Heather MacEachern's photos are on display at the Ryerson gallery.

Shedding light on the urban decay

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Do you know what your classmates are doing? Third year photography students get to find out what theirs are doing at the Ryerson gallery. 

By Kevin Ritchie

Student galleries are a great opportunities to discover the most talented people in your class and make friends with them. Since students in all programs tend to concentrate on their own prospects, they often spend four years with classmates and not have a clue what their art looks like.

“It’s a chance to see other people’s work,” says third year photography student Heather MacEachern. “People you don’t know well.”

Student galleries, film festivals, fashion shows and newspapers are a chance for people to size up their peers and learn what’s going on in each other’s heads.

MacEachern will be on the lookout for the unassuming geniuses in her class at the photography program’s 3rd Year Show’s opening at the Ryerson Gallery this Thursday. Each of the 44 third-year students will contribute three images they’ve been working on over the past year, but the show is all about getting exposure for student work, not grades. The types of photos will be diverse since there is no overarching theme other than the obligation to participate. This year, students have been working on book projects and photography for magazines.

“This is one of the best third years we’ve ever had so my expectations are really high,” says photography instructor Don Synder. The show follows last year’s successful show that featured work by second year new media and photography students. Family and friends of the 80 students showing last year surprised Snyder by arriving all at once, packing the gallery. This show only features photography students so Snyder expects a smaller turnout.

MacEachern is hoping her parents will come from London, Ontario — her hometown — to check out her pictures of urban scenes.

“I tend to sort of just walk around a lot and take pictures,” she says, spreading out potential photos for the show on a table in the seemingly unphotogenic student lounge in the basement of the Image Arts building. The photos are all examples of beauty in urban decay. She’s captured vibrant blue and red old doors and graffiti-stained walls — the traces of human life in abandoned objects.

“You can see the people in them even though there are no people in the pictures,” she says. “People think, ‘if you throw it out, it’s gone.’”

MacEachern started photographing local dingy indie bands in dingy clubs in London at age thirteen. In 1996, she parlayed her knack for photography into a zine called Savory with her then boyfriend. They’d send copies of her zine to press people and request media passes. And lo, she wound up on stage with Sloan and NoFX and shot Radiohead at a club in Toronto, all for her zine.

She left behind the zine and the boyfriend to pursue an education at Ryerson, but still photograph bands on the side. Since moving to Toronto, she spends two days a month walking around her neighbourhood taking pictures of things most people ignore.

MacEachern is already friends with classmate Daniel Ehrenworth. He’s also contributing to the show, but he seems to be spending a lot more time indoors. He recently spent 69 hours locked in his bathroom with a camera.

“When I was a kid, maybe I had really good shits,” he says. “I don’t know.”

The project was a different take on the self-portrait, and is a combination of voyeuristic surveillance camera imagery and Ehrenworth’s journal chronicling his experience.

He’s originally from Ottawa and has a B.A. in fine arts from York University. His website says “he attended Hillcrest High School where he was captain of hockey, football and lacrosse team in addition to having typing abilities ranging somewhere between 31-47 words per minute, depending on how much carbon monoxide he and inhaled throughout the day.”

The work he’s including in the gallery show will be a lot starker than his bathroom project. While traveling through Europe with his father, he spent two days in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland. “It feels very, very evil and cold,” he says. “I had the entire place myself in the middle of winter, which is scary.” He would’ve spent four days in Auschwitz, but his father wanted to get the hell out of Poland. Two of the photos he’s using for the 3rd Year Show are outtakes from a book project he’s doing on his travels.

Ehrenworth’s next project will be a different and he’s looking for volunteers. “I’m on the look-out for couples who will let me photograph them fucking in a very non-pornographic way.”

Last summer, two of his Ottawa friends asked him to photograph and direct them fucking and he agreed, setting up a porno cam for their future enjoyment and an “art cam” for his personal peruse. “It was cool seeing close friends in that situation,” he says. At first, the couple was awkward, but about 20 minutes in, they loosened up. “They were fucking like banshees.”

The project will explore how, during sex and similar feelings of hunger, the body ultimately controls the mind. “When sex reaches an immense intensity, people want to leave their body and enter someone else’s,” he says.

So don’t live solely by hearsay and art critics. Go out and see for yourself. The only way to get to know the people you usually ignore on the way to work on your own school projects, is by going to the Ryerson Gallery to check out all the third-year work.

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