Self-Portrait, Long Exposure on Polaroid  01

#CouncilSpotlight – Gary Franks

Jenna Brown

The Ottawa Arts Council supports artists and arts organizations through leadership, guidance and the provision of opportunities to advance our local creative potential.

Our series #CouncilSpotlight presents stories and experiences of Arts Council members and art award recipients.

Gary Franks received the 2019 Project X, Photography Award.

Where are you from?

I was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, but I grew up – and have spent most of my life – here in Ottawa, Ontario.

How did you get involved in the Ottawa arts community?

My entry point was as a musician, playing in indie and garage rock bands. I performed, recorded, and produced a lot of music over the years, but I was always drawn to the visual arts. Almost out of necessity, I started with graphic design for music promotion and merchandising. From there, I moved into digital and analog printmaking – and then photography. Thankfully, I took to each transition with relative ease and great excitement. I found with each move I was developing transferable skills that could compliment each other from one medium to the next. The real benefit, however, came from the constant exposure to differing arts communities within the city and being able to experience how closely linked they all were. Perhaps also out of necessity, Ottawa is filled with talented, multi-disciplinary musicians and artists. Many of which have been very welcoming to me as I have moved between disciplines.

Celia, Long Exposure on Polaroid  01How would you describe your artistic practice/discipline?

I suppose the one practical constant across the different mediums I have explored is my work has largely been analogue-based throughout. I’m a big fan of “happy accidents” and letting the moment and the machines have equal say in the creation of art. And those accidents are easy to come by when you use equipment and media that are susceptible to environmental factors and/or are decades old. One of my favourite shots I have taken recently came out of a huge technical error. The film canister’s edge scraped portions of the emulsion off the negative as I was trying to maneuver the film in a changing bag for development. My mismanagement of the film resulted in these gnarly gashes across the frame (and beyond it) – but it made it so much more impactful than anything I could have captured in camera. From there I cleaned it a little, extended the 35mm frame to include more of the ghostly scrapings, and then I let it loose into the wild! The ideal is always to conceptualize a project and approach it with a plan, but I think it’s just as import to be okay with deviations and imperfections because I feel a lot of the time those are the elements that make a piece of work stand out.

Cory, Long Exposure on Polaroid  01What impact has your involvement with the arts/the Ottawa arts community had on your life?

I think, like a lot of artists, I feel a compulsion to create and express. Ottawa can be very receptive to that impulse and – once you know where to find them – this city has a lot of resources available to help you realize your projects. I have been lucky to have met with many different artists that were willing to share their knowledge (and tools) with me. Even more so, these artists have pushed me forward with words of encouragement and shared stories of shaky beginnings. Without that support, my artistic ventures wouldn’t have flourished the way they have so far.

Is there a specific moment/situation in your art career that you remember fondly?

It was a big deal for me to move my main focus away from music in favour of pursuing the visual arts with serious intent. The first time I had a print up in a show, my friends - who were largely musicians themselves - all came out to support and see the work. I was last to leave the gallery and I walked out to find my friends standing there cheering and giving me a round of applause. Having your work in a show or published is amazing, but it is a different kind of amazing from performing live on stage in front of a crowd. My friends’ support means so much to me and in that moment, I felt assured that I was moving in the right directions and making the right decisions.

Meredith, Long Exposure on Polaroid 02Do you have any advice for artists in the Ottawa community or artists in general?

Pay it forward, encourage every single person you meet to create, share your knowledge and resources, and realize that it’s not a competition. None of us are going to get rich off of art and your own projects can only get stronger if the community around you is strong, vibrant, and inclusive. I personally had to learn how to turn artistic jealousy and envy into inspiration and gratitude – and once I figured that out – everything became so, so easy. 

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I’m finishing up a project titled Paralanguage which will be exhibited at the Ottawa Arts Council in the fall. It’s a series of long-exposure polaroid portraits of some of my friends and fellow creators in the city. The aim is to capture the transient nature of Ottawa’s arts communities as they ebb and flow continually over the years – and as its artists progress from one medium to the next. The combination of the polaroid film, the use of ambient light as the sole lighting source, and long exposure times result in an image that swirls with motion-lines like a conventional long exposure, but with the definitive moments in time of a multiple-exposure. The process is extremely collaborative between myself and the subjects as we improvise with the mood and the environment around us. I’m very proud of this work and I am so grateful for all the people who have been involved with it.

Self-Portrait, Long Exposure on Polaroid  02What was it like to receive an award from the Ottawa Arts Council? How do you think it will impact your career?

I was really overwhelmed, to be honest – I didn’t realize how large the ceremony would be. It was really exciting to see my work projected on such a scale in front of a packed house, and it is a great honour to be trusted with the funds to create something worthwhile. The Paralanguage exhibit in the fall will be my first solo-show, so that in itself is a huge step forward for my career. It’s an amazing opportunity and I find it very encouraging and aim to keep conceptualizing, creating, and putting my work out there.

Upcoming exhibition


Opening Reception

Thursday, September 12, 2019, 6:00PM to 4:00PM

Micaela Fitch Room
Arts Court
2 Daly Avenue

Paralanguage is a series of portraits featuring prominent and emerging Ottawa-area creators, celebrating our city’s vibrant arts community. Equal parts artistic project and an exercise in community building; Paralanguage seeks to uplift locally produced art by uplifting the artists who create it.

The portraits of Paralanguage were created through a collaborative process between the photographer and his subjects. Together they conceptualized, planned and rehearsed the portrait’s movement and poses. With exposure times ranging from 12 to 24 seconds, Gary Franks keeps count (e.g. One, two, three, four, five, switch) to guide the subject. With the use of low ambient light, the subject must maintain poses at certain points in the exposure for their image to register on the Polaroid film. The resulting effect combines overlapping figures and the languid trails.