Culture  Portraits of abandonment

Concordia photography student’s exhibition memorializes the phantoms of the recession

The economic recession that hit last year has affected everything from investments to politics to art. Tim Power, a Montreal-born photography graduate student finishing his final year at Concordia, has always been immensely influenced by history, politics and economics – originally pursuing a degree in history at Concordia, he switched to photography during his third year. Power’s first solo show, titled Structures of Power, reflects those interests and attempts to address themes of deindustrialization and abandonment. His expo opened at the Galerie Armatta on Friday, September 25, and will be shown there until October 30. This expo is Power’s thesis, and is an on-going project; the seven photographs on display at the gallery only represent what’s been completed so far.

Robert Armatta, the gallery’s owner, is very excited about Power’s expo: “I saw him in a group of 14 [artists], and I selected his work to be shown as the gallery’s fourth show,” explained Armatta. “[Power’s] work is very interesting; it’s nice to have a cohesive theme in a collection.”

The gallery is a new addition to the Montreal art scene, having hosted its first show in April 2009. Armatta wants to make this gallery a space for young artists, his goal being to help showcase the work of college students. It is quite a small space, but very organic; through the light wood floors, the lone brick wall, and the soft spotlights that illuminate each photograph, a calm atmosphere is created for viewers to appreciate the artwork.

The seven photographs line the far wall of the gallery, and each one highlights a magnificent piece of infrastructure left abandoned to decay. The photographs themselves are aesthetically pleasing; completely devoid of any living being, besides some dying grass or a drooping palm tree, these photos focus completely on the structure. My favourite one was of a single crane, on a naval shipyard on Mare Island, California. The crane stands alone in a sea of concrete, reminiscent of a dinosaur on the brink of extinction, with nothing left in the area but itself.

Power said that his goal with this expo was to “make people think about some of the challenging social and economic consequences that come with [the economic shift], like negative trade balances and the rise of a culture that values image over utility and superficial comfort.” The photographs invite viewers to imagine these structures in their heyday, when these shipyards and warehouses were alive with activity. Power’s photographs are not-so-subtle reminders of the drastic effects that the recession has had on our society, raising questions about these “structures of power”, such as why they were built and then abandoned.

Although I’m not sure I see the themes of reversing trade balances and rampant consumerism in these photographs, I definitely grasped the theme of deindustrialization and decay. Focusing on the fleeting nature of success and economic strength, Power’s work reveals how such large structures can fall into disuse and ruin at a wrong turn in the economy.

Structures of Power is reminiscient of a photo essay published in the New York Times last July titled “Ruins of the Second Gilded Age.” Although there was controversy surrounding the validity of the photos, which turned out to be edited, the themes they represented still hold true. Edgar Martins travelled across the United States photographing housing complexes and hotels abandoned after developers went bankrupt. This essay addressed many of the same themes Power incorporates into his exhibition. The economy can be a powerful influence on our lives, and it can provide artistic inspiration. Armatta said he has been seeing a lot of new work recently with similar themes, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see more in the future. As for Power, however, he has succeeded in putting together a beautiful and haunting first exhibition, asking vital questions about our society and the economy that we often ignore in our day to day lives.

Structures of Power runs through October 30 at Galerie Armatta (5283A Parc).