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Spring 2007 Cover
Spring 2007 Cover
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"Mohawk Gas," Cyborg Hybrid Steve (curator, videographer), KC Adams, digital print, 2006
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"Ginseng #6," Evan Lee, Ink Jet Print, 5" x 7", edition of 8. Image Courtesy Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver
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"Shed," Steven Dixon, digital print on Japanese paper mounted on panels, 2006, 150 x 187.5 cm
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"Eric and Andrea"
"Eric and Andrea," Elaine Stocki, 2005, C-Print, 24" x 24"
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"Untitled (2006)," Terrance Houle & Jarusha Brown, from the Urban Indian Series Photo Courtesy of the Banff Centre
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"Alsask," Danny Singer, 2006, Archival ink, jet print, edition 1/5, 20" x 97"
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"Woman with Horse"
"Woman with Horse," Karin Bubas, C-Print, 2006, 60" x 60"
Western Canadian Artists to Watch.
BY: Wes LaFortune
Contemporary fine art photography in Western Canada is enjoying unprecedented acclaim. With emerging talent and new technology, the visual landscape of the West is being transformed by a group of artists who have stretched the boundaries of photography to create new ways of viewing our world and in turn are capturing the attention of galleries, museums and collectors.
“Certainly in Western Canada the charge has been led by Jeff Wall,” says Yves Trépanier, of Trépanier Baer Gallery in Calgary. “He is arguably Canada’s most successful artist at the moment and perhaps the best known. And out of his efforts and others like Roy Arden and Rodney Graham there is a second and now third generation of photo-based artists. They have some stature internationally, are well collected and have created a kind of school—The Vancouver School. That’s the most visible change in Western Canada.”
The Calgary gallerist says that because of the high profile of select Vancouver-based photographers, spearheaded by Wall’s success, there is now a positive impact on the photography scene rippling across the rest of Western Canada. “It connects a Canadian scene to a larger international scene,” says Trépanier. “And by default that may come back locally with linkages to artists and the proliferation of art fairs that create support for all sorts of artists, including photo-based artists.”
Trépanier points to Danny Singer as a photographer who is capturing this kind of attention. Born in Calgary, and now living in Vancouver, Singer uses digital technology to “stitch together” panoramic streetscapes of prairie towns from single images. “That recording of our cultural history is of huge interest to people in Western Canada,” says Trépanier. “It has a resonance for people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. He’s reflecting that history back to them.”
Reid Shier is director of Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery, Western Canada’s longest operating photography gallery. He agrees that contemporary photography in the west is now fully accepted as fine art.
“It has certainly achieved commensurate status with other art forms in the past 10 years,” says Shier. “I’ve seen prices of photography on par with other artwork. Photography has finally achieved equal status.”
Karin Bubas is one of the “new” Vancouver-based photographers whose work is now being widely collected. A 1998 graduate of the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design she often takes her inspiration from film or painting to make photographs that explore the role of women in society. Her most recent series, Studies of Landscape and Wardrobe, uses associations from Alfred Hitchcock and Michelangelo Antonioni films as a point of departure for her tension-filled narratives featuring stylishly dressed women depicted in local parks.
Shier says another reason photography has made such strong gains in the past decade is because of the compelling nature of photo-based works being created by artists who have abandoned traditional approaches to photography in favour of new technologies, or the combining of media.
He cites Evan Lee, a Vancouver artist who recently created images of ginseng roots by placing them directly on the window of a flatbed scanner. Suggestive of the sensuous photographs of green peppers made by American photographer Edward Weston in the 1930s, Lee’s work is an eloquent expression of classic imagery created with new tools.
Kevin Schmidt is among a new generation of Vancouver artists who create works incorporating photography with references to political and pop cultural references, though he would not normally be described as a photographer. A 1997 Emily Carr graduate, Schmidt recently installedFog, featuring projections of dry ice fog that had been photographed at night on the forest floor.
Conjuring spectacles that are equally theatrical and photographic, Schmidt is just one of a growing number of artists based in Western Canada who are breaking free of photography’s conventions to create new photo-based artworks.
One of the few public institutions in Canada to track contemporary photography from a national perspective is the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in Ottawa. CMCP director Martha Hanna says contemporary photography in Western Canada is becoming more important on the national scene because of a talented group of artists who are redefining the nature of the medium. “It’s never been healthier,” she says of the explosion of photography in this region. “There’s always renewal.”
Hanna notes that among this innovative crop of modern artists is Milutin Gubash, a former Calgarian now living in Montreal. Since 1999 he has been combining photography, video and performative art. Gubash uses news articles that he’s collected from a Calgary daily as a starting point to recreate often-disturbing scenes. A headline such as Son Charged in Stabbing Death of Father sets Gubash off—together with his parents who he often incorporates into the pieces as onlookers—on an exploration of narratives where facets of landscape and documentary photography come into play.
Terrance Houle is a Calgary-based artist who exemplifies the current cross-pollination of creativity. A 2003 graduate of the Alberta College of Art & Design, Houle uses photography, video, film, painting and drawing to comment on the experience of indigenous peoples living in a modern world. A member of the Blood/Kainai Nation, Houle recently created images for a collection he titled the Urban Indian Series. In one photo an Aboriginal man wearing traditional garb, complete with a headdress, is seen picking up a few items for dinner at a local supermarket.
Steven Dixon is an Edmonton-based artist who also merges media and technique. A technician in the Printmaking Department at the University of Alberta, Dixon is known for his digital photographs of the orphaned factories, mines and mills that litter Alberta’s landscape. He uses his knowledge and skills as a printmaker to advance his digital photography.
One of his most recent series of photographs depicting abandoned industrial sites were printed on Japanese rice paper. The large-scale images were digitally output onto the delicate paper and placed in frames. The effect heightened the impact of the photographs which describe a period in our collective industrialization that’s left behind a trail of abandoned infrastructure.
Joining the ranks of these talented photo-based creators is a group of Winnipeg artists who are using the medium of photography to explore themes of race, gender and social standing. Cliff Eyland is associate professor and director of Gallery One One One at the University of Manitoba School of Art in Winnipeg. He has been following the career of KC Adams, an artist he describes as “taking Aboriginal art into the future.”
Originally from Selkirk, Manitoba, Adams uses herself and her friends as subjects to make digital photographs that mimic the presentation of models found in the world’s best-known fashion magazines. Her series of photographs titled Cyborg Hybrids draws attention to stereotypes that surround race and its various classifications.
Eyland wrote about Adams for a recent exhibition of her work at Gallery One One One in which he stated, “There is a new strut to Winnipeg Aboriginal art, and KC Adams is at the head of the parade.”
Adding to the revitalization is Elaine Stocki, a University of Manitoba art student who takes photographs of Winnipeggers who come from all walks of life. “It’s a risky but important strategy that deals with social reality in art practice,” Eyland says. Sometimes meeting strangers through ads she’s placed in the classifieds, Stocki’s artwork connects with traditions of documentary photography, theatre and fine art.
In the photograph titled Eric and Andrea, the photographer is shown lying on a bed staring impassively up at the ceiling of a seedy room while an older man pins her down. Power, gender roles and simmering brutality all play into this remarkable and disturbing photograph—indicative of the unique perspectives now coalescing in the West.
Back in Calgary, Yves Trépanier sums up what he sees as the potent impact of contemporary photography in the West and across the world.
“Evidence of that line between art and photography is gone,” he says. “We see photography in more and more museums, we see photography in more private collections. We see the influence of the medium on other media. We see artists using photography, or the camera, or some sort of optical device to make art. The world is much more open to technology. And I would include the camera as part of that technology as a device to make art. It’s fully accepted now.”
Wes Lafortune is a visual arts writer for Fast Forward Weekly and a regular contributor to Photo Life magazine. He lives in Calgary, where he works as a full-time freelance journalist.
Cyborg Living Spaces
“For several years I was creating work called Cyborg Living Spaces based on Martha Stewart’s influence over the average American consumer and the surge of the home décor phenomenon. This work resulted in the investigation of my own identity, which developed into a new work called Cyborg Hybrids. This digitally manipulated photo series attempts to challenge our views towards mixed race classifications by using humorous text and imagery from two cultures. TheCyborg Hybrids are digital prints of Euro-Aboriginal artists who are forward thinkers and plugged into technology. They follow the doctrine of Donna Harroway’s Cyborg Manifesto— a cyborg is a creature in a technological, post-gender world free of traditional western stereotypes towards race and gender. I photographed artists who fit the Cyborg Hybrid criteria and had them wear white t-shirts with beaded text such as “AUTHORITY ON ALL ABORIGINAL ISSUES”, “INDIAN GIVER”, “ASK ME ABOUT MY SWEETGRASS” and other slogans that would illustrate common Aboriginal racial stereotyping. I also created white chokers for them to wear while I photographed them in stoic poses, mimicking photographs of Aboriginal people from the 19th and early 20th century. I then digitally altered the photos to look like they could fit within a glamorous magazine. The models’ defiant poses challenge the viewer to try and classify their identity as anything other than a Cyborg Hybrid.”