With a very heavy heart I attended last night’s final ‘First Friday’ at Pixels 2.1 Gallery in The Exchange District of Winnipeg. The Gallery opened just over 2 years ago amidst much anticipation and enthusiasm. As an accomplished photographer who had decided to seriously pursue fine art photography with the establishment of 'The Canadian Gallery', I welcomed wholeheartedly the brainchild of Tse Li Luk and Joe Kerr in establishing a gallery dedicated to showing, promoting and selling the work of Manitoba photographers. While photography as a hobby has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade or so, photography as an art form continues to struggle. There have been others before who attempted to raise the profile of photography in the city but certainly none with the same energy that I can remember.
During its short life, Pixels 2.1 Gallery rallied the photographic community. It was heartwarming to frequently see a full house at the various events, whether it was a photographic exhibition, a ‘First Friday’, a special presentation by a visiting guest artist, a tutorial, a music concert, or a discussion about creating a book or even about fine art photography itself. Finally we had a gathering place for photographers, a focal point for anyone who enjoyed photography from professional photographers to the amateur community as well as the general public. Pixels exposed us to various genres of photography, including the ‘landscape photography genre’ that is so well recognized and accepted south of the border but so little understood and supported here in Canada by both the Canadian art establishment as well as the corporate world and the public in general - that however is the subject of a future discussion. We witnessed exhibitions by established photographers as well as those just starting out, including from students of local photography programs. Pixels helped to raise the profile of photography in the local art community, including in the corporate world itself. I met many excellent photographers at Pixels and I made many acquaintances and friends along the way.
I first met Joe in the spring of 2008 when he launched MPAX, the Manitoba Photographic Arts Expo at which I delivered a seminar on ‘Designing An Image’. He then asked me to run a photography workshop for him at Delta Marsh on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in March of 2009. On my way to the Delta Marsh, I received a call that Joe would not be joining us because he needed immediate heart surgery. Following his recovery, he announced his plans to curate Pixels 2.1 Gallery in the fall of 2010. I came to know Joe well over the last few years, not only in the gallery itself discussing various aspects of photography but in the natural world too photographing northern lights and various natural history subjects. It was obvious that he very much enjoyed photography and that he had put his own aspirations as a photographer on the back burner so that he could promote the works of others.
Not only did Joe work diligently and passionately to promote the work of Manitoba photographers by showing their work, selling their books and other photography publications and products, he also helped me understand a lot about the art world and the marketing of photographic art. I was fortunate to have been part of two exhibitions at Pixels, the latter just a few months ago with the launch of ‘Prairie and Beyond’, a solo traveling print exhibition sponsored by The Manitoba Arts Network. Personally, I owe Joe a great deal of gratitude for the exposure I received but more importantly for the work and heart he poured into Pixels 2.1 Gallery. As one who has volunteered many hours to the photographic community, I understand only too well the dedication and sacrifice that Joe gave to Pixels.
In the end, Pixels 2.1 Gallery succumbed to the economic forces of the times. While there is still plenty of enthusiasm for photography itself, there was simply not enough interest and support from the art community in general for photography as a medium of the fine arts. I have seen little evidence that the local art community takes photography seriously as an art form. Is it any wonder that so many Canadians go south to pursue their careers! As a country, we are always very quick and proud to call them ‘our own’ once they succeed and receive the status of superstars but not so much in supporting them when they need it so much.
You lit a fire in our local photographic community the likes of which I had not seen since my days in Edmonton in the early 80s. However, we will endeavor to keep the flame burning. Photography as a hobby will continue to flourish. Those of us with more serious aspirations will continue our pursuit with determination although now we will walk in isolation once more.
On behalf of the local photographic community, I thank you Joe for taking a chance and showcasing the fine artworks of Manitoba photographers. It feels as if we are losing an old friend although, deep down, I know you are still with us. We are all the richer for having shared in your dream and having experienced Pixels 2.1 Gallery. We all wish you the best in your next pursuit.