Q&A with Ottawa photographer Andrew Carson

Self-portrait, Andrew Carson

Andrew Carson is the artist and photographer that you hear making a bunch of noise in front of house on garbage night while he digs around in your trash only to toss your discarded televisions into his trunk. He is also the artist and photographer whose landlord wants to strangle him for filling his backyard full of dismantled TVs.

Tell us about how you found your passion for photography.

Passion. I wouldn’t say that I really have a passion for it. I like it and it’s very interesting but for me camera is nothing more then a tool. My passion is creating things with my hands. Photography happens to be a very good way of showing people the things I have done and the ideas that I have. What I found instead, was SPAO. I don’t know of another place that permits the sort of learning (to use the word loosely) that occurs in the that building. You can learn anything you want at SPAO as long as you photograph it in the process. I want to be clear though – its not a cakewalk and this isn’t a plug for SPAO – you’ve been warned.

You’ve lived in Ottawa since you were 16, what’s your favourite space in the city to photograph?

I don’t have one because I don’t go out and photograph places or things specifically. The photographs occur in my mind first and then go out to find the pieces that satisfy the requirements of the idea. Of course I need to make some concessions along the way but I guess that’s normal.

Ottawa is really a beautiful city to live in and damn it, that sure makes it difficult to create cold and uncomfortable imagery!

The River, Andrew Carson

You’ve had a diverse career – how has that informed your photographic style?

Retail, lot jockey, building maintenance, student, tour manager, truck driver, parts installer, brick layer, triathlete, snow removal, insurance broker, lighting designer, contractor…I have worn and continue to wear many hats.

I guess a lot of them have involved building things so that has definitely played into the way I create. Being an insurance broker for nine months changed me irreversibly – I wanted to stab myself with a fountain pen while I was doing that. So, desk jobs are out the question for me. I don’t really have much of a choice – I need to create. Everything I’ve done has affected my “-style” – both photographic and life.

Tell us about the work you’ve done with SPAO so far.

When I first started going to SPAO I moved from the Alta-Vista area and into VERY SMALL bachelor apartment in the ByWard Market. I think my place is 20 feet deep by eight feet wide… anyway, I decided that I wasn’t going to pay for the internet or cable because, well – I couldn’t afford it.

So, one day I was in my tiny apartment and out the corner of my eye I spotted the white cable that we have all come to know as the conduit through which hours of entertainment and information arrive on our TV screens. I thought to myself “I wonder if it works?” So, I grabbed my television dusted it off (who am I kidding, I didn’t dust it off) and plugged the cable in. I flicked the TV on and much to my surprise – 37 channels of basic cable being paid for by God knows who and coming from God knows where. I became a zombie. The TV was keeping me from many precious hours of sleep and it while it seemed free it was costing me productivity – and for what? It’s all crap! Junk, junk and more junk.

One small cable piping all the visual pollution of the world directly into my eyeballs. So, I cut it off. I disconnected the TV once and for all and made a decision that if I was going to spend inordinate amounts of time watching TV it was only going to be on the ground glass of my camera.

The rest of the story is told through the photographs I have made during my time at SPAO.

The Pile, Andrew Carson

What do you plan to do with photography in the future?

I wish I could say that I have a plan but I don’t. It doesn’t bother me though. I am just going to keep creating and doing the things I am doing. I haven’t made any really horrible decisions so far and don’t think I am going to start screwing up left right and center anytime soon. I have managed to convert my life into a succession of projects and creative activities. I am also a lighting designer so that keeps me busy part of the time and the rest of my time is dedicated to eating, sleeping and making art. At the risk of sounding ridiculously cheesy – I have never been more broke in my life, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

How would you spend your perfect day in Ottawa?

I would wake up at around 10:30 a.m – it’s Monday.

It would be a sunny day in July and about 28 degrees. I would say hi to the cats and walk next door and get a coffee. While sitting outside and enjoying my coffee I would read the latest copy of Standard Issue Magazine. Lunch would be along shortly and a Club Sandwich would fit the bill.

The rest of the afternoon would be spent biking around checking out record stores like Vertigo Records and Compact Music as well as meeting up with friends.

After some BBQ’d Chicken I would head up to Bluesfest to see Tool play a show on the main stage. After the show I would ride home and relax on the deck with friends and some cold beers.

That sounds about right.

Thanks Andrew!