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I have filmed a short video of me in my room. Here it is:

My initial frustration with Photoshop has given way to a sense of mild satisfaction.  What I display today is a major improvement on my first attempt at “Hanging with the residents of the Paris Catacombs,” but still falls far short of what I had hoped to accomplish. 

Here is my creative process.  I started out with the following photo.  It is me in a bathroom stall at a downtown Concordia building.


I initially played around with this photo, hoping to do something clever with it, but I failed.  I attempted to stick posters and graffiti behind my head, but nothing looked real.

I abandoned all pretence of versimilitude.

To justify my more recent efforts of creation, I will say that I applied a DIY “punk aesthetic.” Ha!

Rather than use my self-portrait as my background, I used a photo I took of the Paris catacombs during the summer.  These are real, live dead people, folks!

Paris Catacombs

Then I had the job of removing my head from my body and super-imposing it on these skulls.  This was the hardest part of the project.  To get a “clean” cut of the head is not as easy as Dr. Guillotine would have you believe.  First I had to create a new layer in the skulls image.  I made this layer all black.  Then I moved my roughly-hewn head on top of this image so that the fuzzy edges would stand out better.  Then I used the handy backgrounder eraser tool to go around my head and remove all the poopie bits.

OK, at this point I have my noggin cleverly lined up with the skulls.  What is the creative statement here?  Well, you know, it’s like a message about how one day I too will join the ranks of the deceased.

Then I desaturate everything.  That’s “making it black and white” to plain-talkers.  What’s the creative purpose behind this?  Well, to make it easier to cover up my mistakes.  Also, a morbid theme seems so much better suited to black and white.  No?

Next, I go back to my original photo of me and I gouge out my own eye.  Thanks again, handy lasso tool!  Then I move this eye into the eye socket of the skull to my left.  What is the creative purpose of this?  Well, it’s a gift from me to the dead.  It’s making a statement about how we try to imagine how the dead might see us.  Or something like that.  Naturally, I desaturate this too so as to fit in with the rest.  But I don’t stop there.  Oh no.  I “skew” the eye and also flip it 180 degrees.  Why?  Because it fits into the eye socket more naturally that way.  It makes the eye look more like the property of Mr. Skull and less like the property of me. 

What now?  I remember that I need to combine yet another element into the picture.  So I dash out into the hallway and I take this photo of myself with my eyes closed.


I cut off my head.  Again.  I’m getting pretty good at this.  Just as I did before, I clean up all the rough edges.  Then I shrink the image.  Then I stick it on top of my sunglasses.  WOOPS!  I forgot to mention that I drew myself some sunglasses.  Sorry about that.  It was such a quick process that I forgot it.  I used the paintbrush tool and chose the colour black.  Anyways, now I’ve got yet another version of my head — only this time it’s tiny — and it’s superimposed on my sunglasses.  What is the creative purpose of this?  Well, it’s to show that knowledge of my own mortality is reflected in my present.

Pretty deep.   Even so, the final image, even after making it all grainy and artsy looking, still is pretty dorky.

With another new element added!

Also, I should note that I cropped the image. The biggest skull did not seem to match the rest of the picture once my big noggin got in the way.

There. Finished!

The great American intellectual, Susan Sontag, had profound doubts about the morality of photography, lamenting that every subject of the camera is “depreciated into an article of consumption; promoted into an item for aesthetic appreciation. “ (“On Photogaphy,” Susan Sontag, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.)  It would be interesting to know what she would have made of the work of  Carlos and Jason Sanchez, whose work is featured at Montreal’s Mois de la Photo, where even the abduction of a little girl or the tragedy of a mudslide have been served up for the spectator.Perhaps Sontag would be reassured that the Sanchez brothers do not in fact directly represent reality.  This is not “truth-telling,” as Sontag would call it.  Every one of the Sanchez brothers’ photographs is the result of sometimes months of preparation in creating a scene.  The artifice is crucial.

Sontag might question the ethics of a photo-journalist going to a warzone and claiming to convey to the viewer the truth about that war, but the Sanchez brothers approach reality differently.  In harrowing photos such as “Rescue Effort,” they are not directly depicting reality, but instead exploring a narrative.  The brothers create scenes, characters, scenarios and conflicts, just like you might expect from a film director or even a novelist.  Jason Sanchez says, “I feel that each image has a story in it.”  (“Mois de la Photo 2007 — Narratives of Nastiness.” 12 Sep. 2007 <>)

So rather than the photograph freezing reality, it freezes a moment in a fiction from the Sanchez brothers’ (often morbid) imaginations.   This liberation from the responsibility of “truth-telling” gives the photographs an unblemished emotional impact.  Instead of worrying about the fate of the little girl in “Abduction,” who we know was not actually abducted, we are instead freed up to think about the theme and the possible narrative that the image evokes.  We are “experiencing” the experience, rather than being wrenched from our own reality and into a very different one.

In an utterly different medium, some of the most interesting sound exhibits at espaceSONO have the same effect.  In what I will call the “big black box,” you can listen to Phill Niblock’s “grind.”  Niblock has captured the recurring noises of an industrial environment.  It made me remember a time a few years ago when I did some factory work, and the machines’ whirring and coughing was full in my ears.  They made their own strange symphony.  Because of having to work, it wasn’t possible to reflect long on the sounds.  But in the big black box, all distractions from the industrial sounds were eliminated.  The listener selects the desired track, sits backs and soaks it up, and almost all other stimuli are gone.  Before entering, I was worried that the big black box might be like a sensory deprivation tank.  But the big black box shares almost nothing in common with a sensory deprivation tank.  It might be better described as a sensory enhancement tank, since it focuses on one sense, auditory, and amplifies it to the almost complete exclusion of all others, purifying the experience.

Big Black Box

The Big Black Box

After my time in the big black box, I visited a nearby bed, with more headphones available.  Soon I was lying back and enjoying the sounds of Jamie Allan’s Binaural Architecture, 258 E. Street, New York City.  It was like taking a break in your hotel room, leaving the window open for the city to steal inside on the airwaves.  Sometimes the experience was jolting.  It evoked images of hustle and bustle happening at a remove sufficient to eliminate any associated stress.  It wasn’t me stuck in traffic; it wasn’t me fighting for a spot on the sidewalk. 

Both installations at Le Mois de la Photo and espaceSONO vividly took me away from quotidian life in Montreal and into utterly different experiences.  But it was certainly the Sanchez brothers who created the most lasting impact.  Their photos do indeed tell stories, whereas mere sound – bereft of linear structure – seems to tell only part of a story.  There is a lot missing.  After about forty five minutes at espaceSONO, I was pleased to rejoin life and enjoy the full spectrum of sensory stimulation on offer.

 Mois de La Photo — Photo I took whilst there to prove I was there.  Click and be disappointed.




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