Anderson retraces a key journey in solo show at SPAO


Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Return to the Pacific Coast Highway

Photographs by Sarah Anderson



School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa
Vernissage: Friday, March 7, 2014, 17:00 - 21:00

Exhibition: March 7 to 21, 2014

Artist Talk: Friday, March 14, 15:00




Documenting personal journeys using photographs can leave us with poignant visual evidence of what we encounter. SPAO student Sarah Anderson’s upcoming solo exhibition begins with such evidence but ultimately runs much deeper. Stemming from a storyline full of ironic twists and turns, Return to the Pacific Coast Highway offers an atmospheric meditation on the intertwining of travel, memory, and identity.


The exhibition’s 50-plus colour prints (shot in medium format and 35 mm) and two short video installations date back to October of 2013 during Anderson’s solo drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway. The trip was a meticulously planned to retrace of the same route driven by Anderson and her parents some 25 years earlier when the artist was a toddler too young to remember what she had witnessed.


“I wanted to see what they saw,” explained Anderson, who spent most of her childhood vacations on continent-crossing road trips. When the artist turned 27 last year she felt compelled to “regroup,” she said, by replicating the one key journey not accessible in her memory.


“It was both comforting and felt sad,” Anderson said of the two-week-long drive, noting how her intent was not to convey nostalgia in the resulting photographs but that the melancholy inevitably came through in the emotional tone of the works. Many of the images depict serene and foggy landscapes, roadside vistas, and ocean views. The exhibition will feature 20 framed-and-mounted prints plus 30 or more additional works collected in a portfolio.


Significantly, only an ironic twist of fate ensured that Return to the Pacific Coast Highway could be staged. Just two days prior to her scheduled return from Los Angeles, Anderson’s rental car was stolen and all of her recorded visuals from the journey vanished along with it. The car had been recovered on the day of her departure but Anderson was not informed. She returned to Canada thinking that the photographs were lost.

Two weeks later, police at last contacted Anderson and eventually returned most of her possessions, including the 14 rolls of film that formed the basis of the exhibition.


“The theft really changed the dynamic of the whole trip,” said Anderson. “But the fact that the work was recovered seems fitting, given the nature of the project.”


In one of the accompanying video installations, Anderson intersperses old footage shot by her parents on the original trip with new video captured on her solo revisit in October.


“I watched the existing video and talked to my parents, then went back to key spots to shoot again,” Anderson explained.


During all those childhood road trips, Anderson was afforded no shortage of visual stimulation that clearly influenced her current work as a capturer of images.


“There’s a similarity,” notes Anderson, “between looking through a car window and through the lens of a camera.”


Return to the Pacific Coast Highway offers rich evidence of photography’s unique ability to blend visual truth with highly personal subjectivity. Anderson will detail the project in an artist talk on Friday, March 14 at 15:00 at SPAO.