by Steve Bisson

© David Pollock from the series ‘Enclosure’

Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?

David Pollock (DP): I recall seeing my first well printed and personal photographs that a friend brought back after her first year in the Film and Photography Program (now called Image Arts) at Ryerson University in Toronto. After this chance experience, I decided that I wanted to pursue this medium even though I had intended to return to university to study fine arts in Montreal and to continue painting. I developed a portfolio and was accepted at Ryerson to study photography - then everything changed. These were my first pictures and I still have prints of some of them even now. My interest in language, signage and fractured space is evident in my early spontaneous photographs. I was immersed in western literature and, like writers, photographers combine fact and fiction to create images. I thought of the camera as a method of a more direct visual communication. Conceptually, photography appealed to me because it appeared to eliminate the author.

How did your research evolve with respect to those early day?

DP: My work evolved with an increased understanding of the photographic process and its history. I continued my interest in the photographic qualities of sharp, detailed pictures of urban environments. Key to this evolution is the influence of Harry Callahan and especially Walker Evans. Today my approach is influenced by the New Topographic photographers, Ernst and Hilda Becher, Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore. All of these photographers worked in what Walker Evans referred to as the documentary style, using a large format camera. The detail provided by large format reveals a much larger view, which speaks to us about cultural values, while representing an encounter with time and place. Like these photographers, I am interested in the fabricated landscape, the banal, and every day. I look for these elements in my local landscapes - landscapes formed through the passage of time.

© David Pollock from the series ‘Fertile Geometry’

Describe a past project of yours that struck you the most and why?

DP: The portfolio I created called ‘Sign, Symbol and Nature’ remains pivotal for me. Central to this series is the idea that our relationship to the natural world is mediated by romantic ideals of beauty and our representation of nature can be seen as attempts to frame the chaos of the natural world within the markers of familiar cultural symbols. I incorporated some of the history of this landscape where aspects of the resource economy eventually were transformed into symbols of nature and, by extension, contemporary associations with freedom.

One of the things that struck me was the fact that this series started as something else. It originally was to be an exploration of a waterway that had great local and national significance. I was reading 'The Denial of Death' by Ernest Becker and his ideas had a great impact on my perception. The project evolved into something else that was less literal and I think rich in associations. This evolution can be a significant part of the process of external and personal discovery.

© David Pollock from the series ‘Sign, Symbol and Nature'

Tell us about the project ‘Enclosure’

DP: ‘Enclosure’ followed ‘Fertile Geometry’ (made in farming fields nearby) and although some earlier themes continued, ‘Enclosure’ became a different project. Over a couple of years, I photographed within a large community garden that consisted of about 140 plots. I was interested in creating pictures based upon personal encounters with nature. What I found were structures that encourage growth and an idiosyncratic interaction with the natural world where this drama played out within the areas defined by the plots. It is titled Enclosure because this place is often experienced as a kind of sanctuary, removed and protected from the wilderness that surrounds it.

© David Pollock from the series ‘Enclosure’

The project 'Enclosure' has been selected for the new edition of the exhibition Naturae, which is centred on the experience of space, especially through nature. Tell us about how the photographic medium is involved in the perception of space, or rather in its awareness.

DP: I continue to think of Landscape as a constantly changing environment and photography reinforces this concept because it is time-based. I think of these photographs as single moments in time, but also as part of a continuum of Landscape that we continue to create.

Nature, for the most part, is often seen as a kind of background to our foreground actions. I try and foreground nature by including evidence of human action in the photographs. There are several ways to think about space. In pictorial terms, it is about depth, a kind of “here to there experience” that locates us in the foreground of this photographic illusion. In geographical terms, humans utilize or alter a space to create a place. Landscape photography is valuable to me because it can produce a synthesis of many aspects of social sciences and visual arts.

In psychological terms, I think photography creates a sense of the transitory –a fleeting series of images that prove we existed. If technology is seen as an extension of our bodies, as Marshall McLuhan suggests, photography is an extension of our eyes and memory. It has changed our experience of space and time. It is an embodiment of a mechanistic understanding of reality, which can make us believe that we are replacing fiction with facts.

© David Pollock from the series ‘Enclosure’

Today we are witnessing, at least in technological societies, a huge production of images. A sort of daily bombardment. How do you think this affects the perception of the world by individuals?

DP: Yes, we are bombarded. Images are consumed and forgotten as quickly as fast food. We can experience this as a simulacra of events replacing memory and experience with representations or images. So we are back in Plato’s Cave posing questions about the nature of representation and our own perception. Photographs particularly invite us to believe that they possess meaning in themselves simply because reflected light was captured from the subjects. The meaning, however, resides with the viewer and exists within a social context. Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ is recommended reading for anyone interested in a critical view of photography. Following is a relevant quote from that 1973 book: «The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.»

What we absorb as external image affects reality. The theorists of postmodernism have long warned us of this risk. Yet we are what we see. And thus photographers through their work they are not just documenting or describing a present but a presence (a way of seeing and being in the world). How true is this in your ‘photographing’? What do you feel in reviewing your works after sometime?

DP: Yes, I agree that photographing is a way of seeing, being and thinking about the world, but as I say, I want to reduce the presence of the author. I intend for the viewer to have an experience that is not unlike simply looking. That is also why I generally make large prints. It is true, however, that much of my process involves personal meaning, art references and the symbolic associations of an image. When working on a project I look at prints as they are added over a long period of time and they serve as part of a conversational loop that eventually coalesces as a finished work. I think that photographs are derived from other photographs, either of our own or from others that have affected us.

When I look at my work from another time, I have many personal associations. I often become conscious of aspects of an image that I only partially understood or recognized at that time.

© David Pollock from the series ‘Enclosure’

Three books of photography that you recommend in relation to the experience of Landscape?

DP: 'Manufactured Landscapes’ by Edward Burtynsjy, 'American Prospects’ by Joel Sternfeld, 'By Rail and by Sea’ by Scott Conarroe

© David Pollock’s book ‘Fertile Geometry’

Projects that you are working on and plans for the future?

DP: I have been working on another long term project that is situated in the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary in Victoria near where I live. It is a rendition of nature that formerly contained a Farm, a Dairy and at one time a Hotel.


David Pollock