Ned Pratt is a Canadian photographer whose body of work expresses a continual search for beauty in the unforgiving Newfoundland landscape.

His deep connection to the island and the people who inhabit it informs his approach to photography; an investigation of the subtleties of the landscape. While much of his photography captures human interaction with the environment such as structures built along the ocean’s edge, roads and infrastructure stretching across the province, it is evident that the ferocity of the landscape is not compromised by such intrusion.

Mason Journal had an opportunity to speak with Ned to discover how his connection to Newfoundland, the Maritimes and his Father, a Canadian contemporary painter, Christopher Pratt, has influenced his work.



Mason Journal: What is your personal connection with Atlantic Canada? Can you briefly describe your professional development in terms of your education and work experience in Canada?

Ned Pratt: I have lived in every Atlantic province except Prince Edward Island. From grade ten on I went to school in Rothesay New Brunswick, then to Acadia In Wolfville Nova Scotia and finally NSCAD in Halifax (with a brief interlude at UBC). But my home has always been Newfoundland. I don’t think I ever seriously considered living anywhere else. I certainly don’t now. I am very much tied to this province; I’m very proud of it and of my ancestry. I guess that smacks of nationalism, but I am comfortable with that; those that live here must be, I think. It is an extraordinary place, Newfoundland.

The name of the province is of course Newfoundland and Labrador, but I am specifically speaking about the Island, so I just refer to it. My work, for the most part, is about and from it. Labrador (to the north and part of the Mainland next to Quebec) is sublime; but my history is here.

When I left art school I was fortunate enough to get picked up by a good and controversial local paper, The Sunday Express. Michael Harris was the editor when I started and then David Stuart Patterson. Both were driven and very intelligent people that insisted on hard work. So my plan for coming out of school as an artist (which on some level was the idea) was put on hold for a very necessary and practical set of experiences. Working at the newspaper taught me what I like and don’t like about photography. It made me believe that I had a responsibility for the images I made. It made me see the power it could have and the damage that it could do. I wasn’t cut out for the newspaper world.

I photographed my subjects for the story I was given. If the story put them in a bad light, then I made sure my photo did too. But personally, I didn’t know what was true and I didn’t know the issue, really. Who was I to condemn this person for looking one way or the other? I didn’t feel qualified for those types of judgements. I still don’t.

The paper eventually folded. I was there for three years and on that day, I instantly became a freelance photographer (and my son was born three days after the paper closed). Since then, I have been working for ad agencies, magazines, business and myself. I work mostly on the Island but am lucky enough to have clients in other parts of the country.

MJ: Did your architectural studies at UBC prior to attending Nova Scotia College of Art and Design inform your approach to photography in anyway?

NP: No. But my dislike of the experience pushed me in the direction. It was (and is I suspect is still) a great program. The issues there were with me. If I had become an Architect, many would have suffered. Architecture was so slow and detailed and I also had no idea of what it (architecture) really was. I was too young and had no experience of taking the spaces I inhabited seriously. I didn’t know what it meant to be in a good kitchen, or how important the light in a bedroom could be in the morning, or what it felt like to sit in a room and be satisfied with the shapes around me. These things were just not part of my set of considerations then. I think I could do it now though.

Photography, on the other hand, is fast, easy to experiment with and suits my personality, I love its gadgetry. Any sense of design or composition I may have comes from a place I have always had it seems. It’s as if I have always seen it, but have never been able to show it. I still can’t really. I imagine that’s why I keep at it.

MJ: Your portfolio is extremely extensive and diverse ranging from portraiture, food photography, fashion and landscapes. Is there a particular genre, concept or theme that you strive to retain as the foundation to your work?

NP: I think my approach to design stays consistent throughout the work. It suits some genres better than others and at different times. For instance, my food photography in the past has been very tight and detailed. It was the style at the time. Now the photography you see in magazines and packaging is much looser, more casual. I really had to try and twist my mind to let go of some of my rules in order to stay current. And of course, I am still too tight with that work. I can’t really get away from the way I see things. Even my attempts to loosen up wind up coming back to the core approach.

I enjoy working with ad agencies because I like the collaboration between photographer and art director. A good art director will take abilities and push them to arrive at what is required. I have to switch my mind to their idea of composition. It’s very beneficial, very healthy.




MJ: How do you find the balance between your personal work and your commercial projects?

NP: I feel that, at a certain level, they are one in the same. At least as far as my responsibility goes. All the work I do is my own; whether it’s for an agency or my own art. In the end, I have simply decided to go ahead. Finally, one’s personal work is what one holds dearest. The artist is the sole captain of that one.

To speak about it more practically, I try to use my commercial work to feed the personal work. If I can use the landscapes as an example, they come from a body of work I did for Newfoundland tourism. In a project like that, you try to photograph things at their most beautiful. Unbelievable situations, weather, etc. But that’s not the real Newfoundland at all. So my landscapes, among other things, try to speak about the power and beauty of Newfoundland without any of the exaggerations. Newfoundland can require effort to love. Here, beauty is not always presented on a silver platter. At times, I need to work at it and to me, that is the real Newfoundland, and that is one of the things I try to discuss in the landscapes. Without the commercial experience, I doubt that I would feel as passionate as I do about it.

Another project, the poorly named “Garbage Project” comes directly out of my commercial experience. In that body of work, I photographed other photographs found blowing around in garbage on the street, through plastic garbage bags and in closed store windows. The reason being that, as a commercial photographer, this is where I often saw the results of my own labours; even the editorial work. So, in the end, these found photographs were from nameless photographers working in a very temporary medium. The result of all our efforts from photographers, art directors and account folks (I guess) went up, out, and gone. maybe taken into consideration, maybe not. I enlarged them to 6ft wide and chucked them in a gallery. I’m still explaining that one.

Commercial work is unavoidable. I could never survive as a photographer without it. Fortunately I enjoy it.

MJ: Can you comment on how your father, Christopher Pratt’s career as a painter and printmaker has influenced your approach to photography?

NP: That is a really hard question for me and I think about it all the time. He and my mother have influenced me by simply being good parents. We (my brother and two sisters) were never pushed in any direction. Things were always up to us. One main influence is finding out that it is possible to see beauty in many things and in many ways; to take everything one sees seriously, even if it may seem mundane to many people. Another would be hard work. My family has always believed in it.

In terms of design, it looks fairly obvious that I am the man’s son. But my design is actually quite different. My significant influences actually come mainly from other photographers like Lee Frielander , Andre Kertesz and Charles Sheeler. But I, like all people in the arts, have many influences for many reasons. I don’t expect to ever do anything truly original, but in what I do, I hope to find myself.

MJ: Do you see any design, art or architectural trends which can be described as unique to Atlantic Canada?

NP: The answer is yes, but I am not knowledgeable enough to answer that question. I do fear, however, that we will cling to a quaint approach for too long.

MJ: Can you explain a little bit about how the local culture and the environment influence your personal work?

The local culture influences artist here by simply being a culture that supports and is proud the arts and its artists. That doesn’t mean that everyone is making a good living from it; that is not the case at all. But there is a large art community and it is supportive and diverse.

For me and many others, the environment is crucial to the work that comes from Newfoundland.

Personally speaking, I think of this Island as a living thing; tough, often unforgiving and always beautiful. This island doesn’t care about the very temporary intruders. All our efforts and our presence will disappear and this place will still be here. So I like to examine the frailty of the human presence in this place through the common structures we build and the details found within them.

MJ: What, if any, changes have you noticed in the Canadian design scene in the past few years?

NP: Again, I’m not qualified to discuss this, though I wish I were. It seems to me that the Canadian design scene is not so much a Canadian design scene anymore but one that has entered into a more international scene bringing with it textures and materials from our geographic and cultural diversity. The Canadian design I like is intelligent, worldly and not afraid of humour.

MJ: Can you tell us what we can look forward to seeing from you next?

NP: I have a show here in St. John’s in July at the Christina Parker Gallery, and there is the possibility of a show in Toronto. It is a continuation of the landscape work. This body seems to be more minimal and hopefully, with even less narrative.

I am also lucky enough to be part of a show at the Mass MOCA called “Oh Canada ” in May. Apart from that, I hope to do some more figure work this year and continue experimenting with my food photography. Much to learn.

Ned is currently represented by the Christina Parker Gallery in St. John’s Newfoundland.
www.christinaparkergallery.com

www.nedpratt.com