Cole LeGree

Ground Truth, 2019

The Rouge is an early indicator of the potential reinvention of how urban culture can integrate with ecology due to its unique status as North America’s largest swath of urban wilderness. Through the dissemination of picturesque images featuring beach sunsets, family farms, and a diverse array of visitors, Parks Canada’s mandate for the valley is essentially to deliver the iconography and experience of Canada’s national parks to the doorstep of the nation’s largest urban centre. The parks 24 golf courses, 6 abandoned landfills, and 3 major highways are notably absent from visual or written representation.

Prevalent throughout all documentation and literature pertaining to the Rouge is the use of maps and visual guides. While at first glance these aerial-perspective representations are politically benign, it must be pointed out that the practices of surveying, categorizing, and bordermaking are inherently colonial, especially when exercised by a state agency. Both critical and contradictory to this colonial view is the notion of “ground truth”. Ground truth is a colloquial term used in geography, archaeology, and other fields that refers to information obtained or confirmed by direct observation as opposed to information provided by remote scientific inference. Even after a landscape has been measured, quantified, and described via every available technology, the area must be “ground truthed” to ensure accuracy. These images act as subjective ground truth to the propagandistic imagery circulated by Parks Canada and associated stakeholders.

Q&A with Cole LeGree

Q. Could you tell us about any current projects that you are working on?

A. Currently, most of my time is occupied by my role on Maximum Exposure 25, the School of Image Art’s annual student showcase. In light of recent events, we’ve been working to shift the exhibition to an online format, which of course, comes with a host of challenges and opportunities that we never could have anticipated. It’s both exciting and daunting. Aside from that, I’m currently packing up my life into a dodge caravan to drive across the country and get home to friends and family in the midst of all this. Yeehaw!

Q. Describe your project in its current state and what you’d like it’s final outcome to be.

A. In its current state, the work exists as a sort of cultural document. Moving forward, I’d like to add more images to help expand the work and apply more of a storytelling quality to apply a narrative to this entirely unique place. Likely, this will manifest as the insertion of characters (i.e. portraiture) into the area i’ve been visually describing.

Q. How did you reach the conceptualization of your current project?

A. Ever since I arrived in Toronto, i’ve been trying to reconcile my own “wildercentric” identity with my new urbanized surroundings. At first, creating work like this may have been an excuse to simply find a new home where I could feel secure in the city. However, over the past four years, I’ve become more interested in how these two opposing aspects of location, landscape, setting, etc. engage with one another both in reality and as aspects of my identity.

Q. Are there any artists that have inspired this work? If so, why?

A. Jessica Auer’s recent work in Iceland was largely influential. Her exploration in how landscape exists as a tool of political agenda and cultural iconography is similar to my own. Particularly in her most recent work photographed in Iceland, the idea of landscape as a cultural commodity is a main idea that I seek to engage with in my own work.

Q. Describe any challenges you have faced and any solutions that you have found to be helpful in the creative process.

A. From the beginning of this work, I had an understanding that how people were represented in the landscape was of the utmost importance. Many artists who depict vistas with small human figures littered across a picturesque scene fall into a sort of dehumanizing (I am undoubtedly guilty of this, though it may not be my intention). Therefore, the crux is how do I give people agency in how they are to be depicted, while maintaining a distant or “documentarian” lens? A different way of asking the same question could be, “How am I to depict people in a work that is about the landscape in which they find themselves?”. I have no absolute solutions. For now, I continue to photograph as I have been while keeping these questions in mind.

Q. Have you had any success in getting your work out into the world? Do you have suggestions for other artists?

A. Not yet! I’ve been applying to group shows and digital platforms, but given the virus I would expect that the latter will be my focus going forwards. I would give everyone the advice that I give myself: do whatever you can to get important eyes on your work! Even if your work is accepted for exhibition or well received you’ll likely get valuable feedback. I would also underscore the importance of community, not only for success in the arts, but also for thriving as a person. Be good to your friends, engage with their work, and stay involved!

Work In Progress:

Ground Truth, 2019

Encounters with non-human entities throughout the making of Ground Truth.