Under 60 Tons: Reave Dennison
Reave Dennison, Barge Swap. A skipper passes a deckhand a bridle during a barge swap at slack tide in Seymour Narrows.

Under 60 Tons: Reave Dennison

Vancouver Maritime Museum, Vancouver, BC - To May 20

by Michael Turner

The interface of art and life gets played out in myriad ways. The Fluxus artists of the 1960s believed art and life flowed together, as long as the “life” part didn’t include a day job. In the 1980s, certain North American poets embraced their day jobs as a source of inspiration and announced themselves as “work writers.” Judging from the photographs in Under 60 Tons, Reave Dennison makes a case for the work artist.

Born and raised on BC’s Sunshine Coast, Dennison is a self-described “working-class sailor” who crews on tugboats. He takes 35 mm pictures in his spare moments and develops them in his off-hours at his Mayne Island studio. Apart from his excellent compositional skills and printing technique, what distinguishes Dennison from the hobbyist is his stagecraft: specifically, his tendency to shoot at night using unconventional lighting sources, such as flashlights. The pairing of long exposures and improvisational lighting gives his silver gelatin prints their signature maritime noir style.

Though the subjects of Dennison’s pictures are largely concerned with ports, boats and labouring sailors, it is his treatment of them that has us looking twice. Not only the high-contrast works but the various shades of grey he conjures, which, for those living on the west coast, are as delicate as they are innumerable. But not all his pictures are work-related. Every now and then he supplies us with a still-life intermezzo, a visual coffee break that speaks to the fragility of the human body in relation to an unforgiving ocean. In Goose Eggs, a nest of five unhatched bird’s eggs lie protected by a wrist-thick cable coil.


Share this: