A GRANDER SCHEME

In which I begin to stick prints to a board, looking for some pattern, some something.

And if process doesn’t interest you just scroll to the bottom for a review of Leslie Hossack’s show Freud Through the Looking-Glass.

Let’s go . . .

TRIAL AND ERROR AND ERROR AND ERROR

I’ve never enjoyed aimless photography . . . you know, walking around grabbing, like a crow, any shiny thing that attracts my attention.

Neither have I liked photography that is ultra-focused . . . you know, those bodies of work where every damn photo is just about the same.

A grander scheme is what I’m after, something with deeper complexity and dimension than either of the above-mentioned approaches engender.

Now, I prefer to let the subject matter, as much as my biases and proclivities, inform how I photograph each of my projects. The problem here, or, rather, one of the problems, is that I have no idea what the subject matter actually is. This project doesn’t even have a name or any coordinates.

And I must stress here that the subject matter does not necessarily have to be that which I’m photographing. No, the stuff I’m photographing might just be a stand-in for some other thing. You know . . . metaphorical, metaphysical, something.

So the other day I chose 48 images from my select folder and made some small prints.

And so it begins, this (other) initial phase of a project that is unlike any project I have done before.

I’m gonna stick ’em up on my bulletin boards, move ’em around and look for some sense, a pattern, some way forward. At this point I’m just trying to find out what the aim of this project might actually be.

And part of this phase is (maybe) figuring out how I want the images to relate to one another, bearing in mind that the final form of this thing will (might be) be some kind of printed publication.

I kind of like the idea of 2-shot columns. And of course there’s always the good-old standard side-by-side thing. Or what about simply one photo by itself, and then another?

The only thing I know at this point is that I don’t know. That, and that there’s a whole lot more image-gathering, pondering and trial and error and error and error ahead of me.

Something to look forward to.

OTTAWA NOTES

LESLIE HOSSACK at STUDIO SIXTY SIX

After more than a decade spent studying (with brilliant icy precision and a lack of sentimentality) the architectural infrastructure (and thus the politics) of the era surrounding World War II, Leslie Hossack has shifted focus.

Her new work, Freud Through the Looking-Glass (on view at Studio Sixty Six), is framed as a study of the pre-war Vienna of Freud and Hitler, but the photos belie that strict interpretation. This work shows us Hossack’s reactions to encountering the, for lack of a better word, infrastructure surrounding Sigmund Freud.

That is . . . rather than showing us, as she has done in the past, her arrival at some destination (the East Gate of the 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin, for instance) here Hossack shows us her journey to the destination.

Not to give you the idea that these photographs are a travelog of her trip to Berggasse 19, in Vienna, where Freud lived and practiced for almost 50 years. On the contrary, the images here are all situated either directly outside Freud’s old office, or in its inside. The (subtle but present) difference from her previous work lies in the type of images Hossack has brought back from that encounter, as well as in their sequencing.

We are brought from the outside to the inside through a chronological sequence. We enter and move through a hall to the couch where the psychoanalysis took place. It’s a trip.

Further, on the facing wall is a series of images where we see, mapped on as a ghostly smear, Hossack’s face reflected in the glass that covers some of the art and other artifacts that inhabited Freud’s office.

By inserting herself, and by adding narrative elements to the whole, Freud Through the Looking-Glass shows us Hossack’s reaction to what’s in front of her in a way deeper than just registering awe. The work begins to become psychological.

Recommended.

Leslie Hossack
Studio Sixty Six

HERE I AM. WHERE THE HELL AM I?

RECENT HISTORY

drool. petered out early January this year. Then, because I bought a new camera and wanted to figure out what to do with it, I retooled and restarted it in early April. You see, I use this space to figure photo-stuff out.

Camera porn

But now summer is upon us and I’m going to take a break from blogging. Probably be back the first Sunday after Labour Day.

In the meantime . . . have a swell summer, take ‘er easy, and, conversely, keep your bullshit detectors up and running. There can never be enough critical questioning.

Anyway . . .

HERE I AM. WHERE THE HELL AM I?

Here I am, 11 weeks after I got my FujiFilm X100F and began some completely undefined photo-project. So where the hell am I, anyway?

Camera porn: selfie

Let’s get the real geek stuff out of the way first. I quite like this camera. it’s fun and easy to use once you turn all the doodads, auto functions and options off. (The only one I use is aperture-priority auto exposure.) And I love the optical viewfinder (having a real hate on for the way electronic viewfinders separate you from what’s in front of the lens).

The problem, though, is figuring out what I want to actually do with the thing. What do I have to say and how can it help me say it?

Camera porn: close up

Let me tell you a little about my process. (And the X100F certainly makes the first point here darn easy.) . . . .

  • Go out and take some photos.
  • Download ’em. (Lightroom)
  • Root through and, with an open mind, choose the frames that seem like they might be useful.
  • Turn those ones into TIFFs.
  • Do a bit of post production on those. (Photoshop)
  • Slap ’em into a folder called SELECTS.
  • Every time I add new images I open the folder and choose 6 or 8 or 11 or something images, open them and move ’em around my desktop.
  • Look for pairs or groups that seem to work together. Or maybe show me relationships, however tenuous, that, for lack of a better word, speak to me.
  • If I’m lucky I think I maybe see something there. A word pops into my head that, in an abstract way, seems like a key or a clue, or something.
  • Think I might be getting somewhere.
  • Change my mind about that whole “maybe I’m getting somewhere” thing.
  • Repeat.

But there has been progress over the 11 weeks I’ve been working on this. Some of the words that pop into my head, well . . . they stick, they show me possibilities and a way forward. Some of the image combinations make a certain kind of sense to me.

Right now I’m sort of pretty sure I want there to be a dreamlike discord to the work, more open-ended than anything I’ve done for a long time. A series of disparate images that are stuck tentatively together by their own gravity while simultaneously being pulled apart by dark energy. The whole sequence rotating around its own internal logic.

And the word I keep thinking of is desire.

Finally, in closing (and because I am reading it now) I leave you with the first sentence from Samuel Beckett’s novel, Murphy (pub. 1938) .

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Okay then. Back in September . . . . . . . . .

IDEA

So I’ve got an idea, or maybe a rough idea, about some of the imagery I want to accumulate, throw into the stew that is my new project.

One of the things (if “things” is the correct word) I’m after is male and female flesh, bodies.

To this end I asked my friend Hannah if I might photograph her, her body. Sure, she said. Thank you very much, I replied.

Day of the shoot I went over to her place, we sat on the couch, talked a while. I tried to explain what I thought my idea was, why I wanted some flesh and bodies in the mix. The situation, then and there, seemed relaxed and interesting so I shot a frame.

But I was nervous to begin . . . what with having some pretty firm ideas about how and why photos of naked people should be used. In fact it feels a little weird posting these here. But there is a reason (I tell myself) for showing them, the duds and the ones that might, in the end, be useful. Just as there is (or might be) a reason why I need images like this at all.

Anyway, finally I gathered up my gumption and we moved to the bedroom and began.

To say the photos were bad would be an understatement, they seemed forced and stupid. My fault completely. (I’ve always maintained that when photographing people in a controlled situation the photographer is the only person who can make a mistake.)

Then I remembered how comfortable we had been sitting on the couch, talking. How that very first snap was so fresh and seemed real, and how I liked the way her eyes were cut off because I hadn’t been really looking or even trying.

So we moved back there . . .

And it felt closer to what I thought I had in mind.

But seen here, decontextualized from how it might be used in the project, it seems too blatant. I mean, I like the relaxed feeling and the fact the eyes were cut off (and that extra eye on her arm). The look on Hannah’s face works for me too. Maybe in the end I’ll be needing images like this. For now, for me, that’s reason enough to try.

And finally we did this . . .

And I thought, yes, that’s what I meant. It strikes me as maybe a viable piece of my project, which is a puzzle that, at this point, is undefined. But I think that this image provides, somehow, a piece of some definition.

I had set out to photograph flesh but it’s this photograph that embodies, for me, the feeling (and maybe even the meaning) of what I think I’m after.

Goes to show that what you think you want, what you think might be important, might not be what you want or what’s important.

Of course, these are early days and I’m not ruling anything out at this point. My job now is to make sure I’ve turned over as many stones as necessary to ensure I have enough “right” images to make the project work. And by work I mean to create a sequence that points in the direction of, and somehow defines, my idea. An idea which I’m still not going to say out loud.

OTTAWA NOTES

Not much to note in the KapitalCityPhotoScene this week. Next week, though, there’ll be some good stuff to report. And so it goes . . .

In the meantime, what about your project? Does it want to become a book? If it does then this workshop is for you.

A Practical Guide to Publishing a Photobook. It takes place at SPAO, July 20th. That’s a Saturday.

You’ll learn:

  • Why you should make a photobook and how to organize your images in a way that makes sense.
  • The various tools, both online and physical, you can use to work on your book.
  • How to make dummies (working prototypes) of your book as it evolves.
  • The steps you should take to refine the look and feel of the book.
  • The various means available to have your book printed.
  • And a lot of other stuff you’ve probably never considered, like how the weight of the book affects shipping charges, how to source packaging materials to make the delivery/distribution of your book more professional, and ways and means to publicize your book.

Go here to sign up.

Cover and page spreads of Official Ottawa
Printed on newsprint
2000 free copies distributed across Canada

INDUSTRY, HAPPENSTANCE AND PONDERING

This week we begin with a short thing, and a link, to a discussion about photographing power. There’s also an update on my new project, plus a couple of Ottawa Notes. And be sure to tune in next week when drool. will have a special BREXIT! edition.

Let’s begin . . .

PHOTOGRAPHING POWER

A little while ago I participated in a Skype-type round table discussion, the subject: Photographing Power. The discussion was moderated and edited by Laurence Butet-Roch, for The Magenta Foundation’s newsletter.

In on the discussion were Glenna Gordon, Janet Jarman, Yvonne Venegas, Paolo Woods and Luca Zanier. Some seriously smart photographers.

It’s a long(ish) read but if you are interested in, well, in how and why to photograph power you’ll find some interesting thoughts, ideas and links in there.

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INDUSTRY, HAPPENSTANCE AND PONDERING

When I began this project the plan was to allow my new camera, plus a certain amount of industry, happenstance and pondering, to provide direction. What the project might be about, what it would look and feel like, was totally undefined.

But now something, some possibility, is emerging out of the semi-randomness of my shooting.

For instance, I see these four as being connected. But the connection, whatever it is, is very crude and probably mostly in my head. And even then it’s foggy. But it does feel like I’ve caught a glimpse of something in that fog, some possibility, something to pursue.

Of course I’ve just begun, and the act of discovery (as opposed to executing a plan to arrive at a foregone conclusion) takes a lot of time. I have to keep reminding myself. Yes.

Plus, as I work away I’m sure there will be rethinks, maybe even wholesale revisions of what I think I’m trying to do.

Who knows?

And that’s the beauty of it.

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OTTAWA NOTES

PHOTOBOOK WORKSHOP

This workshop, at SPAO, will enlighten you about all kinds of practical photobook-making tips, tricks, strategies, resources, promotion and more. Stuff I learned the hard way, through trial and error, when I was running Straylight Press and produced 18 titles by 12 photographers.

Sign up here.

Covers of some Straylight Press photobooks.

RUTH STEINBERG: Comfortable in His Own Skin

After Angus Wright lost 300 pounds Ruth Steinberg photographed his body. The resulting images, large B&W prints from 4×5 negs, are on display at the Enriched Bread Artists gallery.

This is a hard yet elegant look at a male body. The photographs contain no gauzy symbolism, they are not overwrought, nor do they cater to romance. What they do do is, they tread the fine line between forensics and art history. They are difficult to ignore.

The viewing sched is a bit finicky, but this exhibition is definitely worth the effort. Go have a look and a think. Details here.


FRESH. FROM ANGOLA.

ÉMILIE RÉGNIER: La Bella de Luanda

I first met Émilie 4 or 5 years ago at the Boreal Bash in Toronto, where she showed her Passport West Africa work. I was immediately taken. Shot with a Polaroid passport camera, four identical images on a small piece of positive film. Mostly women, a few men and children. Headshots.

from: Passport West Africa ©Emilie Régnier

Since then I’ve been looking at her subsequent work with wonder. Created mostly in Africa, almost always based on fashion. But it’s not really of fashion, also in the mix is portraiture, culture, exoticism (to Western eyes), sociology, anthropology, art, and the document.

Her most recent work, La Bella de Luanda, photographed in Angola, stopped me in my tracks. There’s something about these images that seem (at least for me) to provoke interesting questions about representation, questions that photographers people these days might want to think about. And they do it in a fresh, modern way that invites wonder.

Top to Bottom
Miss Allina
Maria and Hortancia
Madame Mendes

I asked Emilie a few questions. Her answers are as fresh and honest as her photographs . . .

Tell me a little about how you came to photography and why you choose to work with cameras that seem to embrace, for lack of a better word, the analog qualities of the medium.

I came to photography at a very young age. My grandfather bought me my first Polaroid camera when I was about 6 years old. I was then living in Gabon, and I remember shooting whatever I could, my friends, landscapes etc… They were terrible images, but I was already infatuated with the magic of photography.

When I was 16, I start working, and I used my first paycheck ever to buy myself a semi-professional Pentax camera. I was then taking photos of my friends and parties until graduation, most photos were taken slightly drunk or high and I would paste them on the wall of my room. And from then, I tried hard to not embrace photography as a professional career, but at 20 after dropping out of college on a winter day because they were no more parking spots available… I decided that maybe it was time to stop running away from what I really wanted and I went to study photography at College Marsan in Montreal. I instinctively disliked digital at the beginning. It doesn’t have the same sensuality, the depth of field bothered me, it had with time became too sharp and mainly it doesn’t exist in the material world, plus the beauty of mistakes with film camera is hard to beat. But I guess I am just like a nostalgic DJ swearing vinyls are so much better than MP3….

Miss Oliveira
Miss Maria
Miss Fatima
Miss Esperança

What draws you to Africa?

I spent my childhood in Gabon, and we got back to Canada when I was about 8. I for a long time said and thought that I went to live and work on the African continent to be an actor of change and witness inequalities.

Today, if I am honest, I think I was drawn back to this continent because a part of me belongs here. I am mixed race, and I was raised in a suburb of Montreal where I always stood out. Despite the love and affection of my family and friends, there was not a day I didn’t remember that I was different. It could maybe have been another experience if my father would have been around and I would have a positive reference of what it is to be a person of color, but he didn’t, and I grew up around white peoples.

At that time, for me being black was either synonym of a gang, crimes, hip hop, absent father or Africa and starvations. When you are mixed, you embodied both, the oppressed and the oppressor. There’s a natural tendency to embrace the part of you that has been oppressed, as it is your weakest link. I used to hate being mixed from a Black father, so I guess I had to learn about that side of me, to learn about what it means to be Black.

When I first came to Dakar more than 10 years ago, I felt that there were other realities than the one I had been living in. That the narratives about peoples of color I have been exposed through Western media as a child and a teenager were lies and stereotypes, that this continent was something other than conflict and malnutrition, that this is a place of creativity where the world is being reinvented. And I felt I wanted to be part of these narratives, not the one I was seeking at first, but the one that is still taking shape in front of my eyes.

Miss Lebia
Blue
Madalena and Luzia
Miss Americo

To my eyes the work you are doing there moves well beyond what these days is commonly called “othering”, your photographs ask a lot of questions. Can you talk a bit about your approach, both on the ground with the people you choose to photograph, and how and why you came to this way of working?

The goal I am pursuing with my work is to build bridges, to create other narratives and other ways to look at peoples. Our brains are over lazy and Western ideas of success, beauty, wealth are widely spread through Western Media and are often held by the elite around the world. This has created conditioning on how we see ourselves and how we see others. I want to challenge those ideas. I have been exposed to them growing up, and every day I am working hard to rewire my brain and to believe other truths. I want my work to make others question their absolute beliefs. I don’t have answers, but I am continually seeking new questions. I believe Fashion and Art are powerful tools to lead to new ways of thinking and to expand our consciousness.

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OTTAWA NOTES

SPAO hosted their annual grad show this past Friday. As usual a swell crowd filled the premises. Merriment, chat, discussion, catching up, looking, et cetera, ensued.

But what about the work?

Well, as usual, each graduating student has brought their own voice, concerns, perspective and approach to the show. What struck me, though, is I can’t remember a graduating cohort who seem more outward-looking and politically engaged than this one (generally) is.

Some of the politics is overt.:

  • Katherine Fulwider’s prints on cardboard of homeless youth, these accompanied by cardboard signs those youth use to tell you what they want you to know.
  • Christine Potvin’s portraits with interviews of Canadian Forces veterans, if that’s the correct word, who were drummed out of service because they were gay.
  • BPG’s reimagining of supermarket tabloids as hard political propaganda.

Some is elliptical:

  • Vivian Törs’ reaction to letters, written from 1937 to 1944, by a Hungarian-Jewish wife and mother.
  • Lauren Boucher’s ode to home and surviving cancer.
  • Destroyed money by Nicolai Papove Gregory.

Some documentary:

  • Through her grown children, Patricia LaPrairie looks at life in her home.
  • Lindsay Irene’s portraits of sex workers.

Of course there’s more. And who knows, you may see politics there where I don’t. After all, couldn’t all self expression be classified as somehow political?

And, as usual, some of the bodies of work here are more accomplished, fully realized, sophisticated, multi-dimensional, (fill in your own word here), than others.

Go have a look and decide for yourself. It continues until May 5th.

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