Location: Toronto, ON, Canada
In the summer of 2018 I embarked on a 70-day canoe trip along the fur trader’s route in Canada, accompanied by a guide, dressed in 19th century period costume. Inspired by British painter Frances Anne Hopkins (1838-1919) who traveled with her husband, a senior official with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the Voyageurs during the 1860s, I channeled Hopkins and her work on my own odyssey. I wore the same dress every day recreating her 1869 voyage from Lachine, Quebec to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Like a modern-day female Voyageur I paddled, portaged and did much of the daily chores necessary to make camp. My project “I, Voyageur…In Search of Frances Anne Hopkins” utilizes a variety of photographic practices including alternative process, analog and video creating a mythological world to cross in and out of Frances Anne’s life. The site-specific exhibition includes photographs, tintypes and ephemera from the journey including my dress and canoe.
Hopkins sketched the daily life of the fur traders and upon returning to England created large-scale oil paintings providing a unique glimpse into this otherwise visually undocumented chapter of Canadian history, the fur trade critical to the development of this nation. Despite exhibiting in London prior to moving to Canada, she signed her paintings simply “F.A.H.” concealing her identity—a common strategy for women in that era as they were discouraged from becoming professional artists. For this reason many years passed before these paintings were attributed to her.
This project marks a significant turn in my practice. For nearly 20-years I have been a documentary photographer and portraitist. I continually push my own physical and artistic boundaries to challenge my craft. As a middle-aged woman I deal with gender disparity as well as ageism and experience not only my diminished importance within the art world but from society as a whole. By giving once invisible women like Frances Anne a voice, I empower their legacies and my own.