VAM 35 Artist Profile | Adrienne Marcus Raja

Meet the artists in VAM 35! Visual Arts Mississauga 35th Annual Juried Show of Fine Arts, in the Art Gallery of Mississauga from January 17 – March 2, received 248 entries from across Ontario. Jurors selected 48 artists to be in the show.

Until the end of February, the AGM blog will feature VAM 35 artists every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Learn about the thinking behind the works in the exhibit, and see the works in person at the AGM!

Name: Adrienne Marcus Raja
Title of work: Her Tenderfoot Journey

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1.      Tell us about your work in VAM 35. Give us an idea of the conceptual framework you used in creating this piece. What inspired it? Why did you choose to use that particular medium? Why that particular perspective, set of colours, subject matter, etc.

A “tenderfoot” is a newcomer or novice: an inexperienced beginner, a person unaccustomed to hardship. one not adapted to a lifestyle. For someone unfamiliar with the analog process, failure to follow the rules of the darkroom to achieve the correct image is bound to happen, and it did.

For this piece, the materials and process came first. I don’t want to just take it; I also want to make it. Those familiar with the darkroom process know that it consumes a lot of time, energy and patience. Although documenting the process is beautiful, at times it is all too revealing. I feel that black and white photography is honest.  It is also personal, because I can personally be involved in the creative process from start to finish – which is to be able to see, at the end, what lies in the eyes of the photographer.

In term of the subject matter, my 2011 trip to my father’s birthplace, the village of Bario in the highlands of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, was my first alone.  I was there to research and gather information for my graduate gallery installation “Stories Around the Tetel” at Ryerson University. I feel that this piece is also a representation of my journey back to Bario, revealing itself to me, as it tested my patience in processing the piece and getting to know cultural background. The piece is of a Kelabit tepu (grandmother) taken in the rural highlands of Bario. It consists of five 8 x 10 black and white photographic prints, with different times of exposure, from the same 35mm negative. As I have little or no experience with darkroom and enlargement techniques, this was my first step into black and white film and print processing. This is also a documentation of a journey into learning the process of making a decent print. I believe that photographers should at least experience the darkroom once in their lifetime, to interact with the use of film and gain an appreciation to the whole photographic process. My journey isn’t complete yet, as my learning process is still continuing.

2.      How would you describe your creative process? How has your style changed since you started, and what do you think is the reason behind the change?

My creative process usually begins with a small idea, which then sits in the back of my mind for a while. I usually jot down any ideas, words, images, and possible installation layouts in my black book where I play around with ideas, words, and feelings, letting them emerge from my imagination. It is in this conscious playing that the unconscious easily takes over, and I discover new ways of creating new work. Usually, while I am sitting back, my unconscious collects other ideas to go with my basic concept, or expands a bit into something larger. This also applies to my personal documentary filming practice. The general ideas are there from the beginning, but specifics emerge along the way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it will require some improvising, but all will turn out well.

Having been trained to work in a digital video environment, I have so many options for uncovering the truth—of a situation, of an emotion, of the fleeting impermanence of nature. It is usually the subject or topic rather than execution of the project that is key, and I do not need to follow a series of sequential steps when obtaining my footage, as it will make sense in the editing room. My darkroom experience was the opposite of what I am familiar with. By restricting the creative process, my imagination to openly and willingly experiment was unleashed by those constraints. Limiting myself to a certain project or subject matter in photography made me focus and really explore and understand the subject. But then again, achieving consistency of outcome during this process is unpredictable, so that’s where further exploration will be needed.  For now, I am still exploring the process to find alternatives so that I can be fully involved in the process of shooting, developing, printing and framing.

3.      If time and money were no object, what artistic project would you like to undertake? What about this project fascinates you, and how do you think it will engage the viewer?

I am interested in exploring and reconstructing the complexity of identity removal from its traditional culture while highlighting the fragile and personal connections between the individual and the community. In this case, it would be me and the Kelabit community to which my father belonged. In this project, I would also want to use film photography to experiment with creating distorted and reconstructed images that provoke sensory perception and explore the complex psychology within social relationships while digitally documenting oral stories. I hope to go back to Bario to continue my project of exploring the uncomfortable subconscious residing in memories and the tales of diverse history that I did not chronicle on my first visit.

One can’t deny that film photography and darkroom use is getting relatively expensive in this digital era, and that the environmental constraint of the chemicals used in the darkroom have forced me to search for other alternatives if I am to further pursue this project. Caffenol, which is a known photographic alternative process, caught my attention not long ago while I was still learning to shoot properly with a fully analog camera. Then comes the question, why not use digital photography? With analog photography I don’t need to worry about batteries or electricity. I can’t predict if it will engage viewers, but hopefully it will give them something to think about — whether it’s the subject matter, or the process of making these photographic prints.


Visit the Visual Arts Mississauga 35th Annual Juried Show of Fine Arts at the Art Gallery of Mississauga (AGM) from January 17 – March 2!

For more information, visit the AGM website:

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