Anonymous Identities (Remembering Community)

This series of images portrays the collective improvisations of anonymous writers on the walls of their community, the Downtown Eastside (DTES) in Vancouver. A rapid process of dislocation is currently taking place in this community, and these images document some of that erasure.

Something to Say

The walls of the DTES and other Canadian urban communities are a database of notations that signify “I was here and you don’t know who I am.” For those who venture beyond tagging (urban mark-up) to leave a message (folksonomy), the walls along these mean streets and alleys are a message board for those of limited means. They are connected to the machine in a different way — not with wires, but with paint, paste and flesh. Their grasp and their marks are temporary. This is documentary photography of the transient, to be remembered.

These organisms are not entirely anonymous as they exist in various machine databases as the homeless, unemployed, addicted, infirm, criminal, missing, destitute, or simply troubled. With their marks, they assert their existence in a society that wants to erase them, even as it attempts to collect them as data.

These visual improvisations are a series of palimpsests: erasing, scratching out, and over-writing the story that went before.

The visual style owes a debt of influence to the Automatistes and les Nouveaux Réalistes. In September 2009, there were many public artworks by Andrew Owen on the walls of the DTES, and you will see remnants of his terrific portraits in these images and the digital prints on display at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. The Vespa Head images are the viral marketing work of Fauxreel (Dan Bergeron) to promote the Vespa scooter. There is an obvious debt to all the street artists and graffiti writers who have contributed their art to the community.

A collection of these photos is also a database, and thus each image is identified by a unique number in a series of images taken by the photographer. Information is embedded in each of the image files, allowing the date and time, and the technical details of the shot to be recalled.

Finally, it needs to be emphasized that the photographs of these marks on the walls of the DTES should not obscure or erase the very real human beings who made those marks in the first place. These are their stories, they continue, and I thank them for not remaining silent.

Exhibit at Datastream 3: Machine Communities
Nanaimo Art Gallery (Downtown)
January 14 to February 13, 2010

© 2010 Marshall Soules
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