PhotoSummer: Artist's Statement

Wes Bell

Snag - The Truth of Impermanence

Five years ago, I was leaving for the airport after saying goodbye to my mother. She was dying of cancer. On the long drive across the windblown Alberta prairie, I found myself distracted by flapping remnants of plastic bags, caught in barbed-wire fences that lined the ditches. Whipped violently by the unrelenting wind, they were left shredded and lacerated, but trapped nonetheless in the no man's land of boundary fences, neither here nor there, an emotional purgatory. Thinking about mortality, pain and death in the context of my mother's terminal illness, these forgotten shreds of plastic took on a deeper significance. Snag.

The impassioned struggle of the plastic as it fights to free itself from its entanglement in the oppressive wire fence becomes a metaphor for loss, grief and impermanence. Mortality is universal. There is no escape. It does not provide an opportunity for any of us to opt out despite our culture's persistent obsession with eternal youth and beauty. Attuned to the fleeting, ambiguous and abstract nature of life, the shreds of plastic unearth repressed feelings of fear and anxiety, making our emotions accessible and visible by revealing the truth.

Shooting during the seemingly lifeless seasons between winter and spring in 2015 through 2017, I returned to the ditches and barbed-wire fences that line the highways and country roads. Some locations required multiple visits to ensure the optimal lighting and wind conditions. I photographed over sixty-eight sites in Southern Alberta. All of the photographs were shot using black and white analogue film in a medium square format camera. Given the focus of the subject matter on physical, material processes of decomposition, it is critical to the logic of my work to maintain the immediacy of their chemical, indexical imprint on the film. The negatives were translated onto a slightly warm-toned gelatin silver fiber-based photo paper, creating a substantial physical presence that would have been impossible to achieve digitally.