Explosion is from Sarah Anne Johnson’s Arctic Wonderland series, which she developed in 2009 while on the Arctic Circle residency, an annual expeditionary residency program for artists, scientists, architects, and educators. Speaking of her time there, Johnson describes the Arctic as “totally alien. I felt like I had landed on Mars. It was unlike anything I had even seen or done before.” Work from this series captures the vast, expansive landscape, both beautiful and barren, sublime and formidable. The two human figures in Explosion are dwarfed by their majestic surroundings – a potent reminder of the fragility of human life in the face of the natural world. Snow blankets the mountains and ground with no end in sight. Johnson’s work taps deep into the Canadian psyche and its long-held fascination with the majestic North, which has served as a defining element of Canadian identity and a symbol of the untamed wilderness that still forms much of the nation’s landscape
Johnson’s practice continually explores alternatives to traditional “straight” photography, seeking to express the lived reality of particular experiences and the psychology of place. She states: “My general interest in photography is showing what something looks like, but also what it feels like.…[By] altering the surface or image in any way, I can describe what a space feels like psychologically, what it feels like to be there.” After printing Explosion, Johnson painted bold bursts of colour in the sky – fireworks that act as a stark contrast to the blue-grey surrounds. This painterly addition suggests a joyous, overwhelming feeling in experiencing this place, despite the desolate, frozen environment. This celebratory mark-making renders the images simultaneously real and imagined, challenging the notion of a photograph as a document or fact and expanding the possibilities of the medium to capture a different kind of truth: one that is subjective but nonetheless real.
The River District Billboard is generously supported by Wesgroup