Local artists and graduate students explore new mediums at SPAO’s latest art exhibition

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The Ottawa School of Photographic Arts was bustling Friday night, teeming with visitors eager to see the start of an art exhibit featuring the works of recent graduates from the school’s two-year diploma program.

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From string theory-inspired images to photos of February’s “Freedom Convoy” taken by a drone, a wide and creative range of pieces were found, along with their artists. The mood at the start of Exhibition No. 17 was light and joyful, with several attendees curious about the stories behind the photos on display.

Darren Pottie, the gallery’s programming manager, said he was eager to see how visitors react to the gallery’s commitment to past exhibitions.

“There’s food cast in resin next to photography and architectural hardware, there’s photos that force you to engage in them using mirrors,” Pottie said. “Artists have really honed the way they present their works in a way that demands viewer engagement.”

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Julien Fontil, second year diploma student, with one of his works at the Ottawa School of Photographic Arts.
Julien Fontil, second year diploma student, with one of his works at the Ottawa School of Photographic Arts. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /POSTMEDIA

A white iMac computer sat near the gallery entrance on a desk, displaying shortcuts to digital photo files on its rainbow-colored desk. The works of student Julien Fontil appeared by clicking on the computer screen, which he believed should place viewers in his position as a photographer and editor.

“That naturally translated for me. I always see my work on screen, so why print it when I can just show it to people as I see it all the time? said Fontil. “I shoot on film, but I do all my work on a computer screen. So I always watch my work through a screen.

Working as an experimental musician for the past decade, Fontil said he viewed photography through a lens similar to the one he had when recording music.

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“We taste a lot [in music], and I feel like photography is like you’re sampling the world,” he said. “If I’m outside and I see something that speaks to me, I shoot it. It’s about working with what you have in front of you.

Second-year graduate student Ann Piché with one of her artwork outside the Ottawa School of Photographic Arts.
Second-year graduate student Ann Piché with one of her artwork outside the Ottawa School of Photographic Arts. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /POSTMEDIA

Likewise, photographer Ann Piché said she samples much of her work from her love of science and math. Nicknamed “Click Click” by her husband for the massive amount of photos she takes while experimenting with different forms of light, movement and prisms, she said it was “important to realize that there is math Everything around us”.

“We don’t have to figure it all out, but it’s important to understand that it’s there,” Piché said.

“Sometimes it’s nice to translate it into something we can understand, and that’s what I tried to do.”

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On the walls of the second room of the gallery were plastered the abstract and colorful photos of Piché’s project “Beyond Visible”, which explores string theory and its notion of the multiverse. A QR code appeared under the prints, taking people to a convoluted audio file containing mixed audio from Parker Solar Probe and NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2. By combining the “out of this world, weird” sounds with her photos, she said she hopes it piques visitors’ interest enough to delve into topics like string theory.

“I want this work to be a visual aid that opens up conversations about things that might not be so familiar to you, or that might be difficult to understand,” Piché said.

Second year graduate student Justin M. Millar with two of his artworks at the Ottawa School of Photographic Arts.
Second year graduate student Justin M. Millar with two of his artworks at the Ottawa School of Photographic Arts. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /POSTMEDIA

Not all graduate students used traditional photography in their work; Justin M. Millar used a drone to capture footage from the first day of the ‘Freedom Convoy’, along with a photo of pigeons flying over Gloucester. He started taking photos during the pandemic to get out of his house and soon found himself in photography school.

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“I started to see how my work was so different from all the drone photographers, it was a bit more artistic,” Millar said. “I just hope [people] I like this.”

Working with unique angles, he said one of his two featured works had to be returned for the exhibition because it was “too immersive”. The photo, “Birds Over Gloucestor”, is taken downward from the perspective of a tall building, looking down a street filled with cars with a large flock of pigeons flying overhead.

“I just hope the audience gets sucked in, but don’t fall,” he laughed. “I think a few people said, ‘Okay, I’m starting to feel it. “”

While he first started working with drone photography, Millar also experimented with traditional cameras. His drone malfunctioned earlier this year while filming a new project. An emergency landing led to him being repeatedly run over by trucks en route to the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in the nation’s capital. Now without a drone, he takes photos of his five-year-old son and action figures.

“I mean, I have a good plastic Robert Pattinson as Batman,” Millar said. “Like, it’s relevant right now,” he added, referencing the film’s recent release.

The exhibition is available for viewing on SPAO websitebut those interested are invited to attend in person from Wednesday to Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. until May 15.

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