Today we feature the work of Michelle Huisman, a 2021 Denis Roussel Award Work of Merit winner.
“This work is so well done… I kept returning to it over the past few weeks and appreciating how nicely your activism and dedication to community, outreach and volunteerism, coupled with the symbolism of banging spoons on pots to honor health care workers during the pandemic, meshed so well with your lovely work. This was, indeed, “An Unexpected Collection” and a perfect marriage of your life and the art you make.”
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I’m a mom, wife, nature lover, artist and, of course, photographer. On my best days, all of these roles hang in a perfect balance! This is often hard to come by but I’m working on it.
Rumi’s advice to “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do” really resonates with me. I feel fortunate to find beauty everywhere (maybe a result of my curiosity and imagination) and I’m inspired by what many consider ordinary. I treasure my family and my friends and have a deep sense of community.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I have a Degree in Photographic Arts (Honours) from Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. During my 4th year studio class, I was very fortunate to study Alternative Printing Processes with Barbara Astman at the Ontario College of Art & Design University. Many years after my undergraduate studies, I continued my photographic training taking various emerging technologies courses at Emily Carr and Vancouver Photoworks.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Over time, I’ve learned that the creative process meanders from something intensely personal to something that can get stuck without the support and influence of others. I’m so grateful to have some incredible mentors and influencers in my creative work.
A true friend of mine, Janaki Larsen has had a powerful influence on my creative journey. She is an amazing, globally renowned potter but is also incredibly grounded and purposeful in all her work. She never stops creating. She comes from a family of artists and creative work has been a constant throughout her life. Her discipline and dedication to her craft and her family is a beautiful work of art!
Additionally, Bob Carnie has been an incredible mentor on my continuing journey through the alternative printing processes. His extensive experience, his honest feedback and his mastery of his craft has helped me so much already as I continue to explore the tri-colour bichromate gum over palladium process in my latest work.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Sally Mann’s, Immediate Family, has really stayed with me since my earliest studies in photography. While controversial, I still find her work to be incredibly courageous, thought- provoking and beautiful. I appreciate her unconventional style and her determination to capture the hidden moments of family life.
Perhaps less controversial but equally powerful, I’ve always been captured by Dorothea Lange’s, The Migrant Mother (1937), since I first laid eyes on it. There is something sad and beautiful all at the same time about this image and many of her images from the Great Depression.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Mandy’s Spoon from An Unexpected Collection, taught me an important lesson about patience in the creative process. Photographic work doesn’t always come together in a sequential way. It can feel incredibly frustrating at times when the shot just isn’t coming together as you want and often my first instinct is to just keep working harder. After stepping away for a while and coming back to Mandy’s story, I found the right balance I was looking for by laying the spoons on top of each other. Not only did I learn an important lesson about patience and perspective in the creative process but I also managed to gain even more appreciation for how family and community can mend broken hearts simply by believing we can.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Denis Roussel Award.
An Unexpected Collection started quite…unexpectedly…in our own household during the 7pm cheer, it started with one broken spoon, then another, then I started wondering — is this happening to others?
Although this collection emerged somewhat ironically to symbolize community, connectedness and appreciation for our first responders during COVID-19, I learned that the history of the broken wooden spoon began very much out of an act of protest. These types of noisy, non- violent protests date back nearly 200 years.
This collection, however, is not a protest but a symbol of what is stronger together — community united in solidarity to support first responders around the world. People in the U.S., Singapore, Turkey, France, Italy, the UK and Canada are banging their pots and pans. Bangers who are expressing their own unique emotions during this crisis. This series started out as a single broken wooden spoon from my daughter during the 7pm Cheer. Then, my son broke another spoon… then I broke another. After my son broke his second wooden spoon, I thought there must be others out there like us.
It became so much more than just broken spoons. Every broken spoon revealed a unique story from each person who was banging their pots and pans every night at 7pm for the first responders. Creating this series during COVID-19 has been a healing and rewarding experience. While I wish COVID-19 had never brought this much anxiety, sadness and physical distance between us, it has taught me to take baby steps and to appreciate the strength of community.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of the image-making process for me is the historical documentation. Bridging new technologies with century’s old printing techniques provides the foundation for how I prefer to approach fine art photography. Re-learning these alt processes again, brings a heightened sense of craftmanship and an archival timelessness to the work. I feel like an old soul, working with new tools. I love it!
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
My last few projects have been both time consuming and emotionally taxing. When things aren’t working, everything seems out of balance. However, over the years, I’ve tried to invest in building resilience through things like The Artist Way by Julia Cameron, some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy courses, and relying on a my most important relationships with my family and friends. I’ve also come to enjoy early morning pages of writing just to get things off my mind or re-centered on what’s important to me. The trick is in getting up early enough so I can have some time to myself.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
Essential tools to the making of my photographs today are my Nikon Z6, my iPhone and Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. In some respects, it reminds me of working from a 4×5 polaroid back in the day, seeing the image and re-working the shot to your liking. Of course, without access to a professional dark room with a supportive mentor in alt printing techniques, something essential would be lost in my work.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I’m really looking forward to working with duotone techniques to expand my knowledge of colour manipulation.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Art has always helped me explore purpose in the world. In my most recent work, I’m using items that most people would just throw away or consider useless. Can I help find some purpose from the things we discard? Does what we throw away tell us more about ourselves than the things we keep and treasure? Is it garbage or is it art? I look for small things in my own realm that I can see have meaning, or possibly even beauty – fallen feathers, broken spoons, discarded COVID masks, etc.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?
The pandemic has helped me gain a better sense of our place in time. An Unexpected Collection and my current exhibition Global Pandemic are both photographs of pandemic detritus. I’ve felt a surge in responsibility to archive the pandemic in a way that will be lasting and meaningful for us for generations to come. I hope we can all come to appreciate how a small push in a positive direction by many people can have a lasting impact on the change we need to see in our world. Sometimes I feel guilty that we can have silver linings generated from this horrible pandemic but I’m so grateful to have found renewed purpose in the work I love.
What’s on the horizon?
I have an upcoming exhibition called Global Pandemic at Dal Schindell Gallery at the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver. The exhibition runs from March 2nd – April 10th, 2022. Global Pandemic is a statement on the two pandemics we are currently facing – COVID-19 and the second and more insidious one in the waste we are producing in response. The series is made up of photographs of discarded COVID-19 face masks alongside items from nature and connected to childhood fables. There are more than 23 tri-colour gum bichromate over palladium photographs for this exhibit and hopefully a few other surprises when the show opens. Hopefully this exhibition will travel and I will be speaking about this and the process that I have learned from Bob Carnie at CAPIC’s Expose in Toronto in May, 2022.
To learn more about the work of Michelle Huisman please visit her site by clicking on her name.