Artist and gallery-owner Elizabeth Van Den Broeck is passionate about her love of Huron County landscapes. A graduate of the University of Toronto and Sheridan College, Elizabeth has created a collection of 30,000 photographic images of Huron County landscapes which she has taken over three years. Elizabeth’s work has been distilled into her new exhibit and recently published book Coordinates. This stunning collection will be exhibited at Marten Arts in Bayfield from May 11 to 31, 2012.
Fascinated by her gorgeous images and her process, I recently sat down with Elizabeth at her gallery to learn more.
Ruralist –How did you create the Coordinates collection?
Elizabeth – I drove around with a map of Huron County literally taped to my dashboard. I grew up in Huron County so I knew some areas really well, but other areas I hardly knew at all. I wanted to really understand my community so I forced myself to consciously get to know different parts of the county.
Ruralist – Tell us about the motivation behind the development of the Coordinates project.
Elizabeth – I wanted the photos to be timeless, so I chose natural settings as opposed to urban settings. I avoided anything that would date the photographs, so I chose to stay away from things that reflect a human impact (with the exception of ditches and fence posts). I didn’t want the images to be site specific; I wanted them to capture the feel of an area.
Ruralist – How does geocaching fit in to your work?
Elizabeth – I was completely and utterly fascinated with technology and the way a GPS device could pinpoint with only a few numbers exactly where you were on earth. Geocaching is a means of finding places and using technology. We started geocaching with my boys when they were small. They would be too impatient to wait for me to take a picture, so looking for geocaches gave them something to do. Through geocaching I discovered new trails, and I wanted to understand the meaning behind the choice of location coordinates. I search out what others found beautiful about the spot. We fell in love with geocaching and even went on a family vacation to France where we geocached our way across the country.
Ruralist – What was your process for gathering the images for Coordinates?
Elizabeth – Working full-time, it is hard to find the time to go out and shoot the images. So I began to schedule my geocaching and photography between 6 and 10 am Friday and Saturday mornings, regardless of the weather, every week – no matter what. It seemed that quite often I had horribly grey and dull weather so I had to look for contrasts in shapes and textures rather than light and shadow.
Ruralist – How did you decide on which images would go into the final Coordinates collection?
Elizabeth – This project covers a regional and seasonal variation of space as well as a setting of natural variation. There is mix of horizontal and vertical images which are intended to work together in the final exhibit. The photographs are printed on fine art canvas in the perfect shade of black and white. I had to print the images many, many times to get just the right shade of black and white. The intention was to create something that would stand the test of time.
Ruralist – Tell me about what inspires your work.
Elizabeth – I am inspired by the landscape of my county, realizing that I do not have far to travel to experience a wide range of regional variations. Huron County offers up a myriad of landscapes from lake and river to forest and field. I depict these landscapes in both black and white photography and painterly representation, juxtaposing the pure black and white of the photography with the “pushed” style and the intensified colour of the paintings. In most of my work, I strive for an element of timelessness. I tend to avoid structural elements that place the image in a modern context.
Ruralist – Your images are very large-scale (40″ x 60″): tell us about your choice to make your prints so big.
Elizabeth – The traditional black and white photograph takes on a new feeling when presented in a very large scale, on canvas. When an image reaches such a large size, viewers feel as though they could “walk into the landscape.” I would like to present a range of image sizes for the exhibit, but still focus on the larger scale. The finished fine art photo is created with archival qualities that are both lightfast and permanent.
Ruralist – Who inspires your photography?
Elizabeth – Reuben Sallows is an inspiration to me. I admire how his images have become a piece of history, like an artifact. I built the finished Coordinates project with every aspect of the construction designed to stand the test of time. I chose to use the most indestructible materials I could get: the ink has a 200-year lightfast rating, and I sealed each one with 100-year laminate so the canvases can actually be wiped.
Ruralist –Tell us more about Elizabeth’s Art Gallery.
Elizabeth – We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the gallery this summer: it opened in July 1992. We have a large selection of fine art for sale as well as art supplies. We do custom framing, fine art printing and workshops. Our website has a complete listing of all the programming and events at the Gallery.
If you are not familiar with geocaching but would like to learn more, head over to this geocaching website. Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online. In Ontario alone there are literally thousands of different geocaches hidden throughout the province and millions more around the world.