Where is Fort McMurray?

Youth Picturing Place

There is no unmediated photograph or passive camera obscura in scientific accounts of bodies and machines; there are only highly specific visual possibilities, each with a wonderfully detailed, active, partial way of organizing worlds.

– Donna J. Haraway, 1991.

Where is Fort McMurray? refers to both the series of 21 images before you as well as the collaborative process of working together to create the images. Between May 2009 and February 2011, young people representing the three high schools of Fort McMurray came together to consider questions of landscape, geography, community, social connections and photography. These questions were motivated by a University of Alberta qualitative research project titled Social Landscapes of Neoliberal Growth: the Case of Fort McMurray, Alberta, led by Sociology professor Dr. Sara Dorow. Social Landscapes is an ethnographic inquiry into local ideals and practices of community, with its shifting physical, social, and imagined boundaries, in the context of a neoliberally-governed growth economy. Where is Fort McMurray? functions as an element within the larger research framework in which a diverse group of youth volunteered to participate.

As participant collaborators we worked together to discuss visual compositions and narratives, workshop various photographic techniques, share our collected images, theorize the social implications of the photographs, and choose a striking selection of images that work as a set. The set you see before you is considered a snap-shot in time and, as Haraway states above, each image is imbued with a “wonderfully detailed, active and partial way of organizing worlds.” When observing the collection we must also consider the myriad images that were captured but not represented here, as well as the potential in those that were not created. This collection can also be considered as a catalyst for the creation of an online archive of images that work in relation to or as a kind of critical narrative to the images that dominate when one performs an online search of the name Fort McMurray.

Where is Fort McMurray? aims to gain perspective of place and community from the vantage of youth in a local context. The research project asks two kinds of questions: a) what are the variety of ways that youth understand and perceive Fort McMurray as a place; and b) what are the challenges and benefits of using photography as a way for youth to explore and express their experience of place. These questions function as a cyclical cue-card as you move from image to image, rather than a penultimate statement leading to concretized answers. Instead, the answers are more suggestive: Where is Fort McMurray? asks viewers to internalize and take up the questions themselves and engage in an open and supportive dialogue with creativity through visual representation and conversation with others.

This print exhibition is meant to be a physical manifestation of intermedia. The term intermedia, suggests movement from digital to analogue, analogue to digital and back again. In part, participants were drawn to participate in Where is Fort McMurray? because of the promise of learning photographic techniques. With digital single-lens reflex cameras in hand, participants began to feel the material weight of a DSLR. Some remarked that these cameras were too heavy and bulky to tote around, while others appreciated the manual control features and felt compelled to keep pressing the shutter. The time spent responding to the cameras, to light and to place is documented here with tangible representations of traditional photographic techniques from a swiftly passing era. Film and dark room chemicals have been traded in for sensors and data cards and as such we are left asking the questions, what is photography? And where is Fort McMurray?


Collaborators and Photographers












Facilitator, Collaborator, Photographer, Curator

Andriko J. Lozowy

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