Scott Conarroe, Canada By Rail and By Sea – Jon Davies

Scott Conarroe, Forest Fire Plume, Golden BC, 2008, inkjet print, courtesy of the artist and the Stephen Bulger Gallery

Scott Conarroe, Forest Fire Plume, Golden BC, 2008, inkjet print, courtesy of the artist and the Stephen Bulger Gallery

Canada By Rail and By Sea
Ryerson Image Centre
29 April – 28 June, 2015

by Jon Davies

[Excerpt]
Born in 1974 in Edmonton, Scott Conarroe is best known for his continent-spanning By Rail (2007–09) and By Sea (2009–11). In these photographic series, Conarroe employed a large-format camera and long exposures to consider the U.S. and Canadian landscape, and the myriad transformations that it has undergone, via its expansive railways and coastlines. These lines and edges laid the groundwork for colonial expansion, industry, and resource extraction, as well as mass consumption, and the wealth accumulation and leisure – for some – that were generated.

These projects therefore treat railways and waterways not simply as instrumental to modern development of the continent, but as woven into the fabric of everyday life. The exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto provided a modest selection of some of the Canadian-sited works in By Rail and By Sea.

Riding the train, one’s point of view on the world is akin to a reverse shot in a film: rather than street-facing facades of homes and businesses, the landscape becomes one of industrial lots, neglected backyards, dead-end streets, and empty fields. The nostalgic quality of the light in Conarroe’s images harkens back to a time before convenient air travel and the Internet’s seemingly infinite reach, suggesting that these sites are from another era. In the past, train travel was regarded as deliriously fast and corporeally disorienting, bound to an embodied relationship with the land and its immensity. In the By Rail series, Conarroe revels in juxtapositions of these vital transportation lifelines with mundane vistas, suggesting how people’s work and play unfold seemingly oblivious to the forces that have brought them into being…

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