In: Canadian Female Photography
Shelagh HowardMarch 16, 2023
Shelagh Howard | Paeonia Officinalis alba plena
“Genus/species” is a body of work that explores the invisible, all-encompassing power of names, labels, and language.
In 1735, Carl Linnaeus published “Systema Naturae”; his system for identifying and classifying the natural world, still in use today. Names have power.
To name something is to define it, to acknowledge its existence as unique and separate from any other thing. Language informs people whether they are safe and belong. Or not. Cruel words leave hurts in hidden places, removed from easy healing. Words can stigmatize those who are different, marginalize those who need uplifting, dehumanize populations whose needs are inconvenient to those in power.
In “Genus/species”, in lieu of their names or other descriptors of the model pictured, the images are identified by the taxonomic names of the flowers they hold, harkening back to botanical illustrations and Linnaean classification.
Without the backdrop of easy identifiers or assumptions, this work spotlights the exploration of concepts including, beauty, body image, intimacy, loneliness, vulnerability, isolation, and connection through the expression of human flesh.
Shelagh’s work with the male figure explores the rarely seen perspective of the male nude through a woman’s eyes—one that challenges traditional, toxic masculinity in favour of a viewing experience that is genuine, curious, human and humane.
This deliberate conceit in labeling by the artist forces the viewer to decouple easy assumptions from the earthly flesh on display. There are no quick judgements to be made; only questions that unfold in the liminal space between the seen and the unknown: Should the subjects be named or otherwise identified? Would doing so shift our perceptions? Is it our right and our role to cast their shadows into the light for our own comfort? A picture may be worth a thousand words—or a single name—but who is to say which words are right and true?
~ Rita GodlevskisRead More
Elaine Ling | Baobab #31 – 2010, MadagascarNovember 19, 2022
Elaine Ling | Baobab #31 – 2010, Madagascar
Ce qui embellit le désert, dit le petit prince, c’est qu’il cache un puits quelque part…[What makes the desert beautiful, said the little prince, is that somewhere it hides a well…]
It is an odd feeling to encounter the work of an artist, seeing how prolific they are and be enamoured of their practice, then discover that they passed a few years ago. I’ve often had the same experience with authors (I have a habit of finding the work of a writer that is new to me, and consuming all the books, and it’s an empty sadness when you realize they won’t be creating any more).
This image is one from a series titled Baobob, by the late Elaine Ling (1946-2016). At her site it is the final series presented, from an extensive and enthralling body of work.
It can be read as having the quality of an epitaph: these massive, seemingly eternal natural ‘monuments’ that have survived her, and will likely survive all of us.
In that manner I have of being ‘too subjective’, Baobob trees remind me of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince (1943): to me, it’s a melancholy story, about loss and death, with touching moments of truth that have contributed to how it – despite often being considered a story for children – speaks to many adults, like myself.
“Seeking the solitude of deserts and abandoned architectures of ancient cultures, Elaine Ling…explored the shifting equilibrium between nature and the man-made across four continents. Photographing in the deserts of Mongolia, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Timbuktu, Namibia, North Africa, India, South America, Australia, American Southwest; the citadels of Ethiopia, San Agustin, Persepolis, Petra, Cappadocia, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Great Zimbabwe, Abu Simbel; and the Buddhist centres of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Tibet, and Bhutan; she has captured that dialogue.” (from her site)
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux [Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye].
On the first of August, 2016, Elain Ling lost her battle with lung cancer: her brother – Edward Pong – has indicated that he intends to continue to foster her legacy, through the maintenance of Ling’s site.
It is an impressive space with much more about Ling’s life and work – and many more of her moments from her life and around the world – that can be enjoyed here. C’est véritablement utile puisque c’est joli [It is truly useful since it is beautiful].
All quotes in italics are from Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince .
Elaine Ling was also a recently featured Artist You Need To Know, in AIH Studios’ continuing series. You can enjoy that here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More