The Canadian Art Database

Liz Wylie

John Chalmers and Doug Clark
Photographers' Gallery, Saskatoon, September 24 - October 17 1982

Vanguard, Vol. 11 #9/10, January 1983.
[ 507 words ]

Upon initial perusal, the recent work by both John Chalmers and Doug Clark share some superficial similarities. Both photographers are involved in fairly large format colour work and both rely on the real world of everyday objects for their subject matter. Neither appears to be a slave to beauty. Upon further examination, however, differences in both their use of colour and their approach to the world become evident.

Chalmers's theme in his fourteen works is that of new growth during the season of early spring in a somewhat grotty urban setting. Green tulip shoots are seen pushing up from the earth poking through last year's dried, brittle foliage. Work #11 (all Chalmers's photographs are untitled) features a daffodil plant seen surging from the ground, its leaves splaying outward and a single yellow bloom at the left of the composition. An effective use of natural sunlight is made in most works as the multitudinous small lumps of earth in the city flowerbeds are individually highlighted, resulting in a rich textural effect. These areas are often played off against smooth ones in the photographs to create a nice textural variety.

Despite such technical and aesthetic successes, at the level of content Chalmers's work is disappointingly vacuous. The timeworn theme of new life amidst death and decay, of the poignancy of our fleeting days, has not been given any new or imaginative treatment.

Doug Clark had twelve recent photographs in the exhibition; these at once seemed more dramatic and engaging. His subject is peoples' arrangements of items in their living or working environments. These he seeks with his camera and uses to create intriguing pictures of coloured shapes and forms. Often his photographs contain harsh contrasts in colour and glinting, glaring, highly reflective surfaces. His piece entitled Department Store, Edmonton is of a rack of ascending and descending clear plastic raincoats, which almost fills the photograph. The main colour then is a reflected, light whiteness, not really any colour at all.

Clark seems more active in his use of the camera than Chalmers and yet he is less interested in the connotative meanings his subjects may hold. No comment is passed, for example, on the tacky materials and objects — the floral mac-tac and plastic geraniums in Hotel, Wayne, Alberta, for instance. Instead, we are given an un-patronizing view, which urges us to see the visual richness of the image provided.

Ultimately, Chalmers and Clark act as effective foils to each other. Both seek out the quirky or odd in the world, Chalmers being simpler and more organic in both subject and effect, Clark more calculating and brash. Colour plays a more independent role in Clark's work; in Chalmers's it is inextricably united with the subject matter. Both produce work which is meant to function at multiple levels, Clark's succeeding at this more than Chalmers's.

Vanguard, Vol. 11 #9/10, January 1983.

Text: © Liz Wylie. All rights reserved.

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