Sunday 30 September 2018

The Healing Power of Photography

“There are no unsacred places.”
- Wendell Berry, Novelist

“I listen with my eyes...
I believe in the healing powers of photography...
we need photos.”
- Amy Touchette, Street Photographer

Amy Touchette is a Brooklyn-based street photographer. Her images are candid, vulnerable, and richly layered. (Link) I first encountered her five months ago in a B&H podcast, “Intention and Interaction in Street Photography” (Link), an interview she made with another New York street photographer, Ruddy Roye (Link).

(Side note: if you are a photographer and are interested in weekly interviews with world-class photographers, consider subscribing to the B&H podcast. B&H is a huge New York City camera store (Link) with a worldwide reach. Confession: I start drooling about a block away from B&H’s Manhattan location at the corner of West 34th Street and 9th Avenue. Once inside the store, I wander around slack-jawed in bedazzlement. Sad, but true. And the arrival of the annual B&H catalogue is akin to the arrival of the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue when I was a kid.)

Back to Amy Touchette: Listening to her interview, I was left with the impression of a photographer who cares deeply about the people in her photographs, not just the ‘score’ of making those photographs. Her integrity is as impressive as her gifted eye. She avoids exploitive photography and relishes the human connections she is making. When she says that she believes in the healing powers of photography, I believe her. And I am inspired by her.

For me, the healing power of photography is two-fold:

   1. The act of photography itself – cleaning the lenses, charging the batteries, checking the memory cards, clearing the time, doing the research, and then simply wandering and observing – is powerfully healing. Process is paramount. Process is healing.
    2. And the photos themselves – the subjects, the composition, the beauty, the confusion, the challenging bits, the photo paper, the framing – are also healing.

The process and the photographs keep me honest.

I recently made the following photos with Amy Touchette’s healing approach to photography in mind. It’s my small way of saluting American artists who struggle to bring renewal and redemption to their work in the face of civic nastiness.


Joan Baez, Roy Thomson Hall,
September 18, 2018

Joan Baez' Guitars, Roy Thomson Hall,
September 18, 2018

Bill's Tomatoes,
September 16, 2018

Backyard, Wellington Pottery
September 22, 2018

House Wall, Wellington Pottery
September 22, 2018

Mushrooms from Cloven Farm,
Wellington Market, September 22, 2018

Brown-Eyed Susans,
Dufferin Avenue, Belleville, September 22, 1018

Barn Wall, Love Nest Studio Gallery,
Wilson Road, Prince Edward County
September 23, 2018

Chopped Wood, Love Nest Studio Gallery,
Wilson Road, Prince Edward County
September 23, 2018

Former Feed Store
Behind Armstrong Glassworks, Wellington,
September 22, 2018

Sunday 23 September 2018

Creepy Mannequins

“In the same way mannequins resemble people,
fiction resembles life.”
- Online meme, sometimes attributed to Marty Robin

“You know, a not meant to move. These faces, these half-bodies, when you animate them, they're more live than the living. They can be dangerous for those who don't really understand them. With contained energy, no one can predict what will happen when it's released.”
- Jacques Yonnet, French author and poet, 1915-1974

Mannequins have always fascinated me. They have lives of their own. When you turn away, you just know that they move imperceptibly or – worse – breathe.

And when the store closes – well, that’s when the mannequins take over. Try on each other’s clothes. Sip dry (of course) martinis. Have unprotected sex. Pretend they’ve read Finnegans Wake. The usual suburban things.

Like cattle, mannequins sleep standing up, or so I’m told.

They can be entertaining, humorous, strange, and just plain creepy. Take a look at the photo above. Creepy, yes?

I know exactly when my fascination with mannequins began: it was 1963 in the Better Living Centre at the Canadian National Exhibition. The Glenayr Kitten Mill of Lanark, Ontario, featured a display of live models wearing the mill’s famous sweaters – “Kitten Sweaters”. Those models sat absolutely still for hours on end. It was uncanny and rivetting at the same time. Silent crowds stood and stared back at them. It was performance art, although that term meant nothing to me at the time.

It started my life-long fascination with mannequins. It was also when I unwittingly trained myself to be a Kitten model. To this day, I can sit still for a very long time, barely breathing, eyes blinking only occasionally...totally still. In a staring contest, I will win. Ask my former students.

The photos that follow are culled from my collection of mannequin images. I enjoy their utter strangeness. I hope you do, too. Or not.

Mannequin featured in Max Dean’s photo exhibit, Still Moving,
Unilever Soap Factory, Toronto.
Part of the 2018 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival

Abandoned mannequins in the bankrupt
Sears store, Quinte Mall, Belleville, January, 2018

Mannequin on display at the Hudson’s Bay store,
Yonge Street at Queen Street, Toronto, September, 2018
This photo is disturbing.

Hooded cape designed by Georgia O’Keeffe,
Brooklyn Museum, June 2017

Mannequin, Birkenhead Outlet Mall,
Sydney, Australia, April, 2017

Mannequin Reflection, Harry Rosen store,
Brookfield Place, Toronto, January, 2017

Mannequin, Queen Victoria Building,
Sydney, Australia, April, 2017

Mannequin, Harry Rosen store,
Brookfield Place, Toronto, January, 2017

Field of Mannequins, Janet B Gallery & Studios,
Consecon, September, 2018

 “Creepy Hands”, Harry Rosen store, 
First Canadian Place, April, 2015