A picture may say a thousand words, but it doesn’t always tell the full story.
That is the idea behind multimedia artist, Clive Holden’s Unamerican Unfamous project at Ryerson University’s Image Centre. Unveiled January 23, 2013, Unfamous is the first of many to be showcased at the newly opened Human Rights, Human Wrongs art exhibit, which houses over 300 prints of pivotal moments during the 20th century from New York’s Black Star photo agency. Plucking random people from photos in the Black Star collection, Holden casts a light on the importance of these unsung heroes throughout history.
“In most of the [Black Star] collection we primarily see images of events in American culture, so I wondered about who the rest of the people in those pictures were and found something intriguing about that hidden story,” Holden said, in a telephone interview.
Holden, who is also a filmmaker and poet, is no stranger to exploring the human spirit, with a number of projects including short film 18,000 dead in Gordon Head which documents the senseless murder of a young girl in his hometown and the growing level of violent imagery on TV. Always interested in the relationship between people and media, Holden continues this trend with Unamerican Unfamous.
Using a digital canvas made up of TV panels, the screens bring together a collage of images that move from a random bystander during Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech to someone’s grandmother sweeping the sidewalk. According to Holden, the project looks at whether we use digital media to focus on human issues or instead ignore the world around us to become “Internet famous.”
“I think, in a way, we have been influenced by the success of American culture and the tools of the Internet and celebrity like Twitter to feel a sense of control, which has stunted our progress as a community,” Holden said.
Holden adds that it’s this same successful exportation of America’s love of celebrities that inspired him to ask gallery goers to, instead, contribute images of people they feel are heroes in their own right. While there isn’t a strict criterion for his “Unfamous” series, Holden wants photos of people who have persevered through struggle and have little to no digital or media presence.
For example, he uses the picture of a woman named Melida Jimenez, a Guatemalan human rights activist who moved to Canada to become a valued guidance counsellor in Toronto’s Hispanic community. Holden hopes stories like Jimenez will encourage audience members to share their own personal stories of relatives and friends helping in the community.
Amongst the gallery’s many visitors both young and old, Ryerson student Alex Farinha thinks Holden’s work is an interesting way to show respect for community leaders.
“I’m not exactly sure who I have in mind to nominate, but there is something special about giving people a way to share the overlooked stories of these people who most, I would assume, aren’t important,” Farinha said.
After narrowing nominations down to 10 pictures from Canada and around the world, Holden will unveil the revised project next year. The Unamerican Unfamous exhibit will continue to run at the Ryerson Image Centre until April.