Ambient Edmonton

Photography has been a background hobby for me for about 15 years; I’ve cared about it enough to slowly develop my craft, but it’s never been a primary creative outlet. Over that time I started casually taking tightly cropped photos that explore Edmonton through its colours and textures, and looking back over my photo library at the end of last year, I realized I’d amassed quite a collection of these ‘ambient’ ones and it was about time to do something with them.

The Ambient Edmonton project aims to capture the qualities of Edmonton’s natural and built environments through ambient photos that foreground its colours and textures. At their best, these photos lack a ‘subject’ to focus on, and simply depict a spatial field which one could imaging continuing beyond the borders of the image. The first round of photos that I’ve posted don’t strictly keep to this, but the intent of the project is to avoid including photos of a ‘something’ and instead capture the total mood of a ‘somewhere’. By depicting these spatial qualities in an open, somewhat ambiguous way, the project hopes to direct attention to the silent backgrounds of our lives lived along the North Saskatchewan River.

As a designer born and raised in Edmonton (with a sensitivity to the qualities of this place), I’ve long attempted to do work that speaks to the unique landscape we find ourselves in, and to the enviable cultural diversity of our community. Edmonton’s built environment is, by and large, a shameful response to both of these realities, and far too often its buildings seek to emulate whatever is going on in Toronto or Vancouver instead of developing a local character. I began taking these photos to inform my own attempts at regionalist designs that speak to this place, but they also work as a catalogue of Edmonton’s visual landscape.

A number of things have influenced this project, and the critical ones are worth mentioning. First is ambient music, a genre that embraces an environmental position, situating the listener in an acoustic space at the expense of foreground elements. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, but 2020 was the year I dove deeper into the genre, particularly the excellent albums by ASC (e.g. Time Heals All). Second are the many experiences I’ve had conducting ‘site analyses’ during architecture school, where I was introduced to the value of documenting the materials, textures, and colours of a place to inform a design. I also had the chance to take a class on photoethnography that introduced me other ways of using photography to investigate a particular context. Finally, the atmospheric ‘field’ quality of these photos is informed by Kenya Hara’s notion of ‘emptiness’ (discussed in his book White), where the art/design object leaves considerable room for the viewer to project their own meanings upon it, while at the same time having evocative qualities that all-but-demand this projection.

Having now posted many of the first batch of images that I gathered at the start of this year, I’m excited to see how this project evolves as I go out into the city to capture new images with a little more focus than before.