The solo room show at the Center for Photography at Woodstock got under my skin when I stopped in there last. Its images are simple, its wall text not overly obtrusive. Yet the combination is cathartic…especially once it triggered memories of some of my favorite people, and what I once considered to be their tics.
They are all passed, now. Yet Thilde Jensen’s “Canaries” has brought Diane and my Aunt Janie, my old pal Dan, and Chester, all back to life, or full health. So I plan to return…to honor their memory, or recognize what ailed them, by exploring its reality, as captured by Jensen, more closely still.
“Since World War II the production and use of synthetic chemicals has exploded. In the course of an average day, people come in contact with a host of chemicals. As a result of the prevalence of these synthetic chemicals, it is believed that more than ten million Americans have developed a disabling condition referred to as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).,” she writes of this work, created over a span of time she has spent in a central New York town — as well as her own experiences of disease. “In 2003, the story of this condition became my story when a sudden development of severe MCS cut short my life and my career as a documentary and editorial photographer in New York City. I had to flee my home as my immune system crashed, forcing me unto a survivalist journey which unraveled the comfort and construct of my previous life. The ensuing years were a lesson in basic survival. I camped in the woods and wore a respirator when entering supermarkets, doctors’ offices, and banks. To my surprise, I was also introduced to an otherwise invisible subculture of people who shared this isolated existence…”
I recall having to ensure I wore no scent, no deodorants or fancy soaps, when visiting friends. How they’d reel away if I’d forgotten and we embraced. Or what it felt like when they were forced to wear masks in public, or with me and other friends…as are seen in Jensen’s glimpses into otherwise ordinary life.
“MCS is a condition in which our immune and central nervous system have extreme reactions when exposed to small amounts of daily chemicals like perfume, cleaning products, car exhaust, printed matter, construction materials and pesticides. In addition, some individuals affected by MCS react to light, fabrics, food and electromagnetic fields as emitted by computers, phones, cell towers, cars and florescent lights — making life a near impossibility,” Jensen explains in her effective artist’s statement.
Jensen, from Denmark, has exhibited widely…and first showed Canaries at Light Work in Syracuse last summer. Her work has appeared in various publications including The Observer, Contact Sheet, The New York Times Sunday Review and Doubletake Magazine. Her editorial and journalistic work has appeared in Newsweek, Details, and Blender Magazine, among others. Do see this exhibit while it’s up, with Photography Now 2012, through April 22.++
The Center for Photography at Woodstock is located at 59 Tinker Street, just west of the Millstream. For further information call 679-9957 or visit www.cpw.org.