CHRIS SHEPHERD

SNAP! 2023

This is the second stanza in a poem for the city.

Stored safely in a solander box are five 13.3″ x 20″ photographs. Each printed on archival Canson Rag, and mounted on a 13.3″ x 20″ aluminium panel. Also in the box are a pair of cloth gloves for handling the prints and five written pieces. One text to match each of the prints. This writing can be framed with each work, attached to the back of each framed print. The texts will be descriptions of the images, thoughts related to each photograph, or fictional/poetic pieces.

Each print is ready for framing. or they can sit in the solander box, protected indefinitely.

This particular grouping below, in this specific print size is an edition of one. There are other sets planned, in what will be an onging series, but these specific images will not be reproduced in this size again. The dream is to produce a book with an epic amount of photographs.

Click on any image below to see a higher resolution, larger version.

The Detail That Winks – Stanza Two (Love Poem for the City)

Photograph 1 – Hoarding Sunlight

The central panel should be twice as wide—but the same height—as each neighbouring side panel. This proportionality allows the hinged wings to swing over and completely cover the central panel, like two doors closing over an entrance. This is how a traditional triptych works. It’s usually an altarpiece.

Today the term triptych is used for more than just religious applications. Today, triptych can relate to three panels, or three stories or songs. Really, any group of three that’s intended to be taken as one piece or a set of related pieces.

Because of the formats history, anything presented in three often echoes of the devotional. You just can’t shake the original altarpiece baggage, and the suggestions that comes with it.

That relationship to the Trinity, and to Renaissance altarpieces, is why Hoarding Triptych feels so magical. Another reason is the way the early morning sunlight falls across the picture plain and makes the colours of the mural panels so brilliant. The colours of the panels could are vibrant to match the subject matter in each. All these things contribute to the celebratory whole.

Odd that this image, that depicts a derelict and boarded up car repair place, should be so joyous, but it is.

Years ago this was a garage. You could stop and peer through the dirty glass of the auto body door and see the opposing garage door at the far end of the building. Cars could drive right through the place. There were a lot of these type of businesses in the city. Over the years they’ve been disappearing, most likely victims to gentrification and the exponential rise in rents. They could be closing down simply because their owners are aging, and automative repair gets harder and harder to manage as engines get more complicated. Maybe being a mechanic is no longer an aspirational career for a generation of workers that are computer enchanted. Or maybe its a victim of the toxic masculinity that often surrounds the industry. Then again, can anyone afford to live and work in the city now, unless you’re bankrolled by relatives, you’re incredibly frugal or maybe work in some lucrative sector that pays astronomical wages? 

A few years ago there were signs this place was shutting down, and most recently you could look through the garage door windows and see the cleanup and renovation happening inside. Then this hoarding appeared.

On a sunny summer morning this was positively enchanting. The plywood paintings had been appropriated from some well-planned hoarding mural in some other location, but then assembled here in a random and haphazard way. This recycling in itself was welcome, but in combination with the colour scheme of the paintings, the optimistic tone and the warmth of the sun, it was mood altering.

This building is now the home to Academy of Lions, a seemingly community minded and lower testosterone sort of fitness spot. 

Photograph 2 – Op Art

One of the most interesting things about the city is the everyday. The stuff that people pass by and find unremarkable. Things that never get noticed despite being constantly in our sight. The things that were never meant to be noticed. The quiet things of the city. 

There’s always something to look at and as you become more an more familiar with the world around you. And the things that hide in plain site, disguised by their humble nature, are often the very things that become fascinating and important to us.

Minimalismfor lack of a better termis my jam. When I was younger this included everything from Op Art, Abstract Expressionism, Colourfield, Graphic Art, Neoplaticism and Geometric Abstraction. Now, that list has become a bit shorter, but I still love the work of : Ellsworth Kelly, Carmen Herrera, Frank Stella, Colleen Heslin, Kenneth Noland, Wanda Koop, Rita Letendre, Bridget Riley, Joseph Albers and Sol LeWitt. All of whom have some relationship to some of those art movements.

This photograph is of a store front that’s been covered in vinyl film that resembles the skin of a messed up Zebra. There were quite a few of these works in progress in the west end about two years ago. It was the marketing for a yet-to-open chain of cannabis stores called Dutch Love. They are still in business, but have limited their footprint to a dozen or more stores in British Columbia and Ontario. This was a location on Bloor west of Ossington that never materialized, and a similar location on Ossington below Dundas West also never got finished. This is very De Stijl. If it was red, black and white it could have been an early White Stripes album cover. It could be a coincidence, but I’ll give the proprietors credit and suggest it’s not just a coincidence that this design seems to embrace the aesthetic of De Stijl, which is in fact a Dutch term that means “The Style” and in fact a Dutch art movement. The Dutch also embraced cannabis a long time ago. So the brand name and graphic design for Dutch Love makes sense.

The attraction to photograph was motivated by the way the simple geometry of the vinyl covering worked when installed overtop of the entire facade. It covered the window and door jam areas and all the frames around them. The surface became a weird optical puzzle, amplified by all those changes in surface depth.

Photograph 3 – Upon Bruised Water

The magical splotches we call bruises are the aftermath of internal bleeding. There’s an initial trauma. Something hits part of the body or something presses against it with force. The skin isn’t broken, but there’s damage so the blood pools underneath and forms a subdural hematoma. Over time, that blood below the surface is absorbed or cleared by the body and those processes account for the colour changes we see.

The analogy of the bruise works both literally and figuratively with this photograph of the lake in winter.

On a cold winter’s day a thin layer of ice forms on the surface of Lake Ontario. The water is shallow here, on the Toronto lake front, and the algae and stones in the shallows can be seen through that thin, clear ice layer, which also reflects the clouds and sky above.  The combination of colours is spectacular in the early morning sunlight. 

Photograph 4 – The Body Shop Totem

A pile of plastic bumpers, heaped outside an auto body shop on a rainy day was reminiscent of a Brian Jungen sculpture, which is not surprising, and which he might find funny. His work seems to involve a dialogue that links indigenous culture to western commercialism, and the automobile is a pretty good representation of western commercialism. 

More specifically this made me think west coast indigenous and in particular Haida design and colour. That might be ignorance talking. I know there a lot of other communities other than Haida. But the red, white and silver of the bumpers and their hard edged but rounded organic lines seems to mimic a lot of print work I’ve seen that is predominantly black, red and white. 

Photograph 5 – Stockyards Quilting

Sometimes what I find interesting has a dark underbelly. The actual thing might not be terrible to look at right away, but they are often, or they frequently personify, terrible things.

My neighbourhood is directly adjacent to, and just a short walk away from the area to the north west known as the Stockyards. To the south west we have Bloordale. West of us is the Junction, and south of us is Parkdale. The area I wake up in everyday is known as the Junction Triangle. Named because of its pie shape and because it’s surrounded on three sides by railway lines.

Despite the big city names and the gentrification that we’ve experienced in the last twenty years, this whole area still has a working class core.

There are several meat processing plants, a chocolate bar factory, self-storage facility, and gelatine processing plant, a rubber manufacturer, concrete processing plant and a host of other industries still employing people and operating. It gives the area its distinctly non-downtown feel. The neighbourhood known as the Junction was alcohol free until just 20 years ago.

This is a photograph, taken in the Stockyards of a parked trailer full of empty poultry cages. It feels joyful because of all the colours, but it really is not a joyful image. We know where all the chickens that were in all these cages are now.

There is a strange sorcery present in certain photographs. The depiction of terrible things in beautiful ways is fascinating. One of my favourite artists, and a big influence on my work and thinking has been Ed Burtynsky. He’s spent a lifetime commenting on man’s disregard for the natural world.