Eamon Mac Mahon Purple Valley, Canada
Eamon Mac Mahon (b. 1976) is an artist working with photography and video, currently based in Ontario, Canada. Raised in the boreal forest of northwestern Canada, his preoccupation with wilderness began at an early age. Mac Mahon’s photographs have been published by the Walrus, National Geographic, Capricious, MIT Press and the New Yorker. His work has also been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Alberta, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art with video installations at the AGO and Detroit Institute of Arts. He has been nominated for the Prix Pictet and named one of PDN’s 30.
Eamon Mac Mahon was chosen by Brandon Thibodeaux
Laatikkomo’s interview with Eamon Mac Mahon December 12th, 2015.
L: Where are you from? Or what cities, and/or countries have you lived in – what places have influenced you?
E: I was born in Toronto, but spent my childhood in a very small town in northwestern Canada. This part of the world has probably influenced me more than other places that I’ve lived. The town, called Grande Cache, was built around a coal mine, just a few years before we arrived. It was surrounded by endless woods and mountains, the closest town was hours away. Wild animals often wandered into the town. Living there gave me a sense that I belonged in the wilderness, and that I was safe in the woods, a feeling that I still have today. I spent my teenage years and early twenties in Toronto, which is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. It’s a place where people are constantly coming and going. I think that the experience of spending so much time in Toronto made me very curious about the world outside of Canada. I’ve never had a feeling of nationalism or any claim to Toronto, I didn’t feel that I had any more right to be there than someone who had arrived recently. Maybe because my parents weren’t born in Canada, and maybe because Canada isn’t very old.
L: What is your first memory of photography/film?
E: My first memory of photography is watching a slide show, (of my father’s travels through Algeria in the sixties, I think). I remember going very close to the screen, the sound of the fan, the smell of dust burning on the lamp. The photos glowed. We didn’t have a TV so slide shows were something that I really looked forward to when I was a kid.
L: Much of your photography is taken looking down at the earth from high in the air. What is physically involved in this kind of photography?
E: Most of those photographs were taken from a very small bush plane, in remote areas of northwestern Canada. Generally speaking I need to travel very light, tie myself in and remove the airplane door if possible. Weather, particularly wind, is a constant concern. I’ve never had a fear of heights, but I have had a few close calls in airplanes over the years, so I’m slightly more wary of flying than I used to be.
L: In photographing on a macroscopic scale, you somehow create the feeling of having zoomed in on a specific small detail, making the image into an abstract image of forms and lines. Have you ever been interested in photographing on a microscopic level? And do you think the opposite can be achieved (photographing micro – seeming macro)?
E: I have actually been very interested in taking microscopic photos and video, especially since seeing footage of water bears (aka Tardigrades) recently. I highly recommend looking up Tardigrades if you’re unfamiliar. I think that it would be possible to find vast landscapes in microscopic environments, though achieving a convincing depth of field might be challenging? I like the idea.
L: Many of your photographs depict views of nature, some show pristine landscapes while others show landscapes altered by human intervention. Do you think your photographs have the power to influence current environmental politics?
E: Photography has a long history of influencing environmental policies and public opinion related to conservation, wildlife, ecology etc. I think that photographs are often necessary in revealing things that are hidden, as well as providing a reference for the future. I use photography to express the love that I have for these hidden places, and to remind people about the wilderness as we slip further and further away from it. I’m not sure if my photographs have the power to influence politics, I think that photographs in general have less power than they once did, or maybe just less stamina to withstand the flood of other images.
L: If I understand correctly, you have gone on several assignments for Air Canada’s En Route Magazine. I imagine that the magazine would have a vision of portraying something about the wonder of the world viewed from above: How much freedom do you have when working on assignment?
E: I have a fair amount of freedom while I’m on the road, usually I’m working alone and I can follow my intuition. As far as what will actually end up being printed, that’s a different story. It’s an in flight magazine, which literally any type of person (children, elderly people, religious people etc) will pick up and flip through. Many interesting photos won’t make the edit for that reason.
L: Solitude seems to play a part in your photography. Many of your series are taken in sparsely populated areas where the people appear to be lonely, or out in the wilderness. Is this a feeling you are consciously working with, or is it the direct result of the particular landscapes you are working in?
E: I think that this feeling is a result of where I’m working as well as my own state of mind. I wouldn’t describe it as loneliness. Arriving to the wilderness is always a relief for me, it’s where I connect to something spiritual, non-human, timeless, constant. A feeling of stability combined with something mysterious and sometimes dangerous.
L: What main questions would you like your work to inspire in the viewer?
E: Who are we? Where did we come from? How are we related to non-human life on this planet? How do other life-forms perceive this place? Do we have a purpose, and if so, what could it be?
L: Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?
E: Fleeting, lost, marooned, waiting, blending
Thank you so much Eamon!!