Blair Douglas examines perception and identity through Positive Negatives
A Summer 2015 Yukon Prospector Web Extra
The lights are dim in the whitewashed rectangular room that is Dawson City’s Confluence Gallery. Projected along one wall is a series of, disembodied portraits. In each, nude subjects are juxtaposed with a negative image of their clothed selves. The wall opposite bares a series of Steadman-esque looping nudes, drawn with black ink on plywood.
It’s the opening night of Blaire Douglas’ Positive Negatives. A complicated series of portraits challenging the viewer’s role of perception.
“It’s kind of the interplay between perception and projection, and how we create meaning from these two things,” says Douglas.
At first glance the images could be written off as clever Photoshop work. However, the images on display are entirely analog. Douglas created the effect by taking a nude photograph of a subject, then projecting the negative of that nude onto them wearing clothing and taking another photo. This photo is then projected in negative. So the eventual display turns into a double negative - or positive - of the nudes with a corresponding negative image of them clothed.
The complication is part of what drew him to the project. He says he wanted people to wonder how he did it, so he could engage with them on the “why” of it. “This piece is about identity, how it’s perceived and how it’s constructed,” Douglas says. “A lot of the time, especially in romantic relationships, you end up projecting your idea of who you want people to be. Which is something you kind of have to struggle against so you can accept people for who they are.”
Douglas has tried to examine multiple aspects of perception with his visually striking work: how the artists perceives his subjects, how the subject sees themself, how the subject think others are seeing them, and how the viewer engages with the work itself. By juxtaposing the negative images of the clothed with the double negatives of the nude, Douglas seems to be commenting on the inherent layers of how we see ourselves and others.
The entire room actually stands as one piece he says, including the drawings on board. They’re a mash of the photographs he took of each person, projected and traced.
I was blown away by how welcoming the community was, and how much they supporting me in doing what I set out to do.
“It’s an amalgamation of my perception of these people,” he says. “I’ve looked at all these people a million times, and perceived them in so many different ways. These are sort of the representation of the mental map I have of who these people are.” A lot of these people were relatively strangers to Douglas.
Before embarking as an artist, Douglas spent much of his life in Vancouver. He worked at a few labour jobs, mostly landscaping with some tree planting thrown in. When he met his girlfriend Carly while tree planting, they both confessed that putting more time into art was something they’d both dreamed about.
After a short stint in Victoria, and not much luck getting themselves out there, they decided to try living in Dawson before they lost the desire to. They only meant to stay for the summer, but thought it would be “cool to check out the winter”. During those long cold months Douglas arranged (s)hiver. A one day art show for the community. It was the community’s response that had him staying in the area.
“I was blown away by how welcoming the community was, and how much they supporting me in doing what I set out to do. And then the community [in]turn was appreciative of what I’d done, which was huge,” he says.
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