my first exhibit!

I’m pleased to announce that two of my images from Cuba are hanging at the Whitestone Gallery for the month of March. If you’rein the neighbourhood, come check it out:

Whitestone Gallery
80 Norfolk St.
Guelph, ON
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays
11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There’s also an opening reception for Michelle LeBlanc’s solo show in the front room next Saturday afternoon, March 7, from 2 to 4 p.m., which I plan to attend.

I’ve joined the artists’ collective, so I’ll have work hanging there every month.

like mother like son

On Sunday morning I got to sleep in. I awoke to a loud argument between my husband and my son, on either side of the bathroom door.

[bang bang bang]

My husband: “I’ll be out in a minute.”

My son: “But I want to come in.”

My husband: “I’m peeing, and I want to be alone. I’ll be out in a minute. Just one more minute.”

My son, crying now: “But I WANT. TO. COME. IN.” He had his toy camera he got for Christmas. “I just want to take a picture.”

on inspiration and mothers

I think I’m a little bit in love with South African photographer Mikhael Subotzky. I first discovered his work a few months ago, via JM Colberg. I was immediately drawn in by how he taught photography to the prisoners he photographed and got their work exhibited as well as his own. And of course, anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for South Africa and its people (my husband is South African too and almost all his family is still there). Subotzky reminds me of my husband’s cousins, who are smart and articulate and so much more engaged in the world around them than the young people I meet here in Canada. For all the country’s problems (and yes there are many and they are big), I think there’s something amazing going on there, culturally.

Anyways, Colberg published an interview with Subotzky the other day, and it made me fall a little bit in love. Every word of his responses made me think. In particular, I liked how he responded to Colberg’s question here:

“JC: I don’t know whether one would have the same impression living in South Africa, but looking from the outside – and from far away – it seems like South Africa had such a bright moment of hope when apartheid was dismantled and when Nelson Mandela was elected President, and so much has gone wrong since then, for whatever reason. Do you see it as your responsibility (if that’s a word you’d be comfortable with) to record what’s going on? To preserve this moment in time, maybe to foster some awareness and change?

MS: I am not sure if I believe that photographers can effectively take responsibility for such things. I do believe in the power of bearing witness, but I see it more as responsibility to ourselves – that we each have a responsibility to try and make ourselves as conscious as possible. Looking at the world around me through photography has become my way of doing that. While I am very happy that I can share images with others and try and show them things that they haven’t taken in, that isn’t the primary motivation for doing what I do.”

And later: “I think it is great to show people things they choose or are conditioned to ignore, and I admire those who can effectively do that. But I do have a real problem with the assumption that photographers can change the world by telling these “truths”. Some photographers have precipitated amazing change with their images. But it cannot be assumed – especially when the medium for this “preaching” is the traditional western media. As for me, I want to do many things with my work… sometimes I do want to try and show people things that they ignore, sometimes I do want to make a political point, but sometimes I also just want to express myself and try and qualify my experiences.”

* * *

My husband’s granny, my son’s only living great-grandparent, is in a hospital in Cape Town, and the prognosis isn’t good. I’ve had the good fortune to meet her twice, both times with the awareness that it could be the last time, and yet her voice is so strong and her eyes so clear, that part of me didn’t really believe it. I wish we could be there, especially since her recent hearing loss has made a phone conversation with her virtually impossible.

* * *

The other night, I discovered Katharina Bosse’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mother” series (also through JM Colberg). I find her work really interesting, and as I’ve already written here, I’m particularly interested in explorations of motherhood. Apparently, a professor of photojournalism dismissed her work in a German publication as “irrelevant and a calculated provocation” (Colberg’s translation — I can’t speak or read German so I trust his representation). I find that statement pretty telling: motherhood is irrelevant – and yet highly prescribed – in the western world, and any attempt at making that experience central or subverting those presciptions is a calculated provocation.

Being a mother myself, Bosse’s images don’t really trouble me, but I can see how they might trouble people who aren’t mothers. Motherhood is such a physical experience, and I think our culture has a deep discomfort with and resistance to acknowledging that physicality. That is what her photos made me think about, that physicality, and this morning, when I went back to her site to link to it here, I noticed her artist statement, which I love (especially since it says pretty much the same thing but much more eloquently):

“After living in New York for six years, I moved to Germany and became pregnant. Nothing in my career as a photographer and artist had prepared me for this experience. Not only were the physical demands of carrying and caring for the babies demanding. It was a forced change from everything I had learned so far: individuality, ambition and workaholism. I felt like a teenager again, changing rapidly into a new person, not knowing the outcome. I started to look for articles, and images about this process and found lots of advice, but very few actual descriptions of the unsettling shift in identity I was experiencing. And so, over the course of four years, I brought to life two children and eight photographs. I felt compelled to undress (or dress up) and create images of motherhood I had not seen before. I gave up control of the shutter release, and got in front of the camera to extract a knowledge only my body could tell.”

* * *

Now here’s where I came to a dilemna. I discovered that another body of Bosse’s work is very similar to a project I’ve just begun (which I’m not ready to blog about yet). I only glanced at a few photos of that other series before I decided not to look any more. If I end up doing the same kind of project, at least I could say I hadn’t seen her work or been influenced by it. But I’ve always felt strongly that influence is good. I remember when I wrote poems in university, getting royally irritated on more than one occasion when people declared themselves poets (there goes that noun thing again), and in the same breath announced that they never read anyone else’s poetry, lest they be influenced. I still think that’s crap. The only way to be good at something is to be influenced by practitioners who are better than you. So I think I just have to see this as the opportunity it is and dive in.

malapropism of the day

(And this time it did come from my lips.)

Trying to learn the meaning and usage of the new (to old-fogey me) slang term, emo: “Is it a reference to Brian Emo’s music?”

Notes from SYTYCD Canada live show

Laugh if you must. But last night I went to the So You Think You Can Dance Canada show in Hamilton (or, as Nico, Danny and Vincent called it: ahMILton) and I loved it.

Just in case you didn’t know, last spring Canada held auditions for its own version of So You Think You Can Dance. It aired in the fall, and I have to say that the top 20, IMHO, was stronger than any top 20 the American version featured. We also got to sample Canada’s fantastic choreographers, who were at least as good as the Americans, and we got a few visits from US favourites like Mia Michaels and Dan Karaty, the screamer judge, Mary Murphy (note: when she’s screaming that some of the best dancers on the planet are in your country, her screams aren’t nearly so earsplitting).

Anyways, so last night I took my friend, just returned from Malawi, to the live show. Our seats rocked, and immediately I regretted not having my camera. Seriously, we were 12 rows back from the stage. We were so close, I could see that Nico was flying low during the creepy cane piece that he, Allie, Natalie and Miles did.

I didn’t have particularly high expectations, since I’d watched the whole show on tv. I didn’t really think the live version would offer much that the tv version didn’t. But it did. The live dances had so much more subtlety than on tv. Partly I hold the camera operators and editors responsible because the tv view moves so erratically around the stage that you often can’t pay attention to what you want to. But also, there’s something about living, breathing people that just give so much more nuance.

The bottom line? I love Lisa and Vincent more than ever. I still think Arassay got short shrift, I can’t help but suspect that Nico’s getting a big head (the screams for him seriously impaired my hearing), Miles is as adorable as ever, Isaak (or Izak or however he spells it) still annoys me, and the producers should really hire an MC for the live show instead of making the dancers spit out overly rehearsed and silly intros.

From time to time a recorded announcer’s voice would speak out about some thing or another, and some clips would show on the big screens. Just before Isaak’s solo, the anonymous voice said “Isaak says he wants to be a dancer because it’s what he loves to do.”

I find it really interesting the emphasis our culture puts on being nouns. Isn’t it interesting that BEING a dancer is not the same as being someone who dances? That the noun adds some kind of credibility or importance that the simple verb doesn’t? I mean, anyone can dance, anyone can love dance, but not just anyone can BE a dancer. It’s the same with writing. Anyone can write, but not anyone can BE a writer. It doesn’t make grammatical sense, but it says a lot about our culture, don’t you think?

A few photography blogs have been linking to an article that I haven’t actually clicked through and read (and now I can’t find the references to link to it myself), but the gist was that with the economy tanking and the publishing industry changing so dramatically (some might say failing?), eventually all photographers will only be amateurs. They’ll all have separate day jobs to support their true passion, and they need to get over their snobbery about that. Of course this is music to my amateur ears.

A number of people have asked me if I want to be a professional photographer, or they’ve commented that I could be a professional photographer. But the truth is I don’t have much interest in that. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a patron, someone who would just pay for me to live and make whatever pictures I want to make. But I really have no interest in making pictures for paying clients with demands and expectations. Even if that means my work is taken less seriously, for now, I’m ok with that. But still, I’m awfully glad to hear about people questioning the notions that only professionals can make great photographs.

free hugs

drop-in valentine's

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, in case you didn’t already know. While I was at the Drop In Centre, two people came in with big signs offering free hugs. I thought this was pretty cool, so I pulled out my camera and started shooting. I’ve never just pulled out my camera there before, not like that, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

As it turns out, the huggers also volunteer at the centre, during the week. The woman who led the free hugs (sadly I didn’t get any good shots of her) ended up helping us serve the meal, because somehow we seemed short-handed. Anyways, she told me that she first saw the free hugs idea on youtube, and she was just really touched by it, so she wanted to do it herself, and on V-day. She said a few people said it was exactly what they needed.

drop-in valentine's2

three years* later

It started as a call inward, a tightening, pulling my attention away from the restaurant and the conversation and my quesadilla. Eventually I discerned a rhythm to the calls, and they began to apprach pain. At home, I remember gripping the leather back of our rust-coloured chairs and shimmying away the pain. When the midwives came, I remember looking at the crack that ran across the plaster ceiling of our old spare room, and thinking we might not get a baby at the end of this. In the hospital, I had to labour on my left side, because the monitor on my belly said your heartrate plummeted every time I sat or stood upright. I remember holding the bars of the bed, and feeling I might lose my mind with the pain, that surely that meant I was in transition. But I wasn’t; nowhere near it.

It was a relief when the doctor said it was time for a section (although I bristled at his short-form, which sounded more like vivisection than was really appropriate, in my opinion). On the table, I felt like Jesus with my arms strapped down, perpendicular to my body, and I was grateful for the anaestesiologist whispering in my ear, sweet nothings like “don’t worry, that feeling is normal, you won’t actually stop breathing,” and “you’ll feel some pressure now” and finally, “It’s a boy!” A whisper of an exclamation mark then silence. Long silence.

The midwife told me you had red hair, as excited as if she’d just given birth herself. Finally you squawked, from the other side of the room, and someone brought you, swaddled, to my side so I could look for a moment. “Hi baby,” I said, your pointy, old-man’s face getting smeared by my tears.

“Why don’t you kiss him?” the midwife suggested.

So I did, awkwardly.


* plus five days.

pumpkin soup

Once again, I’ve fallen behind in blogging so my mind is a jumble. So today you will get a recipe for pumpkin soup. I improvised it last night, and it is SO good. My problem with improvising stuff like this is that I never write down what I did, so I can’t ever truly repeat the same results. This time will be different though. This time I will document what I did. And because it was so good, I’m sharing it here:

My Pumpkin Soup

1 onion chopped
1 carrot, peeled and choppped
1 stalk celery, chopped
Bay leaf
Fresh garlic, chopped (lots)
Fresh ginger, peeled and grated (a knob?)
1 can of pumpkin puree (nothing else in it – check ingredients)
Vegetable stock – 4-6 cups plus water (it needed a lot of liquid to cook the lentils and made quite a big pot)
1-2 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 handfuls of red lentils
a bit of brown sugar
a splash or two of white wine vinegar

Sauté onion, carrot, celery, ginger, bay leaf in butter and oil. Add some salt and pepper. Add garlic. Add pumpkin and stock. Add lentils. Simmer for between 40 minutes and an hour. Check seasoning. I added white wine vinegar and brown sugar, and more salt and pepper, because there was quite a bitter undertone. Remove the bay leaf. Blend in the blender. (This last step is essential – I couldn’t believe how much better it tasted all blended and smooth.)

So that’s it. More photo posts soon, I hope.

public service announcements

I got a nice package in the mail tonight: my new business cards, which I ordered from Moo. They look great. Some of the pictures lost their blacks, probably because of the very matte paper. But most of the images look really good, and the backsides are fantastic. What I like about these cards is that you can import many pictures from flickr, so you have a big selection of images on the front. Designing the layout of text and logos on the back of the card is intuitive and pretty easy, although I was really glad I had my husband on hand to tweak my logo to suit the card. And the price is way more cost-effective for my quantity needs than having cards (with only one image) printed at a local print shop. So if you have any need for business cards, check out Moo.
* * *

Imagekind is about to start a Valentine’s Day promotion. From February 10 to 16 you can get 25 percent off their custom framing.