Butedale and Talheo cannery villages
Florence Debeugny, born and raised in France, received her first professional camera at the age of 12. Despite family expectations of photographing people, she favoured trees. Her training consisted of working in a Parisian photo store and processing B&W photographs of old buildings and trees in a home dark room.
She immigrated to Canada in 1979. Based in Vancouver, BC, on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations since 1982, she established her Canadian life before reclaiming her passion for photography in the late ‘90s.
She has since had many solo and group exhibitions in art galleries and museums throughout Canada, and has been the recipient of art grants for her multi-disciplinary work. Her exhibition of Maillardville 100 years beyond has been published in a book.
She has given several art talks and has been the mentor of a Yukon visual artist in residency. She has been affiliated with CARFAC-BC, AGAVF and CCAFCB over the course of her career.
In 2000, while working on a collaborative slide-sound installation, At the Edge of Wilderness, there was a turning point in my artistic practice where I realized that my French culture had influenced the way I look at old buildings. What I see is history, humanity, stories of people of different cultures and backgrounds who used to live and work in once-thriving settlements. It has led my artistic photo practice to documenting old places which reveal of the abundant interplay between natural and industrial landscapes throughout BC. I came to recognize the social components of these industrial structures and to appreciate the value of a provincial heritage generally overlooked.
I have incorporated recorded stories into my still photography to restore voices and memories from people whose stories are often not heard into the overwhelming silence of these deserted places. My attention shifting between the aesthetics of decay and the rhetoric of sustainability opens a contemplative space within which the viewer may consider how capital moves, whom it displaces, and where it leaves its footprint.
Sites of displacement have influenced the direction of my work until I found the raw material of ghostly structures in the industrial and urban districts of Metro Vancouver which prompted my attention to the issue of housing unaffordability and the extensive sprawl of landscapes of new construction.
While focusing on the details of urban and industrial structures, I came to the realization that natural material at close range–wood rots, metal rusts and stone crumbles– mixed with man-made objects–dirty glass, chain-link fence, broken plastic– came in a variety of shapes, colours, composition that called for exploration of abstraction. In between the larger projects, I interrogated these substances and played with the focus emphasizing the tangled layers of foreground and background, subject and object, in the intention to soften the intensity of the demanding photo-documenting work.
This mode of expression was the main springboard to the exploration of land and forests when I needed to explore our relationships to the natural world which seems to be always in the background of the rural sites.
My artistic approach ranges from abstraction to the deeply contextualized format of documentary photography and video. Both play a primary role in my work and question the notion of progress in a society infatuated by its often distorted attraction.
Place and community-based projects have been an essential part of my artistic practice for years. Based in Vancouver, BC., I have documented derelict industrial heritage communities in BC and explored housing unaffordability in BC Lower Mainland and Whitehorse, Yukon. I have recorded people from various cultures and backgrounds and whose stories are often not heard. I create slide or video installations compiling collected photos, video clips, recorded people’s stories, and ambient sounds. I make a point to present the completed project to the participants. My continued exploration of place includes recent works about forests upon contemplating land use and notions of territory.
Introduced to film camera and super 8 equipment at a young age, I explored the photography medium from black and white film photography, to slide film for its more demanding exposure technics, to digital photography studying the technical complexity this medium offers allowing for more accessible image presentation such as the video format.
In 2002, spending a few days in Ocean Falls, BC, to document the buildings of this once-striving community, I met with former inhabitants who shared their special love for the town of their youth. Back in Vancouver, I realized that the photos by themselves and without people’s stories had no meaning. From that moment, I committed to record people’s stories as soundtracks to accompany the images I produce for my artwork.
Rather than digitally transforming the images, my artistic process focuses on careful composition while photographing, to deepen the way I observe my subjects.
All photographs, videos and soundtracks in this website are the intellectual
property of Florence Debeugny.
Please contact Florence Debeugny by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Florence Debeugny 2000-2023