Photographer of the Week #189: Patrice Helmar

Patrice Aphrodite Helmar (b. 1981, Juneau, Alaska) is a photographer and curator who lives and works in New York City. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s Visual Arts MFA program, and a current visiting professor at Pratt Institute and Columbia University. Images in this feature are part of “Dirty Old Town”, an on-going project in which Helmar shot 300 sheets of 4×5” film beginning in the summer of 2015.

When we lose certain people, or when we are dispossessed from a place, or a community, we
may simply feel that we are undergoing something temporary, that mourning will be over and
some restoration of prior order will be achieved. But maybe when we undergo what we do,
something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others,
that shows us that these ties constitute what we are, ties or bonds that compose us.
Judith Butler – Violence, Mourning, Politics

“The name of the series comes from a traditional song infamously sung by the Pogues. The tune describes falling in love on the docks, smelling spring on a smoky wind, and
dreaming of a different life by an old canal. Whenever I hear the song, I’m reminded of growing up in Juneau, Alaska. Juneau is unique in many ways, but it is one of few capital cities in the United States without a road to the outside world.

These photographs explore the dramatic potential and complexity of returning home: characters, archetypes, and dreamlike landscapes of 50 miles on a road to nowhere. Made with a view camera from the 1950’s. Bulky and awkward, the Graflex is unapologetically photographic. It holds up to my lack of dainty-ness, and the at times, difficult environs. These photographs become an event, each shot a slow improvised dance with people and places where I grew up. In the summer the sun doesn’t go down until well after midnight. I drive an old rusted truck that barely gets my gear around, drink too much coffee, and go about visiting old haunts. During the day I drive out the one road, exploring neighborhoods and landscapes. In the evening, I find myself making photographs in the downtown area where I was a bartender for much of my twenties. Life for many Alaskans begins and ends in a bar, or a tired circle of town. Bars for the irreligious, and God fearing folks alike are a social center. Much to the chagrin of locals, my camera and lights are a bright disruption in barrooms and on the street.”

Helmar’s solo show “Thane” is currently on view at Mom’s Gallery NYC, until June 3rd 2018. For more information on Helmar’s work, visit her website.