How did you hear about the grant, and what inspired you to propose this specific project for the Crusade for Art grant?
A local artist who’d purchased some prints of ours at an arts market grabbed our card and began forwarding us a few grant opportunities. Crusade for Art was one of them.
How did you come up with the idea for your project?
The idea for a trip began between the four of us a while back. Pierre has been shooting freight trains for the better part of a decade, accumulating content surrounding the graffiti culture associated with them. The Midwest has a certain notoriety for freight traffic and so that was an obvious destination for his work. Chris had long been planning a trip down to the southern States. Stefan was looking south for a change of scenery, specifically to shoot the unique urban and rural landscape and culture found in these regions. Brendan is most interested in the visible social polarity in the area. In addition, many of our favorite photographers--William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Richard Avedon, among others--created some of their most celebrated work in this region.
We’ve been fortunate over the past couple years to work within a great micropublishing community in Calgary, getting us involved with using vending machines to distribute zines and photos. As our network of collaborators has expanded to photographers, artists, and friends from across Canada we felt the need to do something monumental in terms of distribution. A big part of our mantra is keeping photography and, moreover, all of our art accessible. Selling only within our artistic community, while important, is not sustainable and does not grow our audience. After coming across this grant, we saw it as an opportunity to expand our scope and showcase art not only from Calgary but across the continent. Zines, by nature, are DIY and a cost effective way of distributing creative work. Our project is also extremely relatable; what could be more classic than four friends piling into a van, travelling across two countries, meeting people and sharing stories?
What is the most engaging art event/collecting event you’ve been to?
Around a year ago we attended a pop-up gallery show in Calgary hosted by some friends at an artist-run centre. It was a photo and zine release show where the gallery itself was turned into a darkroom, to show people the process of film photography. The show featured live music and brought in a pretty diverse crowd. Prints were sold off the walls and the zines sold out (as did the amply stocked bar).
What do you think is the greatest struggle/weakness facing artists and the art community right now? What is the greatest opportunity/strength?
Since Kodak, photography has been the people’s art. It’s one of the most accessible forms of contemporary art. Smartphones, even DSLRs, are household items. Establishing yourself as a fine art photographer is increasingly challenging as the pool of photographs we’re exposed to becomes saturated by a growing number of participants, shared through various social networks. Everyone now knows a photographer and it’s this accessibility that seemingly slowly decreases the demand.
On the other hand, this very same accessibility is likely our greatest opportunity. People are regularly following photographers on Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram. We have the possibility of keeping in touch with people across the continent and beyond. Our idea of bringing works from various photographers to new cities is to expose people to the art in a physical form and start that relationship.
How do you think artists should play a role in educating the public or their audience about their art or art in general?
We’ve collectively had excellent response—whether it’s through explaining our process at an art sale or bringing new photographers out on photo walks—from people who didn’t realize how much effort goes into our work. Artists should make an active effort to engage and welcome viewers, emphasizing the parts of their process that they enjoy the most. The outside public often has a very distant preconception of art and considers the gallery as an unwelcoming and foreign space. By actively telling their story and giving people a relatable and understandable explanation of why they do what they do, artists can help welcome an audience that would otherwise be uncomfortable engaging with their art.
Why do you think many people find art intimidating, and how can we lower the perceptual barriers to entry for collecting art (and specifically photography)?
We believe there are many reasons why people find art, and the art world, intimidating. One of the largest barriers between most people and the collection or even the enjoyment of art is the attached social stigma. Many people feel uncomfortable walking into a gallery. The vernacular, aesthetics, and the general inaccessibility of these places keeps people out. One main contributor to this is simply the price point of most gallery artwork. Sustainability’s always a concern, but without an accessible introduction, new art collectors will be turned off before they start.
We’ve experienced the high brow world firsthand and understand the way commercial galleries work as businesses. From a financial perspective, these galleries have a successful formula and stick to it, there isn’t a need for many new buyers or viewers. The art world beyond the basic concept is not inviting, it is a social circle that happens to be very selective. We want to transform the idea of a gallery for a new generation of art consumers: you don’t need a monocle to come enjoy our shows and you don’t need a 401(k) to buy one of our prints. We create art designed to be consumed by an underemployed generation that has a genuine appreciation for art, just not always the means to own it. Photography needs to be presented in a new format. Instagram nailed it on the head, but we think zines can accomplish a similar thing in a more direct, more accessible physical form that doesn’t require a login and password (or power, for that matter). We strive to replace the idea of photography as a measured and overwhelming long-term investment with a simple, undaunting appreciation of viewing a collection of images.