Prof. Marc Losier acknowledges that a unique relationship between photographer and subject is critical to a photograph's authenticity. This is particularly true when the subject is part of a vulnerable community.
Students of Prof Losier's Visual Arts 2410 –Photography course had the opportunity to learn that first hand when they participated in a project titled "Picturing Community."
Prof Losier worked with Patricia Barrett, long term care recreation development specialist with Western Health, to establish a photography project profiling long term care residents.
"The goal of the assignment is to introduce photography students to environmental portraiture with 35mm film, to get them to photograph slowly and thoughtfully, and to try and use the assignment as a way of fostering empathy for your subjects," said Prof. Losier. "I hoped that by assigning them to the long term care residents they would get out of their comfort zone and hopefully propel them toward more ambitious work, as there more at stake in photographing at the hospital."
Prof. Losier had high hopes for this project but he said the results were beyond his expectations.
"The students worked so hard on this project and developed really strong bonds with the residents, going back to photograph them several times on their own schedule and gifting prints to them so they could display them in their rooms.
"Western Health staff were really happy with the results of the project and I know that the residents really loved having the students there; it was a chance for them to connect with a younger generation. I also think they got a kick out of the fact that they were shooting film - something they all had a familiarity with."
Ms. Barrett saw this as an opportunity to showcase the residents in their environment while promoting the positive message around healthy aging.
"Friendships were made and fabulous photographs created. The residents and families were eager to see the finished product display but unfortunately that was delayed due to the pandemic. They had such a wonderful experience many of them will continue to reflect and talk about it."
Student Shannyn Reid said she met the project with nervousness.
"My first concern was how I was supposed to treat someone in this situation. But Eileen (the resident I was partnered with) and I got very close, the more I visited the more brave I became in asking her to do things for the picture and I think she enjoyed that too.
"My favourite time to get pictures was when her friend named Olive from down the hall would visit. She would be so happy and they would carry on like best friends do."
When the project ended Shannyn continued to visit Eileen, even bnringing her gifts including a framed image of her that Shannyn had taken.
Prof. Losier was working with Matthew Hills, Grenfell Art Gallery director, to exhibit the student's work in a public exhibit but plans were halted with the COVID-19 pandemic. Locations are being sought out that would provide the opportunity for show the work publicly given the limitations presented by the current situation.
"Given the tragedy of the pandemic's effect on long term care facilities, the students' photographs are a beautiful reminder of the lives of individuals living in those circumstances," said Prof. Losier.
Photos below by: Shannyn Reid and Jess Pynn.