Light, Unexpected by Frances Cockburn
For most of my professional art practice, painting has been my primary focus. About 10 years ago, I participated in a pinhole photography workshop, sparking an ongoing investigation into this challenging and exciting medium.
I create pinhole photographs using cameras I make with material salvaged from the recycle bin or thrift store. The ‘camera’ is any container that I can make light-proof, and that opens so I can load and unload the ‘film’. Most of my containers are former cookie or tea tins. For film, I use light-sensitive photo paper.
These simple homemade cameras have no viewfinder or light meter, so lots of guesswork is involved. My ‘shutter’ is a piece of tape that I peel away from the pinhole, allowing light to enter, exposing the film. Because the opening is so small, the shot needs a long exposure time (from 10 seconds to an hour or more, depending on the light level). As a result, the image captures the passage of time, which often results in blurriness and ghosting.
After the film is exposed to light, I develop the paper in the darkroom to create a negative image. There is a painterly quality to the development process, as I manipulate the chemicals and the light, never sure what to expect. I can then make a contact print (again using photographic paper), or digitally scan the negative, invert the image, and make a print.
Despite the crude and inexact process, pinhole photographs can be surprisingly sophisticated, capturing more (and sometimes less) than expected. The shortcomings of the camera become advantages, as they distort and simplify the image. As with impressionistic painting, the inexactness of the process can lead to a more exciting image. Pinhole photographs are always unexpected and, sometimes, just right.
Frances Cockburn has a BA (Fine Art and Computer Science) from the University of Guelph. Her paintings have been exhibited in both solo and group shows throughout Ontario, including Odon Wagner Contemporary (Toronto), Art Toronto, Carnegie Gallery (Dundas), Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery (Owen Sound), and MacLaren Art Centre (Barrie) and W.H.A.T. (Hamilton). Cockburn’s work has been recognized by the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts, and she has participated in the Pouch Cove Foundation Visual Artist residency program in Newfoundland. Light, Unexpected is her first exhibition of photography.
Frances Cockburn lives in Hamilton.
Brigadoon by Steacy Easton
Hamilton, Ontario is named after a town in Scotland, just like Hamilton in New Zealand. It becomes a fantasia, a colonial attempt to reclaim a colonial experience, a twice removed nostalgia for a settler view of a built environment.
Brigadoon is a street up the escarpment in Hamilton. It is named after a 1954 Broadway musical. The Broadway musical is about a magical town in the Scottish highlands, which manifests itself every two hundred years. Two New Yorkers get lost there, find love there, get lost, and try to return. The musical is full of a kind of kitsch understanding of Scotland, via a three or four generation remove of the newcomer experience. There are other Brigadoon streets or avenues or drives, in Dartmouth in Nova Scotia, Pointe Claire in Quebec, and Vancouver–literally across Canada. There must have been something about these new suburbs, which seemed almost unreal, a kind of hopeful fantasia, leading to an irony of non-place. Not even the Scotland of origins, or the Scotland of memory, but tripling down on a Scotland that never existed. This is how European newcomers thought of their land, not only in post World War II, but earlier, perhaps all the way to the first contacts between indigenous people and colonists. Isn’t Terra Incognita a kind of Brigadoon?
Making work about the specific location of Brigadoon Drive in Hamilton, is making work about this kind of no place, this kind of false blank space. The work asks questions about what it means to live in a constant reminder of artificially constructed nostalgia. This idea of nostalgia, and landscape, is intended to complicate the problems of colonial space.
Brigadoon Avenue is an archive of built environments, 1950s Salt Boxes, 1980s split levels, the current mini mansions, all circling a park. This park is not quite wild, but exists due to an accidental benelifence. The lack of use, rather than the deliberate use, the idea of a woods in the middle of this suburb is as much an artificial fantasia (perhaps more so) than the built environment that surrounds it.
These are Canadian landscapes, half of the built environment, and half of wilderness, are intended to be critiques of the history of landscape creation, and also photographic irony. They are inspired by the formal blankness of the Vancouver school, but more documentary. They are inspired by work like Krieghoff, but with more irony. They recognize the failure of utopia in traditional representations of images of “wilderness”, in the suburbs, intend to both investigate what documentation of the Canadian built environment could mean, but also refuse the Canadian tradition of landscape depiction.
Steacy Easton is a PhD student in the Critical Disability Studies program at York University, writer and artist living in Hamilton, Ontario. They have published in the Atlantic, Spin, the Globe and Mail, and others. Their work has been shown in Chicago, New York, Edmonton, Toronto, and is in the collection of the library of the National Gallery of Canada.
Exhibition is generously supported by: