Turning photographs into new memories


Exhibition “My Mother’s House” by Clare Thomas

When artists give free rein to experimentation, photography often helps expanding boundaries. Ever since the 1980s we have seen a rising tide of photo-based art, when artists started using photography as a medium.

Two exhibitions by B.C. artists showing the noticeable influence of photography on other forms of art – particularly some genres of painting – recently caught my attention: “My Mother’s house” by Clare Thomas and “The Vegas Project” by Mary Babineau.

“My Mother’s House”

Houses and identities are often intertwined. A house is refuge from the world while it reflects the soundness of our self. But what if the house is in disarray and nothing makes sense anymore? In response to her mothers’ memory loss, British contemporary artist Clare Thomas uses figurative drawings and paintings to create the imaginary house that holds her mother’s memories. A house in which, in the apparent disarray and confusion, new connections and stories are made.


20180301_194909“My Mother’s House” is the title of Clare Thomas’ exhibition, “because my Mother has Alzheimer’s.”

The intensely autobiographical work tells the story of imperfectly remembered events: memories “stored” in family photographs yet still subject to disorganisation and even disintegration, explains Clare Thomas who lives and works in Victoria, B.C. She was inspired to begin this series when, shortly after her Mother’s diagnosis, she found a box of old family photographs.

“These photos held memories in them exactly as my mother was losing hers”, Clare says. Using photocopied family photographs as her source, all the drawings and paintings contain figures from the original photographs. “I basically started turning them into new memories”.

20180303_174052In therapy or analysis a house represents our psyche. “I wanted to create a house for my mother’s psyche and fill it with memories. All these images represent memories that I transformed from the original photographs.”

“Normally, when you make a piece of art, you spend a lot of time on your own”, said Clare Thomas at her opening night, “but the work is not really finished until other people see it. So by coming out tonight you finished my work.”

For those who missed the show, you may finish Clare’s work by watching her video about “My Mother’s house”.

“The Vegas Project”

Mary Babineau‘s “The Vegas Project” draws from personal photographs and sense memory in these oil paintings about visceral response and the flux between pleasure and dystopia in the public spaces of Las Vegas. Glitzy kitsch, monumental architecture, and dazzling interiors contrast with the glare of economic disparity and desperation in this major tourist destination, a large American city in the desert.

“I work from sense memory and personal photos to explore experience of urban environments in drawing and painting”, says the B.C. artist. The gestural re-imaginings of public spaces create landscapes of uncertainty through which Babineau reflects her experience of place and space.


“Biz” and “Gone Cold” by Mary Babineau


The art of musical story-telling: Canadian songwriter Dean Baltesson is “Covering Ground”

eMail Cover Photo

“Maybe you wonder why nobody seems to try. And they never give anything, but they want everything”. All morning I have been singing this line from Dean Baltesson’s new song “Lonely Ghost”.  The Canadian musician uses his music and lyrics to tell a story, I use my paintings. 

For thousands of years, people have told stories to share their experiences and we do – in many different ways – to this day.  In the old days stories were passed on by word of mouth, often in the form of verse ballads, or songs.  And wherever pilgrims, merchants and wandering people travelled, they took their stories with them.

Songs are our fears, hopes, dreams, losses, celebrations, memories and experiences. And they are each a story. Good musical story-telling is an art, as proven by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, who composed the symphonic poem “The Moldau” to musically represent the course of the great river Vitava as it flows through his homeland past a forest hunt, a peasant wedding or the city of Prague. Dean Baltesson’s CD “Covering Ground” is the story of his journey from the Canadian Prairies to the West Coast, and I had the chance to talk to the songwriter in detail about the art of musical story-telling shortly after the release of his new album “Covering Ground’.

Dean Baltesson, your musical journey began on the Canadian Central Plains, a land of gently rolling hills, burning summers and hard winters. ‘Covering Ground’ is the title of your new cd. What ground have you covered before you began writing the lyrics, composing the music, playing all the instruments and singing your songs three years ago?

Dean: My music is a reflection of the country that shaped my life as I made my way slowly west – from the Prairies to the Rockies and eventually to the Pacific Coast. This geography has an influence on us all in some manner, and that is something I find worth writing about.

5 - Empty Road - FraserIs “Covering Ground” the musical story of your life?

Dean: I suppose that my journey “Covering Ground” is in a way an autobiography, but not in the sense that it is a story of my life and what I accomplished, which – if I may add – I don’t consider remarkable.

Growing up, I was a solitary person and retreated into music, specifically the singer-songwriter album oriented music of the seventies. The other things that impressed me were landscape, weather, and the beauty of the land. I loved all kinds of landscapes, even unnatural ones. I remember one frozen winter morning when I arrived at work in downtown Edmonton, seeing the sun rise over the refineries to the east of the city. Ironically, I was even drawn to this kind of industrial beauty.

It seems like music and nature have been the 2 staples in your life that particularly speak to you?

Dean: Absolutely. They have made life appealing for me, and I guess the obvious result of such a combination is a collection of songs about the land. That is really why “Covering Ground” exists.

Pocket Beach

When you think back to those lonely highways and endless distances during long winter nights, what music comes to your mind?

Dean: There were so many different kinds of music I listened to growing up that it’s difficult to identify a particular song or artist that characterizes my original home. In 1979, however, I started listening to the music of Pat Metheny. I love the album “New Chautauqua”, which is sparse, brooding and beautiful. Its songs, and also Pat Metheny´s “Cross The Heartland” still take me back to the prairie.

To this day those songs awaken your feelings and memories. Dean Baltesson, you mentioned that just as powerful as music were the photographs of Canadian photographer Courtney Milne to you. Why is that?

Dean: Courtney Milne published a book in 1985 called “Prairie Light”. I was infatuated with his images because I felt they captured my emotions and sensations about the land I lived on.

As is happens, “Homeless hills” is one of my favourite songs on your album “Covering Ground”. Were you inspired by a certain image or memory?

Dean: One of the photos by Courtney Milne entitled “Almost Home” is in fact the inspiration for the song “Homeless Hills”. It is a picture of a single light shining on a dark blue winter night. The mood conveyed by that photo is something I know very well. I would have loved to meet Courtney, but unfortunately he passed away in 2010. The book was filled with many similar images that were very compelling to me. I tried to acquire the use of some of these photos for my CD, but it was not possible.

Dean, you sing about hills that were peaceful and safe. Have you ever wondered if you once believed in truth because of your innocence?

Dean: I believe that truth exists, even though some people may argue that the truth is relative or arbitrary. I do admit though that defining the truth can be complicated, particularly when it gets entangled with our beliefs and desires.

On “Covering Ground”, I am suggesting that truth seems less complicated during childhood, the setting for “Homeless Hills”. For example, if you are lucky enough to have loving parents, you can trust them and therefore believe what they tell you. As a child, you believe in truth. But after you grow up and move out on your own, it starts to become more complicated.

Where did you find peace when you were young?

Dean: I often experienced a strong feeling of contentment, but it didn’t always have to be peaceful – it could be passionate and emotional, and always came from nature, music and books. I was a dreamer. I wandered in the fields and the forests surrounding my home, where my imagination would really run away with itself. I loved the idea of living outdoors primitively, really being a part of the earth, the rivers and the sky. I liked the urgency of dramatic weather and wind blowing in the trees. Those things soothed my mind and energized me.

Did music consume you in the same way?

Dean: I could become lost in an album looking at pictures and following along with the lyrics. I imagined playing each instrument as I listened to songs. Of course reading books also activated the imagination, so I would say that dreaming and creative imagination were the activities that occupied my youth and gave me peace of mind.

Dean Baltesson, as a boy, which instrument did you choose to play first and how did you learn it?

Dean: I was always drawn to the drums because I liked the precision and the texture of the sounds. My favourite drummers showed me that it wasn’t just about keeping time. Drumming is musical and creative. I was fascinated with their ability to play time, but also to fill a space at just the right moment.

Did you find rock the easiest music to learn to play drums to?

Dean: Yes, because you can get up and running pretty quickly. Learn a few things and you can find yourself playing along with almost anything on the popular radio stations. I taught myself by listening to Elton John and mimicking the drums on those big hits of the seventies. I treated it like learning a musical score and memorized the drums of entire albums. It was an obsession. Before I owned my first set of drums, I would look at pictures of drum sets and play songs on them in my head.

Would you say that musicians choose different instruments to express different emotions? Like a painter may choose between bright and dark colours?

Dean: That is an interesting question. I love trying to play any musical instrument. When you are teenage boy, it can be very difficult and risky to express emotions, but if you play a musical instrument, it’s like an accepted, even a cool way, to be emotional. Playing the drums could do that for you, but it is probably the guitar that best illustrates what I am talking about. It offers great freedom. You can cry out with a guitar. No wonder so many kids play them.

3 - Lonely Ghost - TorontoYour song ‘Lonely Ghost’ is about people trying to cry out in their own misunderstood way, unable to identify the true source of their pain. How, do you think, is this kind of suffering a result of our modern world?

Dean: I think that the modern world amplifies suffering, which is a problem as old as time itself, or perhaps we should think of it as a mystery rather than a problem. The mystery is that we just don’t know where we are, why we are here, and where we are going. As progress occurs, life becomes apparently too easy, and I say apparently because there really is no easy way to be alive …

… although we never seem to stop looking for one!

Dean (chuckling): One of the things that I’ve noticed about my own life is that it has usually been possible to coast. There have been – and still are – issues and challenges I could better serve myself by dealing with immediately, but it’s so easy to push them aside and distract myself with an easy form of gratification.

When problems are too much to deal with, I sometimes wonder, “Can I just stop pedalling and coast without any real detriment to my lifestyle?” I’m not going to fall off the bike. It is just luck that I can do this – luck and the fact that many, many people have taken the trouble and sacrifice to create a society that makes this possible.

The modern world strives to make our lives one long downhill coast, but one wonders whether this doesn’t lead to stagnancy and disaffection in many ways.

9 - Sorrow And Sky - Ross Bay

One of your songs is about a wide, deep river that is calm on the surface, holding a strong current in its heart. You say of yourself that you have become used to searching constantly. Is this your quest, like the river’s current could not be halted?

Dean: The river in “Treading Water” is a reference to a little story at the beginning of Richard Bach’s book “Illusions”. In the story, there are creatures that live by clinging to rocks and twigs, and the big challenge for them is to let go and let the river take them. The song tries to convey the difficulty of letting oneself go in the current, and also the idea that it will lead to the sea, which is where my album is headed as it travels from the Prairie across a widely varied geography to the ocean.

The ocean is also symbolic of life in the song as we are treading water in a directionless place and have to keep moving until we are drawn back into it.

I heard you recall calm moments in the mornings, carefully making a fire,
waiting quietly for sun to break above the high peaks, touching the flames. You were just a teenager when you learned to appreciate mountain weather. Did the patience you discovered then become a valuable skill while letting go of all expectations as you got older?

Dean: Unfortunately, most of the time I discover patience in hindsight, which as you know has 20/20 vision. But when I look back, I remember quite well the moments when I just stopped struggling and trying to force things.

I remember my first time in Vancouver. I was hell bent on walking everywhere and seeing everything, but as it was raining continuously, I finally had to stop. So I sat down outside at a little cafe out of the rain and relaxed. I find that these “what’s the rush”-moments feel incredibly satisfying. It is only when you are in that state that you can observe things and are open to experience.

A particularly enjoyable moment for me is the one you mention – a cold morning in a campsite when you get the fire going to keep you warm until the sun gets over those high peaks. And then it’s a great feeling. You’re suddenly ok again and the sun is going to keep you alive. I’m happy to say that as I get older, I am able to be patient more often. Patience is always available to us.

Dean, it seems like you are very driven to find answers. Will you keep covering ground with new music?

Dean: It took me three years to write and record “Covering Ground”, and I’ve really been looking forward to stopping the obsessive momentum now that it’s finished. I thought I would just sit back and enjoy the destination and do nothing, but this attitude, I think, is really no different than resisting change and trying to stay in the same happy place all the time.

I have plenty of notes and ideas for new music. “Covering Ground” has been a great journey me for literally and artistically. It has helped me shed some of my seriousness, at least for the time being. I’d like to write some happy songs for a change. Life and love have to move onward in whatever way possible.

Dean Baltesson, thank you for this interview and all the very best for “Covering Ground” and your future musical journey.

More information:

Dean Baltesson: deanbaltesson.com

Courtney Milne: coolscapes.sk.ca/index.php

Photo credits: Mark Petrick, Derek Ford, Daniela Herold and Dean Baltesson





Learning from ‘the man and the beast’: amazing Picasso exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Conversation with Picasso

“Go and do the things you can’t. That is how you get to do them.”

Things I have learned from Pablo Picasso:

– keep an open and curious mind – it will inform your creativity
– be open to change
– keep exploring and learning, don’t get stuck in your ways
– be free in your expression, don’t censure yourself
– be succinct and clear
– reduce to the max

Conversation with PICASSO

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else. ”

Conversation with PICASSO

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”

Conversation with PICASSO

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

“Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) remains one of the most celebrated artists of all time. Contemporary art critic Robert Hughes wrote: “No painter or sculptor, not even Michelangelo, [was] as famous as this in his own lifetime.” Picasso was a champion of abstract art, which has come to define the avant-garde in the 20th century.

A Spanish-born artist who spent his adult life in France, Picasso’s artistic production spans over six decades, making him one of the most prolific artists of the modern era. His celebrated Blue and Rose Periods (1901-1906) marked his first decade in Paris. These early canvases are known for their deep, cool palette, often featuring people from Picasso’s circle of friends, while the Rose Period brought warmer, brighter hues of orange and pink, with figures from the theatre, ballet, and circus.

Cubism in its Analytic and Synthetic phases (1909-1919) developed when Picasso joined forces with French artist Georges Braque, and the two began experimenting with the composition of the object and picture plane. As they dismantled and re-assembled forms into various states, often with multiple perspectives and angles, Cubism was born.

While embracing elements of Classicism and Surrealism in both artistic and literary circles into the mid decades of the last century, Picasso never stopped exploring new themes and techniques in his art. His total artistic output is estimated in the thousands, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and ceramics. He married twice and had four children by three women.” (Source: WAG)

For more information about the amazing exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) – ‘Pablo Picasso, man and beast’ (May 13 until Aug 13, 2017), click here.

Urgent environmental issues converted into dramatic form by Thaddeus Holownia


I am not prepared for what I am going to see when I enter the Corkin Gallery in Toronto. At first glance, I only see photographs of little strange birds facing downwards as if falling out of the sky. Some look as if they are asleep, but others are charred beyond recognition. I am starting to understand that I am looking at something very tragic, captured as a reminder or warning by photographer Thaddeus Holownia. But what exactly is it?

The Canaport bird kill exhibition shows many lingering images. ‘A fast shutter for slow violence’, journalist Geordie Miller called the art of Canadian photographer Thaddeus Holownia, who took pictures of some 200 creatures killed by human error. “Drawn to a deadly light on a foggy night, songbirds begin to fall from the sky. By evening’s end, more than 7,500 are rendered flightless, lifeless. Twenty-six species of songbirds felled by one flame, a flare from the natural gas burn-off at the Canaport Liquefied natural Gas terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick, September 13th, 2013.”

The disastrous event is represented on a 17-foot-high scroll – called Icarus, Falling of Birds (2016) – and several individual photographs. The viewer cannot help but be affected by their immediacy and immensity.  I left the gallery with a sense of sadness and discomfort, but also a genuine interest in the work of Thaddeus Holownia, who manages to artistically capture dramatic urgent issues in a very unique way.

Click here for the whole story and article by Geordie Miller (Canadian Art, Feb 2017).


“The work of Thaddeus Holownia deals with how how humanity changes landscape,
how the forces of nature mould human structures.

His work calls attention to various ecological and political issues;
and his art practice conveys these precarious relationships.”

(Corkin Gallery, Toronto)


Further information:
Corkin Gallery, Toronto

Seen and liked: ‘Identity under construction’ by Willie Seo

Willie Seo’s solo exhibition at Xchanges Gallery in Victoria, BC, dealt with issues of identity and its transformation through various media such as photography, sculpture, video installation. His work depicts the daily experiences of living in Canada; his mixed cultural experiences attempt to have a dialogue with the viewers.

W. Seo


About Willie Seo:

Seo was born in Seoul, South Korea where he studied photography and worked as a photojournalist. Currently, he is a Canadian citizen who works and resides in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He received his BFA from the University of Victoria where he adopted other media such as sculpture, installation, printmaking, video, and ceramics beside photography.

Seo has had several solo and two-person’s exhibitions in Victoria. He was awarded 2011 and 2012’s Spring Residency at Camosun College; his art works have been displayed at both Lansdowne and Interurban Campuses. In 2013, he was the winner of emerging artists’ exhibition at Leo Koo Gallery in Vancouver.

Photo credit: Daniela Herold 2014

Seen and liked: Bailey’s Stardust in London

Exhibition of thought-provoking portraits at National Portrait Gallery until 1 June


A few days ago, I went to see Stardust in London. What a treat!  “I try to simplify things by just having a white background and no distractions”, David Bailey once said. “I don’t care about ‘composition’ or anything like that. I just want the emotion of the person in the picture to come across.”

As well as new work, this landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery features over 250 images – personally  selected and printed – by David Bailey.

Bailey, whose career has spanned more than half a century, has made an outstanding contribution to photography and the visual arts, creating consistently imaginative and thought-provoking portraits.

“In photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary.” David Bailey

Bailey’s Stardust illustrates the extraordinary range of subjects that Bailey has captured: actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers, designers, models, artists and people encountered on his travels. Rooms are devoted to icons from the worlds of fashion and the arts, striking portraits of the Rolling Stones and Catherine Bailey and people of the East End of London, as well as Bailey’s time in East Africa, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Delhi and the Naga Hills.

More information

National Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery
The Gallery was founded in 1856 to collect portraits of famous British men and women. Visitors can explore over 195,000 portraits from the 16th Century to the present day. There is also the photographs collection which consists of more than 250,000 original photographic images of which at least 130,000 are original negatives. They date from the 1840s to the present day. For more information, click here.

David Bailey
(born in London, 1938), who had taught himself photography, became a photographic assistant at the John French studio before being contracted as a fashion photographer for Vogue magazine. Along with Terence Donovan, he captured the Swinging London of the 1960s: a culture of high fashion and celebrity chic. Together, they were the first real celebrity photographers, socializing with musicians, actors and royalty. Read more on Wikipedia.

When good imagination trumps camera format

Felix Mueller on high-magnification macro photography 

Wildlife photography requires a lot of patience, skill and perseverance. “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy”, Henri Cartier-Bresson* once said. When I saw the ‘Wildlife photographer of the year’ exhibition in Victoria, I remembered some beautiful shots of animals by Felix Mueller, a young photographer from Toronto. Let me introduce you to him and his work.

by Felix Mueller Copyright 2013

Magnificent insect
Copyright 2013 Felix Mueller

Felix Mueller, can you tell us the story behind this amazing picture?

Felix: After having bought a cheap 28mm film-era lens, I was interested in trying out a new technique that I saw on a Youtube video called “an introduction to high-magnification macro photography”.

What does that method require?

Felix: All that I needed was my new lens – but reversed – and my camera. I started by taking pictures of inanimate objects up close, but soon moved on to things that were both living and small enough to fit the frame.

Were insects a good start?

Felix:  Indeed – and they were perhaps the only objects that I could shoot as I would never harm an insect for a photograph. So I was very lucky to have found such a magnificent bug that didn’t move a lot.

I took a couple photos using the reversed lens technique I learned from the video, with it proving to be a real test of my steady hand to make sure the depth or field was right and that the dramatic features of the insect were captured in greatest detail.

portrait felix muellerHow old are you? And when did you first get excited about nature or wildlife photography?

Felix: I am 21 years old and my fondness for wildlife and nature began at a young age. My interest in wildlife photography came later, when I started taking pictures of local nature areas such as the County Forest and Nature Parks in Dufferin County, Ontario.

As for my nature photos of animals, these opportunities came seldom. But these photos are often the most rewarding ones, because you  capture such an amazing moment with the wildlife you share your environment with.

What kind of camera are you using?

Felix: I use a Pentax K7 with 2 lenses, a 28 mm film-era lens and a 28-300 Pentax AF.

Do you prefer digital or film photography?

Felix: My first camera was digital, even though I grew up knowing how to use my father’s old Ashai Pentax that he used on his travels. The truth is that both digital and film photography lend themselves to certain situations, and professional users of either format are more than capable of using their creativity and skill to produce the breathtaking shots, not the camera. In the end, it is most often a good imagination that trumps camera format. That being said, once the photos are taken, it is a different story entirely. In that case, I have to go with the digital camera, as you can take multiple photos, upload them quickly to the computer and sharing them is much easier.

Any other pictures you would like to share with my readers?

Felix: Oh yes, this baby red squirrel that I caught just as it was learning how to climb. It is one of my favourite photos because it captures a rare funny and positive moment.

Baby Squirrel Copyright 2013 F. Mueller

Baby Squirrel
Copyright 2013 F. Mueller

 … and a rather unusual one, too!

Felix: That is right, but then again baby animals are much more approachable than their jittery parents.

Thank you, Felix Mueller, for sharing your story with my readers.

Frog Copyright 2013 F. Mueller

Curious Frog
Copyright 2013 F. Mueller


Further information:

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer considered to be the father of photojournalism. He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography.

Interesting read:

Henri Cartier Bresson and wildlife photography

Wildlife photographer of the year 2013 winners revealed

Advice for young photographers

Magnum advice for young photographers