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Neglect and Poverty in the shadow of the 2015 PanAm Stadium District: a photo essay

Text from an application to a photo competition:

I received a formal education in painting and drawing and have been teaching and exhibiting professionally ever since. I have also been involved with art magazine online publishing. However, I have since refocused my primary creative practice to photography based work. This motivation included experiencing life within economically depressed areas. This sparked an artistic interest in using this situation and time to critically approach the urban landscape around me. I admire the photography work of Canadian contemporary artists Lynn Cohen and Isabelle Hayeur. I am influenced by their painterly approach to the composition that values formal tension over traditional photographic concerns of realism. In this manner I addressed the scarcity of my own resources by examining the waste of our neoliberal, sprawling community models. I have the backdrop of the post-industrial landscape of the “rustbelt” city of Hamilton, Ontario for this narrative.

Waste and scarcity are often associated with logistical or environmental problems of physically accessing and distributing resources. My approach is based on social issues that are rooted in inequities and reflected in the state of resource-scarce communities that are embedded deep in otherwise affluent cities. Where I live now, Barton Village, is such a place. It is located in downtown Hamilton and is only a forty-five minute drive to downtown Toronto — one of the most expensive real estate markets anywhere in the entire North American continent. By contrast Barton Village is one of the least expensive real estate markets left in Canada that is in close proximity to a large city. Why? This community is clearly broken despite it’s prominent placement in the heart of Hamilton. There are wide roads, left over post-industrial infrastructure, that act as highways to bring people through and out of the area as quickly as possible. Storefronts, once prosperous half a century ago, are now shuttered or roughly transformed into illegal housing. The lack of care of the roads, the parks, the sidewalks is clearly evident and to me reflects a political and cultural attitude that condemns this area to toil in perpetually sub-standard conditions. The scarcity of affordable housing in this region is wasted here as no one wants to invest here. It is the catch basin for those who fall between the cracks of any semblance of a safety net left in a politically right leaning leadership. One of my insights here is that this destitute state is not the fault of the people here but of the attitudes towards this area of people who live elsewhere. As a result, my artistic approach was to frame the spaces and structures of this area in an effort to avoid exploiting the imagery of the local residents. Treating these compositions as a drawings, I hope to contrast the waste of the potential of this area with tensions built formally into the composition. I know gentrification will come here eventually and eventually no one will believe what it looked like here.

I would like to critically approach the rising problem of marginalized communities hidden and set within affluent cities across Canada. There is a lack of affordable urban areas and this is evident in these landscapes through the rise of condominium towers and suburban sprawl. Post-industrial areas are disappearing. As a result and vulnerable and working-class communities are being displaced and pushed out from the view of, and subsequently participation in, the public sphere. This is not a solution from poverty but an obliteration of opportunities in the face of unchecked and unbridled capitalism. I believe we are wasting the potential of these areas, these communities and these people by creating a crisis of scarcity of healthy, affordable communities. Our current marginalized spaces have a scarcity of healthy food, affordable transit, health care, walkability metrics such as local schools or places of employment. My commission idea is to document these spaces, in black and white, in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Not only are these areas that are typically ignored by most in this country, but the concerns of these fragile communities transcend borders to relay a cautionary tale to states across the world: there are people who need affordable neighbourhoods close to major urban centres. These are not ghettos but instead fertile cultural grounds of creativity, social justice and unique perspectives. Destroying the unique flavour of these areas through gentrification by currently depriving them of services and opportunities is counter productive to a fair and just society.

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B&W Photo walk through Hamilton’s Supercrawl 2014 Festival

 

I walked from my area, Barton Village, to the location of this festival on James Street North then back via King Street. I believe the context of what the area immediately east looks like is striking in its contrast.

I am interested right now in practising street style studying crowds, figures and faces with my new found world of a “real camera” – I am using a Sony Nex-6, and used to use my iPhone 4s as my main tool. I mostly held it at stomach level so I could down at the flipped out view display and take pictures from that less imposing angle. It’s a height I have not been at for a few decades.

As the evening wound on I had a couple of insights. One, when one walks through the crowd sometimes it parts momentarily because you and another person are walking towards each other on the same axis. This connection, which we all experience many times in a crowded place, seems promising as a compositional dynamic in which to frame a street portrait. The second insight was that people leaning and resting on the sides were interesting, formally, to me as they seemed to be already in a natural pose. Usually intent on activity such as eating, smoking, looking at a mobile device or just looking. It made for a thoughtful expression.

Anyways, I am sure there is really interesting stuff there this year but I’ve been out of the loop in this city during my studies. I don’t want to miss the chance to work with crowds so I’ll be back tonight. Fun exercise and I hope to it leads to new series of studio work.

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Lost in a Virtual Mouse Maze

Video of a project I collaborated on with Kyle Chihosky  & Ryan Stern for our first term new media studio class led by Dr. David Harris Smith (of hitchbot fame).

This was done on the MacGRID, which uses an open source version of the Second Life Platform. It was fun and interesting to work with a virtual world, but also somewhat glitchy. For example, we could not get video to stream properly through objects. Also, at one point I had a fleet of large white stapler clouds floating in one area and this caused the entire platform to crash. Eeessh – sorry everyone. (It looked really cool though!)

Still, I would love to keep working on art installations in there. It’s like a giant sandbox of the imagination.

This project was very rewarding for me conceptually and academically. It introduced me to some of the concepts in Negri and Hardt’s  book “Empire”, and got me thinking of the instances of what a maze is to our lives right now. It has definitely influenced my street photography and other artistic projects.

Hope you like it – Kyle did a great job putting this demo video together. I’ll be releasing more projects from my grad school experience over the next while.

 

 

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Unsafe Alighting into Audio / Visual Art [New Work]

Alighting: An audio visual textural exploration of the King Street bus lane in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

An Action-Research Collaboration between Christopher Healey & Ryan Price.

Running west on the north side from Mary Street to New St, the King Street dedicated bus lane is a pilot project for the City of Hamilton. Since it’s launch in October 2013 this project has proven to be a source of public debate among business owners, car drivers, transit riders and cyclists who depend on King Street to travel west.

We decided to research this sphere of public discourse through a series of investigations along the entire length of the bus lane. Our methodology consisted of walking the route with a sound recording device, identifying and collecting sounds that were specific to this routes space. Different sections of the route contained different audio environments: the ambient sounds of traffic near Dundurn Street could be defined as light (cars, mopeds, and motor bikes) and heavy traffic (trucks, buses, and tractor trailers), the audio space around Jackson Square was defined by community (sounds of pedestrians, street buskers, children and even a policeman on a horse), the space east of John, while less dense in terms of pedestrians, also contained less voracious audio characteristics in contrast to the Dundurn traffic (simply because it was only two lanes at that point).

After some reflection, our next cycle of research consisted of capturing visuals along the length of the route. What symbols, signs and textual objects could we identify that reflect public opinion and subsequent debate regarding the dedicated bus lane pilot project? To answer this, we captured visual elements of the bus lane itself: the buses, cyclists, vehicular traffic and pedestrians who all share this common space, the storefronts, both occupied and empty and in various states of upkeep, and bus lane propaganda. These images help support an overall narrative of the problematic nature of this street’s community history and uncertain future direction. For example, our research raised the question of who these businesses purporting to be suffering were actually serving — local communities or commuters from the surrounding suburbs?

Now that we had a soundscape and visual data to compare and contrast, we desired more layers to reveal greater insights into this dynamic space. We decided to seek out opinion from both those opposed to the bus lane project and those who support it.
We created another research cycle to repeat the last observation process with our sound recorder and camera while riding the bus along the dedicated transit lane. This resulted in a soundscape that we used as a baseline for the project. This research cycle acts as a constant throughout the entire work and defines the length and undergirds the textual fabric of the work.

Loosely keeping a narrative based on time, location and proximity to the bus lane we have layered our collected sets of audio and visual data into a holistic artwork that explores many of the dynamic and rich variables of this urban space. We observed from the whole of our work in the field and reflection of our collected resources that there are rhythms of traffic, conversations, and foot traffic. Using these elements of a busy urban street we reflected this repeated, familiar codes of traffic sounds and imagery into loops and staggered patterns. We also incorporated the two conversations (as well as some tertiary dialogue from ambient streetscape recordings) about two thirds into the work, giving each some prominent amplification and overlapping the two together to reflect the competing, noisy environment that this space reflects both physically and politically.

Next, we created an audio/visual work attempting to encapsulate many of the elements that define the community surrounding the bus lane, the inside of a bus, and the civic debate. The video displayed here was created as a real-time process, with both artists sharing the controls of a midi mixing controller, adjusting aspects of the source videos, such as speed, direction, zoom, contrast, saturation, and brightness, among other properties. Our manipulation of the video was done while listening to the soundtrack, making on-the-fly decisions based on the the actions of the the sound, the video, and each other’s actions.

The combination of layering and texturing gradually after establishing a normalized sound environment indicates for the audience a deliberate and composed work that leads to several perspectives which may be shared or not shared. Hopefully there are opportunities of discovery and familiarity embedded in the work for the audience. The artwork itself renders these perspectives in new ways allowing for unconsidered entry points into the issues of the dedicated bus lane pilot project. We’ve attempted to construct the work to peak in activity, noise and movement and eventually crescendo into a combination of all the elements, then concluding with the simple sounds of disembarking from the bus. Or, as the sign says, alighting safely.

 

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A walk through east Barton

Windshield needed replacement. There was no getting around it – I had to spend three hours walking through industrial lands surrounded by big box stores. This was where nature was left in the parts these worlds had no use to sculpt … yet. This was a place that did not expect pedestrians and surly middle aged men and women in trucks big and small challenged me with glances as they left and arrived to do their dirty and serious business. These men and women are competing to be heroes, and their enemy is people who walk instead of drive. I was hung over from my grad class end of year party. It was sunny and I have no idea where in this city I can buy a hat without a logo on it. These people see this space, our space, as a different world serving a entirely different purpose than I do. They truly live in the present and all the riches it brings and I live in a future that may never actually come to be because I won’t be there.

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Incident at the Brick Yard [Video study]

Low definition & no audio composition of videos and stills of a train in front of the Brick Yards here in Hamilton, Ontario. Some of these are auto-treated by Google+ and this gave me the idea for this experiment. I like it. I think I’ll keep messing around with the multiple split screen work – especially since I _finally_ figured out how to do this in Premiere! I may re-do this one in high def if I get an opportunity to show it somewhere.

A man from a white BMW SUV looked to see what I was taking a picture of after this.

Spring in Ward 3: More Walk, more black & white photos

This is a good time of year for a critical reading of the landscape in my neighbourhood, and particulariy into the industrial section just north of here. The trees have no leaves and the snow is (mostly) gone leaving the curves of the land and the angles of the industrial structures bare.  The snow makes the dirt go away and now detritus is everywhere before the green veneers over it.

I was wrong about nature seeping into cracks of our urban environment – at least in this place. It’s as manufactured as anything spit out from one of these plants. Trees are there to obfuscate the view from the strips of public still left in this area. Where we are supposed to look, how we look and what we see from a passing car has been organically reacted, funnelled and appeased to.  Right now, the constant burned mechanical tinge in the air is stronger than usual. The wind, usually a force in the lower city, is even more pronounced during the early, dirty Hamilton spring.