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Richard Hancox

AP PAR E NKimCSawchuk I ES

Rae Staseson






Kim Sawchuk Rae Staseson



Richard Hancox

Drugstore Cameras: An interview with Richard Hancox

44 – 48

Kim Sawchuk Richard Hancox






Open Concept


Vogue Snap Ascent


Better Days


Crème Glacée






Room with a View






Stood Down #1




Holding Tank


Dresses in the Wind


For Ages








Richard Hancox’s Apparencies features photographs taken with an inexpensive one-time use technology: the disposable camera.

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Technically, the camera’s disposability renders it a material artifact with a short duration. We use it. We throw it away. This apparatus (associated with the qualities of instantaneity, spontaneity, and lack of quality) is emblematic of a disregard for the long-term; yet in Apparencies it draws attention to the matter, and materiality, of time. Buildings in decay, foliage creeping over historical murals, empty store windows for sale on a prairie street hint at the once-was in the now-present. Visual irony is readily discernable in the trompe l’oeil of a mountain range painted on the side of a building, (which Hancox calls, “Room with a View”) a sign of flatlander envy of the much-celebrated mountain-scape. The grainy texture of the images, a technical limitation of the camera lens, gives a rich painterly feel to the two-dimensional photographs. While shot in analogue, all are recomposed digitally before being printed on paper, juxtaposing old and new technological means of representation. While human subjects may be absent, or barely intimated, they are nevertheless there as a shadowy presence. The emphasis on temporality in these spaces are reminders, as Doreen Massey might say, that any space is punctuated, marked, and striated by a multiplicity of trajectories and signs of movement, past and future. Hancox draws our attention to the modalities of movement and passages in the portals, highways, sidewalks, and roads that are a strong presence in the images. Curatorially clustered into seven discrete sections, the photographs highlight the long-term temporal rhythms of life that are often invisible in our everyday surroundings.

In Apparencies the spectator confronts fragments of the past, and a future that is not fully written, a situation that resonates with Doreen Massey’s expression that we enter into histories that are complex layerings, or “storiesso-far.“ She writes: “Space is a simultaneity of storiesso-far; it has the dimension of multiplicity.” Layering is intrinsic to Hancox’s compositions, as he so eloquently articulates in the interview included in this catalogue. To quote Massey once again, “If time is the dimension of change and succession, then space is the dimension of simultaneity. It is the dimension of contemporaneous co-existence.” Massey’s reflections on space-time and stories-so-far express the layerings of temporal moments in a particular space, most often conveyed by Hancox’s interest in reflective surfaces, screens, and windows. Spectators are invited to walk into a tale that is not fully revealed, but is just there in the mix-matched pieces from different decades and periods that comprise many of these compositions. We are also asked to look beyond, back to ourselves, to contemplate the fragility of our ephemeral position in these photographic images of our unstable surroundings. Kim Sawchuk Rae Staseson Montréal 2009 Doreen Massey. 2007. “Is the World Getting Larger or Smaller.” Open Democracy: free thinking for the world. globalization-vision_reflections/world_small_4354.jsp (accessed October 25, 2009).



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For several years I have been taking pictures exclusively with disposable, one-time use (non-digital) cameras. Working with the limitations this presented–fixed-focus, wide angle lenses that distort at the edges, no control over exposure or shutter speed, automatic flashes, parallax error, and of course, latent analogue photographic images–I found myself experiencing a certain freedom. Less technical options allowed a photographic act with more concentration on composition, colour, form and light, and on the effect of these on picture content. This self-imposed discipline permitted me the time to see not just what was there, but what else was there in a subject’s latent state of being. Eventually I learned to exploit the camera’s technical limitations while documenting ‘disposability’ itself: many of the subjects of these pictures reveal transitional landscapes, crumbling veneers, skewed representations, and surface reflections with various layers of meaning. As the digital dynamo rolls over what is left of the photo-chemical process, disposable cameras take on extra significance. Their drugstore ubiquity represents the last gasp of human agency in the photographic tracing of a subject’s light as a phenomenon of nature. Yet millions of these indexical bonds to another era will live on, thanks ironically to their ongoing transfer and migration to the digital ether. Apparencies explores this process, as well as some of its detritus, revealing how contradictions of material and immaterial, of things lasting and temporary, impregnate each other in our present era, in which all that is solid indeed melts into air. July 2009

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Appliances London, Ontario 2006 digital C-print 16½ x 17 in. edition of 5

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Open Concept Highway 417–Maxville, Ontario 2004 digital C-print 15 x 17 in. edition of 5

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Vogue Snap Pembroke, Ontario 2008 digital C-print 16 x 18½ in. edition of 5

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Ascent Ottawa, Ontario 2004 digital C-print 14½ x 17½ in. edition of 5

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Better Days Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan 2000 digital C-print 16 x 18 in. edition of 5

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Crème Glacée Montréal, Québec 2004 digital C-print 14 x 17½ in. edition of 5

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Portal Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan 2003 digital C-print 15 x 18 in. edition of 5

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Cornered Athens, Ontario 2007 digital C-print 18 x 22 in. edition of 5

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Room with a View London, Ontario 2006 digital C-print 14½ x 17 in. edition of 5

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Exposition Montréal, Québec 2003 digital C-print 17 x 13½ in. edition of 5

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Spa Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan 2000 digital C-print 14 x 18 in. edition of 5

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Stood Down #1 Picton, Ontario 2007 digital C-print 16 x 20 in. edition of 5

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Asylum London, Ontario 2006 digital C-print 15½ x 19½ in. edition of 5

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Holding Tank Summerside, Prince Edward Island 2002 digital C-print 15 x 19 in. edition of 5

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Dresses in the Wind Cape Cod, Massachusetts 2005 digital C-print 16 x 17 in. edition of 5

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For Ages London, Ontario 2006 digital C-print 15 x 18 in. edition of 5

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Shelter MontrĂŠal, QuĂŠbec 2003 digital C-print 16 x 18 in. edition of 5

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Stainless VIA train, Atlantic route 2003 digital C-print 18 x 20½ in. edition of 5

Drugstore Cameras: An Interview with Richard Hancox Kim Sawchuk

In my travels I always notice things in the environment–I’m very tuned in to visible signs or intimations of past activity. There aren’t many secrets in the landscape if you know how to read it. - Richard Hancox 2009 A P PA R E N C I E S 44

K.S. What attracted you to the disposable camera? Is this a turn away from film? R.H. I became involved with disposable cameras out of necessity. I have been mostly a filmmaker, but I don’t always have a movie camera with me. About eight or nine years ago I was out West, in Saskatchewan, and started noticing all these huge historical murals that had been painted in Moose Jaw, the place where I had spent most of my childhood. They were everywhere. I said, “I can’t believe this, I need a camera! I don’t have one with me, but I’m going to have to just start shooting with something.” So I went to the nearest drugstore and bought a disposable camera. This is how it started. And from then on, wherever I traveled in Canada, I’d always have a disposable camera with me. K.S. What is the origin of the title “Apparencies”? R.H. In an earlier manifestation the project was called “Disposabilities,”

partly because of the type of cameras. But I also found myself taking pictures of subjects that were themselves disposable or discarded, like the abandoned buildings you see in one section of the exhibition. Gradually it evolved into taking pictures of surfaces, reflections, two-dimensional plywood cutouts, and things that seemed to represent something else. In each case, something would be apparent on the surface or outward appearance, with something else a little deeper if you took the time to look. “Disposabilities” did not really cover enough of what I was doing, so I thought that “Apparencies” would be a better or more accurate title. K.S. Can you speak about the photographic process used in “Apparencies”? R.H. I used disposable cameras because they are so easy-to-use, quick and spontaneous. The resulting 35mm negatives are developed at the lab and transferred to digital, so I can adjust the images later on the computer using Photoshop. I have to reframe the pictures because, among other things, disposable cameras have problems with parallax error. I am not manipulating Photoshop to exchange peoples’ heads – just trying to bring out what I saw in the image in the first place. Then that reworked digital image is sent to the lab and a print is made back onto analogue, photographic ‘C-prints.’ So

it goes analogue, digital, analogue. This process results in an image, which in some respects is almost painterly. It is certainly not offering an image of reality. And there are these layers of meaning–apparencies–that are involved right from the beginning, through each step of the process, to the final print.

logue to digital it isn’t always a question of correcting something. In many cases I just wanted to use the software to move in tighter and re-compose.

K.S. There is definitely a muted granularity in these images because of this process. And your poetic title draws attention to the surface textures that are in disintegration in many of the images. But you are intentionally pluralising the term, suggesting that there is not just one hidden meaning that will become apparent. Apparencies implies that many things might be disclosed.

R.H. That’s right. Sometimes there just isn’t time to line the shot up perfectly. In my photograph “Frieze” for example, which is not a part of this exhibition, you see a kid who was running towards his father. I was trying not to be noticed and just went ‘click’ like that, at the exact moment when the child had partly disappeared behind these statues. Then of course I had to reframe it later in the computer.

R.H. Yes, and it also suggests the word “appearances”, but that doesn’t quite nail it the way “apparencies” does. K.S. You have discussed your process of working with the disposable camera, but what is a parallax error? R.H. This occurs when there is a viewfinder that is separate from the lens. The lens and the viewfinder are in two different locations on the camera, so they see slightly different images. But dealing with parallax error wasn’t that relevant to this project. In using the disposable camera, spontaneity and control were major issues. In the interest of spontaneity I often would have to take pictures quickly before I was discovered by the subjects, or the authorities–as in the photograph, “Spa,” shot in Moose Jaw. I’d just take a wide shot and later, using Photoshop, zoom in to the exact part that I wanted. In moving from ana-

K.S. You are in fact refocusing the spectator’s gaze on what you find interesting in the image.

K.S. What are some of the other features of these cameras that present either an artistic or aesthetic challenge or an untapped potential? R.H. Disposable cameras have automatic exposure and automatic focusing, so you can’t control the technical aspects – you have to rely entirely on your eye. You can’t even turn off the flash in some of them. Rather than see that as a detriment, I started to exploit it. To go back to the title, “Apparencies”, if there were any reflections of the flash in the image, then it just added a layer of reflexivity. The existence of one layer, and then another layer suggests not only what is there, but what else may be there. In the case of this image, “Shelter,” it is the photographer, myself, who is layered

into the image. This photograph was taken on Monkland Avenue in Montréal. It is just a plexiglass bus shelter. I was looking and saw the reflections in it, and then the street behind me, and the drugstore through the bus stop. Then this white van drove behind me and I realized I needed to shoot now because it would probably reflect well. And then the flash went off too, adding the reflection of myself taking the picture.

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K.S. The result is a superimposition of information from multiple angles and points of view. It is an image of a mess of different movements as seen through the bus shelter. R.H. There is a layering, and at a distance, it looks like “What the hell is that,” and as you get closer, you see more. I love the idea of discovering that as you get closer to a picture, you begin to see significant things that can shape or change your response to it–things that were not apparent at distance. Like the man lying by the pool in “Spa,” who looks like he could be dead. K.S. I am particularly fond of the subway image–what is that? R.H. That’s a train actually, the VIA train down to the Maritimes, and the image is of the space between the cars. It’s called “Stainless.” Again, it’s all about the flash. I knew it was going to go off and there would be all these reflecting stainless steel surfaces. So rather than avoid the reflections I just shot it to see what kind of reflections I’d get. Then I had to work on the resulting image in Photoshop to make the surfaces smoother, because with these crappy

cameras you get a lot of grain. They are always high-speed films, like ASA 800 in these things, so in the mid-tonal range where the grain is most noticeable, I would have to soften the image. In other parts I needed to sharpen it. Do you see? K.S. Yes, I see that. R.H. The disposable cameras all have built-in wide-angle lenses. The reason for that is they have a greater depthof-field, and so you do not need to focus. With the wide-angle lens you also have a wider field of view, so the difference between what the lens sees and what the eye sees is not really that major. There is something that is really interesting with using a camera that has a wide-angle lens which provides a great depth-of-field. Everything is in focus from the near to the far. K.S. It operates in the same way as a pinhole camera, in other words. R.H. Basically. You can’t put the background out of focus or have a sharper foreground. You can’t control the viewer’s attention that way. So I found myself sort of giving up on trying to defeat the two-dimensionality of the photographic medium and just exploiting things like surfaces, which are basically two-dimensional, right? So I wind up shooting things composed flat across the screen a lot of the time. Using this kind of camera forced me to go beyond the illusion of three-dimensionality with vanishing lines and that sort of thing.

K.S. Can you talk about residual technology and its use by other artists, or in relationship to your own understanding of that term in your work? R.H. In terms of residual art, residual media, residual technology, there is quite a lot of renewed interest in Super 8mm film, and certainly in 16mm and hand-developing your own film. In photography, there has been an interest, for a while now, in pinhole cameras and toy cameras, but my particular use of the disposable 35mm camera is not quite the same. I’m not interested in it as a residual technology, but precisely as a disappearing technology, as a disposable technology. I like incorporating that knowledge into the content of my work, rather than trying to resurrect or re-invent something. And I’m not deliberately using disposable cameras because their technical quality is out of focus or grainy–in fact I’m actually trying to get them as sharp as I can, and when I work in Photoshop I try to, you know, clean them up… K.S. So it is not a recuperative project or a romantic project… R.H. No, it’s mainly to use the disposable camera as a very interactive and spontaneous tool, that is small and easy to carry. And I like the way the limitations of this camera challenge your photographic eye. There are no digital menus, there are no buttons, just ‘click!’ (and then I have to make up for it later with hundreds of

hours on the computer, losing track of time). K.S. Let’s talk about time. Much of your work is dealing with the question of time. I think that we sometimes assume that a photograph just captures an image-space. Many of the photographs contain an implied narrative, so even though there is not a temporal unfolding of a series of images, like in a film, there is a suggestion of the passage of time. R.H. That’s true. As well, there is a temporal experience one has viewing a photograph in the way that the eye scans, and in the order in which it scans, usually from left to right. I try to direct this temporal viewing experience through composition and lighting. K.S. You also seem captivated by spaces within spaces. For example we have that image up there of the painted landscape on the mural, and the decay of the building, which is partially demolished. In many of your photos, it seems you’re drawing out both spatial ironies and a temporal dimension. R.H. That’s a good observation, and this picture, “Cornered,” is a good example of that. This was taken in a small town in Eastern Ontario, Athens, one of the first places that started painting their history on the sides of buildings. It depicts their founding by the United Empire Loyalists. In one respect, we have the depiction of historical events, then there is the history of the mural itself, and then there’s growing over by nature in the present, and the chipping away of the paint–so again there’s these

layers of present and past all within the same picture. K.S. But the future is also implied because you have the growth of greenery overtop, which is going to continue creeping and eventually cover that image.

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R.H. Yes, exactly. This is one that’s manipulated, I have to admit. I flipped it in Photoshop and doubled it to create this mirrored image, and then this weird, sort of alien figure with horns emerged in the middle with a fire under it. Also regarding the question of time, here’s another picture, “Portal,” taken in an alley in Moose Jaw, behind a store called “Past Times”. It sold stuff representing ‘the good old days’–like the Roaring Twenties, when Al Capone supposedly used to come up to Moose Jaw on the Soo Line from Chicago. But what’s interesting is the knowledge that this place burned down a few years ago; there was a huge fire in Moose Jaw and an entire block went up in smoke, and so even this nostalgia store is gone now too. K.S. So this no longer exists, this space. I think it is interesting because you have this ironic juxtaposition of hand-painted stenciled signs from the past and this presentday graffiti, which is tagging. R.H. I like that. K.S. You’ve mentioned the genesis of some of this project within the past work you’ve done, like your film Moose Jaw (There’s a Future in our Past). Is there an aesthetic or conceptual relationship between this photographic work and your past film work?

R.H. I think that my work is essentially documentary in some way, responding to the environment around me. In some respects these are documentary photographs inasmuch as my films are documentary films. They are considered experimental documentaries, mostly because they are personal or autobiographical. And I think some of that has carried through in the reflexive aspects of the photographs. In this image, “Better Days,” a mural to the Capone era in Moose Jaw, you can see my shadow here taking the picture. So there are some similarities there. One of the challenges in this new way of working for me, is that unlike film, I don’t have the advantage of a soundtrack to aid in the interpretation of the image. What I was interested in doing with my film work before was deliberately not working with lip-sync redundant sound, and using it instead as an independent structuring layer to add depth and meaning, in many cases to re-awaken the past. But now what I’m trying to do is to express all that I see within the frame–through composition, lighting and the subject itself–so that those things before that I used, including sound, are all contained within the image. There is a lot there for the viewer to get at, and the photographs are also open to interpretation the way my films are. There isn’t one way to read these images, so I’m very interested in how people are going to respond to them.


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Richard (Rick) Hancox teaches film in the Communication Studies Department of Concordia University in Montréal. He studied film and photography at New York University and earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio University. He is known as an artistic innovator of experimental and personal documentary films, including Waterworx (A Clear Day and No Memories), LANDFALL, and Moose Jaw (There’s a Future in Our Past), which are in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Before Concordia, Hancox taught for twelve years at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, where he influenced some of Canada’s foremost experimental and documentary filmmakers. In the last several years, Hancox has moved into photography to augment his filmmaking and critical writing practice. He has participated in many group shows, as well as solo exhibitions at Galerie la Petite Mort in Ottawa, Ontario, and recently at the new Shenkman Arts Center in Orleans, Ontario. His photographic work often involves disposable one-time use analogue cameras to interpret transitional landscapes, crumbling veneers, skewed representations, and surface reflections containing layers of meaning.


Theory In Practice (TIP) is a series published under the auspices of the Mobile Media Gallery (Montréal-Toronto). The goal of the series is to instigate dialogue between media creators whose practices may include writing, production, criticism or activism. Apparencies is the first text in the series. It is produced in conjunction with the exhibition Richard Hancox: Apparencies, curated by Rae Staseson and Kim Sawchuk. “Apparencies” was shown at the Media Gallery, Communication Studies, Concordia University, from 29 October to 15 December 2009.

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Proposals for a booklet or monograph may be forwarded to Kim Sawchuk, Communication Studies, Concordia University ( For more information on this series and the exhibit visit:

CREDITS Curators: Rae Staseson and Kim Sawchuk Series Editor: Kim Sawchuk Design and Layout: Mél Hogan Photography: Richard Hancox Copy Editing: Tamara Shepherd General Assistance: Marie-Hélène Lemaire Exhibition Poster: Katja Philipp Publisher: Mobile Media Gallery/Communication Studies, Montréal Cover: Richard Hancox, Room with a View (detail)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Rae Staseson and Kim Sawchuk would like to thank the many talented graduate students who assisted in the production of this work, including Marie-Hélène Lemaire, Katja Philipp, Tamara Shepherd, Samuel Thulin and David Paquette. We are grateful, in particular, to Mél Hogan for her outstanding work on the layout and design of this catalogue. This event would not have been possible without the assistance of the support staff at Communication Studies: Henry Lemmetti, Mike Smart, René Lalonde, Scott Prentice and Sheelah O’Neill. Appreciation is extended to Dr. Graham Carr, Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies, Faculty of Arts and Science, Concordia University for his contributions to this event.

Copyright 2009 Mobile Media Gallery, Richard Hancox, Kim Sawchuk Media Gallery, Communication Studies CJ Building 1.419 Loyola Campus Concordia University 7141 Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal, Québec ISBN 978-0-9864790-0-7