Students from the Art and Art History documentary class have an exhibit up at the Snelgrove this week. The show is a mixed bag with a variety of photo collections documenting events, people and places such as: “We Day”, A comic/fantasy convention, neglected rural barns, a dene/metis community, 20th Street W, the Roxy Theater, prairie barns, and a local musician.
To be honest, at first I didn’t enjoy this exhibit. The students’ documentary collections were so varied in subject, size, and style that as a whole it seemed unorganized, amateurish, and sometimes boring. But it was after Floranne St.Amand McLaughlin’s projected photo essay relating old traveling “freak shows” with the modern media’s reality star infatuation that I began looking at each set of documentary collections with a more critical eye.
When looking at this documentary exhibit with a critical eye it became quite entertaining. The notions of documentary is something interesting to dwell on. Documentary is posed as the truth but it is fabricated truth. The person presenting the documentary is choosing, editing, filtering the truth through themselves choosing what the viewer sees. This paradox of the documentary being fabricated truth makes the exhibit’s title “This is Reel…” more than just a play on words. It makes you question the artists’ choices and strategies.
Each student had a written didactic to go with their photo collections. For me, these written didactics seemed mostly excessive and unnecessary but they did give you an easy explanation of their documentary projects without having to study the photos.
^Floranne St.Amand McLaughlin’s photo essay looking at the “freak show” and reality TV. She took a funny approach at it by comparing the multiple birth phenomena in early days being viewed in freak-shows and today being viewed in reality TV series like “John and Kate plus 8”. Floranne’s work makes you ask “is it the stage that makes the freak?”
Jannik Plaetner’s work dominates the exhibit in size and quantity showing scenes from a rural aboriginal community. They are pretty photos with loads of juxtaposition: poverty housing amongst big new trucks. I wondered what did he choose to capture and not capture?
There was a sparse portrait of 20th St West, where the individual explained that it was a love letter to the area dispelling the myth that you might get stabbed. With that in mind, examining the photos and how they were displayed becomes interesting. Did she choose not to take her photos empty of inhabitants to make them more palatable to people with worries associated to the neighborhood? Why black and white photos? Does that bring some kind of nostalgia to an area that is drastically changing with gentrification?
There was a group of photos dedicated to memories and the changing prairie landscape. The artist in her didactic writes that she fondly remembers exploring the strange wonders of the interior of a dilapidated barn in her youth and later returning to find it gone. Yet her photos only showed the exterior of these barns/sheds. Why did she choose to show the insides of these places? Was she worried about the affect being creepy rather than nostalgic? She chose to show the barns alone on the prairie. Which had an affect making these barns more isolated and seemingly at risk.
The closing reception is tonight from 7-9pm. Why don’t you stop by and digest some documentary art for yourself?