4 Billion years

I can’t help showing off yesteday’s (improved) image search for 4 billion years.

4 billion years is a personal portrait of the arctic.

In Quebec to get to the arctic there are no roads all the way north so I got there by taking a plane, as part of a small team on a working gig for Statistics Canada, going door to door to complete the long form census, mid winter, in the Inuit community of Inukjuak, a tiny windswept community of about 1500 people, straight on the edge of upper Hudson’s bay. To prepare, I had gone to Avataq, the Inuit cultural resource center here in Montreal, and bunked out in their library, asking the librarian about the history and the reality of modern life in the arctic, people, resources, landscape, communication, transportation, etc. A few things still stick to mind. The huge cultural importance of the local Inuktitut language community radio network (for stories, gossip, news, entertainment). The story of the bedrock in the area, the world’s oldest, composed literally of the first crusts of land formed as the earth was cooling 4 billion years ago (existed for 2 billion years before the existence of an oxygen atmosphere, the time scale simply boggles the mind). And that I should pay a visit to the local jeweler, Laina Nulukie. When we got to the village there was a lot of wind, no trees, some houses and people and a lot of bedrock. No coffee shops, no restaurants. One co-op hotel where the workers bunk, two grocery stores (with sculpture room), a museum, a tiny after hours convenience store (tucked away in a shed and hard to find), a hockey arena, a gas station, jewellry workshop, a community health center, a family reconciliation center, a school, rec center, men’s center (for the hunters) and women’s center (for the women who sew).

The camera that couldn’t freeze

The photographic plan was open, no prior project in place. The cold so intense that I end up ditching my electronic gear and using an old mechanical folding medium format film camera that I’d brought along as a spare. I keep the camera folded in my pocket for hours at a time on my way to and from work. It is impervious to cold, even at -50C.


The photographs

The photographs document a month of midwinter walking, round and round, at all times of day, in different kinds of weather, the pictures taken on the way to speak to people in their homes, and at other times on the walk back to the co-op hotel, taken on paths that wander over bedrock, and at other times along streets with no names — that’s not a romantic affection. It’s simply that the streets are unnamed. The photographs are images of a playground, some laundry, an abandoned observatory (called the Nipple), some oil tanks, kennels, houses.



I made the photographs by rephotographing the original colour negatives, and using hand tweaked algorithms to coax color into existence. It’s a subjective process that highlights an already existing sleight of hand. At the present time colour images made from analogue photographic film negatives are almost always digital images, made from scans using pre-set algorithms. The manual tweaking of the algorithms is a time consuming and tricky process that can be used to cut through the usual photographic conventions of nature and natural landscape.



Assembled some of the photographs as a small flipbook, postcard size, with a band of negatives that has to be removed before the book can be opened. Independently published, 2017, and launched at Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (PFOAC)


4 billion years

4 rolls of uncut colour negatives

4 billion years

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