Started in 2012 as a way to subvert the hurdles of art exhibition in Victoria, BC, Magic Lantern, now based in Montréal, has grown into a beautiful exercise in radical vulnerability.
Started in 2012 as a way to subvert the hurdles of art exhibition in Victoria, BC, Magic Lantern, now based in Montréal, has grown into a beautiful exercise in radical vulnerability. I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with organizers/creators/artists Georgia Graham, Mischa Greig, and Kensey Crane to speak with them about the beautiful ways this event has blossomed growth in themselves and their community. There are countless concepts underlying this photo show, but to me, the most important one is the celebration of vulnerability.
Here's how it works: Each participant is asked to send in a roll of undeveloped slide film and then to wait. The organizers take each roll and develop it with care and secrecy, only to be revealed the night of the event. Each participant—whether it be creator or audience member—is asked to suspend their anxieties and experience vulnerability in a shared way. The result of this process creates inclusivity for those who may not identify as artists, the breaking down of boundaries in the creation of art and illicit's a shared experience of community.
If you are in Montréal, please make sure to attend their fifth-year anniversary on July 13th at Psychic City and experience it in person.
Take a look at gorgeous photos from previous years and delve into our conversation about the magic of Magic Lantern below:
Pamela: The first thing I want to talk about is what you wrote on your Facebook event page about “process over precision and honouring subjectivity and imperfection.” I'd just like to ask what that means to each of you?
Georgia: I think that Magic Lantern is [a space] we've created where people can be vulnerable in making mistakes and honouring that part of being a creative person; even people who wouldn't necessarily put anything out there have participated in this, which is super cool and impressive. So yeah, it's pretty much just about that; it's about honouring making mistakes—and I don't know if they are even mistakes. They are just things that you wouldn't necessarily show people.
Kensey: Finding beauty in flaws.
Mischa: Something that comes up often is subjectivity in what we find beautiful, or what we really like. It's interesting in this show. I think maybe our favourites might totally differ from what one of the artist's favourites might be. So in a more curated show, we wouldn't necessarily see some of the photographs in that process.
Pamela: "Participating," in my interpretation, means you're participating as an audience member and also as an artist, where everyone is involved at a similar level. What does making that space for people who wouldn't otherwise participate in art—in the creation of art, or in the experience of art—mean to you? Why do you think it's important now to create these spaces?
Kensey: I think there's an inherit elitism in art and in art shows, sometimes. So it's just nice to feel that literally anyone can participate. That there's no measurement of talent.
Mischa: I feel like the variety extends so far beyond us three. There will be people who have never shot a roll of film before, and there will be people who have studied photography for years and years.
Georgia: And the interesting thing about that is that people who have never even shot a roll of film or been in an art show before feel comfortable enough to involve themselves, while at the same time people who have been doing art for years in institutional settings or have been super involved in art scenes feel intimated by it because they don't have control over curating their own art. I feel like that balance is really cool, and it puts everyone on a similar plane.
Kensey: And I think if something doesn't exist, we can just create it. There's a space that doesn't exist for artists or for showcasing; then we create it. To me, that's important.
Pamela: So, Kensey, this is your first year of coming on to the project?
Kensey: Yeah, it was already totally established, and I have lent an extra hand or an extra voice.
Pamela: But you've participated in previous years?
Kensey: Yeah, I did one year where I shot a roll. It was the first time I had ever shown anything, and I was so scared, and then afterwards I felt really brave and the fear was gone and it was a really empowering feeling. The space was just really warm and nice.
Pamela: I just wanna talk a little bit about the communal experience of it. So for people who haven't been to a Magic Lantern show or won't be able to attend it, can you expand on what "communal" means for you, and how you would describe that experience?
Georgia: It's a combination of recreating the setting of looking at family vacation photos—or something like what slides and projectors were originally used for—while also sort of experiencing [something new] . . . it feels unique in this way, where everyone is seeing the photos for the first time. We participate in the show as well, and our photos are in it, but we don't see them until the night of. So there's just this sort of feeling that we are all in it together.
Kensey: And everyone gets equal time. There's no one [person who's] more important than the other person. So that's a nice communal feeling.
Mischa: It simulates watching a film where everybody is sitting in front of the screen together, but often in art shows you experience it on your own or with a couple of people. So, as part of creating this community . . . you can feel the tension! Like looking around you, can see whose roll is being shown and you can see how all the light seems to shine on them at the time. Then we experience that too, because neither of us see our photos until the night of. That feels so important, and sometimes at the end of the event there's just this [feeling] of, "We haven't talked about it yet," and everybody is just itching to share their experience.
Pamela: So when you first started doing it (and this is the fifth year), did you think about what you were doing? Were you like, "We wanna create this space, and we really wanna do this," or did it happen organically and has it grown with you over time?
Georgia: The first year took place in Victoria, BC, and it was me and Marita Manson who put it on, and it totally started as "We should put on a little show of people's slides just in a bedroom." So it started off as just like a sort of nice idea, and a way to share art with friends in a non-intimidating atmosphere. Then there were a lot of people interested in doing that, so that turned into a show in an actual venue and then I moved here and talked to Mischa about if she wanted to work with me.
Georgia: It's just grown from there, and each year it's sort of become more and grown in really interesting ways. It definitely wasn't a strong concept from the beginning, but it's grown as each year goes by and things that are important about it become more clear as we do it.
Mischa: Yeah, I feel like as the years have grown—or since I've been on board—with any sort of change, we have to evaluate what our intent is with the show, which is very interesting because sometimes, like you said, it's not clear until we contemplate changing or have to make a change for whatever reason. This year we decided to make a Magic Lantern Instagram, moving into the twenty-first century! We had to really talk about that, and in the years previous, we were very reluctant to digitize anything or to have anything made public [beyond the event night], but once we've opened that door it's made total sense that we would further involve the community in that process of our project.
Pamela: So it seems to me like it's been growing with you, which is very beautiful. I wanna ask, in relation to how you're constantly renegotiating the project, do you feel a greater responsibility to create a safe space and inclusivity? Is that a part of the philosophy behind Magic Lantern?
Georgia: Yeah, that's becoming more of something that I'm consciously thinking about instead of it just happening naturally. And thinking about the ways in which it's inclusive, and the ways it could be seen as exclusive, because it's always really hard to branch outside of your friends who make art. So even though it's open to anyone, I was thinking about that this year: How can we extend that, while still keeping it a small show? Because we're showing a roll from each photographer, and you can only show so many people. The nature of what we're doing means that it has to be a safe space. It's definitely meant to be a place where people can make mistakes or feel vulnerable, but [also] be encouraged to do so and be congratulated for that.
Pamela: My only experience of the previous years has been through the Instagram, and I love it—I really love it. One thing that I noticed in all of them is the vulnerability and the tenderness. Do you think that the process of shooting a roll and not being able to see it until the event contributes to that element of it? Do you feel that you're creating something special by having that process?
Kensey: Yeah, I think that you have to let go of the idea of control when shooting a roll of film, and with that comes a vulnerability.
Pamela: What do you think that this project really addresses that isn't provided in the art world? In your experience of being artists, of engaging with art and in the creation of art spaces?
Georgia: I think about this a lot because I'm studying art in school right now, and I'm thinking about where that's leading me and the different options that are made available in a sort of obvious way. The community that is around art and the way that people show their work is all . . . sometimes I don't know where my place is in all of that. And art should be about communication and working with people and sharing, and it feels like a very competitive world, and a very exclusive and intimidating thing. That's why this show is special to me—because it doesn't feel like that.
Kensey: It's an encouraging environment. Everyone's equal. It's equal playing ground. And I just don't find that in most art communities . . . there's a hierarchy, and it's often really male-dominated too, and this year is a lot of women—and it's put on by women, which is nice.
Pamela: You have a lot of experience, Kensey. You are a photographer, and have been for a long time, and have probably encountered a lot of difficult aspects of that world.
Kensey: I've definitely never made anything that public. I've always just had a Tumblr or some platform like that, but never had shows, never was offered one, never really sought it out. Magic Lantern was the first time I had displayed anything and got really nice feedback and felt empowered and stronger and braver to do it again.
Pamela: That's so beautiful.
Georgia: That in itself is enough for me to feel so good about what this is. That it's actually a really important thing that's happening.
Mischa: People discovering themselves and their abilities. I, as a hobby, have always shot film and shared that on my Flickr, but this definitely felt easy to become involved in. You don't need requirements to participate . . . just a camera. And in the future, we would love to find ways for artists to participate at less of a cost than what they pay now, for the slide film and for processing.
Kensey: You don't have the fear of rejection or censorship or anything. It's just how you want to display it, and it's fully embraced. Which is rare with art.
Mischa: It's really cool, because in that sense vulnerability means something different for everybody. It could be the subject matter in their roll, it could be being identified as an artist in the program, it could be having their name up in front of everybody. It could be anything.
Interview conducted by Pamela Lisa
All images © the respective photographers, reproduced with permission.