Ray Cronin Reviews Collection of Expansive Photographs of 1970s Canadian Road Trip
Thaddeus Holownia came to New Brunswick from his native Toronto in 1978 to teach art at Mount Allison University. He brought with him a Grundlach banquet camera, c. 1924, designed to take horizontal photographs of large groups. He began using banquet cameras in 1974 and has never stopped, though in later years he has utilized other formats, colour photography and digital processes.
The first series he undertook documents travel across North America in that most North American of ways: by automobile. Inspired in part, perhaps, by Robert Frank’s famous American road trip of 20 years earlier, he travelled from Toronto, through the American Midwest, finally ending up in Sackville, New Brunswick. Unlike Frank, who used a 35 mm camera suited to capturing fleeting moments, Holownia’s large camera needed a heavy tripod and a long exposure.
His limited equipment kept him to just four photographs a day, which he processed at night in makeshift darkrooms. It made for a stately progress, rather than a pell-mell dash across the continent.
That is reflected in the photographs in Headlighting 1974-1978: side-on photographs of cars, filling the frame, with their owner or owners included in the portrait. Rich in detail, the frieze-like composition is reinforced by the shallow depth of field of the photographs. Ranging from antique roadsters to then-new muscle cars, the photographs are consistently engaging, drawing the viewer in, and documenting a small, fascinating aspect of our culture’s love for and dependence on cars and trucks.
At 18 x 12 inches, Headlighting 1974-1978 presents the more than 50 photographs in the series at their actual size, with one photograph to the page. Introduced and designed by Robert Tombs, the coil-bound book is a pleasure to look at and handle. Its size and richness slow the viewer down, setting a quiet pace, reminiscent, perhaps, of that long-ago road trip.