Former King’s student Ian Gibb is giving Halifax the chance to see Guatemala through his eyes—or rather, through his lens.
Gibb, an aspiring documentary photographer, is showing 20 images of his travels to Guatemala in an exhibit titled “In Sight” at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. The prints on display are also available for purchase.
Gibb travelled to Guatemala last fall with a friend from King’s, where he spent five weeks. “I was ready to go anywhere; I just really wanted to get a trip under my belt.”
For the first two weeks, Gibb travelled with the human rights delegation, with a group called Breaking the Silence. This group is involved in fair trade farming and in supporting human rights defenders in the country.
For Gibb, it was important to go with a group instead of with a charity. “That whole concept seems sort of demeaning to me. We’re handing people things and saying that we know better, and here’s what you need. Breaking the Silence is a lot more grassroots and is interested in working with people there for the goals that they’re trying to achieve.”
Being with this group gave Gibb credibility among Guatemalans: “I could shoot where I wanted.”
The colours of Guatemala caught his attention, and many of the photos on display show brilliant blues and blood reds.
“It’s a really beautiful country … I guess the biggest thing was the amount of life that seeps into everything; wildlife and nature is really prevalent everywhere … In Canada, we’ve done a really good job of eradicating nature in our cities. There, you felt like you were always at the edge of the wilderness.”
Though he spent some time in the capital, Guatemala City, most of his travels were in rural areas in the highlands.
Gibb describes the tone of his exhibit as “bleak.” “There are a few images that are a bit more playful…but a lot of them have a really austere feeling to them, which is what I wanted. That’s not necessarily what the atmosphere is all the time there, but that’s part of what I felt.”
The pictures also invoke a sense of separation from this foreign culture, said Gibb. “There are a lot of images of people turned away, walking away, facing away, looking away. It’s part of a disconnect between here and there.”
“In Sight” opened on March 16, with about 100 people attending. The 20 photos on display are large format, wide-angle prints on heavy-stock matte paper. “They’re more empty composition that have a lot of free space.” Many also feature a mystery, such as a face in a background window. “I really like ambiguous photography and fleeting looks, the heel that’s raised off the ground … I love indecisive moments.”
Gibb is optimistic about his first gallery showing, and considers the rental to be a worthy investment. “I really wanted to get myself out there, and I wanted it to be under my own creative control … It was really important for me to have that flexibility. I’m going to use this exhibit to leverage other ones in the future, and I wanted to make sure I was happy with it.”
Yet he struggles with some of the ethical implications of the photos.
“When I shoot, I usually don’t talk to the people because I don’t want them to pose…Something that I’m wrestling with is selling these prints and using the images of people without their explicit consent…It’s an important issue in dealing with what is art and what is profit.”
While he’s interested in photojournalism, Gibb says documentary photography offers a chance to tell a more in-depth story.
“My favourite photographers are the ones that really spend time in a place, and not just go to try and get a news story, then leave. I’m more interested in long term.”
Though his work with community housing in Halifax has offered him many potential subjects for documentary photography, Gibb is wary of exploitation.
“It’s a tricky area because if you want to tell those stories, you have to make sure you’re not stepping over boundaries.”
Gibb completed the Foundation Year Programme four years ago and completed a year at Dalhousie before studying photography at the Centre for Art and Technology. He hopes to one day work for an NGO on document projects.
“That would be my dream job…going into places where there’s something really important being done and letting the group use the photos to promote what they’re doing.”
For now, Gibb plans to return to King’s in the fall to finish a degree in journalism. “I really want to learn how to concisely tell stories, and to try to use that to inform my photography. I want to learn how to really get to the heart of something and be honest.”
Gibb’s exhibit runs until March 31 at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia (6016 University Ave.) For more information, see his website: iangibbphotography.com.