Contact Scotiabank Featured Exhibition 2017 

Gladstone Hotel

From print to screen, still to moving images, the methods and materiality of photojournalistic production and dissemination have changed greatly. Despite the rapidly evolving media landscape, the unbalanced gender politics of contemporary photographic reportage remain the same -- females are disproportionately underrepresented.

Muse explores this imbalance while simultaneously examining the larger changes taking place within media and contemporary documentary photography. The exhibition is comprised of eight visual narratives produced by eight female photographers with roots in journalism. Each artist is at a unique point in her career -- expanding and exploring her own creative process and pushing the limitations of classical visual reportage across a variety of different mediums.

Michelle Siu and Marta Iwanek evoke a thoughtful sense of connection to their subjects by creating intimate and affective photographs. Their work reveals quiet nuances of personal interaction. Rather than focusing on the ‘decisive moment’ found in classical reportage, they turn to the slower process of medium-format film photography. Siu’s In Limbo reveals quiet and striking portraits of ethnic Haitians in the Dominican Republic dealing with the crisis of statelessness. By focusing on the universality of human connection and intimate relationships, empathetic connections are formed between subject and viewer. Images such as the hand of a child reaching out to touch a mother, and a young girl wearing a Snow White dress, reveal Siu’s focus on the small nuances of daily life. Iwanek’s project Raivka, printed on newsprint, captures tender moments between a group of young women in Ukraine on the precipice of adolescent change. Quiet moments of caring are revealed – hands being held, an older student checking a younger one’s head for lice; these intimate acts often performed by family members are captured in Iwanek’s photographs.

Laurence Butet-Roch and Annie Sakkab incorporate the participation of their subjects by giving them agency in the shaping and telling of their own stories. Butet-Roch, in Our Grandfathers Were Chiefs, works directly with the youth of Aamjiwnaang to create one-of-a-kind photographic works that reflect two concurrent narratives: her imagery, illustrative of the environmental degradation the community withstands, printed in a large format, her photographs as the canvas for drawings by young people. Through their illustrations on her images, the children’s innermost thoughts and dreams of the future are revealed – voices that would otherwise be unheard or unseen. Sakkab, in A Familiar Stranger, uses video and photography suggestive of Orientalist paintings to confront and challenge classical stereotypical representations of Arab women in Jordan. She utilizes a unique process of collaborative dialogue, communicating back and forth with those depicted in her images to discover how her subjects read images of themselves and using their reactions and perceptions not only in her work, but to influence the direction of the work. Through the presentation of multiple frames, Sakkab creates an additional complexity in her work that seeks to expand the subjectivity of viewers’ perceptions and the limitations of the traditional singular frame.

Anica James and Galit Rodan use photography as a means of intimate self-expression and an opportunity to make sense of and share their personal struggles. In The Hard Season Rodan turns to photography as a tool to reclaim her sense of identity after a painful breakup. She turned to women as muses, confidantes and collaborators as a way of reclaiming what she felt she had lost. While Rodan’s oversized and painterly photographs reference the aesthetics of pre-Raphaelite work, she challenges classical notions of the male gaze by positioning herself as image-maker and providing her subjects agency by collaborating with them. James’ work After / Shock, meditative in nature, was born out of the intent to document and share her struggle with posttraumatic stress disorder. Originally constructed as a means of creating awareness, the act of photographing her long, contemplative walks reveals a meditative portrait of someone moving away from trauma towards healing.

Encountering limitations in photographing their subjects directly, Chloë Ellingson and Hannah Yoon employ a mix of vernacular imagery in conjunction with their own photos. Ellingson, with As Long As Life Lasts, presents a visual narrative using images taken during considered shoots mixed with spontaneous photographs taken on her cell phone. This juxtaposition of imagery explores her relationship with her mother after her father’s death. The combination of these images reveals an intimate and unguarded portrait of an evolving relationship between mother and daughter. Yoon, in You Will Be A Blessing, reflects on her own past, using family photos coupled with images she has taken, which are presented in a non-linear manner that is reminiscent of the fragmented nature of memory. In this form of presentation a lies a larger tale of immigration and a Korean-Canadian family’s multigenerational experience with identity and religion.

Each of these narratives is presented in a unique way to viewers to best suit the material and subject matter, suggesting a move away from linear means of traditional representation. The possibilities of new creative forms of documentary and visual storytelling are revealed, allowing space for under-represented voices and diverse forms of narratives. With the work positioned outside of the traditional hierarchical system of media, unique forms of presentation are created to form a new space for diverse female viewpoints.

- Rachel Wine

Using Format