The Many Layers of Scott McFarland

By Becky Rynor on June 27, 2014

Scott McFarland, Main Street Optics, Main Street, Southampton, New York (2012), archival inkjet type print, 95.8 x 179.1 cm. © Scott McFarland, 2014

Internationally acclaimed Canadian photographer Scott McFarland isn’t always sure what he’s looking for when he sets up his 4x5 field camera on a street corner. But he’s willing to wait for it, whatever “it” is.

“Sometimes you make a commitment,” he says. “You get a gut feeling that there’s a picture here, and you don’t know what it is when you start. That’s where the patience comes in: when you sit and you wait for certain results.”

An exhibition of McFarland’s most recent photographs is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto to August 10, 2014. His work entails carefully framing a scene or subject, then shooting multiple exposures from a variety of angles, at different times of day, and in varying light.

“Sometimes the picture is going right by me and I have to be very, very quick,” he says. “After I get the initial thing that interests me, I can go back and try and see if there’s something else there that will add to the original experience.” He then scans and layers these shots to create highly detailed, multi-nuanced, crystal-clear composites of rural and urban street scenes and landscapes.

McFarland studied at the University of British Columbia, and spent his early career in Vancouver where he became renowned for his images of West Coast gardens and rustic cabins. He now lives and works in Toronto, and has turned his lens to a number of Ontario landscapes and urban street scenes. Some are fascinating—if implausible—studies of people, situations and circumstances, almost seamlessly stitched together. Peek in the windows of a seemingly empty restaurant to see the mirrors reflecting rooms full of patrons. Other photographs take on a more documentary approach as in his Repatriation Series chronicling the return of fallen soldiers to Canada from Afghanistan.

“The repatriation pictures had more to do with looking at representations of war, like war art,” he says. “In terms of repatriation in war art, it’s looking at images of the home front. Obviously, some people are going over to Afghanistan and depicting scenes of villages—people living in Afghanistan. With that particular series, I wanted to look at people back home: their relationship to the conflict that was so far away, and how it never really touched any of our lives in terms of everyday considerations or consequences.”

AGO curator of modern and contemporary art, Kitty Scott, calls McFarland one of Canada’s most prominent artists. “What makes Scott’s work so compelling is the documentary sense of the pictures and the intensity of detail that reveals the passage of time,” she says. A series of large-format street scenes shot in New Orleans, for example, captures the “clash between old and new.”

Scott McFarland, Man on Ladder, Royal Street, New Orleans (B&W), 2012, archival inkjet print, 88.9 x 101.6 cm. © Scott McFarland 2014  

“[That clash] creates dynamism within the picture,” McFarland says. “Some works have it more than others. New Orleans is a city that has elements of an older time, and actually that older time feeds into the touristy image of the city, whether it’s rustic cemeteries or streetcars or the mule-drawn carriages. But then there’s this other side of the city which is kind of modern or contemporary, and there is always someone beeping the horn behind the carriage because it’s in the way.”

McFarland’s work can also be seen in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Snow, Shacks, Streets, Shrubs is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, to August 10, 2014. 

By Becky Rynor| June 27, 2014
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Becky Rynor

Becky Rynor

Becky Rynor is a journalist and editor based in Ottawa.

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