WES BELL | MEDICINE HAT AB, CANADA
Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, Wes pursued a studio intensive program at the Alberta College of Art and Design, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Photography.
After a successful career in fashion photography, Wes returned two years ago to live in Alberta after residing and in Milan, Italy and New York. He continues to photograph in both the studio and on location responding to the natural beauty and detail in the environment that surrounds him. Re-energized by his academic studies of the History of Photography, his passion for fine art photography has again been reignited. He is currently working on a five part exhibition and book series, Lost for Words, Final Steps, Rapt, Snag and In Plain Site.
What is your work about?
Three years ago, I was leaving for the airport after saying goodbye to my mother. She was dying of cancer. On the long drive across the Alberta prairie, I found myself distracted by flapping remnants of plastic bags, caught in barbed-wire fences that lined the ditches. Whipped violently by the wind, they were left shredded and lacerated, but trapped nonetheless in the no man’s land of boundary fences, neither here nor there. Thinking about mortality, pain and death in the context of my mother’s terminal illness, these forgotten shreds of plastic took on a deeper significance. “Snag”. I photographed fifty-seven sites in Southern Alberta, Canada. Some locations required multiple visits to ensure the optimal lighting and wind conditions.
The second series of photographs focuses on trees that have been used as supports for a variety of chains, cables, or sections of fencing, once again used to restrict access to the landowner’s property. Over time, as these trees continued to grow with these constricting bands of material, the dialectical tension between man and nature builds to a particularly emotional pitch. As the wires, cables, and chains cut into the trunks of the trees (a process literally called ‘strangulation’), the organic vegetal response seems to embody deeply human, visceral feelings of pain, emotional constriction and dogged survival. Entitled “Rapt,” this series of fifty-four photographs opens the landscape into a series of tightly focused moments of intense engagement between man and nature.
How does photographing on film (or using your material photographic process of predilection) inform your artistic practice?
All the images were shot using black and white analogue film in a medium square format camera. Given the focus of the subject matter on the various physical, material processes of decomposition, oxidation and the organic workings of plant life, it was critical to the logic of all of the series to maintain the immediacy of their chemical, indexical imprint on the film, and its translation onto a slightly warm tone, semi-matte, fiber based paper used for the gelatin silver prints, creating a substantial presence that would have been impossible to achieve digitally.