Recorders and Keepers

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Nurses from Loon Lake Union Hospital, Joyce Hueller C.N.A., Kathy Montcrief R.N.
gelatin silver print on paper,portrait; woman,in uniform; photography, portrait photography, standing beside bed; Hueller, Joyce; Certified Nurse's Assistant; hospital room; Loon Lake Union Hospital; Saskatchewan; Canada, portrait, and standing beside bed; Montcrief, Kathy; Registered Nurse;rural community
description

Robson’s photographic work is from the  documentaryAny artwork the purpose of which is to present facts objectively, without inserting fictional matter, recording and/or commenting on some content, often political or social, by accumulating factual detail. Many conceptual art installations of the 1970s were overtly documentary — e.g., Post-Partum Project by Mary Kelly (American), the various Reading Rooms by Joseph Kosuth (American, 1945-), Guggenheim Trustees by Hans Haacke (German, 1936-). More common examples: documentary films. Not to be confused with documentation. (Artlex.com)  tradition, but her work extends beyond the moment in time when they were taken.

In the two photos presented here we see two nurses in very similar poses. Both are standing by an empty bed looking back at the camera. One rests her hand on the bed while the other stands against the bed with her arms resting behind her. Neither is smiling, as you might expect in a traditional  portraitA work of art that represents a specific person, a group of people, or an animal. Portraits usually show what a person looks like as well as revealing something about the subject's personality. Portraits can be made of any sculptural material or in any two-dimensional medium. Portraiture is the field of portrait making and portraits in general. Portrait is a term that may also refer simply to a vertically-oriented rectangle, just as a horizontally-oriented one may be said to be oriented the landscape way. (Artlex.com)  or in an advertising message promoting the joys of nursing. Instead, they are simply taking a break from their duties while the photographer captures their images on film. Robson invites us to fill in the details of what those duties might be from what we know of the nursing profession.

start quoteThe nurses, in uniform, stand beside an empty bed; they all look directly into the camera while responding to my request to think about a patient they worked with that day in relation to why they started nursing...end quote
-- Frances Robson (ARTSask 2008)

From another  perspectiveA method used to create the illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface. It can be created by overlapping, placement, detail, colour, converging lines and size. See HandPrint.com (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/perspect3.html and http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/perspect4.html) for some examples.  Robson provides us with information about the qualities of these particular nurses, and about their work in a small hospital. Both women look professional in their uniforms, without being overly formal. They may face emergencies and crises during their workday, but they give the impression they are up to the challenges. The beds are neatly made and there is no clutter around them. Robson gives us a glimpse into the working lives of organized, capable women.

These two images are from a series of ten portraits that Robson took at the hospital. In her notes for the Making Spaces exhibit at the Mendel Art Gallery in 1988 Robson wrote: “The nurses, in uniform, stand beside an empty bed; they all look directly into the  cameraIn photography, a tool for producing photographs, having a lightproof enclosure with an aperture and a shuttered lens through which the image of an object is focused and recorded on a photosensitive film or plate. In video, a device that receives the primary image on a light-sensitive cathode tube and transforms it into electrical impulses. (Artlex.com) Find out about 35-mm cameras at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film  while responding to my request to think about a patient they worked with that day in relation to why they started nursing. The  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  becomes about seeing the private person within the public uniform and, in some ways, about accepting oneself, accepting loss and, obliquely, about contrasting the qualities of a hospital in a large urban setting with a small community hospital.” (Robson, 1988)

additional resources How She Became Interested in Photography- Taking Photos of Groups of People
Duration: 1:59 min
Size: 8816kb
Juxtaposing Women's Groups
Duration: 1:18 min
Size: 5527kb
Saskatoon Quilt Guild- Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1987
Duration: 2:24 min
Size: 10603kb
Searching for Identity
Duration: 1:25 min
Size: 6525kb
Why She Started Photographing Groups of Women
Duration: 2:14 min
Size: 9840kb
Things to Think About
  • Think about your friends and family members. What questions would you ask them before taking their picture – think about what Robson asked the nurses who were the subjects of her portraits. Why would you choose those questions?
  • Robson says she tried to go beyond the public uniform to the private person in these photos. Does she succeed? Think about someone you know who wears a uniform at work. What would you do to photograph the person you know in uniform?  What question would you ask this person in uniform?
Online Activity
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Timeline of nursing history

Drag each nursing image onto the timeline, placing them in the correct chorological order.

Studio Activity

Frances Robson’s work uses documentary-style portraiture to speak about women’s lives and to reflect community as in this  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of portraits of nurses.

Create a  quiltAnything that is quilted; esp., a quilted bed cover, or a skirt worn by women; any cover or garment made by putting wool, cotton, etc., between two cloths and stitching them together; also, any outer bed cover. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  using digitally printed fabric. This project will incorporate photography,  digitalA system of representing images or objects through numbers. These numbers can then be re-interpreted by another digital system to generate light and sound.  printing on fabric, and quilting, and will focus on the profession of nursing.

  • Collect testimonials from people you know, or patients you encountered on how nurses have affected their lives. You may tape-record these testimonials or record them on paper.  Select the most poignant and powerful of these testimonials to add to your photographs. Transcribe the testimonials into written format if you have tape-recorded them.
  • Cut the digitally printed fabric, both the photos and the text, into quilting squares.
  • Arrange the squares so that the text and photos are juxtaposed in a meaningful manner.  For tips on quilting see “Quilting basics” at Canadian Living.
  • Quilt the fabric to create a blanket or wall hanging.
Studio Activity

Create a photo  portraitA work of art that represents a specific person, a group of people, or an animal. Portraits usually show what a person looks like as well as revealing something about the subject's personality. Portraits can be made of any sculptural material or in any two-dimensional medium. Portraiture is the field of portrait making and portraits in general. Portrait is a term that may also refer simply to a vertically-oriented rectangle, just as a horizontally-oriented one may be said to be oriented the landscape way. (Artlex.com)  and a journal of a fictionalized Canadian nurse.

  • Do extensive research into nursing and the history of nursing in Canada.
  • Decide on a time in history or a present-day nursing occupation you wish to represent.  For information on nursing occupations, go to:
  • Make notes and studies of the uniforms and working conditions of the time/occupation.
  • Consider using a photo editing program to imitate the kind of photographs available during the time period such as black and white, hand coloured black and white, or hand-tinted.
  • Create a page from your fictionalized nurse’s personal journal. Write about the work performed that day and the patients the nurse may have attended to.  Create the journal page to match the time period by using the appropriate writing tool such as a fountain pen, ballpoint pen, typewriter or computer.
  • Invite feedback from the nurses in your community.

For information on nursing history and nursing in Canada see the following:

  • Nursing history
  • Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada
  • Victorian Order of Nursing
  • Military Nursing
References

Author unknown. ‘Frances Robson.’ From the Exhibition  catalogueA list which is an inventory of works in a gallery, museum, or other collection. It describes the works, and may contain articles discussing their history, and classifying them in other ways. It may be in the form of a file of cards (or an electronic equivalent), one card for each object, or in the form of a publication (usually a pamphlet or book), whether for a special exhibition or for all or part of a permanent collection.  (Artlex.com)  for Saskatchewan Portraits. Saskatchewan Arts Board. Available online at: http://www.artsboard.sk.ca/showcase/showcase_v_portraits_09.shtml.

Author unknown. Frances Robson. Exhibition catalogue, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1991.

Harvey-Rioux, Linda. ‘Photographs focus on the natural warmth of women.’ Regina Leader-Post, March 5, 1987.

Robson, Frances. Making Spaces. Exhibition catalogue. Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1988.

Robertson, Sheila. ‘Refreshing encounter with large, lush images.’ Saskatoon Star Phoenix, September 23, 1995.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning