It Started With Beauty
When I first began talking about the images I was making, I used to say I was searching for beauty with my work. But as time passed, as I gave it more thought, as I matured (chuckle), I came to realize that although beauty was an element it certainly wasn’t the driving force behind my images.
I can’t say for sure what I was doing before I began working on the Metro Motion series except to say that I saw things that resonated within me and so I would photograph them and attempt to portray my inner vision. But with the Metro Motion work, I made a conscious effort to find a new way of seeing the city – one I could be happy with – and with this I began to think differently about what I was doing. I experimented with different techniques I liked, including long exposures, camera movement and pinhole photography. Around this time I saw some amazing pinhole work by Michael Wesely – Open Shutter at the MOMA in New York that validated my interest in finding a different way to portray the city.
Everything I’ve done since has, in my mind at least, followed some kind of evolution from that original idea of seeing the city differently. As to why the city – I realize now that I photograph as part of my daily life and so I photograph where I live and travel. Up until Metro Motion I had been slightly nomadic and driving a lot and so I was able to photograph landscapes in the countryside.
Between 1988-93 or so I lived and worked in Hamilton and Windsor but drove a lot around southern Ontario and traveled elsewhere. I would photograph mostly while I was driving and traveling but also began to explore the industrial landscape of Hamilton, Windsor and Detroit too.
It wasn’t until 1994 when I moved to Toronto and stopped traveling and driving so much that I was fully confronted with a need to find an interesting and fulfilling way to photograph city life – since that was pretty much all the photographic material I had at my disposal. Up to that point I had predominantly shot landscapes in black and white and tried the same when photographing the city and industrial areas but I was dissatisfied with this – it wasn’t interesting enough. This was also around when I converted from a black and white darkroom to colour transparency film, scanning my film, digital image processing and ultimately digital printing. It was an exciting period of learning and discovery – exploring new production and image processing possibilities.
I still don’t have a clear handle on what I’m doing but I do know that music is an essential part. I always work with my favourite music playing and for the Coloured City series, while I was shooting also. I find the right music facilitates a flow state while I work – a kind of mental disconnect from my surroundings or perhaps a hyper-connect with the image I’m working on – whichever, it allows me to enter into the image. I don’t know how to describe this clearly without sounding hokey but suffice it to say, the flow state enables me to identify and amplify elements within the image – to build the image up in a succession of layers using painterly techniques, until I have something that feels complete.
Interestingly, in writing this post I checked the Michael Wesely book I have about his Open Shutter project. In his book I found two images I didn’t remember that are clearly influential precursors for my Light Signatures series. One is from his New York Vertical series and the other is from the series American Landscape – both of which contain strong elements of what I’m exploring now.