North By West
It is this vision for collaborative interdisciplinary work that inspired North By West. Core to my approach as a social scientist and photographer is the goal to break down barriers between communities of inquiry and practice. During my PhD, I participated in a SSHRC-funded research project called Social Landscapes of Fort McMurray with my PhD supervisors Dr. Rob Shields and Dr. Sara Dorow. While they carried out interviews with city planners, Indigenous leaders, working mothers, and other community members, I conducted participatory-action research with high-school students who were invited to create visual representations as responses to the question Where is Fort McMurray? I provided them with cameras and guided them through questions of ethics and composition, asking them to think critically about the places where they live. Young people filmed and mapped aspects of life in Fort McMurray invisible to outsiders. In so doing they became not only photographers but social and cultural ethnographers and critics. Where was the divide? The cameras allowed them to make their cultural knowledge visible to themselves and to their communities. This practice also made obvious the falsity of imagining art as separate from life, the artist as separate from the social critic.
As a photographer-researcher I find that maintaining a practice of photographing with other scholars as co-present witnesses and interlocutors in space and time is of great intellectual and social benefit. As a working method the photographer-researcher is a named action that represents a way for a scholar and visual artist to engage in practices that are multiple and dialectical. What we share while out in the field—or even while cooking food together, as some of our collaborators had the opportunity to do—is the experience of being mutual benefactors. As one of our collaborators adeptly noted, we set out to socially engineer a series of collaborations to prove our point: creating together is better.
As editors, we would like to thank you, our readers, for joining us on this attempt to produce new knowledge around bringing visual research and scholarly inquiry to focus on previously underrepresented landscapes and artworks of northwestern North America. We would like to thank our contributors for the conversations, emails, posted letters, and carefully considered writings that took place within and between our collaborative groupings. We also express deep appreciation to all those who have been a part of Imaginations over the years, who have trusted in the potential of an open-access online journal, and who have read, reviewed, cited, endorsed, contributed, and engaged in the critical and creative work herein.
Looking for a way to bridge my cross-disciplinary interests I attended Goldsmiths and completed a Master of Arts in Photography and Urban Cultures. Paul Halliday, a practicing photographer and scholar, leads the Goldsmiths program to bring together an international and transdisciplinary collection of thinkers and practitioners. The process and the outcomes of the MA program were designed to be flexible. I experienced the flexibility of the Goldsmiths program firsthand by the fact its predominant focus was Urban while my dissertation concentrated on Rural communities in Western Canada. As students we were instructed not think of our disciplinary roots as places of retreat and shelter, but rather as opportunities for sharing, learning, and collaboration. The photographers learned how to discuss their work in relation to scholarly Social Sciences dialogues, and the Social Science folks were encouraged to develop a visual practice. Process drove collaboration through mutual exchanges of shared time, often in local taprooms—The Hobgoblin with its modestly priced ciders and aromatic Thai green curry offering meeting places to discuss issues of utmost importance.
Through my MA research I questioned facets of photography and rural culture in the Canadian West. I further developed my interests in archival studies, regionalism, and visual representation in the West. I am currently a doctoral student in the Communication and Culture program at York University—a joint program between York and Ryerson universities in Toronto. My current intellectual pursuits focus on the idea of eliciting and nurturing conversations that are separated by the disciplinary ridge. North By West engages in cross-disciplinarity as a means to make active the kinds of experience, learning, and training I have undergone. I am an advocate for dialogue between, across, through, and beyond reified disciplines. The collaborations found in North By West are presented as a further evolution of ways of working together, but also as theoretical and geographic points of inquiry where temporality gives way to expansion, critique, and possibilities.
I find intellectual and creative fulfillment through collaboration, as I find the academic halls and the process of photography often solitary pursuits. I prefer company. Since my formative time at Goldsmiths, I have pursued collaborative modes of publishing words and images with the independent publishing house The Velvet Cell as well as a number of photography projects, most notably my collaboration with Yanina Shevchenko on the project Georgia Georgia.
North By West is my first experience as a co-architect and co-editor of a visual and scholarly collaboration. I have had the good fortune to experience the editorial role as well contribute my own work to this collection. Like a proud parent I see this scholar/art project as an entity unto itself, ready to face the praise and scorn it must endure.