OCAD U Photography Program

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Friday Art Crush: Sabrina Carrizo Sztainbok

Friday Art Crush is an interview series highlighting the work of Photography students in their thesis year at OCAD U. We grab a coffee and chat about what they have been exploring, and they share great advice for working on a year-long project. The series was created and led by Morgan Sears-Williams; this year, it has been taken over by Ana Luisa Bernárdez.

This week, Ana chatted with Sabrina Carrizo Sztainbok, a Photo major in her fourth year.

 

Tell me a little about what you’ve been exploring during your studies at OCAD.

I’m really interested in absurdity, more specifically in creating believable absurdity. I’m really influenced by magical realism, and I try to translate that into photography, in a way. It’s been through something that I have come to call “banal absurdity”. Everything I do has an aspect of fiction, but also tries to pass as reality. It’s usually something absurd and a little funny, there’s always an aspect of humor in my work.

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How has this translated into your thesis project?

For my thesis, I’ve been taking self-portraits that are meant to look like family snapshots, but all the subjects are me. The photographs follow two fictional sisters, who I guess are twins. I haven’t exactly sorted out the precise story of their lives; I want it to be ambiguous, and I don’t necessarily want to know everything. The work is definitely influenced by my relationship with my sister, and my mom’s relationship with hers.

What are some of your strategies for achieving an aesthetic that looks from a specific time period?

I thrift a lot. I’m very interested in second hand clothing, and I have even done projects about the past lives of clothes. I own clothing that look as if they are from a certain time, even if they’re not. I also use photoshop to edit things like wallpaper, but I don’t necessarily want them to be perfect; the photographs are completely artificial, and I don’t mind if people realize that at some point. They are fragile constructions, which is something that I like.

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From i was there, a self-portrait series in thrifted clothing. 2018.

 

How was the final presentation of your thesis project last semester, and how do you see it evolving?

By the end of the semester, I was starting to explore installing the photos as if they existed in a domestic space. I had a bunch of these images in a photo box that people could pick up, and also a couple of prints on the wall. I think what I’m leaning towards for the end of the semester is creating an installation that looks like a room: some wallpaper, photos on the wall, and also others that people can pick up and look at. I like the idea that the more people handle the photos, the more authentic they’ll look. The goal is also to find second hand furniture, things that already have a past life.

What are your visual references or inspirations for your shoots?

I definitely collect photos from antique stores, and it’s good to keep track of different formats that were most commonly used at different times and what they look like. But I’m going to be focusing more on the 60’s – 80’s time period, because that’s what I mostly see in my family albums, which have definitely been an inspiration. I get ideas from those photographs: birthday or halloween shoots, what people were wearing in 1984, or if someone is standing in a particular way. I take that, and create something similar.

You have done a lot of self-portraiture, have you also worked with models, friends or family?

In an interview, Cindy Sherman talked about feeling bad when asking other people to stay still for a long period of time during a shoot, or struggling to get the right performance out of them. If you’re your own model, you know exactly what you’re looking for, and how to achieve or deliver that. I’m also always available at the time that I need to be available, which is convenient. I definitely felt held back by the idea of doing self-portraiture in the past, I used to think: “How am I going to make this idea work? How am I going to take a photo of myself? It’ll be so difficult”, but once I started doing it, it became the easiest option. In high school, I was very into Henri Cartier-Bresson and the idea of the decisive moment, but then I started wondering if I was ever going to happen upon a “decisive moment.” Being so impatient, I ended up thinking “Why don’t I just make it up?”.

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It sounds like your project is more rooted in a curiosity for the vernacular and familial aspect of photographs, rather than in attempting to create a survey of the “History of Photography” through self-portraits.

Initially it was more like that. Maybe not necessarily the history of photography, but as if there were these two sisters that were transcending time, or being reincarnated. I wanted the work have this weird, fantasy aspect to it. Then I realized it wasn’t working, and I became more interested in the relationship between my mom and her sister, and me and my sister. I focus more in that time period, because it is something that I understand better.

How was the process of choosing your thesis topic?

This is kind of an amalgamation of all the ideas I’ve had throughout OCAD, when it comes to photography, and I vaguely had the idea before I started thesis. The most important thing is realizing what you’re interested in. For me, it was realizing that I was interested in storytelling, in making up stories. Every time I’m stumped for an idea, I ask myself “What do I like? If I like stories, how can I incorporate that?”. In other projects, I have also come back to  family relationships, siblings, vintage things, props, clothes; it all came together to make sense. If people are thinking about how they’re going to get ideas for thesis, it is really important to step back and think about what you’re interested in.

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That makes a lot of sense, I think “an amalgamation” is a great way to describe it. Do you also write stories?

I used to, but now I’m always writing in my phone notes. It will be sentences that I plan to use in songs, or sometimes I just think “I need it to write this, these words sound good together”, and I do. To me, they are like mini stories as well.

I know that you’re also a musician, do you think your approach to your artwork is also reflected in Slobrina as a persona?

I’m always putting on characters, and it always goes back to storytelling, magical realism and absurdity. With Slobrina I’m inhabiting a different character than I am in my photographs. In that character there’s a lot of self-pitying, which is a specific part of myself that I channel mainly through music. I like confusing people with who I am, and I think there is power in that; although none of my photography is overtly political, I do think there will always be a political aspect in it. I used to sit around and wait for something to happen, for myself to get represented. Then, I started using  photography, music, and different characters to be whoever I want to be.

During your experience with thesis, what have been some obstacles, and what has helped in overcoming them?

I always feel like I’m rushing to the finish line, stressed about trying to get everything done. It always works out in the end, but my biggest obstacle is time management. Figuring out a system of how and when I’m going to take the photos has been working for me, but, at the same time, I work more instinctively. I don’t have a lot of time to sit and think about it, especially because I want to have volume.

What is something that you would’ve liked to know before you started your thesis year?

You get to do a lot of experimenting, which is not something that I realized before. I stressed about how concrete things needed to be, but the first semester it is all about research. You are still moulding what your idea is going to be, and you can try all sorts of things. I think that people shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, or trying different ideas before settling. April is always emphasizing that people’s ideas should be looser, so that there can be different pathways to explore and take. Growing from something very concrete is harder.

Who are some professors at OCAD that made a positive impact in your education?

Nicolas Pye, Derek Sullivan who is a Sculpture prof, and Lee Henderson. Usually, my favorite profs are those who give really interesting examples of other artists, because I feel inspired in their classes.

 

To see more of Sabrina’s work, you can visit her portfolio, and follow her on instagram. To know more about Slobrina, check out her music account.

 

Interview by Ana Luisa Bernárdez

Friday Art Crush: Alejandro Rizzo Nervo

Friday Art Crush is an interview series highlighting the work of Photography students in their thesis year at OCAD U. We grab a coffee and chat about what they have been exploring, and they share great advice for working on a year-long project. The series was created and led by Morgan Sears-Williams; this year, it has been taken over by Ana Luisa Bernárdez.

This week, Ana chatted with Alejandro Rizzo, a Photo major in his fifth year.

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What is the main topic of research for your thesis?

My thesis researches the current social, economical and political state of my home country, Venezuela. It does not really encompass what has happened historically, but some of what’s happening right now. It deals with socialism, and topics of communism and capitalism.  

What has been your strategy for encompassing this very complex topic in a single body of work?

Especifically with my thesis, even though it is a work about Venezuela and a different part of the world, I try to execute it in a way that can be understood universally by everyone regardless of their background or political stance. It has characteristics that relate directly to Venezuela, but the way I choose to depict it is through symbolic representations. I think it can be understood by anybody who stands in front of it. Of course, it needs text to go along with it; once you have that, you should be able to understand what’s happening in the image, without necessarily having a background on Venezuela.

Having little to no access to taking photographs in Venezuela, what are your tactics for creating a visual narrative that talks about this current crisis from afar?

What helps me is to keep a connection with Venezuela, knowing what’s happening and what is being dealt with down there. I’ve been making my thesis based on both found and taken images. Based on my research, I am able to search specific images in Google that will help me develop a collage. I mix them with my original photographs, giving them a new meaning, and making them express what I want to show.

I am interested in knowing more about the way you construct these images conceptually.

The first thing I do is I try to look for models or people that somehow resemble the people I grew up with. I look for people who could fit with what you would find in a country like Venezuela, which is very multicultural, so for me it is really easy to find models in Toronto, because it is a very multicultural place. We also have very strong visual characteristics in the two main political sides in Venezuela; for example, the opposition is usually represented with a variety of colours, from blue to yellow and orange, and the chavismo has always used the colour red in abundance. Some of these symbols help create the narrative. At the end of the day, my project is not meant to be a literal representation of what is happening. I am far away and, like you said, the situation is very complex. Rather, I try to narrow it down to symbolic representations about values, consciousness, ethics, conducts, etc.

Tell me a little bit about what you presented for your final critique last semester.

I handed in three different constructed images printed mural size, 44×60 inch. The first one talks about the military: in the picture, a soldier is stepping on a pile of books. Again, not a literal representation, but a symbolic translation of what happens.

The second picture shows a bill printing machine printing a lot of bolívares, the Venezuelan currency. It talks about hyperinflation and how the Venezuelan government has tried to fix it by printing more bills.

The third picture shows someone handing one US dollar bill, and millions of bolívares flying around it. The image deals with the value of the US dollar in Venezuela, and it shows you how little the bolívar is worth.

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How do you see your work evolving this semester?

I’m still going to be working with the idea of mural-size tableau images, I think it is working for me. This semester I’m going to explore topics of religion and how it is an enormous source of hope for the people who are still in Venezuela. Also, how santería has grown and become one of many ways to resist and emotionally survive, a gateway reinforced by the government, to distract their supporters from the harsh reality Venezuela is going through.

How was the process of choosing a topic? Was it clear for you from the beginning, or did you struggle? I think this is a source of anxiety for people going into thesis year.

Some people feel intimidated by the word “thesis”. It is nerve wracking, but it depends on how people deal with concepts and their own ideas. If someone came to me scared and confused about what they’re going to do, I would tell them to revisit what they’ve done in the past. If they have made projects that are somehow linked by a topic, dig into that.

Specifically in my case, I was always dealing with three topics throughout my journey at OCAD. I was always exploring politics in Venezuela, Queer theories and anything related to being queer and from the LGBTQ+ community, also, dealing with my mind, and understanding the depths of my dreams and nightmares. For me, it was very easy to choose Venezuela as a topic because it is something I grew up with. Ever since I was a kid, there were always chats about politics around me, and I was exposed to frightening events which evolved into a handful of traumas that I need to squeeze out from me.

 

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Final critique, Fall 2018

 

In terms of your experience doing thesis, what have been difficulties and obstacles, and what has helped?

It is definitely a big challenge to work on a big year-long project, after you followed guidelines for three years. What helped the most was to continue digging, reading, looking at images, both contemporary and historical. Keeping your brain up and running helps a lot with thesis. I personally struggle sitting down and actually doing the work, but one thing that definitely helped was to plan out how my days were going to be. Last year, I had the opportunity to do a self-directed program in Florence. I think for me the challenge was then, rather than this year, because I was forced to undergo the same self-directed experience.

What is a piece of advice you would’ve liked to know before you started?

I’m not sure, I was kind of expecting thesis to be what it is. What I would advice to people who don’t know what it is all about is: research. Start your research early and keep researching throughout the year. There are papers to be handed in, and alongside your work you need to show what you’ve been investigating and looking at. I would encourage people to start researching and thinking about it before the semester starts. But also, don’t expect your work to be what you envisioned in the first place, it is going to change and evolve. It might end up being something completely different, and that is okay.

Can you name some professors that you think people should definitely take classes with? 

April Hickox, she knows dozens of artists that may relate somehow to whichever your topics are. Meera Margaret Singh, she is very knowledgeable about current issues, and is able to help you structure your own thoughts. Kate Schneider, she holds a degree in Political Science and she is very resourceful. And Peter Sramek, also very knowledgeable, of great help around techniques and shoot approaches, and tries to work around your ideas.

Interview by Ana Luisa Bernárdez

We have a Program Chair!

 

For a little while we’ve been Chair-less, but not anymore!

Emma Nishimura is the new Chair of Photography, Printmaking and Publications at OCAD U. 

Here’s her bio and the link to her website so you can check out her work:

“Based in Toronto, Emma’s work ranges from traditional etchings, archival pigment prints, drawings, and audio pieces to art installations. Using a diversity of media, her work addresses ideas of memory and loss that are rooted within family stories and inherited narratives. Emma received her MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2013 and her BA from the University of Guelph in 2005. Her work is in public and private collections and has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Emma is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Guelph. Previously she taught at OCAD University, Sheridan College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

She is the recipient of the Queen Sonja Print Award 2018.”

https://www.emmanishimura.com

 

Parks Canada Career Launcher – Deadline Jan 28

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Jeff Wall symposium – Prefix – Jan 24, 7pm

jeffwall-maninmirrorPREFIX PRESENTS THE MAN IN THE MIRROR, A SYMPOSIUM ON THE WORK OF JEFF WALL

(Toronto) – Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art is pleased to present a symposium on the work of renowned Canadian photographic artist Jeff Wall. Titled The Man in the Mirror, the symposium provides an overview and analysis of the major tropes of the artist’s oeuvre as exemplified in his signature work Picture for Women (1979). Accordingly, the subjects addressed in the symposium encompass a broad spectrum, including the use of art-historical and literary references, the representation of women and the male gaze, and the contrast between extreme realism and elaborate artifice, among others.

Programmed by Scott McLeod, The Man in the Mirror consists of two primary components. The first is a lecture presented by Dieter Roelstraete, past member of the curatorial team for Documenta 14 and current curator of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago, and moderated by Sara Knelman, director of Jane Corkin Gallery in Toronto. The second is a round-table discussion that, in addition to Roelstraete and Knelman, features the participation of several local delegates, including Blake Fitzpatrick, chair of the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University; Will Kwan, associate professor at the University of Toronto; and Dot Tuer, professor of art history and humanities at OCAD University. These primary components are supplemented by introductory and concluding remarks by Scott McLeod, as well as opportunities for attendees to engage the delegates in Q&A and to participate in casual conversation during the associated receptions.

The lecture, which is also programmed in conjunction with the Urban Field Speakers Series, will take place on Thursday, January 24, 2019, at 7 PM, while the round-table discussion will take place on Saturday, January 26, 2019, at 2 PM. Both events will be held at Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, 401 Richmond Street West, Suite 124, Toronto.

Admission fees
Admission to the symposium is free for passholders to the Urban Field Speakers Series. Single tickets to the lecture, which also allows free admission to the round-table discussion, are available for $14; special single tickets, discounted for students, seniors and Prefix Photo subscribers, are available for $9. Single tickets to the round-table discussion are available for $5.

Passes to the Urban Field Speakers Series are available in advance or at the door. Please note that single tickets to the lecture or round-table discussion are not available for advance purchase and are only sold at the door. Single tickets ticket sales begin thirty minutes in advance of the event.

Ishkhan Ghazarian: Rouge National Park Residency Opportunity

OCAD Photo grads have been lucky these past few years to be offered the opportunity of a career-launcher job in the Rouge Park.  Ishkhan Ghazarian is the most recent recipient, just finishing up this past December. This experience could be yours this coming year.

Ishkhan’s recent show was just reviewed in the Toronto Star. Check it out and if your are about to graduate, watch for the upcoming call for applications.

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/12/25/rouge-parks-photographer-in-residence-trades-the-office-for-a-forest.html

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OCAD Photo Students in the Press

December PhotoEd online includes work by Michael Tuciap and Malik Dieleman
https://issuu.com/photoedmagazine/docs/winter_2018_photoed_digital_issue_f/60

 

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Connect with Bidemi!

If you’re a Photography major looking for professional opportunities, you should connect with Bidemi! Whether you are considering doing a Field Placement, or just want someone to look over your resume/portfolio and direct you to great resources, he can help.

Bidemi Oloyede is Photography’s Student Career Ambassador for the 2018-2019 academic year. Student Career Ambassadors are senior students who assist the Career Development office. They support fellow students in their program of study by delivering valuable services and connecting them to professional and career development opportunities.

Learn more about the program here: https://www.ocadu.ca/dev/centre-for-emerging-artists-and-designers/career-development/student-career-ambassadors.htm

Bidemi holds office hours in the Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers (Rosalie Sharp Pavilion 115 McCaul St, 3rd floor) every Thursday from 9am-12pm. If you can’t make it during these hours, you can also find him around the Photo Cage!

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