By Bart Gazzola
You’ve likely seen images from Sandy Middleton’s ongoing St. Catharines Legacy Project: her endeavour to create a photographic archive of all St. Catharines residents is ongoing. Middleton is also an accomplished photographer: her open studio at In The Soil Arts Festival featured a number of larger works that incorporate non-traditional processes, and her works that were in What About Rodman Hall? at the Niagara Artists Centre were playful in process. Her work demonstrates that photography can be found both outside the gallery space and as a social record.
Can you tell us a bit about your diverse studio practice?
I’ve had some difficulty as my practice is somewhat fractured: [there’s] the need to make art and be financially viable and communicate. For a long while I made the art I thought I “needed” to make, I felt would be pleasing to others and saleable. It didn’t mean I disliked that work but I wasn’t really listening to myself. I only starting working as a fine artist again in 2011 and in that brief time I’ve grown immensely.
I am now able to have two artistic practices: the work I sell at fairs and exhibitions (as in the recent Toronto Art Fair) but also the work with personal meaning amd relevance that’s not necessarily saleable. Also, I’ve been working on open ended project-based works which seem to fall into a completely different category as something I NEED to do.
You mentioned that you started working as a fine artist in 2011? Was this something that you trained for?
I graduated from Ryerson in Still Photography a long time ago and my road would resemble the rise and fall of the stock market. There’s never a gentle upward trajectory as an artist. Every decision takes you down a new road. Many dead-end.
I truly thought I wanted to be a fashion photographer like Richard Avedon, but at school fashion didn’t interest me at all – more so still life and portraiture. I began my commercial practice in Toronto after graduation, for approximately 10 years, taking on a variety of jobs but never focusing on one area, be it headshots, weddings or advertising. I liked doing too many things. Somehow with my varied interests my photo work morphed into fine craft and design based work after this. It wasn’t really until I closed my design business in 2010 that I decided I wanted to go back where I started with fine art photography (a long road home). Making art and being creative came naturally; it chose me.
What’s a highlight of your practice, from the past year?
The highlight has definitely been my portrait project. I’ve met and photographed over 250 people so far in St. Catharines, and developed new contacts and relationships and met many wonderful people. I love the images and am excited to see how it will progress and how it will be seen in 30 years. I call it my life’s work and my intention is to continue it for as long as possible.
Also, I’m in the Grimsby Art Gallery Bi Annual art exhibition this Summer / Fall.
What’s your favourite work you’ve made, in the last year? Why?
My favourite work is usually my most recent, especially if it takes me in a new direction. I’m working on creating a bigger body of work for exhibition in public art galleries. I started the Family Album series in 2012: it’s about loss and memory, notably within families and our connections to each other. I’m working on a series utilizing wax, layered images and found objects that address untold secrets and stigma. Its an exciting time for me creatively and I’ve found I’m able to create the work I need without concerning myself with the end result.
If you live in St. Catharines, you can be part of SCLP on Sunday August 7th and you can sign up at communityportraitslegacyproject.blogspot.ca/, and the Grimbsy Art Gallery’s 2016 Bi Annual Juried Exhibition will open in August.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.