This blog is a process journal; it will follow the creation of a series of photographs that will be exhibited and hopefully published in 2012. This work is part of the Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance; you can read about this initiative at the CURRA website.

The photographs appearing in this blog are created by scanning large and medium format, black and white negatives. This is to approximate as much as possible the look and feel of the silver gelatine prints that will form this body of work. Not all these images will appear in the final version of the project as much of the work of the photographer involves editing and choosing the images that best suit the ideas to be expressed. By clicking on the individual images you will be able to see a larger version of the image.

The reader will hopefully be able to get a sense of how such a body of work is developed through time as well as gain insight in the decision and editing process that I will use as the work develops. Please feel free to add comments on either fish plants in general or about the blog.

Friday, February 10, 2012


The Commission GEDEON Commission will no longer be using this blog server for its work. Everything has been migrated to the new website at www.gedeoncommission.ca. To see only the posts associated with this blog simply access the "Fish Plants" category on the main page.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Isle Aux Morts 03

What a day! Finished printing last season’s photographs. All in all, there are about 130-140 eight by ten “work prints”. The time spent in the darkroom is a most interesting place to consider when doing work.

A portion of the time/space spent is within a tightly concentrated space, keeping track of seconds, minutes, time in, time out. Something quite interesting about this duration of time is that, while being intently conscious of seconds and minutes the mind looses track of “watch time”. The idea of loosing track of time by being fully immersed in its minutia is something I need to develop further, maybe video or sound (but that is for another blog).

Another part of this time/space, is where attention is a little more diffused, where something seen in a print in one of the baths stirs a thought, recalls another photograph. This is where the editing begins, and it is not always done in a very deliberate manner; it is simply a question of seeing the prints in the red light and submerged in liquid seems to make certain details, textures or compositions enter into a system of meanings that is absent in “perfect lighting”. It is probably a variation of the old design school trick of studying your compositions upside down in order to see if there are any problems.

Then there is the time/space of imagination. Ideas enter into a free association with the print in the tray. For an instant a multitude of cross-referencing images and sounds fill the imagination, it is the moment of possibility as such it is virtual.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Isle Aux Morts 02

I am presently trying to complete my printing from the 2008 shooting season. This is keeping me quite busy and I am not posting as often as I would like. This post will be mostly images. Writing does not always come easily, at times it is as if I am trying to say everything in one fell swoop; not taking the time to let the narrative unfold, let the idea come through in the words.

As this year’s printing draws to a close, I am starting to think more and more about what the edited suite of photographs will look like. This can serve two purposes; firstly, it encourages me to continue working and plugging away at the subject matter. Secondly, it will make this second season of shooting more efficient as I will hopefully have a quicker sense of what I am looking for as I arrive on a new site.

This second effect can be dangerous. An ever-present risk for an artist is the possibility of getting ahead of an idea. Thinking that one knows what one s looking for can lead to imposing meaning on a subject; effectively taking away the subjects voice in the process. This is something I am constantly struggling with what I am working with a more “documentary” approach.

Contemporary culture’s obsession with “the documentary” is rife with the conflict between “truth” and “opinion”. The concept of objectivity has been central to the discourse of the photographic image since its invention. It has shifted from total objectivity to total subjectivity with very few stops in between. Like in many things, the objective and the subjective are two poles with an infinite number of grey zones in-between. As surfaces they can even overlap as is described in “Mille Plateaux”, Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s landmark exploration of the schizophrenic impulse in contemporary society. But I digress.

The tension between giving voice to the subject and allowing one’s subjectivity to interact with it is often where all the interest lies in a work of art. A truly engaging piece of work will inevitably play the ideas off of each other and invite the viewer to add more levels of interpretation to the mix.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Isle Aux Morts 01

Isle Aux Morts translates to Isle of the Dead, which is appropriate as, when I photographed it the first time, I was greeted with a rather distinctive odour. A deceased whale, of a type I could not identify seeing as my skills at identifying carcasses are not very developed, had washed up in the small cove behind the plant.

Cars were arriving with loads of teenagers holding their noses, some even feigning retching actions. For a moment, I was wondering if I would be able to stay there and photograph all day. But there was good light (a rare find on the south coast), and I was determined to “experience the space”. Oddly enough, it only took 15 or 20 minutes to habituate to the odour. But I do think this first impression influenced my choices that day and on a subsequent day of shooting.

The plant itself is showing many years of neglect, it is falling apart at the seams and even dangerous to walk around. Again, I was struck by how these places are simply cast off once their initial utility has run its course. It is understandable that politics and some resentment is articulated in this neglect, but at the same time, the politicians and merchants do not usually live in these communities, which is obviously an important problem.

There were still signs of the activities performed at this site strewn about. A roll of green stickers marked “COD/MORUE” found its way into my camera bag, fish tags, disintegrating plastic fish vats, various bits of machinery; it all made the site look as if some small cataclysm happened here. There was an air of violence and it found its way into several of my photographs.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Diamond Cove 05

Sometimes, an artist looses sight of the project they are working on. This has been the case for pretty well two weeks now. It is not a big problem, as I continue to print and continue to experience the work. But two weeks ago I could see the completed work before my mind’s eye, there were clear ideas for sequences and presentation. These are important moments in the production of work as they allow the artist to approach the idea from other angles, by leaving preconceptions aside. This is a normal part of the process.

What is this attraction to industrial architecture? What is this sense that what is human-made and, by default, transient is worthy of attention?

In Kant’s “Critique de la Faculté de Juger”, the idea of artistic beauty is derived from and cannot be separated from the philosophical concept of the sublime. In Gilles Deleuze’s analysis the sublime “is explained by the free agreement of reason and the imagination. But this new "spontaneous" agreement occurs under very special conditions: pain, opposition, constraint, and discord. In the case of the sublime, freedom or spontaneity is experienced in boundary-areas, when faced with the formless or the deformed.”1 [The word “entendement” is translated as “agreement” which is perhaps accurate in literal terms but lacks the subtle second meaning of “listening” which is pivotal in Deleuze’s use of language.]

Paraphrasing Gilles Deleuze, in order to understand how the cultural aesthetic can fit within Kant’s three critiques, one has to come to grips with the relationship between natural beauty and artistic beauty and how each relates to reason. He uses the notion of the sublime to bridge this gap, as its relationship to reason is spontaneous and direct because the abject occurs in both modes of expression.

If the sublime exists as a free agreement (entendement) between reason and the imagination it makes it possible to analyse artistic beauty as the free accord of agreement (entendement) and the imagination. The two concepts are inextricable in this view of beauty. Form and expression are functions of the formless and deformed and create a free and open discourse that can appear to be based in sensibility (taste) but that can be deduced logically and thus find a place in a more global construct of taste. It is possible to arrive at cultural agreement (entendement) on matters of taste and beauty. This, in very broad strokes, forms the basis for Kant’s analysis of beauty and its role in the faculty of judgement.

It would follow that the artist could be described as having an acute sense of the relationships between “entendement”, imagination and reason as well as a desire to express these ideas visually and publicly. The search for the abject or the sublime would obviously be part of this process. Examples of this can be found throughout the history of art, from classical to romantic to current periods. An interesting example comes to mind. Edward Weston, who, with his contemporaries, helped create the template for formal photography in North America, is particularly known for exquisitely rendered landscape and still life photographs but there is one image that seems to create context for his work. It is Dead Man, Colorado Desert, 1937. In this image, the sublime (abject) and beauty are articulated with incredible sensibility.

The attraction to industrial architecture and abandoned places is in accordance with a long history of aesthetic thought. The immediate link to reason presented by a reality that can be best described as political (the placement and use of fish plants) can be mediated through agreement and imagination to present yet another series of meanings that operate on reason in a wider spectrum of thought.

These are the last few images from Diamond Cove; starting with the next installment we will begin a visit to Isle Aux Morts.

1. Revue d'esthetique, vol. XVI, no. 2, avril-juin (Paris: PUF, 1963), p. 113-136. This translation borrowed from a 2004 Semiotext(e) translation of L’ile déserte, 2002 Éditions de Minuit.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Diamond Cove - 04

I have been asked to do an interview on the Fish Plant Project for our local CBC station. I love these opportunities to talk about the work. One thing came up while the reporter was doing some preliminary work with me over the phone. He commented on my effort to commit to posterity those “bygone days” when the fish industry was in full swing on the island.

This brings up one of my most pressing ideological ideas about photography. Penny Cousineau-
Levine (who was my thesis advisor) wrote a book called “Faking Death”1 in which one of her primary premises is that all photography is essentially about death (I am grossly oversimplifying for arguments sake). This has been a recurring theme in many important writings about photography (Barthes, Sontag) and is, to some extent, true.

The act of photographing is synonymous with the act of remembering; and to remember is to put something firmly in the past, to place it in memory. My approach to photography is more writerly, I use images much like the writer uses words; and what I like to write about is philosophy. I truly believe that photographs can enter into the philosophical discourse of our day, offering insights as well as theoretical constructs. I often tell people that I photograph because I cannot write (as is evidenced in these nervous words).

My idea about this project is more linked to trying to show these spaces as having potential, culturally and economically. These plants were and are the central focus of many communities; to some extent many of these communities exist because of fishing activities. But again, this is not entirely true. Recent research shows that the fishery is actually more lucrative today than it was before the moratorium.

All this requires us to ask many important questions.
My point is this. These are
incredibly active spaces, they inspire and they speak. My sincere hope is that, by assembling these images into an edited sequence, that we will be able to see beyond the past and create a future for these buildings and these communities.

1- McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 2004, ISBN 0773528261
BARTHES, Roland, La Chambre Claire, Gallimard, Paris, 1980
SONTAG, Susan, On Photography, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1977. ISBN 0374226261.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Diamond Cove - 03

Since first holding a camera, I have been attracted to industrial architecture. There is something engaging about the purpose built structure; especially once it no longer suits the purpose for which it was built. The Fish Plant project is the second long-term project I embark on to look closely at these sites, and by look closely I mean to be amongst them and experience their presence and the history that echoes in the particular light and shadow they express.

That they were once used for something is extremely important; what they were used for is mostly a question of context or an excuse for an editing strategy. The politics of the abandoned building end up being implicit in the photographs; once a viewer knows what the building was used for and is confronted with the reality of its present state a reflective process on industrial social complexes inevitably comes about.

With the Fish Plant project I am thinking a lot about how these buildings, spread about the coastline, reflect their use/misuse as well as the identities of the communities that surround them. It is my hope that by presenting images of various sites in a unified context will invite a viewer to see a larger picture of how the fishing industry has been part of shaping a sense of place in coastal communities.