Good Grief explores love and loss through clown-clad self-portraits
As a Grade 1 teacher, Jay Procktor sometimes clowns around with his students. But after years of work on the side as a photographer, the 43-year-old local is unveiling his first large gallery exhibition this week, filled with 16 images of clowns in both a literal and symbolic sense.
The Good Grief exhibit is inspired by personal loss Procktor has encountered, featuring 15 self-portraits and one photo of Procktor’s father.
In February 2012, Procktor’s best friend passed away and five months later his father also passed after a long battle with cancer.
“The two men that knew me inside-out and backward … I lost them both and it was really difficult,” he says.
Procktor had time to talk with his dad about a project he had been brainstorming before his eventual passing.
“The third time the cancer came back, I had had this idea for quite a while of this image that I wanted to do with him,” he says. “I wanted to shoot him as a clown eating a hamburger.”
His dad often went for burgers near his workplace in Sherwood Park, and at his company’s annual family Christmas banquet, he’d dress as a clown and play the sax as Santa Claus arrived.
“Every time this clown band would come into the hall, I’d dive under the table as a five-year-old or a six-year-old and grab my mom’s leg and bawl my eyes out. It was horrifying,” Procktor says. “The next year, my dad put the makeup on at home so I could see him transform into this clown … It didn’t matter. It just freaked me right out.”
About a year after his father’s death, Procktor decided to continue the photo series at the burger shop by stepping into the clown suit himself.
“For me it was like, I’m kind of the fool who doesn’t understand where he’s gone and what’s happened to him,” Procktor says. “So I returned to all the places that were either meaningful to him, or to us as father and son.”
Procktor says it was a cathartic process.
“Just because he had passed on didn’t mean I wanted to be done hanging out with him and spending time with him,” he says. “It was an abstract way to return to these places and still kind of hang with him, and it was a way to work through all the grief of losing my best friend and losing my dad.”
Despite the inward focus of most self-portraits, Procktor says the project extended a feeling of closure to his family around the continent who helped him turn his ideas into photos, either by clicking the shutter for him or appearing within the frame. Additionally, he was helped by his friend Mark Freeman, who helped turn the pictures into artistry by digitally printing them at The Big Pixel Inc.
“You look at all the selfies that everyone is doing with the use of cellphones, then to present a work of self-portraiture, I think that the initial thought would be that this is a kind of isolated process,” he says. “I think the reality and the beauty of this project, for me, is that it’s been such a collective one.
“It’s a beautifully sad series, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way,” he says. “I’m really happy with the product and I’m so thankful for everyone that’s been a part of it.”
Sat., Jan. 20 (1 pm)
Good Grief opening reception
Showing until Feb. 5
Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts