Saturday, 31 August 2013

Storm Carroll Photography

     On show at Calicos Coffeehouse on Bay Street are images so strong that one can forgive the photographer for not framing the works. With a campfire by the lake, a fish, eagle, bobcat, and canoes, Canadian heartstrings are pulled along with feelings of nostalgia, ecology, relaxation, and adventure.
     At 26 years of age Storm Carroll has been a full time professional photographer for the last five years. He got his first film camera in Grade nine and at St. Patrick’s he studied darkroom photography where students used good ol’ film and chemicals to print. He took courses in broadcasting at Confederation College. Friends dropped some knowledge on him and he switched to digital photography and got the computer programs needed to create great images.
     Of big photographic influence was National Geographic magazine. Amongst all the great photographers Storm admires he’s a big fan of Cole Barash, a young photographer famous for his magazine covers of snowboarding stunts.
     Storm got his career going by taking shots of his buddies fly-fishing, canoeing and camping. Those pictures got noticed and he discovered a market for great nature shots. Ontario magazines and government agencies have been updating their image banks with digital and HD photography.
     And later his career was bolstered twhen he did a half hour video documentary called, North Shore Diaries, about three gentleman fisherman, Ian, Paul, and Brennan, fly-fishing gurus from the North Shore. Storm joined them for an entire fishing season between the border of Pigeon River and Wawa, with a base in the Terrace Bay area.
     This video helped rocket Storm further into the outdoor magazine business. He works for CG Emery International who own Streamside, a fly-fishing company, and the hunting supply company, Backwoods. Their magazines use Storm’s photography in their advertising.
    Two weeks ago Storm returned from Iqaluit and Nunavut where he worked with James Smedley, a writer for Ontario Out of Doors magazine. They were working on a story about fly-fishing and tourism. “The fishing was unreal,” says Storm.
     Storm adds, “You don’t have to travel very far here to see pristine country. I think the North Shore is one of the most beautiful places going. People just need to get out and explore. There’s a good sum of people that do, but there could be more.” Storm adds, “A lot of people look at my pictures and say ‘where’s that?’ They think it’s British Columbia, but the shots are all from here.”
    The art show at Calicos is Storm’s Ode to the North Shore, where many shots were taken while he was filming North Shore Diaries.
     Storm likes that his photography might inspire greater respect for nature. He’s not a fan of any mine or the Tar Sands, “But I drive a car… so I can’t complain a lot about that.” He’s worried that mining operations, present and future won’t abide by better environmental regulations.

    He likes photographing fish, especially trout. “There’s nothing like a beautiful fly-fishing rod lying next to a rainbow trout.” Yet Storm has a good time taking wedding photos. He does up to twelve weddings a year. He finds these shoots challenging. “Every photo shoot is different and you have to learn to react to people and assess the situation. It’s completely diverse, compared to a fish. People talk back. But I do love it.”
     Storm talked with awe about his favourite shot of sturgeon spawning. He saw about a hundred of them one day at Rainy River near Fort Frances where many were nine feet long. “Not too many people have seen that before,” he says. “Normally they stay at the bottom of the lake. They can get really old, a hundred to a hundred-and-fifty years. They come out of Lake of the Woods for spawning. The rivers constantly pump nutrients and oxygen into the lake. This is when you can see them, and then they head back to the bottom.”

         In Portage Creek, while part of a cooperative wrangler program with John George, Storm caught a rainbow trout that weighed 16 pounds and was the biggest steelhead the cooperative had seen in that river system in 25 years. In this catch-and-release program, George collected the data, tagged and clipped the fish.
     The show at Calicos was originally going to be filled with pictures of fish, but Storm’s girlfriend, Trish, advised him to add more variety. If you can’t make it to Calicos, Storm is posting images on a blog on his website at     

Monday, 26 August 2013

How to Be an Artist: Not

     “How To Be An Artist,” is the title of a popular poster by the writer, SARK, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, which appeared in the 1990s and is still popular. The poster is a list of suggestions and affirmations with candy-coloured text beginning with the line, “stay loose,” and ending with the line, “write love letters.” Similar to new age positive affirmation lists in the Utne Reader, the positivity of the entire list can seem ridiculously utopian.
     Sure, you can “take moonbaths” or “learn to watch snails,” but SARK’s affirmations sound more like therapy rather than anything of actual practical value that might help an artist create good or great art. There’s nothing on her list about good ol’ boring practice, latent talent, or emulating artists for which you might have reverence. It’s a sappy fun list and incredibly popular.
     Yet it says a lot about how we in the West put so much emphasis on the nostalgic above current and past realities. Believing in magic, having transformative dreams, diving in, being free, getting wet, hugging trees, and giggling with children are all great activities for anyone let alone artists. And most everything on the list is rather easy to do, except maybe “invite someone dangerous to tea,” or “plant impossible gardens.”
     SARK is implying that we are all artists. It’s a very egalitarian concept and in some aspects it’s not a bad idea that we all stretch ourselves a little to find our inner creativity and our inner child. We could be better for it. “Anyone can cook,” says Chef Gusteau from the animated film Ratatouille.
     However, because the list is unrealistic it completely ignores what made most artists of the past truly great, and ignores what got a few of them killed and some put into prison. Not that you have to be put in prison to be a great artist. In Canada, we’re lucky that we can challenge the status quo without political retribution, except maybe for the Conservative government cutting funding to the arts.
     Artists today are hunted down in many countries because they challenge authority. Ai Weiwei is the most popular example today. He is an avant-garde Chinese artist who is critical of the Chinese government’s abuse of human rights. Weiwei is no longer in jail, but unable to leave his country due to trumped up charges. There are political cartoonists in Chinese daily papers, but none dare challenge the Chinese government. Rather, they attack the United States in very stereotypical fashion.
     A series of prints by Francisco Goya called the Disasters of War didn’t see the light of day until 35 years after his death. His subject matter was regularly dark and he was very critical of human “foibles and follies.” Theodore Gericault had dead bodies in his studio, and body parts. The place stank of rotting flesh. He needed this subject matter as reference material for one of the greatest artworks ever produced, The Raft of the Medusa. The drive to produce this work came from anger, the need to see justice enacted, and a belief that he could change society for the better by revealing the ugly truth. His intent was to make people angry. And he did.
    The way to creating good and great art is complex and imbedded within the times in which the art is created. The nostalgic and childlike nature of SARK’s affirmations on how to be an artist says a lot about our times, but actually works to annul what made art great in the past. So maybe, if you want to be an artist producing good and great work, these cute suggestions by SARK should be questioned. Try inverting each phrase in her poster and see how this might create a different approach to creating art.  

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Alicejean Massaro's work at the DEFSUP Gallery/ JR: Eyes over the favelas in Brazil

     Alicejean Massaro was a Thunder Bay artist whose love of the process, of discovery and experimentation was so great that she didn’t bother much with creating a distinct personal style, having solo shows or even trying all that hard to sell her work. Alice was a member of the Definitely Superior Art Gallery since its inception and a long time member of the Lakehead Visual Arts group. Although she hasn’t had a solo show until now, posthumously, Alice did manage to get her work into every group show that DEFSUP ever had, along with LVA shows and a show in Grand Marais with Christine Malek.
     The current show of Alice’s work at the DEFSUP gallery, as a great introduction reflects only a sampling of her work. Alice’s great friend, Elizabeth Cramb, who took classes with Alice for 40 years is also a great fan. “Alice’s work is as good as Susan Ross’,” Elizabeth states with conviction.
     Elizabeth and Alicejean took printmaking and life-drawing classes together for forty years. Elizabeth reflected on how Alice had a natural talent for drawing nudes. “You could fill a whole gallery of three floors with her nudes. And they were all good. That was her best work.” Elizabeth raved about a particular work where four men pushed a car in winter. “It was lovely,” she states. That particular piece is in the DEFSUP show.
     A few years ago I took a printmaking class at Lakehead University. Alice and Elizabeth, who were referred to often as “the girls” were nearly always together working with their paper, plates, and acid baths without the required masks, soaking in the chemicals, apparently without worry. They made great use of the presses during class and after hours, often producing twice as much work as the younger students. They were a great source of information about the printmaking process, in all manner of materials having an incredible combined knowledge of processes. Which is why, when looking at the work in the DEFSUP show you could swear it was a group show; such is the variety of styles and techniques used in Alice’s work.
       Born in 1932 in Port Arthur Alicejean was married to Frank Massaro. They had four daughters and one son. More than 40 years ago, Alice’s eldest daughter took art classes and showed her mom some of her work. Alice was so inspired that she took courses with her daughter. They were to graduate on the same day with a Masters degree.
     Alice began painting in watercolours and oils, did some mosaic work, and then fell in love with printmaking. A human figure featured in a print might be taken from a photo and transferred to a plate, but most often Alicejean could draw figures straight from her head. “The talent was always there,” states Elizabeth, who is great experimentalist and artist in her own right.
      Frank Massaro is organizing a sale of Alicejean’s work at the Oliver Road Recreation Center on September 28th and 29th from 10am to 5pm. Frank says much of the earning will likely be donated to our two main galleries and local charities. On October 31st, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery will have a more extensive display of Alice’s work, but it’s worth checking out at the DEFSUP galleries which also have two showing running concurrently, featuring Patrick Doyle’s amazing abstract paintings and JR’s incredibly inventive video of large scale eyes attached to the roofs and walls of favelas in Brazil. All worth checking out. Alicejean’s show at the DEFSUP gallery runs till August 24.
     In gallery 3, a nine-minute video featuring the work of JR is continually looped in a projection. JR is a French artist who won the grand TED prize ($100,000.00) who like Banksy is attempting to be anonymous, in his thirties and working to create a mystique by being contemporary yet managing to make subtle social and political statements about something outside the gallery walls by creating street art, often in faraway places.
     David Karasiewicz states. “He’s a visual artist who started as a graffiti artist, and then something profound must have happened to him because he moved to social political work on a grand scale – blowing things up super large to a monumental scale, using photo wheat pasting which isn’t permanent. Eventually nature takes its course and it all dissolves.”
      With only a few brief interviews in the video the residents of a favela in Brazil tell hard stories of their living conditions. JR applies images of large faces over the stark walls of the favelas to create dramatic scenes where eyes stare out at onlookers. The film’s unique approach takes you on a journey through some of the narrow roots that the villagers take to get up and down the favelas.
     “Caramba, the eyes of the hills are open,” states one resident. We see a variety of living conditions as the artist travels. The film technique adds an animated quality that jerks along quickly, yet stops at very human moments of breastfeeding and relaxing. The film has a very clever and worthwhile ending resonating with a clear message that we are witness to the people here. They are not invisible. It’s an unusual glimpse into another world, similar to a documentary, but without commentary. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Go Ahead: Publish Your Book

     As you may know, there’s trouble in the publishing business. eBooks are taking hold as magazines, newspapers and a couple distributors have folded. Independent bookstores continue to close. It’s harder to get published and many within the business, along with those who love books, are worried. They don’t know what models will work to connect writers to readers. It’s a regular topic on CBC radio. Often missed in the discussion, because it’s a difficult subject, is how awful some of the people are in this business. It’s a major unacknowledged factor in how the business will survive.    
     People within organizations that support the book industry have taken note. There have been rumblings recently suggesting that self-published authors could soon be taken much more seriously than ever before. Self-published authors who produce high quality work could receive support that only published authors once received.
     I find the business, and how it is sustained, a mystery. Lately I’ve had a few people ask me whether they should look for a publisher or self-publish. Although it’s all still a major learning process for me I can share some of what I’ve learned.
     If you’re looking for a publisher for a work you’ve created, most certainly, go ahead and submit your work to a publisher. However, despite what publishers say, you should simultaneously submit to as many publishers as you like. It takes Canadian publishers anywhere from three months to a year to reply, if you’re fortunate to get a reply at all. It’s most likely your work will be rejected by a number of publishers, and if you submit your work to one publisher at a time ten years could go by before you see any success. And when you do find a publisher you may not get any advance money at all for the work you’ve done. In many cases the advance payment is the only money you will ever get from a publisher. And even after finding a publisher it’s likely your book won’t get printed until two years after you sign a contract. And don’t get me started on “contracts.”
     There’s nothing stopping you from self-publishing while you are also submitting your work to publishers. Self-publishing is a great learning process, and if you think in terms of local circles of influence from which you can branch out later, you won’t be as disappointed if it doesn’t work out. Also, you’ll have a track record that you can use to impress publishers and/or agents.    
     It’s a great thrill to self-publish, if you can get over the loss of status that is associated with being a “published author.”
     Here’s what you do to self publish.
     Most importantly, don’t talk about your imaginary book, make it real. Write it. If you finally realize that you’re not a writer or artist, don’t fret. Be a fan. Like musicians, we writers and artists need fans. Local writer, Graham Strong, has wanted to write a novel for nearly thirty years. He began a blog to encourage himself to write on a daily basis. A year went by and he’s got the first draft completed. One day he might tell someone what he’s actually writing about. Children’s book author Jean Pendziwol had enough experience that she was able to obtain a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to begin her novel. Jean is thrilled.
     Next! Get a computer. Then get the Adobe InDesign CS6 program to do the design and layout of the text, along with any images you need. Scared of computers and programs? No worries. Go to and you can learn any program you need to for about $30.00 a month. Why pay hundreds or thousand taking courses somewhere. You can learn any program in a couple dedicated weeks.
     Find a professional editor, someone who can be honest with you. Don’t use friends. Pay the editor.
     If you need illustrations for your text, or for the cover of your book, find a local artist and PAY THEM! Don’t tell them they will get a cut of royalties until you can prove you’re getting royalties. Especially then, PAY THEM!
     Find a printer. I use Kromar in Winnipeg. Many local authors use Friesen’s, also based in Winnipeg. You can get a hardcover book printed for as low as four dollars a copy, depending on the number of pages, print quality, whether colour images are involved, and of course, size of the print run. Softcover is cheaper and you can do short runs to test out your book.
     My situation is different from most, but I can tell you that I’ve had great success. Thunder Bay has been really good to me and I am very thankful. I will take this opportunity to thank all those people who have bought my books and my art. It’s been an emboldening experience, and I’m thrilled that kids in town like my books. There’s nothing better than having such honest fans. Through all the muck, theft, lies and hard work, it’s so great to feel like my head is finally above water.
     Here’s something to consider about self-publishing. I began self-publishing my own children’s picture books in January this year. Each 3,000 copy print run costs me $10,000.00. I’ve already easily paid off half the costs of the first printing job for The Love Ant. And sales are improving with my second book. I’m launching a third in September. I predict that in the next three to four years, in the Thunder Bay area alone, I will have sold more books, and made six to eight times more money than my publisher did for me in a ten year period when selling my books in four countries, Canada, the U.S., England and Australia. That’s astonishing. And I’m not worried at all about being in debt for a short period. And what is also astonishing is that my publisher was receiving a hundred thousand dollars a year to publish a few new books every year. And I only work one day a week to sell and promote my books.
     What a mystery.
     It can’t hurt to do it yourself. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Definitely Photoshopped: Beauty and Photoshop Get a Bad Rap.

     Photoshop is getting a bad rap.
     The Apple Adobe Photoshop program is an amazing technological feat that can be used by artists and the public in so many ways it boggles the mind. It’s incredibly useful and easy to use, but often we refer to images that advertisers create in order to sell us products as “Photoshopped,” meaning we know the photographic image has been ridiculously altered.
     In the world of fashion where self-esteem issues have become a big problem for young women especially, and young men too, the term “Photoshopped” is our easiest method of referring to the creation of unrealistic representations of people.
     Twenty years ago it was harder to work an image of a person. An artist had a very hard time trying to match the skin colour to paint or airbrush on just the right amount to get rid of a blemish, or to collage an image by cutting out a section of a photo with a pair of scissors and mount it to a different background using Elmer’s glue. But now any advertising agency or magazine has the resources to manufacture a professional look and squish, cut, bend, blend, extended, erase, “heal,” and retouch to create unblemished youthful faces and mannequin smooth bodies on to any background you could imagine in order to market some kind of near useless product.
     We aren’t yet numb to the overuse of Photoshop. “Definitely Photoshopped!” we cry.
     Historically, portraits of Kings, Queens, and Emperors were also “Photoshopped” in their own time, but with paint. Surprisingly, despite painter’s abilities, quite a few paintings reveal how ugly some members of royalty really were. So they, both artists and royalty, were at times sensible.  
     Sadly, the word Beauty already has a bad rap. At least it does more so in the art world. And when you combine an intolerance or misunderstanding of Beauty with our knowledge of how much an image can be altered with Photoshop, you get a double evil, and lots of confusion about what is legitimate art and what is not.
     For centuries artist’s primary function was beautification. They created it and they defended it and they tried to explain it. With the changes and discoveries of the last 150 years, such as the Darwinian discovery of evolution, Freud’s revelations of the psychological, Karl Marx’s political theory, Science’s ability to see into space and into the inner workings of cells and atoms, the only way you could become a Great Man was to discover, to search, to reveal, to be the Indiana Jones of… anything. In the Art World, the same bug to discover, to reveal something new, to be part of Progress, was overpowering. Beautification simply wasn’t enough. So a few artists jumped on the one big opening of discovery that was left. The Truth. And it didn’t help that the discovery of photography happened at the same time, stealing work from painters. So today the modern/contemporary artist’s primary function is the search for truth. Top that.
      Beautification for many contemporary artists is seen as false, a gimmick, an unnecessary expense, waste of time and an outright lie used as a means of distorting reality for another’s benefit. The arguments against beautification have been going on for a solid hundred years.
     Some artists are so hostile of beauty that the word itself offends them, as revealed by an artist showing at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery a couple years ago. As a professor of the Emily Carr University of Art, she accused the provincial government of B.C. of creating “fascist style propaganda” with the use of the phrase “Beautiful British Columbia” stamped on every B.C. license plate.
     Oh no. The fascists are coming.
     The two ways of thinking about the value of beauty in the arts is becoming more and more similar to the political divide between left and right thinking in politics. So much so, that it’s creating a divide between artists, making them hostile towards one another. A Classical premise for a function of art was that art should and must bring people closer together. It doesn’t seem to be working.
     And when a modern/contemporary artist cries, “definitely Photoshopped” they’re saying this with the added authority and venom of contemporary art ideology that questions the value of beauty and often inverts beauty for shock value. And although the ideology often veers towards nihilism, there is value in being critical. However, the same artist who cries fowl might hop on their computer the next day and Photoshop images for their own art work.
     There are lots of reasons why some art today doesn’t bring us closer together, but the next time we use terms like Beauty and Photoshopped, we need to keep in mind that current issues although important are not the end all and be all of what is behind the incredible opportunities that come from their beneficial uses in the right hands where the intentions really are to bring people together and not divide.