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The cracks in Everything – Brant Slomovic

I was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. After living and studying in New Hampshire, Boston, Haifa, and New York City, I settled in Toronto where I have been based for just over ten years. My work life is split in half – as a photographer working mostly on long-term documentary work and a specialist in emergency medicine at a large teaching hospital in downtown Toronto.

What was your journey to photography?

I was first introduced to photography through my mother who is a talented artist in her own right and, during my childhood, an avid amateur photographer. From the age of about nine, we would spend weekends in a makeshift darkroom – me loading film into development reels in the cedar closet and helping to make prints in the laundry room.

In high school, I picked up my first camera and was instantly hooked. Photography quickly became my primary way of expressing myself artistically – I also dabbled in drawing and painting, and was fairly serious about music. At the start of university, photography fell by the wayside as I became more focused on academic pursuits. 

Many years later, I was able to reclaim aspects of my life that I did not have time to cultivate during medical school and years of specialty training. Photography intuitively returned as a creative outlet and took its rightful place alongside my practice of medicine.

My photography projects tend to focus on themes of culture and identity. As a first generation Canadian with family origins rooted in narratives of displacement from a terrible period in European history, it is not uncommon to feel a sense of ambivalence regarding the place one was born. I am inspired by these topics because they are a way for me to better know the world, and my interest in exploring them also relates to the viewpoint that underlies my practice of medicine – I look for commonalities and connections with full appreciation and admiration of individuality and diversity.

Shinny’ pays homage to an original form of ice hockey and the essential role it plays in the fabric of Canadian identity. It is a nostalgic look back on one of the most important of my childhood obsessions. It was also something I wanted to document because of the mounting evidence of climate change – our winters getting much shorter and less predictable. I fear that the hockey which is played outside on ponds, frozen lakes, and in our backyards will forever disappear.

‘Puja’ is an exploration of life in India – more specifically how ritual and acts of devotion are integral to daily life. On a deeper level, it was a way for me to connect with and experience the culture my wife was born into – she was born and raised in Bombay. 

Tell us about your book ‘The Cracks in Everything’.

My book is about the search for belonging, a search that is familiar to so many of us. It asks how far one is willing to go to find a people and place that feels like a home – a “tribe”.

The photographs were made on multiple trips over five years to Israel and focus on Israel’s “lone soldiers”; thousands of young adults, non-Israelis, who come from over seventy countries around the world to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces. The idea of the “lone soldiers” being at the centre of the work was to have them serve as an avenue for me to look inwards, to examine my choices, to better understand myself. So ultimately, this project is about my own search for belonging.

How were you able to gain access to such a restricted community?

The portraits were made on military bases throughout Israel which required negotiating special access with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

This began with help from an Israeli journalist colleague and an email to her contact in the IDF. It took a lot of persistence to get permission for the first shoot, but once the military saw the nature of the images I was making and, more importantly, received feedback from the soldiers themselves about the experience, I was granted repeated access over the five years it took to complete the book. I was also very lucky to be working with a great local assistant as well as a liaison in the Spokesperson’s Unit of the IDF.

While working on the project were there any moments that stood out to you at the time, or now when you have had the chance to reflect back?

I loved making this work and have thought back often throughout the editing stages and since releasing the book. I formed wonderful friendships in the process of making the work and am in touch with many of the people I photographed.

What stands out most for me is how I changed as a photographer. As an emergency medicine physician, you develop the ability to walk into a room, introduce yourself, quickly earn trust, and engage in very intimate conversation; however, you also need to maintain professional and emotional boundaries.

When I started making portraits I naturally brought these attributes of trust and intimate engagement into my photography practice, but I also brought the boundaries.

As a result of the latter, I don’t think my earlier portrait work is as engaging as ‘The Cracks in Everything’. With this new work I allowed myself to soften those boundaries, to get more emotionally invested and connect on a deeper level with the people I was making portraits with. I began to value the conversations and connection above the resulting image.

You say that this project reflects your own search for belonging. How do you feel now that the work is complete?

Since completing this project I would say that I am less in a state of reconciliation with, and more accepting of and embracing the connection I feel towards Israel and its people. I also understand that I may never fully be able to articulate the depth of this affinity. I intend to now focus more on making work here in Canada. I will resume the Shinny project and hope to expand on the foundational idea behind the work – I am interested in how new immigrants to Canada adopt this pastime and relate to this part of being Canadian.

Recommend us something.

I’m watching and listening to David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ which I think is incredible. I’m a huge fan of the Talking Heads. ‘American Utopia’ feels like a natural progression from Byrne’s earlier work – to me, the music and production are a poignant reflection on today’s political and cultural landscape and exemplify the mastery of artistic craft, which I find incredibly attractive.

Finally, tell us about a piece of art that has largely influenced you.

My high school library had a great collection of photobooks – the classics, like Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Ansel Adams. There was also a series of books called ‘Day in The Life Of ‘ which was one of the first things I saw that made me think, “this is what I want to do”. 

In parallel, music has been a significant creative influence and is always an integral part of my image-making. When I returned to photography at the end of my residency training, there was a lot of Leonard Cohen around – first his poetry, then his music. I related to many facets of his life and lyrical imagery as we come from the same place. There was also a lot of Leonard Cohen around when I was making this latest work.

He died when I was photographing in Israel and I was deeply affected by the sense of loss. The title of my book is derived from a lyric in Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Anthem’. I see ‘The Cracks in Everything’ as a reflective title; it was chosen after the book and edit were completed, and I was trying to make sense of the whole experience and what the images meant to me.

The title references life’s imperfections – the imperfections in our choices and narratives, in love and histories, and all else. Ultimately, it’s an optimistic title. If you know the song, what follows the refrain “there is a crack, a crack in everything” is the line “that’s how the light gets in”.

‘The Cracks in Everything’ (Kehrer Verlag, 2020) is available to purchase here.

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