Driving around Iqaluit one afternoon with photographer Angela Gzowski, we spy a few guys by the side of a cul-de-sac road, squatting around a gory mess with a pair of knives. Angela whips the truck to the curb, jumps out, camera in hand, and races over to join the group. A few minutes later she’s back. “It was a baby seal,” she tells me. “I ate some of its brain.”
Not an unusual moment when working with Angela, a Yellowknife-born-and-raised 27-year-old who’s holding her first solo exhibition this Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Champagne Room. She’s EDGE Online’s photographer, as well as an increasingly successful commercial shooter, which means she has to be adaptable, working with clients or an editorial team to help deliver their ideas and all that crap. Sure, sure, she can do that. But after working with her as an editor for a couple of years, I can tell you that she’s also stubborn, passionate, and filled with an intense personal vision. We argue pretty much constantly. She’s usually right.
The show tomorrow features a fairly radical new direction for Angela, who is perhaps best-known so far for her precise, well-lit studio portraiture. She’s premiering Flesh and Bone, a new series of animistic nudes made painterly with in-camera multiple exposures. Along with this series, she’s presenting a collection of some of the photojournalistic work she’s gathered over the last couple of years of traveling the North, including that baby seal. I asked her a few questions about the show:
A: I’ve always loved taxidermy, animal skulls…
A: This is something I can’t narrow down. I don’t know why.
Q: It’s kind of morbid and weird. It’s dead stuff.
A: I know. Maybe it’s from my dad? Having all that stuff around the house?
Q: What stuff did he have around the house?
A: He had fox skulls, and he’d find random tusks and things when he went diving, and he’d bring them home, and I thought they were interesting. I just think they look cool. So, it’s partly that I just like that — and then there’s a series Irving Penn did. It’s all these people holding up masks and things. They’re in these stances, and squatting, in this makeshift studio that he’d built.
And then, I like photographing the female form, and after experimenting on another photoshoot, I wanted to do multiple exposures. I guess I just wanted to take those three parts and put them together.
Q: So, multiple exposures, the female form and dead stuff.
A: Not just dead stuff. Skulls. Skulls specifically.
Q: How long have you been working on it?
A: I’ve been thinking about it for a year and a half. I’ve been shooting it for a couple months.
It’s quite a workout for the models. They are sweating at the end of the shoot, because the skulls are really heavy and they’re having to hold them for a long time. I’ll do either two or three exposures. The first shot is usually them just standing still, and it’s an in-focus shot. Then I’ll get them to do movement, or just get them to change position, or I’ll move to a different place, and shoot that slightly out of focus.
Ice road, 2015
Q: The other work in the show is your more photojournalistic work, mostly.
A: Yeah. None of it’s staged. It’s different from my normal work, because I do do a lot of portraiture, and I don’t think there’s really going to be any… there might be one or two portraits. But those are not staged at all.
I want the selection to work with the rest of the images, but it’s still completely separate. It’s just photojournalistic stuff from across the North.
Q: But it’s not kitschy shots of the North.
A: No. It’s not cute. Even the cute photo that people will like, that’s a little warmer, is still pretty isolating.
Q: Yeah. You could probably make more money if you were out shooting the aurora and other Northern cliches, but I know you don’t like that.
Q: Why’s that?
A: Well, I’ll do it for fun, if I’m taking a personal picture, like “Oh, this was my fun weekend.” But it’s just so… I want this to be a contemporary art show. You’re not going to go into a gallery anywhere else and go “Here’s my fun, happy photos of the North.” That sort of Northern kitsch, it’s just not my aesthetic. It’s not what I enjoy to see. It’s not what I would put up on my walls. Obviously I know that stuff sells, but I’m not putting this show to sell. Though of course it would be really awesome if people did enjoy it and people did buy it. And I’m grateful to the NWT Arts Council for letting me show the work publicly.
Q: Do you think it has something to do with the fact that you grew up here?
A: Yeah. I’ve seen it. I’ve just seen so much of it. Don’t make me sound negative. I’m not negative!
Q: I won’t. Don’t worry about it.
Flesh and Bone is a one-night-only event, from 7 p.m. – 2 a.m., Saturday, September 12 at the Champagne Room in downtown Yellowknife.