On request, I am posting the Artist Statement I wrote for 50 Paces: an Installation opening at the Saint John Arts Centre on Friday May 4th. (That’s in Saint John, New Brunswick in case you didn’t know.)
Happily, the universe has worked with us to shift things around enough so I can go to the opening Friday and then spend the weekend on the island. Woo Hoo!
How far do you have to walk to get a litre of milk?
If you wanted a coffee, how many paces would it take to get to your local diner? To get to your favourite art gallery?
Craving a chocolate bar? Need a new book? How far are you willing to walk to get one?
Is it worth it?
Sometimes we take for granted the luxuries of life. It’s easy to jump in your car and go pickup some takeout, a bottle of wine from the liquor store and a DVD from the rental place around the corner.
But what if it weren’t so easy. What if you lived on a small island in the middle of a river? What if you couldn’t cross that river until the ice formed? What if you’d been out there alone for a month? What if, when the ice formed you were the one who had to make sure it was safe to cross? What if you had to chop a hole to test the thickness of the ice every 50 paces? Every 50 Paces for the mile it takes you to get to shore, to the nearest litre of milk and closest chocolate bar.
What if you’d been transported to the island from downtown Toronto, to live your father’s life while he was ashore recovering from heart surgery?
For me, it would be the start of the 50 Paces Project.
For 26 Flickr photographers from around the world, it was inspiration to step out their doors, walk 50 paces and take a photo of something cool and interesting that they saw. Then to walk another 50 paces, and do it again. Repeating as often as they wanted.
What was initially an Xmas present for my father changed fundamentally.
Transformed by people who were excited about connecting in a new way with the familiar.
Transformed by the resulting photos.
Transformed by stories of where this particular photo was taken, who was in it, and why the photographer was moved to push the shutter release.
Transformed into a study of space, place and neighbourhood encompassing 26 photographers through 500 photos sharing their personal and intimate glimpses of Taiwan, Brooklyn, Istanbul, Calgary, Melbourne, Cincinnati, Zurich, The Netherlands, Geary, New Brunswick and my own photos of St. Lawrence Market, Cabbagetown and downtown Toronto. Each tree pinned into the ice, pinned all these places together 50 Paces at a time.
My favourite part of this project was how other people responded to it. Certainly there were people who just shook their head as if I was a nut bar. But those who took to it, really took to it. Everyone had a different reason, spin and/or view of what the project was about, what was significant, what wasn’t.
So I’ve invited the other photographers to talk about their own reason for participating, their own view of what this meant for them:
Tara Hunt aka miss rogue, San Francisco, CA – Personally, I got involved because I wanted to participate in a project where people made themselves vulnerable in a lovely way: by showing what they love about their ‘hood, by letting others view their day to day world through different eyes. As I stood and shot the Haight/ Ashbury signs, I got to feel like a tourist in my own town
Truus aka Bailey & Muppet, The Netherlands – It is a long time ago that I decided that it sounded like a lot of fun to participate in the 50 paces project. So what made me do it? I guess I was challenged by the ‘instruction’ to pause at every 50th step, and find something interesting enough to photograph at that particular spot. Quite a challenge! And a lot of fun to look at your own surroundings in this way. I really liked doing it. – [Note: Truus took all her photos while walking her dogs Bailey & Muppet. You can see them in some of her photos. lex]
Christine Urias aka Shopping Diva Toronto, ON – I thought it was a lovely idea to have pictures hanging form trees to mark the 50 foot line and wanted to be a part of it.
Sandy MacKay, Quispamsis, NB – My involvement with “50 Paces” was as an equipment guy and photo hanger, but turned into a remarkable journey in my head. At one point, I was standing out on the middle of the frozen river in a little gale, hanging photos and looking at photos, my eyes were traveling through the world- i was in a cafe in Morocco, with a biker in Montreal, in a quaint neighbourhood in Holland, eating pizza in Toronto- the snow whirling around, it was like traveling through a world-wide vortex- standing on a line and moving in a circle- and I came to “pace zero” – home for everybody- at the edge of this wintry island with the dogs howling… what a trip. – [Sandy submitted some photos for inclusion, but because of a technical glitch they didn’t make it into the installation. He & his family participated heavily in helping to get the project installed. lex]
Taura Fox aka Taura Schmaura, Calgary, AB – My grandfather, Jim Clark, is one of the pillars of my existence. I do not see him often enough as I live on the other side of this beautiful country now! Selfishly, I wanted to have my world extend to the Kennebecasis river too … I felt strangely close to him by sending Lex a few shots of life in Calgary. This project reminded me to stop and actually see the world around me for all it’s beautiful little moments. Jim is an incredible man with a heart like no other. I am so proud to be a part of his family! –
Gromble, Istanbul, Turkey – 50 paces project just hit me when I saw. It is so strange that we don’t pay any attention to the environment of our houses. But when I saw the project it made me to look more carefully around me, so I took the photographs and wanted to share with everybody. –
Eric Carr aka RicKarr, Geary, NB – I got involved in the 50paces project when I met Alexa on Flickr and I read about the project there. The project intrigued me so I submitted a couple of photos and even took a little trip to Quispamsis to see and take a few photos of the project for myself. I think ideas like this are excellent ideas and a wonderful way of bringing people together. The two pictures I sent in were a Squirrel and a flower both were taken within 50 paces of my home. The Squirrel because we have a lot of them around our home and they are in our daily lives, we watch them eat and play and tease our jack russell. The flower was because my wife loves to dig and work in her flower gardens in the spring and summer and the flowers add so much beauty to our home and our lives here in the woods. We live on 14 acres and our driveway leads into the middle of the property, so we do not see anything except our little brook and the trees that surround us, we love it here.
Karen James aka The Pack, California, USA – Intrigued by the idea of pictures guiding someone to safety across a river of frozen ice, I chose images of warmth and security from my neighborhood. I was inspired by the idea of that same sense of security travelling across the world through the various participants in this fascinating 50 Paces Project.
Craig James White, Etobicoke, ON – I was intrigued by the thought that every somewhat generic tree planted in the Kennebecasis ice would have new meanings added to them by associating them photographically with our worlds. What I was surprised by in the end was how much more meaning has been added to many places in my neighbourhood now: I have become far more conscious of the spots that I photographed here, I notice the annual changes more specifically, and I sometimes imagine pine trees in place of fire hydrants and garage doors and bus stops.
Guido aka idogu, Zurich, Switzerland – Hmm, let me think about 1-2 lines about my involvement in the project. Guess it started early. I once had an exhibition about 10 years ago title “unterwegs daheim – daheim unterwegs” (something like “home abroad, abroad at home”). It was all around travelling but not only in foreign countries but also in your very own neighborhood. If one only opens up its eyes there are so many new things to discover right before your own doorstep. Fascinating, intriguing, eye-opening … guess, the 50 paces project was a continuation of this idea and made me participate.
Adam Tatarnic aka Cornelius Crab, Toronto, ON – I was intrigued by the idea of all of these photos from all over the world being displayed together on a frozen river. I also liked the random element of going for a walk and taking pictures every 50 paces, wherever I might be, as a personal project. I tried to pick a mix of representative local landmarks, and less obvious details that people might not see while walking by. I don’t usually take a lot of photos close to home because I find other parts of town more interesting, so it was a good excuse to take a closer look at the things I usually walk by without noticing, and to see how much diversity there is in a small area.
Hilde Harmsen aka Hilde80, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – My motivation for joining 50 paces more than a year ago, was founded on the idea of creating a work of art with people from all around the world! Unfortunately we had to wait a year on the installation, so for me it was also a reminder that global warming IS not just something in the future, but here today!
Mondo Lulu aka dzgnboy, Toronto, ON – The 50 paces project came just at the right time and was incentive to start documenting my immediate neighbourhood as it started to change. Many of the places I have photographed have now turned into regular haunts, especially Caffe 163 (Cinderella Shop – 200 paces) which has become the artistic nexus of my nabe. I continue to snap away within my 500 pace playground as the area undergoes its magical revitalization and am very excited at what results the next few years will bring. – [In addition to 50 Paces : an Installation, Mondo’s photos are being shown as part of CONTACT at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, and as a solo show Arrivederci Tivoli – a tribute to his neighbourhood diner.]
Our Artist Statements were all mounted on the wall: