A Conversation with Evan Rensch

originally appeared in the May 19th issue of the Klondike Sun


In anticipation of his upcoming show Conversations at the Confluence Art Gallery, I spoke to artist Evan Rensch about his past work and experience as a photographer in Dawson. -Megan Graham

MG: What are some of the themes and subject you work with?
ER: The cameras that I use are very well suited to describing a landscape—not just trees and rolling hills, but space. I like using large format cameras, and I choose a format that is twice as wide as it is tall, so it’s just well suited for describing outdoor spaces. It’s a camera that has a tradition of photographing people. It’s called a Banquet camera, and it’s a type of large format camera.
One of the most enjoyable things I’ve done is doing group photographs with that camera—squishing fifty to eighty people in there. It’s just so visually dense, and really wonderful to do.
For example, I did a portrait of all of the workers at a foundry in Sackville. That’s been one of my main projects over the last two years, was photographing this company, this foundry making wood stoves and wood furnaces. The day before I left Sackville and moved to Dawson, I took this picture of everybody, and developed the film and printed thirty copies to give away, all in the same day before my flight.
MG: I’m noticing a lot of similarities between Sackville and Dawson. How has that move been for you?
ER: For moving to a town 7,000 kilometers away, it was the least amount of adjustment I could ever imagine. Sackville and Dawson are so similar, it’s scary sometimes. They’re two small town cultural centres. There are local cultural differences, but the way they function in the region is very similar. I would say that there aren’t too many other communities in Canada that behave in this way—being so small and relatively isolated, with such a dynamic, idiosyncratic cultural environment. It was quite a smooth transition. I was just thinking the other day, when I’m eighty and senile, I won’t be able to remember what stuff happened in which town, because I think it will blend to be the same place, I think, in a strange way. Did that night happen at Ducky’s, or Peggy’s? Did I go to that show at KIAC, or Struts?
MG: How does Dawson inform your art practice?
ER: I remember getting here and in the first month thinking I’ve got to start photographing and thinking of projects, and I still don’t really know what I’m doing here. I think it’s a gradual process, and it took years of living in Sackville to understand it and feel comfortable, and there’s something I want to say about a place. That takes time, and it’s not something you can do in your first six months in a community. Since I’ve come here, I’ve been doing a few projects and photographing for myself, but without any direction. I tend wander around without any purpose and photograph and engage with things that interest me, and slowly projects and ideas emerge from that.
For example, I started photographing at this foundry because it was a neat building and it was close. I was working Monday to Friday, and it was somewhere I could go and just practice with my camera, taking pictures, getting used to that, on weekends. Then I just expanded from there—moved inside, started talking to people, and then all of a sudden it’s a thing. It becomes an event that you’re participating in.
They’re completely different landscapes, but similar in how charismatic both landscapes are. The Yukon in general is just an incredible landscape that I’d like to explore a lot more.

MG: In the past you’ve worked mainly in photography, but for this show, you’re doing a film based project. How does the transition between photography and film work for you?
ER: In Sackville there’s a Super 8 event, like what they had here last month where you take a camera and shoot a film and have a screening. So I just started dabbling for kicks and occasionally there would be artist-in-residence filmmakers coming through, and I learned a bit through them. I mostly picked it up because this experienced filmmaker, Amanda, moved to Sackville and so I gained a lot of knowledge and experience from her.
I guess I have an interest in it because I like working in film, and this is just a different facet of it, and different way of working with it. So materially at least, it’s a natural inclination to try that out. But as I’ve been thinking about it more and more over the past week, I’m not a filmmaker. I don’t make movies—that’s not my interest. I treat movie film like a still photographer. I’m used to thinking of things in still images where things can move slowly.
MG: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be doing?
ER: Before I did photography, I was into music, and that was a big thing for me. I was a classical musician, and they’re both fields that are technical based. I always loved math in school, so I feel like it would be something involving numbers or something technical. I could imagine trying to make buildings or doing people’s taxes or something like that. I’m not a very spontaneous person. I try to be really logical and precise about whatever I’m into. Fixing cars, taking stuff apart, learning. It’s my nature, I just like learning how everything functions in a system or whatever. Something like that.

Evan’s show Conversations is on view at the Confluence Art Gallery located in the KIAC School of Visual Arts (3rd and Queen) from May 20th until June 10th. There will be an opening reception on May 20th at 7:30 p.m.