Saturday, 17 January 2015

Damien Gilbert: Sliding into the Art World

Curtis Jenson, Jeff Goldblum, Damien Gilbert
     “I’m not saying you have to do crazy things,” starts Damien, “but you’ve got to be fresh, and try to get a better angle,” he continues. “I’m a lot more adventurous than I used to be. I’ll sit on the edge of a cliff to get a better shot, but I used to be afraid of heights.”
      Damien Gilbert is speaking both directly and metaphorically. As a regular jack-of-all-trades in photography, film and video production, Damien’s approach has made his life exciting and unusual. He’s known by almost everyone in the art scene in Thunder Bay. He’s reliable and dedicated to his work, and he’s the most affable guy you could meet, unafraid to approach anyone.
       On his way to Iceland, stopping over at the Washington Dulles International Airport last year with his friend Curtis Jenson, Damien spotted the actor Jeff Goldblum being harassed by airport security. Goldblum was furious. His bags were strewn around, all of them open, contents in view for everyone to see.
     As soon as Goldblum had his bags organized, Damien strolled up to him and asked if he and Curtis could get a photo with him. The three of them ended up sitting on a bench together, chatting.
     Damien gets hired because people like his work as much as they like him personally, which results in compounded opportunities. While working on a 48 Film Challenge, without pay, one of the crew invited Damien to help him out on other shoots giving Damien three different paid jobs in three different countries.
    “It’s awesome. I’ll work for one person, for free, and suddenly get hired by a bunch of other people. Like being hired right after Con College to do a wine documentary in California.”
     Although he was paid as a production coordinator for this LCBO documentary, filming in wine country, the job felt like a vacation. “That was an awesome gig, for three weeks. And right after film school. That was good money. We stayed in the nicest hotels, eating the best food every day, filming in the sun in the nicest locations.”
     His worst experience was in the Virgin Islands. “I don’t want to knock the film, the people were great to work with, but the conditions were the worst. We were down in a bunk house with cockroaches, mosquitos, no air conditioning at 30 degrees plus at night, while the directors were up in the air conditioned mansion with a pool.”
     Damien has done music videos, stunt videos, action sport videos, around forty short films, six feature films, four television shows, dozens of documentaries, and has published his own photography.
     His diverse abilities have allowed him to work different jobs on films, but his forte is as a cameraman. And he’s very good at it.
     “I’m not just there to be a generic shooter,” says Damien with some pride based on experience. “Sometimes you’ve really got only one shot at getting the moment when there’s no way you can redo anything. I try to shoot everything like that.”
     More and more Damien is creating his own photographic work rather than seeking out jobs elsewhere, becoming an artist in his own right, experimenting with ideas and going with what intrigues him, not knowing what will come next. He’s hoping to put out a book and have an art show to share the results of an extensive photo shoot he did in Scandinavia last year. He’s also doing blog work, documenting little photo adventures, up at Mt. McKay, Wolf River Falls, the bluffs and elsewhere. Currently he’s doing a series of women in winter hats.
     The more Damien delves into his own projects, the more he becomes interested in taking on clients only if they offer him something outside his forte. “I’m not worried about competition or what other people are doing. I like being edgy,” he says.
     Damien isn’t out to be an artist with a capital A. He doesn’t talk the art talk and his original influences are pretty rustic; skate board videos, Jackass and Tom Green. But his reasons for sliding sideways into the art world are because he loves to play with ideas and he genuinely likes people and what they can get up to. He’s more an observer with a camera than most artists would be, unapologetically getting involved, racking up the “selfie” count yet revealing his love of people, places and events. And he does his thing even if people don’t like it. So his photography, which is both an outlet for personal expression, also unintentionally reveals a great deal about quirky Thunder Bay and the fascinating people who live here.
     You can see some of Damien’s work at and dmangilbert.tumblr.comand. And keep your eyes open for his future book and art projects.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Vision Board for the New Year and the Practical World of Your Unacknowledged Artistic Practice in Comparison to the Big Art World

What might help you get beyond February with your new year’s resolutions is to create a list with priorities labeled A to D, where C and D represent nothing to sweat over if you don’t get them done. According to Anthony Robbins, if you do three things every day on any of your lists, including C and D, you will eventually reach your goals and be a happy person. That is, of course, if there is no economic meltdown.
     For added help, try a little new age motivational thinking by attaching images of your dream home, camp, car, boat, jewelry, spouse, body, friends, children, pets, etc. from the Internet or magazines to your A and B list priorities. Paste these images to a board and place the board on the fridge door or above the dresser. One day, these dreams will magically come true.
    However wary you might be of vision boards, wish fulfillment and mystic relationships between imagery and reality, you are no doubt already performing what artists have been hired to do since the stone age; mimesis and generating feelings of plenty.  
     When photography was invented and the digital revolution added to the ease at which ordinary citizens could obtain imagery, artists were left lurching. It’s no surprise that in order for artists to survive they often became quasi-philosophers and gurus producing pseudo-art, each declaring that their art was superior to the last batch of artists in order to attract wealthy patrons, their lifeblood. This created a phenomenal number of art movements in a short period of time in the 19th and 20th Centuries. For every art movement you’ve heard of there were a hundred others that never made it to the history books.
     Today, modern art movements fall under the banner of “Contemporary.” This is a scheme to ensure that contemporary artists are no longer constantly trumping each other with their own brand, essentially invalidating and killing off other movements. When Pablo Picasso died in 1971, there was a collective sigh of relief amongst artists. He alone symbolized the entire modern movement, magnetically sucking art history to his chest. When he entered Intellectual Byzantium, otherwise known as the history books, which is essentially heaven for artists, it was then possible for someone else to be the next great guru. But no one wants to be left out of heaven, so an unconscious collective agreement grew under the banner of “Post-Modernism” and then Contemporary art, to be more egalitarian and inclusive. No one person, or one group, was allowed to be the one great thing. Every artist got the chance to be a somebody if they showed in a gallery and then catalogued.
     Unfortunately, this has lead to a permanent stasis, which critics call “Presentism.” Contemporary artists have created a new problem for themselves: desperately trying to be relevant without being too original or so new that you upset other artists and critics whose lifeblood depends upon control. No one movement and certainly no one artist dare take the reigns of art history.  
     Mind you, I’m talking about the world of big galleries and art magazines. It really doesn’t have to concern you at all, until you get an ugly contemporary art sculpture dropped in your local park. Or a really ugly building dropped in a downtown core. Well, maybe it does concern you.
     In any case, in your own home and life, you have become the artist. You won’t be shamed by anyone these days for not owning an original work of art. Even by artists. They understand. Framing is expensive. Original art is expensive. There are more important things you can spend your money on, like the latest flat screen TV and speaker system.
     Every time you download a picture, make a video, take a photograph, print a photo and hang pictures on your walls you are being the visual creator. You create your own footprint with the visual imagery you choose.
     This includes all those pictures you have of your friends and family, some that you share on Facebook. It’s the posters of places you’ve travelled, the photos of past loved ones, the pictures you have of your kids and pets and previous homes. It’s the pictures of people who inspire you. It’s the teenager’s bedroom with the spaceships and cars and hockey players and sexy girls and/or sexy boys and rock bands and country music stars and… on and on. All of this is mimesis, images reproduced and generated to give you feelings of pleasure and that act as a statement of who you are and what you love.
     Repeating images generates feelings of plenty. Multiple images can reinforce the idea that you’re active and alive. Repetition creates a sense of movement. This is why you have more than one photo of a loved one in your home. It explains why we take thousands of unnecessary photographs. It makes you feel comfortable, which explains some people’s strange desire to collect things, including hoarders. You generally feel better when the fridge is full. It keeps death at bay. You certainly feel better if you hang pictures of your family and friends and of places you’ve been and things you’ve done. You can look at your walls and see how full your life has been. It makes death easier to take. Blank walls are too empty and austere.
     You are satisfying basic needs once performed by visual artists.
     But it’s still nice if you do support local artists. If you want to stand out as someone of taste and status, buying art is the way to go. What artists can do for you is enhance the imagery that you have in your home by making it one of a kind, either as a piece that is characteristic of the artist’s style or a work that you commission where you instruct the artist what to paint or photograph or sculpt. You can better create your own original personal history that speaks more to your character, and adds to the visual world that you see on a daily basis. Photographers can get a better shot than you and visual artists can apply metaphor and allegory and fantasy to anything you like, making what you own truly original.
     If the life you lead is as good as it gets and you are happily settled, maybe you don’t need that vision board. Maybe you just need a little enhancement. That’s where the art world can help you out.