A group of artists from Thunder Bay have a passion for analogue photography and want to share it with others – CBC.ca | Episode Movies

At a time when digital photography has become ubiquitous, a group of artists from Thunder Bay are doing their best to keep film photography alive.

Nefarious is a local group with a mission to enable more people to express themselves through analogue photography – something that has become more difficult as places to develop film have become harder to find and the price has increased.

Sarah McPherson, who founded Nefarious with her partner Riley Urquhart, said that despite having the means to afford the service, they have encountered difficulties editing photos in the city.

Thunder Bay has only one place left that processes black-and-white film and sends color photos out of town for processing, she said.

In response, Nefarious raises funds to help local photographers develop their films. They also host workshops for photographers who shoot with film, all with the aim of creating a powerful environment for the arts to thrive.

The exhibition “Naanzhe: Water is Color” at the gallery Co.Lab in Goods & Co. (Submitted by Sarah McPherson/Nefarious)

New exhibition underlines the importance of water

Also, Nefarious recently received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, which enabled them to exhibit the work of nine photographers. The artists all identify as either BIPOC, LGBTQ+ or a person with a disability.

The project is called Naanzhe: Water is Color and emphasizes the crucial importance of water.

Each individual’s photos were developed in a process known as “film soup”. This process involves a concoction that is applied to the film either before you take the photos or afterwards when you develop the photos in liquid in a darkroom.

“You can either soup it before you shoot it or after. I find it easier to do it afterwards because it doesn’t get stuck in the camera and cause all sorts of complications there,” said Sarah McPherson.

When McPherson soaked her own photos for the exhibition, she used water that had meaning.

McPherson, who has ties to the Couchiching First Nation, chose to include photos that tell a story about the impact of land and water pollution from the former Fort Frances pulp and paper mill.

She used contaminated water from Frog Creek as her “soup” to develop her film in, she explained.

“There was an elder I spoke to and he said the water spirits don’t dance on Frog Creek anymore, it’s very boring to look at. He’s absolutely right. You look at that water and it’s just not the same,” McPherson said.

Maureen Gustafson, whose work also features in the exhibition, also made the Fort Frances pulp and paper mill a focus. Growing up in Fort Frances, she saw firsthand the impact the mill had on her family and the country around her, she said.

Maureen Gustafson stands with her work inspired by her family and community connection to the Fort Frances pulp and paper mill. (Submitted by Sarah McPherson/Nefarious)

Gustafson, who is from Couchiching First Nation, said she has a complex relationship with the mill because her father worked there for more than 35 years of his life. She acknowledges the privileges she has had as a result of financial stability, as well as the hard work her father has put in to provide for her.

On the other hand, she said she has witnessed the negative impact of pollution from the mill on her community and family.

She can recognize memories of the physical invasion of the city she grew up in, she said.

“I remember driving around town when I was a little girl and I was like, daddy, what is that puff of green yellow smoke coming out of the mill? It turned out to be chlorine gas,” Gustafson said.

She used this project to process the emotions surrounding the story, she said, and was able to creatively unpack the thoughts and feelings as she worked on the photos. Gustafson said she also appreciates the comments from those who see her work and story.

“It felt very empowering now that I’ve shared the art and heard people’s feedback on it. They say they understand where I’m coming from and the ideas I’ve talked about and captured through the photos – and that resonates with them,” said Gustafson.

The exhibition Naanzhe: Water is Color is on view at Co.Lab Gallery in Goods & Co in Thunder Bay until November 16th.

Leave a Comment