Sometimes, when you put on a group show, it can be difficult to arrange an interview with the artists you're featuring—especially when some live thousands of kilometres away or have a penchant for driving across continents. To hop across the timezone divide, April Thompson, in preparation for her show Three Kinds of Abstraction at Access Gallery, set up an email chain with Angela Fama, Joi T. Arcand, and Noah Spivak to chat about photography and how it interacts with social media, and their younger selves.
Join April for her Curator's Tour of the show at Access on Saturday, August 13, 2016.
EMAIL CHAIN INTERVIEW: NOAH SPIVAK, JOI T. ARCAND, ANGELA FAMA
April Thompson: You are all artists who have taken time to travel and explore new surroundings, and you have further channeled these experiences in your artworks and photographs. How intertwined is the idea of travel & photography for you? What is it about photography as a medium that makes it so closely connected to wandering?
Angela Fama: Completely intertwined. Hah, even if I try not to, like if I aim to “take break” or not bring the camera along, I end up snapping what catches me with my phone often in the hundreds of photos category when it’s the phone. That’s actually how the “The Road” shots came about for my most recent project, “What Is Love”. Other times I go out on photo adventures where it’s just me and my camera of choice for the trip (often my Hasselblad where it’s like the opposite of the phone where I very selectively shoot few pictures often with a theme - ‘It’s A Sign”). I find the changing landscape, the experiential passing of images moment by moment, second by second, to be irresistible to my creative self.
A film director I am really fond of for both his films and his lesser known photographic work is Wim Wenders ("Paris, Texas”), he has a book called "Once” that shows photographs he’s taken when travelling to and from or on location for his films, where he starts it with a poem reflecting on the experience of taking a photograph: “Taking a picture is an act in two directions: forwards and backwards… all of it appears in front of the camera just once, and every photograph turns this once into an eternity. Only through the captured picture does time become visible and in the time span between the first shot and the second the story emerges”.
Joi T. Arcand: I feel like I never take enough photos when I'm travelling. A while ago, I decided that it was too much of a bother to travel with my D-SLR, so now I am only taking iPhone photos, which is fine by me. In my art practice, the only travel I do is time travel, which is the part of photography that I find most appealing. I also am fascinated by tourist photography, a topic that I explore with my ViewMaster reels.
Noah Spivak: I suppose from the beginning (of my photographic education) the idea of travel and photography has been explained as an inherent pairing but as time passed and my own photographic ideals developed, it became less and less apparent that it was so. And I think this is to coincide with the decline of the use of an actual photograph within my own practice. I found it less and less important to take images as a means to express ideas and began using the medium itself as a conduit to explain real situations (does that make sense?). And although I am currently experiencing new parts of the world, I find myself being ok with not having a camera with me so currently, I would say the two are not very intertwined.
Similar to writing, photography acts as a method in which we can record moments, memories, experience, etc...so for those who enjoy wandering (and photography) the pairing is kind of perfect. The camera holds no judgement and can act as an extension of ones imagination. Personally, wandering/getting lost is a favourite pastime of mine and although I don't always have a camera with me, I tend to think of the "photograph" during these times. It may be cliched to say, but a photograph has the ability to make someone wander without having to move their feet.
AT: Posting photographs online for instant gratification is a rudimentary aspect of the new social media age we live in. As an artist who practices in photography during this shift, how do you situate the importance of having “online” presence within your photographic practice. Is it something that you mindfully resist, wholeheartedly engage with, or reluctantly adhere to? Do you see the democratization of photography via Instagram as positive or negative, or irrelevant?
NS: It is hard to gauge the level of importance of an online presence in relation to a physical art practice, especially when the subject matter differs between the two...however, that is not to say that I still don't look after this "presence". I think the only place I share a photographic image (one that adheres to the pre-requisites the majority of humans would assimilate to a photograph) is on Instagram. I predominately take photos on my phone, with the intention to be shared on that particular platform and I think it is this that separates itself from my art practice. As much as I'd like to say I mindfully resist engaging this presence, I both wholeheartedly and reluctantly participate within it. It shifts between the two according to whether I feel obligated to post (because I haven't in awhile) or am actually excited to share an image that I've captured....because at the end of the day, I like taking images and as an artist, I like sharing what I create.
I think the conversation surrounding this democratization of photography via Instagram and other like apps/media outlets is one with no end as it is deeply rooted in personal opinion. I think it has positive aspects as well as negative counterparts but I wouldn't say it is irrelevant to the larger conversation. It's clear that Instagram has opened the door to photography for the mass population making it "accessible" to use and easy to look at, appreciate and potentially understand. However, I still think a large gap exists between what photography is/can be and what the public actually knows of it. This gap narrows with a deeper education in the medium, one that can come from personal discovery but I think many are satisfied or under the impression they already understand with apps like Instagram (and the same can be said for many fields). I suppose what I'm trying to say is that these apps are not necessarily creating more photographers, just photographs.
But then again this is coming from someone with an education in the field...I'm actually in the works of creating a show that explores this "gap" between the accessibility of photography and the lack of knowledge that follows.
JTA: I do consciously refrain from posting my artworks online. I do separate my snapshots posted on Instagram from my art practice. I think the presentation of artworks is a thoughtful process; the way we consume images is a part of the experience. The images in my ViewMasters are meant to be viewed 3D and when they are put online that aspect is lost and I don't feel viewers are getting the intended experience. Same could be said for a printed and framed works. Size, quality and the physicality of prints affect the image. I am also mindful of sharing images that I've taken of other people, I feel protective of their image which they have trusted me with. Once it's shared online, I think the context is lost. I feel this way mostly about my NDN Maidens and SuperMaidens series.
I do love Instagram, but it is separate from my art practice.
AF: I think I read somewhere that using Instagram releases dopamine in the brain upon checking “likes"… with THAT being said, I resisted cell phones... I resisted Facebook... I resisted Instagram… and I have all three now in the same transportable package. Instagram’s resistance lasted for a shorter while. It is such a malleable format. There are so many different approaches and ways to view it. I have held a few on it myself over the past while. I am curious of it. Recently I have changed my take on it. I used to use it as a source to basically photo drizzle out whatever came my way, as I am always taking pictures with my phone and I enjoyed the square framing aspect and the sharing included.
I took a drawing class once where the teacher had us do what he called “bootcamp” drawing homework. We had to draw something like 10+ images a day and come to the weekly classes with a stack of almost 100 drawings we had produced that week. We could draw whatever, anything, scribble on the page, it just had to be something using our drawing muscles. I thought that was a great exercise. I kind of see Instagram like that. I could choose to see it so many ways but right now I am enjoying the process of editing it some and almost fine tuning my bootcamp photo venue.
I don’t think of it necessarily as directly in keeping with my practise when I plan out a project... my phone isn’t the tool I first think of to use, but I think they are inherently tied together for me as it is a daily action of using the parts of myself I use to create an image, again, skill honing. Unexpectedly, with my recent project, “What Is Love”, I had over 100 of my Instagram shots actually printed 8”x8” and wall vinyl attached grid form as part of the showing. Most people thought I had used my usual Hasselblad med format film camera for them, which I did for some of the show, but not for the grid series. I was enlightened by the experience. I never would have expected myself to do that but when I was on the road for that project I was constantly snapping the “travel” shots of the journey because it was an amazing visual experience to have, driving across North America and I wanted to share it. Upon return, people really liked them, including the gallery, and asked to see them with the final intended comparative portrait work of the show itself.
AT: If you could give your younger self any advice about the art world or art making what would it be? Would you do anything differently in your previous years?
JTA: Advice to younger self: produce more work! My biggest challenge to my practice has always been finances and time; as I'm sure it is for most artists. I would advise my younger self to apply for more grants and more shows earlier on.
AF: Advice to younger me: If you put your energy, focus and attention to your personal art practise you can actually survive. It takes a lot of work and then some, but there are actually those that do. When I was younger, I didn’t believe there were living, “successful” artists. I didn’t know any and had no mentors like that really. I chose a freelance photo career as being as close I thought I could get to doing a job I loved that had something to do with the arts (this was before the internet). I put many years in to developing that so I could have money to make the art I wanted to, which I have and am currently doing. If I could turn back time though, and if I had to give advice, that would have been something that may have altered choices I made. That’s if I “had” to give advise. I am proud of the journey I took to be where I am. I have enjoyed the lessons, including the one I wish I could advise myself of, so I think all in all, if I have the choice, I leave it be and choose not to offer advice. I am curious what another 20 years from now I may have learnt on the art journey to look back on to ruminate on what I don’t even know I am learning now!
NS: I'm not sure I would give my younger self any advice on the art world, nor about art making as I didn't receive any notable advice in my formative artistic years (though I am still in them i suppose). But I'm not bitter about it in fact I think it has played a largely positive role in shaping my current practice, which has become one based in experimentation and an almost desire for confusion..I think this maybe answers both questions? Advice is a funny thing, and I'm only just putting it together now, but it comes across as kind of suggestion towards possibility but at the same time, poses subjectivity on whomever is receiving the advice and may in turn influence the outcome. So I can't really say how necessary it is, but i do know I wouldn't impose it on my younger self. But this isn't to discredit anyone who did give me advice on being an artist, or perhaps anyone in the future who will. I think I am currently on the right path or at least feel comfortable with the path I'm on so I can honestly say I wouldn't have done anything differently in the years prior to where I’m at now.
ANGELA FAMA’s work investigates themes of meaning, emotion, memory and change. A multidisciplinary artist, often working with photography. Fama is interested in exploring the tension inherent in our collective desire for both the temporal and timeless. Born in Tennessee, raised in Ontario and Zimbabwe, Fama currently works out of Vancouver, BC.
JOI ARCAND is a photo-based artist from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, currently living in Ottawa. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 2005 and since then has exhibited across Canada and internationally. She was the co-founder of The Red Shift Gallery in Saskatoon and in 2012, created kimiwan ‘zine, a magazine for Indigenous artists and writers.
NOAH SPIVAK is a recent graduate of Emily Carr University for Art & Design, who majored in photography and sculpture but retains heavy interests in installation and curatorial practices. Noah’s current processes isolate, break, and reconstitute the materials that compose photographs, producing versions of the photographic that present audiences with the distance that can exist between a physical object and a study of visual re-presentation. Spivak lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.