Fantastic Review of Brian Howell's exhibition by the Georgia Straight!

Brian Howell's photographs find meaning in unexpected places

by Robin Laurence on April 6th, 2016 at 1:33 PM

Leaping wrestlers and devoted fans, empty offices and deserted newspaper printing plants, a grocery cart filled with bottle caps, red paper stars punched out with pellets, streams of pedestrians looking at their cellphones, an old yellow fridge covered in metallic grey paint—Brian Howell’s wide-ranging photography is difficult to wrap definitions around. In an essay accompanying his survey exhibition at Winsor Gallery, critic Art Perry poses questions about just what kind of photographer Howell might be. Is his work documentary or fine art? Is his practice aligned with the street photography of the mid-20th century or the concept-driven and studio-based photography of the postmodern age?

“In his quest to be an uncompromising witness, chronicler and commentator,” Perry writes, “[Howell] is all over the map.” He shows his prints in galleries and museums, shoots editorial photographs for national and international publications, and pursues “self-generated projects” that may take him to celebrity-impersonator conventions in Las Vegas, the pillaged interiors of abandoned houses in Surrey, or the fire-swept forests of the Thompson River region near Kamloops. Ultimately, Perry’s conclusion pretty much mirrors Howell’s own: he is a photographer, no qualifiers.
“I don’t describe myself as anything anymore,” Howell tells theGeorgia Straight while overseeing the installation of his show. “To me, it’s about being active in the world and allowing things to happen. There’s chance involved.” Although he respects members of the internationally renowned Vancouver School of photography, especially Jeff Wall, he sees his own vocation as something separate and distinct. And yet, like the Vancouver School artists, much of what Howell does is predicated on ideas, often resonant with social or political commentary. “I want to take on issues,” Howell says. The idea comes first, and then he discovers a project that will communicate it.
He points to “Carts”, his striking series of large-scale colour photos of the junk-filled shopping carts he bought from binners and trucked to his studio to shoot. The underlying theme here is overconsumption and bewildering waste. “I look at the overwhelming pile of stuff that my kids would get for their birthdays and I start making notes and then one day I see a shopping cart and it all makes sense,” he says. “It clicks.”