Scott McFarland is an artist’s artist. He is someone who thinks very seriously about how an image is made, an intentionality which underscores his richly composed photographs. We are pleased to have two of McFarland’s works in our Waddington’s West auction (July 3-8), and even more pleased that the artist took time to chat with us about these two pieces, his practice, and what makes a great photograph.
When looking at photography, it is easy to assume that one is looking at a single split-second moment captured on film. Yet your work is often composed of several, sometimes hundreds of exposures that you layer into a final image.
The two examples here are both single exposure images, meaning they were created without compositing multiple different negatives. They are earlier photographs, and date to just before the time I started this technique of layering that I continue even now. The garden image with the figure [lot 14, Trimming, Late Summer, Sarwan Thind] is in fact an analogue C-print the negative was printed from in a darkroom. A few years after this was taken, I began making images using several negatives combined together with the assistance of a computer.
You have been making these slow images for years, well before the advent of Instagram and the high-speed imagery which surrounds us. Has this impacted your eye and the way you make or view art?
My practice has always involved an element of both. Typically, in my “series” there is a larger composited tableau image which could be described as “slow” to make, but then also a number of smaller studies which utilize a more freestyle approach, sometimes using pinhole, and vintage cameras for example. These studies can include the effects that now have become more popular through Instagram and its multiple filters. I do think about Instagram as a daily and immediate way to engage with image making, though often – no filter.
What makes a good picture?
As a general rule I feel a good picture is when its “subject” doesn’t dominate the viewing, that is the subject being photographed should not be too interesting that the viewer doesn’t look enough at the picture’s making.
Does truth matter in photography? Is there a line that you will not cross when it comes to manipulating imagery?
I guess depending on the purpose of the photograph, truth can matter more or less. I make photographs where truth doesn’t matter as much because I am not using them for any factual intentions.
Can you tell us more about making the two works featured in our auction?
The garden image with the figure was one of my first from a Vancouver series, Gardens, and is quintessential to it. The second image [lot 17, Empire #6] is an early study for another series from California, Empire, that imaged the Desert Garden at the famous Huntington Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. These two projects embody my attention to garden content for the most part, and form a relation with other subjects of mine that consider landscapes too.
You have mentioned that you view the gardeners in your work as a metaphor for the artist, that the cultivated landscape and the cultivated picture have a lot in common.
I started out with an idea about gardens that was at first quasi political, and that is where this image, Trimming, Late Summer, Sarwan Thind, developed out of. The more time I spent with the subject it became more of a reflective experience to appreciate. To me some of the gestures exposed in the garden process reminded me of actions for photographers, artists, and later images attempted to capture this.
Early in your career, you apprenticed to Jeff Wall. What was the greatest thing he taught you?
To think about art as serious and be serious when making it, but you can only do that if it is enjoyable as well. I believe it is for him, and that rubbed off on me, I hope.
Is there a subject you’d particularly like to photograph but haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so?
There are a few, but I may be coming to the end of the line. At the moment I enjoy returning to the same subject and place at different times to see how my developing art views it.
What is your favourite thing to photograph?
Lately I have been looking a lot at water, however this turns more often into videos then still photographs these days. I fluctuate between animals and figures, but tend to pick places and environments where I will enjoy spending time.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a few projects that still have some incomplete images for them. The film has been shot, but due to time and other conditions they never went through the digital post-production process. The past year has been for the most part working though this selection, but also enjoying the pace of it without external pressures.
About the auction
This Vancouver-based auction offers a broad selection of Canadian and Inuit art from private Western Canadian and American collections. Contemporary Canadian artists represented include David Janzen, Robert Genn, Graham Gilmore, Angela Grossman, David Robinson, Roy Arden and Scott MacFarland. Inuit artists include Barnabus Arnasungaaq, Nuna Parr, Henry Evardualuk, Oviloo Tunnilee, Abraham Anghik, alongside a superb unidentified Inukjuak sculpture from the 1960s. Works by American artists Brandon Lattu, Adam Harrison and Red Grooms as well as Greenlandic artist Jonasie Faber are also featured.
The auction will be online from July 3-8, 2021. We invite you to browse the full catalogue.
Please note that all artworks are located in Vancouver and shipping from Vancouver is the responsibility of the successful bidders.
For more information or condition reports, please contact [email protected]. Please note that this auction closes at 2 pm ET (11 am PT).