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  • by Cece M. Scott

Scott Conarroe: By Sea

Scott Conarroe believes that the environment “offers insights into the true values and psychology of a culture.” He acknowledges that each one of us has an impact and inherent responsibility for both our own personal surroundings as well as the environment at large. However, his photographic mission in his By Sea project is not about judgment or making a political statement regarding our infringement on the environment.

“I didn’t want By Sea to be an inventory of climate change vignettes or [a] map of the coastline,” Conarroe states in an email interview from Limburg, Belgium, where he worked on a project about how comparable regions deal with their industrial heritages. Instead, his approach to the project is analogous to an observational essay.

“The coastline was a really useful device for discussing the way we inhabit North America,” he states. “Along a single elevation, it spans the breadth of this civilization from circumpolar to subtropical regions. Through cities and sprawl and unadulterated landscape, sea level marks a visible edge where the land we can live on abuts a vast plane where we can’t. In a sense, the coastline illustrates that our dominion has limits.”

With his By Sea project, Conarroe wanted to achieve a parallel imagery of timelessness and in-the-moment engagement. To evoke this ambiance, he shot his images by using long exposures, just before dawn and just after dusk. “In long exposures, when the light changes colour by the second, the light blends and softens and a degree of uncertainty is introduced into the process. I close the shutter when things move around in my frame, and when they become still or absent I open it again. In the end, my pictures are shadowless, slightly off-colour views that I think of as midway between an impressionist painting and a schematic diagram,”.

By Sea is a rejoinder to By Rail (2008), Conarroe’s series about railways in Canada and the United States. He says, “On one hand, the rail system describes the vastness of this (Anglo- America) geo-cultural bloc simply; on the other, it illustrates both our ambitious course of development and the fear that our best days might be past. By Sea looks at the coastline perimeter of the same civilization.”

Conarroe moves from recording the history of the postindustrial environment in By Rail, to a prescient geographical documentation of periphery waterscapes randomly selected throughout North America.

“I like the idea that the North America we know today grew from the moment of first contact when Europeans first stepped onto the shore, and that this new era By Sea alludes to is also slipping up past the tide line. I like thinking this culture’s past and future are bookended by episodes at the water’s edge, just like the physical territory is bound by distinct coastlines,” Conarroe says.

Conarroe keeps his choice of equipment simple, using a Wista RF 4 x 5 field camera, a 135mm Nikkor lens, a 127mm Schneider lens, and Kodak 160 NC film. (NC film features finer grain properties for image enlargement.)

While Conarroe’s creative path did not begin with a camera, having tried his hand at creative writing and printmaking, his formal photographic studies, which include a BFA from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (ECIAD) and an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), have stood him in good stead.

In 2010, Conarroe’s work was featured in Canada’s pavilion at Shanghai’s World Expo; as well, he was named one of the year’s top emerging 30 photographers by Photo District News. His mentors include Jim Bruekelman, teacher at ECIAD; Alvin Committer and Bob Bean, teachers at NSCAD; Geoffrey James, who, according to Conarroe, “treated me like a colleague when I was just some guy with a camera”; John Mannion at Light Work/Community Darkrooms (Syracuse); and Stephen Bulger, who “seems to have limitless reserves of encouragement, integrity, and sound advice.”

Conarroe’s advice to aspiring photographers is simple, succinct, and practical:

“Do something to propel your practice every day.”

See more of Scott Conarroe's work at:

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