Chasing the Sun

Not too long after arriving in Oakville to begin my artist residency, a young man asked me how to go about getting started in photography, not such an easy question to answer. I had a simple answer for him: “Watch the light and study how it illuminates the things around you, photography is all about chasing the light.” I went on to say that photography is not a very difficult medium to learn but what can be difficult is finding your voice—what do you want to say? This can only come from exploration.

My advice comes from years of making photographs, learning from mistakes and successes, as well as having a question to answer. When I began making photographs I was sixteen years old. I worked a night job while going to high school and saved enough money to buy my first camera. I quickly taught myself how to use the camera. The first photographs I made were of my neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York; I eventually expanded my field of study to the downtown area of the city.

What attracted me to the downtown area was a childhood memory of riding in the back seat of my father’s car. My mother worked at a downtown bank and my father picked her up in the evening. I remember being mesmerized by the streetlights, the cars and trucks and the department store windows with mannequins who looked like real people. I have memories of billboards, store signs, and, in particular, a monument we always passed. I had a powerful attraction to these areas, wondering what new sensory experiences were around the next corner.

The Question

Each project I undertake begins with a question. For my Oakville Galleries residency I want to locate the Aboriginal past, imagined or recreated, in this area of Ontario.

I lived in Toronto during the early 1980’s, and during that time Burlington, Oakville, Port Credit and Mississauga were just exit signs along the Queen Elizabeth Way. I was either on my way to the Six Nations Reserve where my family lives or going to Buffalo, New York, never really thinking to stop and check these places out.

The Mississauga exit sign intrigued me because it is also the name of a branch of the Ojibway tribal group. I wondered if the Mississauga were part of the local history. However, quite often, Aboriginal names are used indiscriminately and are not reliable historical markers.

I arrived in Oakville on February 7th and checked into the Oakville Inn on Lakeshore Road East. I began the first phase of my residency the next day. Not knowing where to begin I decided the best approach was to drive around the area and get lost. In the past I have found that exploring without a map makes me much more aware of the surroundings, forcing me to note landmarks in case I have to backtrack.

Over the next five days I continued exploring, hoping that I would come across an unexpected discovery, like an Indian figure on a monument, a building, or advertisement. I noticed a Bank of Montreal across the street from the hotel. Over the past five years I have documented Bank of Montreal buildings for the crest the older buildings have above the doorway. The original crest has two Indian men representing early commerce in Canada. Unfortunately, the crest was covered in the bank across the street and I could only wonder if the two Indian men were hidden. Was this a sign that the area was not going to give up its Aboriginal past easily?

I turned to library books hoping they would provide me with a sense of the local history. Much to my surprise I found that Port Credit history had a very strong First Nations past. For example, there was the Rev. Peter Jones, who founded the successful Credit Indian settlement at present day Port Credit harbour and Maun-gwa-daus (George Henry), a Mississauga man who had performed in travelling Indian shows during the mid 19th century.

I have my starting point for the residency. This web site will show the exploration and documentation of this area as it unfolds over the course of the next four weeks.

Jeff Thomas

Oakville, Ontario Toronto, Ontario Port Credit, Ontario Burlington, Ontario New Credit Reserve Crawford Lake, Ontario Hamilton, Ontario Brantford, Ontario Six Nations Reserve Bronte Creek The Conclusion Jeff Thomas at Oakville Galleries Site Meter