Monday, August 29, 2011

Framing Canada's Farm Workers: Q&A with Meera Margaret Singh

Goldarnit, I really like Meera Margaret Singh's photographs. She has some up right now at Harbourfront Centre--part of a commission to document the Ontario Greenbelt. Singh tackled the project by doing portraits of migrant workers, immigrant farmers and women farmers in the Greenbelt.

Part of what I like about these portraits is they do an excellent job of making me consider the individual histories behind occupational roles--kind of like August Sander in reverse, mebbe?

So I was happy Singh was able to take some to time to chat with me about this Farmland series a few weeks ago. The resulting condensed Q&A came out in last Thursday's National Post. An excerpt:

Q: When you were commissioned to photograph the Ontario Greenbelt, you decided to focus on female farmers, immigrant farmers and migrant workers. Why?

A: My first degree was in anthropology, and I love working with portraiture and with people. I’m also interested in suspension, whether it’s physical or psychological, and in displacement. So when I started researching and realized how many migrant workers were living in the greenbelt — people who spend eight months here and then re-adapt to their homelands each year — I gravitated toward that. And when I actually started cold-calling farms, I was introduced to immigrant farmers, and some of those were really powerful women. So I branched out. Overall, I wasn’t interested in doing an exposé or a documentary; I was interested in pulling people aside from work and interrupting that routine for a period of time.

Q: In your images, I see these people quite forcefully as individuals, rather than as workers. Who’s the individual in your photo Patricia?

A: Patricia was shot in this big greenhouse for begonias and cacti. When I went in, the light was so beautiful. There were predominantly Mexican workers, but also women from Cambodia, Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and a few Jamaican workers, too. I saw this very shy woman who, at the same time, had this strength in her. I work very intuitively; I can really be drawn to somebody and not understand why. Patricia didn’t even make a lot of eye contact. But the moment I was one on one with her, it was like she became this goddess or something! I was really happy that her strength came through. And then the moment the camera was put away, she went back to her routine. I like these odd, out of the ordinary moments.

For more details, read on at the Post's Ampersand blog. For more images of Singh's work, check her website.

(Image of Meera Margaret Singh's Patricia courtesy of the artist)