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.


Social Camouflage, a new book from Betula Books by J. Ashley Nixon is a collection of words, portraits and other photographs from Alberta that explores how our lives changed in 2020 as a consequence of COVID-19. The book features his daughter, Jennifer playing out roles that reflect upon the pandemic’s social impacts in his studio using matching backdrops and masks, created from Northcott and other fabrics by his wife, Maricarmen.

Ashley will be talking about Social Camouflage and his approach to making photo books at The Camera Store on April 8, 2021 (start: 7:00 pm Mountain Standard Time). Here is a link to register for the Free event.

Ashley recently exhibited some of the photographs from Social Camouflage at cSPACE King Edward in a joint production with Angela Boehm titled Fire and Masks. You can experience that event online at Exposure Photography Festival.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to 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 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.

Purchase Social Camouflage

You can purchase a copy of Social Camouflage at The Camera Store or from Betula Books.


2 comments on “Social Camouflage

  1. Pingback: Masks, Mussorgsky and Mito at cSPACE – NixonScan

  2. Pingback: Máscaras, Mussorgsky y Mito en cSPACE – NixonScan

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