Laura Millard paints on large format photography. She received a BFA from NSCAD in 1983 and an MFA from Concordia in 1992. She is currently a professor at Toronto’s OCAD University. Millard has exhibited in artist-run centres, commercial galleries and public galleries in Canada, the United States, China and Sweden. We visited her in the house she converted into a live/work space in downtown Toronto.
I took photography for one term at NSCAD, a long time ago, but I didn’t know anything about it. I had a friend who said, ‘I’m ordering this 30 x 40″ colour paper. Do you want to do some big colour prints?’ So I ordered a huge box full.
It was actually at the Banff Centre. I can’t remember if it was when I was leading a residency or when I was working as the manager of the residency program. They had a colour printer.
I took pictures of snow blowing around and marks left by skaters, animals, traces of wind and that sort of thing. They weren’t great and I didn’t know what I was doing. I just made them into negatives–this was before digital. Then, I played with the filters, without any instructions, and fed the paper through!
Photographers don’t do that, right!? They cut it and then they do test strips.It’s all really careful and they write down that it was like this with this filter. They’re particular kind of people, they remember things, and they read numbers–I don’t! For me, it’s like cooking; I’m going to try this and that. I wouldn’t remember what I did. I’d expose these big pieces of paper and move my hands on it, just fooling around and then I would riffle the whole thing through.
The photographers would stand there watching the 30 x 40″ paper come rollin’ in and rollin’ out. I would take the paper up to my painting studio and I thought, ‘Well, it would be better if it had this,’ and I would paint it on. It was really interesting because it had this freedom from canvas and I had trapped myself somehow to this approach of working on canvas. You weren’t supposed to paint on photos. You’re not supposed to. It was freeing. It was this place where abstraction could meet some sort of veracity of experienced phenomenon. So that’s where it started.
This is a new body of work. It was really really cold, the sun was going down, it was about four o’clock, and I had [my partner] Tim go out on the lake with a big snow blower and blow tons of crystal snow up into the air. I took a whole bunch of pictures with those crystals coming down and they were catching the spectrum of the sun, because of the angle of the sun.
With the skating ones, I photographed other people’s skate marks, but it didn’t work at all. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I like to have hockey players skate on nice pond ice, that’s pristine. They have to obey my skating commands: ‘Go again. Circle again.’ They can’t see what they’re doing but I’m up high with a couple of lenses. I was at a different vantage point, so I could actually see the drawing. It’s choreography and the body is the stylus. The body is the instrument of drawing.
It interests me having this type of landscape and having this type of event happening. I like the idea of getting somebody to do something, capture that and then do something with that. With the skate ones, there’s a lot of lines that aren’t there that get added and lines that are there that get edited out.
I look at a lot of representations of things that are otherwise invisible. Electron, microscope kind of things… It’s completely made up shit really. It’s not a photograph. It’s not like someone pointed a camera. It’s an interpretation.
The colours are made up. This is just data. It’s a completely aestheticized reality that is sort of posited as what you would see if you were flying through space, but it isn’t! The colours are very much like these digital colours, so that correlation I find very interesting.
The way that they are dealt with digitally and then over painted, they become not unlike these invented star-scapes because there is data that I’m drawing from originally.
-Laura Millard, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Courtney Vokey
Visit Laura Millard’s website here.