Orest Semchishen

I’d like to meet Orest Semchishen.  When I watched particular scenes from the movie, Finding Forrester, I felt a similar feeling about the character, William Forrester.  Gradually, the greatness of this writer is unveiled through the testaments of others.  It seems that people who accomplish great and important things are not always known, but come to be known for what they have created.  So, this is the way it feels once looking into the intimacies of an Orest Semchishen photograph.

On Friday evening, Terry Fenton spoke to some of the content of the photographs represented in the Splendid Isolation exhibit, so wonderfully displayed at the Esker Foundation.  Through that conversation, I had a chance to also meet Lawrence Chrismas, who has successfully documented, through photography, the culture around Canadian coal miners.  Lawrence shared during question period that he has known Orest as a dear friend and that in sorting through his studio, Orest offered him his darkroom equipment.  Such an inspiring gesture!  In keeping with the humility I try to describe in my opening paragraph, Lawrence includes a quote on his home page, “The intelligent man is one who has successfully fulfilled many accomplishments, and is yet willing to learn more.”

Lawrence Chrismas Elymer Holsteine, Pit Supervisor, Costello Mine, Estevan, Saskatchewan, 1987 Gelatin silver print on paper Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Gift of the artist 1996.

Lawrence Chrismas
Elymer Holsteine, Pit Supervisor, Costello Mine, Estevan, Saskatchewan, 1987
Gelatin silver print on paper
Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Gift of the artist 1996.

Who is Orest Semchishen?  ArtSask offers this biography.

“Orest Semchishen was born in 1932 in Mundare, Alberta. Like other self-taught photographers represented in the permanent  collection  of the Mendel Art Gallery, notably Les Saunders and Stewart Brown, Semchishen makes his living in the sciences. As a radiologist, he is intimately aware of the properties of light and energy, and this familiarity translates into striking imagery.

Despite his highly technological occupation, the primary  subject  of Semchishen’s significant  body of work  owes more to his rural origins than to engineering. For many years, Semchishen has been documenting his travels through rural Canada. As he encounters towns, neighbourhoods and individual residents on his journeys, he photographs what he finds, freezing the changing, or disappearing, lives and lifestyles with a medium format film camera. He then processes and prints his images himself, by hand, through photographic chemistry.

Semchishen has exhibited widely, including multiple solo exhibitions at the Edmonton Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Alberta) in Edmonton, the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta. Many institutions have collected Semchishen’s work as well, including the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in Ottawa, Ontario, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, Quebec.”

Because I have such a preoccupation with memory and nostalgia, Orest’s works are powerful in their intimacy and in their restfulness.  I feel transported, somehow, as I view each photograph, to a particular time and to a place.  The notion of PLACE is so significant.  Regarding value and contrast, I find most of his works to be dominated by the use of middle greys, contributing, I think, to the overall stability and peacefulness of each setting.  They are very sensory and I respond immediately from my own memory of drives through southern Alberta with my grandfather…or recollections of driving the dirt roads of central Alberta and stopping into coffee shops along the way.

Regarding his portraits, Orest has documented a fantastic collection of northern trappers and their homes, impacted so much through the surging influx and pressure from beyond their reserve boundaries.  The objects of their affection say as much about the personalities as the portraits themselves.

Bill Moyan, trappeur, Kinuso, Alberta Orest Semchishen juillet 1985, tiré en 1990

Bill Moyan, trappeur, Kinuso, Alberta
Orest Semchishen
juillet 1985, tiré en 1990

Thank you, Orest Semchishen, for your greatness and your gift.

Splendid Isolation

A friend and I drove down to the Esker Foundation for the opening of the exhibit, Splendid Isolation, a gorgeous and extensive collection of photographs by Olga Chagaoutdinova, Miruna Dragan, Orest Semchishen, and George Webber.  Intrigued by the notion of ‘place’ and ‘environment’, I found the photographs to be intimate and revealing, some about our place in the western landscape and some about the cultural ‘interiors’ of our province.

A very unique gallery space, the Esker Foundation provides Calgary with an alternative space that does not compete for public dollars.  I have been so impressed by the beautiful exhibits curated to this point, and this one also truly inspires.  A generous catalogue was produced and several talks, panel discussions and workshops are offered related to the topics that come up around these pieces.

 Orest Semchishen photograph: Featured In Swerve Magazine, Calgary

Orest Semchishen photograph: Featured In Swerve Magazine, Calgary

There was quite a crowd of people in attendance on opening night.  It always makes me happy to re-connect with friends and make new friends at arts events.  Pat and I enjoyed a visit with Ron Moppett and covered lots of topics including a visit about kitsch and more specifically, paint-by-number paintings.  I am looking forward to returning to Esker for the following events, related to the exhibit, as described on their registrations page.

The Private Lives of Others-Panel Discussion

“The photograph has been used and accepted as a document of reality, but can we always believe what we see? How can the photographer be both a documenter and an author of fiction, and does the ‘real-ness’ of a photograph make it more expressive, more emotionally compelling, and at who’s expense? Join Splendid Isolation artists Olga Chagaoutdinova, Miruna Dragan, George Webber, and exhibition curator Naomi Potter, for a debate about the politics of truth, appropriation, and privacy.”

Reality of Dreams

“The transition from one economic system to another continues to affect both the social and political landscape of Russia and Cuba. Olga Chagaoutdinova’s photographs capture these changes on an extremely intimate level, using the domestic setting as the site where these transitions are most acutely present. For this talk, Chagaoutdinova will discuss these social changes, the impact they have had on her work, and her ongoing research into cultural appropriation.”

Fertile Voids and the Infinite Limits of Language

“Through manipulations of photo, video, drawing, and intervention, Miruna Dragan’s projects poetically interpret particular geographies and mythologies. Her landscapes reveal the archetypal patterns embedded, like geological layers, within them. Dragan will discuss her artistic projects, process and artwork.”

Impressions in Collage-Sessions One and Two

“Join us for an afternoon of collage inspired by the exhibition, Splendid Isolation. Led by artist David Foxcroft, participants will create their own artworks using photographs, magazine images and paper media. Participants are encouraged to bring paper media they would like to incorporate into their artwork, all other materials will be provided. This is an all ages program.”

This exhibit and the concept of Splendid Isolation causes me to think about my own relationship to space and place…again.

Something in particular, comes to mind as I type.  “Eating single”  I realize that because I am on my own, my choices for meals are completely selfish and driven by my own needs and wants.  Today, I came home from Mass and prepared myself liver and onions…nothing else…just liver and onions and I can’t be more happy as I celebrate my own splendid isolation!  Now, off to the pond!

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