Anthony Redpath’s photographs capture everything from carnivals to Kits Pool
In Anthony Redpath’sPop Up Carnival I, a midway sprawls in front of a green strip-mall store, its gaudy colours incongruent against the grey West Coast sky. Six feet across, the sprawling photograph confounds perspective because of its crisp detail at every range, from the cracks of the asphalt in the foreground to the Curious George stuffies at the Whopper Water game and the swing chains that lie drooping beneath the Yoyo ride. The view takes on an even more surreal tinge at the Bau-Xi Gallery, where it sits side-by-side with another large-format photo, called Pop Up Carnival II, taken from the exact same angle: it’s the abandoned strip-mall store, now sitting empty and forlorn on a bleak patch of pavement.
The pair are just two of several witty observations of West Coast contradictions from an artist who grew up here. Redpath has spent much of his life shuttling between his home in Vancouver to Tofino and Ucluelet (where he once worked in surf rescue at Pacific Rim National Park and his family has a place). It turns out Pop Up Carnival was something he noticed on that drive earlier this year: the fair suddenly appeared in Port Alberni, the once thriving logging and fishing town that’s seen its ups and downs. And then crews quickly disassembled it almost immediately after Redpath spent a day taking shots of it.
“It was kind of like walking back in time walking through there, and it almost had a feel of desperation,” says Redpath, looking at the pair of photos at his show, Respite. “There weren’t very many people there, just a few Port Alberni housewives spending, like, a few bucks.”
His exhibit at Bau-Xi ranges widely in its 13 pieces, but that sense of humour, often tinged with social or environmental concern, shows no matter what the subject matter. There are the bright, lipstick-hue rhododendrons that sit incongruously next to bleak, abandoned buildings in Washington State in Sugar Bush I and II. And there are people too: one of Redpath’s best-known, and most personal, works is Trailer Park Party, his intricately staged, eight-foot-wide ode to the parties he used to hang out at in Ucluelet back in the old days. Complete with a guy coughing up smoke, a muscle-bound dude at the barbecue, and a bohemian girl hauling on a reefer out back, it’s a nod to the colourful mix of people that used to rub shoulders in the town before its failing blue-collar industries were replaced by the tourist trade.
Redpath is a relatively new name on the photo-art scene in Vancouver: he’s only been seriously at it for about three years, but 2012 has marked appearances at the New Romantics group show at Newfoundland’s the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery and a solo show at Calgary’s Paul Kuhn Gallery. Up next: an exhibit at Toronto’s Bau-Xi this October.
He also has a long-standing business as a commercial photographer, and it’s clear he draws not just his sense of wit but a lot of technical knowledge from that field. Every one of his big photographs is composed of many smaller shots melded to produce its supersharp detail—although he’s loath to dwell too much on the digital tricks used in the postproduction process. He likes his work to stand on its own.
Take Kits Pool, shot overhead from 20-foot-high scaffolding, and its sprawling panorama of human activity: a man throwing a laughing child in the air, die-hard swimmers front-crawling on their daily lengths, old men wading, and kids diving under the surface. “You can’t look at everything at once,” he says, and it’s true: you find yourself stepping closer, focusing on all the mini-stories within the shot.
“The impact is so different on a grand scale,” Redpath adds. “The way it’s shot, you need at least a four-foot print just to see all the information. It’s impactful that way because you can go up and see it on different levels.”
But what may most set the photo artist apart is his mixing of pop culture with a keen sense of structure and line. Just as surfing and the West Coast have influenced his work, so too, evidently, has the fact his father’s an architect and his mother is a landscape architect. So beyond his fascination for old and often abandoned structures, you’ll also note the kitschy Pop Up Carnival I is anchored by the low, modern contours of the store and the highway’s yellow lines.
“Even in Kits Pool, there’s the lines of the swimmers’ lengths and the line of the pavement,” he says of the ordered elements that he has used to frame the pool’s human chaos.
Occasionally, Redpath will fully indulge that eye for line and form: take the exhibit’s East Van Tower, a soaring vertical shot of a rusty, moss-flecked grain elevator whose corrugated metal tricks the eye with its angles. “This is really an exercise in lines and surface,” Redpath explains. “It’s a little Escher-esque.”
As much visual paradox as Redpath has found in his surroundings, whether it’s straight-up shots of time-worn industrial buildings or carefully choreographed groups of people, you get the feeling there’s a lot yet to come. “I’m trusting my intuition more. I’ve found the pieces I felt strongly about are the ones with the lasting appeal,” he says. In other words, he’s forever on the lookout for anything a little curious or ironic that might pop up—carnival or otherwise.
Respite: Anthony Redpath is at the Bau-Xi Gallery until August 25.