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“Making art in times of pandemic” is a series of recurrent articles where I interview artists from the Bidgala community to ask the same question: How are you making art during the pandemic?
This time around, I chatted with Jetro Emilcar via Zoom. Emilcar is a Canado-Haitian self-taught photographer living in Montreal. During our conversation, we talked about being an artist, specifically an emerging artist. From technical stuff like finding equipment and transforming our homes, to navigating newfound independence when universities closed, to finding the rhythm, style, and confidence to make art.
Jetro Emilcar is an undergraduate student at Université de Montréal, while simultaneously working as a commercial and independent photographer. He is energized with ambition and passion for the art community. He considers it crucial to “find platforms where the information is shared and the sense of community is present”. For example, virtual platforms and digital communities like Bidgala.
This community-based approach has been, and continues to be, very present in Emilcar’s photographs. This is evidenced by his interest in portraiture and his desire to feature and celebrate blackness and the Afro-Haitian diaspora of Montreal. Since March last year, he has had to adapt his practice to the reality we now live in. He began renting photo studios at the beginning of the pandemic and “thinking of projects around the health measures''. Before the pandemic, he “was used to working with fewer resources, only the subject and [him]”, so his photo sessions haven’t changed that much. Since he is spending more time with his family, he has been taking more portraits of them. He states that “we can learn while being with ourselves and our families''. Throughout our conversation, Emilcar mentions the importance of thinking outside of our institutions and academic impositions, and always to be on the lookout for learning experiences.
Emilcar explains that one of the biggest challenges for him was “to find independence [because] we are often very dependent on institutions, laboratories, studios.” He has found his way by asking, researching, discovering, and trial and error. Ironically, he also says that the situation this year “was a liberation”, because it pushed him to new limits he didn’t know he had.
For his analogue photography studio at home, Emilcar transformed his laundry room into a dark room. He asked people who own one for advice, watched videos, looked up tutorials, read articles, etc. to learn about the entire process. Most of his equipment was found on virtual marketplaces like Kijiji and Ebay.
One of the many skills an emerging artist has to develop is the ability to do research. Not only for materials, but also for the history of our mediums and identities. Emilcar explains that “before the pandemic, everything was going very fast and I had the pressure of always making things”. But for him this has been “a period to question, to get to know [himself], to think very well about the project's concepts and ask [himself] more questions”. He has taken this last year to “confirm that this is what he really wants to do”, and he is now learning more about art history. Specifically, he is taking the time to learn about “black photographers who thought about the community, shared knowledge, and learned from each other.“
“You can learn from past experiences” and “the more you read, the more you can change things”, explains Emilcar.
The self-taught photographer gifts other emerging artists and readers with these pieces of advice for making art during the pandemic:
This is the “time for editing and going back to what [you] already have”.
“Read a lot and inform yourself as much as possible”.
“We can learn while being by ourselves and with our families”.
Today, you can find Emilcar actively posting on social media or working at Fondation Phi, a contemporary art gallery based out of downtown Montreal. His work can be found on the Bidgala website, coming soon.