Change #8 – A Trip to the National Art Gallery of Canada

A few years ago, the National Art Gallery of Canada had an exhibit by Vincent van Gogh. I had heard of him, but I couldn’t name a portrait that he had created. While having coffee with a friend one Saturday afternoon, she mentioned her and her husband were going to the exhibit. I was so jealous I could spit. I swore I would go to see it before it left Ottawa.

It left Ottawa and I never saw it. There was always something to do; floors to mop, family to see, my car to clean out…the list was endless. And I missed it. 

One of the items I wanted to do as my challenge, was go to the National Art Gallery and see an exhibit. Secretly, I hoped it would be one of the big names: Rembrandt, or van Gogh, or even Monet. I wouldn’t know if one of these artists had an exhibit in Ottawa because I never knew.  I only know once they leave.

This morning I pulled up the National Art Gallery website and began perusing for the special exhibits and there was no Rembrandt, van Gogh or Monet. But, one of them caught my attention. He was a photographer who photographed primarily black and white photos from the early 1920’s until his death in 1976: his name was Joseph Sudek.

His collection of photos, for me a lover of black and white images, were phenomenal. It was the way he would take photos of nature, trees, and the streets of Prague.  I’m not an artist and I can’t speak the language of artists. I can’t talk about texture, lighting, or how the photos were developed. I don’t recall those details. What I can tell you (but sometimes still lacking the words) is  how the photos made me feel.

Black and white photos are void of colour; but they add texture and detail nonetheless. Maybe it’s because part of your imagination needs to fill in the blanks or it’s because shadows are created. It makes images that are haunting at night seem even more eerie.

Joseph Sudek was a genius at using reflection; whether through raindrops or a glass of water. He would blur an image and use angles to accent or create different dimensions in a photo. Much of his work was taken through his window of his home and you would think that wouldn’t yield a lot of interesting material – but it did. He photographed nature and cathedrals, but also photographed the mundane – like a glass of water or an egg.

As I walked around I was in awe. But, there was one photo called “The Broken Madonna” that I felt tears gather in my eyes when I saw it. I don’t know what it was about the picture: part of the Madonna’s face had disintegrated. Maybe it’s because I feel broken sometimes and on nights that I watch the news, the world seems broken. Everything is precarious: even a statue.

The other interesting thing about Joseph Sudek: he lost an arm in WWI and began photographing after, carrying large cameras around with him to do his work. Resilient is not a strong enough word to describe him.

As I left the National Art Gallery, Broken Madonna in my mind, I walked out into the rain. Rain, that Joseph Sudek so often photographed through his windows. When I looked up at our Parliament Buildings, the clock was hidden behind fog, misty rain falling around me. It was a grey day – except for the vibrant colours of the leaves that clung to the trees and the ones that had fallen, that peppered the lawn surrounding the buildings.

The world is not always grey even though sometimes it may see like it; sometimes colour comes crashing through.




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