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On the Power of Art and the Urgency to Think Deeply About Representation, with Emmy Lee Wall

Emmy Lee Wall is the Executive Director of Capture Photography Festival, Western Canada’s largest festival dedicated to contemporary, lens-based art. Prior to this appointment, she was Assistant Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and has extensive exhibitions and public art projects under her belt.

When Wall joined Capture in 2019, it felt like home. Photography was her first love, after all; she developed her awareness of visual culture early on, at the age of nine years old, by reading fashion magazines such as Vogue. Along with art classes at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario, these formative experiences eventually led to her career in the arts.

Now in its 10th year, Capture feels as if it is coming into its own, finding its identity and defining its purpose. Through collaboration, the festival has become really good at a few things in particular: supporting emerging artists, providing a platform for diverse voices, and introducing new artists to Vancouver audiences.

In anticipation of the official launch of this year’s festival (Saturday, April 1st), we connected with Wall to learn a bit more about Capture and the impact of the festival a decade in…

What was your first job in the arts?

My first job in the arts was at a commercial gallery that doesn’t exist any more, but it was a great introduction to working with contemporary artists. My formative job was at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where I worked for more than a decade on a huge range of exhibitions – both historical and contemporary – installing works from Vermeer to Gursky. I realize now what an amazing training ground that was for what I do now.

What are ten keywords that describe Capture?

We centre artists. Capture believes in the power of art and artists to imagine and posit new possibilities, critique and challenge existing norms, share new perspectives, and imagine new worlds. Sorry, that’s more than 10 words!

Organizing an annual festival involving numerous collaborators and municipalities is no small feat! Reflecting on previous festivals, what will you be most proud of when Capture draws to a close at the end of April?

The collaboration piece is key for us. So many people are involved in making Capture, and that connection – the bringing together of artists, curators, writers, galleries, organizations, institutions, sponsors, and donors (all the people that comprise the art community) – to provide a platform for artists is incredibly rewarding.

What impact do you hope Capture has on our community, beyond the duration of the festival?

One of Capture’s goals is to promote visual literacy and critical thinking through lens-based art. Photography really is the medium of our time. Many people have access to a camera and use photography to communicate daily. Thinking about images critically – questioning what we see and why – is so important at this time.

This is also a moment to think deeply about representation, an issue which is intimately linked to photography, so I think our Festival has a responsibility to the community to be presenting diverse voices and diving into these conversations.

What informs your vision for each year’s festival, art-specifically or otherwise?

Scout Contributor Kristin Lim Chats With Capture Photo Fest’s Emmy Lee Wall

So, we aren’t like a biennale, in that there’s no theme to which all participants must adhere. The Festival really is comprised of projects that are submitted and juried as part of our Selected Exhibitions, various collaborations with partner organizations, as well as public art installations and exhibitions Capture curates. For me, it’s the multiplicity of voices – the messy mix – that’s the joy of the Festival. There’s a real sense of discovery, even for me, annually!

Here and Now, the Featured Exhibition which you curated with Assistant Curator, Chelsea Yuill, on view at Pendulum Gallery, is about place. What inspired this theme?

2023 is Capture’s 10th anniversary, and our vision is to “connect Vancouver to the world through lens-based art”. We have an incredible contemporary art scene in the city, including many significant lens-based artists, and we really wanted to celebrate the local. For this exhibition, we invited ten Vancouver-based artists to create new works that respond in some way to the city. I think the works really consider place as a social construct, and explore the multiple histories and lived realities this shared site holds. The exhibition includes very emerging as well as senior artists, and presents a diverse range of artistic processes, so it’s really inspiring for me to see what is being created in this city at the moment.

What are you most excited about sharing with the Capture audience this year?

It’s hard to pick favourites, but I walked the Arbutus Greenway yesterday and loved seeing Viviane Sassen’s trippy images there! I also can’t wait to go back to The Polygon Gallery to take another look at the stunning images in As We Rise. Our Speaker Series is also stellar – talks with Alanis Obamsawin [Filmmaker] and Jason Ryle [International Programmer, Indigenous Cinema, TIFF], artist Lucas Blalock, Rebecca Morse from LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art], and a dialogue between Mark Sealy [Curator and Cultural Historian, Britain] and Kenneth Montague [Curator and Art Collector, Wedge Curatorial Projects.

The 10th Capture Photography Festival is in full swing from April 1-30, 2023. For details on all of this year’s exhibitions, public art projects and events taking place, visit capturephotofest.com.

From Gigante Beans to Grocery Stores: Talking All Things Food with Desiree Nielsen

The Vancouver-based nutritionist and author is launching her fourth book on April 23rd. We had the opportunity to preview the book and it inspired us to link up with the author to find out more about her ideas about food and wellness.

Getting Gritty in the Similkameen with Rajen Toor, of Ursa Major Winery

It's been nearly five years since we last had a proper conversation the winemaker - we thought it was about time we reconnected with some serious questions... to solicit his unapologetically opinionated, introspective, intelligent and unfiltered responses. He didn't disappoint.

The Many Sides of Hector Laguna, Executive Chef at Botanist Restaurant

Among the numerous things that Chef Laguna gets stoked about: soccer, Harry Potter, hiking, his neighbourhood, family, and the successes of his kitchen family, as well as the new bounty of Spring ingredients, rolling into the Botanist restaurant kitchen daily...

On Misanthropy, Mental Illness and Marpole, with Local Author, Carleigh Baker

Baker's most recent publication, 'Last Woman', is now available from various local independent bookstores around town. Whether you've already consumed it or not, you can add an extra dimension to your reading by checking out our recent Q&A.