Thursday, August 4, 2011

Greg Girard Q&A out in today's National Post

Vancouver-raised photographer Greg Girard has won much acclaim in recent years, with The Independent touting his Phantom Shanghai as one of the top 10 photography books of all time. With a new series on Hanoi showing in Toronto, Girard took some time last week to chat with me. The condensed conversation is out in today's National Post. An couple of excerpts:

Q You’re known for photographing Asia, where you’ve lived for the past 30 years. But just this week you moved back to Vancouver. Why?

A I felt it was time to make work in other places. And having been away for almost 30 years, I realized how exotic the West has become to me. In a way, I find it as inspiring to be here now as I did when I first moved to China. I think this happens to anybody—when you’ve been away from home for even a week, you come back and for a little while, you see things just a bit different. Maybe the longer you’ve been away, the longer those first impressions of your home stand out.


Q Throughout your career, you’ve used intensely coloured light to alter our views of cities. Do you actively pursue that?

A That’s fair to say. When I started taking photographs as a teenager, I started experimenting with what film did at night. Things look very different at night: colours against a black background are emphasized. In those days, most of my visual inspiration came from movies. A lot of films from the 70s, like early Scorsese movies, had this even tone, even when things didn’t end well. You were left with this flat or slightly down ending, even if it’s blue sky, middle of the day. I was drawn to that and tried to emulate those colours. I still work mostly on film that’s balanced for daylight, and when you’re using it in artificial light, it takes on unpredictable colour shifts. I try to bring what I know technically together with this narrow window between dusk and nightfall.

One thing that was trimmed from our Q&A along the way had to do with Girard's amazing Half of the Surface of the World series, which will be showing at the International Centre of Photography in New York next year. Here's what was cut:

Q Another of your series, showing at New York’s International Center of Photography next year, focuses on US military bases in Asia. What drew you to this subject?

A In the mid 1970s, I’d just moved into a very small apartment in Tokyo—my first time living overseas. I was listening to the radio and at midnight The Star Spangled Banner started playing and the announcer’s voice said, “You’ve been listening to American Forces Far East network.” I thought, oh right, they’ve had American bases here since the end of World War Two. The announcer would talk about things going on at the bases, like a high-school car wash or bake sale—these very suburban American events taking place on the outskirts of Tokyo. It was this odd sort of dislocation feeling, because you think you’re far from home, and you are, and you’re hearing all these intensely familiar things. I started the project then. More recently, I wrote letters to the Pentagon and got clearance to photograph big bases throughout the region in-depth. I think it’s one of those worlds hidden in plain sight, and in that sense, it’s probably connected to other things I’ve done.

Girard's Hanoi-related show is up until August 21 at Monte Clark Gallery in Toronto, and his related book, Hanoi Calling, is available at booksellers. At Monte Clark you can also see some images from early in his career in the mezzanine area.

(Image of Greg Girard's Buildings on Bat Su Street via Monte Clark Gallery)

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