Lorraine Gilbert

Current Works

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Old Clearcuts (ongoing)

The Old Clearcuts series was shot on Malcolm Island, BC, while visiting friends with who I used to plant trees. I found myself in a kind of west coast forest I had never seen before. There was no undergrowth, just moss covering layers of tree stumps and branches, although there were younger trees growing there too, with enough canopy to seriously darken the lower part of the forest, where we stayed on the old paths and roads. Whatever forest floor there might be was hidden under several feet of slippery, mossy, forest remains which was almost impossible to walk through. I realized that the whole island had long ago been clear-cut, had naturally reseeded itself, and what we had here were trees growing out of the old slash. I have always been interested in forest ecology, and the complexities of the relationships between the flora and fauna of the old growth temperate rainforests of BC. But here, I was witnessing something strangely altered: a new forest, disturbed, eerie, and somehow forbidding. How does this particular growth affect the overall ecology of the island, it’s animals, and of the sea and its creatures, surrounding it?

The difficulty in making large views inside the forest necessitated several image-captures to make one picture, which were then printed as parts of a whole view. This method of making parts appear whole, also refers back to the B&W composite clear-cut panoramas made for the Shaping the New Forest project in the 1990s, where breaks in the image are perceptually ‘repaired’ by the eye, which therefore more deliberately extends the borders of the image to imply a vast but broken scene.

Revisiting the Old Plantation (ongoing)

As one more branch to ongoing research projects, I have been planning an extended visit to the Lussier River valley, in the West Rockies. I am planning to make a longitudinal creative study relative to the composite panoramas of clear-cuts I made in the same area almost 30 years ago, for the project Shaping the New Forest, some of which have been published in the monograph, Paysages Canadiens | Canadian Landscapes. I made a reconnaissance trip to this valley in October, 2017, to visit the site, and took a few pictures there.

I will be hiring my ex-grad student, Sarah Fuller, who is not only an environmentally-based artist in her own right, but also a trained mountaineer and hiking guide, expert in photography and the Rocky Mountains. At this point I can only show you sketches and ideas, and tell you that I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to use my own previous work as a main reference for new creative research. I am also extremely fortunate to be healthy and to be able to follow, loaded with equipment, my younger guide up a mountain!

Walks in Vancouver 2015 (ongoing)

Click here to preview the book - Walks in Vancouver 2015

At the end of 2015, I had such a large volume of images to work on that I created a book as a working document, this to think about the images the way I used to do with contact sheets, and to explore other possibilities for a final rendering of the work for a possible exhibition. The panoramic landscapes in the book are generally very large images, shot with a medium-format digital back.

Since they are so small in reproduction, my strategy in the book is to examine details of the panoramas. This has led me to envision an exhibition of large prints in dialogue with small details of the same photograph. This rendering and dialogue between urban panoramas and details of elements in the scenes, mimics the eye/brain perceptive cognition that defines the contents and borders of these large urban views.

This work is documentary only in that the photographs are relatively un-manipulated. However, what the document/photographs are about is ‘another story’, the one created from a series of details in the environment. I see these details as someone who looks closely at everything, whose vision jumps from sign to bush, to cloud, to a colour, to a person walking, eventually taking a viewpoint that contains all the clues to multiple meanings within and between images.

Old and New Vancouver at Night (ongoing)

As a result of my work Walks in Vancouver in 2015, and an exhibition of the older night work at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2018, Sight Unseen, I began to review all of the negatives relating to my work in Vancouver 40 years ago. This involved going through the 35mm negatives and prints that survived a fire at the Banff Centre in December 1979.

While in Vancouver in 2015, I did try to resist the temptation to make a re-photographic survey of my very early work of the 1980s, but when I suddenly and eerily found myself in a spot with a familiar point of view, I became extremely curious to see if I could remember where I was standing when I made any one of these old photographs 35 years earlier. I satisfied my curiosity by putting together some comparisons which can be seen here. Since I am returning to Vancouver in 2020, I hope to continue this as a more deliberate project, full of interest and questions that I had not anticipated. For example, the changes we see in the photos are the result of several factors, including changes in the places over time, changes in photography from analog to digital, and the general differences in the rendering of color.

Please note that this is not a final work, but, as with the book Walks in Vancouver 2015, a sketch, to see what I can and cannot see.

name of exhibition

Eagle's Nest

In the fall of 2012, Gilbert travelled for the first time to Algonquin Park, a setting made famous by the Group, and focused on the town of Bancroft. Though Bancroft is one of a myriad of similar small Ontario towns (downtowns emptied in favour of identical big box stores and restaurants), it holds a unique position on the edge of Algonquin Park. The tension between the vast wilderness of the Provincial Park with the town’s golf course and Tim Hortons’ drive-through is the focus of this new work, which consists of a large-format digitally manipulated photograph. In Eagle's Nest, Bancroft, Gilbert distinguishes small picturesque moments found within the scope of this conflicted landscape. She digitally smoothes the detail of distinct areas of the image, which blurs the sharp edges and makes them appear painterly. By doing so, she points out how artists choose and frame what is portrayed as “picturesque” for their viewers. The artist chooses the landscape, the collector chooses the art, and a legacy is created.

It was through her Icelandic Walks series in 2002 that Gilbert first began to use digital manipulation within her photographs. Conceptually, this gave her greater tools for a critical engagement with the seemingly paradoxical worlds around her, through what she called “juxtaposing fact and fiction within a documentary practice.” She continued this in Le Patrimoine (2006), a series of black and white photographs that depict the collision of idyllic landscapes with the reality of the economy in contemporary life in rural Quebec. Writer Randy Innes describes this series as offering us “a visual site where we may reflect upon what remains to be inherited, to whom this inheritance is destined, and the places we create for ourselves in this extended cultural narrative.” Gilbert’s works presented here likewise pose questions about that same extended cultural narrative. This time, however, with regards to our nationalistic landscape heritage as embodied in the work and philosophy of the Group of Seven; how it was formed, what it embodied, and how that has carried forth today, unlikely juxtapositions and all.

By Catherine Sinclair, Curator, Ottawa Art Gallery

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Funding for this project was made possible, thanks to the Ontario Arts Council

Ontario Arts Council

Once Upon a Forest

Once (Upon) a Forest Diptich

The photographic exhibition Once (Upon) a Forest is a macro view of two distinct ecosystems, one a mixed hardwood and Boreal forest, the other a weed-covered abandoned lot in Canada’s capital city 200 kilometers to the south. Combining several photographic technologies and effects, the two murals show larger than life, crystal clear details of common plants in various stages of their life cycle, superimposed into one continuous picture. Each image is the result of the activities of both artist and biologist, collecting plants, identifying them, scanning them and recreating in a single photographic image the environment from which they were sampled. One of the murals was made in Quebec and the other in Ontario, Canada, together they show an (accelerated) evolutionary dialogue: the abandoned field in the city used to be the Boreal forest of 200 years ago.

Quote by Peter Culley, 2010 “On the wall, this dense but literally weightless digital construction is hard to "see" in any one way, it continually calibrates and recalibrates the viewer's eye, its oscillations foregrounding the process by which pixels become maps and generalities and millions of overlapping "facts" come to signify "forest", "field" or "wilderness" in the mind. Gilbert attempts to replicate through sustained intellectual labour and an ascetic, lived-in intimacy with her materials the actual and potential qualities of the field in both space and time--it is replanted as an intellectual construction.”

Boreal Forest Floor, La Macaza, Quebec, Pigment inks on Canvas, 60inX16.5 feet

Boreal Forest Floor

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LeBreton Flats, Ottawa, Ontario, Pigment inks on Canvas, 60inX16.5 feet

LeBreton Flats

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Funding for this project was made possible in part by The City of Ottawa

City of Ottawa

Le Patrimoine

Le patrimoine

A first glance at Le Patrimoine, Lorraine Gilbert’s recent photographic series, calls to mind the conventions of landscape and nature picturing, the visual and financial capital of tourism, and cultural typologies and exhibition. The Laurentian countryside and Mont Tremblant, a large ski resort in eastern Québec, provide the setting for the series. “Patrimoine” itself translates poorly as heritage or inheritance, and also suggests father- or home-land. Grounded firmly in the imagery and reality of Québec, Le Patrimoine is a study of the relation between history and the present, typology and artifice, economy and exploitation.

Narratives or stories begin to suggest themselves upon closer inspection of these large-scale compositions. However at the same time these photographs work hard at not being what they seem. Unlike documentary or journalistic photography, and unlike the rhetoric of landscape imagery, Gilbert’s studies seek to disturb or trouble the processes of “reading” the image.

Excerpt from Picturing Disturbance: On Le Patrimoine/Inheritance of Randy Innes , February 2010

Funding for this project was made possible, thanks to the Canada Arts Council

Canada Arts Council


The Messengers

The Messengers is a suite of four large photographic prints which reconstructs and documents the debris left behind at an abandoned graffitti site. The 'taggers', having occupied the site for many years, have been recently evicted due to the urban redevelopment and replacement of infrastructures in the area known as LeBreton Flats, my neighbourhood in Ottawa.

My first reaction to the abandoned graffitti site was one of shock at seeing so much garbage left to rot in the place they chose to work. My second reaction was to feel like a spy or an archeologist, gathering evidence for further analysis. There is no doubt to me that graffitti art may mark the beginning of a rebellious and creative life, and so I responded in kind: I photographed the ground with a small digital camera, and then reconstructed the scenes into large, seamless photographs. Each picture was made up of 25-30 separate images.

Lorraine Gilbert

Funding for this project was made possible, thanks to The City of Ottawa

City of Ottawa

Creative Commons License This work by Lorraine Gilbert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.Based on a work at http://www.lorrainegilbert.ca