I can’t stop thinking about this Geoffrey James photograph, dated circa 1971 and titled Alex Colville in the Tantramar Marshes. The image is of Colville, awkwardly bundled in a trench coat and hat, standing on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Or the Tantramar Marshes to be more specific.
Geoffrey James, Alex Colville on the Tantramar Marshes, c. 1971, (Sold Out)
Given the deadpan clarity of the title, it seems like everything in the picture should be pretty self-explanatory. But the more I look at it, the more I wonder WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS IMAGE?? The dirt road, the high noon light, the distant barn, and most of all, the inexplicable twist of Colville’s body both towards and away from the camera. Is he just bucking against the wind, or did James catch him as he launched into a spontaneous interpretative dance? The florid angle of his hips is at such perfect existential odds with the cut of his trench coat, buttoned tight and belted over the thickness of his middle-aged waist.
If I didn’t have the title to identify the figure or locate it in the salt marshes of rural New Brunswick, I would have assumed this image was staged; that the man was an actor or dancer, that the setting was imagined, and the clothing straight out of wardrobe. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was documentation from a Pina Bausch piece, or a production still from David Lynch, or maybe a study for a Robert Longo painting. But no. It’s none of these things. It is a portrait of an esteemed Canadian painter, by an esteemed Canadian photographer, who both somehow ended up dancing together under the high noon sun on an old dirt road in a salt marsh in 1971. This photograph is amazing.
Elisa Julia Gilmour, Over their Own: Projected Mothers, 2015, $1500 (Framed)
Elisa Julia Gilmour’s Over their Own: Projected Mothers, 2015, is a series of 25 individual black and white prints, printed from 16mm film frames. The images are dark and difficult to read, blurred by their transition from moving image to still, their magnification from tiny 16mm frame to print. But if you look closely, you’ll see that each one shows a woman with child. The child is “veiled”, or covered over in a blanket. This veiling is a direct inversion of the standard 19th century infant portraits, in which the mother is always hidden away beneath a cloth, to better showcase the child on her lap.
By far the most repeated and perplexing strain of advice I received upon becoming pregnant a few years back was the advice that came from my art friends. Everyone took turns warning me not to make work about motherhood. At the time, I smiled and nodded knowingly as if I was, of course, in agreement. At the time, maybe I was. But I’ve been thinking about it for the last three years and have changed my ideas on this. In a discipline so intent on dissecting and charting the human experience on all levels, why is this one particular human experience too broad or boring or vulgar to warrant our attention? And isn’t the urge to dismiss it just (to paraphrase the amazing Maggie Nelson) another disqualification of anything tied too closely to the female animal? I’ve been compiling some more detailed questions and answers on this subject, but in lieu of listing them here, I will offer up Gilmour’s images, which provide a muted rebuke to those who would prefer to have motherhood remain conveniently off stage somewhere.
Jackson Klie, Untitled (making sense of the sunset), 2015, (Sold Out)
Jackson Klie gives us six tiny, perfect sunsets sliding downward across a surface of yellowing graph paper. The orange burn of the sky glances appealingly off the institutional green of the lines beneath them. The images, cut from instructional photography books from the 1960’s, have a richness and a slight gloss to them, making them jump off the matt surface of the graph paper below.
When you see the collage off screen (IRL, in person,) you’ll see that the whole of its dynamic hinges on the cut of these slivers of paper images. The thin sunset slices are roughed up at their edges. As a result, the paper they’re printed on competes with the image itself for our attention and the place where printed sunset meets the flat plane of the graph, where representation meets regulation, becomes as touching as a love letter. This mixture of romance and pure surface is also on display in Klie’s current show at The Ryerson Image Centre, where he’s worked collaboratively with Michelle O’Byrne to create a suite of image/objects with a similarly intriguing tension.