I Spy… project curated by UBC grad aims to increase access in the art world

Tiny sunglasses and slip dresses aren’t the only ‘90s trends coming back: a local arts organization is using disposable cameras to break down access barriers in the Vancouver art scene.

The UNIT/PITT Society for Art and Critical Awareness is running the third edition of their I Spy… project. The premise is that 30 different artists from around Vancouver are mailed a disposable camera and a unique word prompt that starts with ‘I spy with my little lens…’. Photos can be of anything, as long as one photograph responds to the prompt, which is individualised to each artist.

This year, the exhibition is curated by UBC alum Rachel Lau, who graduated with their bachelor of media studies in 2020.

“At the heart of this project, too, is… how do we get down to the bare bones of creating and make it so that as many people can create and access this as possible?” Lau said in an interview with The Ubyssey.

Lau’s position as a curator is more than administrative emailing and selecting the final photos from each artist.

“Curation is about stewardship, and it's about uniting others and it's about making space," said Lau.

As part of making space, they want to give the artists the best chance to excel in this program. In order to achieve this, UNIT/PITT provides opportunities for the participating artists to connect with art professionals through studio visits and consultations.

“I’m creating a space for artists to be able to express themselves and giving them the resources to be able to do that sustainably,” Lau said.

The space and resources are ideal for amateur or student photographers, like Timothy Fernandes, a UBC graduate and current digital media technician in the department of art history, visual art & theory.

“To feel like you're being brought into the process of what a professional artist does on a day to day basis – or from project to project basis – is really a valuable thing,” Fernandes said.

Carving space to allow emerging artists to connect with those with industry experience is only one aspect of the growing accessibility of this program. By using disposable cameras – an intuitive, cheap, easy-to-use technology – a greater range of artists can contribute, even without intensive training in photography elements like aperture or shutter speed.

“You can do thoughtful artistic photography using just the simplest camera technology out there,” said Fernandes.

The final collection of photos will be displayed online through the UNIT/PITT website and a printed catalogue.

While online art can be accessible from anywhere, the physicality of the book provides a more tangible dimension that can create a more intentional connection with the art, since it’s a separate object that stays with you even when you close the browser tab.

“The physical does matter,” Lau said.

A printed book (which will be available for purchase from UNIT/PITT in the winter) gives more people the opportunity to engage with art – not only those who have the time and means to visit a particular gallery.

Ultimately, there are many different dimensions of accessibility— including physical and financial— and UNIT/PITT tries to consider multiple.

“... The art world can often be very…inaccessible for a lot of people and I think this project really aims to do something different,” Lau said.