By Doug Petry
We had an interesting visit from film-maker/cinematographer aAron Munson Wednesday evening at the monthly speaker night for the St. Albert Photo Club.
You could be forgiven for thinking, “….what! Still photographers and a film-maker in the same room, what’s going to happen?”
Well not a lot of drama, as it turns out, just a lot of very fascinated photographers and one film-maker walking a bit of a tightrope between the two genres.
I’m not sure how the stars aligned to bring aAron to us, but it was a very fortuitous circumstance indeed. Thank you very much Don and whoever or whatever else was responsible, it was great. And thanks to aAron for coming out and sharing his work with us!
Looking beforehand at aAron’s website, www.aaronmunson.com I was intrigued but also wondering how a presentation from someone who’s primary interest is film-making would be received by club members. It turns out that from my own reaction and also what I gathered talking to others, that it was overwhelmingly positive.
aAron poses on a calm day at Isachsen
Like most members, my primary interest has been landscape photography and I still love it, but (and it’s a very big but) I’m finding that there is an element of boredom that is setting in. Over the last year or so, I’m finding that the club has taken a subtle shift (tilt/shift?) away from landscape/nature/static types of photography and it seems to be moving towards more dynamic, people based photographs and I for one am excited about it.
Through the influence of our resident street photographer: Hedy Bach, and our recent critique guy: Larry Louie and now cinematographer aAron Munson and other speakers and club members, my own work and probably the work of other members, is changing.
It’s a little disconcerting at first because we like to settle into a comfortable place, but the challenge of pushing ourselves into producing work that is more interesting, current and dynamic is good for our art in the long run. After all, if people are more engaged and interested and challenged by viewing our work, that’s great for them and for us.
What I learned from aAron’s work is the concept of telling a story. Yes, I know that it isn’t a new concept, photographs are meant to tell a story, but it’s time to go a little deeper than that.
Preparing to land at Isachsen
When you look at it through the eyes of a film-maker who goes through the agonizing process of raising money, researching the history of an area, booking a charter aircraft and a professional guide and then travelling thousands of km. across Canada’s north to a remote, desolate and abandoned weather station, you learn a little something about story telling.
Isachsen is the remote weather station on Ellef Ringnes Island, abandoned in 1978 that is the subject of aAron’s latest project that he is working on with the plan to turn the film clips and images into an art installation at a gallery in Edmonton. It’s a fascinating story of how his father at the tender age of 19, spent a difficult year there in 1974-1975. We got a bit of an idea through the photos and clips, of the difficulties that those stationed there must have gone through dealing with the darkness, the isolation, the cold and the wind over a period of months and as long as a year.
The guide poses in aAron’s dad’s old parka and mittens
Today, long abandoned, the station buildings fill with snow in the winter months as the ferocious wind blows through any little hole, creating strange contorted sculptures and drifts, clinging to frozen chairs, wires and equipment left behind when the site was abandoned.
Reading his father’s diary and seeing his old photographs of the station piqued aAron’s interest and drove him to raise the money and execute his plan to spend a week camping out in the desolate ruins of one of the loneliest spots on earth.
For a film-maker maybe that’s business as usual, but for me and I would imagine for most of the club members as well, that might be a bit much! Yes, I will get up early and go for a canoe ride in the mist (with a nice cup of coffee) or lug along with me and set up a tripod to capture some fuzzy water shots of a waterfall, but a week on some remote island in the arctic? No thanks!
aAron also showed us a great film of the behind the scenes making of one segment of “The Great Human Odyssey” for “The Nature of Things” on CBC. It sounded like another mindbogglingly difficult quest to tell a story, that included two trips over two years to film the local Russian indigenous people harvesting eggs from the remote “Bird Island”.
Beautiful, fascinating and rewarding, but a little beyond what the average photographer would go through to get the shot. A project involving researchers, dialogue, costumes, actors and other crew members, locals and deep pockets bankrolling weeks of shooting can tell a compelling story it seems.
And aAron’s Isachsen project, that may eventually include an entire art installation with wind machines and a refrigerated room and artifacts to go along with the film clips and photographs, has the potential to tell a much more complete story than a single photograph can on its own.
But we as photographers needn’t worry about competing with these kinds of genres, we just need to look a little deeper and think more about the story and what it is exactly that we want to share with the viewer of our images. At least, that’s what I need to do.
A few weeks ago, one of my images was critiqued on submission night and it was suggested that what would make it a much better photograph would be if the mirror (of the public restroom) was cracked….excuse me!
I’m sure not going to go around breaking mirrors in public restrooms to get a more dramatic shot. But what I took away from the critique was that I could have upped the ante a little and had a better shot by adding drama in other ways. Some human artifact added to the scene, maybe something poignant written on the mirror with soap or lipstick (and carefully scraped off afterwards). You get the idea. Tell a more complete story, even if we need to embellish it a little to make it interesting.
But I digress.
aAron also showed us some dramatic images taken at a remote, half abandoned town in Siberia that featured buildings, factories and vehicles quickly falling into decay since the workers just walked away when the Soviet Union collapsed. Today it resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland and when he was stuck there for a week waiting to return from Siberia, aAron took advantage of his time there and returned day after day to photograph the abandoned ruins.
He mentioned one particular scene where he stumbled upon a young couple sitting at a little table, having a romantic date among the ruins. It just goes to show you how things have changed for me that that particular image was the one that I really wanted to see!
But unfortunately, he felt weird about taking a photograph of them and of course now he wishes that he had. He ended up with many pictures of the ruins, but few photos of people.
For me, Wednesday night was one more great evening learning what other people are doing and now I’m enjoying imagining how I can apply that knowledge to push my own photography in a new direction. I hope to see aAron’s influence creep into my own work and also into the work of other club members, looking forward to seeing what we come up with!
The wing of a plane that crashed in the 1940’s