Our organisation has been around a long time. The Polygon Gallery might be new, but we operated in our old location as Presentation House Gallery for almost 40 years. Even so, I didn’t have to look too far back in our exhibition history to find some compelling examples of photographers who take interesting chances with their shots, using photo technology to show us images that our unaided eyes would otherwise never see. Here are six artists working on multiple levels to enhance – and challenge – our vision.

moyra davey mailers

  1. Moyra Davey – mailers from Ornament and Reproach (detail), 2012-2013

Moyra Davey is a Canadian artist living and working in New York. Her photographs use objects, scrap materials, and yes, dust, to convey a human touch. The images aren’t pristine and neatly staged. Instead, the places that she photographs feel lived in, almost as if she’s showing us a memory.

This effect of looking into a memory is heightened by a few different visual layers. Davey folds up her photographs and sends them through the post. As they’re taped up, stamped, and postmarked, the images become even more complicated. Along with this, Davey’s work shows us the unique viewpoint of the camera by overexposing her film. The result is a shot slightly distorted because of too much light. This is something that resonates with this year’s theme; it’s making use of the particularities of looking through a camera, as opposed to the human eye.



  1. Sigmar Polke ­– Untitled (Green), 1992

Sigmar Polke was a German artist who tried just about everything you could try with analogue photography. Whether playing with exposure or experimenting with chemical processes in the darkroom, he was all for taking chances. Don’t try this at home: Polke even went as far as exposing his film to potentially dangerous uranium radiation!

The series of prints that we showed in the 2014 exhibition Dream Location were made using this process: exposing photosensitive paper to slabs of uranium. Radiation is invisible to us; and yet, it created beautiful, glowing images on the photo paper. Again, don’t play with radioactive chemicals! But do appreciate how photographic processes allow us to enhance and expand our ways of seeing, when we allow ourselves to get curious and creative.



  1. Frank Horvat – Untitled (for Coco Chanel), 1958

We were fortunate back in 2012 to show the work of the famous fashion photographer Frank Horvat. Horvat shoots in a photojournalistic style. His images appear much more spontaneous than the carefully staged editorial spreads we’re used to seeing in fashion. But it’s this experimental, risk-taking spirit that’s made Horvat’s photographs so iconic.

This shot for Chanel is about much more than just the clothes or the pose. In fact, the model is so obscured that we as the viewers have to work extra hard just to see her. Horvat doesn’t make it easy for us, and the viewing experience is more rewarding for it. Look at his use of the camera’s depth of field. Horvat exploits the camera’s focus, allowing the staircase to blur into an intricate, abstract whirl of lines and shadows. Here is an example of a photographer thinking on multiple levels, both close to the lens and far away from it.



  1. Jessica Eatoncfaal 109, 2011

Canadian photographer Jessica Eaton has taken the art world by storm over the last decade with her baffling images of cubes that resemble paintings by artists such as Josef Albers or Sol LeWitt. (Fun fact: “cfaal” actually stands for “Cubes For Albers And LeWitt.) Amazingly, the cubes that Eaton shoots in her studio are actually colourless – black, white, and grey. To create the stunning colours, she photographs the cubes on the same negative, using different colour filters in front of her lens.

There’s a great article in Canadian Art by Gabrielle Moser on Eaton, and I’d like to share a quote from it that’ll hopefully inspire you: “Though Eaton is a self-described perfectionist, she is most excited by her accidental discoveries: the experiments that ‘go wrong,’ but in the process reveal something new about photography, light and vision that she could not have otherwise seen. She describes these images as ‘photographs I wasn’t able to see before they existed.’”



  1. Andrea PinheiroChamber 6 (Ledge), 2011

In 2011, we showed new work by the Canadian artist Andrea Pinheiro, whose works are somewhere between painting and photography. She creates her artworks by doing a tiny abstract painting over a small photo negative, and then blowing the image up and printing it large. If you look closely beyond the swirl of paint, you’ll see that there’s actually a shot of… something. I see a tree to the right of the image, with the ground dropping off in the background and the clear sky beyond. Maybe you see something else.

In any case, instead of working at the level of the lens, Pinheiro disrupts her image by working on the negative. In the age of digital photography, we don’t print from negatives very often. Still, it’s interesting to think how we might use Pinheiro’s process as inspiration to come up with our own, original ways of creating layered or complex images.



  1. Eileen QuinlanDemystification #8, 2008

We’ve all heard the expression “smoke and mirrors” to describe illusory special effects. But American artist Eileen Quinlan actually shoots through smoke and mirrors. She gets very creative with the materials in her shots, creating ornate effects without any photo-editing software. All the magic is in the set-up. She props mirrors to bounce light and create dark shadows; she uses bits of fabric or reflective Mylar to add layer and depth. Even though she often photographs reflective surfaces, you won’t see her own reflection in her images – she’s very careful. Occasionally, Quinlan leaves a trace of herself or her studio in the image, if only a subtle fingerprint, or bit of dust.

We showed Quinlan’s work back in 2016, during Capture Photography Festival, in the exhibition Images That Speak. Take a good look at Demystification #8, and see if you can tell what it is you’re looking at. The photograph itself is pretty straightforward – even though it is, literally, all smoke and mirrors.



It’s there in the title – Something In My Eye. If I get something in my eye, I can’t really see anymore, at least not until the thing is removed. If something comes too close to my eye, sometimes I close it instinctively. If I put a finger close up to one eye, that finger just becomes a shadowy blur as my other eye sees around it.

Cameras, on the other hand, don’t have a second “eye” to see around obstacles. And they don’t feel pain; if something gets in the camera’s eye, it continues to stare. It can even focus on the thing that’s right up close to its lens – something you and I probably can’t do. All this reminds us that cameras – despite being invented to imitate human vision – have their own distinct ways of seeing.

And when we become aware of this, it opens up a world of artistic possibilities.

We often have a pretty fixed idea of what a camera is supposed to do: a camera is supposed to freeze a moment in time, exactly as it was seen. This year’s theme invites us to reframe our thinking, asking not “what is a camera supposed to do?”, but “what can a camera do that the human eye can’t?”

Hello Chester Fields participants.

It’s been a banner year. We had over 100 submissions to the jury. The works were visionary, thoughtful, and fascinating. Tough decisions had to be made by our jurors. Looking at our exhibition space, I estimated there was room for about 25 finalists, but many more than that were deserving of a spot on the wall. Eventually, 28 finalists were chosen. Whether or not your name is on the list below, I hope that you’ll all keep creating amazing images, and that you learned something interesting through working with this year’s theme. Without further ado, our 2018 shortlist is:

Hana Braker

Polly Campbell

Ben Clayton

Griffin Edward

Julia Hauert

Caitlin Hemsley

Khim Hipol

Morris Huang

Alana Kim

Kasha Malinowski

Regan McCort

Alisha Millar

Chloe Nakatsuru

Oliver New

Kayli Koonar

Luca Papini

Claire Pipher

Carolin Schelhas

Jenny Seo

Hermione Shen

Camryn Simkin

Gabriel Simmons

Saoirse Stephan

Vincent Villwock

Ebba Wagman

Anna Wang

Mia Xu

Alice Zeng

Thank you everyone for your incredible work. I hope that you’ll participate in Chester Fields next year. To this year’s finalists: congratulations! We’re getting a tonne of interest from the public about the show. I’ve already booked a tour for people wanting to come see it! We’ll be holding a reception on Saturday, May 26th at 1pm, after which you’re welcome to take your printed works home.

Hi Chester Fields participants!

It’s not even the deadline and we’ve already got a tonne of amazing submissions. It’s going to be a stiff competition. That said, I’m not the one who has to make any tough decisions. That duty falls into the hands of three very capable jurors. It’s my pleasure to introduce them to you now.

Erik Hood

PL1_8599Erik Hood is the Associate Director at Artspeak Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia. He holds a BFA from Emily Carr University (2006) and was one of the initial Chester Fields school liaisons back in 2008. Hood has worked with artists and curators on a variety of projects under the title of Hardscrabble since 2012.

Virginie Lamarche

VirginieLamarcheVirginie Lamarche is the co-founder and co-director of the Vancouver-based FotoFilmic organization. Global in reach, FotoFilmic is dedicated to supporting the practice of emerging and mid-career photographers still working on film and analogue media through traveling juried exhibitions, print and online publications as well as professional workshops. Its mandate consists in stimulating sociocritical dialogues all around the world on the place, role and future of material practices in contemporary photography while providing intercultural audiences greater exposure and appreciation for them. To date FotoFilmic has presented over 150 artists from 29 countries in Melbourne, Seoul, Los Angeles, New York, Boise and Vancouver with this year’s FOTOFILMIC17 edition scheduled to also open in Paris and Thessaloniki next fall.

Kelly Lycan

photo(2) - Version 2Photo credit: Stephen Murray

Kelly Lycan is an installation and photo-based artist who resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Lycan’s work investigates the way objects and images are placed and displayed in the world, and the cycle of value they go through. Lycan received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Her work has been exhibited across Canada, the US and Europe. She also collaborated with the artist collective Instant Coffee from 2005-2015, a service-oriented, socially engaged collective that have exhibited extensively. In 2016, she was a recipient of the Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA Award.

Decision Day is Monday, April 23. Send your artwork along with your name, a title for your work, and a short statement, to j.ramsey@thepolygon.ca by tomorrow, April 20. (And no, “Chester Fields 2018” and “Bring To Light” do not count as artwork titles! Use your creativity!)


So now, we’ve had a chance to look at artworks that bring to light stories, events, and changes using different approaches: hiding in plain sight, seeing what isn’t there, and imagining new possibilities. For those of you who are using the app, you’ve also had a chance to see how artists visualise memory!

These are just a few approaches, and there are many more you can take. I hope that by now, you have some strong ideas for your original work of photographic art, and that you’re well on your way to submitting your project!


Once again, submissions are due by the end of the day this Friday.

You can send your artwork as a digital file. If you have access to software like PhotoShop, click on “Image” at the top of the screen, then select “Image Size” from the dropdown menu. Here, you can change the physical size of your image, as well as the resolution. 240 or 300 DPI (“dots per inch”) will be good resolution for printing.

When thinking about size: remember that we’re framing most of the images in 16” x 20” or 20” x 24” frames. Your image needn’t be that big; isn’t it nice to have a bit of breathing room between the picture and the frame’s edge? Still, those dimensions can be helpful as guidelines.

If you want your image to be really high-res, you can save it as a TIFF file instead of a JPEG. This can make your file quite large, so use a free service like Dropbox or WeTransfer to send your work in. Don’t forget to include your short statement about your work, as well as its title and your name.

Finally: what if you’re handing in a physical artwork? Well, the jury’s meeting on Monday morning, so it’s got to get to The Polygon Gallery before then! Try to get your work to your teacher before the deadline so that I can pick it up. Otherwise, you can drop off your artwork over the weekend at The Polygon Gallery.

If you’re handing in a physical artwork, please make sure to include your name with it. Then, please send me your name, the artwork title, and short statement via email.

And if you have any questions at all, feel free to email me at j.ramsey@thepolygon.ca!

Let’s talk about artists who think about possible futures – who look at the histories, customs, and norms that have shaped the way we do things – and dare to do things differently. How can the objects or materials that are available today help us to envision how we want tomorrow to look?

Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, The Highest and Best Use and Improve (2017), from Four Effigies for the End of Property, mixed media, photo credit: Scott Massey


A disclaimer: none of these artists are photographers – at least not mainly. But I still think there are some interesting points to be made here. First up is Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill. Way back before The Polygon Gallery, a shipbuilding company used to occupy this lot of land. It was called the Versatile Shipyards, and it went bankrupt in 1992. At that time, a lot of objects from the shipyards were donated as artefacts to the North Vancouver Museum and Archives. Last year, the Museum donated some of these objects to Gabrielle Hill, who made four abstract sculptures that can be found throughout this exhibition.

That’s an interesting journey: these objects were industrial materials when the shipyards were here, and now they’ve returned to this place as artworks in the new gallery. It makes me wonder: what if we were to research future plans in community, and try to visualise what these proposed or potential changes might look like?


Holly Ward, Raw Goods, 2017, installation view, photo credit: Scott Massey


Holly Ward’s work, titled Raw Goods, does something similar. For this piece, she’s borrowed sulphur and coal from the terminals along the foreshore. The sulphur piles are out near the Lions Gate Bridge in the west; the coal comes from near the Second Narrows Bridge in the east. Now, these materials are always in transit, so Holly wants to see what happens when we add The Polygon Gallery to their itinerary. Here, in this space, what happens? The materials transform not physically, but culturally. Raw goods become mediums; piles become sculptures. It’s an interesting look at the special status we give to objects in an art exhibition – even if they are literally piles of sulphur and coal.


The Bigger Picture: Babak Golkar

N_Vancouver-38Babak Golkar, the Exchange Project, installation view, photo credit: Scott Massey


Babak Golkar’s work reimagines something pretty huge: economy, and value. How do artworks get their economic or cultural value? A whole lot of factors decide this, but Babak Golkar wants to get away from these uncontrollable and sometimes random forces. He started this project called The Exchange, and it’s basically bartering. Without any concern for market value, Babak gives one of his work to a fellow artist, and that artist gives one work to Babak. Here, we see three pairs of photographs. Each pair shows one of Babak’s works in the other artist’s home or studio, and the other artist’s work in Babak’s – here in North Vancouver.

Think about what you’d change about society if you had the power. What would you do differently? Or what are some transformations you’d like to see?

Thank you to everybody who came out last Saturday for the Chester Fields event! We had an amazing turnout and I hope all attendees enjoyed themselves. We’ve gotten great feedback, and look forward to making this even better next year. A special thank you to our guest speaker Andrew Dadson, and to the Guarantaa Company of North America for their generous support.

Here’s to the start of a new Chester Fields tradition!

This time, we’ll look at artists who can visit a particular place and, through curiosity and research, find ways of showing us how it used to look in the past. Wherever they go, they don’t just see what’s in front of them. They strive to make the invisible visible.

StanDouglasStan Douglas, Lazy Bay, 2015, digital chromogenic print mounted on Dibond


For Stan Douglas’s Lazy Bay (2015), the artist did tonnes of research looking at old photographs of Lazy Bay, a community of squatters who lived in shacks in Deep Cove. There’s an interesting story here: the squatters argued that the mudflats didn’t belong to the city of North Vancouver, because the tide is always shifting the sand and mud. They believed that, by living on hand-built wooden shacks on the mudflats, they wouldn’t have to pay taxes to the government. Lazy Bay was formed in the 1930s, and survived until the 1950s, when municipal authorities burned all the shacks down and drove the squatters out.

Studying surviving photographs that were taken of Lazy Bay, Stan Douglas worked with CG artists to make 3D models of the wooden shacks. Douglas was able to use computer graphics to reconstruct a realistic image of Lazy Bay. But what else is striking about the work? Can you see any hints about the time of day it’s depicting?

altheaStill from Althea Thauberger’s Listers of Earthy, 2018, HD video


In the late 1960s, a community of squatters banded together and built wooden shacks on the Dollarton mudflats, picking up where the Lazy Bay squatters left off. Around that same time, a Hollywood film called McCabe & Mrs. Miller was being shot in West Vancouver. It was a Western film, set way back in 1902. When the studio executives came up from Los Angeles to scout locations, they saw the Dollarton mudflat squat – and the shacks were exactly what they had in mind for their movie!

Of course, they couldn’t shoot the movie down in the mud. So, they hired the squatters as set builders. They drove them up to West Vancouver, dressed them up in historical costumes, and had them build the film set. If you watch McCabe & Mrs. Miller, lots of the people in the background are actually real-life squatters, working on the carpentry even while the camera’s rolling.

When designing the costumes for Althea Thauberger’s video work Listers of Earthy (2017-2018), Natalie Purschwitz pulled inspiration from different time periods and cultures: from early twentieth-century colonial clothes, when McCabe & Mrs. Miller is set; and from the bohemian style of the 1960s and ’70s, to reflect the hippie culture of the Dollarton mudflat squat. It reminds us that oftentimes, change in society isn’t necessarily reflected in the buildings or landscapes around us. Oftentimes, the biggest shifts are seen in the ways we dress ourselves, or the objects we carry, or the activities we do in our spare time. When thinking about fascinating transformations, don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

The Bigger Picture: Chief Janice George

N_Vancouver-56Shelley Thomas, Xaxhaynumet (detail), 2007-2008, woven wool


As recently as the early 2000s, Salish weaving was pretty much gone from the North Shore communities of the Squamish Nation. Nobody had learned to do it. Inspired by old photographs and even older stories, Chief Janice George of the Squamish Nation was determined to restore this art. She travelled to other Salish First Nations to learn, and studied existing weavings, in order to learn how to weave. George then taught a group of ten students how to do traditional weaving on handmade looms. These students then went on to have students of their own.

Fast-forward to 2018: Chief Janice George’s weaving programme, based out of L’hen Awtwx Weaving House, has reached over 2,500 students. It’s amazing what a photograph can inspire – and what we can achieve when we look beyond what’s in front of us, and rediscover parts of culture and heritage that have been lost.

Looking at The Polygon Gallery’s current exhibition N. Vancouver, we’ll focus on artists whose works bring together the past and the present. They’ve photographed landmarks or features that still exist, and might not seem visually spectacular at first, but reveal something incredible about North Vancouver’s history when we look closer.

AndrewDadsonAndrew Dadson, White Tree, 2017, inkjet print mounted on Dibond


Andrew Dadson’s White Tree (2017) shows us the stump of an old growth cedar tree. What does this tell us about the past? Using non-toxic, biodegradable paint to turn the stump completely white, Dadson contrasts this ancient, logged tree with the much younger trees around it. This tells us a lot about how recklessly we’ve used this land in the past – and how we’re letting nature recover in the present. White Tree captures a really complicated relationship between industry and the environment through very simple but effective means.

What happens to the old growth stump when Dadson paints it entirely white? Does it look out-of-time, like an historic black-and-white photo in the middle of a coloured one? Or maybe it seems ghostly – a spectre of the past? How do you respond to White Tree?

N_Vancouver-41Stephen Waddell, Hive Burner, 2017, archival pigment print, photo credit: Scott Massey


The title of Stephen Waddell’s Hive Burner (2017) is a spoiler. The round cement structure seen in the photograph is all that remains of a cedar mill. The mill used to operate near Deep Cove, where Cates Park is today. Specifically, this was the round burner base of the mill, which was used to burn up sawdust. Now, we can see that the spot has become a popular hangout. Look closely and you’ll notice people chatting, sketching, and relaxing around the concrete circle.

Take a look at the image. It’s a lush, leisurely scene of late summer or early fall. What grabs your attention in this photo, and why? Is the burner base the first thing you notice – and if not, then what is? It begs the question: how does a photograph’s composition affect the way we respond to it?


The Bigger Picture: N.E. Thing Company

2017-07-06 14.04.19N.E. Thing Company, ACT #48, gelatin silver print and mixed media


N.E. Thing Company was an artist collective formed back in 1966 by husband and wife team Iain and Ingrid Baxter. N.E. Thing Company championed the idea that anything could be art – hence the name – and that art is everywhere. Many of their works come with a dose of dry humour. Take for example their ACT series (“Aesthetically Claimed Things”), where they photographed odd sites in suburban North Vancouver and “certified” them as artworks, or their Portfolio of Piles, where they painstakingly documented piles of anything they could find – doughnuts, crabs, lumber, tires, bowls and barrels, to name but a few.

What’s interesting about N.E. Thing Company is how they took everyday, commonplace things and reimagined them as artworks. From the peculiar perspectives of Iain and Ingrid Baxter, familiar sights and objects became strange and fascinating. Wonder and curiosity are valuable tools for artists. As you think about your own projects, be open to inspiration wherever you go. You never know where you’ll find it.

The 2018 Chester Fields Youth Photography Program is underway. We’re kicking things off this Saturday April 7 with a tour of N. Vancouver, our current exhibition, for Chester Fields participants. After the tour, Andrew Dadson will be joining us for a special artist talk and Q&A.

The submissions deadline is Friday April 20. Download The Polygon App to your phone or check back here for program updates and announcements. After April 20, a jury will pick the finalists whose works will be shown in an exhibition here at The Polygon Gallery from May 8-26.

A reception will be held on Saturday, May 26 at 1pm. More details will come out in the next few weeks, but I can promise that there will be snacks, cash prizes given out to the jury’s top picks, and a commemorative catalogue of all the finalists’ works to take home.