Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Cameron Lamothe, a fourth year photography student in thesis.
In this series, Cameron and Morgan talk about collaging photography and text, who maintains control within image making and disseminating information, and the politics of working with loaded photographs.
Who or what are your main photographic inspirations?
The main artists who have impacted me are Walid Raad, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Barry, Taryn Simon, and the seemingly endless stream of collage based artists worldwide. It is tremendously inspiring to see what can be made, simply with paper, scissors and glue.
What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?
I tend to focus on historical subject matter; with a special interest in Canadian history and politics, – looking for histories that are often deeply entrenched in moments of tragedy, of great damage, and loss. There is a dichotomy of emotional and psychological heaviness that quite often pervades history, and these moments are what intrigue me and drive me forward. This extends to things far reaching, such as historic fires that claim entire regions, to the stark, evasive political history of Cold War Era Canada.
As a counterpoint, I make equal attempts to incorporate humour where I can into my works. I find it makes for an interesting role reversal to take very heavy subjects and subvert them with humour. It is most prevalent in the text I use in my works, where I can critique language through the artifice of language itself.
Cameron Lamothe, Hallowed Halls House Handshakes, Digital Collage, Inkjet Print, 2017
How do you think using archival images and text in your art practice challenges or broadens notions of photography?
I think the archival image is a necessary counterpoint to contemporary photographic conventions. For my own work, it was a lightning-in-a-bottle realization to completely eschew the traditional camera and make work through existing images. I also make an effort to avoid any existing images that I have made myself, and instead to focus solely on found images.
There is something to be said for the act of finding archival images and interacting with this history, be it a physical manipulation, a re-contextualization or the use of the image as an entry point into the history surrounding it. Often times, a very plain archival image leads to an extraordinary history.
Text is a fantastic method of challenging and broadening photography, for the simple fact that it is not (albeit typically) a photographic image. Within my art practice, I often make use of text in order to convey a larger semblance than what the photograph does.
“If the adage is true that history repeats itself, then the re-examining of images is integral to that process. Perhaps an image has said one thing in the past; it is still possible for that image to say something else in a contemporary framework. “
What body of work are you working on right now?
I am currently working on my thesis which closely examines the history of the Cold War from a Canadian vantage point, specifically focusing on moments within this history that are unique to Canada’s involvement in the Cold War. My work is entirely based on appropriation of historical archival photographs and documents. My work has most recently been looking at the altering of histories, an action that is characteristic of this time period. I have been approaching thesis with an idea of separating historical events into smaller individual series’ in order to cover more ground and examine a diverse amount of issues. In one instance, I have been examining the political gesture of shaking hands, by removing the participants and bystanders of the handshake from the photograph. What remains in the photographs is the space above their heads; a space that is often architectural and suggestive of political spaces. I wanted to give consideration to these spaces and whether they are informed by the presence, or the absence of political figures. In another series, I wanted to examine the nature of altered and restructured information typical of political documents from this era. I created a series of documents that resemble edited press releases and historical records of the construction of radar sites in the Canadian arctic. These were notorious for the fears of possible annexing of Canada by the United States. At the time, the Canadian government felt it worthwhile to edit any documents regarding these radar sites, to restate the situation as being “under control” by Canada and “cooperatively” launched with the United States. The documents I’ve created feature sections of text that have been edited and restructured to spotlight this moment of altered history that is otherwise redacted from public knowledge.
Your thesis seems to be deeply rooted in research, where do you see the intersections between research and art? How does research have an influence in your art practice and production?
I think research co-exists with art in order to turn intuition into understanding. There are seemingly infinite artists who can intuitively make work, but in understanding my own practice, I am certainly a researcher. I can intuitively find an image that piques my interest, but soon after I have to research the image in order to understand it. I think it is often some sort of fulfillment, in that I need to know the ins-and-outs of an image or a history; it is difficult for me to subvert the image / history without the diligence of understanding it first.
Cameron Lamothe, Image of control 3, Inkjet Print, Coloured Paper, Typewriter, Red Pencil, 2017
Your work seems to be referencing a specific political time period and using archival images to examine how those political spaces inform how we read and interpret these images. Do you think that the amount of access to images that we have today changes the way we interpret political spaces within photography?
I think that the increased access we have to images and information allows us to make critical work about political spaces from a closer vantage point. It goes beyond the simple political cartoons prominent in newspapers years ago; now artists have the tools and the access to make work with the images themselves, whether this be an image of a handshake from a politician in a tabloid photograph or an official document from the House of Commons. I think there is something worthwhile in making use of these types of images and information, in order to return the agency of government to public knowledge.
Do you see yourself as a political artist? What do you believe or see as the line between being a political artist and using or referencing politics in your work?
I see myself as a politically inflected post-documentarian. I like to reflect on the notions of factuality, the meanderings of politics, and some sort of intersection between the two. I think a strictly political artist would be more direct in their intent: actively working with contemporary politics, directly interrogating the current powers that be, etc. Instead, I reference and use politics from a historical perspective, because I feel that I can’t address the current moment, without an understanding of the past.
Re-appropriating images (archival or contemporary) seem to be a common theme in your work. What draws you to re purposing these images and how do you think people interpret your work differently by using archival images versus contemporary images?
If the adage is true that history repeats itself, then the re-examining of images is integral to that process. Perhaps an image has said one thing in the past; it is still possible for that image to say something else in a contemporary framework. Maybe there are still overlooked images out there that have answers to how we can proceed in the face of warfare, poverty, disaster, polarizing political times, etc. These are all very prevalent topics and ones that have certainly appeared before and will do so again.
I think that people interpret my work differently based on their own knowledge more than anything else. In reference to my thesis work on Cold War era history, I think that a majority of people from my generation could care less despite the fact that the same issues are affecting us all today. People from earlier generations, especially those who lived through the original Cold War are likely to see things differently. I am interested in this potential for a connection or disconnection between my work and the viewer.
Cameron Lamothe, Image of control 1, Inkjet Print, Coloured Paper, Typewriter, Embossing, Label Maker, Red Pencil, 2017
In your thesis statement you reference how the Canadian government redacted and/or edited parts of texts or images so they were unclear to the general public, therefore reinstating their control and ability to censor. I’m interested to hear your ideas of how you are challenging that idea of who maintains control while you are also using the available images, text, and information to manipulate (or change perspective) on how viewers understand history. How do you use the information available to you of Canadian political documents during the Cold War to challenge and examine notions of censorship, control, and manipulation?
I think that control over the information on the Cold War has in some ways been returned to the commons. It could be argued that only utilizing what is available from a controlled source exemplifies a form of censorship, but I think that loopholes in controlled sources present themselves regardless. Where an image lacks information, research can be done to fill that void with text, and vice versa. One of my ways of proceeding is to use the same artifice that the history describes, such as revising a document to return altered histories to their original, non-edited state. It’s sort-of like undoing a knot made from a single piece of string.
The information and images I have used are directly from government web pages that are publicly accessible and considered official by the Canadian Government. This works in twofold, giving agency of information to the public, and allowing the Government to author and officiate the record as “factual.” Continuing from there, research from unofficial sources supplements the official records. Where the artist interplays is in remaining skeptical of both accounts; those that are deemed official and those deemed unofficial. The artist can lay both accounts over one another, searching for overlaps, variances in “facts”, terminus points and loopholes that lead to an answer that neither party has put forth. That is where you can begin to challenge the idea of the maintaining control over a polarizing subject.
Where do you foresee your career path going? Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?
Ah, the dreaded extended family dinner question. I think my work is often well suited to publications, and I am interested in this route for its ability to disseminate information beyond the walls of institutions. I still really enjoy seeing work on the wall however, so I wouldn’t hesitate to move in either direction. If people are interested in my work, I’m happy to work with them.
Cameron Lamothe, Image Of Control 2, Inkjet Print, Coloured Paper, Typewriter, Embossing, Label Maker Red Pencil, 2017
Are their any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?
I am grateful for those who have made an impact on my understanding of art and the work I make. Simon Glass and Kate Schneider have been terrific in my time in this institution for their willingness to hear me drone on and allowing me to completely eschew the photographic tradition of the camera. A special mention must be made to former faculty member Marc Losier, for his important lesson on working beyond the camera as a source of liberty within my own photographic practice.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
I would advise anyone reading this to subvert the preconceived confines of the photographic image and make work without the camera. Take courses in other disciplines early and find ways of incorporating those into your own work.
Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.
Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams
About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.