Writing about Images

Social Camouflage

Striving. From the front cover of the book Social Camouflage and featured in the exhibition Fire and Masks at cSPACE King Edward, Calgary as part of Exposure Photography Festival 2021.

 

Excerpt from the Introduction to my new book Social Camouflage:

All our lives have changed. How we work, learn, play. How we socialize. Survive.

The year 2020 was defined by the devasting effects of the coronavirus disease. Like everyone else, the COVID-19 pandemic radically changed my family’s ways of doing things and cancelled my planned photographic projects and work around events and portraits. Travelling with my cameras was restricted to local expeditions on foot or by bicycle to explore the Elbow Valley.  I spent many socially distanced hours alone photographing a pair of nesting ospreys and a colony of cliff swallows under a bridge. I spent more time with macro lenses, getting closer to urban nature, carrying on pretty much as usual, if not better. I made a couple of longer trips into Kananaskis Country to explore the Elbow River’s source and into the Badlands around Drumheller. But there was no passage to Peru nor back to Britain excursion for me. I wanted to find another creative path through the often-bleak lockdown and do something new with my photography.

Social Camouflage began with some words, gerund versions of verbs, written in my notebook about how the pandemic was socially impacting us. The A-Z list from abandoning to zooming began shortly after my last business meeting in a café, held on March 12. That ended with a traditional handshake, the last one I would make in the year. Later that day, the NHL cancelled their season and minor hockey in Calgary-such a vital part of my daughter’s athletic life-followed suit. The next day, pandemonium broke out with panic buyers stripping the shelves in the supermarket, and on March 18, the Canadian border with the USA was closed.

 

The idea for Social Camouflage began with a list of words in my notebook. © J. Ashley Nixon

As events began to cancel, I studied my growing list of social words and how I might represent them with images. A few trips by train to downtown Calgary found some source material, but even those visits wound up as precautionary behaviour set in. My pursuit turned towards the local neighbourhood and the completion of some earlier projects. One of those was Behind the Mask, a book to complement the documentary film I produced in Peru in 2019. As I worked through the sequencing of images and the compilation of interview notes about the Huaconada, I was drawn to the wooden masks worn by the dancers of this ancient ritual to conceal their identity. They connected with the rapidly emerging culture of wearing paper and cloth masks to protect from virally infected aerosols. Masks soon linked to the camouflage used by wild animals (and the military) and how these items have progressed from being protective barriers to a social statement and symbol of how we have become hidden and restricted from our established social norms.

The idea hatched to create a studio-based project using photographic backdrops and masks crafted from the same materials to represent some aspects of our changing society and challenged social, often surreal, lives. My daughter Jennifer was willing to model some scenarios. My wife, Maricarmen, applied her talents to turn fabrics into props. This book, Social Camouflage (and exhibition-see below), is the result; a collection of photographs made exclusively during 2020 in Calgary and a few other select locations in Alberta, Canada.

See the book Social Camouflage

You can view or purchase a copy of the book Social Camouflage here.

Visit the exhibition Fire and Masks at cSPACE

Twelve of the studio portraits from Social Camouflage together with a selection of images from Behind the Mask are currently being exhibited in a show entitled Fire and Masks at cSPACE King Edward, Calgary. This is a joint exhibition with Angela Boehm, whose large-format photographs (The Giving Trees) from Western Canada share both the beauty of the ephemeral repose of a burned forest and the strength of its regeneration. Our exhibition is part of the Exposure Photography Festival 2021 and runs throughout the month of February.

Access to cSPACE (February 2021)

The exhibition Fire and Masks is on the second floor at cSPACE King Edward 1721 29th Ave SW, Calgary (just up the hill from Marda Loop High Street). Under current circumstances, cSPACE is operating “by appointment”. Please telephone cSPACE at 403-476-2025 or buzz the Northeast doors from the parking lot to enter the building during office hours (09:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday). Entrance on Saturdays may be available at a future date.

Online show

An online presence for Fire and Masks has been established in support of the cSPACE exhibition. This is hosted by Exposure Photography Festival, where you can view behind the scenes interviews and short films about the exhibited works by Angela Boehm and myself.

 

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