Reflection Point – Identity

For this reflection point, we are asked to think about collective or individual identity, drawing from our own experience or that of someone we know.

When I emigrated to Canada about twenty years ago, I entered the country as someone who is used to speaking one’s mind without being politically correct. That concept was only just rearing its head back then. South Africans are known for their sense of humour, and the ability to laugh at themselves and they do laugh often. I was so dismayed when I discovered that I would have to think very carefully before making a joke, lest I offend someone’s sensibilities. Canadians take themselves rather seriously (apologies to any Canadians reading this post) which I found very difficult to get used to. I found myself paying particular attention to my words, thinking before I spoke at literally every occasion for at least six months before I realised that I would never, could never fit into that mould if I wanted to remain true to myself. All spontaneity would disappear from my life. From that day on, I would preface my jokes with a statement to the effect that “I’m not politically correct …” so people were forewarned.

Even to this day, though these problems still arise and many of my fellow immigrant colleagues experience and comment on the same issue. I think as the city where I live becomes more and more multicultural in nature these problems are going to increase, as each culture will make an effort to maintain their peculiarities/traditions and ways of thinking. Canada is a country of immigrants and as such does not really have a strong national identity compared to that of the United Kingdom, France, or Italy for example. The country is also very young – it turns 150 this July. The overall identity of the country really is that it is a melting pot of cultures.

If one is not allowed to be oneself, one looses a part of one’s psyche – something gets lost. One’s spirit gets squashed. To be myself is to preserve my honesty and integrity, my sense of ethics and values, my courage and beliefs.


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]

Fugazi – Evan Lee

Evan Lee is a Vancouver based artist, who I have not yet come across. His Fugazi exhibition was held at the Monte Clark Gallery as part of the annual Capture Photography Festival here in Vancouver. I went to along to the Monte Clark Gallery expecting to see an exhibition by Roy Arden as advertised in the festival catalogue, but no such luck.

There were only five photographs on display, all of them of a cubic zirconia. The prints were 5 ft x 5 ft – so very large, and made from digital scans of the cubic zirconia. According to the catalogue “fugazi is a slang term used in mafia films for counterfeit diamonds” (Capture Photography Festival, 2016). The images all show a high level of detail and have been enlarged 15,000 percent and this renders the image as a total abstract.

Fugazi No. 2 by Evan Lee archival pigment print on rage paper, 60 x 60 inches
Fugazi No. 2 by Evan Lee
archival pigment print on rage paper, 60 x 60 inches

I was reminded of a kaleidoscope toy that I once had when I was a child. I only looked at the gallery write up after my visit and would not have made the connection with a cubic zirconia at all.  I was thinking more in the line of light refractions off a computer CD and some other materials layered on top of this in Photoshop. I found the colours quite garish and harsh and in retrospect, would not have thought that the colours from a fake diamond with have such clarity and depth when magnified to that degree.  The photographer has constructed a geometric patterned background to the cubic zirconia and I’m not totally convinced whether this enhances the subject or detracts from it. I think I’m leaning towards the latter. I have to be honest and say that this kind of abstract really doesn’t speak to me at all.

Evan Lee Ichiban no. 5 instant ramen noodles, acrylic medium, paint, 11 x 9 x 6 inches
Evan Lee
Ichiban no. 5
instant ramen noodles, acrylic medium, paint, 11 x 9 x 6 inches

What I did find intriguing though was an installation series of ramen noodles that were either suspended from the ceiling or mounted on a dowel stick on/over a white cube. Lee had taken ramen instant noodles and mixed them with acrylic paint and other found objects to “consider the artificial nature of “instant” food” (Monte Clark Gallery).  The photographer in me was really more drawn to the beautiful toned shadows below the noodles than the actual sculpture itself which was a fun piece. There was also a box constructed from other found boxes, embroidered with decorative stitching that held centre stage in one of the gallery alcoves, which I found fascinating.

Embroidered box
Embroidered box

I think the reason why these strange sculptures always grab my attention in some fashion is that they are so creative. I, in a million years, would probably never think to recreate a cardboard box from other boxes and then embroider it. Perhaps I should take a lesson from this and try and come up with the wildest idea possible and just go ahead and execute it …

Reference List

Capture Photography Festival. (2016) Fugazi by Evan Lee. Vancouver: Monte Clark Gallery.

Lee, Evan (n.d) Fugazi [online]. Monte Clark Gallery. Available at: [Accessed 2 April, 2016]