Category Archives: Research and Reflection

Victor John Penner: Artists Depiction and Artist Talk by Ian Wallace

The Gordon Smith Gallery for Canadian Art is home to the Artists for Kids program which was established in 1989 through a partnership among some of Canada’s finest artists and the North Vancouver School District. Its mission, is to build an art education legacy for the children of British Columbia, through the sale of original prints created by its artist patrons. So when the Capture Photography Festival was announced the executive director of Artists for Kids, Astrid Heyerdahl approached Victor John Penner and asked him to make portraits of the artists who usually exhibit in the gallery, all of whom currently have pieces displayed in the gallery.

Artists Depiction by Victor John Penner

Artists Depiction by Victor John Penner

Penner took up the task and made a total of fifteen portraits, nine of which were on display at the exhibition. The artists depicted were:

I’m unfamiliar with some of the artists, but have come across the work of some of the others. A couple have featured in some of my earlier exhibition reviews. Penner’s portraits, as can be seen from the photo are quite large. Ian Wallace stated during an Artist Talk that he was a little angry about his portrait (third from the left) as it made him look quite intense, but he realises that it is probably a good reflection of him because he is quite intense. All of the photos bar one really are quite serious in expression. The portraits are done in deadpan style and shot with a large format camera. The lighting is from two strip lights on either side of the subject, which can be seen by looking at the catch lights in the eyes. The focus is sharp across the eyes and bridge of the nose but falls off quite quickly, so must have been shot with a very wide aperture. I found the facial blur below the nose line and above the brows was not as distracting as I thought it would be. Maybe that is due in part to the size of the prints and because the prints are in black and white. The photos are not your typical beauty type portraits. Instead every feature is amplified. The clarity has been boosted so pores and wrinkles are accentuated, rendering an almost gritty appearance to the images. “The sitter is revealed in a microscopic way, as flesh and blood, and not as their body of work that usually hangs on the gallery walls” (Capture Photography Festival Catalogue p. 44). And yet, they are so expressive – it is all about the eyes – the windows to the soul.

In explaining a bit about conceptual art and the language of photography during his Artist Talk, Ian Wallace stated that the wall on which the portraits are displayed is the field. The structure around them, i.e. the gallery is the support or frame, inside which are statements. The signifiers (portraits) are the authors of the (other) work hanging on the wall. I’ll probably understand this statement better once I’ve made a proper study of semiotics, but I think I get the gist of it.

Update to this posting

I just came across a short video on this exhibition which gives some more backstory context on the portraits were made.


Artists Depiction, Capture Photography Festival Exhibition [vidcast, online] The Gordon and Marion Smith Foundation for Young Artists. 28/03/2015. 3 min 42 secs. (accessed 30/03/2015).

Penner, Victor J. (2015). “Artists Depiction”. Capture Photography Festival Catalogue: Mitchell Press, Vancouver.

Christos Dikeakos: Trouble in Paradise

This exhibition by Christos Dikeakos is part of the Capture Photography Festival which is running for about a month here in Vancouver. At last some quality photographic exhibitions to see. As I said to my fellow OCA classmates on the OCA Photography Level 1 Facebook group if I could take a month off work, I might be able to cover about half the exhibitions on offer, but I don’t think I would be very popular at work if I did that.  Dikeakos was a pupil of Ian Wallace, who was responsible for shaping the contemporary art scene in Vancouver, and he studied alongside Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham, a fact I only learned from Ian Wallace himself later that afternoon after having seen this exhibition.

Trouble in Paradise Exhibition

Trouble in Paradise Exhibition

I was rather intrigued when I first saw the advertising for this exhibition in an email announcement (it was advertised as photographs taken in and around the rural Penticton apple orchard that Dikeakos owns and remember thinking to myself ‘well its only apples, is it worth going?’ I should know by now not to have such preconceptions.

The exhibition was in the West Vancouver Museum, a beautiful stone building which was probably someone’s house at one time and it is the perfect location for exhibitions. Upon entering the locale I immediately learned from the wall text that the exhibition is a little deeper in concept that originally advertised. The catalogue states:

In art, the apple often appears as a mystical symbol – the forbidden fruit – emblematic of both our fall and paradoxically our redemption. Through his conceptual practice, Christos Dikeakos explores this notion of paradise lost using photographs of the altered landscape, represented here by the apple orchard. He examines social and political issues resulting from urbanization and, in the case of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, economic and other factors impacting the fruit industry.

I really liked the exhibition and found it quite informative. There is a definite narrative that runs through the images. Close up images of the pickers, followed by images of the fall around the trees, with even a couple of life size ratio photos set in the corner of the fall showing the apple fall on the ground just to the side as a top down view. The orchard is shown in the different seasons, harvest, pruning and during winter with the snow decorating the ground and branches. Photographs of the collected harvest and and an image of a huge apple pie rounded off the series. Even though this is a narrative series, the photographs were not displayed in a sequential order and I think this enabled the exhibition to keep the momentum allowing for surprises along the way. Two of the prints were displayed in ornate, gilt frames (see photo above) which seemed rather out of place with the rest of the exhibition and I did wonder about that, but I suppose they are pieces from another exhibition.

Christos Dikeakos Haiku 1 and Haiku 2

Christos Dikeakos
Haiku 1 and Haiku 2

Dikeakos has a set of images which he entitled Haiku 1, 2 and 3 and they are reminiscent of Japanese cherry blossom images. The one that really resonated with me was of an apple branch set against a snowy background cutting diagonally across the frame which had a red apple a little to centre left and a couple of thinner twigs stretching out diagonally from behind the apple. The composition is so simple, yet so striking and strong, conveying the remarkable capacity of the fruit to thrive and survive in such conditions.

The exhibition is very sensory. One almost feels the smooth, cool skin of the apples, smells their fresh scent in the early morning after the rain and experiences the crisp coldness of the snow during winter. One gets the sensation that one is walking in the actual orchard. The colours are bright: reds, greens and blue abound. Some of the landscape photos even reminded me a bit of Stephen Shore’s work. A very fresh and vibrant body of work that left me marveling at the many ways apples can be portrayed.


Dikeakos, C. (2015). “Trouble in Paradise”. West Vancouver: West Vancouver Museum

Alan Henriksen

While researching photographers for Assignment 5, I came across the work of Alan Henriksen featured in LensCulture. His body of work is entitled “Acadia – Upper Hadlock Pond“. I was particularly drawn to the way he expresses water, as my subject for Assignment 5, Finn Slough, features similar aspects.

The body of work is, in a nutshell, a narrative about the Upper Hadlock Pond, in all its distinctive moods. The pond is located on Mount Desert Island in Maine and spans an area of approximately 35 acres. Henriksen’s images are in black and white and feature lily leaves and reeds in the pond water, which I find highly expressive and which rather remind me of Japanese silk screens. By confining the colour palette to black and white, the photographer has removed the distraction that colours would have brought to the images and so the expressive nature of the images really comes to the fore.

Upper Hadlock Pond 55, © Alan Henriksen Image reproduced with permission

Upper Hadlock Pond 55, © Alan Henriksen
Image reproduced with permission

The work takes on an abstract form, with light being the key player in the series. Some of the photographs where the water reeds grow prolifically look like a sketcher’s dark cross hatchings exercises (Upper Hadlock Pond 23: Image 13 of 20). The first image (Upper Hadlock Pond 55: Image 1 of 20, seen left) is high key image with a few reeds and lily leaves are scattered across the image. The pond water is rendered mirror smooth and a very light muted grey, almost white in colour with a soft gradation in tone down towards the bottom right of the frame in a barely perceptible triangular form, which subtly keeps returning the viewer to the reeds.  This is my favourite image. I like the verticals of the reeds and their reflections in the water, and the contrasting circular form of the lily leaves which serve to lead the eye back around the frame again.

I find the lighter toned images in the series convey a sense of calm and serenity, while the darker ones seem troubled and have a sense of foreboding or disturbance, a sense of an approaching storm perhaps. Who knows what lurks beneath the surface? Movement is detected in all the images by the ripples in the water, probably caused by a breeze or wind blowing across the water, with the exception of the first image – again emphasising the serenity of the moment. Throughout the series one is very aware of the light quality which plays on the convolutions of the ripples, the shadows of their troughs and the reflections off their crests, as well as the shadows and highlights striking the reeds and lily leaves. This is also a collection of images consisting of three design elements, namely verticals, horizontals and circles and I find it really inspiring that one subject can be expressed in so many different ways. Definitely something to work towards.

More of Alan Henriksen’s work can be viewed on his website.


Alan Henriksen Photography [online]. Available from: [Accessed 25 March, 2015]

Henriksen, Alan. (2013) Acadia – Upper Hadlock Pond [online]. LensCulture. Available from: [Accessed 25 March, 2015]

Upper Hadlock Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine [online]. Available from: [Accessed 26 March, 2015]

“We are all continually exposed to the flashbulb of death” – The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg

As one of the first exhibitions in the Capture Photography Festival that begins this month in Vancouver, I went along this afternoon to the Presentation House Gallery to see Allen Ginsberg’s “We are all continually exposed to the flashbulb of death”.  A modern day saying which immediately made me think of Roland Barthes “I then experience a micro-version of death (of parenthesis): I am truly becoming a specter” (Barthes 1980, p. 14). On the Allen Ginsberg Project website Ginsberg is described as follows: “Renowned poet, world traveler, spiritual seeker, founding member of a major literary movement, champion of human and civil rights, photographer and songwriter, political gadfly, teacher and co-founder of a poetics school. Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) defied simple classification.”

"We are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death" Allan Ginsberg at the Presentation House Gallery

“We are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death” Allan Ginsberg at the Presentation House Gallery

This was not an easy exhibit to view and I can’t say that I particularly liked it. I felt uncomfortable and also as if I was intruding on someone’s personal life. The photographs spanned Ginsberg’s entire life and were very personal. I was loaned a printout of all the photographs’ texts, which made it slightly easier to read as Ginsberg’s inscriptions at the bottom of each photo are written in cursive writing, which is not so each to read if the text is slightly below eye level. So I was constantly flipping backwards and forwards through all these pages, while trying to hold my notebook and take notes at the same time. In the end I just gave up on the notes. The majority of the photographs were reminiscent of family photos. One really needed to be there to understand them I think. The gallery’s little pamphlet describes Ginsberg as “A man who was often (self) identified at the margins, whether as poet, homosexual, Jew, Buddhist, druggie, or peacenik – and this list of outsider epithets could go on” which is probably the reason why I struggled with this exhibition as the only epithet that I can vaguely relate to is that of poet. As the pamphlet continues: “he valued the emphasis on “ordinary mind as Buddha mind,” and the idea of allowing ordinary life to be magical, which runs through Zen and Tibetan Buddhist practices.” And a little later: “it should also be recalled that Ginsberg’s camera is also infused by his homo-erotic desires as he laid down his strong libidinal attachments on photo-paper. This is the lover’s longing gaze in the space of sharing, whether snapping his Beat co-conspirators or his life and love partner Peter Orlovsky for the sake of passionate keepsakes.”

However, I did like some of Ginsberg’s portaits of his fellow Beat Generation friends, especially the one of Gregory Corso looking out his attic-room skylight. It is a beautiful chiaroscuro image, with the light falling softly on Corso’s face and hand as he lifts a grape to his lips. The attic-room is in the light, but Corso’s torso is in the darkness.  Another portrait I found interesting was one of William Burroughs. The caption of the image reads “William S. Burroughs looking serious, sad lover’s eyes, afternoon light in window, cover of just-published Junkie propped in shadow above right shoulder, Japanese kite against Lower East Side hot water flat’s old wallpaper. He’d come up from South America & Mexico to stay with me editing Yage Letters and Queer manuscripts. New York Fall 1953.” Its another chiaroscuro image with light streaming in diagonally over Burroughs as he sits in an armchair looking at the camera. His eyes and nose in the shadow while his forehead and chest are bathed in the sunlight. The diagonal light creates a very interesting dynamic to the image.

I came away from the exhibition a bit jaded from the information overload and felt a little cheated. I think with the amount of captions one had to read on each photograph – many of them ran into paragraphs, this body of work would be better viewed in a book format where one can sit and read through it comfortably.


Allen Ginsberg Project [online] Available from:!/biography [Accessed 22 March, 2015]

Barthes, R. (1980). Camera Lucida Reflections on Photography. Paperback edition. New York: Hill and Wang.

Ginsberg, A. (2015) “We are all continually exposed to the flashbulb of death” The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg (1953 – 1996). North Vancouver: Presentation House Gallery

David Hlynsky

I seem to be developing an affinity for “Eastern Bloc” photographers and photography. Lately in looking at the many electronic newsletters that hit my inbox, I find myself looking in greater detail at those photographs and I haven’t been able to figure out why yet. Possibly because there seems to be a sense of “rawness” to them. The subjects and landscape are not refined as in the West. Perhaps it is the emergence of truth that I’m sensing that is coming out after years of being suppressed behind the Iron Curtain.

David Hlynsky is a photographer from the American Midwest and has taken over 8,000 photographs of shop fronts throughout the Eastern Bloc countries. The photographs depict the scarcity of products and produce. The few products that are available are very simply displayed in the window. There are no name brands adorning the shop windows either.

© David Hlynsky. Camping supplies, Prague, 1988 Reproduced with permission

© David Hlynsky. Camping supplies, Prague, 1988
Image reproduced with permission

There are a couple of Hlynsky’s images that I particularly like from this article. The one is a window display of camping supplies in Prague. The shop window’s border is painted orange and there are an assortment of camping paraphernalia (also orange in hue) displayed: a fold-up chair, sleeping bag, rucksak and duffel bag. All very 1960’s style. These contrast with two identical large photographic prints of a forest of trees against a blue sky and displayed in front of them are blue sleeping bags, and portable gas burner. What really intrigues me the most is the presence of a vacuum cleaner or carpet sweeper alongside the rucksack and sleeping bags. Do the people take vacuums/sweepers along when they go camping to clean their campsite? Or is it just a stray product that happened to come into the store owner’s hands?

The other image which intrigues me is one of a vase containing a huge display of lilies with one pair of shoes in front of it. The rest of the window is empty. The interior dark and uninviting. The long, tall, brown vase and shoes are so placed that they look as if they could be one item. At first I thought it was a florist shop, and couldn’t figure out why there was a pair of shoes in the window. But on seeing the reflection of a man in the window I figured that it must be a shoe shop. Its a very sad and lonely image.

Says Hlynsky in an interview with American Photo:

However, if we read the windows only on the surface, we risk missing the depth of their meaning. These shop windows revealed nowhere near what they obscured about the Socialist economy, so much of which operated in the shadows and alleyways through unauthorized hard currency exchanges. In reality, the best commodities ended up in the back rooms rather than the storefronts in anticipation of shortages. Advertising was replaced by rumor and gossip; currency supplanted by favors.

As a youngster I had heard the stories about people queuing up outside a shop, the line sometimes going around the block, without knowing what they were lining up for, but for the sake of being able to purchase the item that they might possibly need, like a loaf of bread. It is pretty hard to imagine a life like that.

Like the novel, Animal Farm, Hlynsky’s images tell two stories. The first story is the superficial one that we see straight away when viewing his photos – the hardship that the people in the Eastern Bloc countries had to endure with lack of products and produce. The second story is a story of capitalism. The very absence of it in the images is extremely telling. We in the West can look at these images and wonder if all the hype of advertising and branding that we are exposed to on a daily basis are really worth it. Is advertising not just geared to make one buy something that you don’t really need in the first place?

It is a bit of a double edged sword really. I know that I can definitely do without the constant bombardment of mindless ads, especially on the television, but at the same time I do value the freedom of being able to choose which brand I might prefer, preferably without someone fighting to insist that their brand is the one I should buy.


Hlynsky, David. David Hlynsky Photographs [online]. Available from: [Accessed 18 March, 2015]

Reznick, Eugene (2015). Go Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain: Communism meet Consumerism. [online]. American Photo. Available from: [Accessed 18 March, 2015]

Vanessa Püntener

After running a few ideas past my tutor for Assignment 5, he suggested I take a look at Vanessa Püntener’s work, specifically her work on the Alpine farmers in Austria, as there were some similarities to what I was planning. Her work shows the people working and living on the mountains, which is fast becoming a thing of the past. Their way of life is at risk of disappearing altogether. A very similar situation to my project.

I first looked at Püntener’s Alp series. The first image in the series immediately provides the context for the narrative – the mountain. She then follows this with a portrait of a young boy in the cowshed who looks like he is sitting on the rump of a cow, surely a sign of the relationship between man and beast. We are then taken into the little kitchen with its two stoves with firewood piled high next to them, makeshift shelving  around the walls and colourful wall and ceiling decorations, made of a variety of materials, such as plastic and wall paper. I would imagine these have been put up to stop any drafts getting into the house. Even though the kitchen is almost like a patchwork quilt, one can see the farmer’s wife pride – her pots are spotless and gleaming as is the rest of her kitchen. One gets the sense that everything has its proper place.

The next image is vertical wide angle shot of the family herding the cattle back up the mountain. The mountain is shrouded in a mist but the farmhouse is faintly visible in the distance. One gets the impression that this a task in which the whole family takes part regularly. A portrait of one of the children and the dog are next in sequence, followed by a view of the rugged terrain of the alps. A beautiful chiaroscuro image of a cow resting in its stall follows. The muted brown shades of the cow blend into the surrounding walls while the light coming in through the stable door illuminates her face and the straw on the ground in front of her. This is followed by another photograph of the alps with the clouds coming in over their peaks.

The remains of simple meal consisting of cold meats, bread and cheese provide the details of the family’s simple way of life. The table is economically laid on a wooden table with only the platters, knives mugs and jugs visible. No crockery except for the mugs are visible. This leaves the impression that it is a quick meal, eaten on the run, so to speak. The image of the farmer’s built in bed reminds me so much of the beds found in the old Dutch village of Marken, where these were built into the walls, bunk-style to maximize space in these little one room houses. Layers of muslin cloth hang over the side of the bed. One wonders if they are there for privacy reasons, or just a convenient space to hang the cheesecloths that are used for making cheese?

The last few images in the series show us evidence of some “mod-cons” that have reached the Alpine community. An old fashioned wall telephone hangs proudly next to family and wedding photos. A plug’s cord cuts diagonally across the one wedding photo providing evidence of electricity on site. Püntener finishes the online series with two photos of the community in the throes of a severe winter. One of the farmers poses for his portrait outside his farmhouse, while the snow sits at least 3 foot high on his roof. The final image is a shot of the farming community/village taken from a fair distance down the mountainside. Only the brick red and grey walls of their houses poke out of the snow, reminding us of the isolation and hardships this little community has to endure.

For the most part Püntener uses muted colours for her images in this series (I can only speak for the online images because according to my tutor she made a book on this subject). One might regard the images where there green grass of the alps is visible as bright, but I don’t think so. While the colour saturation might be more intense than in the other images, the atmosphere of the images remains muted. One gets the sense of the mist descending to wash out any available colour.

In her Sbrinz series, Püntener  documents the life of a single family. She begins the online series with a couple of very endearing images of two little girls and their donkey. My favourite image has to be the one where there little girl is inspecting the donkey’s teeth and the donkey is standing oh so patiently. We then see the little girls at play outdoors, and in the evening dressed up in fancy dress clothes posing for the camera.

An early morning view of the moutains seen between the house and the cowshed follows. Püntener then turns her attention to the farming story in essence following the journey of the milk through the manufacturing process and opens with an action shot of a farmer pouring fresh milk into milkcans starts the day off. A close-up shot of the farmer sitting on his milking stool provides some variety in the narration. This is followed by a detail shot of the milking apparatus that is used.  Separating the curds from the whey provides the context that this is a cheese manufacturing farmer. I’m really intrigued by the image with the upside down milkcans standing on a bench outside a little hut. I seen more milkcans just to the left of the hut’s door, so must assume that this is some kind of collection or drop-off venue for empty milkcans. The red bench and jacket on the bike provide a wonderful punch to the muted tones of the scene.

The next detail shot is one of two wedges of cheese. The texture of the roughly cut cheese is visible lit by the light coming through the door. Possibly the hut in the previous image is where the rounds of cheese are left to age. Püntener comes full circle and for her penultimate photo does a group portrait of the family standing outside the milking shed. The final photo is one of the mudroom in their home, where the family’s jackets, boots and outdoor shoes are left together with the broom to sweep up the mud. The end of another day, signified by the closed door.

As in the Alp series, Püntener has again used fairly muted tones in this series. She has paced her narrative well, introducing the audience to the characters (children) slowly and then launched into the busyness of the daily tasks of dairy farming and gearing back on the pace once we see the finished product. Only then does she reveal the whole family to the audience.

I feel that the Sbrinz series reads better as a narrative essay than the Alp series. Perhaps that is only due to the limited selection of images that Püntener has on her website, but I felt that there were bits missing from the Alp series that I would have like to see more of. Nonetheless, I think I have some good ideas on how to proceed with my Assignment 5 and will try and incorporate some of Püntener’s ideas.


Vanessa Püntener [online]. Available from [Accessed 14 March, 2015]

Claude Savona

I came across Claude Savona’s work on the FeatureShoot website while scrolling through the documentary category while doing some research in preparation for the Narrative and Illustration assignment. Savona’s work is listed under the documentary category and I found the title of the article rather poignant: “A Look at London’s Elderly Population Through Images of Their Kitchen Sinks”. I was immediately intrigued by this title and without reading the article or looking past the first photo, quickly scrolled down to see who the artist was, googled his website and went there to view the whole series.

Savona has made a series of photographs of kitchen sinks in various homes. On his website the series is only entitled “The Kitchen Sink Series” and there are no captions or clues – unlike the telling heading in the FeatureShoot article. The images are framed tightly around the sink and its immediate surroundings. What do we see from our kitchen sink? In most cases there is a window placed over the sink to look out of while one is doing the dishes, and memories of childhood come flooding back to me. Images spring to mind of my mother standing at the kitchen sink watching me while I played in the garden. One has to wonder what stories the kitchen sink could tell if that was possible.

 Knick-knacks and potted plants stand in the window sills or on the side of most of the sinks indicative of memories of past places visited or gifts given. All objects with sentimental value or received in love. We all tend to put something that we hold dear to us close to this living space. I have objects that my children, both adults now, made when they were at school – their artwork, which I find endearing. Even the most run down, dilapidated kitchen in the series has a little mirror on the wall, reflecting the yellow shrubbery from outside the window.

Some of the newer kitchens don’t have a window over the sink – just bare tiled walls. No little pleasures will ever be viewed from in front of these sinks. They have one purpose only and that is to do the dishes without distraction. They are sterile in appearance and this is indicative to me of a singular, lonely existence. Perhaps these are the kitchens of the elderly who have been downsized out of their homes and put into assisted living quarters. Or it is society’s way of breaking down our creativity.

Kitchens have for centuries been regarded as the heart of the home and this is evident from the signs of life in the various kitchens. A forgotten lipstick and compact next to the sink, dishwashing powder in the window sill, clocks and smiley mugs, dishes in the sink, kitchen utensils, milk jugs, fresh garlic hanging next to a window are just a few of the items that reflect on their owners. Some of the owners value their privacy and hang lace curtains over the windows. Others are concerned for the safety and have security bars in front of the windows. Another group embraces the world outside and leaves their windows unadorned so that they can see outside without any hindrances, thus incorporating the outdoors as part of their daily living space.

On the FeatureShoot article Savona makes this statement: “The kitchen window,” he says, “represents a perfect space for daydreaming, as one stood in his mundane space whilst looking out into a more beautiful world which he could aspire to.” This is so true and I can relate so well to this. How many times have I stood at a kitchen sink, doing the mundane task of washing pots and pans and daydreaming of warm skies and far away places – too numerous to even think about.

This series is quite poignant for me and I really like Savona’s work. If I were to ignore the FeatureShoot article title, this series could very well be a metaphor of life. The new kitchen, the first image in the series, with the finishes not quite done is representative of one’s start in life (let’s limit it to adult life). Gradually the kitchens acquire things, knick-knacks and clutter representing our middle age years. The older we get the more memories we acquire and finally the image of the dilapidated kitchen represents our final years, the state of the kitchen reflecting the state of our old bodies, worn and used up.


Claude Savona [online]. Available from [Accessed 11 March, 2015]

Kieran, Kat (2015). A Look at London’s Elderly Population Through Images of Their Kitchen Sinks [online]. Available from [Accessed 11 March, 2015]