Esker is a huge space and, with nothing feeling cramped at all, they are showing around 100 beautiful photographs as part of Exposure, including some images that have been blown up to a scale that takes over entire walls.
The largest photograph is Miruna Dragan’s Xilitla Forever, a black and white print of some South American ruins in pools of water, which seem to immerse the viewer in a mysterious world that is simultaneously enchanted and haunted. The same piece appeared only a few months ago in Haight Gallery, but, here, the repeating, mirrored image is multiple times longer. Continuing to embrace large landscapes are some of her other photographs in the show, called The Mountains Are Mirrors, where small sections of the prints have been coloured over with graphite, so that, as you pass by, they become illuminated and reflective.
The unifying characteristic throughout this exhibit is a relationship each artist’s study has to our sense of home, comfort and privacy. Moving through the space, there are certain sections of photographs that represent scenes where some are more familiar than others, yet when we see those strange places consciously captured as moments in history, they become more striking and meaningful. A good example of this is Orest Semchishen’s pictures of “everyday” people from as far back as the ‘70s, who now seem so iconic in their classic prairie settings of diners, auto-body shops and tiny country homes. Coming from a similar background are the images on display by George Webber, except that his old buildings and prairie scenes become stark, gothic and blackened into ghost towns.
Webber’s photographs in another section offer glimpses into the very private lives of people who we very seldom get to understand in such an intimate way, focusing on a Hutterite community. Their traditional farming lifestyle seems to transcend any sort of datable queues because of how preserved their age-old techniques are. Every detail of each scene seems to be infused with a determined sense of careful self-preservation. The families are seen separated into their daily tasks around the farm, and their expressions are incredibly striking with a pensive sort of contentedness, but enviable enjoyment in the fruits of their labour.
Also showing scenes that are quite unfamiliar are the colour photographs of Olga Chagaoutdinova, where empty rooms tell the stories of those who regularly inhabit them. Some are a few decades old and others are newer, but, coming from places like Russia and Cuba, everything seems to be preserved and charmingly kitschy to North American eyes. Many of her photographs are taken in the hot Cuban bedrooms of people who have mirrors around their beds and almost-pornographic posters above the headboards, yet the beds are made and the rooms are tidy. The pictures from Russia are from around the ‘80s, but they show households that look more like they’re from the ’50s. Old pots in a kitchen with very little shelving is at once both tragically impoverished and warm with the feeling of home, sincerity and worn-in comfort. When her portraits appear with people in the rooms, a much fuller story is told of their endurance, and evidence of the history they’ve lived through begins to appear everywhere, as almost overwhelming documents of their memories.
This is part of the true power of photographs, the way brief moments in our lives can become encapsulated as fragments of history. A camera in the hands of people as skilled as these can begin to take over the true stories of the scenes they capture. The everyday becomes legendary, and with such limited context everything is open to interpretation. Our reading of a photo can never be as black and white as true or false, but when it comes to the meaning of an image, there’s nothing more significant than what we can’t quite gather in all those grey areas.
By Cait LeplaAB, Alberta, Featured