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<I>27 X DOUG:</I> Portraits by Larry Glawson

by Leah Sandals

National Post · Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010

Family albums can be pretty public in the Facebook age. But few shooters have brought an art consciousness to the endeavour like Winnipeg photographer Larry Glawson--his quiet, everyday-relationship views have melded deep with domestic for 30 years. Now, with an unusual retrospective of his work on at Gallery One One One in Winnipeg, Glawson talks to Leah Sandals about companionship, cottages and unexpected commitment.


Q This exhibit features photos that you've taken of your partner, Doug, over 30 years. What was it like for you two to see this exhibition develop?

A It was an interesting process. The curator, J.J. Kegan McFadden, came up with the idea. He knew about a 1993 exhibition in Winnipeg that showed portraits Walter Gramatte did of his wife over a similar time period. So he proposed doing a retrospective of my work that way.

Getting to work with someone on a retrospective was a positive thing for me, and the idea of using Doug as the spine of the show was also interesting. He basically has been there since the beginning and has been involved with every body of work I've produced. For Doug, I think it was both flattering and daunting to have to see 30 years of photos of himself all in one space. I was a bit nervous about it, too.

Q So Doug didn't veto anything?

A No. I think Doug wanted to stay out of it, in a way. We have this sort of long-standing understanding that because of the kind of photographer that I am -- someone who focuses on the personal -- Doug is a 24/7 subject. This means I'm allowed to photograph him pretty much anytime I have an impulse to. There are images he's not particularly thrilled with, but what I do as an artist he respects. I'm very grateful he has that attitude.

Q How early in your relationship did you start photographing him?

A Well, the first photograph of him in this show, from 1979, was just a photo we took as students. We weren't a couple then; I'd just met him. But from immediately after that my whole career has been photographing people that I know -- family and friends. Being an artist himself, I guess he understood the priority photography took in my life. He was very generous that way.

Q Some people think of your work as being about gay culture. But looking at this show, it also seems a lot about cottage culture! Why are so many of these photos from the cottage?

A I guess that speaks to the larger position of my work as being about the personal and about my everyday world. I didn't go out to seek subject matter; my subject matter was what was around me. The cottage in these photographs is Doug's family's cottage, and my introduction to cottage life came through them.

Also, I do think the cottage, for me, was an exotic location; it wasn't part of my family growing up. I was fascinated with the way people behave at the cottage; there's this strange kind of leisure and work combination in the way that people are often in bathing suits and sitting around but always doing maintenance and building at the same time. And of course there's partying, too!

Throughout, a large part of my overall interest is in what things end up being when they are turned into a photograph, no matter what they are.

Q Nonetheless, people must go to this exhibit and wonder, "Wow, so what is it like to be part of a gay couple in Winnipeg for 30 years?" A lot has changed in that time period.

A Well, there are all these cliches -- the older you get, the faster time goes. Both Doug and I laugh about it, how fast 30 years can go by without realizing it. I think we've always lived in the present; we never had any sense of where we might be in five years, let alone 30. We were just living our lives in a way we felt was appropriate. My personality, his personality, how we were in the world together, it's just something that happened. We just liked being together -- and 30 years later, we're still here.