EDEN – A Photo Project

EDEN is a photographic project I worked on in the winter of 2019. About a month before I started working on the project I got really interested in early 2000s point and shoot cameras, and started working in a snapshot style. At one trip to the local thrift store I found an old Canon Powershot A420 at the bottom of a dollar bin.

I picked it up, put some batteries in it and took a few test shots. It seemed normal at first, except some of the shots looked a little like those Deep Dream machine learning images where everything is turned into dogs. So, naturally, the Powershot got a nickname. The “Hellcam”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0068.jpg
One of the first photos ever taken with the Hellcam. Note the purple coloration in the top right.

I hadn’t realized the potential of this concept until I visited a friend’s house and showed her how this strange new function of the camera worked.

Eventually we realized that the corruption of the camera’s internal systems did two things.

One, the camera solarized every image it worked with. And two, every shot from the camera was a long exposure, so the shots would always come out with an uncanny blur and light trails.

In photography, solarization is a tone reversal caused by intense overexposure of the camera’s capturing medium. In black and white photography, every element that’s overexposed turns black or grey, because the film/sensor is being overloaded with information. In color, the overexposed element can turn a variety of colors, from bright red, to fluorescent purple, to pitch black if the camera is exposed to too much sun. Essentially, the Hellcam liked small pinpricks of light in the dark better than the sun’s rays.

With the long exposure, this caused an interesting combination where whatever subject the camera shot would be transformed into a fluorescent, blurry piece of abstract art.

Now, The Project Begins

With EDEN, it all started with experimentation, and testing the limits. In my whole artistic career, and especially my university art career, that’s been my rule of thumb.

What kind of art is everyone around me doing? How can I subvert that?

The answer came with a reminiscence on an Art History class I’d taken the year before, and more specifically, the early Christian art that I’d seen in that class, such as Caravaggio and Fra Angelico.

The Crucifixion, Fra Angelico
The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, Caravaggio.

So thinking back to those artists, I started thinking about my own relation to Christianity.

As an agnostic, I was raised with very little exposure to religion, so a lot of the concepts, when they were introduced to me at a young age, seemed incredibly strange and mystical. A guy getting eaten by a whale – someone getting turned into a pillar of salt, and a horrific execution that ends with a guy getting put into a cave and coming back to life? This was wild! And what I would now categorize as grotesque.

So, I used that concept – Christian art & the grotesque, and ran with it.

An original piece of this sort of art VS my reinterpretation

Eventually I got the chance to apply the concepts in these photographs to a school project – in the final project for a Photo Production class at Ryerson, where I printed these pieces at 11×17 and hung them up in a dark studio, stylized in a pseudo-cathedral motif.

In summation, I think that this project made me think about the relation between the planned and unplanned parts of photography. In my photographic career I’ve found that things like the posing of the subject, the placement of the lights, etc, are a separate entity entirely from the quality of image, focus and print quality. More often what matters in art photography is a good subject and a good understanding of composition and lighting, rather than a camera with a large sensor.

CCD cameras, point & shoots, toy cameras, all of these methods of taking pictures shouldn’t be short-changed in the art world for a ‘lack of professional quality’ if the final goal is an expressionistic photograph, or a photo project that inherently shouldn’t be crisp, clean and concise.

Experiment. Explore. And when you see cameras in the dollar bin, always pick them up.

A final piece from the Hellcam, taken in-studio.

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