Interviews By Larry Abbott
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Patricia Deadman
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Although there is a whimsicality to much of Pat Deadman's photography, the underlying thrust is quite serious. Beyond Saddleback and In Search Of A Perfect View comment on the deformation of Nature which occurs when the landscape is reduced to another tourist commodity. Nature is being altered for human consumption. Another series depicts trees wrapped in burlap for winter protection. Yet Deadman asks the questions: "We wrap our trees in burlap to protect them from the winter? What are we doing to protect ourselves? Why are we doing this?" Here Deadman implies, ironically, that we are protecting nature at the expense of the human community. Like Niro, Deadman integrates text with her photographs, which provides a humorous or ironic counterpoint to the imagery.

Another hallmark of Deadman's photography is her deliberate manipulation of the image. She does not consider herself a documentarist who simply shows the surface of the subject. Rather, through either painting on the photograph, as in the Powwow series, or manipulation in the developing process, as in the Beyond Saddleback series, Deadman uses the image as her canvas, the instrumentality of her vision.

Most recently Deadman has been a guest curator at the Walter Phillips Gallery and a curatorial intern at The Power Plant in Toronto. Her traveling exhibition stakingLANDclaims was shown in Banff, Thunder Bay, and the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford.

LA: I first noticed your work in 1990 in a show at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery called Fringe Momentum. Those were the photographs of powwow dancers that you painted on.

PD: Those photographs are an on-going process. I started out with very small photographic images. At the time it was a helpful reference for my paintings, but at some point the drawing, the painting and the photography overlapped. What came out of that series were my small 4 x 6" mixed-media photographs. Prior to the work of 1986 I was blasting away at images, using black and white double exposures and manipulation, trying to get that sense of urbanization and cultural shock. I moved to London, Ontario, and there are not a lot of Native people in the city, but more than in Woodstock [Ontario], so you notice different tensions. You're sitting on the bus and nobody sits beside you, that sort of thing. It's like, "wait a minute . . . " Why is this happening?

I had never noticed this before because in Woodstock (Ontario) you just go about your business. I was not really consciously aware or raised believing I was different. Native awareness started to come up for me because, I don't know whether you know my history, but I was born on Six Nations, and adopted when I was thirteen months by a non-Native family, so Woodstock is actually my home town. I grew up here. During the '80's, a lot of Native issues were hot subjects. I eventually had to find something that connected with me because the issues that some people were trying to address just didn't apply to me, they weren't my own experiences. So I had to find something and, hence, the Powwow series. I went to my first powwow and it blew me away, a feast for the senses.

LA: What year was that?

PD: 1987. The series just started to grow and it became a process for me. Eventually the photographs grew from the 4 x 6's to the 6 x 24" ones that you see here. There was another step, where pieces about 1 x 2" take up maybe ten feet of wall space, so that you actually have to walk through the series. That's based on the idea that when you're sitting at a powwow and you're looking through a lens, all you see for that split second is a blur, like a little detail of a costume. That's how I was thinking. I carried that thinking on to my new series, which is dealing with the landscape.

LA: Were the original photos for the Powwow series done in color?

PD: Yes. They're just regular 4 x 6" color photos and covered with latex paint, melted beeswax, graphite, and colored wax.

LA: Some of the images are clear, but some are more abstract, where you don't really see the figure.

PD: That's the intent, because it's more or less trying to catch the essence of the powwow. It's a feeling of the overloading of the senses. It's a hot, muggy day and you sit on the ground feeling the vibrations. The images have to do with peripheral vision as well, because you know there's something there but you're not quite sure what it is. You just see that little blur, that brief moment. That's why the shapes are abstract. A lot of these longer pieces become very landscape-ish, to use a term which probably doesn't exist. But you start seeing mountains and rivers and I think that's got a connection to the land. It's using color and shape, and you see the image and you're not quite sure which is the actual photograph and which is the drawing. There's a nice quality about the beeswax, too, because once you burnish it, you can't really tell the difference on the surface. Some of them get quite thick, some of them are very translucent, so it all depends on the application.

LA: You depict the emotional imagery of the powwow and, at the same time, create a visual ambiguity?

PD: I think that's a very important aspect of the work. I'm not trying to recreate the scene literally. It's more the mood and atmosphere. It's very hard to talk about something that's inside that you can't really explain.

LA: Some of your paintings, too, seem to be trying to capture that same effect of motion and movement in an abstract image. You actually began as a painter.

PD: Yes. I usually paint in a 5 x 4' format, but where I was living at the time, I really couldn't paint. I had to paint in the basement and stand in between the rafters and that wasn't working out. I'm now just starting to get back to painting, which is really my first love.

LA: Did you aim for a similarity between the paintings and the photographs?

PD: I think they were, at the time, trying to be a little bit different. I don't have one here to show you, but this one's kind of close to it. This is still kind of too literal for me. Again, I'm just dealing with the color and the mood in an abstract image. I'm dealing with something that you really don't see, like a feeling of energy, so my paintings tend to be very large, very aggressive, at the same time making reference to the dancers by using color or by showing just a hint of braiding, just some little reference.

LA: You mentioned when talking about some of the powwow photographs that there was a suggestion of the land. One series, Beyond Saddleback [1991], were literally about the land.

PD: I took my train of thought from the powwow dancers and applied that to the landscape. The Saddleback series came out when I was at the Banff Center for the Arts [Alberta, Canada]. I had ten weeks in Banff and it was just great. The photography studio there had burned down so they built a brand new building with top equipment. At the time when I thought I was going there, I had an idea but as soon as I got there, the area was overwhelming. There's so much to do and see. I decided to do a lot of hiking and during the hiking I started remembering the powwow series, of being aware of your surroundings and what is around you -- the smells, the wind, the textures -- you're just more or less consumed by the landscape. Saddleback is a mountain not too far from Lake Louise. The Saddleback series -- I call them "The Fuzzy Trees" for lack of a better word -- try to recapture that kind of moment again, but rather than manipulating the surface, I manipulated the actual photograph. I was quite happy with the way the series turned out because it was another turning point for me.

LA: What did you do to manipulate the image?

PD: The manipulation was done during the printing process. The film is processed and the negatives are developed. A lot of people believe they're just really fuzzy, out-of-focus shots, but they're really quite clear. I print black and white negatives on color paper, so you get to dial-in the color that you want. Basically, you get your exposure time, divide it by how many times, say 4 times, and then it's just a matter of shifting the paper. The result is soft edges, which I like because it adds that painterly quality to the photograph. It's reminiscent of a leaf or grass, and I think that played another role in my newer work as well. I used infrared film for some of the images. Beyond Saddleback is infrared and that was the first time I'd really used it, so I was happy with what I got.

LA: Did you have an idea how these would turn out with the film and the printing process?

PD: It was totally spontaneous. One myth about photography is that if you have a negative, you can just print out as many as you want, right? My technique allows for only one image, so it's a lot like painting. You can make similar images, but there's only one which is really unique. I work in a series but I don't make multiples of one image.

LA: This is a one-of-a-kind photograph. You couldn't duplicate this exact print a second time.

PD: You couldn't duplicate this photograph exactly the second time. With the process of color photography, you're working in total darkness, so there's the logistical side of setting up your darkroom to begin with. The photograph is 30 x 40" so your enlarger head is way up here and your paper is way down there and it's a very physical thing. I like that as well. I like that process and, again, there's room for mistakes because I might miss the paper completely. It's great because I'm working with the Kreanite processor so the prints are done in four and a half minutes. It's a dry process.

LA: Maybe we could talk for a second to your art training and education. You studied painting and then moved into photography?

PD: I went to Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, which was a three-year diploma course. They throw everything at you, which is great, because it's basically all studio time, so you get a hands-on for film and video, sculpture, drawing, painting, printmaking. By the third year I was leaning towards the two-dimensional. From there I went on to the University of Windsor [Windsor, Ontario], where I earned my BFA in Visual Arts. I have Basic Photography and have done a lot of experimentation on my own. When I was in Banff doing the photography studio, I had technical assistance with the color photographic processes. I had never printed my own color enlargements before, but I have a handle on that now. I treat photography like painting and drawing. It's just another tool. I just know the basic rules enough to break them.

LA: Do you feel that you're trying to break down the distinctions between photography and painting. You've painted on the Powwow series photographs and the Saddleback photographs are painterly.

PD: That's always been the issue: how do you mold the mediums through painting and photography? They are both rich in history, but amalgamating the two is a tricky thing. To some degree I'm happy with the results, but this distinction is not an anxious issue in my work.

LA: What was the series In Search Of A Perfect View about?

PD: This was a series of twenty-eight images and it was again a response to the landscape, only a little tongue-in-cheek was happening within the series. It was done in Banff as well. The whole premise is that it's such a tourist area and people are always in quest of the ideal photograph when they go to Banff. It was a response to seeing the tourist buses come, pull up to a site, people would run out with their cameras, take their shots, and twenty minutes later they'd be gone. This was their experience with the land. I thought that was so amusing. When you're hiking, the maps have "you are here" signs and along the trail they have little benches strategically placed in front of the scenic vistas. You walk along for a while and you have another bench, and this is their idea of what you're supposed to be seeing. I found that absurd. The response to that was a series of images, which is actually a documentation of a hike, a very short hike, but it shows the scenic points in between the benches. In each shot the mountain is always in the center, it's always the focal point, and the reason the images are only 2 x 3 " is because it's reminiscent of what you actually see in the camera lens, which is a very small and very compact image. The mountain is always there, maybe a quarter of an inch big, but I'm saying that the mountain is here, it's always with you. If you really observe the series, you'll notice the trees getting higher and once you get to the top, there will be a vista. Then when you're coming back down the trail, the trees are getting lower. At one point in the images, if you really catch on, you realize that it's the shot where you just came from. But the mountain is always there. It's a humorous thing and the whole idea takes up quite a lot of running feet in the gallery, so you have to walk through quite a bit whether you start at one end or the other. And the very last shot is what I interpret as the perfect view. It includes all the elements and it's shot further along the stream where there was no bench.

LA: There were twenty-eight shots displayed horizontally?

PD: They're hung at eye level. I had thought originally to mimic the landscape so the line of photographs would create some kind of horizon line. But I thought, no, because this is how people see the landscape, at eye level. Hardly anybody will sit on the ground and look at the land, so it's that point of view again--it's always at eye level.

LA: Why does your work seem to orient around the land?

PD: The land is a very personal experience and one that's closest to my heart, something that I can identify with. There is respect and a concern for how we treat the land. I look closely at how people misuse or appropriate the land, and the issues of ownership and power and control. These are questions always in the back of my mind and in a lot of my work, like the Serve series, my new work, is a way of thinking. It's addressing some of these questions that I have about the use of the land.

LA: Even though the images themselves don't appear "political," it seems like the subtext is more politically-oriented.

PD: My work isn't overtly political. I know some artists are very blatant and it's a personal choice. You can always read about politics in the newspaper. I don't want to be surrounded by it all the time. I know the issues and I get offended when it's just thrown back in my face. What are you trying to say or do about it? What are you commenting on, other than this is the issue? I like work that you have to become personally involved with. My work may be misjudged as being superficial, but it's work that you have to spend time with. Even with the powwow images, you have to spend time with them to appreciate them. There's nothing wrong with having to stop and think about a photograph and how that in turn relates to your perspective.

I try to make work that responds to human qualities, not just to one group of people, Native, women, whomever. Somebody said to me, "You should make a lot of images right now because it's hot to be Native." If you're Native people expect the familiar. I thought that that was just playing the game too much, because whatever you put out at the time, even though people might consider it "Native art," it has to be the best that you're doing. If this is the best that you can do, what are you going to do next? So I don't let politics get in my way. If you want to be involved, that's fine, go for it, but I'm content to make my own work and if people respond to it, that's great. Of course, I realize that this is a political statement in itself. I think the Serve series is non-gender and non-specific because it deals with the human qualities and human emotions that we all share at some point. To me, this is the magic of art. I think it's so hard to express what's inside and to put it out for everybody to see. It's a very personal thing. It's fine and it's great to put out feelings of anger and frustration because that's all part of it. At the same time, if you're taking the hot topic of the day and trying to build on that, then my question is, is this how you really feel, or is this what you think you should be feeling? It's very topical, but what are you left with? It's another documentation of the event. I question a lot of things like that. I would be more inclined to deal with what people were trying to feel or the emotion that they were dealing with.

LA: In the Serve series (1994) you've integrated words with the photographs, "conserve," "preserve," "reserve," "self-serve," "deserve."

PD: It's a play on words. In my statement for the series I've referred to the dictionary meaning of the words because it's straightforward and those are definitions that people know. It's always been fascinating to me to have people interpret what I think. In "conserve" I question how we treat the land. My thought at the time was, this is another hiking trail, but how did it get there? The landscape is not as pristine as we think it is. Men had to build roads and strip the land to get to that so-called pristine place, and probably thousands of people have walked the same trail for years. So what you're seeing isn't really new, but it's new to you. In some sense you can appreciate the landscape, but at the same time you sense the history of the land.

LA: What process did you use to make these?

PD: The images were printed on Duratrans, a clear plastic material. It's like Mylar and they are mounted between plexiglass so that light shines through. The words are computer-generated and digitalized on a clear piece of plastic, and then it's sandwiched with the negative and then exposed on the Duratrans.

LA: "Preserve" depicts animals.

PD: These were taken at the Whyte Museum and are all stuffed animals in a showcase. This is probably how future generations are going to see wildlife. For whose benefit is this for, the control of nature? Again, it's dealing with issues of power -- who's doing what to whom? But ultimately I guess nature has the upper hand. This came about from another series that I did, but the whole idea just sounds absurd.

LA: You're the subject of "self-serve." It's set at a self-serve gas station.

PD: This is probably the only self-portrait that I've ever done that was literal and that I even bothered to show anybody. The t-shirt is appropriated from the Indian motorcycle. It has the word "Indian" on it and below that it reads "genuine parts and service." My thoughts at the time were, if you don't do anything for yourself nobody else is going to do it for you. That's dealing with a lot of different issues. In general, I guess what it means is, no matter what anybody else does, you have to do it yourself, or it does not get done. The t-shirt is basically anything for a laugh. The humor is another approach to art It focuses on identity and my way of interpreting "Indian" in a contemporary context.

LA: Do you use your photographs as a way of exploring these issues?

PD: I think so. It's an awareness of where you are, your history, and thinking about the generations ahead.

LA: In this new series you have eight pieces displayed in two rows of four. Four of the works have text written on the border of the photo.

PD: They go across and there's a story line so you have to read them. Again, it's a humorous to the land. I wrote, "We wrap our trees in the winter for protection." It's like, wait a minute, let me think about this for one second. We wrap our trees in burlap to protect them from the winter? What are we doing to protect ourselves? Why are we doing this? I was fascinated because the images are ambiguous. I did a previous series which showed conical structures built around trees so that they looked like little tepees along the side of the bank. This series is just carrying it a step further since they do represent human forms under burlap. I paired these with shots from the Reserve. The story goes like this: "The year is 1994, they efficiently prepare themselves like the many generations before them for the long harsh Canadian winter. Bitterly cold winds and snow drifts will dominate the wilderness." And, of course, you can apply that to the history of Native culture.

Underneath each of these shots of wrapped trees is a shot of the Reserve and the traditional tepees. They depict a sense of history and contemporary life now. It's a black and white photo printed on colored paper and I chose a surreal pink color. It's reminiscent of Edward Curtis, where everything has that romantic, idealized lifestyle.

Then the next panel: "In order to protect themselves from the elements, they dress appropriately. Their sturdy garb is made from heavy duty 10-ounce burlap and is securely wrapped around their limbs." That is juxtaposed with the traditional tepee and modern day tents.

The next one reads: "Small bands from various regions can be seen gathered in many parts of southwestern Ontario. They adapt quite readily to their surroundings whether it be a rural outpost or an urban center." Historically, tepees were in a circular grouping or in a straight-line like along a river, depending on the situation, so there is that thought.

Then the last image is: "Even though it is inevitable that some will not survive, entire encampments will overcome many adversities that will cross their path. It is in their nature to be cooperative and organized and to be environmentally friendly." It creates a sense of irony, the wrapped trees juxtaposed with the tepee images.

LA: Do you try to create a narrative in your work?

PD: Sometimes a narrative is inevitable because the images dictate that, whereas some, like the Serve series with one-word text, are more ambiguous because you have to think about what I'm actually trying to achieve, a certain thought process. The storyline is just kind of fun; it's a spontaneous reaction to the picture. It's using imagery and putting it in today's terms.

LA: Could you describe Ice Views (1992)?

PD: It's a series of handmade books. They're 4 x 6" and made out of plaster and cheesecloth. There are seven of them. Each one is reminiscent of Stanley's Glacier, located a couple of hours from Banff. Again, it's a tourist thing because we've all been tourists and we have that need to bring something back from where we've been. This is similar to bringing back an actual piece of the landscape rather than a t-shirt that has a picture of the land on it. When you open one up, it has a small photographic slice of the land. Each one has a different natural element, so each book has titles like "Sky and Ice," "Rock and Trees," and "Beyond the Ridge."

LA: How were they displayed?

PD: I made an easel out of twigs and twine, and they're displayed on a Carrara marble shelf, so that you have that white, cool surface. They are meant to be picked up and held and touched but they're really fragile. The covers may break apart.

LA: Were you trying to get a certain texture on the book cover?

PD: Yes. That was the whole idea of the glacier, the snow, the ice, and bringing back small pieces of the land. It's another way of thinking about the whole tourist scene, with a tangible object becoming materialistic. I did this series about the same time as the In Search Of series.

LA: In works like this you're moving away from the usual display of photographs on a wall.

PD: I think this is just another presentation of the photograph. We all have albums of photographs of our summer vacation, right? You have to look at the photograph to see what it is and remember where you were at that time, remember what it was like, not just pictorially, but what you felt emotionally. In this series it's the spiritual quality of the land.

LA: Did you like the hand-made book format?

PD: Originally these were little prototypes for larger books. I like the idea of bookworks, and books, of course, have their own history, and small photographs would lend themselves nicely to that format.

LA: Do you feel that First Nations photographers are reclaiming their own images?

PD: I really can't talk for other artists, but I think photography is used in that sense now, in destroying the myth and the stereotypes and reclaiming what is basically yours. I think that's always a good way to use a medium, whether it's photography or painting or whatever. Native photography on the whole is still such a new medium I think it's developing new ways of expressing those ideas. Photography has certain genres, like documentary, and it's very easy to fall into a category and say, "I'm going to do photojournalistic photography and I'm going to go and do these issues." That's fine and that's great. For me, I just don't want to use it in that context. My photos are integrated with other media, and become an element of an installation.

LA: Where do you see your work going?

PD: At one point Gerhard Richter said, "I know nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing." To get to that point and to depict that would be the ultimate. I think that's kind of where I'm coming from. You can talk and get into all this spirituality and how that affects you, but how do you define or recreate that energy, that essence of knowing? How do you record that or respond to that? It's a very difficult thing, because time, that moment, that second, is very elusive. But that's what I'm trying to deal with and it's hard.

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS

This Land Reserved, solo exhibition, The Woodstock Art Gallery, Woodstock, Ontario, 1995

 AlterNative, group exhibition, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario,1995

 Cultural Contrasts, group exhibition, Stamford Museum and Nature Center, Stamford, CT, 1994

 Preserve, Conserve, solo exhibition, Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery, North York, Ontario, 1994

Defining Our Realities, group exhibition, Sacred Circle Gallery, Daybreak Star Cultural Center, Seattle, WA, 1993

 Rephotographing the Land, group exhibition, Dalhousie Art Gallery, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1992

 No Borders, group exhibition, Native Indian/Inuit Photographers Association [NIIPA] Gallery, Hamilton, Ontario,1991

 Fringe Momentum: The Photocollages of Patricia Deadman, solo exhibition, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, Ontario, 1990

 SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lynn A. Hill, "Patricia Deadman," AlterNative, Kleinburg, Ontario: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1995, pp. 16-17.

Susan Gibson Garvey, "Rephotographing the Land," Rephotographing the Land, Dalhousie, Nova Scotia: Dalhousie Art Gallery, 1992, pp. 3-8.

Patricia Deadman, "Artist's Statement," No Borders, Hamilton, Ontario: NIIPA Gallery, 1991, p. 12.

Janet Clark, "Fringe Momentum: The Photocollages of Patricia Deadman," Fringe Momentum, Thunder Bay, Ontario: Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1990, pp. 5-12.

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