The School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa was lively Friday night, bustling with visitors seeking the debut of an art exhibit featuring works from the latest graduates of the school’s two-year diploma program.
From string theory-inspired images to photos of February’s “Freedom Convoy” taken by a drone, a wide and creative range of pieces were found, accompanied by their artists. The ambiance of Exhibition No. 17’s debut was light and cheerful, with several attendees curious to know the stories behind the photos presented.
Darren Pottie, the gallery’s programming manager, said he was looking forward to seeing how visitors would react to how engaging the gallery was in comparison to past exhibits.
“There’s food cast to resin next to photography and architectural material, there’s photos that require you to engage with it using mirrors,” said Pottie. “The artists really polished the way that they’re presenting their artwork in a way that demands viewer engagement.”
A white iMac computer was positioned close to the gallery’s entrance on a desk, displaying shortcuts to digital photo files on its rainbow-coloured desktop. The works of student Julien Fontil popped up upon clicking the computer’s screen, which he said was to place viewers in his position as a photographer and editor.
“It naturally translated for me. I’m always seeing my work on the screen, so why print it when I can just show it to people how I’m seeing it all the time?” said Fontil. “I shoot on film, but I do all my work on a computer screen. So I’m always looking at my work through a screen.”
Working as an experimental musician for the last decade, Fontil said he sees photography through a similar lens as when he’s recording music.
“We sample a lot [in music], and I feel like photography is like you’re sampling the world,” he said. “If I’m outside and I see something that speaks to me, I shoot it. It’s about working with what you have in front of you.”
Similarly, photographer Ann Piché said she samples much of her work from her love of science and mathematics. Nicknamed “Click Click” by her husband for the mass amount of photos she takes while experimenting with varying forms of light, movement and prisms, she said it’s “important to realize that there’s math all around us.”
“We don’t have to understand it all, but it’s important to understand that it’s there,” Piché said.
“Sometimes it’s good to translate it into something that we can understand, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Plastered on the walls of the gallery’s second room were the abstract, colourful photos from Piché’s project “beyond visible,” which explores string theory and its notion of the multiverse. A QR code was featured below the prints, bringing people to a convoluted audio file featuring mixed audio from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and Voyager 1 and 2. By combining the “out of this world, weird” sounds with her photos, she said she hopes she piques visitors’ interests enough to have them look into subjects like string theory.
“I want that work to be a visual medium that opens up the conversations for things that might not be so familiar, or might be hard to wrap your head around,” Piché said.
Not all of the graduating students used traditional photography in their work; Justin M. Millar used a drone to capture images of the first day of the “Freedom Convoy,” as well as a shot of pigeons flying over Gloucester. He started taking pictures during the pandemic to get himself out of the house and quickly found his way into the photography school.
“I started seeing how my work was very different from every drone photographer’s stuff, it was a little more artistic,” Millar said. “I just hope [people] like it.”
Working with unique angles, he said one of his two featured works had to be flipped upside-down for the exhibit as it was “too immersive.” The photo, “Birds Over Gloucester,” is shot downwards from the perspective of a tall building, looking at a car-filled street with a large flock of pigeons flying overhead.
“I just hope the audience gets sucked into it, but don’t fall,” he said with a laugh. “I think a few people have been like, ‘Okay, I’m starting to feel it.’”
While he initially started working with drone photography, Millar has since experimented with traditional cameras too. His drone malfunctioned earlier this year while he was in the midst of filming a new project. An emergency landing led it to be run over multiple times by trucks on their way to the “Freedom Convoy” in the country’s capital. Now without a drone, he’s been taking photos of his five-year-old son and action figures.
“I mean, I got a good one of plastic Robert Pattinson as Batman,” Millar said. “Like, this is relevant right now,” he added, referencing the recent movie release.
The exhibit is available for viewing on SPAO’s website, but those interested are welcome to attend in-person from Wednesday to Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. until May 15.