Brian Howell: A Survey

Another line up for the Capture Photography Festival was Brian Howell at the Winsor Gallery. Howell is a Canadian photographer, specialising in large format projects. He is drawn to photographing fringe and/or marginalized communities and his style is reminiscent of documentary photography.

Most of the images on exhibit were from his Wrestlers project. The black and white images were large, grainy and very in-your-face. The grittiness of the images very aptly reflected the grungy surroundings where the wrestling tournaments take place and the type of people that attend these events.

Images by Brian Howell: A Survey
Images by Brian Howell: A Survey

I have only seen the big celebrity tournaments or Olympic wrestling events on TV, but the images in this series do not fall within those categories. They are not the play-acting scenarios or the clean Greco-style that is normally served up on the box.

Images by Brian Howell: A Survey
Images by Brian Howell: A Survey

One sees a working class audience with their prejudices attending the event, emotions on full display. Howell’s images make one feel as if one is present at the event. One can feel the crunch of bones, hear the crowd roar and smell the sweat and blood. The violence is almost tangible. The images have a strange mesmerizing effect – too gruesome to watch, too compelling to turn away.

In a sharp contrast to these images on the opposite wall was a photograph (almost abstract) of stark beauty. It was an image of a burnt forest during the winter. Although this image looks like a black and white photo it is in colour as can be seen if one carefully looks at some of the trees – there is a hint of orange from the scraped off bark. The image is comprised of vertical and diagonal lines of the upright and fallen trees, and this give the photograph a sense of movement and anticipation, reminding me of Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

There is a sense of peace emanating from this image, depicted by the fallen trees gently covered with a blanket of snow.

A couple of Howell’s other images were from his Shopping Carts series. Howell has taken various shopping carts used by the homeless to either collect items or to store their worldly goods and photographed them in a studio setting as portraits against a white background. In doing so, the shopping carts seem to become elevated in status – no longer simply containers of throw-away goods, but something of interest and worthy of investigation. By removing them from the back alleys and placing them in a pristine environment they have changed from objects of ugliness. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have changed to objects of beauty, but objects of intrigue might be more fitting.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the varied work that Howell had on exhibition.

Reference List

Frost, Robert (1922). Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening [online]. Poetry Foundation. Available at: [Accessed 2 April, 2016]

Howell, Brian (n.d.) Brian Howell [online]. Available at: [Accessed 2 April, 2016]


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