2018 - Ongoing
In the summer of 2018 I embarked on a 70-day canoe trip along the fur trader’s route in Ontario, Canada, accompanied by a guide, dressed in 19th century period costume. Inspired by British painter Frances Anne Hopkins (1838 - 1919) who traveled with her husband, a high-ranking official with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the Voyageurs on three excursions during the 1860s, I channeled Hopkins and her work on my own odyssey.
Using her paintings and sketchbooks as a starting point, I wore the same dress every day, to recreate her final voyage, the one she took in 1869 from Lachine, Quebec to Kakabeka Falls, Ontario. Like a modern day female Voyageur I paddled, portaged and did much of the daily chores necessary to make camp. My project I, Voyageur…In Search of Frances Anne Hopkins utilizes a variety of photographic practices including alternative processes, analog and video and I create a mythological world where I cross in and out of Frances Anne’s life. The site-specific exhibition includes photographs, tintypes and ephemera from the journey such as my dress and canoe, “The Franny Anne.”
Though Hopkins came from privilege and affluence, European women partaking in canoe touring travels during the 19th century rarely occurred. And while she wasn’t expected to do any of the physically intense work, being the sole woman present would make for a terribly difficult journey.
Hopkins sketched the daily life of the fur traders and upon her return to England created large-scale oil paintings thus providing a unique glimpse into this otherwise largely visually undocumented chapter of Canadian history, the fur trade industry being critical to the development of this nation. Despite having exhibited in London prior to moving to Canada, she still signed her paintings simply “F.A.H.” concealing her identity as a woman—a common strategy for women in that era, as women were discouraged from becoming professional artists. For this reason many years passed before these paintings would be attributed to her.
Hopkins’ work wasn’t without its own blind spots. At the time, most Canadians ignored the Indigenous perspective, and Hopkins was no different. In re-imagining her trip, I’m able to offer First Nations a voice as well.
Little is known about Frances Anne as she did not keep a journal, unusual for the period, and insufficient research exists about her. Hopkins often painted her husband and herself in the canoe in her own paintings: likewise, with Hopkins as my muse, I created self-portraits along the way. By intertwining my memories from my own personal diary and her imagined biography, I explore what it meant to be a female artist during the 19th century and how it relates to the gender inequality that persists today. Ultimately, the imagery and text will be assembled into a photo book.
This project marks a significant turn in my practice. For nearly 20-years I have been a documentary photographer and portraitist. In my personal practice I constantly push my own physical and artistic boundaries in order to challenge my craft. As a middle-aged woman, I relate to Frances Anne. I constantly experience my diminished importance not just within the art world, but from society as a whole. All industries within Western culture reward fleeting youth and beauty at the expense of everyone else. At my age, I not only deal with gender disparity, but ageism as well. By giving once invisible women like Frances Anne a voice, I empower their legacies and my own.