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. 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. 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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