Doing it wrong on purpose

Kyle Whitehead shows the beautiful in the banal with lo-fi gadgetryt

Calgary-based new-media artist Kyle Whitehead describes himself as a postmodern wanderer drawn by the attractions of terrain and daily encounters always looking for secret places missed by the masses. His new show Dyspraxia in the Stride Gallery Plus-15 window is a visual display of images shot on film using multiple exposures and lo-fi cameras and developed using his own unique processes.

Whitehead’s striking images are a paradigm of the purely simple and the highly complex. In capturing the unoriginal and banal on film — the complex colouring of a Toronto graffiti tag the urban sprawl of Paris Calgary’s Ming bar backdrop a chicken on a barbecue — he shows us that pure simple art is in our day-to-day routines. His traditional methods coupled with his innovative technical vision open our eyes to powerful visuals we pass by daily rarely stopping to consider the context the space or the social statement.

Dyspraxia is a composition of 324 small colour prints creating a single large photographic installation. The simple everyday images are all created using analog photographic methods and shot on medium-format films using a variety of lo-fi vintage or plastic toy cameras. The artist’s unique hand-processed cross-developing involves using slide film and chemistry to render wild variations in colour and contrast by physically inverting colour negative film in the camera. “The theory of praxis is a doctrine of taking an ideology and implementing it into practical action. Dyspraxia then would mean loosely to do the same thing in an unconventional manner — or to put it bluntly badly. I think that nicely sums up the way I create images and also probably the way some of my contemporaries would view the way I operate” says Whitehead. “I read a quote once that stated there are more photos in the world than there are bricks. This made me reconsider the process of making images. I thought why would I want to see another photograph? The digital imaging revolution has made photography as an art form widely accessible and at the same time homogenous and sterile. The world is so completely saturated with images that we have become numb to photography” he says.

The artist describes his work as influenced by the ideas of Mannerist Cinema seeing his camera and lens as tools capturing a mechanical vision limited by their optical properties unlike human vision which functions on multiple levels. He also admits to an unhealthy obsession with film and colour and to overcoming an inner struggle between traditional education and chaotic creativity. “I often hopelessly envisioned a dry career as the guy naming the paint colours at the Home Depot. The likes of bronze berry frost and golden rod yellow or worse having to dream up 80 names for white” jokes Whitehead.

An Alberta College of Art and Design graduate the artist also works in small format alternative lo-fi low-budget cinema. His methods include shooting

Super 8 as well as experimental hand scratching and bleaching 16 mm film surfaces to create camera-less (non-lens-captured) film animation. He used time-lapse tinkering in his latest short film named after the song “Nothing” by local musician Brock Geiger which also acts as the score. The film was the opening entry in the $100 Film Festival’s annual music film explosion in March of this year. “I find the majority of photographs strive to replicate or mimic the perspective of human vision” says Whitehead. “This is not my ultimate goal as a photographer. I don’t want to see what I can already see with my own two eyes I want to see a constructed view. I feel that the lo-fi and toy cameras I shoot with complement this goal by never replicating the same image twice producing distorted or degraded images by virtue of their poor manufacturing. That lack of hi-tech adds an element of chance or serendipity to my process of image making and in then choosing to use alternative chemical processes I add an additional level of unpredictability to my images. I may not always know beforehand how my images will turn out but I always have a definitive vision in my mind before I press the shutter.

“My work deals a lot with obsolescence. Marshall McLuhan said something to the effect of: once a technology has become sufficiently common to the point that everyone is familiar with its use it is obsolete. I think that analog photographic process is going through a renaissance. What was once the dominant mode of photographic expression has now receded into obscurity with a relatively small sect of dedicated practitioners.”