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Tony Fouhse's exhibition, OFFICIAL OTTAWA: An unofficial portrait (July 18 - October 11, 2015), currently on view at the OAG...

Tony Fouhse's exhibition, OFFICIAL OTTAWA: An unofficial portrait (July 18 - October 11, 2015), currently on view at the OAG...

Tony Fouhse’s exhibition, OFFICIAL OTTAWA: An unofficial portrait (July 18 - October 11, 2015), currently on view at the OAG Annex at Ottawa City Hall, examines the impact of the Federal Government’s presence on the City of Ottawa’s image and landscape.

Fouhse is best known in Ottawa for his series User and Live Through This, photographs of drug addicts and people on the street. However, OFFICIAL OTTAWA provides a subtle link to his previous work; in this new series we see government buildings and federal employees that we don’t necessarily notice on a day-to-day basis—especially for those of us that live in Ottawa. Additionally, the exhibition provides a subtle contradiction to the bright scenes highlighting Ottawa’s tourism and cultural industries that are promulgated by the National Capital Commission (NCC).

NCC commissioned image

Instead, we are faced with images of Ottawa that show a different side to city. Included in the series are images of federal employees, politicians, Brutalist government architecture, protests on Parliament Hill, the Canadian military, and events at different major memorial sites in the downtown core. Fouhse says:

Many Canadians, if they think about it at all, think about Ottawa in media-fed images: it’s natural beauty, the Parliament Buildings, and all the clichés of staged politics and power. This new series of photographs looks at Ottawa from a different perspective. Rather than considering the hype and the myth and the fairytale that those in power create, manage and perpetuate, this work strips the capital down to show the bones of the thing. OFFICIAL OTTAWA looks, in a plain and simple way, at the official infrastructure, institutions and people that shape and inhabit this city. (Source)

What is exhibited at the OAG Annex is most definitely not the NCC’s Ottawa.

What is shown are images that invite the viewer to “look behind the clichés that are created, managed and perpetuated by the establishment. [Fouhse] presents his view of the city through a lens most would find difficult to popularize. He invites the viewer to form their own conclusions from his work, and decide how much of these clichés we accept as true.”

NCC commissioned image

OFFICIAL OTTAWA can be read in a number of ways depending on the viewer’s inclinations. On the one hand, the photographs highlight unremarkable vignettes of Ottawa life, such as the intersection of Scott Street and Holland Avenue near the complex of government buildings at Tunney’s Pasture. For the people who live in Ottawa, the fact that the Federal Government is based in our city does little to faze us—the government buildings and people wearing federal public service ID passes are a part of the everyday scenery of living in a government town. This is also perhaps reflected in the way that Fouhse has composed many of his photographs, preferring to shoot on days that are overcast with very matte lighting enhancing the otherwise unremarkablaccept as true.“

NCC commissioned image

While on the other hand, OFFICIAL OTTAWA can also be seen as a highly political statement on the Federal Government’s presence in Ottawa. In particular, the images of a leopard tank parked on Parliament Hill, where one usually sees hordes of tourists and of political protests, like the protest of missing and murdered aboriginal women on Parliament Hill, provides a striking example an aberration from the typical tourist images of Ottawa and how political issues can affect the cityscape. We are also confronted by 1980s Brutalist architecture from unusual and oppressive angles that make the government buildings seem unapproachable and austere. This is also reflected in the image of the Prime Minister’s limo with two sunglasses-wearing mounties standing guard.

Ultimately, the exhibition is an invitation to examine our city and its relationship to the presence of the Federal Government. Together, these images represent several aspects of the fabric of the Federal Government and its agencies across the face of Ottawa. From images of buildings, like Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall, the Department of National Defence, the Prime Minister’s Office, and CSIS Headquarters to images of the people who work in government-related fields, Fouhse has created a series of photographs that make us consider how our perceptions of Ottawa are created and managed by the government-commissioned "official” tourist images of the city, and re-consider our daily experience of the Nation’s capital as a government town.

OFFICIAL OTTAWA: an unofficial portrait will be on view at the OAG Annex at City Hall until October 11, 2015.

A publication of the OFFICIAL OTTAWA series is forthcoming.

You can learn more about Tony Fouhse’s work on his website

(Article by Danuta Sierhuis)

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