Craig D'Arville's Quarantine Questions for photographers Kristin Sjaarda and Jon Setter


Hi friends; Craig D’Arville here. Stephen Bulger and I co-founded FFOTO a few years ago to develop an online art platform dedicated to promoting and selling photography and photo-based artworks. A large part of what we do involves regular conversations with our network of partner art dealers and artists, so when the recent development of social/physical distancing began in March to help “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 infections, we immediately began to hear first-hand how the anxieties of the situation were affecting our colleagues. The more people we spoke to, the more apparent it became that it’s the connections between us that really matter. We decided to channel some energy into a project to share that insight with our audience. We’re calling these short interviews “FFOTO’s Five Quarantine Questions”. The responses show the resilience and perseverance that we’ve always known to be a strength of visual artists and culture workers. I know I’ve found reassurance in the constructive and thoughtful perspectives revealed in these responses.

Craig D'Arville: Tell us about this brand new work, "Three Kinds of Blue”.

Jon Setter: This artwork is one of my new favourites. It was taken while I was in Bali in 2018. The image is called "Three Kinds of Blue" for the different shades of blue in the composition. What I like even more is that all the colour comes from three different skies; the two shapes that converge are billboards with the top being the actual sky. By combining them all into one composition I was able to mix reality with materiality of the same subject. 

The image is part of my larger body of work titled The Urban Text which is an ongoing exploration that attempts to reveal unseen aspects that shape how we experience urban spaces and architecture. I often document the details people walk past and use daily but may not consciously observe. In this case I chose to shoot billboards. I feel these are parts of the urban environment we are typically bombarded by, so we may not really ever look closely at them. By eliminating their advertising purpose and focusing on their texture and colour, I hope to shift the viewers' perception of how a billboard can be presented.

CD: What are you doing to stay engaged with your community during this strange time?

JS: I like using social media to talk with photographers I have met from around the world, so at these times we are doing what we normally do and messaging every now and then to see how everyone is coping - making sure we are all staying safe no matter where we are at. 

CD: Any advice you’d like to share to help others coping with working from home, or in isolation?

JS: My advice would be to not let this time at home halt your creativity. Even if, like me, you are used to shooting outside, use your time to learn a new skillset you can practice once all this is finished. I’ve been playing with new editing techniques in Photoshop by editing older images while watching youtube tutorials. This has actually prompted me to make a new instagram account where I can share these type of images. If I didn’t have this extra time I may never have thought to do so. So just keep finding a way to stay productive and grow while staying home. 

Craig D'Arville: Tell us a bit about "Tulips and Pink Plastic”.

Kristin Sjaarda: This print is part of my "Plastics Series." Using the style of Dutch Golden Age painters as a jumping-off point, and objects passed down to me from my Dutch grandmother’s family, I photograph flowers grown in my downtown Toronto neighbourhood alongside the flora and fauna that live and thrive in our urban environment. While the historical 17th-century artworks were made in an era of expansion and exploitation, these images strive to preserve and shine a light on what is now threatened by climate change. The photograph is a reflection of both my heritage and the city that I live in.

In this series I started including found pieces of plastic. I noticed in the spring, once the snow had melted, that in the public spaces in downtown Toronto there was a lot of wind-blown garbage around. It was ugly and therefore mostly ignored by passers-by, and beautiful in the way the winter-worn and softened plastic draped in tree branches and caught on fences. Previously, in earlier series of photographs, I restricted myself to incorporating only local species of birds, insects and flowers. In this way I wanted to create a environmental still life of a specific time and place. The bird eggs in the arrangement are matched up with flowers that would bloom at the same time as the nesting season. The grackle eggs in this image are loaned to me from the Royal Ontario Museum. With this new series, I felt like I could not ignore the plastic that was so prevalent in the spaces from which I was taking my subject matter. The plastic is inevitable and unavoidable, seemingly part of nature now.

CD: How is physical distancing affecting your work flow?

KS: My studio is in my home so when the time comes to work on a new photograph, my actual practice won’t change much. I try to use flowers that are grown in the Toronto area and the flowers that will start blooming in my garden. I began shooting this series as a way of staying creative when I was at home taking care of my small children, so that experience is not that different to how we all need to stay home now. 

CD: Any advice you’d like to share to help others coping with working from home, or in isolation?

KS: I just watched Jojo Rabbit last night and the Scarlett Johansen character says “(People) are just doing what they can”; I think that’s the best we can do. I also think if you are looking for some kind of creative outlet, do what Elizabeth Gilbert says: follow your curiosity. This is a good time to poke around and try things out, see where it goes with no attachment to the final outcome. I tried making sourdough bread and it’s pretty good! Its very practical too, as the final result gets eaten! I have also re-read my favourite book “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, an excellent book with a wonderfully anxious main character and his mediation on why art is essential to life.




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