Translations is an enjoyable word. It’s an umbrella, allowing a diversity of interpretations that can still intertwine in ways that intersect. As a title for an exhibition it can be understood in many different ways. I’m sure this was in the mind of Amy Friend when she was selecting the works for Translations: an invitational photography exhibition, currently on display in the VISA Gallery at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. Though all the artists are working in lens based media, their approaches are diverse, both in formal tools and in subject matter. Several pieces explore that trope of portraiture, others nature or landscape photography, and others exist within the frame of (perhaps) still life. There’s colour, but the more striking works to me are those within the monochromatic sphere, and two pieces by Sarah Martin are almost painterly.
But before I speak about specific works, a bit of background. Described – very directly and simply – as an exhibition of photography by visual arts students, it’s a ‘curated show consisting of photographs created with analogue, experimental and digital processes’ where ‘the combination of the photographs is intended to instigate a reflection on the practice of creativity and what it means to make photographs.’ Further, Translations invites us to ‘contemplate what a photograph is and how we each see and experience photographs.’
Sarah Martin’s images dominate the show, for me: in conjunction with Friend’s statement about the show, her images look out at us, making eye contact, and challenging the viewer. If you can pull away from ‘her’ gaze, the manner in which she’s worked the photographs is somewhat abstracted, sometimes obscuring the face of the ‘straight on’ portraits, other times enhancing specific elements. The large work Self – Sabattier (pigment print from solarized silver gelatin print) has elements of watercolour, and a sheen that seems to bubble or flow, like cheesecloth, and contrasts back in forth between a ‘bleached out’ surface and an – appropriately – silvery ‘negative’ quality. If the title seems somewhat confusing to you, it’s referential to a process and can be read about here: but not being familiar with the technical aspect of what Martin is exploring doesn’t subtract from the strength of the image here, or in the multiple ‘portraits’ that are opposite the larger work, filling one of the gallery walls in the VISA.
A very different formal approach – though also offering a ‘fragmented’ or ‘fractured’ experience – is that taken by Tabitha Holloway. Her Small Moments (silver gelatin prints) are small and delicate in detail: ‘off centre’ on small prints, with as much – sometimes more blank white space than there is photograph, with very fine landscape images. There’s one installation of sixteen, and another of only three: the placement and arrangement of these landscapes are integral to the works, as with the work of only three, the ‘shapes’ of the ‘cropped’ images and the negative space become formal compositions in themselves. One could image that this is a record of a walk, or an experience, that Holloway is sharing with us, of ‘small moments’ in her day or life.
The exhibition, like most in the VISA gallery space, is only on display for a month. Translations closes at the end of January, but there’s a reception on January 15th, from 5 to 8 PM. It’s always enjoyable to see student work, and especially to see works from students not just within the Visual Arts department (Chance Mutuku offers several images, with a dynamism and stillness that is evocative, and that perhaps reflects her experience as a student in Kinesiology). Photography, like many art forms, is a malleable space both conceptually and formally, and Translations offers a number of interpretations of that contested format.
Translations, an invitational photography exhibition, features the work of Tabitha Holloway, Chance Mutuku, Sarah Martin, Amber Lee Williams and Kaitlyn Roberts. The exhibition is presented in the VISA Art Gallery and Student Exhibition Space of the MIWSFPA, which is located at 15 Artists’ Common in downtown St. Catharines. A reception will be held on January 15th, 2020, from 5 to 8 PM.
The header image is by Sarah Martin, titled Self – Sabattier (pigment print from solarized silver gelatin print), 2019 – 2020. All images are copyright of the artists, and courtesy the writer.
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.