Detail of a photograph in Leslie Greentree’s show, The Shadows Are Only Beginning to Reveal Themselves. (Contributed image).

Red Deer artist reflects on the grim reaper in reflective exhibit

Leslie Greentree’s photos and words diffuse difficult subject matter

Launching an exhibition about death can be like spotlighting something unseemly that makes most of us turn away.

While all lives end, “people are very awkward about talking about it,” said Red Deer artist Leslie Greentree — so she’s obligingly diffused the difficult subject matter in her fragmentary show of visual and written reactions to death. It’s called The shadows are only beginning to reveal themselves – at the Harris-Warke Gallery upstairs at Sunworks on Ross Street.

Greentree hopes her esoteric photographs and stream-of-consciousness narratives — some irreverent and amusing — will allow viewers to look at death “sideways, through filters… they can glance at it, then glance away.”

Images of faded blooms, rusty carts, and rain-streaked windowpanes are paired with words that allow viewers into the storyline: “You are in a cargo can on the TransCanada somewhere between Winnipeg and Souris when you learn that he has died…” begins one passage that falls between autobiography and fiction.

Greentree survived painful end-of-life experiences — most cataclysmically when her father passed away a year and a half ago.

An image of three dandelions scattered on the sidewalk can still bring back the surreal moment when she felt the need to step outside as relatives were going through photo albums in preparation for her dad’s funeral.

Greentree recalled taking the picture of the yellow blooms just after leaving the funeral discussions, her camera serving as a distancing mechanism at the time.

She’s since come to realize that the death of a loved one shifts all perspectives. Suddenly rational people start looking for messages or meanings in random events.

Some friends will pull away, while others step up to offer support during this terrible time — and it’s not always the ones you’d expect.

Since artists and writers “tend to process what’s happening in the world around them,” Greentree said, “I decided I wanted to be creatively adventurous.” She culled through the thousands of photographs she’s taken over the years to put together a show about death that isn’t depressing, but gives viewers a chance to reflect on their own feelings.

Greentree has published a book of short fiction: A Minor Planet for You, which won the Howard O’Hagan Prize for Short Fiction in 2007, and two poetry books, including go-go dancing for Elvis, which was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize for Poetry in 2004. Greentree also just completed another short fiction collection, This is not the apocalypse I was hoping for.

The exhibit runs until Feb. 10.

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