Lights Whinin the Dreams---Ran Wang(Amber)Amber Wang, Lights Within the Dream, 2019

Our jurors Peppa Martin, Ian McGuffie, and Birthe Piontek met yesterday to go through the nearly 200 submissions we received for Chester Fields! It’s been incredible to see so many emerging photographers responding so thoughtfully to a challenging theme. The breadth and quality of the work has been really remarkable, and everyone who submitted should be proud of their artistic accomplishment. The jury was truly impressed.

After over an hour of deliberation, our jurors had about 50 works shortlisted, and if I had the whole gallery at my disposal, I would’ve shown them all. But with the available space in mind, they kept on discussing, and after a lot of careful consideration, they ultimately shortlisted 31 works.

Without further ado, these are our Chester Fields finalists! Congratulations to:

Charlotte Bailey

James Borrill

Anna Bryan

Zach Chard

Yuxuan Deng

Danielle Egilson

Pablo Esquivel

Artem Furman

Donovan Galsco

Giovanna Garbuglia

Anova Hou

Victoria Jackson

Kayli Koonar

Jolin Liu

Abby Lundquist

Christal Lyu

Kate MacLeod

Iris Maes

Grace Merrells

Arthur Na

Jennifer Park

Jason Ross

Gabby Rumsby

Paulo Schalkhammer

Rio Shimada

Nicholas Szeto

Farryn VanHumbeck

Amber Wang

Mia Xu

Asalah Youssef

Alice Zeng

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The above image is a teaser: a tiny detail of one of the amazing photographs on view at Burrard Arts Foundation by Birthe Piontek. Want to see the full image? Join Birthe and me this Saturday, March 9, 1pm at Burrard Arts Foundation!

I can’t say it enough: it’s really valuable for emerging artists like yourselves to meet an established, working artist, and learn what it takes to become professional. I hope to see you there! Now, I’ll start this week’s post with a question:

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

It’s a basic question, but one that sometimes requires a thoughtful answer. What is your image trying to do?

All artwork has meaning. That’s what makes it so powerful, universal, and sometimes controversial. Artists try to convey messages, work through their own ideas, or portray emotion in their works. What an artist makes, or how she works, depends on that person’s own interests and views.

We’ve asked you to think about what you’re photographing, and how you’re going to work close to the lens to make sure your photograph is more than just an easy, ordinary picture. So as you go about responding to this year’s Chester Fields challenge, ask yourself: what excites you?

Why are you photographing that particular subject? Why are you enhancing or disrupting your shot with that specific material? And if you created a really cool image by chance or by fluke – take a step back, and think about what your image could mean or represent. Sometimes the message emerges afterward, and that’s okay!

All this to say: be aware that when you show an image, you’re also communicating a message. So take control of what that message is, and make it something that matters to you.

When writing your artist statements, think about these three questions: 1) What are we looking at in your photo? 2) Why are you showing us this? And 3) how does it relate to the theme of “Something In My Eye”?

Last year, I had the privilege of working with some of BC’s top emerging artists starting their professional careers in photography and media arts. Their approaches were diverse, thoughtful, and – yes – experimental! I want to introduce you to a couple of them. Ramey Newell and Krystle Coughlin were working with similar ideas that you’re now taking on: thinking about their images on multiple levels; disrupting straightforward pictures; and using unique qualities of photography to make us think about the world in different, more critical ways.

Slide004-edited-smallRamey Newell, A fine sheet of water, 2018, inkjet print

RAMEY NEWELL

If you’ve taken any biology, you might’ve heard of agar. Agar is a substance in which bacteria thrive. Scientists study “bacteria cultures” in dishes of agar, in order to develop antibiotics. Ramey Newell decided to take pinhole photographs of different landscapes, spreading agar on top of the photos and allowing bacteria native to those landscapes to grow on top of the images. She scanned these images huge so that we can see the bacteria cultures growing on the photograph.

The result? It’s incredible how these tiny bacteria seem to resemble the landscapes they were collected from! Ramey’s photos literally put landscape photography under the microscope, reminding us that there’s so much more to a scenic vista than the easily visible landmarks; the macro world only exists because of all the tiny building blocks of life holding them up. Ramey’s work is breathtaking, but it also contains an important environmental message.

 

LindPrize2018_highres_30Krystle Couglin, tth’í’ yáw nan (thread beads land) (detail), 2018, inkjet prints

KRYSTLE COUGHLIN

The areas around East Vancouver where Krystle Coughlin grew up can be seen in the photographs of Jeff Wall, one of Canada’s most famous living photographers. Jeff Wall’s photos often have high production values, with props and costumes, background actors, and – occasionally – special effects. The perfected, cinematic images don’t quite reflect Krystle’s experience as an Indigenous woman growing up in these neighbourhoods.

Krystle photographed many of the sites captured in Jeff Wall’s works, but blurred them out. Instead, the focus of her images is on the beads in the foreground, referencing the First Nations’ practice of recording knowledge of the local landscape using beads. In Krystle’s work, however, the strings are broken: a reference to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as to the ongoing struggle to recover and preserve Indigenous knowledge.

Ramey and Krystle have created such strong work because they also deeply care about the issues they’re addressing. So as you work on your own projects, ask yourself: why do your images matter to you, and what message are you trying to impart to your viewers?

a Handful of Dust inspired this year’s Chester Fields theme. Some of the works in the show would make great Chester Fields submissions themselves! Others might make you wonder how a certain image was made, and start thinking about what you might do with the tools at your disposal to create a similar effect. Here are a few highlights from a Handful of Dust.

ppaa-a-ap1Eva Stenram, Per Pulverem Ad Astra (detail), 2007, unique chromogenic prints, courtesy the artist

Translated from Latin, the title of this work is something like “Dust to the Stars”. Eva Stenram asked NASA to send her photographic negatives from their Mars exploration. Once she received these, she left them under her bed, where they collected dust. Then, she scanned them without removing this dust, creating these prints.

Dust is a very domestic thing we find in our houses; but it’s also cosmic. Space is full of dust. Here, Stenram brings together the cosmic and the domestic, and it’s fascinating how well they work together. The dust from under her bed fits in oddly well with the Martian landscape, looking like extraterrestrial light or maybe a kind of unidentified organic matter. Stenram’s images not only make us look closer and consider the process behind her artwork; they also stir our imaginations!

 

74V01John Divola, Vandalism portfolio (detail), 1974-1975, gelatin silver prints, courtesy of Dr. J. Patrick and Patricia Kennedy

In the 1970s, John Divola broke into abandoned houses in and around Los Angeles. Using the debris he found onsite, as well as some of his own materials, he created surreal graffiti. Then, he photographed his masterpieces, completing the work. It’s hard to say how Divola created any one of these images exactly, though sometimes, it looks as though there are marks right on the lens he’s shooting through. Each picture warps perspective and depth of field in interesting ways.

Divola was just using dust, light, and whatever materials he had on hand. What I find interesting about this work his that it’s clearly a photograph, but is very abstract as well. What resources do you use when making an image, and how might you use them to create something that’s both abstract and photographic at the same time?

 

Space(small)Scott McFarland, Lens Cleaning Schneider Apo-Symmar 5.6/180MM; James Perse Space Crewneck Jersey T-Shirt, 2017, chromogenic print, studio dust in custom colour frame, courtesy the artist and Monte Clark Gallery

We’re always making sure that the camera lens is perfectly clear of obstructions. But Canadian artist Scott McFarland decided to turn this on its head in his highly ironic Lens Cleaning series. He took a series of self-portraits of himself cleaning a camera lens, but obscured the images with dust at every stage. There was dust in the lens when he took the picture; there was dust on the negative when he printed the photograph; and there’s even dust inside the frame, behind the glass!

A couple of other choices make McFarland’s series stand out. In order to disturb the notion of clear straightforward photography even more, every image is a double-exposure. This means that he shot two images on the same film, which ended up superimposed on one another once the film was developed. He’s also painted each frame to match the colour of the t-shirt he’s wearing in each photo, which makes it a fun series to view all together!

 

IMG_3898Tereza Zelenkova, Georges Bataille’s Grave, Vézelay, 2012, gelatin silver print, installation view

Tereza Zelenkova’s photograph is visually interesting because it’s disrupted. Look at the left-hand side of the image. What are we looking at? Is Zelenkova shooting from behind a gravestone, looking out at the rest of the cemetery? The shape resembles a gravestone, but the object itself is way too dark. Was the photograph, or the negative, ripped or cut somehow? And if so, what does that represent? Maybe it’s hinting at mortality, or the great unknown after death.

If we look immediately to the right of that dark space, you’ll notice that the photograph is overexposed. Next to that, there seem to be holes or dark spots in the image. Some of this might’ve been accidental, but what’s key is that Zelenkova didn’t choose to reshoot a “perfect” image. Flaws like these can make an image more evocative.

 

This is only a small selection of the many works in a Handful of Dust. I encourage you to come and see the show; you might be inspired by a different work entirely!

IMG_3985a Handful of Dust, installation view

The exhibition a Handful of Dust was organised by David Campany. David began by looking at a photograph taken by Man Ray in 1920, of an artwork in progress by Marcel Duchamp, remembered today as two of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.

When Man Ray took this photograph, Duchamp’s artwork wasn’t much more than some glass plates covered by a thick layer of dust. And the image that resulted was as strange as you’d imagine: it looked a bit like a landscape. In fact, when it first appeared in print, the image was titled View from an Aeroplane. This was in 1922, just after the First World War; people were used to seeing aerial reconnaissance photography, and this image blended right in.

So: what sort of photographs would you exhibit alongside an image like this? There’s a great range of pictures in this exhibition: some aerial photography from the war, with military photos of map-making, some of Hiroshima in the aftermath of the atomic bomb in World War II. As we can see, the twentieth century created a lot of dust.

Interesting associations emerge between the pictures. There’s the earth-shaking blast of the atomic bomb; next to these are Walker Evans’s photographs of erosion, a slower creeping of the earth powerful enough to shape mountains. From these photos of the American landscape, we move to images of the American Dustbowl; from images of the Great Depression to scenes of burials and graves. From graves, we move to monuments, and more urban scenes.

From here, we go from documentary shots to art. The artworks in this exhibition look at ruins, rubble, debris, and dust. It’s this sort of stuff, Campany points out, that poses a threat to the clean, organised order of modern life. We tend to turn a blind eye to all this debris and refuse, but this exhibition shows us that it’s worth a closer look.

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.

 

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  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.

 

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  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.

 

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  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.’”

 

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  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.

 

EQuinlan_Demystification8_2008_20x24_EQ1296-839x1024

  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!

SUBMISSIONS

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!