Rob MacInnis: Questioning the Narrative Given

Rob MacInnis gave an artist talk at SPAO at the end of the year. He was just in town briefly as he’s doing his Master of Fine Arts in Photography in Rhode Island. Amid the shuffle of moving, the hopes of writing that up while the exhibit was still up disappeared. But this Thursday his family portrait of the farm animals will be auctioned as a fundraiser.

During the evening of Feb 9th at School of Photographic Arts Ottawa one image from each of these photographers will also be on offer to the highest bidder: David Barbour, Jim des Rivieres, Tony Fouhse, Leslie Hossack, Pedro Isztin, Michael Schreier and Michelle Wilson. (Links to images here.)

MacInnis is an interesting fellows, one of those rare souls who are truly curious about the world, an explorer. He used to be at NSCAD, a design school in Nova Scotia. For class project they were to do portraits and he kept drawing object, like a toy donkey for every style of assignment. His teacher was frustrated with his choice and insisted that he do a life portrait, no more toys. Ok, he complied. And went off and found a donkey in person. This independent-mindedness led him to a farm. Having been city-raised he’d never really seen animals outside a petting zoo. Eventually his path to the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada. The Donkey Sanctuary has, since 1992 provided 100 acres to rescued animals. 61 equines (donkeys, mules and hinnies belong to the equine family, for those who may not know) are there, and 40 more are out at foster homes.

But before he came to that place he went off to tour South America and took around 6000 photos in the process. He became conscious of the tourist photographer as a detached outsider and exploitive viewer. He became troubled by this sense that photograph consumes subjects, He said.

“I began photographing farm animals because I was interested in using them as a metaphor for the fashion model. I wanted to draw parallels between literally consuming them, which we do everyday, and the way the photograph ‘consumes’ its subject.”

He did some sculpting instead. He considered. He looked at the history of panaramas and how they are the photography of the blue color history. They were the working class access to being immortalized. People could only afford a portrait if a whole factory chipped in for a group photo. Eugene Goldbeck a panorama photographer from Texas started photographing large groups about a century ago. It seemed clear to MacInnis, and to me, that animals are our working class. They are our labourers without rights, unions or health protections. They’re the lowest tier of our society.

At My Modern Met he says,

“Over the last five years, the project has evolved into more of a critique of photography’s role in our society. I’ve experimented with different genres of photography; fashion, family portraits, documentary, narrative, and panorama, always using farm animals as the subject matter. I wanted to explore more how the camera manipulates its subject and constructs a reality, more than learn anything directly specific about the animals.”

He wants his Hasselblad photos to wobble on the line of plausible and implausible. Some images look staged and yet are real due to the perspective of presenting a donkey on a school stage, with curtains and formal lighting, yet from behind the scenes showing the staging. It plays with the sense of what is real.

One thing I liked about his presentation was that he presented things he’d seen, not as if this is the Way Things Are. He said he’s unsure if he is a photographer, and although a couple people in audience chuckled at if it were false modesty, or as if to assure him, it seems to me not a soliciting assurance but a plain truth from a seeker.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page