Join us Thursday, Sept. 22 from 4:30pm—6:30pm for the official public opening of Stay Solid or Move West, a photography exhibit featuring works by Chris Donovan.
Visit the exhibit from September 22 to October 19, from 10am to 4pm at the George Fry Gallery at 408 Queen Street, Fredericton, NB, Canada.
Stay Solid or Move West is a photographic project and book by Saint John-based photographer Chris Donovan. The work is a diaristic account of his purposefully displaced coming-of-age, as well as a subconscious look at intergenerational trauma, love, and sense of belonging.
Composed primarily of photographs made with disposable cameras in Toronto and the Maritimes between 2019-2021, alongside found vernacular photographs, the work embraces the utilitarian nature of photography that is often lamented by contemporary lens-based artists. In creating this work, Donovan was heavily influenced by the Japanese photographic tradition known as the Provoke Movement, characterized by grain, blur, and imprecision. He uses the tools of functional photography found in family albums and snapshots taped to fridges to invoke the feeling of nostalgia that he felt for his native Maritimes while living away.
The project is part of a long tradition of Maritime music, literature, film, and visual art about a dilemma that many Maritimers face at some point in our lives: the inevitability of “going west.” For many, “west” refers to the perceived economic prosperity of the oil fields of Alberta. For Donovan, it was Toronto. In 2019, while working as a photojournalist in Toronto, Donovan realized that he photographed his immediate surroundings very seldomly, with his projects taking him to the midwestern United States and the Maritimes frequently. As a result, he began photographing in his west end Toronto neighbourhood every day.
In 2020, the project took on new meaning as the world shut down and the Maritimes became inaccessible to those living away. Donovan began cycling down to Lake Ontario daily and reading Alistair MacLeod’s seminal novel No Great Mischief. The story of a man in Toronto whose trauma could be traced back to a small fishing village in Northern Cape Breton felt eerily like his own family’s story. Later that year, Donovan’s 95-year-old grandfather died in his dilapidated home in rural Cape Breton – a house that stood as a monument to intergenerational trauma. Donovan later visited the home for the first time with nobody in it and took some photos from old family albums that help visually contextualize the idea that we are made up of the stories we tell ourselves – stories that are passed down from generation to generation.
This exhibition and book bring all of these visual elements together to tell both a collective and a deeply personal story about growth, displacement, connection to place, and how identity is formed.