– Story by Lin Stranberg Photography by Don Denton
Danny Singer, a photo-based artist who lives in North Vancouver, says he loves to come back to Vancouver after spending three months on the Prairies.
Danny spends his summers exploring and photographing Canadian and American prairie towns with his wife Tisha. In the past two decades or so, he has photographed more than 160 towns from which he has produced an epic series of works depicting the main streets that define them.
The photos, direct frontal views, are astonishing. At first glance, they appear as panoramas; a closer look reveals a much greater complexity. They are constructs, with each one an assemblage of as many as 150 digital images that he methodically shoots, slices, masks and seamlessly edits together on a tricked-out 2013 MacBook Pro. He uses a jumbo Epson inkjet printer in his small home studio to produce them as big-scale photographic prints, known as giclée or simply inkjet prints. They can be as large as 44” x 96” in size, a format at the top end for mounting materials.
When it comes to describing his sophisticated process, Danny prefers to keep it simple.
“It’s a case of making choices,” he says. “It begins when I drive into a town and decide on whether I like it, based on no particular criteria.”
If the town appeals to him, he and Tisha draw a line in chalk and follow it, setting up a tripod and a 36-megapixel camera every two or three feet to shoot the buildings along the street. After that he works alone until he can show a print to Tisha, an art historian who teaches at Capilano University.
“I wouldn’t dream of letting anything out of my studio until she has seen it. She has a great eye for detail and she never lets me down.”
Danny has an affinity for the vast landscapes and big skies of the North American Great Plains. As a teenager growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, he spent summers with relatives in prairie towns and had vivid experiences that stayed with him all his life.
“I didn’t come at these places from nothing,” he says, “I had some experience with them as active, small, safe communities.”
These places have all changed, of course, even in the years since he began the project. The typical “main street,” the centralized retail and social hub linked with traditional small-town values, is part of the past.
How long can these towns last? The title of his fall 2019 exhibition at Vancouver’s Gallery Jones was The Forecast for Tomorrow, and Danny comments that the title could refer to the weather or the question of the towns’ future. In the Main Street series, it seems he has been documenting both the changed prairie environment and a vanishing piece of his own personal history.
Since 1987, Danny has lived in a townhouse just up the street from where he lived in his days at Simon Fraser University. There was no film school at that time, but the theatre program student made films on a camera his father gave him.
“I was a charter student at SFU,” he says, “and I made the first films on campus. Then I left to go to work at the CBC.”
He moved to Montreal and pursued a career in film until he had a breakthrough meeting there with Lorraine Monk, then executive producer of the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board. Lorraine, who went on to help establish the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, took a chance on Danny by sending him out to shoot stills for the first time. He landed several pages in her prestigious 1976 book Between Friends/Entre Amis, which was Canada’s gift to the United States on the occasion of its bicentennial.
After that, he spent years working in both still and motion-picture photography. “When I came back to Vancouver in 1989 I was doing photography for an architectural firm and, over a three-year period, I also shot a time-lapse film of Olympic Village being built. The running time was three minutes.”
He likens the Main Street series photos to dolly shots, a specific form of motion-picture tracking shots where you follow the subject on a moving piece of equipment called a dolly. But in his photo series, it’s the viewer who moves. You first stand back and then move slowly across the photo, taking it all in. There’s a lot to see: the architecture, the signage, the exquisite clarity of the details and, in his more recent works, the sweeping western sky. As Danny puts it, “The sky’s sitting on top of the street, anchoring it to the ground.”
Unlikely as it may seem, he says the Main Street concept initially came to him back when he moved to Montreal.
“I had never seen rows of buildings like that. It was like the street was organic … the buildings were the street.”
Decades later, the concept re-emerged while the couple was camping in southern Alberta. He began photographing the main streets of towns they visited. Longview, a village in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, was the first one that worked.
As his concept evolved and grew, he took a Photoshop course at BCIT to learn how to manipulate the images to fit his vision.
“It was all very slow, very deliberate. It took me two years to get the first one.”
Danny’s works have been acquired by international public, corporate and private collections. He shows in Vancouver at Gallery Jones and in Calgary at Trépanier Baer. The Vancouver Art Gallery has often exhibited his work.
“Vancouver has been good to me. The Vancouver Art Gallery has been good to me. I have been fortunate enough to live and show my work here, and it has been well received. Vancouver has big, modern houses where bold artworks look great.”
Danny Singer’s next show is from Jan. 31 to April 12, 2020 at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.
To see more of Danny Singer’s art visit his website here.