When it came time for a new photography project, Mike Andrew McLean found inspiration in an unusual spot — his students.
The photographer and sessional instructor at UVic had been working on Range: Mountain National Parks Photographs, a project where he used a large-format 4×5 camera to take huge colour photographs. But after seeing his students go into the darkroom for the first time to develop their own film, McLean found himself thinking about black and white photography.
”To see that excitement and their enthusiasm for that type of printing made me realise how, in working in colour, I was losing a lot of that, the hands-on, crafting side of making photographic images,” he says. So he swapped the colour film for black and white in his large-format field camera and developed the film himself. “The first sheets that I brought out into the light, they were still wet and sitting in these trays,” he recalls. “You bring them out and they’re these glowing objects, almost. They’re beautiful things.”
Thus The Whites, his current show at Deluge, began to develop. McLean set out to photograph white objects — or objects that would appear white once the film was developed — the first of which was a wicker lamp in the Robin Hood Motel (pictured), where McLean and his wife were staying while their home was being fumigated.
“I didn’t have the camera with me, so we went back to the apartment and I held my breath and ran in and grabbed the camera,” he recalls.
The series of images — long-abandoned carved horses, the boarded-up office of lawyer Doug Christie, the iconic Gonzales Observatory — are loaded with intention; as McLean says, the process of shooting with the camera takes “the better part of an hour” in a process that some say is more akin to painting than photography.
“There are references throughout that project of different photographic works, but it’s not really necessary that people get that — for me anyway,” says McLean.
The Whites is the first show in what is shaping up to be a banner year for McLean. In addition to another solo show at Open Space at the end of 2011, The Whites will travel to Gallery 44 in Toronto, and his Range project, part of which was featured in the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s LAB in 2009, is slated to open at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in McLean’s hometown of Lethbridge — but only if he can raise the necessary funds to produce the expensive, large-format prints. When his applications for government grants to fund the project were rejected, McLean opted to put the project on Kickstarter, a website that connects projects with patrons large and small. (Go to kickstarter.com and search for “Range” to take a peek.) The project is gaining momentum — they’re about a third of the way to their $10,000 goal — something McLean attributes to the images’ appeal.
“It’s about these landscapes that are protected landscapes for all Canadians and all people in general,” says McLean. “In a sense, we all have ownership of those landscapes. So to put that project out there in that context where people are willing or want to support it, then they have a little bit of ownership over the project, too.”
The Whites runs until Feb. 12 at Deluge Contemporary Art, 636 Yates. deluge.ws