Travel has always been a big part of Joan Cole’s life, and her urge to “make” photographs (not “take” them) has always been a companion on her journeys far afield.
Her show of more than 60 images in both colour and black-and-white which opened at the Art House in Hagensborg March 22 spans the globe – from Bella Coola to Taiwan, from Iceland to Argentina, from Antarctica to Canada’s High Arctic. A gravestone in Paris, a musk ox skull on Devon Island, the surf in Bali, a rose in Tasmania, a black-and-white sewing machine in the High Arctic – these are only a few of the vast variety of subjects that have passed through the lens of Joan’s camera as she has pursued a passion that began when she was given a Brownie camera as a child.
Travel and photography were both part of her upbringing (her father took slides on their many family trips), and Joan found that photography provided “different ways to view things”. She learned to distinguish between “taking” pictures (for example, snapshots of people) and “making” photographs – that is “composing” an image from the visual material presented through the eye of her camera. She says her work is inspired by the beauty of nature – its colours and forms (where she tends to present the image in colour) – and also by the shapes of architecture – where she often resorts to black-and-white.
Since that childhood Brownie, Joan has graduated through many levels of photographic technology, with the biggest one being the shift from film to digital – a change that she resisted for several years until her Nikon gave up on her and she had to take the digital plunge. She still hasn’t figured out all the possibilities of digital photography, but when it became obvious that film was on its way out, she consulted Bella Coola Valley photographer Michael Wigle who helped her through the transition. She appreciates the digital ability to alter the contrast, intensity, and brightness of an image, and the ease of transforming a photograph from colour to black-and-white or vice versa. Often she finds “colour can detract” from an image – particularly if the subject is architectural in nature.
However, because of the importance Joan attaches to the actuality of the real image, she doesn’t alter the photograph by “photoshopping” to remove or replace details. Her primary use of the digital capability is for cropping the photograph in order to enhance the composition inherent in the image and which she has in mind when she opens the shutter. Her computer is a tool for fine-tuning the image.
Joan is pleased that “Shadow and Light” will grace the Art House walls for an extended period and that the Arts Council is dedicated to revitalizing the venue. “It’s the only venue of its type in the Valley,” she says, “a great asset in a great location” with its outdoor awning-covered deck, lawn, and trees – the perfect place for an “English Tea Party” that Joan recalls – complete with fancy hats and silver service.
Joan has been involved with the Council since the 1970’s and has seen its fortunes decline with changes in the Valley economy. Nevertheless, the Art House has “character”, she says, and monthly events that increase its use as well as a more business-like approach will make the venue more viable.