Aperture, which is how I
usually sequence fotos.

ab
Table with prints, studio

It all seems quite daunting, but I tell myself to just begin. Of course,
as Homer Simpson sez: “Trying is the first step towards failure.” But
I kind of like trying and I don’t mind failure.

aaa

I expect a whole lot of frustration and hair-pulling. Head scratching
and confusion. A million decisions to be made and….

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions
Which a minute will reverse.

T.S. Eliot
from: The Love Song of J. Alfred Profrock

PLACE AND CIRCUMSTANCE

That’s the title of the monster group show now up at the City Hall
Art Gallery. Place and Circumstance. Nice title.

The show is comprised of works recently purchased by the City of
Ottawa Fine Art Collection. It’s a bit of a potpourri but, surprisingly,
hangs together quite well and shows that there is no shortage of
interesting work being created by local artists.

If you are in the area (City Hall, 110 Laurier Ave.) I suggest you drop
in, have a look and make up your own mind.

city-of-ottawa-group-show-2011-005
Installation shot. Works by: yours truly, Justin Wonnacott and Michael Harrington

Info here.

STEPHANIE

Talked to Steph this week. She’s in her new place (living below a guy
named Tony) and doing well.

stephs-neighbourhood
Steph’s new neighborhood, via Google Streetview

She’s still off the heroin (more than 50 days) and is taking methadone,
hasn’t taken any pills for about 2 weeks.

a
Note to Steph from her friend S., Ottawa, January 2011

b
Note from Steph to herself, April, 2011

/ shot into eternity
/ methadone kitty
/ iron serenity

Allan Ginsberg
From: Ghetto Defendant w/ The Clash

THOUSAND

THOUSAND is the curious title Rafal Gerszak gives to his latest work,
fotografs of the Hazara people in Afghanistan.

Rafal tells me this body of work is titled THOUSAND because:

….scholars believe that the name Hazara
originated from the Dari word hazar that
means”Thousand”. It is believed that the
Hazara people are of Mongol decent and
the first time the term was used was to
describe an Mongol military unit of 1,000
men but later used to refer to this group
of people.

rafal

The fotos are few in number and hang together as poetry. I’ve always
believed that there needs to be more poetry coming from war zones,
and less of the cookie-cutter, “standard” war imagery that seems to
get published.

Another interesting aspect of this work is that they were shot using
a 70’s era Japanese film camera that had been smuggled in to Afghan-
istan in the 80’s and hidden all these years in a wall, lest the Taliban
find it and deem it to be the Devil’s tool.

As a fella who uses a number of cameras and formats I believe that
the camera you use (let’s call it a tool) makes a difference. Digital
certainly has its place and is certainly easy. But using some archaic
tool that changes the nature of how the fotografer and the subject
relate, almost by definition, changes the output. Something we all
should remember.

THOUSAND is here.

CROWD FUNDING

Yes, it’s true….I’ve met (and exceeded) my goal for raising money
to get out East to continue the project Stephanie and I are doing:
LIVE THROUGH THIS.

rh1

But that doesn’t mean you can’t still dial and donate. If I manage
to get around $2k I’ll be taking another trip to Stephanie come
Christmastime.

Of course, if that actually comes to pass I would provide all donors
with daily updates from the second (at this point hypothetical) trip,
plus another print (same size as you would receive for your contri-
bution, if you know what I mean) from that (hypothetical) trip.

So the stakes are raised (come on!) and the pot is sweetened (yes!).

I continue to imagine…….HERE.

(Looking for) THE FABULOUS MOOLAH

Some video watching today on drool, maybe even
some reaching for your pocketbook. Plus a whole
bunch of reading down near the bottom.

Watch? Read? Reach? Do what you want.

CROWD FUNDING

These days fotografers are looking for new ways to
raise the fabulous moolah to move their projects
forward.

The internet has been a great tool for the fast and
easy dissemination of these projects. Problem is, it
doesn’t pay. And the more traditional ways and means
of funding have either dried up or, at least, shriveled.

But the internet is coming up with new ways of fund
raising. One of these is RocketHub, a crowd funding
site.

Those of you unfamiliar with crowd funding, it works
like this…..

You come up with a project, post it on their site, ask for
small sums of money from many, many people and offer
rewards as incentive.

I have done this.

Here’s the video I posted over at RocketHub. And, yes, the
project now has a name: LIVE THROUGH THIS.

And here’s a link my project to their site.

The first few days there was a flurry of activity there,
now things have slowed some. None the less, you’ll
see that I am close to my goal.

Thank you to all those who have found the project
worthy and, so far, donated. But even if I reach that
goal, well, that doesn’t mean you can’t still donate.
I really believe in the importance of this thing Steph
and I are doing and, typically, have underestimated
the amount of the fabulous moolah it will take to
fully realize.

True, the dedicated website for the project is being
generously donated by the good souls at Halogen
Marketing, but domain registration and a million
other costs are piling up.

Still, if feels funny, appealing for funds this way
but, as Bob Dylan sings:

“Swallow your pride,
You will not die,
It is not poison”
.

Thank you.

CV88

Montreal-based foto mag CV88 is now on the stands. All
about portraiture.

I’m happy to be featured along with JJ Levine and Martin
Schoeller.

cv1
A detail of my portrait of Crystal is on the cover

The magazine commissioned Emily Falvey to write an essay
about my work. Its quite a bit of writing and lots to chew on,
so I’ll just leave you, today, with Emily’s words and thoughts.

USE VALUE

The pressure placed upon contemporary artists to
produce socially critical, politically engaged works
of art is both enormous and confusing. On the one
hand, galleries and other visual-arts organizations
expect artists to mobilize the population via certain
“artistic strategies,” such as subverting cherished,
yet secretly oppressive idols, or breaking out of
traditional exhibition formats to become new social
practices and relationships. On the other, these
same organizations shrink away from artists whose
work actually challenges or threatens social institut-
ions and hierarchies dominated by notions of profes-
sionalism and excellence. In this impossible situation,
socially engaged artists are often caught in a tug-of-
war between conservative forces that attack their work
as “immoral” or “obscene” and liberal cultural industries
bent on marketing it as “edgy” or “humanitarian.” Ironically,
both these extremes share a similar presupposition—that
a work of art is a service to the community inasmuch as it
shows us right from wrong.

cv2

Tony Fouhse’s photographic project User (2007-2010) has
had its fair share of outraged detractors and enthusiastic
proponents. A series of portraits taken over a four-year
period, the project revolves around a community of crack
addicts who congregate on a particular street corner in
Ottawa’s Lowertown. A stone’s throw from the Byward
Market, one of the city’s most popular tourist areas,
the addicts’ presence in the neighbourhood is often
decried as both a menace and an eyesore. Despite this
anxiety, opposition to safe-injection sites and crack-
pipe programs remains pervasive throughout the city,
but particularly in suburban areas. User began when
Fouhse, a commercial photographer who typically
shoots independent art projects while traveling, was
forced by circumstance to find subject matter closer
to home. As the story goes, he was on the Lowertown
corner with his camera one evening when Archie, a
local heroin addict, approached him and asked, “Are
you looking for a subject?” This is exactly what Fouhse
was looking for and User was born.

v3

Contrary to what is sometimes assumed about this
project, User required the lucid participation of the
addicts it depicts. Shot with medium- and large-
format cameras, these images are the result of
careful planning and the subjects’ active partic-
ipation. It is worth noting how difficult concen-
tration and stillness are for crack users looking
to get high. Taken at dusk, the earliest portraits
in this series are, in many respects, the most pro-
vocative. Hovering eerily between spontaneity and
contrivance, the dramatic atmosphere of these
images is heightened by the addicts’ vaguely
exaggerated poses. Yvon (2007), for example,
shows a half-dressed addict standing in a parking
lot, seemingly lost in thought, or possibly a sudden
realization. The pensive vulnerability of his expression,
coupled with the striking contrast of natural and artificial
light, create pathos reminiscent of Baroque painting.

cv4

When Fouhse first exhibited this body of work at
La Petite Mort Gallery in Ottawa, there was wide-
spread moral outrage and even hate mail. Rumours
spread that he was giving the addicts money for
drugs and thus exploiting them selfishly for the
benefit of his artistic career. In actuality, Fouhse
is profoundly involved in this community on a
personal level. All of the people in the portraits
are acquaintances, and some, like Stephanie, are
his close friends. Everyone who was photographed
helped compose their image, had final approval over
it, and was given a copy. The fact remains that Fouhse’s
involvement on the corner is not wholly disinterested.
As the title of this body of work announces, he is
using this community for his own benefit. And while
he admits this openly, he is also quick to point out
that they are using him—as a conduit for their own
agendas, a means of self-realization, and a way of
conveying messages about their identities, lives,
and relationships to an audience that would other-
wise ignore them. Finally, the project’s biggest user
is perhaps this audience—the viewers who consume
these images and expect them to validate a pre-existing
position of moral righteousness or guilt.

cv5

Since Fouhse first began shooting on the corner, he
has consciously varied the style of his photographs.
After a year of making images at dusk, he decided
to pursue an aesthetic more commonly associated
with documentary photography. Emphasizing close-
cropped headshots and natural light, the earliest
works to adopt this approach focused exclusively
on women from the corner, depicting them in candid,
intimate portraits. Morgan (2007), for example, shows
a young woman dressed in a casual summer tank top
with her arms clasped behind her back. She looks
directly into the camera, her expression guarded,
but not uninviting. Nothing about this image says
she is crack user. Indeed, most of the women in
these portraits could be anyone. From here, Fouhse
naturally went on to make portraits of male addicts,
often in more aggressive or defiant poses. Having
noticed that his portraits of female addicts elicited
more empathy from his audience, he decided to
explore this bias by subtly emphasizing stereotypes
of masculine and feminine behaviour. His final series
of photographs from the corner returns to earlier
themes—which Fouhse refers to as “echoes”—but
with less-obvious theatricality.

cv6

Given that Fouhse consciously plays with the styles
and affects of documentary photography, there is a
tendency to read his images as documents. Indeed,
this word crops up frequently in writing and discus-
sions about User. A document is assumed, of course,
to be disinterested, objective. It is thus an attractive
notion for those who are uncomfortable with the
issues at hand. Such sanitized distance is, however,
contrary to Fouhse’s entire creative practice. User
might therefore be better understood as a series
of hypotheses, as it ultimately seeks to question
reality more than prove it. Indeed, the most signif-
icant aspect of this work is the way it challenges
deep-seated beliefs about who has the right to
represent reality. Those who see these portraits
as documents assume the addicts had no part in
making them, that they were simply there, like
objects or wildlife. To assume otherwise is to
question prevailing attitudes towards addiction,
to say nothing of “regimes of expression” that
exclude addicts from making public demonstrat-
ions of self-worth.

cv7

Reactions to User typically break down into two
camps: those who oppose it as a form of “collab-
orating with the enemy,” and those who celebrate
it for blurring boundaries or challenging middle-
class notions of decency. What is disturbing about
both these perspectives is, quite simply, the absence
of the drug addicts’ own agency. Both sides assume
that the people in Fouhse’s photographs are “on
the other side of the looking glass,” so to speak.
One states it openly, insisting the addicts should
not be part of this world at all; the other expresses
it tacitly, instrumentalizing the photographs and
using them to forward its own agendas. The most
offensive reaction of all dismisses Fouhse as a para-
site preying on the hapless. The underlying assumpt-
ion here is that while addicts may choose misery, they
cannot choose creativity, self-expression, friendship,
or love. As a society, we are often more than happy to
hold people responsible for the life choices that led
them to the street, but we are not so generous when
it comes to those that might lead them elsewhere. It
is in this context that we may begin to consider User
a kind of political art, not because it teaches us any-
thing about the frailty of human existence, the corrup-
tion of our society, or the hypocrisy of its values, but
because it does not deny anyone’s ability to participate
in their own life.

—Emily Falvey, Montreal, 2011

STEPH CHECKS IN and LOS ANGELES

STEPHANIE

Steph sent this along for you droolers…….

It’s me Stephanie, Im writing to keep you
guys up to date. So far since I got home
I accomplished alot. I got home April 17
late at night and that is where I had to
stick it out with no heroine and not a
clue where to get it. A couple days after
arriving in Nova Scotia I became very
dope sick so I had to turn to the pills
only for a couple days until I made it
to my appointment with the methadone
doctor. I made it to the doctor last week
and he put me on 30MG of methadone
for 7 days then I take 40MG of methadone
for the rest of the month.

I cant live with my mom right now and
my sister needs her space to so I went
to assistance and asked them to help
me with rent so I could find A place,
witch I did (YEA) so now i got my own
place, and I can move in this Monday.

steph2
Stephanie in my backyard, April 10, 2011

So now that my life is starting to fit back
together I can start setting goals for my-
self! The amount that I got done down
here is A years worth of tasks up there
when I was using heroine. I came home
got on methadone, got a cheque through
assistance, found A appartment and also
went to halifax to see my doctor about
my brain sergury and she put me on
disability for 6 months all in 2 inahalf
weeks!!.

Now I bet you all wondering and asking
yourself?! “is stephanie still using pills?”
NO I am comfortable drinking my meth-
adone everyday, I now weigh 106lbs and
loving it. I would’nt be where I am today
if I didn’t have the help from my FRIEND
Tony and this help from his awsome wife
Cindy.

CIEL VARIABLE

Ciel Variable, the venerable Montreal-based foto magazine, is launching
their spring issue during CONTACT Foto Fest, in Toronto.

This particular issue is about portraiture and I’m honoured to be featured,
along with JJ Levine from Montreal and NYC-based superstar Martin
Schoeller
.

The launch is at Gallery TPW, May 14th, noon to three. Drop by if you can.

cv88

CONTACT website
Facebook page
Ciel Variable

DAVID BAILEY

If you happen to live in Ontario, or if you get TVO on your television,
May is a good month. In conjunction with CONTACT Foto Fest TVO is
airing a whole bunch of films about fotografy.

This coming Thursday (at 9:00) they are showing “David Bailey, Four
Beats to the Bar, and No Cheating”, a thing about, of course, David
Bailey.

baileyb

Here’s a link to that
And here’s a link to their fotofilm sked.

re: THE CANADIAN ELECTION

Okay, so in the run-up to the recent Canadian election there was a
great deal of hysterical/angry/passionate Facebook chatter about
the possibility of a Conservative Majority government. (For you non-
Canadians out there…..The Canadian Conservative Party is led by
a guy named Stephen Harper who is very conservative, controlling,
right-wing and sort of shifty to boot.)

harper-door-300-sharp
Canadian Prime Minister S. Harper

It was going to be the end of the world (or at least our Canadian corner
of it) if the Conservatives got their majority. Let me repeat: People Were
Crazy Passionate About This. The End Of The Fucking World, I Tell You!!!!

Then it came to pass….a big Conservative majority…..these fools have
unfettered control of Parliament for the next four years. (To paraphrase
Pete Townsend: Meet the new fool, same as the old fool.)

The day after the election there was all kinds of agony about just how
horrible this was, how it was going to turn our Canadian Society into
a version of the George (W.) Bush U.S.A.

Then…..nothing. The Facebook chatter and hysteria, the passion, all
but disappeared.

What does this mean?

I think it means that people are now on to the next thing to become
hysterical about (not that there won’t be outbreaks of backlash from
time to time when the Conservatives table some draconian right wing
legislation). But mostly we just accept; we bend over and take it.

This bothers me, this fleeting passion that is brought upon by some
current event. This outrage and anger and fear before the event and
the fading away of all that afterwards.

I ask you, all the folks who were so passionate about fighting this
power: Where did your passion, your anger, go? What are you going
to do now?

LOS ANGELES

The opening page looks like this…..To see the whole thing go here.

screen-shot-2011-05-05-at-125424-pm