There’s a problem with Vancouver photography, and it’s not the fault of the photographers. It is just that Vancouver is too picturesque. Everywhere you look it’s a photograph: too much greenery, too many trees. Most of all, it’s the clouds. They give Vancouver its rain, but also a unique, theatrical kind of light—as if the whole city has been digitally enhanced. Vancouver photographers can seem like they are producing a better Better Homes and Gardens. James Nizam is not one of those.
For “Anteroom,” Nizam turned the interiors of abandoned, soon-to-be-demolished homes into room-sized camera obscuras. He then photographed the results with a 35-mm camera. In his photographs, we see the character of the rooms and the jumbled leavings of the former occupants. They become backdrops that sometimes blend with the imagery projected on the walls, ceiling and floor, and sometimes fragment it beyond recognition. As digital reproduction technologies continue to move conventional cameras aside, the camera obscura and the pinhole camera, a related device, have increased in popularity. For many artists, these techniques represent a nostalgic yet vital and necessary looking-back to the beginnings of photography.
In trespassing into abandoned homes and photographing the results of his trespass, Nizam approximates a subdued Gordon Matta-Clark. But where Matta-Clark’s work was sculptural and opened buildings up to themselves and to the outside, Nizam engages the outside in a painterly way—all colour, light and refraction. We must put aside our expectations of reality and look instead at what Nizam has composed. What is projected from the outside mingles with the rooms’ interiors, confounding the expected separation of the two spheres like the reflections in Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. The result is a series of photographs that is compelling and evocative. The discarded shells of these Vancouver homes are given a final, surprising purpose—beauty.