ABOVE: A tugboat moored at a Hamilton harbourfront pier with the massive James N. Allan Skyway Bridge looming in the distance.
I'll photograph almost anything but I have always been most interested in photojournalism and street photography, and I've done the latter for years without ever having any real focus in the genre. For the longest while, I was interested in shooting anything within an indoor or outdoor urban setting; any city, anywhere. I still am. I never expected, however, my photographic art interests to naturally gravitate to mainly focusing on the city of Hamilton as it has.
I've met many who have lived in this city their entire life, and express that they don't really care what happens to this town. They're just as adaptable anywhere, and if they had to live elsewhere they wouldn't just adapt to that location, they'd actually forget about this place. I'm sure that I could adapt to living somewhere else too but I know from personal experience that I could never forget Hamilton. I lived in Hamilton in the 70's, lived in British Columbia throughout the 80's, and then returned to Hamilton. I actually do care about what goes on here.
So, instead of assuming that I know so much about "the Hammer", as the city is nicknamed, I'm on a quest for knowledge. I want to discover what I really don't know, and understand what really makes this town what it is. Hopefully, I'll even figure out what I could do to make it better.
In getting to know the city I live in, and trying to envision its future, I've made exploring and photographing the city of Hamilton a very personal life project.
JUST BELOW LEFT: Thanks, but no thanks!
JUST BELOW RIGHT: A citizen goes to aid a blind woman and her guide dog who have lost their way in the downtown hustle-and-bustle.
The first phase involved studying and photographing the city generally between 2000 and 2009. In the late 90's, people sounded so enthusiastic and optimistic about the world when they would refer to the incoming "New Millennium" (tecnically, the 21st century didn't start until 2001, not 2000). So I became curious as to how Hamilton endured during the first ten years of this presumed time of wonder. By the end of 2009, I ended up with a webpage that was too long and busy and probably a huge waste of bandwidth. I truncated it.
In spite of all that time and effort devoted that decade was actually a quick and dirty approach to urban photography of Hamilton overall; an introduction to the city. Many of the pictures I made were more representational of individual landscape, architectural, landmark and documentary photography. They were also quite common. In looking at the photography of other local photographers, I found that they took pictures of many of the same things I did, and in the same way. This did not sit well with me. I realized that although I convinced myself that I was making unique images, I truly had failed to push myself as an artist to capture images that no one else would have thought to. It became necessary to do better, as I know I am quite capable of.
I also don't feel as though I did enough to showcase this much misunderstood city. This place is deeply loved by probably half of its inhabitants while condemned by the other portion. Some non-residents also throw stones at it but most of them, really, seem to ignore this city. It doesn't exist for them.
I'd like to show everybody just how interesting the City of Hamilton actually is, and how much more potential there exists. I don't intend to do it in any typical promotion of tourism and business sort of way either. If these are the inadvertent results, fantastic but my main intent is to record Hamilton's mundane to controversial aspects because many, not all, of these dissenting qualities give this city its wonderful character. At least in my mind they do. I am very much motivated by cultural diversity and the happenstances that most people usually take for granted.
JUST ABOVE: Some of the many faces and cultures you could see on any given day in "the Hammer".
Such images may have the potential to inspire others with brilliant ideas for making positive change where the change is needed. Maybe then, my photographic art will serve an ambassadorial role to people who may take a first time or renewed interest in this great Canadian city.
In this phase; which actually began in 2007, the aim is to explore each predominanlty residential neighbourhood of the city individually, starting with those of lower (below the Niagara Escarpment) Hamilton.
Lower Hamilton has a particular significance to me because I find it so strange to hear that there are lifelong residents who haven't been to the core or other lower city areas in a decade; give or take some years, out of some notion that lower Hamilton is rundown beyond hope and rife with danger. It would be so rewarding to me if I could show citizens and outsiders the differences that I see between areas of the same city that aren't necessarily indications of degradation.
To help get a feel of a neighbourhood and why it may have the character it does today, I will briefly research each area's history for comparison with its present, and depict each neighbourhood through a series of only ten contemporary urban images; photo essays.
JUST BELOW LEFT: A lone man wearing a black suit and fedora paces up and down the street, silently screaming about the world's pain. Protest art still lives.
JUST BELOW RIGHT: A red-white-and-blue promoter of dual US/Canadian citizenship.
This time, the images must be of greater fine art quality; less documentary-style and more about capturing mundane or unusual moments which is essential to refined urban photography. I hope that the dominance, weakness similarity or differences of moments and moods intuitively captured by each photo in a series will automatically reveal the prevailing characteristic(s) of each neighbourhood. In detail, images must:
AT LEFT: A severely intoxicated man is rousted from his sidewalk slumber.
To also help me get a sense of each neighbourhood in their modern states, and to try to anticipate their futures, I hope to find a few people from each area who are willing to share their positive and negative experiences and most frank opinions of living in their respective neighbourhoods. I'm even interested in their opinions of other Hamilton neighbourhoods, and the city overall.
The more diverse their backgrounds, the better; they could have lived in their neighbourhoods for a short time, or all their life. They could be wealthy or unemployed and on welfare, modest or a contemptible snob, well-educated or not at all, shy or blatantly exhibitionist, the epitome of peak health or terminally ill, young or old, puritanical or unapologetically crack-addicted, of any race, any ethnicity, any religious faith or atheist, any political ideology or sexual orientation.
It will be interesting to see just what Hamiltonians, if any, come forward. They have the power to show who they really are, and just what this city is made of.
I find that many artists intend to produce works for anyone to see but most of the time it's only a minority who pays attention. An audience mainly consists of other artists who can sympathize with each other's efforts, and focused collectors who have the money to spend. Due to art snobbery, real and perceived expensiveness, and notions of impracticability many so called "average people" only spend a short time seriously appreciating artistic efforts; some, none at all. To make visual art for the masses to see and collect is a challenge that I have taken on, even though it's a challenge that's so much bigger than me.
I aim to achieve this feat especially with my street photography because, after all, much of it is about the "average person" and the environment in which they work, live and play. These are people and an environment that I like to think I am personally quite familiar with. I should make extra effort to understand them more.