Interview by Claudia Bigongiari
All images © Andrew Emond
Andrew Emond photographer from Toronto, is a digital artist and explorer of urban areas, with a special attraction to those off limits to the general public, or where a certain sense of abandonment is repeated. In 2017 he started a research on private properties about to get torn down or vacant after a sold.
His work has been published online on magazines such as National Post, Colors, Photo Life, Slate and Spacing Magazine. And he has been exhibited in galleries and festival such as Photorama, Gallery TPW, Toronto (2020), Format International Photography Festival and Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival (2013).
Claudia Bigongiari (CB): Hi Andrew and welcome to Pellicola Magazine!
Let’s start with some informations about yourself, photographer from Toronto, you didn’t follow visual studies, so where the interest in photography come from? And when did you start taking pictures?
Andrew Emond (AE): I started taking photos as a teenager– over thirty years ago. I was introduced to it by my father who taught me the basics of photography using an Olympus SLR. I was a somewhat typical shy and introverted kid with a creative side, but not particularly good at most forms of visual arts. Maybe it was because I was often a quiet kid who spent more time observing than participating, but photography was a good fit.
(CB): Regarding your ongoing project Interiors, started in 2017 as portraits of places about to get torn down or to be sold, what was your intention at the very beginning? Did the process of selecting properties or photographing them (for example the use of the phone) changed through the time?
(AE): I had actually been photographing abandoned and vacant places since 2004 and created different documentary-style projects out of that work. At some point I kind of just ran out of steam with it all though. It stopped feeling fun and I wasn’t taking many photos for several years. It took me a while to find my way back to photography and when I did, I made it a point for it to not have any purpose at all. I didn’t have a particular project in mind. I just started walking around my city taking photos of things that caught my eye. I used a phone because it was convenient, simple and felt less “serious.”
When I eventually returned to photographing interiors I maintained a similar approach. In the past, I tried to be more of a documentary photographer by photographing things that spoke to a place’s location in the world, its function or history. I stopped doing that entirely. I didn’t want or need that sort of context in my photos anymore. It felt really liberating to just take pictures that no longer needed to tell some sort of story or be about one thing in general. It opened up a lot of creative possibilities.
When I take liberties with the truth of a scene or stage some sort of intervention, it’s very much still rooted in a resistance to having the “project” be about something. Themes and patterns have developed over time, and my methods for finding places to photograph have changed, but my attitude towards making images has essentially remained unchanged.
(CB):They are abandoned properties full of objects that give a surrealist atmosphere, did it ever happen to you that someone has recognised his belongings in your pictures? Would you ever like to meet the ex-owners of the houses?
(AE): No, I’ve never had anyone recognize their property. I don’t think it’s something that would likely happen unless the photos were published in one of my city’s larger newspapers or something. Most of my audience on instagram seems to live somewhere other than Toronto so it never really crosses my mind that they’d ever see my photos.
There are definitely some places I visit where I’d like to meet the former owner, especially the ones that are more eccentric. Sometimes I’m able to piece together some sort of backstory using whatever personal belongings are left behind. If I’m really curious about a particular place then I’ll see what I can find online by searching for any names I come across.
I’ve never reached out to anyone though. There are often valuable things left behind or stuff I assume might have sentimental significance. I never know how someone might react knowing that I was inside without their permission though. I’m also mindful of how some places I visit are the result of personal trauma and/or economic misfortune. Not everyone wants to be reminded of their past.
(CB): The uncomfortable feel is given by the rooms full of objects but also by the emptiness of spaces, I read from your words ‘even the most minimal space can have tension’ . How do you approach the minimalism where I imagine it’s more difficult to connect and create an intervention to the space?
(AE): It’s actually the empty/minimal rooms that are easier to work with because it feels like working with a blank canvas. It doesn’t take as much effort to put my stamp on things if that’s the direction I go. Even minor details like light switches or electrical outlets stand out in those types of scenes. They become part of the composition. It’s the rooms completely full of stuff that can be much harder to photograph.
(CB): Besides moving objects and furnitures into the space, another way to approach the interiors is with making visibile your presence, sometimes as a casual selfie into a mirror, some others as a naked and performative human body. The face is however always hidden. How do you decide that one place is the right space to create these images? How long do you stay inside to photograph the scene?
(AE): I hide my face because I’m a bit camera-shy, but I also want to avoid the photo becoming a self-portrait in the traditional sense. I’m more interested in using my body like any other object in a scene that I can distort or abstract. Sometimes I’m fragmented, other times I’m just presented as this amorphous looking thing that’s there in the room. It’s me, but it’s not me – or at least I don’t want it to be me! I rarely go into a place having a particular image in mind. Most of my photographs are taken in places I’ve only visited once. I also don’t tend to stay very long. I’m there for less than an hour so the things I do inside happen pretty spontaneously without much forethought. It all depends on how much I feel like saying VS how much I think a room can say for me without getting involved.
(CB): These are vacant properties where you enter without permission. Do you ever imagine yourself photographing your family and close friends interiors where you can easily enter whenever you want?
(AE): I have! My daughter’s very much into gymnastics. She can contort her body into these positions that only a seven year old can do. I have all these photos of her posing like this in and around the city which makes for a strange juxtaposition. We’ve half-joked about taking these photos inside the places I go, but obviously it wouldn’t be feasible without permission from the property owner.
(CB): Interiors is still an ongoing project, how do you expect to continue the series? And do you see a time of ending?
(AE): That’s a good question. I don’t really know! I’m currently in a bit of a creative rut so I think I’m due for a bit of a reset or the introduction of a new chapter. I don’t really know what that will look like just yet. I really hate repeating myself in photos though and right now it feels a bit like I’m just going through the motions. I know that will change eventually. It always does.
(CB): Somehow your project reminds me Gordon Matta Clark’ Splitting where he selected architectures about to be demolished to create a physical intervention on the space, deconstructing the space. If there was, who has been your source of inspiration for your imaginary?
(AE): I think a lot about Matta Clark and sometimes entertain the idea of deconstructing a place that way, but on a smaller scale and incorporating things that have been left behind. Something like that would require a different set of logistics though, not to mention explicit permission from the property’s owner. I’m not sure I could easily get away with taking a power saw to a room!
As far as other people who’ve inspired, I’ve borrowed heavily from photographers like Lynne Cohen and John Divola, especially his photos from Vandalism. Both occupy different ends of a spectrum between order and disorder and I think you’ll find traces of their influence in a lot of my photos.