Urban Fabrics is an ongoing series of photographs, started in 2012, depicting various items of clothing that have been lost, abandoned, forgotten, hidden, discarded, dumped or stored in public places. It sets out to look at a grey zone within our civic space, an overlap of the private and the public - overlooked areas of the Ottawa/ Outaouais’ social landscape.
The term remanence, or ‘that which remains’, is most often employed in physics to define the ability of a material to retain magnetization after the removal of the magnetizing force. I came across the term in the text accompanying French photographer Bernard Plossu’s photographs of Italian urban settings*, where it is used to express a quality of continuance or permanence in the photographs of transitional spaces hanging on at the margins of a conventional, established urban order; a hard-to-define impression of a presence, charge, or force (the proverbial ‘spirit of place’) remaining despite the dissipation, disappearance, or lack of evidence of its originating source.
This idea of remanence gave shape to the current project, anchoring an impression I had about a small but growing collection of photographs of clothing that I had been casually making for several years. It started with a pair of jeans and a black sweater that I came across in my neighborhood. I’d often noticed items of clothing in public. These were a striking example, with a ‘sculptural’ presence. They were soiled but not badly worn by time or environmental conditions (as were other pieces I went on to photograph). They had an oddly disturbing look of a body bent out of shape – the kind that crime scene or war images can portray. The inert clothes, starkly present, conjured something of a life, lived on the margins, that was nonetheless impossible to outline in detail, still inaccessible. They had a lingering ‘charge’.
The photograph had a ‘matter-of-fact’ quality. I’d made it quickly, as the light was fading, not knowing if the clothes would be there when I had a chance to return in better lighting conditions (they were gone when I went back shortly afterwards). It was an accidental opportunity to glimpse ‘that which remained’ of a private, intimate act (changing clothes?) done in a very public setting. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the various uses of public space that rub against convention, skirt established legal and administrative orders and that (for these reasons), despite being in public spaces, remain for the most part barley detectable. It opened a space to reflect on the reasons behind these less visible uses of our public spaces – specifically those in the Ottawa-Gatineau region since almost all of the photographs were made in this region.
I decided to put together a series of photographs of clothing that I had come across in public places, from the ones I had already to ones I continue to look for. I leave the items undisturbed where they lie and shoot in available light. The guiding aesthetic is direct exposition that is not overly elaborate, but aware of framing, light and shadow, angle of approach, and the juxtaposition of objects, colour, texture and line elements within the frame. Most of the photographs convey something of the space where they were located, but some focus closer on the piece of clothing itself. Some have a sombre aspect. Some contain humour, even an absurd quality and suggest some kind of snapshot micro-narrative. A few deliberately emphasize abstract or graphic qualities in the found arrangements. While I am able to appreciate these items of clothing aesthetically, of equal or greater interest is their status as social objects.
A selection of nine images from the project were exhibited at AXENÉO7’s Members’ Gallery (80 Hanson St. Gatineau, Québec, Canada) from May 25-June 25 2016. A twenty-eight page publication was produced to accompany the exhibition and is available for free upon request.
* Periferia, Echoes du néo-réalisme, Bernard Plossu & Alain Bergala, Yellow Now Les carnets
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