Montreal photographer Isabelle Hayeur first trained her camera on waterfronts in 2008 to create “Underworlds”, now open at Division Gallery in Montreal. Long observing the transformations of her own local rivers, including the changes to ecosystems and the disappearance of some animal species, she was inspired to create a body of work that bore witness to the man-made upheavals.
Her photos trace the altered aquatic (and frankly, grossly polluted) landscapes of Florida and the Everglades, New York Harbour, New Jersey, Staten Island, and Lake Champlain.
“I choose this title because I like that ‘Underworld’ has plural meanings. It means ‘what is under the surface’, ‘suspicious activities’, and ‘abode of the dead’,” explained Hayeur in an interview with Art Threat about her work.
To meet the requirements of shooting underwater, Hayeur acquired a watertight tank. Then, after taking photos of the surface, the water, and then the floor of the body of water, she uses computer imaging to stitch the photographs together.
What drew you to create this photo series?
This photo series began during a stay in southern Florida when I made some exploratory shots with a small submersible camera. Leaving crystal-clear waters to vacationers, I preferred to capture the turbid waters of navigation canals; these are troubled waters of dubious, uncertain origin. Underwater worlds are fascinating and spellbinding; seductive images of tropical seas readily come to mind. What I seek to show is something altogether different, as my work plays on the sense of wonder usually associated with underwater shooting. The aquatic landscapes I probe have been considerably altered. They are sometimes actual deserts where nothing is left to see. The images I capture bear witness to this absence.
What do you hope people will take away about aquatic ecosystems and environmental degradation when looking at these images?
I like to think of my work as a space where the poetic meet the politic. My underwater images can evoke an unconscious mind and I think we are being unaware and irresponsible in the way we behave towards our body of water. Ecological disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the garbage slates forming on the oceans are becoming more frequent. Massive urbanization and industrialization have resulted in impoverished bio-diversity; they also bring risks for human health either. The declining state of bodies of water certainly counts among the most worrisome environmental issues.
What is the appeal that these two topics have for you?
I have always been concerned by the transformations landscapes undergo. Growing up in a suburb, I was faced with the spectacle of urban sprawl and the disappearance of so many things in its path. My approach is tied to this experience and draws from discourses surrounding environmental issues such as land use planning. I am particularly interested in feelings of alienation, uprootedness, and dislocation. My work offers a critique of urban and environmental upheavals.
The exhibition will be on view at Division Gallery in Montreal until October 1, 2011.