Susan Dobson’s May 2018 exhibition includes new photographs from her “Slide Library” series. Over the past three years Dobson has photographed two slide collections that are in the process of being dismantled. One collection focuses on contemporary and historical art, while the other mostly contains slides about photography.
When exploring the two slide collections, I noticed that these resources had not been updated in a while, having become obsolete decades ago. The paper paraphernalia separating the slides had yellowed; the methods of classification were outdated; many slide labels used politically incorrect terminology, and there were no updates to reflect recent changes to world geographies. Most of the works pre-dated 1990 – just before the use of digital images became more widespread. For this reason, the photograph that depicts the collection of slides documenting the pages of the book “Photography After Photography,” seems particularly prescient.
For this exhibition, I chose to focus primarily on the material aspect of these slide collections. My photographs form yet another generation in the life cycle of material reproduction. I photograph with film, and I make physical prints of analogue slide collections that contain reproductions of photographs that were themselves reproduced in books. To highlight this continuum, I chose at times to reference my working process in the images. For example, I purposefully included the window reflection of my electronic flash lighting, and I preserved the film rebate and processing marks in some images.
Slide libraries used to be meeting places for researchers, where slides were physically handled. Fingerprints, smudges, and stains therefore become traces of the people who once handled the collection. The physical objects in these defunct slide libraries become, for me, memorials to artists, to researchers, to analogue photography, and to the life cycle of material objects generally. The aging and demise of these resources is a poignant reminder of Roland Barthes’ musing on the photograph, in which he points out that the photograph, like a human being, has a limited life: “Like a living organism, it is born on the level of the sprouting silver grain, it flourishes a moment, then ages…Attacked by light, by humidity, it fades, weakens, vanishes; there is nothing left to do but throw it away.” (Barthes, Camera Lucida. p. 93)
Susan Dobson graduated with her MFA from the University of Guelph in 1997. Her work has been exhibited in major photography festivals such as CONTACT (Toronto), Fotoseptiembre (Mexico City), Images Festival (Vevey, Switzerland), Le Mois de la Photo (Montreal), Bitume/Bitumen (Brussels), and FotoNoviembre (Tenerife, Spain) as well as public gallery exhibitions across Canada, the US and Europe.
Recent exhibitions include the 2017 Art Gallery of Windsor Triennial of Contemporary Art, feature exhibitions at Fotonoviembre 2017 (Tenerife, Spain), Images Festival (Vevey, Switzerland), and City Landscape at In Focus Gallery, Cologne, Germany.
Extensively reviewed with articles in CV Photo, Harper’s, Photo Metro, Magenta Magazine, Prefix Photo and Border Crossings, Dobson’s work has also been published in Carte Blanche, a compendium of Canadian photography in 2006, and Massive Change, Bruce Mau’s 2004 primer on new inventions and technologies.
In 2011, Dobson received a major grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to fund a 4-year collaborative project with curator Alison Nordström of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The group exhibition, Of Time and Buildings, which included Dobson’s work, was first shown at George Eastman House in March 2014 and travelled to the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in 2015.
Dobson’s photographs are in the corporate collections of BMO Bank of Montreal, Scotiabank and TD Bank Group as well as many public galleries including the National Gallery of Canada, Oakville Galleries, Swiss Museum of Photography, and the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, Spain.
She lives in Guelph, Ontario where she is Associate Professor at the University of Guelph.