“By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me.” — William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
For years, Postmedia journalist Bruce Deachman has been finding and telling stories in the pages of the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun. This month, the veteran writer and photographer invites you to find your own stories at his one-man photo exhibit at Perth’s Concave Gallery.
Ghosts of the Highway features 16 photo amalgams of abandoned buildings in and around the Ottawa Valley, and old black and white photographs of people that Deachman has collected while “junking” at thrift stores and antique shops. The images blend the present — crumbling plaster, shattered windows, peeling paint and broken down furniture — with the past. An amorous couple kissing on a broken down armchair. A young woman seated alluringly on a filthy mattress. A couple preparing a meal in a kitchen that’s fallen into ruin.
“To me, both parts suggest untold stories,” Deachman said. “Those abandoned places, you look at them and think, ‘Someone used to live there … .’ And with the black and white photos, I don’t know anything about these people, but there are stories there too.”
Deachman studied commercial photography before joining the Citizen in the mid 1990s, first as a freelancer for the arts section before being hired full time as a senior reporter. He began photographing abandoned buildings more than 12 years ago. Several featured in the show are near Norway Bay, Que., McDonalds Corners in Lanark County and along Ontario’s Highway 2 in the St. Lawrence Valley. One is an exterior of Gibbs Gas Station on Highway 7, featured in the 2014 documentary The Lost Highway.
Several locations were shot while Deachman was on assignment for the paper in the old Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls and in the abandoned buildings near the Zibi redevelopment at Chaudière Falls.
“I was there for the paper, but I loved it so much I asked the site manager if I could come back on my own,” he said. Deachman spent three or four days wandering through the complex, exploring and taking photographs, walking “until I couldn’t walk anymore.”
The black and white photos he buys for a pittance, often by the boxful.
“I hate the idea that those old photos get thrown out. I’ve always lamented that, that these stories are being lost.”
The idea to combine the two images came to him one hot and humid Canada Day about six years ago when plans with a friend fell through.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do now? It’s way too hot to go outside.’ And I just came up with the idea, ‘I should put some of those people into those places.’ ”
Deachman scans the black and white photos, decides which ones should go into which scene, then carefully scales the people to the correct size and superimposes them using Adobe Photoshop. He can control the opacity to give the people their spectre-like quality.
The 16 pieces in the show are printed on aluminum sheets, 24×36 inches or 18×24 inches.
Keith Busher, owner of Concave Gallery, met Deachman last summer at another artist’s exhibit and learned of the Ghosts of the Highway project.
“As soon as I saw them, I knew he had something going,” Busher said. “They’re really fascinating pieces. Just combining the two (images) creates these stories and you can’t help but put yourself right into the picture. They’re absolutely beautiful. They’re fascinating. They’re intriguing. I said, ‘We have to do a show.’ ”
It’s Deachman’s first gallery showing and he admits he’s uncomfortable being thought of as “an artist.”
“On Saturday, there’s a ‘Meet the artist’,” he said. “I’d rather they just said, ‘Meet the guy who put these things together.’ ”
Ghosts of the Highway runs from Aug. 3 to Aug. 31 at Concave Gallery in Code’s Mill, 53 Herriott St. in Perth. On Saturday, Aug. 6, from 12 to 4 p.m. you can meet the guy who put these things together.