Road Tripping: Adventures with Lise Beaudry – Dayna McLeod

Lise Beaudry

Lise Beaudry

Lise Beaudry

Lise Beaudry is one of my favorite photographers. She manages to capture stillness, melancholy, nostalgia, longing, and a sense of both the unknown and the familiar with her camera that is simply astounding. Her practice borders on the obsessive and relies on a thoughtful gestation period as she captures hundreds and hundreds of images for each project, saves them, thinks about them, and works with them sometimes years later. I sat down with Lise in her studio in Toronto to talk about her work, her process, and her many adventures as a photographer.

Dayna McLeod: Tell me about the travel images.

Lise Beaudry: They’re from a series called, “Road Tripping”. I don’t know how old they are- it was at least 5 years ago that I went on a road trip with Aileen, my partner, and we had a lot of projects going on in the car as we were driving across the country. The main one was to photograph drive-in theatres, a series that I’ve shown. What I had done before leaving is all of this research online and found all of these drive-in theatres in Canada and the US, and some of them were still alive, still working, and some of them were dead. So I mapped them all out, and as we were driving, we were sussing out how much of a detour we would do to go and photograph them, and because there was always a bit of a chance, “is it still there, or not?”, we’d have to find it in or around the town. After a while, I could almost feel where they would be. They’re usually outside of the town somewhere, so if it’s a small town especially in the prairies- the prairies were pretty easy because you arrive in the town and drive around town- you can see the screen popping out of the landscape.

DMC: That must have been very exciting, using your sixth sense…

LB: It was very exciting. A lot of my work is like that- I go search out things and I find them and I start feeling like I can almost predict where I can find them, and there’s that feeling inside that is sort of exhilarating when you find it. But you know, sometimes you don’t find it, and when we couldn’t find the drive-in, we’d find the town centre and try to find the info-centre and go ask these, usually older ladies, and see if the drive-in was still around. One thing I regret is not recording those stories because those interactions were really great. Sometimes it’s almost more about the process of finding then the actual discovery. It’s so much part of what I do, that research before, and often there’s some sort of travel or search component that brings me to finding what I’m going to be photographing.

DMC: How do you take a picture? How do you approach your work?

LB: For each project, I give myself a set of rules or have a set of considerations. When I was doing the drive-in photographs, I was very interested in the juxtaposition of the flat screen within the landscape, and often in my photographs, there are no people. It’s more about the place and the objects that are used by people that often bring people together. I call the series, “Scenes in the Sky”, and I like the blank screen and seeing it at a time that you don’t necessarily see it. You don’t necessarily notice them. The way that I photograph them is almost like they’re bigger than they actually are, they’re kind of like gigantic screens. I think of the blank screen and the possibility of what can exist on it. I enlarge them quite big so you can see the actual texture of the screen. Often when I go on these “benders” of taking photographs of specific things, I go more than once. This series was part of going on this road trip- so a lot of it was developing as I was photographing. When I come back and get it all processed (because I don’t shoot digitally, I shoot on film), I’ll often go back and photograph again, see what’s working for me. Usually when I first approach something, I always have some consideration in mind, but I try not to figure it all out.

DMC: To trust your intuition?

LB: Yes. It’s always this balance of making sure that I have something that works, that there’s a reason why I’m photographing it in a particular way but leaving place for surprises, errors or other things to happen and to just really be intuitive with the landscape, with the camera and kind of move around. I arrive and I walk around for a while before I figure out where I’m going to position the camera. I just look for a while and decide. I take tons of photos.

DMC: You’ve talked to me previously about being obsessive with your work. Do you consider yourself a collector?

LB: Yes, definitely. I love to collect photographs, look at them, reuse them, reassemble them in different series. I create this collection of images around specific things. The drive-in theatre project is just one. There were several projects on the road trip to the point where driving was more relaxing then being in the passenger seat because whoever was in the passenger seat had to record all of these things. The drive-in was different because we would actually stop. It was more of a formal project.

DMC: What were some of the other road trip projects?

LB: I had this whole series that I’m calling, “Road Tripping” and basically, they’re a lot of signage. In Canada, I was mostly interested in photographing signs of small towns and weird kinds of signage that you see on the side of the highway. And so if you were not driving, you would be shooting these, and those I was shooting with a Lomo camera, a really low-tech camera where you just estimate the distance between the camera and the subject to figure out where the focus is going to fall. So when you’re driving, you really have to guestimate the distance and then take the photograph. So tons of them are really blurry, but then there’s some that look really great and captures that sense of being in movement while you’re photographing. The other was a video project that Aileen and I did together. We stopped at a lot of Canadian “main attractions”. We stopped in Wawa with the big goose, and we took turns filming each other, reading from the guidebook about the actual site. And it was really funny. We had some that were specific to a location, some were by a lake and talking about the Canadian landscape. We had a lot of fun. We never did anything with it. I do a lot of projects, and sometimes nothing comes of them, but they exist and maybe later something will happen with them. We were also doing, “Car Art”, we were making things out of dental floss and objects that we would find. They were more like “inside the car” decorations.

DMC: Can you talk about the ice fishing project?

LB: Another project is that I’ve been photographing ice fishing huts. In a lot of my projects, I have an interest in things that are connected to the north. I’m from a really small town and these kinds of small town activities and things that are connected to growing up in a small community interest me, especially a francophone community. These activities, places or objects that people tend to do as a group, they’re very social and tend to bring people together, but I just photograph them as these stand-in portrait/objects, so I don’t really photograph the community or the people involved with it but I tend to photograph the objects. The ice huts are almost sculptural, they’re pretty interesting how people construct them.

DMC: What is an ice hut?

LB: People build ice huts to go ice fishing. So if you go ice fishing, you can have a place to hang out in. And there’s a fire inside. You have a wood stove inside so that you can actually warm up in there and you can cook. So in my family, when we get together at Christmas time and we all go ice fishing, we do a bit of a family reunion on the lake and my aunt has tourtière and we have wine and we hang out. We’re mostly outside but you go inside to eat or to warm up a little bit. And people usually make them out of recycled material, whatever wood they have so they’re really unique. I think it would be really hard to find two ice huts the same unless you go to an ice hut rental place where they have 20 of the same huts, which is a bit crazy. So last year I had a show in Sudbury and I discovered this ice hut community, Azienda and what was really great about it is that a lot of the ice huts were made out of camping trailers. I’m going back this winter to photograph.

DMC: You seem to have a real old-school practice. Can you talk about why you use film?

LB: I like the process but I also really love film. I love the grain. Grain is sort of like a puzzle that fits together and digital images are dots that don’t really fit together, they sit one next to each other. So especially when you enlarge images, you really see grain and it’s beautiful. I really like the physicality of the actual film. I also like the permanency of negatives. I always feel with digital files that they can just disappear. With negatives, they could disappear, but there would have to be a really big catastrophe. I like to collect, I like to have things, and I like to have my negatives, the object. I also like the idea of taking photographs and the process of taking photographs without seeing the immediate results. Because you really have to think about things and you don’t have a second chance, necessarily. The process is really different and I’m really into that photographic process where you take time- the actual photographing is really exciting. With digital, you see it right away and often, when I get my film processed, I often don’t like them. Sometimes I’ll go get a roll of film and I say, “Wow. They’re all… crap.” And if it was digital, what if I just erased them all? I mean, I wouldn’t, but there’s that possibility. With film, they’re always going to be there. And especially with the way that I work, going back, they exist and I can go and get them. I print digitally- I scan them and have them as digital files as well, but I do like both the process and the physicality of the object of the film.

DMC: What are you working on right now?

LB: When I started pulling out the “Road Tripping” images, there were all of these gun photographs. I started making correlations between being a photographer and being a hunter. One particular image that did that for me is, “Aim for the Best”. You’ve got the gun and you’ve got the frame where you look through the gun and shoot. There are some parallels with photography- just the language of hunting and shooting. I always set these adventures for myself and go on these excursions to find things, I go on this process where I have this high level of alertness and focus; I’m going to gather something. I’m familiar with that process because I used to go hunting when I was a kid and I think that there’s something, some sort of excitement when you see and when you find what you’re looking for and then you actually capture it. I think that there’s something kind of interesting about that process, and I’m interested in that idea of hunting and the guidelines of hunting, the tools of hunting- keeping your tools in good shape, caring, selecting your tools according to what you’re going to go and capture.

DMC: So are you excited about the “Road Tripping” project again? Excited about going through that process of culling your collection and revisiting these images and working with them in relation to this idea of the hunter? Is this your main drive?

LB: It’s part of it. I’m definitely attracted to the images themselves. I’ve been thinking about possibly working with text, finding text that speaks both of photography and hunting, maybe really small underneath the image, having a row of text that’s ambiguous that talks about hunting but if you really think about it, it’s relative to the image.

DMC: Text from a manual?

LB: Possibly from a manual. I did a bit of research online in trying to find some hunting guidelines.

DMC: Like how to skin a deer?

LB: Possibly. But more about shooting- the idea of going out and trying to find something and capturing it, being skilled, learning your trade, and making sure that when you shoot that you get it right. That process. The whole hunting theme is to acknowledge it in my process, and to acknowledge it as something positive. I think that for me, hunting is not a bad thing at all, because it is something that my family did and it wasn’t wasteful. We ate moose all year. And I have fond memories of that process. I think that a lot of my work is trying to recapture these moments of adventure that I had so much of growing up. One thing that I did with my dad, is he would take me hunting or fishing or something and he would tell me, “I have a hunch that there’s a lake somewhere, but you know, I’m not sure. But before we go, we should really stop at the corner store and buy a chocolate bar just in case we get lost so we have energy.” So we’d buy a Wonder Bar, and we were not allowed to eat the Wonder Bar until we got back to the truck and we knew that we were safe. Then he would park the truck and we would walk up these trails. Of course he knew there was a lake there, but we’d get to the lake and he’d say, “What kind of fish do you think there is?” There were often these kinds of adventures that he would make up and I love that idea of going on a road trip or just discovering new things. I think it’s very much part of my process to set up these things where I might discover something. I think to create that sensation of true adventure, especially when you’re a kid, well, we don’t have that a whole lot, this heightened sense of excitement for these really simple things.

Lise Beaudry is a Franco-Ontarian artist originally from Earlton, a rural farming community near the Ontario/Quebec border. Now residing in Toronto, she is the Director of Gallery 44 – Centre for contemporary photography. Her photographic and video work has been shown across Canada, in the U.S, Romania and Arles, France during Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie. As an image-making artist, Lise operates as a romantic researcher and serial photographer.

Dayna McLeod is a writer, video and performance artist. She has traveled extensively with her performance work, and her videos have played from London Ontario to London England- across Europe, North America, South America, Asia and a few times on TV. She co-hosts Dykes on Mykes in Montreal, and conceived and coordinates http://52pickupvideos.com; a video site whose participants make one video a week for an entire year.