New Exhibit

My new exhibit at the Alfred Langevin Cultural Hall in Huntingdon, Qc. It runs to February 23.

invitation Sarah Rennie-01

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Jennifer and Eric

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Fall Weddings – 2011

Tamara and Andy were married in downtown Montreal in a beautiful ceremony before celebrating into the night.

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Weddings – Summer 2011 (3)

Jessica and Shane Jessica and Shane were married at an orchard in Franklin, QC, on the last weekend in July. It was a beautiful, very sunny day, which created some dramatic shadows. The ceremony was officiated by one of  the … Continue reading

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Weddings – Summer 2011 (2)

Genevieve and Sam

Gev and Sam were married in May in Hemmingford, QC. From the piper parading the bride and her family to the church to the emotion of the ceremony it was a fantastic day. The overcast skies made for beautiful pictures and brought a little rain for luck.

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Weddings – Summer 2011

This gallery contains 18 photos.

This has been a busier summer than expected. As a wedding photographer, and just one small cog in the wedding planning machine, I had never imagined that work that actually goes into planning a wedding until I began to plan … Continue reading

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When It Comes to Social Change, a Picture Is Not Enough

New post on PhotoPhilanthropy – an interview with the executive director at Blue – a fantastic non-profit supporting photography inspiring social change.

Social change will not come from documentary photographs alone. This may seem like a statement that flies in the face of social documentary photographers working to affect change through their work, however it is an adage worth holding onto. Certainly the somewhat intangible relationship between change and photography is something I have found to be worth exploring both in my research and as an aspiring photographer.

This issue came up recently in a conversation with Bart J. Cannon, the executive director for Blue Earth, a non-profit organization dedicated to photography that makes a difference, who spoke candidly about his personal opinions on the social change potential of photography. The discussion was extremely enlightening.

Sarah Rennie: Does Blue Earth have a specific principle when it comes to the photographers and projects it supports?

Bart Cannon: Well our basic mission is social change. We are not a fine arts organization, we’re interested in documentary photography, specifically documentary photography, photojournalism, however you care to describe it, which is specifically for the purpose of creating a positive change in society. So we try to help projects that are covering under-reported issues, and issues that are important, and work with photographers who are dedicated to public education, helping people know about a problem, and to helping find avenues for solving it.

SR: Do you encourage associations between photographers and other organizations and groups?

BC: Well if the goal is social change there’s going to have to be an action step. So we want people to provide educational activities, which involve taking action. So, it’s not just simply throwing the images out there and telling the story, it’s, ok, well what do you do about it.

SR: Interesting. For so many it’s about getting the pictures out there.

BC: Humans are strongly visually motivated and sometimes just getting the image out there can make an enormous difference, but that’s not always enough. As long as it’s not something sensationalistic like thugs attacking civil rights marches in the 1960s. Sometimes it’s a little more esoteric. A photograph of an iceberg melting may not move people unless they understand the context. And then, OK, well what precisely can I do about it?

SR: Context is always an issue. What are some of the key components of a good project?

BC: We always tell people who are applying that there are various factors which come into play. Our ability to help, how it fits into our portfolio of projects… We don’t want to duplicate projects for example. And always the quality of the photographs is going to be key but the real issue is going to be the storytelling component and the practicality. You’d be surprised how many applications we get from people who say, “yeah I’m going to go down the amazon and I’m going to document all these issues – budget for $1000”. Well… how are you going to eat, where are you going to stay, how are you going to get down there? Then you have all these fabulous images, now what? Have you even thought about that?

We can’t always make everything go the way we want it to, but we definitely want our project photographers thinking about getting the word out, and what that actually means to the public.

SR: How important do you think it is that people interact with images. Does this promote change?

BC: Humans are primates and primates respond strongly to visual stimulus. That’s my own personal knee jerk response. People have a difficult time responding to something unless they can see it. So if you want to demonstrate the fact that the Amazon is disappearing show them a field of it burning – people get that, they understand it in simple visceral terms.  And sometimes on complex issues it helps to put things in very stark perspective like that.

SR: Is that enough or do we need to start pushing a bit more?

BC: I think that’s beyond my purview, that’s more of a political question. Not that I’m dodging politics, I’m a political scientist by training, but there’s only so much that we’re able to do. We aren’t able to organize or to engage in field work to get people lobbying to change laws or to boycott abusive corporations etc. That’s at the tactical level, which really has to be addressed on a very specific case-by-case basis.

SR: Which types of images do you think may work best to convey a message of change?

BC: There are lots of dramatic images out there that I’ve seen over the years but it really depends on the issue and the story. I tend to approach photographs not so much from an artistic perspective but more from a social scientist approach, which is documentation. So I think actually producing photographic evidence is very strong and useful in persuasion. So a dramatic image in itself isn’t sufficient, I want to see data.

If glaciers are melting, show me a washed out gully where the glacier used to be, that’s strong data that makes a difference.  Especially if you can show me what it used to look like before.

SR: When photographers submit to Blue Earth, do you want them to be telling you a story?

BC: That’s what project photography is about. If they’re not telling a story it’s not project photography and it’s not documentary. There’s got to be some sort of narrative there to tell people what this is. If you’re not telling a story, you start crossing into the line of fine art photography and it becomes an exercise in photographic technique, which is fine – it’s just not documentary photography. Particularly if your goal is not just to document, that is to take pictures of facts for shelving in an archive, but… if you’re trying to create change, you’ve got to be telling a story.

SR: My research focuses on the interaction between images and audience, and on images as a catalyst for change. Do you have any thoughts on this?

BC: It all comes again to the storytelling. You’ve got to have a compelling narrative in order to motivate change. It’s fine is somebody is emotionally moved by an image, it’s good if they learn something, but if you’re actually trying to do something concrete like reduce carbon emissions, you’ve got to have some kind of action plan, even if it’s as simple as writing a legislator to affect an upcoming vote on EPA regulations. It’s that concrete step that makes a difference. My personal background is that I was an activist in college, worked at a human rights organization for 12 years before coming to Blue Earth, so that’s my personal interest and maybe that’s my bias, but I’m not interested in enlightening the world. I’m interested in making it better. One comes before the other absolutely, but being moved by an image is not interesting to me, I want to know how that image is going to educate the audience and tell a narrative, which can give them an action step. So that’s probably not exactly the answer to your question, but that’s how I would personally approach it.

SR: That is really interesting in the sense that some of the photographers I’ve spoken to do not share that opinion. Once the photo is out, it’s out of their hands. Their job is to take the picture, and once it’s taken it’s up to the audience to move forward. But you are suggesting that it is up to the photographer?

BC: I would say so. I mean, if your job is to engage in photojournalism or social change photography, however you want to describe it, this implies you’re actually trying to make a difference. Images in and of themselves are wonderful but they are not doing anything – it’s the audience that’s going to do something and if you’re not out there poking the audience to do something then it’s not really serving your purpose as far as I can tell.  It serves as valuable archival, historical, evidence, which is valuable but that’s not creating change.

SR: Really interesting. So then, what is your idea of social change?

BC: I wouldn’t put it in general terms, it’s always specific.  Social change is stopping the factory from dumping the poisons in the water of that Texas town. That’s concrete positive change. Concrete positive change would be legislation passed by congress to have specific strengthened requirements for the use of toxic chemicals in water tables.  You know, very specific actions I think are what make a difference. If you want to have change at the very tactical, feet on the ground level, it’s not about changing the whole gestalt or the general attitude toward the earth, it’s about actually giving people solutions, or tactics, or steps they can take to improve things.

SR: So the photographs would be a visual cue, or a method for prodding people?

BC: I would say so. And related to that is documenting solutions. You can document a huge trash dump and accompany that with photographs of a green and effective recycling plant. Ok here’s a problem and here’s a step, it’s not insurmountable and awful and terrible, here are actual people working on the ground today attempting solutions. And I think that’s a key part of it too. So the image of the trash dump may be shocking and get people’s attention, and that’s marvelous, but we can also follow that up with additional images, or a narrative that will help people get involved.

SR: Great point. Thank you so much for this.

This conversation was part of an interview informing my research, which addresses a personal conviction that social change photography can have a significant social impact by questioning images’ effect on, and ability to affect, a diverse audience. If you have any thoughts on this topic, or on any of the issues raised in the above interview, I would love to hear from you.

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Saint-Lawrence Choir – Tryptique Nordique

A few shots from the Saint-Lawrence Choir’s concert on Saturday night in Montreal. The choir, under the direction of Maestro Michael Zaugg, is one of the more innovative groups in Montreal. The evening was complimented by a group of artists painting throughout the presentation. Great show.

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Vernissage – The Unseen Project

The Unseen Project officially launched on February 24th at the Maison Trestler Art Gallery, in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec. The vernissage also marked the start of the Detour-Retour series of expositions in the Vallee-du-Haut-Saint Laurent, an initiative of TRACE. The five other artists in the series, Evelyne Bouchard, Isabelle Paradis, Steven Ladouceur, Melissa Campeau, and Sebastien Gaudette, are amazingly talented and it is an honour to be included in such a stellar collection.

The Unseen Project will be on display until April 10. An interpretive evening is planned for March 10, which will feature a retrospective of some of my photographs as well as a presentation on the evolution of social documentary photography and the role photographs may play in movements for social change. All are invited!

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