At The Same Time brings together the work of five different photographers, who share similar aesthetics and subject matter despite significant differences in geography. The show will be exhibited in Edmonton, AB; Toronto, ON; and Manchester, UK. Each exhibition of the collected works will be curated by the artists respective to their hometowns (Zachary Ayotte and Ted Kerr in Edmonton, Steven Beckly in Toronto, and Colin Quinn and Oisin Share in Manchester). At the show's Edmonton opening, I had the opportunity to speak with Ayotte and Kerr about how the idea for the show came about. According to Ayotte, “We were friends on Flickr, then I went to Toronto last year and I discussed it with him, and they were game, and then we got organized.”
Ayotte continued, “The most obvious connection was aesthetic. I would look at the photographers' work, how each of us were working, and the similarities in how we all chose to work: our subject matter was the same.
Indeed all the images do share a sympathetic aesthetic: intimate, ephemeral moments captured impressionistically; private lives up for public consumption yet drawing the public into their private world, resisting and refuting the viewer's consuming gaze. Hung like a thoughtful explosion, the layout of prints throughout the ARTery's main front area mixes the photographers' work in a manner that initially makes it feel very much like the work of a single (collective) mind.
Both Kerr and Ayotte reluctantly agreed that the photos and exhibition style of Wolfgang Tillmans had an influence on the show: that photographer's work tends to focus on “the banality of the everyday”, and also Tillmans' way of presenting his own work in solo shows influenced the way Ayotte chose to lay out the pieces in the ARTery.
According to Ayotte, “One of the interesting things I find about his work is the way he changes the meaning of his images based on how he positions them or lays them out. That's why he often re-uses work, is to show how it can change based on context. And that's partially why I think we adopted this style for the layout.
When I came to set it up, I came with an idea in my mind about what each artist's work stood for, how they spoke to each other, and I tried to triangulate them, and fill in the gaps with how the work overlapped. So it is very intentional. It's definitely a choice to put them where they are.”
“But,” Kerr interjects, “not overly premeditated: you had an overarching idea in mind, and let the process guide you.”
Indeed it would be almost impossible to create such a layout other than through total subjectivity. Which in this case is not a bad thing: any formalism of presentation or concept would be an unwanted party guest talking loudly over the assembled images' quiet meditations.
“Sometimes it's just like 'there's yellow in this one and yellow in that one'”, Ayotte agrees. “I would kind of just know when it's wrong.”
“It's because you trusted the framework,” continues Kerr. “|And all the work is strong. When the work is strong, it's easier.”
Although digitally scanned then printed, all the photographers use film cameras as their image capturing medium.
Kerr explains, “We all use film. For me at least, digital made me a lazy, bad photographer. I would keep shooting looking for the perfect photo. I like the mystery of film. We say we 'develop' film, but in Spanish they say you 'reveal' it. I feel that's more closely aligned to what photography is to me: I would rather have whatever that moment was revealed to me, rather than to develop it. For me, photography is super personal. If I'm using digital, it doesn't feel as personal: you almost feel the obligation to share, like 'oh wow, this is an awesome photo!'. I just don't like that.'
For me,” Kerr continues, “sometimes I'll use photography as a way of being a lazy painter. I'll see something, and I'll have an image of how I'd like to flatten it or make it mine, so I'll take a photo of it. If I was a different person at a different time, maybe I would sometime store it in my head and paint it.”
This more subjective and personal approach, facilitated by using film as opposed to digital cameras, seems increasingly popular: as Ayotte puts it concluding our chat, “It's such an interesting time because I think more and more I'm hearing stories about people going back to working with film. We're seeing the development of almost two different mediums.”
Whether the photos on display here really owe their existence to that special something film offers, there is no question that the show delivers on its premise, exhibiting work so close in spirit that they transcend all personal, temporal, and physical distance and demarcations differentiating their creation.
Photo credits: Alistair Henning, 2010
Image credits: Zachary Ayotte, Ted Kerr, Steven Beckly, Colin Quinn and Oisin Share, 2010.