Wednesday, June 10, 2020

06/20 An Argument for "Slow" Photography

As photographers, especially those of us who have studied art or have even painted, we are insecure about our medium and we go running back to the idea of painting as the benchmark of art as children run to their mother's skirt. The argument that has been most often been posited for this is that painting enjoys a rich history that goes back centuries while photography is still comparatively in its infant stages and has not attained a sufficient maturity and authority to stand up against painting as an art. As I was once again, in a moment of weakness, about to set up an easel to find out what it was about painting that so muddled my thinking as a photographer, that so blocked my path like a religious admonition, I was interrupted by a phone call that sent me to my computer. As I spoke to my interlocutor I began browsing some images in a 2014 folder I had made on a trip to Toronto. I came across an image that reminded me of the images made by European photographers in the 20's and 30's as they broke away, much like painting,  from the domination of a content base approach to a more abstract way of composing images.

It struck me that the speed at which photography had evolved from the early experiments of Louis Daguerre, Nicephore Niecpe, and Henry Fox Talbot to the images made of Mars, to the constant stream of images generated by digital media had perhaps now levelled off these perceived timelines to an equal level of evolution.

In some way the painting of Lucien Freud seemed like a conscious slowing down in time to find meaning in painting. It struck me that perhaps what photographers now need to do is to just slow down in a similar way. It struck me that perhaps it was time to just put down my phone and to pick up my camera again, and most importantly, to just start thinking a little more slowly about the images I was making when I did. In a curious metaphor, to start painting again. And to start believing that this was my/the best way to show, with some authenticity, what I saw and understood of my time of this planet.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

06/20 Instagram Collages #1 (Hockney Blue - 1982)

Instagram Collage # 2 , Amanda's Green Chairs, 2020

06/20 Blue Car Pink Dress

Blue Car, 2020
People have been making Corona Virus period pieces and others recording their experiences while under lockdown, social distancing or whatever. I'm not a journalist or a social commentator and I wasn't going to make pictures of empty streets. The irony now, of course, is that the streets are sure as hell not empty anymore anyway. But my experience of this pandemic as an artist is no more worth noting than anyone else's experience. But being in this democratic social media environment, it seems to be the main drive for many artists I suppose.

If anything has characterized this time for me, it has been the heightened social isolation that has been imposed on me because I live alone to begin with. But I'm not suffering. I have food. I live comfortably in a safe neighbourhood and I'm in no danger whatsoever. I'm one of the lucky ones. If anything, the relative luxury I live in has been underscored by the events of the past few months. My large Montreal apartment and the furniture in it has been staring me down with accusations of privilege. It's quiet here. It's peaceful. The mice have moved in and stroll around the apartment like there's no one here. I've evicted at least one so far. But it has not, in any way, shaped how I go about making art. My creative process is an on-going process. It doesn't need to be fed by current events. In fact I question whether any of these Covid-19 portfolios are art at all. The precedent, I suppose, is the work of American photographers during the American dustbowl, or perhaps more recently the on-going work of Sebastiao Selgado.

So in looking for a project to do I was consciously steering around the entire Corona Virus issue. I was not entitled to any comment on it it seemed. It was not the kind of thing I do. I began by making photographs of the empty apartment, emphasizing the social isolation it was feeling. I covered furniture with white sheets like abandoned chateaux or English manors. Even that seemed to be a poorly constructed metaphor of self indulgence. "Poor me" in my corona isolation. I had time on my hands and I just wanted to be productive.



I was also at an impasse since it seemed that my "Reflections" series was at a standstill if not at an end. I was looking for a new project, a new idea. I started playing with some images on my computer screen, making collages the way I used to make collages years ago. I sometimes gave myself a 4X5 format to work with as a means of staying within a restricted photographic paradigm. I also told myself I could make a 1:1 series for my Instagram platform. These images were just the first few I made. But it gives me a focus for using my telephone to make images that might serve as parts rather than whole images.

Pink Dress, 2020

Sunday, June 7, 2020

06/20 A Portrait Gallery


My father in law, Gerald Swann, and my mother in law. Marie Sixsmith Swann were both artists, Gerald having studied at the Académie de Bruxelles and Marie having studied at Central St-Martins in London. I met the Swanns in 1980 and married Anne, their daughter, in 1982. Gerald was an academic painter and always worked in a 19th century idiom, making portraits for the upper classes in Europe, an occupation which disappeared after WW11, and had him turn his hand to advertising. But a portraitist he was and “pictures” of the family filled their flat in Montreal. When the estate passed to Raphael, their son, and Gerald now 94, went to live in a home, the portraits were stored.

In 2018, Raphael occupied a large house in the country not far from where the family lived in the Eastern Townships, South-East of Montreal. When I visited recently, I found a stairwell running up from the large dining area to the upper level. I reminded Raphael of those large English Manors with their stairwell portrait galleries and suggested he do the same with some of the family portraits.

This past weekend, with the assistance of his Lordship I hung a number of the pictures on two walls of the stairwell and created a miniature riff on those large stately homes. Raphael still has many of the “mannerisms” of his European upbringing and the stairwell will contribute nicely to his swagger. For me, it was a chance to reference my knowledge of European art and architectural traditions that I learned in part from Gerald over the years, and that are often lost here in North America, which in both art and architecture evolves from a more modernist departure point, except perhaps for some of the disappearing Victorian homes of Montreal and Toronto.


I've included two particularly strong portraits (besides his self-portrait above). The first is of Raphael as a boy in a very "Constable" pose and finally a picture of Anne which he gave us as a wedding gift and which hung in our own home for a long time. I've since passed it on to Raphael in an effort to keep the "family portraits" together as a collection.