Christopher Healey

Some thoughts on the art and idea of photography

One of the reasons I choose to pursue a graduate degree right now is to catch up to what the current thinking is about many of the things I have been interested and involved with in the last 20 years. Communications, new media and art are the three big ones. Some of you hear “animated ad banners on a blog” when I say that, but really I am interested in what we think we are doing in these areas and where this thinking comes from.

For example, I read some very compelling arguments about how everything from the 1939 British Monarchy visiting Canada shaped the CBC’s style, to an eccentric French nobleman from 1583 invented the way we use social media today. I have now seen an overview of communications theory that I recognize in the art world. I have researched new media art work and community projects that I never knew existed and push me to deeper into the rabbit hole of my own studio ambitions. I’ve learned new words and have had some great conversations. Sure beats making animated gif ad banners for blogs.
Research at this level is very rigorous and any sloppy or unfounded  aspects of your argument can be met with, at best, derision and mocking to, at worst, expulsion and scowls for life. Good. I mean, we must be paying all this money for exactly this sort of thing, right?
However, it is a good thing to have a blog in these cases so one can just spit out some ideas that 1) have no references or basis in demonstrated fact that appear in a lazy top 10 results on Google 2) are more speculative and initiative than even “East Sweat Sock U” would allow and 3) probably has already been written about by someone, and that someone is probably smarter, a better writer and better looking than me. Certainly slimmer. Not may giant academics out there but I imagine there are a few in Viking countries, but I don’t know why. This is an example of a statement that belongs on a blog rather than in an assignment or conference paper. Maybe.
Anyways. I have had some thoughts about photography since I am in a photography class and am hearing a lot of what photographers are telling about what photography is. Those who know me know I don’t think the experts in any field are the best judges of what they are doing or why. Forest versus the tree thing. Those who come fresh to a scene can see things others can’t, often quickly.
So with that faint justification, I’ll jot down a few thoughts I’ve had about photography recently.

1. There is no such thing as photography

We are not talking about the same thing when we discuss photography. What your grandparents had in the family album is not the same thing you see uploaded to Facebook. What Edward Burtynsky hangs in a gallery is not the same thing as the selfie someone uploads to Twitter, in the same way War and Peace is not the same thing as a stop sign. The technology, uses, functions and underlying philosophies differ so greatly, we may as well refer to anything that arrives through the post office as “mail” as opposed to what it is i.e. a cheque or a book or birthday card. Yet at one point these all arrived as the same thing (mail) through a certain frame (postal service), as do photos through a lens.

2. Imagery is primarily physical

I thought this when learning about what the fashion magazine and advertising industry does when treating photographs of models. I realized that this treatment, which is a controversial topic of oppression by unnatural body proportions, to me makes these models look almost identical, at least without closer and sustained scrutiny. Maybe this is because I am exposed to this imagery in places like grocery store check out lines and highway bulletin boards. I don’t have a TV and I don’t go to shopping malls very often. But for those who do, I think they see a great amount of difference in the subtlest of differences or adjustments. I think their physical proximity to these images shapes their relationship to this certain philosophy of lens and computer graphic work. I also think our brain plasticity is affected by what ever media and environment we are in and so people who buy into this world, which I think is most people where I live, are literally hard-wired for sensitivity to this. Or perhaps they are de-sensitized to it and simply don’t notice that there is no difference.

3. No one cares about digital imagery. Not really.

If you cared about it enough you would print it out, and print it on super fancy archival musuemy paper. If others cared about your work enough then they would do the same. Every image you have out there in the cloud will be gone in a hundred years because that is longer than our best digital archiving technologies allow for. This does not even take into account how current media that somehow may survive will be able to be viewed in the future. Have a gramophone player handy? Or how about a telegram clacking machine? Third party websites are not your fans, guardians or sponsors. They are tenuous apparatuses that at the moment are storing your shit on servers they are paying for. Not only that, but a lot can go wrong with our telecommunications platforms for a variety of economical, political and natural reasons.
Don’t believe me that only physical imagery matters? Think about this: would you rather buy 3am commercial time on your local TV station to present a slideshow of your lens based work or would you rather have show at your local gallery?

4. If you call yourself a photographer, then the imagery you make is already pre-defined.

I’ve previously made this same argument about calling yourself an artist. Just use a camera as a tool to get somewhere else, and stop worrying about an audience. Unless you want to be a commercial success, then by all means call yourself a photographer and tell people who’re looking at it that this is, indeed, photography. But if you want critical success, then you need the confidence to wait for others to label what you do.
bag

It’s in the BAG: Barton Art Gallery project space finally opens next week

I have a small, enclosed front porch with it’s own lighting and electrical outlet. It’s almost perfect to maintain a small gallery space so that’s what I have been threatening to do.

So, now I am. The space is still not finished and has a whack of drywall leaning on one side. I’ve been waiting for our cheap and (very slow) renovations to stop but I don’t think they will before I leave Hamilton. Sometimes, you just gotta say “fuck it” and go ahead with a project – this kind of public declaration essentially forces you to carry through with your threat of art. Sometimes it takes me years to demonstrate I was serious (and usually right) about something and the BAG Project Space is such a something.

So, no time like the present. After agonizing for a year about how I am going to work with and work around the long vertical windows on the west, east and north walls I finally came up with a practical, cheap solution that is easy to implement and just as easy to remove and without damage to the space before we sell the house: white fabric over the walls. It sure beats my previous plan to have a series of drywall panels with wooden frames hanging from the ceiling by hinges.

The 6 sheets of drywall leaning against the west wall are not going anywhere but with a white sheet draped over that, it will transform into a respectable plinth. Hey, it’s my project space and I can do whatever I want.

So the first exhibit “slower: advice for the economy” (a projection about the industrial skyscape) opens up next week on Friday the 13th from 6-9pm. Yes, I am aware of the symbolism of both sets of numbers. For local readers, you will also no doubt recognize that my gallery is open during the exact hours of the ArtCrawl.  You will also note that I live in a poor, some would say “scary”, area of downtown Hamilton not know for arts and culture. Well, consider this new gallery space as a response to that – I’ve criticized designated areas for arts and culture in a city before. Now I believe independence for an artist is the most desirable goal to achieve – more than funding.  No, I don’t believe in the BS that anti-arts advocates spout about not funding the arts. I believe the arts should be so integrated and integral as part of our society that we would have trouble even distinguishing where support ends and begins.

So. I have a humble and independent space for exhibiting a series of exhibits by others and myself. I have some really exciting ideas to materialize in this space, and in many way culminates my work about and in Hamilton over these three years. I have not listed the address because I want to encourage people to explore this community in order to find. I want people to explore this community because that is the way to improve any neighbourhood – go walk through it. Lots of people out walking through a place is a very powerful device. I know many people will probably not bother coming to find it at all, especially if I keep the exhibition hours the same as ArtCrawl and I don’t pander to the usual agencies for promotion. I don’t care if anyone shows up or not – I care about the projects and the documentation. The reason we were able to buy a house here was because of the negative impressions people have of this area – and they don’t come here so the houses were affordable. Why should I now conduct my business on my estate grounds with any different formula?

However, I care if the local community here engages with the projects. I do care about people coming here to engage with the projects too. This space is simply part of this neighbourhood though the act of a pop up art space should be universal.

Contained therein this act and through this upcoming series of projects is my final dialogue with Hamilton.