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We Are Small

Wendy Kwan
August 2010 * March 2012

We Are Small

The seeds for this collection of photographs emerged in the fall of 2008, while experimenting with my then relatively new to me Holga camera with the additional feature of a fisheye lens attached. Yes, I am talking about a glass lens worth twice as much as the plastic camera and mounted over top of her plastic lens to boot!  My first results were very spotty. So spotty that I wasn’t sure whether to continue her use or not. The lens flared like crazy, and any reflection off a shiny bit of metal or water, let alone the sun itself, yielded little “flying saucers” and cones across the negative. I know there are Holga purists who embrace these "imperfections" but they were, for the most part, a little too imperfect for me. Yet, there was something interesting here, particularly the global picture form, which presented a new challenge to making sense of shapes and dissecting space into slices and wedges. Interesting enough to continue the experiment.

As it always seems to go, the more one plays, the better one becomes at understanding the idiosyncratic nature of any camera or tool, be it hi tech, or in this case extreme low tech. I figured out when to shoot and when not to, and how to place myself in relation to the slightest glint off reflective objects. Gradually the results became more consistent. I started to identify features I could expand upon, purposely look for, and utilize.

We Are Small is currently a collection of photographs under development. I have decided to share these early results, as I believe I have discovered a purposeful direction to move in.  I fully realize the risks in showing work before its time, but also feel that as photographers we need to show and share a little more of our process - the much more interesting, at times frustrating, and far more imaginative side of the medium that delves beyond a simple “click”. The worldwide web gives us this gift of opportunity.

For “We Are Small”, I am working from the premise that at some point in our lives, we all consider our role and purpose in relation to the enormity of our grand context, regardless of our culture, values and beliefs. Using photography and her unique ability to steal a slice of time and ground us in the reality of our physical space, I plan to examine the relationship we seek with our context. How do we integrate ourselves in these contexts? How do we carve out our personal little space or slice? Can we experience satisfaction of self in our context? Can we feel at one, at peace? These are the preliminary foundations and questions upon which I hope to grow my collection.

We Are Small Update

March 2012

Time has flown by since I last posted results for the We Are Small ongoing project. The last posting was August 2010 and since then my Holga and her combination fisheye have been hard at work, seeking, defining, and refining the right places, spaces and visual language to hold this collection together. I’ve tried neighbourhood streets, sport playing fields, and truly urban perspectives, none of which, after expending both time and film, have worked out at all. That’s OK, the negs are all filed away for future reference, and may become the jump off for another project at a later time.

The Holga has travelled up and down the Pacific West Coast, including my home province of British Columbia, but also Washington, Oregon, and California. Large open spaces and interesting skies have become hallmarks, as is the need for interesting foreground elements that spill outwards, adding to the sense of depth. Together these features pack my “little worlds” full with information, yet don’t become so crowded that a sense of peace and beauty is lost. It’s a fine line to walk. How much is too much? I think I’m finally getting to the definition.

 The Holga also travelled to Idaho, Montana, Utah, Arizona, as well as interior regions of the coastal locations. The only interior region that to date has yielded the right results is around Moab Utah. I’m at the point now that the camera doesn’t even come out unless every vital element is present, the space, the clouds, the shapes, the foregrounds, and of course the people.

Recently I decided to stop photographing, finish work printing all possible contenders, and really pull the editing hat (or I guess it’s a toque – I am Canadian after all!!) down around my ears.

Through this process I realized that I have a large number of results that I am truly happy with. So I’ve scanned 12 new work prints to post on the site, and selected a first group of 12 to start working up as fibre prints. At this time I have no idea what printing paper I will use, or which toner combinations. Oriental changed the formula for their warm toned fibre paper. It was one of my favourite papers, and I sensed trouble when I saw the “new, with warmer tones” label slapped on the box! It is now far too “brown” and “warm” for my taste, so I’ll be testing other options as I get the project going.  A great deal of experimentation lies ahead.  A second set of 12 photographs is ready to go, should I get through the first set anytime soon.  Beyond that, I have an additional selection of 24 more to play with and contemplate for yet another round of printing.  Meantime, I will still be looking for refinements in the field, and the Holga fisheye will remain safely tucked into my bag until I’m really sure I have all the results I want.