It’s a word that carries one of the most elusive definitions in the English language. Bards have waxed poetic about its emotional depths; musicians have penned ballads concerning its heartbreaking consequences; and children have described it with an unintentionally comedic quality worthy of viral status. But for local artist Angela Fama, none of it felt right.
“It was like the Hallmark holiday definition, and then the Webster’s dictionary definition, is just a feeling of strong, constant affection for another person, which just seemed really shallow,” she explains of the term love in a phone interview with the Straight. “And I just wanted to challenge that for myself, I guess.”
A photographer with a background in illustration, Fama decided to tackle the subject in a way that only a crazily ambitious artist would dream of: through an epic, 17,000-kilometre-plus road trip across North America, where she’d snap images of strangers in her 1977 RV turned makeshift photo studio along the way. The journey led Fama to discuss the concept of love with more than 300 individuals, but it also allowed her to fuse her skills in fine arts and studio photography into one neat piece.
“It seems like a natural progression from the past comparative portraits I’ve done,” she says. “I started a bit with the ego, and now I’m getting to the root of the heart.”
Throughout Fama’s trek, which took place in June and July of last year, she visited over 20 communities across Canada and the U.S. and invited strangers into her camper to speak about their experiences of love. She interviewed Hutterites from a small farm in Claresholm, Alberta; locals and tourists strolling through Portland’s hip Alberta Arts District; ebullient attendees of the Albuquerque Pride Parade in New Mexico; and Vancouverites at the Cherry Blossom Festival and residents of Richmond during the first and final stops of her tour.
In a conscious effort to look beyond her preconceived notions of people, Fama approached any and all adults and recorded every conversation she had. She photographed each participant in four head-on poses: eyes closed, eyes open, in contemplation, and speaking. And though the artist admits that the trip ended up being more than she’d bargained for (“I learned a lot about local terms for desert air,” she says with a laugh), the diverse encounters made the long drives—and, at times, the unbearable heat—worth it.
“The beautiful thing that came from it is every single person that came in and sat with me shared,” says Fama. “So no matter how hard it was getting, that was the juice that kind of kept me going. It took days to get to this one spot for four hours, and suddenly there’s this beautiful opening of people.”
The results of Fama’s journey will manifest themselves in the artist’s most daring project to date, What Is Love, which will be showcased at this year’s Capture Photography Festival, happening between April 1 and 28. Fama will share her journey in a small, 286-square-foot room, which is meant to resemble the intimate nature of her beloved RV. Here, attendees will be immersed in an audiovisual experience, where images and recordings of participants will be presented in visceral unison.
“Bring your lunch, come and sit with it,” advises Fama. “It will be a good couple of hours looped.”
The artist also has plans to have all 300-odd images printed and her audio recordings transcribed, both online and in a limited-edition book. The image-heavy tome, which will be available for private order following the show, is Fama’s way of continuing the dialogue surrounding love and the weight it holds visually and culturally across a vast number of communities.
“I hope that it gets people thinking and connecting inwards and then, hopefully, sharing. Just starting that conversation,” she adds, “and I’m gonna say with happiness, it’s already started.”
What Is Love is at the Burrard Arts Foundation as part of the Capture Photography Festival from next Thursday (April 7) to May 14.