As relationships between humanity and the environment change rapidly today, I photograph my engagements with the landscapes I live within and the localized cultures of environmentalism that that advance environmental stewardship in Canada today. Utilizing analogue, automatic cameras originally designed to capture daily family life, I extend the practical materials and traditions of family photography to the present societal shift towards establishing far more intimate, sustainable relationships between humanity and the environment during the current era of climate crisis. As climate change and other existential threats to humanity and the ecosystems we depend on for life become mainstream anxieties, I am interested to document the breakdown of the false limits set by society between humanity and nature. My ongoing project Green Riding critically examines environmentalism in Guelph, the first electoral riding represented by the Green Party of Ontario. My tandem work Dispatches from the Abstraction documents the Middlebrook well in Elora, Ontario, a rural water source that Nestlé intends to pump water from despite widespread public opposition. Given its significance to the perpetuation of human life as well as all life on Earth, efforts to enhance the protection of water are the focus of my broader photographic work.
My proposal for this residency was to photograph all wells on Toronto Islands identified on the Province of Ontario’s well records map website, which shows the locations of all formally registered water wells in Ontario. This was to be an exercise in visualizing groundwater, a crucial part of local ecologies often ignored or unconsidered in human engagements with the environment today. However, I have been denied access to several wells at the Island Water Treatment Plant, which puts the overall efficacy of my initial idea in jeopardy. This obstacle, however, offers me an opportunity to broaden my overall approach to developing new work for this residency. If I cannot document all wells on the provincial registry, I intend to a) explore human and non-human life surrounding wells that are accessible or b) I may diverge from examining wells specifically in favor of examining the impact of floods and rising water levels on the visibility of the Island. Representations of water rights versus water commodification will be elements I will document as well. Ultimately, I am interested in having the critical influence of co-residents, our residency coordinator and my interaction with the islands shape the trajectory of my project.
Justin Langille is a documentary photographer, educator and activist based Guelph, Ontario. His long-term visual study of the changing relationships between people and the environment in Canada is informed by his background in street outreach work and his Ph.D. research on activist images of groundwater in Canada at the University of Toronto. Greetings from Energy East!–his collaboration with artist Jennifer Martin supported by Ontario Arts Council– was part of Grow Op 2019 at the Gladstone Hotel and the Common Waters exhibition at Cambridge Art Galleries. His images are included in Art as Activism, currently on at Guelph Civic Museum.