As the year 2020 approached, many of us turned our attention to notions of clarity, 20/20 vision, and hindsight. The seed of this exhibition, however, sought to focus on “vision” a little differently: Utilizing works from the de Saisset Museum’s permanent collection, specifically the Focus Gallery Collection, Helen Johnston Bequest
, this exhibition intended to examine works of photography that defy clarity through abstracted compositions and subjects, and to celebrate the visionary woman (Helen Johnston) who saw the potential in these artists and the medium of photography. While the resulting virtual exhibition still does this, it is also now impacted by and seen through the lens of the COVID-19. The exhibition is no longer set against a backdrop of clarity. Rather, feelings of ambiguity, uncertainty, and lack of focus are all too common right now. And rather than a physical installation in our galleries, the exhibition is reimagined and presented as a series of slideshows and short videos released throughout the fall that allow for reflection on specific works.
These works require us to take time with them, to actively look and decipher. The photographs do not allow us to quickly look and comprehend. Some compositions tease us in their abstractions of objects and materials to a degree that renders the subject almost incomprehensible. Other pieces focus or divert our attention through unusual cropping choices. In a few images, photographic processes alter what we see versus what we imagine must be reality. Unexpected discoveries abound in the world around us. We can find beauty and mystery in the lines of peeling paint or cracked earth. Joy and whimsy may reside in the curvature of a heating duct. And through this exhibition, perhaps we can gain a moment of peace with the collective pause we are all being asked to practice.