Almost Canada

Almost Canada comprises photographs made in and around Plattsburgh, NY, the largest city (population 20,000) in Northeastern New York State, and located 20 miles south of the Canadian border. Plattsburgh and the surrounding region (known locally as the North Country) have long been influenced by both Canadian culture and its remote geographic location.

My goal is that Almost Canada will be viewed as an inquiry into the strangeness of our time, as circumscribed by the photographs’ subject matter, the manner in which they’re imaged, and the contemplative and provocative relationships established between them.

I’ve been photographing in the North Country since 2012. These photographs are like snippets of life; individually they describe little beyond the poetic visual dynamics that transpire within the frame. Incrementally they interact with and against other photographs to accrue and layer meaning. 

Included in Almost Canada are photographs I made in 2013 at the Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison located in Dannemora, a small town 15 miles northeast of Plattsburgh. I photographed in the North Yard, a large outdoor area that includes an extensive set of gardens tended by inmates, as well as a recreational area. I also photographed in the prison chapel, built largely by inmates in the late 1930s, and the only free standing church located within prison walls in the U.S. Clinton is the second oldest prison in the state, and one of the seven penitentiaries in the North Country (built here due to the area’s economic impoverishment). The psychic impact on local communities from the difficult conditions within Clinton and the other prisons is palpable.  

Nearly all the inmates in the area prisons come from the metropolitan NY area, and this requires their friends and family to travel over 300 miles for visits. A bus comes up every weekend from the NYC boroughs and this summer I began to make portraits of some of the travelers during their bus stops in Plattsburgh.

The North Country was once part of the Underground Railroad, a stopover point for slaves on their way to Canada. Recently, this role has been reprised as people now travel to Plattsburgh from around the world to seek asylum in Canada. Through social media migrants have learned of a diplomatic loophole permitting people who cross illegally into Canada to request refugee status (whereas if they cross legally they will be shunted back to the US). Roxham Road, a small rural road near Champlain, NY, is recognized on social media as the preferred illegal entry point into Canada. It’s estimated that 1174 migrants requested refugee status in Quebec in July 2017 compared to 180 in July 2016. In August 2017 Canada processed more than 300 migrants in a single day.

I have been making regular trips to Roxham Road since June 2017 to photograph and to collect items left behind as migrants entered into Canada. In my studio, I then scan or photograph the objects -- a shredded typewritten personal account of sexual preference intolerance in Nigeria (in which I’ve redacted names), a child’s Batman coloring book, a gray pinstripe suit. These objects illuminate the lives of people who feel they’re not welcome in either the United States or their home countries.