Walter and Willow

Exhibition Installation at Maison de la Culture Mercier, Montreal, Qc, 2015

Exhibition Statement

The photographs in this work are not mine but rather those of Walter and Willow Smith, my great uncle, and aunt. After both passed away, I found their extensive photographic archive. Tucked away in the corner of their bedroom closet, neatly stacked, were a dozen brown Kodak boxes and in them, carousels filled with slides ready for the projector.  

After going through more than 500 slides, I quickly realized that Walter and Willow’s photographs were no ordinary family pictures. Their images were visually dynamic and how they photographed was unexpected. The slides that I found were taken between the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. The photographs are an eclectic mix of pictures depicting daily life in the village they lived in, family gatherings, Walter’s hunting and fishing trips, along with the many vacations Walter and Willow took together.  

Walter and Willow often hosted slideshow evenings. Inviting family and friends to their home, they would set up their projector and re-arrange their living room for the guests to see their latest pictures. I have a vague memory of sitting on the carpet in their living room and seeing a flickering light. I remember the noise; the click-clack of slides rotating in the carousel and the hum of the projector.

I don’t know who between Walter and Willow took the pictures. I can only presume the camera was shared, as both appear many times in the photos and are rarely photographed together. They were amateur photographers. They photographed what and who was around them. Through this process, they documented an era, a personal insight into a small community of hunters and fishermen, organized tours and tourists, as well as their own life. For Walter and Willow, photography was simply a hobby that they both enjoyed.

Before social networks, photo-enthusiasts printed their pictures to hang on the wall or give to loved ones, they made albums for keepsakes or invited family and friends into their living rooms to view photos projected on the wall. Since the creation of photography, there has been a need to share photographs. The technology of our cameras might have changed but our need to share photographs has not. Life through photography thrives today. Social networks keep us constantly updated with family and friend’s activities as we control our own personal visual digital life. From living rooms to our computers, we continue to have a fascination with the image, either by taking them or looking at them.

Walter and Willow’s images have inspired many of my projects but this one truly celebrates them and their view of the world. With their photographs I hope to highlight the importance of the family photographic archive, as well as, vernacular photography, as it has shaped the way we use photography and see photographs.

So please, make yourself comfortable, grab a chair, sit on the floor, help yourself to some pink peppermints and enjoy the slideshow.