DOXA: Picture Start. Documentary Review.
By Nick Pannu
When people speak of Vancouver usually it’s about the city’s surrounding landscape of mountains, coastline and beaches. Seldom does the conversation begin with our city’s vibrant art scene. What’s often unrecognized is the high concentration of artists that live here. Some of the biggest names and innovators of art have come from our city.
Filmmakers Harry Killas and Ric Beairsto showcase the local scene in their documentary “Picture Start”. The film documents how the local art scene emerging in the late 60s not only challenged the status quo but also contributed to existing modern contemporary art by initiating a counter culture revolution in art through conceptualism. The Doxa documentary chronicles how three artists Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Ian Wallace began their journey in the existing art world of the 60s and later evolve their own counterculture style of Art. Together they expanded further the whole genre of conceptual art. An art form that through images creates a thought process where you just think about the subject; and the full image doesn’t have to be seen. Photography was used substantially as a counterculture to the high art because so many unorthodox things could be easily done through this medium.
Driving around Vancouver Wallace and Wall started taking pictures through cracked windshields. Street art became their pet peeve. Jeff Wall would actually re-create scenarios on the street and then take pictures. Lighting is a also a concept that John Wall expanded on. Wall is infamous in the 70s for a window display on a Vancouver street corner that was perpetually lit depicting a destroyed room. All three had collaborated in the 70sand failed to effectively communicate together the elements of conceptualism in film. Yet, it was Rodney Graham much later in the mid-90s who had crafted and become quite innovative in effectively applying concepts of conceptualism in film. The trio’s devotion and sacrifice to create and evolve photoceptualism inspired other artists into frenzy. Later Artists would make conceptualism their fetish by doing such things as pouring buckets of glue down a hillside and then take pictures of it.
Picture Start also takes a pleasant humanist approach as it’s shows how Wallace, Wall and Graham not only evolve professionally as artists, but also managed to stay colleagues and grow as friends. Eventually they become a band and even produced an album in the mid 70s. Again another medium for Wallace, Wall and Graham to vent conceptualism and counterculture art. Original founders of the punk band UJ3RK5 Wallace, Wall and Graham quickly gained a cult following in the Vancouver music scene with their punk, new wave and art rock genre of music and were even offered a contract by a major record label. Although other band members were ready to sign, Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall were not ready to quit their established day jobs and wanted to develop post-conceptual photography further.
Shot in Vancouver, New York, Ontario, Paris, Barcelona and Dresden, Picture Start provides aesthetically appealing cinematography as well music to captivate the viewer beyond the story itself. The documentary intimately shows how Wall, Graham and Wallace begin and then become prominent figures in the art world. Their sincere conviction to not only create but innovate created a ripple effect first among local and then other artists abroad. Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Ian Wallace not only pioneered a new mindset towards art through conceptualism, but elevated the art of photography to unparallel heights that allowed it to expand into galleries around the world. Vancouver has a high concentration of artists and the contributions within the arts community abroad are not few, but substantial. Picture Start premiered at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival on Friday, May 13 at 6:30pm, and will be broadcast on Bravo! On May 16 at 5 pm PT.
Picture Start was produced and developed in association with Bravo!, a division of CTV Limited, Knowledge Network and SCN. Produced with the participation of Rogers Documentary Fund; the Canadian Media Fund; with the assistance of CAVCO, The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit; developed with the participation of BRITISH COLUMBIA FILM, with the participation of the Province of British Columbia Film Incentive BC. Produced by Laughing Mountain Communications Inc. © Laughing Mountain Communications Inc. 2011.