Just a quick reminder: HMAb: The Fundraiser is taking place on February 5th at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased in the right-hand column of this blog. Naomi Harris, Daniel Ehrenworth and Brett Gundlock will be speaking about their latest projects. And 40 photographers have donated work to a silent print auction. All money raised from the sale of their prints will go directly to Heather. You can join the Facebook event page here. If you’re curious to know why we’re raising funds for Heather, please refer to “Some Good News and Some Bad News“.
Toronto-based photographer Joanne Ratajczak has donated an image to Heather’s fundraiser! I asked Joanne a few questions about her “Poznan, Poland” and “Northern Ontario” projects via e-mail:
Jamie: Please spell your last name phonetically.
How many times have you travelled to Poznan, Poland to photograph? What is the city’s significance to you? What did you set-out to achieve with this project? Do you feel you accomplished your goal? Have you shown this work to any galleries? If so, what was their response?
I’ve made two trips to Poland to work on this project, in 2007 and 2009. In 2005 I went to visit my family for a couple of weeks and after returning home I started to think about going back and spending more time there to document it. I was also hearing and reading a lot about the political situation there and how bad things were. After Poland joined the EU, millions of young people were leaving to find jobs elsewhere. I remember thinking, “what future does a country have without its young?” This really interested me and made me want to photograph the youth that remained. It was also a period of transition and everything was changing so quickly, it was two places at once, part of it stuck in the past and the other moving forward at a crazy pace. I was fascinated by this contradiction and wanted to explore this too. On my second trip there it was amazing to see how many grey buildings left from the communist era had been painted over in beautiful colours and patterns. It seemed surreal at the time.
I was born in Poznan and spent the first seven years of my life there, so there’s also this very personal connection to the place and the people. After starting work on this project, I realized it was becoming an exploration of my own personal history more then anything. My parents never really integrated into Canadian culture. My mom has always hated Canada and I’ve always felt stuck somewhere between these two places, neither here nor there. Doing this project helped me work through this in many ways. It also gave me the chance to wander through this vaguely familiar place that I remember from my childhood and spend time with some very special people. My aunt, who is like a second mom, always gives me a place to stay there and it’s really great to be able to hangout with her, my grandma and all my other relatives. Their stories and lives have taught me so much about Poland and helped me understand it in ways that I never could have on my own. It’s a complicated country and my reality of it is very different from the people that live there, but I think this is what allowed me to see it for the strangely magical place that it is.
I didn’t really set out to achieve anything particular with this project. The act of wandering and seeing is what I really love because you never know who you will meet or what you will come upon. It’s this endless desire to learn about things just beyond your horizon that really attracts me to photography and keeps me excited about making pictures. Each new experience adds to your understanding of the world, and photography is just another language to express this in.
I haven’t shown this project to any galleries yet, but that’s the plan this year. The goal from the beginning was to make it into a book. It’s where I always envisioned it ending up, and that’s what I’m working on now. I’m looking forward to seeing it done. It will finally feel complete.
Jamie: You’ve started to photograph in Northern, Ontario. What cities have you explored? What attracted you to Cochrane, Ontario? What kind of subject matter are you shopping for? What do you hope to accomplish with this project? Do you have a specific goal in mind?
Joanne: On a road trip out west a few years ago I fell in love with Lake Superior and have been going back to camp and hike ever since . At first I wanted to photograph the untouched natural environment, but it was really difficult to translate the feeling of being there. You feel small and it reminds you just how insignificant we are. It was a real struggle to communicate this and I wasn’t happy with the way it was progressing, so I decided to take a different approach.
Cochrane, Ontario is the only city that I’ve explored and I only spent four days there. Last February I read about a winter carnival they were having and thought it would be good to give this project another try. In the midst of winter in -30 degree weather people aren’t usually hanging outside, so this was a great opportunity.
I’m still not sure where this project is going, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. There’s something exciting about seeing a project evolve into something you never expected, so we’ll see what happens with this one. Northern Ontario is really big and can be hard to access, so logistics and funding can be problematic. A couple of weeks ago I came upon Johan Hallberg-Cambell’s work from Attawapiskat and was really inspired by it. It’s incomparable to the North I’ve seen, but it made me want to continue on with this. There’s many things up there in need of attention. A lot of the towns are dying, the industries that once supported them are disappearing and communities are slowly becoming ghost towns.
If you have any questions regarding HMAb: The Fundraiser, please leave a comment or e-mail jamie @ jamierosenthal.ca. Thanks!