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E.B. Eddy. Photo by Christian Villemaire.

Exhibition: MERGER at Exposure Gallery

By Brenda Dunn on January 10, 2018

Christian Villemaire is a patient fellow.

He’s pensive when asked a question, thoughtful when giving an answer, and tolerant when a well-meaning woman stomps on his foot while wearing heels.

His socked foot.

Which is already swollen for reasons I’ll let him tell you at the opening.

He’s also willing to shoot an entire project in analogue on a medium format camera. For those like myself who don’t necessarily know much about gear, that’s a big camera taking big photos on big negatives and every click of the shutter is time and money you do not get back.

“The system that I’m working with is a Hasselblad medium format system.” Villemaire shares. “A negative that’s a… fairly big piece of film that takes the picture, which allows me to print big enough without too much of a loss of quality. The reason for me to shoot analogue is not because it’s nostalgic. It’s because it allows me to slow down.”

In short, this is a fellow who’s willing to wait. For the shot, for the response, for the right of way in a busy restaurant…

Bob Guertin. Photo by Christian Villemaire.

MERGER is a selection of photos from Villemaire’s larger series Hull ( ) in which he explores the expansion of the Gatineau area and Hull’s consequent erasure. The collection consists of eight square 20 x 20” compositions and one larger 30 x 40” piece, all depicting strangely vacant suburban spaces, parking lots and low-rises, snow covered sidewalks and stop signs. There is a haunting normalcy that lends eeriness to the outwardly peaceful pieces and I ask Villemaire how he chooses the sites.

“Some I chose because they’re important to me but my process is basically whenever the light is right I would go out and venture round and stop whenever I see something… I have a shot list in my head but if I see something” – here he cites the piece titled I Am Canadian as an example- “you can’t plan a shot like that. I went there early morning… I parked in the arena and when I saw the crux I thought this is a great shot. Some things are planned and some it just happens.”

I Am Canadian. Photo by Christian Villemaire.

That “just happening” comes from a lot of care and attention to his craft. Villemaire left a job as a computer programmer in 2015 for the uncertain future of photography. Knowing full well it would be a difficult second career, Villemaire forged ahead stating “I don’t want to just put an X on the calendar in order to do my time to retire. That’s not what I want to do in life.” He attended the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO) to enhance the artistic element of an existing interest in commercial photography. After graduating in April, he confessed to falling in love with the artistic practice and now splits his focus between commercial work, experimental portraits that often place his subjects in bizarre or unexpected situations, and this more documentary style of “going somewhere and immersing [him]self”, allowing his curiosity to guide him.

There’s an obvious comparison to be made with Tony Fouhse and his show SUBURB which hung on those self same walls last fall. Villemaire is readily appreciative of Fouhse, both as a former teacher and current influence, but also cites Alec Soth as a heavy influence, and an interest in cinematography (think sci-fi and fantasy, Matrix features prominently) that inform his aesthetic.

Stairway to home. Photo by Christian Villemaire.

Le Desert. Photo by Christian Villemaire.

There’s a sense with this collection that we’ve gone into the future and somehow found a time capsule of the current era. A retroactive nostalgia surrounds the pieces and though they document the sites as they are today, they feel temporary, otherworldly, destined for change. I ask Villemaire why it matters to him to document these seemingly unremarkable places with such care and attention.

He chuckles. “I couldn’t tell you. I just feel like it does – maybe I don’t like change. My wife would say I don’t like change.”

How fortunate that this artist has taken the time to slow down and thoughtfully document what the rest of us might miss. I encourage you to take this opportunity for a closer look, a slow look, and return a bit of the attentiveness Villemaire has taken the time to invest.

The vernissage for Christian Villemaire’s MERGER is tonight (Wednesday January 10, 2018) from 6-8pm at Exposure Gallery (1255 Wellington Street West). The exhibition runs January 8 to February 16.