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Julie MacCormack: Capturing Neighbourhoods

By Jared Davidson on September 29, 2012

Festival X draws to a close this Sunday, leaving us photo junkies to find our fix elsewhere. Luckily, it’s never hard to find creative and interesting photography work in Ottawa – you just need to know where to look.

And sometimes beautiful photographs turn up in the oddest of places. Like, for example, a local pizzeria.

On Monday, Tennessy Willems will play host to a series by local documentary photographer Julie MacCormack. The photos will hang in the restaurant from October 1st through November 9th, enhancing, no doubt, the restaurant’s delicious pizza offerings. All proceeds from the sale of the photographs will go directly to the Canada-Mathare Education Trust,

The photo series is titled “Neighbourhoods: The Market and Hintonburg.” In it, MacCormack explores the oft-passed-over images of daily life – the concrete of a parking lot, the numbers on a mailbox. And while her photos do contain some easily recognisable landmarks (such as the Rideau Street underpass, the Rainbow Bistro and the West Park Bowling sign), others are less place-able, capturing the feel of the neighbourhoods as a whole. Her composition is striking, bringing out the stark texture of her scenes with an eye for contrast.

We caught up with Julie MacCormack in an effort to find out more about the process behind the shots, the mind behind the camera.

Apt613: Why do you take photographs? 

MacCormack: To help us connect and relate more to one another, and hopefully better understand the world around us. At a personal level, I think a quote by Sebastio Salgado sums it up quite nicely. He says: “people have a way of photographing what is inside them.” Photography often allows me to communicate more easily than I do with words. 

A: What got you started? 

M: My dad did a lot of photography which had an influence on me. As a teenager, I remember going through his albums of prints, and playing around with his camera. It wasn’t until a trip to Italy about five years ago though that I realised how much I enjoyed it. I was sitting in St. Peter’s Square just watching life go by, and every once in a while, I took a photo. There was something about capturing life right then and there that clicked for me. 

A: Tell us about your artistic process.

M: It’s pretty straightforward. I’ll get an idea for a photo project maybe through a conversation or seeing something that I find interesting, like a bench or graffiti. I’ll then give some thought to what kind of story I want to tell. Typically, this will involve walking around the space or getting to know the people I’m going to photograph. For example, last summer I did a project on skateboarders. I first spent some time at the skate park just observing and chatting with some of the skaters, and then start taking photos. A project can take a few weeks or months, and my ideas tend to evolve as I familiarise myself with the space or get to know the people better.

A: Why documentary photography? 

M: I’m drawn to the idea of capturing life as it is. It also has a way of exposing vulnerability, which is what makes it beautiful. Having a camera in my hands allows me to just let the photos speak for themselves.

A: Do you shoot more in black and white or colour? Why?

M: I enjoy both but tend to shoot a bit more in black and white. I find it simplifies things by taking out distractions. It can also really highlight texture, details, shapes, lines and the subject itself.  

A: What’s the favourite photograph you have taken? Tell us the story behind it.

M: It’s a photo of a girl in the foreground holding a skateboard and a subway going by in front of her. I love that there’s no one else on the platform and that she seems completely lost in her thoughts. She seems like she had an interesting story to tell. I know the suspense must be killing you.

A: Tell us about your project titled: ‘Neighbourhoods: The Market and Hintonburg’.

M: The idea began over a year ago when I was at photography school in Montana. I started taking photos around my neighbourhood as a way to get to know the town better and see it differently. When I got back to Ottawa, I wanted to try a similar project by photographing The Market and Hintonburg.

A: What drew you to these neighbourhoods? 

MacCormack: I live in the Market and know it quite well, so photographing it pushed me to find buildings and space that someone might walk by everyday but not necessarily notice. I wanted to get to know Hintonburg better because it seemed (and is) unpretentious and artsy.

A: What was it about these neighbourhoods that you hoped to capture? 

M: The simple beauty of urban space. 

A: A couple of these shots feature shadowy silhouettes. What was your goal in depicting them? 

M: I find photographing partially or completely hidden faces somehow gives the audience more freedom to imagine a person’s story. It also helps place importance on the surrounding space, light, and lines. 

A: What’s the first word that comes to your mind when I say ‘documentary photography’?

M: Truth.

For more information on 
Julie MacCormack’s photography, visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook at Julie MacCormack Photography.